Section Two



[Hello] Cole says.

Coming up through the blackness is like trying to get out of quicksand.  It’s hard work, every effort countered by the drag, by inertia.  It would be so much easier to sleep, to let myself slide under and drown.

I can hear someone moaning softly, but I don’t care about that.  My head’s buzzing, my mouth’s dry as dust, and someone’s taken my body and pulled and stretched in all directions until it doesn’t feel like it belongs to me any more.

[Hello] Cole says, his voice warm and loving. 

I'm the one doing the moaning.  Getting my eyes open takes forever.  I try to lift my head, but the dizziness has me falling back, and it’s an eon before I can try again.  This time I force my eyes to open and try to focus on him.  I think he’s bending down over me. 

I can’t be sure because I can’t see clearly.  But I’m sure it’s him.  I wish I could see properly, see the dark blond hair, a little bit darker than Starbuck’s, the warm brown eyes watching me and crinkling at the corners the way they always did when he was laughing at me or about to kiss me. 

That’s what I want, but I can’t quite focus on him to be sure.

[Huh!]  he says, gentle.  [Six yahrens, nearly seven, and all you think of is Starbuck.  I’m can’t say I’m flattered]

I squeeze my eyes tight shut.

Cole’s dead.  Cole’s been dead for more than six yahrens, blown up or sucked into space when the Cylons took An-Nath, a few sectons after I left it to come to the Galactica.  A few sectons after I left Cole.

[You didn’t leave me] he says, and I can feel his arms go around me, holding me close.  [You had to go.  They posted you away from me]

I didn’t want to go.

[I know]  The touch of his mouth against my temple, kisses that are tender and very sweet.  [But we never thought we’d have forever anyway, did we?]

No, but I’m the warrior, risking death every time I launch.  Cole, my flight tech, should have been safe; safer than me.  If ever I thought about it, I thought that I’d be the one to die.  That I’d be the one to be lost, not Cole.  Back then, I never thought that it would be his kiss against my willing mouth that would be lost.  Back then, I never imagined how much regret could sear and burn, like frostbite, at not being able to recall every little kiss, every tenderness, every look or word.  Back then, I never thought what a luxury it would be to feel his hand, warm in mine.  Back then, I never thought there’d be a time when all I have of Cole is a memory.

[I know] he says again, and he’s close, his voice soft in my ear.  I can feel his arms tighten around me.  [I miss you too.  Remember I wrote and told you so, just after you left An-Nath?  Some of the guys were making a little shrine outside your door, I said.  I was the one worshipping there, Apollo.  Only when you’d gone did I realise how much I love you]

Me, too.

[And what did I tell you about letting those pretty Galactica boys turn your head?]  He’s laughing, and his arm around my shoulders gives me a little squeeze.

"Just one," I say aloud, and he laughs again, but this time the laugh’s sad, and he moves away from me a little.

"Just one what?" Cantor demands.  "Are you awake?"

[Ah, but what a one] Cole sighs and he’s pulling away from me more, putting distance between us. 

I open my eyes again, looking for him.  There’s someone a few feet away from me, leaning up against the wall.  I think he’s in his flight-tech’s overall, and I smile at him while I remember the first time I got him out of it. 

I wish I could see if he looks just the same, still young and untouched.  I’m getting older.  He never will.

[You’re still my beautiful Apollo] he assures me.

"He is still heavily sedated," someone else says, from somewhere over near where Cole is.  I can’t see who.  But I know the voice.  It’s the man who held me in the turbolift, who called me something strange that I can’t remember now, that I don’t want to remember, who helped Cantor put me into the coffin and seal it.

Cole shakes his head at me.  [Ignore him.  Just keep focused on me]

"You’re dead," I say, sad.

He nods.  [Can’t argue with that]

"Charming," Cantor mutters, venomous, thinking I’m talking to him.  "He’s always so full of grace."

"He is disorientated," the man says in his accented Standard.  He’s Gemonese, I remember.  An Otori.  "Edris is a powerful sleep drug."

Am I dead then, too?

[Just a bit doped] Cole says, grinning.  [Must be first for you.  You were always a bit straight laced about things like that.  Remember the storeroom and stealing the Chief’s secret store of ambrosa?  We didn’t need it, really.  I had a pocket full of ganja, but I wasn’t brave enough to offer it to you]

You told me later.  We didn’t need it.  We found our own way to relax.

[That we did] he agrees, and I know he’s smiling at me, loving me the way he did all those yahrens ago.

I smile too.  That was the time I persuaded him out of those overalls.  He looked good, naked, sprawled on the floor on a bed made out of his overalls and my uniform.  He tasted good, too, and if we didn’t quite manage to make love, it wasn’t for want of trying.

[Just want of experience] he agrees.  [And boy, did we manage it the next time!]

Yeah.  The next time it had just seemed to click.  The next time was in my quarters, and he was the first man ever to make love to me, his was the first cock I ever felt inside me, nudging against that little magic spot that made making love with a man the best thing I had ever tasted.

He laughs again.  [I remember.  You loved it]

"Still do," I say, thinking of Starbuck.

[But I’m the one here now] he says, reproachful and I’m sorry that I might have hurt him. 

"I want to talk to him," Cantor says, sounding angry and frustrated.  "You said he’d be out of it by now."

"We gave him an extra shot.  You will remember, Priest Cantor, that you did not want him waking up in the crate on the way."  A woman’s voice this time, speaking with the same formality as the Otori.  "It is taking a long time to wear off.  As Zhyn says, edris is powerful, and it is probably reacting with the alcohol he had at the party."

I manage to turn my head and glance at her.  She’s got long hair floating down her back, and for a centon I’m confused, thinking it’s Sheba and wondering what she’s doing here.  Or maybe it’s the woman in pretty shoes who shot me and Starbuck down with a laser stun bolt.  She leans down to look at me and I see it’s not Sheba, it’s not anyone I know, although I think, for a micron, that she’s Serina and Sheba and Cassie and Athena and my mother, all the women I’ve ever known, all in one.

It’s the woman from the freight deck on the Rising Star, the one who drugged me.  But not the one who shot me.

"It’s been over thirty centars," Cantor complains.  "This delay could cost us dearly.  When will the repairs be complete?"

"The techs are still assessing the fault," the Otori says.

Something’s wrong here.  I don’t where I am.

[With me]  Cole says.  [You’re with me, Apollo.  I’ll take care of you]

"I’ve got to go back soon," Cantor frets.  "I’d hoped to talk to him before I went."

What’s going on?

[I don’t know.  We’ll find out.  But sleep now.  Sleep now.  Sleep]

"He is fading back out again," the woman says.  "It was a strong dose."

"Then put him out entirely.  Keep him drugged until I get back.  It’ll only be a day or so."

"It is dangerous," she warns him.  "I am a medtech, not a doctor.  If he reacts badly, I cannot be certain that I can handle it."

"Everything’s dangerous.  Please do it, Jianne."

Jianne.  A pretty name.  An Otori name.  So she’s Otori as well.  And they’re doing what Cantor wants.

"Zhyn?" she asks.

"Yes.  Do it."  The man’s voice again.

The woman sighs.  "All right.  And if they come, Security, or the warriors?" 

"Oh, they’ll come, Jianne.  They’ve started searching the other ships in the Fleet."  Cantor chuckles.  "They almost disassembled the Rising Star, looking for him."

"Liu has found a place to hide him," the man says.

"That is dangerous, too," Jianne says, her soft hand taking mine. 

She turns my hand, inside wrist uppermost.  There’s something cold pressed against my wrist, then a sharp little pain.

[Sleep]  Cole says, whispering in my ear.  He’s come close again, forgiving me for Starbuck.  [Sleep]

Cole’s lips put little phantom kisses on my closing eyelids, on the tip of my nose, on my mouth.  All familiar and safe, the way he always did it.  He always liked to kiss me like that, before we slept, when he’d loved me to sleep.

[I love to watch you sleep] he says now.  [I love to listen to you breathe, soft and  quiet beside me.  I love to watch you dream.  I love you]

I love you, too.

[I know.  Sleep]

It’s safe here with Cole.  I can sleep here.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

"This is madness.  He’ll drown."

A new voice, one I don’t know.  Caprican.  His accent’s so familiar that it’s almost comforting; the sound of home.  If I can get my eyes open, I’ll be able to see him.  My eyes won’t open, though.  Instead I listen to the water.  So soothing and peaceful, to listen to water tumbling forcefully down something just a few feet away from me, to feel the mist in my face from the spray.

"Your priest’s orders were quite explicit," Zhyn says.  "And I have given orders of my own.  They will reduce the water flow."

Zhyn’s holding me up again.  He does that a lot, for some reason.  It seems like I’ve been this dazed for yahrens, unable to stand without his arms around me.  He shrugs a shoulder at me as I droop over it, allowing me to rest my head there.

"They will be able to slow it and divert it," Jianne says from behind us.

"Is that enough?" the Caprican fusses.

Zhyn sighs.  "The Kinan will not drown.  He may get wet, but that is all." 

A pause.  The sound of tumbling water changes abruptly, to a mere trickle.

"There," says Zhyn.  "The water has been rerouted." 

The other man, the Caprican, is holding me on the other side.  "I don’t like it."

"Do you defy his Eminence?" Zhyn asks, and he sounds scornful.

"No," the Caprican says slowly, a note of doubt in his voice.  "No.  He is right, of course."

"Infallible," Zhyn says, with a snort of cold laughter.

"He speaks for God and the Lords," the Caprican says, just as cold.

"Ah," says Zhyn, with a non-committal cynicism that’s got to be close kin to my own.

"It is more dangerous to us, Priest Dio, than to the Kinan," Jianne says softly.  "I do not approve of diverting the water.  It carries risks to all of us, un-filtered, however good the hiding place."

"A small risk," Zhyn says now.

I manage to get my head up at last, opening my eyes.  I recognise Zhyn: he’s the man from the Rising Star.  He’s on my right, his face calm and unreadable under its red Otori paint.  His eyes meet mine for a micron, and he looks at me with a calm detachment.  I’m important to him somehow, I think, but he wishes it was otherwise.  I don’t understand why, but maybe the second man, the Caprican, can help.  I turn to look at him while I can, before I get dizzy again and fall away. 

A priest.  A priest of the Most Sacred Rites of the Holy Sacrament of Divine Kobol, in his full ceremonial robes.  The long crimson silks are being spotted with water, and he’s making a little tutting sound, disapproving of the sacrilege.  He has one hand around my arm, helping to hold me, and I grin as he tries to keep the silks back out of the way with the other.  For some reason it strikes me as irresistibly funny.  It’s all I can do not to giggle.  I never giggle.

I can’t work out why he’s in his full robes, not the black gown he’d wear outside of a service.  He’s even wearing the embroidered stole around his shoulders, thick with gold thread and tiny semi-precious stones, as if he was in the Chapel in the presence of something blessed and holy, something consecrated and revered.  That’s when they wear the stole, at the Sacrament, in honour of Holiness.  There’s nothing holy here.

[Except you, maybe] suggests Cole.

I shake my head in protest at that.  "No!"

"He’s awake?"  The priest sounds startled.

"Not really," Jianne says

"Be easy, Kinan," Zhyn’s voice is quiet and calming.  "All is well.  We are ready, Jianne.  Call Liu."

Where the hell am I?

[Filtration plant] Cole whispers in my ear.  [You’ve seen one before]

It takes me a centon, but finally I realise Cole’s right.  We’re inside a water filtration plant, inside one of the big glass sided tubes.  In its centre, a couple of metres away, is the filtration column itself, a long glass rod with filtration plates fitted around it, plates like huge fish scales constructed from glass and metallic mesh, the whole column at least four metres across.  Water’s dripping down it ceaselessly.  Normally the water would be flowing much faster, but instead it’s now running down over the inner surface of the tube, covering it like a moving skin, diverted away from the filtration column itself.  It spatters onto the final filter bed on the floor, fifteen metres below us; but unfiltered, uncleaned, dropping back into the main water supply tubes taking dirt and the Lords alone know what with it.

We’re at one side of the tube, on a small metal balcony, our backs to an access port.  That’s unusual.  Normally, filtration towers are sealed units.  This must be an old one, probably never replaced since this ship was launched, God alone knows how many yahrens ago.  There must be some sort of access port for the ships’ techs, then.  I turn my head carefully.  Jianne’s at an open port, behind us.  She raises a communicator to her lips and speaks into it in the Otori dialect.

"What did she say?" the priest asks.

"I asked Liu to extend the walkway, Priest Dio."

There’s a slight lurch and the little balcony we’re on extends itself over the gap to the central column.  As soon as it locks into position, Zhyn half lifts, half pulls me right up to the column.  He already has my left hand in a binder.  With the priest’s help, he flips the binder chain over a horizontal pipe, and fastens the bracelet over my right wrist.

"Wha..?"

"Softy, Kinan," Zhyn says.  "This is for your own safety."

Stop calling me Kinan.  I don’t want to be your Kinan.  I’m not your Kinan.

"You will be safe here," he says.

You don’t think they really mean it?  You don’t think that they really know what it means, to be Kinan?

[I don’t know] Cole’s doubtful.  [I speak about as much Gemonese as you do, remember?  He calls you *the* Kinan, sometimes, too.  It must mean something, something special to them]

It’s not Gemonese, unless it’s a proper name in the Otori dialect that I haven’t come across before.

[Oh?]

It’s Kobolian. 

[Oh]

You’ve got it.  Oh.

"They mustn’t find you," says the priest, soothing.

Who?  Who mustn’t find me?

[Rescue!]  Cole says, excited.  Then he sighs and looks around.  [A good place to hide you.  They may never look here]

Zhyn kneels down and guides my feet onto one of the plates, so that I’m hanging on the column.  The plate sags under my weight, but holds.  The water splashes in my face, only a few inches from the top of the column.  It smells of waste, of urine and worse, and I cough and turn my head away.  In microns, my hair’s soaked with it.  Cold tendrils of water run down my back to soak the thin linen clothes I’m wearing.

"I’m surprised that they got here so fast," the priest says, and he sounds nervous.  "I wish we could have got away as planned."

Zhyn stands up, close behind me.  "They are checking the destinations of any shipments that left the Star.  Even though we routed him through two other ships, you knew they would get here some time."

"But not this quickly!"

"The commander is frantic to get him back," Zhyn says.  He has his hands on my shoulders, holding me steady as he steps carefully back.  "We have missed a great deal of excitement, Priest Dio, cloistered here on this ship, spending our time in prayer.  Priest Cantor tells me that they have torn the Fleet apart for the last three days, looking for him."

"I’m not sure we’ll get away with this," Dio says.

"There is no need for anxiety, priest.  They will be looking for the body we transported from the Rising Star.  We have one to show them, lying in state in your Chapel.  There will be nothing suspicious for them to latch on to, and even if there was, they will not find him here.  The access ports are very well camouflaged."  Zhyn’s passing a leather band around my waist, fastening it to the column.  "That should keep him from slipping."

"Let me in at him," Jianne says.

Zhyn backs away and, after tracing some sign on my forehead with his broad thumb, so does the priest.  Jianne squeezes in close, reaches up, and again there’s the sting of a needle.

[They certainly prefer you doped to the eyeballs] Cole observes.  [Keeps you quiet, I suppose.  I always preferred you a bit noisy, myself]

There’s the sound of the access bridge retracting, then the dull clang of the door port closing behind them as they leave me here.  I’m hanging with my hands above my head, none too comfortable, but drifting away on the drugs they’ve given me.

Days now, I think, I’ve been here.  Never awake enough to be sure, never more than half awake at any time, caught between dreaming and deep sleep.  I’m drifting deeper now, my head resting against my forearm, eyes closed, face tilted away from the persistent rain.

It’s a long time since I felt rain on my face.  Back home, before the Destruction, when I was planning what I’d do when the war was over; that was the last time.  I was toying with the idea of getting out of the military as soon as the Peace was signed, and going back to the life I’d given up a decade before, not realising that what awaited me was darkness and death and destruction, Serina and Boxey, terror, more death, more destruction.  Or that what awaited me was light and Starbuck.

Starbuck.  All I ever want.

[Mmn] says Cole, and as I drift away, I can feel him moving away from me.  [That one really turned your head, Apollo.  And where is he now, huh?  Where is he now?  He’s not the one in here with you, now is he?]

Not fair.

Cole shrugs and watches as I fall into sleep.

[Not fair.  And not here, either]

*^*^*^*^*^**^*^*^*^*^



This is a tiny room, not much bigger than my bathroom on the Galactica.

A three metre cube with almost featureless grey walls.  The bunk I’m lying on is inset into one wall, just long enough for me to lie full stretch and so narrow that if I turn too quickly and without due care and attention, I’ll fall out.  From where I’m lying I can see the darker lines of the door, a hard black rectangle etched into the grey.  There’s no lock on this side of the door, a little grey panel let into the grey wall to show where it’s been removed.

I’ve been staring at the door for a long time, I realise.  It takes an effort, but I turn my head on the lumpy, uncomfortable pillow and look around.  There’s not much else to look at.  The only other thing in the room is a small screen inset into the wall on my left, a tiny, narrow table beneath it, nothing more than a shelf, really, with two books placed carefully on it.  Real books.

That’s enough to interest me.  Real books, real paper books are such a rarity.  I have a set that my parents bought me as a present when I graduated from the Academy.  My mother probably chose them for me.  They aren’t what I’d expect Dad to think of.  But I’d done everything he asked of me: Senior Cadet and the Sword of Honour more or less reached his expectations for his eldest son, so I guess he allowed her to have her way, and she got what she knew would please me the best.  And what pleased me was all sixty-two precious, wonderful volumes of the History of the Kobolian Peoples.  They’re hundreds of yahrens old and must have cost a fortune.  Any museum would love those books.  I love those books.

I’m not entirely sure where I am.  Not home, not a room on the Star, unless the only room that Starbuck could get for me was in the crew’s quarters.  This definitely isn’t one of the luxury cabins assigned to the clientele.  And I’m somewhere near the engines.  I can feel the faint vibration through the bunk.  It makes me feel sick.  It makes me feel terribly sick.

I must have been stinking drunk.  I must have been absolutely out of my head if Starbuck couldn’t even get me home.  I haven’t been this pissed for, hell, ages.  More than two yahrens, nearly three.  I can’t put a date on it now, but I do know that it was sometime soon after Serina died, maybe a secton or two after, and I spent most evenings hitting the bottle a little too hard to try and forget that I’d killed her.  I’d married her when I shouldn’t have done, and if I hadn’t done that she wouldn’t have been on Kobol and she wouldn’t have seen that I loved Starbuck more than her, and she wouldn’t have slowed down until that Cylon got her, and she wouldn’t have died.  Simple little equation, isn’t it?  I killed her.  It was my fault.

Mostly I drank on my own, Boxey asleep in his room and the outside door locked against the world, but one night Starbuck persuaded me to leave Boxey with Athena and go to the OC with him.  It shocked him, I think.  He wasn’t expecting me to drink myself senseless.  He got me home that night.  He had to hold my head under the shower in the flushes next to the OC first, to get me sober enough so I could walk.  He didn’t say much, but he looked pretty grim when he heaved me into bed in my clothes.  He spent the night on my sofa.  It didn’t improve his temper, any.  He had some pretty strong words for me the next day, about shaping up or he’d tell my father and have me downchecked from duty until I sorted myself out.

A cross Starbuck with a kink in his back from having to sleep on my sofa is not a Starbuck to argue with.  He can be very eloquent on occasion.  I listened.  Partly because I couldn’t get a word in edgewise, partly because I was so ashamed of myself, but mainly because he was making sense.  I was being stupid and he was right about Boxey needing me, preferably sober.  He might have been mad with me, but he stuck to me like glue for the next few sectons until he was sure I was back on an even keel again. 

I never did tell him why I was drinking so hard then.  I didn’t need to.  Most people thought it was just shock and grief, but he knew better, he knew it was more than that.  He spent a lot of time convincing me that Serina’s death wasn’t my fault, that Zac’s death wasn’t my fault, that the countless millions of deaths weren’t my fault because I was too slow at Cimtar to warn the Fleet.  I know he’s right, really.  He made me believe him.  And he made sure that my little flirtation with strong alcohol wasn’t long lived.  I went back to being the old abstemious Apollo, rarely drinking more than a few beers and never to excess.

And I’ve learned to live with my dead. 

Mostly.

God knows why I got so drunk now.  There’s no reason for what Starbuck calls my masochism gene to kick in.  It’s a happy time.  Thenie’s wedding… yeah, that’s it.  Thenie’s wedding and dancing with Starbuck to the song I love best, and slipping away to make love with him somewhere dark and quiet…and then I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I don’t know why I got so drunk or where he is, or where I am, or anything.

It’s a while before I can think about going to look for him.  I try a few times, but every time I try to sit up, my head swims and my mouth tastes like a boray climbed in there to die of something foul and slimy.  It takes a few attempts before I manage it, and even then I have to sit with my knees up, and rest my head on my hands until I’ve got used to it thumping.  It feels like someone’s hitting my temples with a hammer.  What I need is Starbuck to hold my head under the shower again.  I’d even take him yelling at me again and be thankful for it, if only he was here.

When everything settles down a bit, I swing my legs to the floor and stand up.  I have to use the sides of the bunk to push myself upright, because my legs are wobbly, like someone took the bones out.  I do it slowly.  And carefully.  It feels like I have a hangover the size of a planet and if I move too fast my head’s likely to fall off and bounce across the floor.  Actually, I can feel each and every bounce despite the fact that, so far as I can work out, my head’s still attached.  Something very painful’s still attached, anyway.  I think it’s my head.

One shaky step and I’m in the middle of the room.  When it stops moving on me, I take another look around.  There’s a second door, I see, in the wall at the end of the bunk and this one has its lock.  Two steps and I’m there, and the door opens when I touch the lock.

A fresher.  Thank the Lords, but it’s a fresher.  Not half the size of the tiny room I’m in but big enough for a sonic shower and the flush.  I can’t face a shower just yet, but I make it over to the basin and fill it full of cold water and put my head in it.  Right now, drowning’s an attractive option.

Rubbing the water over my face I can feel the beard.  I must have been out for longer than I thought.  There’s a little mirror above the basin and I stare at myself.  Eyes red and slitting against the light, skin far too pale and beading with sweat almost as fast as I can wash it away, thick stubble.  I do not look healthy.

This doesn’t even begin to make sense.  It looks like I’ve been out of it for days.  No-one can drink themselves that insensible.  I’ve never been on a bender like this, not even at my worst over Serina.  What in hell happened?

I run more water, fresh and cool, and drink some of it from my cupped hands.  For a centon or two it makes me feel better, then the coldness reacts, and the hot sickness surges up from the pit of my stomach and I barely manage to lurch over to the flush before throwing it all up again.  And right now I need Starbuck to hold my head over the flush as I retch and retch and retch, but can’t bring anything up because the water’s long gone and there’s nothing else, and everything’s fading away and going dark as I lie on the cool floor gasping like a stranded fish, with my head against the cool metal of the flush and my stomach churning so much that it makes me sicker, and if I open my eyes again, they’ll fall out, and I’m sick, so sick that with every dry, coughing retch my fingers are curving into claws that dig into my palms and even my toes are curling, and there’s a huge, thunderous, steady thudding in my head and I feel like I’m dying, please God let me die, right here and right now…

"Easy, Kinan," a man says softly, his arms lifting me up.  "Easy."

"Hold him still," a woman says from behind him, and she presses something against the side of my neck.

No!  She’s done this so many times.  They’ve put so many drugs into me.  No more!  No more…

He catches my hands as I try to push her away.  "A painkiller, nothing more," he says, soothing.  "Something to help."

The relief is almost immediate.  The hammers battering my head ease off, and I can get my eyes open.  The light hurts, but I can see, staring at their red-streaked faces hanging over me.

Otori.  The best pharmacists in the known universe, with a drug for every and any occasion.  They created the most powerful – and dangerous – narcotics in the pharmacopoeia, both legal and illegal.  Everything from the ganja weed that helps you relax, to Shadow and Bliss that speed you into eternity through a mind-killing addiction.  I’ve seen Shadow addicts living from hit to hit, thinking of nothing but the next needle.  That’s not a pretty sight.

And I didn’t get drunk.  They drugged me.  These Otori drugged me.  They drugged me and then they put me inside a coffin, and Cantor was there too.  What the fuck did they use on me?

"Try this," the woman says.  She holds a glass to my lips.  "It will help settle your stomach."

It does help.  It tastes flat and brackish, but I stop feeling quite so sick.

"Bicarbonate."  She smiles at me.  That’s a professional medtech’s smile.  It doesn’t reach the eyes that are assessing me, checking me.  "You probably feel like you have a massive hangover."

I don’t nod, in case anything falls off, but I’m willing to bet that the look on my face is pretty expressive.

"Up?"  the man asks, and hauls me upright.

"Shit!" I say as the world spins crazily, but he has hold of me and helps me back into the main cabin, helping me sit on the bunk.  I have to prop my elbows on my knees and get my head down again for a centon, and he rubs my shoulders comfortingly.

"You will feel better in a little while, when you have eaten," he says

The very thought makes me groan.  I’ll throw up for sure.

"Food is on the way," the woman says.  "Eat it slowly when it comes."

What’s her name, now?  I’ve heard it.  I heard it on the Rising Star, and in here, when I was dreaming about something, about someone, and she and Cantor and this man were woven into my dreams.

"You had better go now, Jianne," he says.  "I want to talk to the Kinan."

Jianne.  That’s it.

"Do you want me to tell the priests that His Eminence is on his way?"

He doesn’t say anything.  Maybe he just nods at her, because when I can straighten up a bit, she’s on her way out, her soft linen skirt billowing out behind her.  She closes the door gently.

"Better, Kinan?"

"I’m not Kinan.  My name’s Apollo," I correct him.  "Apollo." 

I move away from him, getting my legs up onto the bunk, and lean gingerly back against the bulkhead.  Moving my head still hurts, so I’m careful.  But I am all right now.  It’s all bearable, and my head’s clear. 

I watch him for a centon, taking it all in.  He must be about ten yahrens or so older than me, and he’s taut and wiry under those loose fitting linen clothes, and very strong, given he’s been hauling me about everywhere.  His hair’s as dark as mine, but his eyes are dark too, a tawny brown, slanting upwards.  Two stripes of red paint mark each cheek. 

"Not Kinan," I say again.

He’s been calling me that for a long time, this Otori.  Zhyn.  That’s his name.  Zhyn.  The man on the Rising Star, the man who dragged Starbuck’s body away.

Starbuck!

It was like a punch to the solar plexus.  The breath almost whooshes out of me and I jack-knife up straight, forgetting about the absurd title he’s pinning on me.

"Starbuck?  What did you do with Starbuck?"  I can hear the panic in my voice.

His expression goes very cold.  Until now he’s looked faintly amused, but this doesn’t amuse him.  "So far as I am aware, the lieutenant is making a good recovery.  He is still in the Galactica’s Life Centre, but the news is that he has recovered enough to be able to tell your father what he knows."  The amusement’s back.  "Which is, of course, nothing."

Starbuck’s alive.  He’s alive.  For a centon I’m so relieved about that, that I can’t do anything but sit and shake, my face in my hands, so overcome that I feel dizzy again.  Everything’s hazy, but I’m starting to fit it together.  When I can look up, he’s waiting patiently, watching me.

"Someone used a laser stun bolt on us.  You?"

He smiles and shakes his head.  "It is difficult for civilians to get hold of weapons as sophisticated as that, Kinan, although there is a strong black market in ordinary blasters.  We had to use other contacts."

"My name is not Kinan!"

"No," he agrees.  "That is your title."

I wait.  I do not like what he’s going to say next.  And here it comes.

"You are *the* Kinan."  He speaks slowly and carefully, his tone reverent, as if he were in Church.  "You are the Aekestre Sem-ve, Rhamminadth, Kobol-galathdh Kinan."

I know.  I know what he thinks I am, and I know what it means.  Although my first loves were history and archaeology, one of my specialisms was the Prophecies.  I know what he’s talking about and I do *not* like it.

"Uh-huh," I say, and wait some more.

"It is difficult to translate it into Standard exactly, but, roughly, your title means ‘the Chosen Anointed Guide-Redeemer’.  *You* are the Chosen Anointed Guide-Redeemer."

His turn to wait, now.  He wants me to react, to say something, to acknowledge the role they’re imposing on me.  Maybe he’s waiting for me to accept it.  Well,  he can wait until hell freezes over before that happens.

"Actually, that’s not strictly accurate."  I sit up straighter, wipe my hand across my mouth.  I hate the feel of the stubble, but I’m still too shaky to think about getting rid of it just yet.  "A closer translation would be ‘Redeemer chosen by the Light, Star Seer, the Lords’ Anointed’.  You can translate Rhamminadth as ‘Guide’ if you want, I suppose, but ‘Star Seer’ is more accurate."

He just looks at me.

"It’s from the Book of the Prophecies of Xuian; the tenth prophecy, I think.  Not, you’ll notice, part of the accepted Testament of the Book of the Word, but one of the Apocrypha, the Books no-one thinks were really the Word at all.  My professors all thought the Apocrypha are spurious, or fakes, or just plain crazy."  I pause.  "Well, I’m with them on that one."

His mouth is a thin line, and his eyes cold.  The faint amusement’s gone altogether now.  I watch him while I think about Xuian’s Prophecy.  It has to be at least six thousand yahrens old, one of the oldest of the Apocrypha, written just after humanity reached the Colonies after being expelled from Kobol. 

I’m pretty sure I can remember Xuian, though I haven’t thought about the gibberish in yahrens.  This was always an oddity, so obscure as to be meaningless and covering ground that no other prophecy ventured on, but the words have a cadence and rhythm all of their own.  I learned most of Xuian’s prophecies by heart.  A little esoteric, but they got me through more than one test.  The tenth prophecy is only three sentences, three short verses long.

But I am really in the shit if these people believe all this.  So deep that no-one will ever find me. 

Time to test the water.

"Mai Aekestre Sem-ve, Rhamminadth, Kobol-galathdh Kinan gesinthe-ka voi, fro-sa Aekestrennt mai Citrudth voi," I say, the Kobolian coming easily to me, even after all these yahrens.  The second verse comes automatically : "Bystre sen-za Kinan, wei sen-zi drydtha Inspel, mai gardhe drydtha Rhinn."

He stares at me, eyes slitting.  I search my memory for verse three.

"Gesinthe Kobol-galathdh Kinan, tha-lei phosasdth,"  I finish.

And the Redeemer chosen by the Light, Star Seer, the Anointed of the Lords of Kobol walks with thee, bringing thee Redemption and Peace. 

Mark well the path of the Anointed, for in his path lies Salvation, and in his seed is thy Shield. 

Walk with the Lords’ Anointed or be silent.

Oh yeah.  Like I believe that has anything at all to do with me.  Xuian was a raving lunatic, by all accounts.  Well, the accounts may be fragmentary, but anyone who writes that sort of felger has to have a screw loose somewhere or have been smoking too much ganja.  Come to think of it, Xuian is an Otori kind of name.  It figures.

"And that…" I say gently.  "…has nothing whatsoever to do with me.  I’m not your Anointed.  I’m not the Kinan."

"Ah yes."  There’s a slight flush on his cheeks, under the red paint that marks them.  "I had forgotten.  You were once a scholar."

"It’s a hobby," I say, quoting my father’s dismissive words from half a lifetime ago. 

"Then I do not need to explain further.  Except to assure you that we Otori do not accept that any of the Books are anything other than the Word.  They are all the Word, however obscure."  The thin mouth draws in tighter.  "Nor do we lightly use the speech of the Lords."  He pauses a moment, and then nods at me.  "We thought that we would have to teach you the Prophecies.  This will save us some time.  Do you remember it all?"

I nod.

"Then, Kinan, you understand what you are to do," he says with a simplicity that has nothing to do with being stupid and an awful lot to do with complete religious conviction.

The water’s hot.  I retreat back to shore and start trying to convince him he’s wrong.

"My name is Apollo," I say again.  "I’m not your Kinan."

The smile looks forced.  "Lord Apollo, then."

Oh, no way am I having that!  Do I look like a Lord of Kobol, for fuck’s sake?

I keep my tone cool, though.  "If you want to get formal, Zhyn, you can call me Captain Apollo.  At a pinch, I’ll accept Sire Apollo.  Nothing else fits."

He doesn’t react much to that, except to look at me thoughtfully.  "You know my name."

"I must have heard it somewhere."

"You were more aware at times than I appreciated, then."

"Believe me, it’s far more than I appreciate."  I rub a hand across the back of my neck and move my head and shoulders experimentally.  Nothing falls off.  That’s good.  The world’s solidifying then.

He smiles again, more genuinely this time.  "We have an undeserved reputation, Kinan.  Our knowledge and use of narcotics is very wide, and you are very precious to us.  The drugs were used on you were mostly harmless."

I sigh.  No matter what I say he’s still going to be calling me by that stupid title.  "Mostly?  Forgive me if I’m not reassured."

"We have had to keep you under longer than we would have liked," he says with a shrug.  "But your troopers were here for eighteen centars.  They were very thorough."

"Not thorough enough."  I scrub at my eyes and straighten a bit, cautiously.  "If I was in that filtration tower for that long, it’s a miracle I haven’t grown fish scales."

"Very aware," he acknowledges, a faint frown on his face.  "I had the water switched off completely to that tower, when we realised we would have to keep you there some time."

Very considerate of the man.  I don’t pursue it .  "I reckon this has to be the Icarus, right?"

He nods.

"Thought so.  I remember that most of the Otori assembled on the Icarus." 

It’s the sort of information I had to remember, as third in command.  Once I just thought of it as one little insignificant fact in the mass of detail I was expected to carry about in my head.  Now, I don’t know.  Those facts, those details might help give me an edge of some sort.  Just don’t ask me what sort.

The Icarus is a Gemonese freighter, a big one.  Far bigger than the one we took Cassie from just after the Destruction, when this man and his kind would have casually murdered her, big enough for all of the Otori to assemble here.  Around seven hundred of them, if I remember rightly from the post-Destruction Census that we took.  They are in the majority here on this ship, but at least another three hundred or so people live here, mostly devout Kobolians, I remember.  The Otori, of course, don’t actually acknowledge allegiance to the Kobolian Church.  They’re closer to the Kobolians than any other of the churches, but, if I remember rightly, they tend to think of Kobolians as worldly slackers who don’t pray any where near enough. 

Being on the Icarus accounts for the vibration I can feel through the bulkheads.  The Galactica’s state of the art: even though she’s a few hundred yahrens old she’s had innumerable refits, the last when my father took command of her, fifteen yahrens ago.  She has all the latest technology.  Sure, taking the walkway above the thruster chambers to get to the Celestial Dome and you have to wear protectors against the noise and vibration, but anywhere else on the ship and the engines seem to run silent and smooth.  Freighters like the Icarus, for all that they’re centuries younger than the Galactica, have barely ever seen the inside of a refit yard since the day they were launched.  They always seem older and cruder than a Battlestar, less sophisticated, and definitely more ramshackle.  And they smell, of too much humanity crowded into too small a space.

And that accounts for the old-fashioned water filtration system they hid me in.

"We are all here," says Zhyn.  "With friends."

"That’s nice.  And how long have I been here?"

"A few days.  Five." Zhyn glances up when there’s a knock at the door, taking those dispassionate brown eyes off me for the first time. 

It’s a distraction I welcome.  Five days!  They’ve kept me drugged up for five days?  Shit.  God alone knows what shit they’ve been giving me.  No wonder I feel like hell.

The door’s opened from the outside.  There’s two men outside, both Otori from their dress.  One has his hand on the external door mechanism – a guard, maybe?  They’d need someone there to let people in and out, I guess, since there’s no mechanism on the inside.  The other man’s carrying a tray.  Neither of them speak, but the man with the tray sees me watching and ducks his head at me, a kind of nod of acknowledgement.  He doesn’t come in, just hands the tray over to Zhyn before he leaves as silently as he came, closing the door behind him.

I notice that, like Jianne, the two Otori in the corridor have only one streak of red paint on each cheek.  Zhyn has two.  A rank marking of some kind?

Zhyn puts the tray down on the bed within my reach. 

"Try and eat.  You will feel better for it."  Zhyn’s back to watching me again.  He smiles again.  His annoyance over me quoting Kobolian at him seems to have evaporated.  "We expected you to feel a little fragile.  The oatmeal is bland enough."

"Porridge," I say, picking up the bowl.  I stick the spoon in with very little enthusiasm. 

Boxey loves this stuff.  He’d eat it every morning for breakfast if he could.  I’m not so fond of it myself, but I’m suddenly ravenously hungry.  If Zhyn’s telling the truth, I haven’t eaten for five days now.  I could eat anything, I think.  I take a mouthful of it. 

And I think about Boxey.  My poor little son must be scared stiff, not knowing where I am.  It has to be worse for him than if I’d gone in a firefight.  He’d at least know, then.  I know Dad’ll be looking after him, but, still, I don’t want my son to be scared.

I’m scared stiff, myself, if it comes to it.  But Starbuck’s alive.  He’s alive, and that’s all that matters, really.  I’ll find out what all this is about and get home somehow, to Starbuck and Boxey.  If it kills me.

I eat the stuff slowly.  Jianne was right about that.  No matter how hungry I am, suddenly, if I bolt this down I’ll be hanging over the turboflush again.  But I feel better for eating it, bland as it is.  There’s a flask of tea, too, and Zhyn pours me some into a tiny handle-less cup of thin porcelain, offering it neat, in the Otori fashion.  It’s surprisingly refreshing.  He takes some himself, and sips on the tea.

"I must say," he remarks.  "That you are taking this a lot more calmly than I expected.  No outraged demands for an explanation?  Your reputation for being quick tempered must be a little exaggerated."

"Right at this moment a two yahren old could knock me down and not get out of breath doing it," I say, looking at him over the rim of the cup.  "My head hurts too much for me to get excited."

"Ah," he says, and smiles again.  "The I shall look forward to the fireworks when you’re feeling better then."

Patronising bastard.

"Besides," I say.  "Given what you’re calling me and the fact that Cantor was here earlier and is on his way back now, I can take an educated guess at what this is about."  He gets a thin smile back from me.  "I’ll wait for Cantor’s explanation.  It’s better coming from the man at the top."

His mouth tightens again.  Good.  That got to the bastard then.  He doesn’t like being thought inferior to a non-Otori, even when that non-Otori is the Vicar General.  Maybe especially when the non-Otori is the Vicar General?

"You will find that although we are allied with Priest Cantor, that is as far as it goes," he says, and he’s angry.

"Oh?"  I shrug.  "Whatever."

Interesting.  He doesn’t like Cantor either.  That could be something to use.  But only if I stop needling him.

He glares for a micron, then shakes his head, smiling again.  He pours himself and me a second cup.  "I must remember not to pander to my prejudices about those of you not fortunate enough to be Otori.  You are not as stupid as you may appear at first sight."

"Thanks," I say.  I think.

He glances at a chronometer on his wrist.  "Cantor and the others will be here in half a centar.  Everything you need to get cleaned up is in the bathroom.  Do you need help?"

Well, I’ve been washing myself for a long time now, but it won’t hurt if he thinks I’m still fragile and a bit helpless.  Actually, I still am fragile and a bit helpless.  I hold out one hand.  It’s trembling.

"I’d rather not shave myself.  I’ll cut myself to ribbons.  I’d appreciate some help with that, anyway."

The faint amusement’s back again.  "Then you shall have it, Kinan.  We live but to serve.  It will be an honour."

Yeah.  I bet it will be an honour.  And that might just be my way out of this mess.  All I have to do is keep calm and think, and as soon as my head stops thudding, start thinking, but good, about how to use this to get out of here.

I get slowly to my feet.  Not as shaky this time, definitely better.  He gets up more quickly and gracefully, one hand under my elbow to help support me.

Yes.  Maybe that’s my way out of here, to play on this superstition. 

I might just have to get used to being the Lords’ Anointed.

^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^



"It’s a long time since last we spoke together, my son," says Cantor, by way of greeting.

When Zhyn’s finished helping me clean up, there’s fresh clothes for me; soft Otori linens like his, and supple black boots.  Then we come here, to a room on the main deck of the freighter; somewhere just behind the bridge, I’d say.  It’s simply furnished with a table and half a dozen chairs.  One of the chairs on the left hand side of the table is set under an embroidered canopy.  I half expect that one’s for Cantor – it fits with his delusions of power and grandeur - but he’s sitting at the head of the table instead, waiting for me.

The corridors of this ship are quiet and empty.  When I pass through them, there’s no-one but Zhyn and my escort.  He walks beside me, but behind us are two big Otori, who were waiting for us outside the door of my cell, and are obviously there to make sure I don’t try anything.  I don’t intend to.  I’m not up to it.  I feel a little better.  I mean, I think I’ve recovered enough for it to take a three yahren old to deck me now, but I’m not up to trying to make a run for it.  Not yet. 

My Honour Guard, Zhyn tells me.  Otori from the first families, priestly families, who have sworn to protect me.  I’m not sure from what, since I feel most threatened by him, but I tell him that's nice, in the most fatuous tone I can manage.  His mouth tightens a little, but that’s his only reaction.  I’ve never found priests that receptive to irony, and he’s no exception.

These two Otori and the man who brought me the oatmeal are the only ones I’ve seen.  They’re all at prayer, Zhyn says, when I ask where everyone is.  An Otori spends a lot of time at prayer.  And I thought that being Kobolian was a seriously tedious business.

I nod at Cantor, processing what he’s said as I look around the room.  "I suppose that’s because I’ve always seen you coming first," I say.  "The basis of most successful avoidance tactics."

Cantor merely smiles.  Zhyn grins slightly.

"Until now," Zhyn says, and to my surprise he waves me towards the canopied chair.

"You had to kidnap me, though."  I look thoughtfully at the chair.  "Mine?"

"An acknowledgement of your importance to us, my son," Cantor says. 

"I’m flattered."  Actually, what I am is glad to sit down.  It’s not been a particularly long walk – big as she is, the Icarus can’t be even a sixth the size of the Galactica – but I’m still feeling the effects of whatever cocktail of narcotics they’ve been feeding me for the past few days.  I’m shattered.  And feeling this tired and disorientated isn’t going to help with whatever argument I’m about to have with Cantor.

Zhyn settles into the chair at the other end of the table to Cantor, with me in the exact middle.  Interesting.  I wonder if that’s symbolic of how they think of me.  Belonging equally to them both.

Or to neither?

Much as it might be interesting to see if I’m to be a source of unity or potential conflict, there’s no time to think about it now.  Cantor’s obviously been reared on a diet of Aquarian melodrama, and thinks it’s time for the villain – him -  to explain the plot to the hero - me.

"Has Zhyn explained to you why you’re here?"

I shake my head.  "Let’s just say that with him pinning unsuitably religious titles on me, I’ve a general idea that this is more of what we talked about eighteen sectars ago. But the details escape me."

Cantor has an ornate copy of the Book of the Word in front of him on the table, a real book, like the two in the cabin they’re holding me in.  All the time he talks to me his fingers caress it, like a lover, gently rubbing against the tooled leather binding.  "Let’s say that we’re moving that discussion on, a little.  When we last spoke, we discussed the significance of what happened to you."

"Yes." I agree.  When it happened, Cantor expended a lot of energy trying to convince me that I’d been touched by the Lords, and as a consequence I should undergo some sort of religious epiphany.  My lack of faith always disturbed him.

"And I don’t need to remind you that what happened has a very deep religious significance."

"For you."

"For many, Apollo."  His mouth’s hardening into that impatient line that is so familiar to me from two yahrens ago, when we had many an unprofitable conversation like this.  "Not only for your own Church, but for others, such as the Otori here.  For everyone."

"Look…"

He talks over the top of me.  "I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will, so that we’re very, very clear about the ground we have to cover.  I really shouldn’t have to say this given your family’s prominence in the Church.  I would expect someone like you to understand and accept this, without question."  He draws himself up, as if he’s settling all the authority of the Vicar General on his shoulders like it’s something palpable.  "You died, my son, struck down by Diabolis himself, and were restored to life by the grace and mercy of the Lords of Kobol.  In their mercy, they chose you as their instrument, to bear a message to the remnants of humanity, a message of hope in the face of destruction, a message of forgiveness for sins and an assurance of their protection as we journey to the place they have chosen for us."

Oh boy.

"But there’s more to it than merely a message, Apollo, more than merely a route map to the place they’ve chosen for our refuge, more than a route to Earth.  You came back from death, my son.  More than anything that gives hope, a sign of Their clemency, Their forgiveness of our iniquity; that the wrath that led to the Destruction has been appeased.  You bring hope.  You are a symbol of renewal."

"I don’t want to be a symbol of anything!"

"That’s an irrelevancy, and unbelievably childish for a man your age."

That stings.  "Look.  I agree that something odd happened on that Ship.  Not that I believe for a micron that I was dead – that’s complete nonsense.  I couldn’t have been – but something odd happened, and the people on the Ship, whoever they were, did give me the route we’re following."

"Whoever They were?  Can you doubt that They were the Lords?"

"Very easily.," I snap back.  "I have no idea who they were, and neither do you!  Not once did they say they were from Kobol."

"Not to you, perhaps." Cantor says.  "There were others there."

That stops me for a micron.  I’ve so little memory of the Ship itself they could have told me anything and I won’t have remembered it.  It’s like there’s room inside my head for the route map, but not for any other memory of them.  For Starbuck and Sheba it’s the opposite.  They can’t remember the route, but have better memories of the Ship and its people.  Starbuck says he doesn’t know who they were either, and that they never mentioned Kobol to him.  Sheba, then?  They told Sheba they were from Kobol?  But she’s even less religious than I am.  If she believes they’re from Kobol, it hasn’t made her any more pious.  And she’s never mentioned it before.  I have to say I’d be a touch cynical if she says it kinda slipped her mind in all the excitement, and she’s only just remembered.

I ignore what he says.  I don’t want to think that they really were the Lords.  My life’s complicated enough without that. 

"The point is that I don’t understand what happened on that Ship," I say.  "And neither do you.  You weren’t there.  And, yes, I do accept that unexplained happenings like this are the very essence of religious belief, and I do understand the need for people to cling to belief, to give them something stable that helps explain, for them, the things that happen to them.  Of course that’s something significant for a lot of people, even if I don’t share it.  I understand all that, Cantor.  I have no quarrel with that.  What I don’t accept, what I do quarrel with, is the notion that somehow *I’m* religiously significant.  For frack’s sake, all I am is the messenger.  Their bloody errand boy."

Cantor shakes his head.  "Far more than that, Apollo.  Far more than that."

"You are the Kinan," Zhyn says, softly.  "The Lords’ Anointed.  You have merely forgotten it."

"Forgotten it!  If it’s true, how could I forget it?"

Zhyn gives me a cool, dispassionate look.  "You have been beset by evil," he says.

I’ve been what?  Oh please!  Spare me the religious felger.

"Evil," I say, tone flat.

"The creature we found you with."

Starbuck?  He means Starbuck? 

"Don’t be ridiculous.  Starbuck’s not evil."

His face grows very cold.  "Abomination!" he says and shakes his head.  "He has corrupted you.  You were dressed like a whore when we found you."

"For fuck’s sake, I was at a bloody party!  We were having fun!"

"And he had used you."  Zhyn says, pitiless.

Despite myself, I go red at that.  When I woke up, I was in a linen shirt and not much else.  The clothes Starbuck had bought me were gone, and if this man took me out of them, then it’s more than likely that there were still traces of Starbuck on me and in me.  Unmistakeable traces.

Cantor waves a hand dismissively, as if wafting away something that offends him, looking faintly disgusted.  "It’s at an end, and he will remember himself, Zhyn, now that we have him safe."

"Oh, will I?"

Cantor smiles.  "Oh yes.  You will repent your sins, my son, and seek absolution."  He sounds so supremely confident, that I’m left spluttering.  After a centon, he goes on.  "You’ll remember your tasks, Apollo.  You will remember that you are more than an errand boy, that you bring us redemption."

Aekestrennt mai Citrudth, said Xuian.  Redemption and Peace.  The Lords’ Anointed will bring you Redemption and Peace.

"However, it has been apparent to me for some time that most of the people in this Fleet are unworthy of redemption,"  he says.  "A very great miracle happened, and they haven’t responded as they ought."

"Oh?"  It’s all I can say.  Everything about me is as heavy as lead suddenly, and I’m very tired, the little brief burst of energy draining away.  I can feel my shoulders slumping, and I huddle down into this preposterous chair.  They really are lunatics.  And I’m helpless here.  If I was feeling okay I could definitely take on Cantor and, probably, Zhyn, but there’s a whole ship load of fanatics here.  No weapon.  Nowhere to go. No way out.  And I don’t feel okay.  The two yahren-old could get me again.

"They don’t seek the Church," he says simply.  "They continue in the ways of sin and selfishness, and have not turned, as they ought, to God and the Lords."

"To you," I say, fighting the lethargy, trying to find the defiance of a few centons ago.

He flushes slightly.  "I am the servant of God," he says reprovingly.

"Of course."  I smile when I say it, to provoke him, to try and get the initiative back. 

He gives me a long, level look.  "You would be a great deal pleasanter to be around if you didn’t try to be clever," he says after a centon.

A little victory.  Net much, but it’s heartening. 

"If it’s ever an ambition of mine to please you, I’ll bear that in mind," I murmur.  "Of course, I wouldn’t bet on it being anytime soon."

Starbuck, I reflect, would be proud of me.  Normally I can never think of anything smart to say until at least half a centar after I should have said it.  Normally I’m too fired up with temper to think straight.  Three centons ago, I was too fired up with temper to think straight, to be cautious.  Now I’m cooler.  There are some advantages in being this tired, then.

Cantor looks down at the Book, and takes a deep breath.  Then he ignores everything I’ve said.  "For almost two yahrens now, since you were touched by God, I’ve tried to tell them, I’ve tried to get them to repent and turn back to God and the Lords, to see the importance of the message that you brought us.  And I’ve laboured against your hostility, your blindness and obstinacy, your own sinfulness."

There’s another headache starting behind my right eye, so all I do is rest my elbows on the table and prop my chin up on my hands, and wait.  I’m shivering now, but I try to hide it.  I’m not cold.  Just scared.

"Despite all that I and my priests have said and exhorted them to, only a few have listened to me.  And then I found the Otori, and Zhyn, here, and found that they, too, had realised the importance of what happened to you on the Ship when the Lords consecrated you to your new task.  And so we joined together to bring you to a sense of your duty, to remind you, to take you away from worldly things and bring you here so that you can find yourself."

Oh, how kind.

"But it doesn’t make any sense!  If you think I’m so mired in sin why continue to build up that silly legend about me being touched by the Lords?  I mean, either I’m the Lords’ Anointed and I’m holy and special, the way you’ve tried to tell it, or I’m all too human and sinful and ordinary.  Can’t you see – can’t they see – how inconsistent it all is?"

"The Faithful believe what we’ve told them," he says serenely.  "They know that the Evil One beset you and although you’ve managed to complete a part of your task, you’re lost and astray, and need only some guidance to return to the Light.  They also know that as long as you were on the Galactica, you wouldn’t get that guidance.  They know that you need to be here, with the righteous to remember righteousness.  They know that at first you will be unwilling, until you come to see that this is your destiny." 

"They know one helluva lot."

Cantor just smiles and Zhyn looks amused.

"So they justify kidnapping me by thinking it’s all for my own good?"  I just can’t see how they can hold two images of me in their minds at the same time.

Cantor doesn’t seem to think that’s a problem.  "They revere you, Apollo, but they realise that you need help."

"But that’s crazy," I mutter.  I glance at Zhyn.  "I thought that Otori preferred to remain apart from the other sects."

"We do.  But we need the Kinan to find our way home for us."

"And Zhyn and the Otori people have been waiting for you, Apollo," says Cantor.  "They reminded me of the Prophecies."

"Zhyn and I have already discussed those," I say.  "Briefly."

Mai Aekestre Sem-ve, Rhamminadth, Kobol-galathdh Kinan gesinthe-ka voi. 

And the Redeemer chosen by the Light, Star Seer, the Anointed of the Lords of Kobol walks with thee.

Sweet God.  They can’t really believe this!  I look at Zhyn, at his quietness and confidence and sureness.  The man’s a fanatic; implacable, unyielding, relentless, absolutely convinced of his rightness.  This is not a man to know a micron’s doubt. 

Shit.  I’m going to be one hell of a disappointment as the Lords’ Anointed.  Let’s hope he can live with it. 

Let’s hope he lets *me* live with it.

"You’ll be discussing them in more depth with both my priests and with Zhyn," Cantor says.  "They explain you, Apollo.  They set out what your task now is.  It’s time you understood it, and started taking some responsibility."

That’s a low blow.  I’ve done nothing all my life but take responsibility.  It’s part of the baggage of being my father’s son.  "I’ve performed the task.  I’ve given the Council the route to Earth.  I ran my errand for the Ship of Lights."

"Oh the Council!"  Cantor makes a dismissive gesture.  I almost warm to him for that.  At least that’s one thing we have in common: a disdain for the politicians who rule us.  "They did their best to balk me, last yahren.  They will not accept that their time is past, that your message is about the passing away of temporal, worldly authority and the full flowering of the Church to take its place."

Just to be sure, I close my eyes for a micron and will the co-ordinates to appear.  They scroll across the back of my eyelids.  Still there, then.   "No," I say.  "Nothing but numbers.  There’s nothing here about a palace coup."

There’s a very sharp intake of breath from Zhyn.  "Can you see it, the way to Earth?" he demands, leaning forward eagerly, shocked out of his composure.  "Whenever you want?"

"Yes."  I quote the first couple of co-ordinate clusters at him, then open my eyes and the numbers fade away again.  If it *is* Earth, of course, but I don’t voice that thought.

"I was not sure that I really believed it."  He raises his hand in a strange gesture, reverent suddenly.  It’s like it wipes out his earlier disgust at me and Starbuck.  "Rhamminadth," he says very softly.

Star Seer.

Well, I suppose that bit fits, even if nothing else does.  I look at him thoughtfully.  I can’t rush this.  I can’t be my usual unsubtle self.  But this has possibilities.  If I can get him to listen to me, I may be able to get out of this.  Oh big "if", Apollo. 

"What you can or can’t see is irrelevant," Cantor snaps at me with a fine disregard for logic and reason.  "It’s the relationship to the Prophecies that matter.  And they are perfectly clear."

I think back to those lectures at the Kobol Institute, a lifetime ago.  There’s only those three verses about the Lords’ Anointed in the whole of Xuian’s work, and if the rest of the Prophecies are anything at all, they’re obtuse to the point of dark-star matter.  The Prophecies are not perfectly clear.  They’re diametrically opposed to perfectly clear.  The only thing that’s clear is that Xuian preached that the Anointed is a Guide, to bring redemption and peace.  Xuian said nothing at all about the Anointed leading the Chosen to Paradise, which I think is where Zhyn’s coming from and hopes he’s going to.  And Xuian most definitely says nothing at all about who the Anointed is or how to recognise him.

Mai Aekestre Sem-ve, Rhamminadth, Kobol-galathdh Kinan gesinthe-ka voi. 

It’s not me. 

I’m not the Anointed.

"I remember them," I say.  "So, what you expect of me is to give you the route to Earth?  Nothing simpler, Cantor.  That’s where the whole Fleet is heading.  We just keep going."

"I think not," Cantor says.

"They pollute us by their presence," Zhyn tells me.  "They are lost in sin, unrepentant, unknowing of the blessing you bring us.  The way that you are unknowing, although you will learn.  They will not learn.  They mire us down.  We are in danger of being lost through them."

Lost?  With my infallible sense of direction?

"The Lords punish us, constantly, for their wickedness," he says.  "They send plagues to torment us."

"Plagues?"  I’m getting very confused now.  What plagues?

"The Cylons, first, then others since: enemies to harass and destroy the ungodly.  If we are free of sin, then the Lords will not harry us, but protect us on our journey."

I do not like the way this conversation is heading.  "So the remedy is?"

"To go our own way, with you to guide us, Kinan," he says with that awful simplicity again.

Oh shit.  Like I thought.  The Chosen to be led to Paradise.

"Are we still with the Fleet?"  I can’t help asking, dreading that these lunatics have taken off with me, and that I’ll never, ever get home. 

Cantor’s smile is very unpleasant.  "Now that’s frightened you," he says, softly, enjoying it.

"We are still with them," Zhyn says. 

I almost want to die with relief.  I believe him.  He’s a complete madman, of course, but I don’t think he’ll play with me the way Cantor will, and I don’t think he’ll like Cantor doing it.  This Otori is a very moral man, by his own lights, I think.  Upright and straight, rigid and unyielding, and a complete religious fanatic. 

Cantor, of course, is just after power.  Zhyn’s after something far more dangerous.  He’s after Paradise.

"But not for long." Cantor’s smile is still unpleasant and mocking.  "When the time is right, we’ll leave."

"And that’s it?  You just take off, and leave everything behind?  One ship?  A bit less ambitious than your last attempt to take over."

"There’s the old saying about big fish and small ponds, my son," says Cantor complacently.  He gives Zhyn a quick glance and adds, quickly: "I had not then realised the depths of iniquity to which the people of this Fleet had sunk.  I have learned since that only a few may be saved.  Only the Faithful."

His sudden reversion to piety is pretty sickening.  Zhyn doesn’t miss it, either.  His face remains expressionless, but I don’t think he likes it, or Cantor, very much.  They’re using each other, these two, and I’m strung out between them.

"One ship with maybe a thousand people on board?  That’s not a lot to populate Earth when you reach it."

"We have two other ships with us," Cantor says.  "The Calliope and our old friend, the Danae.  My priests and I have very carefully hoarded the Faithful onto these three ships.  Altogether, there’s more than two thousand of us." 

I’m impressed by their planning.  There’s always lots of movement between ships, as people move around to work or just for better accommodation, all of it logged, of course, on the central databanks on the Galactica.  But even so, it would be easy enough to manipulate those moves, especially if you have a Council member or two in your pocket.  And easier still, since both the Calliope and the Danae are - were  - hot spots, full of dispossessed malcontents.  The Council would have welcomed the distribution of their former populations around the Fleet, and been delighted that more quiet, religiously minded families were moving in. 

Clever, and more than clever.  The Danae has a big hydroponics unit, fitted only last yahren to supplement the two remaining agriships, and the Calliope carries three of the Fleet’s civilian shuttles.  The techs have just finished fitting those shuttles with new laser cannon, to help with the Fleet’s defences and for Trent’s people to use, if needed, to supplement ground operations.  If they really have the Calliope and the Danae, then they’ve ensured themselves a food supply and some defensive capability, at least.

"With only the three shuttles, you’re very lightly armed," I say.

"We have no need of arms if the Lords are with us," Zhyn says, quietly.

I don’t say anything to that.  I’ve always found prayer less convincing a weapon than a fully-charged laser.  But then, I’m obviously a heathen.

We’re all silent for a while.  I feel sick, and slightly disorientated.  Not the drugs, but shock, I think.  They’re so matter of fact about this, just radiating confidence and the sense that they’re right and infallible.  The whole idea is mad.  They’re mad.  I’m a prisoner here on this ship.  No matter what they pretend to think about my religious significance, or the fact they give me some fancy throne to sit in, I’m their prisoner.  Me against nearly a thousand religious fanatics?  I don’t think so.  What the fuck am I going to do?

I think about what they’ve told me so far.  "So the idea is that you’ll pick your moment, and then the three ships leave?  And me?"

"You’re coming with us," Cantor says.  "You are the Guide."

"The Kinan," Zhyn says.

"Not if I can help it, I’m not!"

"You cannot help it."  Zhyn shrugs.  "It is the task given you by the Lords.  You cannot avoid it."

Shit.  Oh shit, oh shit, oh…

I try very hard to stay calm, to argue with him on his own terms.  "If I bought your argument about me being the Guide, then don’t you think the whole Fleet needs me?"

His slanting brown eyes are dispassionate, indifferent.  "They are undeserving."

"But you can’t just make me come with you!  I’ve got a family, a son…"

"Many people have lost their families," Zhyn says.  "And there will be more sons."

The hell there will!  "Look, I’ll give you whatever co-ordinates you like, but you’ve got to let me go back!  You’ve got to!"

They look at each other and Cantor shakes his head.  He keeps his face reasonably straight, but I can tell he’s enjoying this.  He’s enjoying this a lot.

"You will adjust, my son."

I can’t believe this!  I can’t believe how unfeeling and callous this bastard is!  He’s loving this. 

I’ve only one card and I play it.  "And just who has the numbers in his head, Cantor?"

"You’ll give them to me," he says confidently.  "Whenever I want them."

"I’ll see you in hell first!"  I snap back before I can think about it, then make myself calm down.  I say it as quiet and as positive as I can.  "You can beg me for those numbers but you’ll never get them.  On your bloody knees, Cantor, and you won’t get them."

Zhyn smiles.  "Oh I think we will find a way," he says.  "You will give us a new route to Earth." 

That stops me cold.  I just stare at him.  I think of all the drugs he can lay his hands on, and suddenly I’m scared.  Really, really scared that I’ll never see them again, Starbuck, and Boxey and Dad. 

Oh God.  Starbuck.

"We know you can do it," Cantor says.  "You’ve given the Council more than one route when the Fleet’s changed course."

True.  Whatever the people on the Ship of Lights did to me to give me the routemap to wherever it is we’re going, they made sure that if we have to change course, the data in my head changes to compensate.  That’s not meant to be widely known, but it doesn’t surprise me that he’s aware of it.  One or two of the Council – Sire Tomas in particular – sit in his pocket.  Tomas only just kept his Council seat after the attempt Cantor made a yahren and more ago to use me to win political power: he was too close to the Vicar General for his own good.  He’s kept quiet ever since, but I can see him feeding information back to Cantor.

But there’s one bloody great hole in their logic.  The data doesn’t change course when I do, otherwise I’d be dizzy with it every time I launched my Viper.  When it’s happened – twice now, the Fleet’s had a major change of course since we met the Ship of Lights – I’ve known it instantly.  The shock’s almost physical as the changes are made in me.

"You’re right.  Sort of.  The data in my head does change, but only when the Fleet’s changed course.  Not when I do.  It won’t work, Cantor.  As long as the Fleet stays on the course I’ve given them, the numbers in my head don’t change."

They look at each other, then at me, and Cantor actually laughs.  "Nice try," he says. 

"I mean it.  The numbers won’t change as long as the Fleet maintains course."

"Please, Apollo, we are not going to be convinced by this," Cantor says serenely.  "We have every faith in Xuian’s vision.  You are the Anointed, the Star Seer."

Zhyn’s the one to give me a doubtful look, then his face smoothes out to the inscrutable calm that I’m already associating with him.  "The Lords will not abandon the Faithful."

"You’re mad!"  I say.  "It won’t happen."

"The Faithful are often accused of being mad," Cantor says, still serene.  "By those who burn."

"But I’m telling you that I won’t be *able* to give you a new course!"

"You will do as you’re told."  Cantor says, his patience obviously at an end.  "I’ll put this little tantrum down to the inevitable need for you to adjust to your new situation, Apollo, but I warn you that I won’t tolerate disrespect.  We’ll help you reconcile yourself to this.  There’s an intensive period of instruction ahead for you, to reacquaint you with your faith.  I’m leaving a senior priest here to help you, and I’ve arranged for copies of the Book and the Prophecies to be made available to you."

"In his room," Zhyn says, those calculating brown eyes on me again.

"You’ll start your studies immediately," Cantor says.  He looks at the wall hung chronometer.  "Well, immediately after our Synod meeting." 

"Synod?  That’s appropriately ecclesiastical, I guess."

Canto just smiles.  "Yes.  You will attend, as the Kinan.  Zhyn represents the Otori, the captains of the Calliope and the Danae represent their ships, and there are others: Sire Tomas, and, of course, your Bride."

I lift my head out of my hands, where I’d tried to hide the despair for a centon.  "My what?"

"Your Bride," he says, and laughs as the door opens.

They troop in, the two Captains in their merchant navy uniforms, looking at me curiously and with expressions tinged with respect and wariness; Tomas in his Councillors robes, looking furtive and guilty and vaguely apologetic; and my Bride.  She looks indecently triumphant.

"Hello, Apollo," says Sheba, and smiles.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

"Are you going to tell me what this is all about?"

We’re alone in their "Synod Room", me and Sheba.  The meeting broke up a few centons ago.  It was mostly a review of their readiness to leave when the chance came, and I didn’t take much interest in it.  I’m too stunned, too appalled.  I spent the time watching Sheba, watching the smug secretive little smiles, the way she squirmed in her chair like an excited schoolgirl.  She watched me a lot, too.

She smiles at me now, and it’s still smug.  "Well, I did tell you that the Lords gave me something to do.  You should have listened."

"And they told you you’re to be my wife?"

Well."  She frowns slightly and shrugs.  "They told me I’m to be the mother of your son."  Her expression takes on the bland piety of a nun as she quotes the words of Xuian at me.  "To bear the Shield," she says and sort of dimples at me, coyly.

…wei sen-zi drydtha Inspel, mai gardhe drydtha Rhinn
… for in his path lies Salvation, and in his seed is thy Shield.

I want to throw up.  "I don’t think so," I say.  "I wouldn’t touch you, even wearing surgical gloves."

She tosses her head, her hair flowing out like a spray of brown water.  "There’s ways," she says cryptically.  "We’ll get over your reluctance."

"I’d have to be anaesthetised first," I say and I mean it.

"You’re getting the idea."  She laughs at me.  If my expression is anything to go by, she must have a pretty good idea of my feelings.  "Come on, Apollo.   I’m sure you’ve done it before.  Surely it hasn’t all been lying face down for Starbuck?  You did manage it with Serina, didn’t you?"

Bitch.  It gives me a great deal of pleasure to insult her right back.  "Yeah.  With Serina, and Helle before her, and Ianthe before her and a few others before Ianthe.  It’s not that I object to screwing women per se, Sheba.  I just object to screwing you."

She flushes that unpleasant red again, and it’s like that time a couple of days before Thenie’s wedding, when I spoke to her last.  There’s something red and feral in there.  Maybe it’s just the hate and anger.  I don’t know.  I’m beginning to wonder.

"Well, now I’m all you have," she snaps back.  "Get used to it."

"I can’t believe you’re that fucking desperate," I say.  "Not the way you’ve been spreading it around the Galactica.  Don’t tell me even Drake’s getting fussy.  I thought he was okay about sharing you with any passing cock."

That got to her.  "Drake!  I choose when I let him touch me!"  She pauses and I can almost see her calm down, her breathing slowing and the smug smile coming back.  "He’s useful, I guess."

I just shake my head.  I’m fading away again.  I don’t think that my system’s clear of all the narcotics, by any means, and I’m tired.  I need to be alone and I need to think.  But first, all I want to do, is sleep.  I’m too tired even to fight with the mad bitch. 

"I was the one who shot you both," she says after a few centons silence, in which she’s been watching me.  Maybe she’s concerned, or angry that I’ve stopped playing.  Maybe she doesn’t like silence.  Or maybe she just wants to boast.

"I guessed."  I lean right back in my canopied chair, resting my head against the padded back, and close my eyes.

"I wish I’d killed him.  I followed you.  I heard the pair of you in there, rutting like animals."  She’s sneering now, her face twisting in disgust.  "Filthy, perverted animals."

I don’t open my eyes, and I try not to think about Starbuck just then, but instead of those damned numbers floating across my eyelids, I get a vision of his face instead.  My eyes are stinging, suddenly.  Rutting?  Well, it was energetic, but by God, I loved it and him.  What she does with any man she can bed might be rutting.  Not what I’ve got with Starbuck.  I’m damned sure, though, that I’m not going to defend myself to her.  Or anyone else, for that matter.

"Well, I hope you got off on listening in,"  is all I say, and I get some sneering right back at her.

She’s breathing heavily again now.  With anger, I hope, rather than sexual excitement.  Through the way she is these days, it’s hard to tell.

"Was he fucking you?" she demands.  "I could hear you begging him for more.  Was he fucking you?"

"More than I’ll be doing to you," I say.  "Believe me."

She laughs.  "That’s what you think.  You’ll be begging *me* for it.  And you won’t even remember his name."

I open my eyes to look at her, trying to see the change in her.  She looks pretty much like Sheba ever looked, small and thin, long brown hair, brown eyes.  She’s pretty, really, if a little sharp featured for my taste.  Starbuck always says she looks like a horse, but that’s his jealousy speaking.  She’s really quite pretty. 

I’d never say that even when she first came to the Galactica, she was shy exactly.  She’s Cain’s daughter, after all, and she had her fair share of his confidence and energy and courage.  But she wasn’t cheap, not the way she’s been for the yahren or so. 

Most warriors snatch a little pleasure where they can.  After all, life can be very short when you’re a Viper pilot, and sex at least reminds you that you’re alive.  Sheba, though, was relatively moral and exclusive, and you figured that if you were going to get her into bed, it was because she felt something, that it meant something more than a casual sharing of bodies before a firefight.  I understood that.  I’m wired that way, myself. 

I dated Sheba for a little while and she never let me get much further than a bit of kissing and touching.  If I’d asked her to seal with me, we'd have slept together, I’m sure of it, but I might have had quite the persuasive job to do if I’d tried to get her into bed before making that sort of commitment.  Which, given that I wanted Starbuck, wasn’t an option.

But she’s changed so much.  I think it happened before the Ship of Lights, when Iblis tried to destroy us, and she fell for him, although it didn’t show straight away.  Maybe the change was there, and what happened on the Ship acted as a kind of catalyst, kicking some kind of chemical reaction into play.  I don’t know.  I can’t work out what’s different, really, but it’s as if the moral sense she had before has drained slowly, almost imperceptibly, away. 

Nothing shows on her face – like I say, she still looks like the old Sheba - but she’s very pleased with herself and she’s not hiding it, almost preening herself on it, one hand twisting in a long lock of hair.  A lock of the hair that had touched my face after she’d shot me and Starbuck down.

"I don’t believe this," I say.

She shrugs.  "Your own fault, Apollo.  You didn’t listen.  Not to me, not to Father Cantor.  I’m just doing what I have to do."

This is stupid.  I need to know what’s going on, how I can get out of this, not make her even madder at me than she already is.  I think about how to try and handle this, how to appeal to her. 

There’s not much, I think; not much ground that she’s vulnerable on.  Except Cain, maybe.

"Do you remember when you first came aboard the Galactica?"

She looks at me, obviously puzzled by the question, then nods.  "Of course."

"My father and yours had been friends for so long, remember?  Dad said he wanted you to think of our family as yours."

"He wanted us to get Sealed, too."

Well, there’s no arguing with that.  He might have changed his mind later, when she started sleeping with any man she could get, but once Dad did want me to seal with Sheba.  Cain was keen on the idea, too, I guess, and so, for Sheba, marrying me becomes almost a holy mission.  Skate over it, fast…

"He knew how much you’d miss Cain."

Her eyes fill with tears.  It’s very sudden and very unexpected.  I mean, I know she idolises her father – a lot more than I do mine, I have to say – but she’s rarely shown this much emotion in my presence since what Starbuck likes to call the Big Fight, where I told the Pegasus people exactly what I thought of Cain.

"Yes," she says, choked.

I nod.  "I know.  I’m sorry."

She chokes a bit more, while I wait for a centon, to let her feel it more.

"Do you think Boxey’s missing me, the same way?"  I ask her, and the stinging in my eyes gets worse.

She gives me a sharp look, and wipes her eyes quickly with the back of her hand.  Her face is cold and angry again.  "I haven’t seen him," she says, flatly.

"Is he with my father?"

"Athena," she says, and she sits up straighter, her face settling into a hard, couldn’t-care expression.  "So?"

"So, I just wondered."

She says nothing for a centon, chewing on her bottom lip.  "He’ll get over it.  He’s just a kid.  It’s different when you’ve had your Dad around all your life and he disappears.  I’ve got far more to miss than he has!"

"It’s hard to explain to a seven yahren old kid," I say.

She shrugs.  "All Adama has to do is say that you didn’t make it back."  She giggles suddenly, and the mood changes are bewildering.  "So ignominious, Apollo!  At least my father went missing on a mission to save the Fleet.  You just went missing when you went to the turboflush!"  She corrects herself.   "When you went to have sex with that animal in the turboflush."  Another snide little snigger.  "Not many medals in that!"

Dead end.  I let her have the little triumph.  Her poking fun like that's the least of my worries.  I try again.  "Is he all right, Sheba?"

"How should I know?" she demands impatiently.  "It’s not like I’ve got any interest in the kid."

"I have, though.  The way Cain must have felt about you, I guess."

Another sharp, angry look.  "You mean you’ve deserted Boxey, the way my father deserted me?"

Oh-oh. 

"He didn’t do that, Sheba,"  I try for reasonableness.  "If he hadn’t gone after those two baseships, we’d not have got through Gamoray.  He made sure you were safe, first, though."

"That’s not what you said before, when you accused my father of desertion."  There’s spite and triumph there now.  "When you insulted us."

Another dead end.

I don’t say anything more.  Right now, I’m so very tired, and I’m fresh out of ideas for getting through to her.  I lean back in the chair again, and close my eyes.  They’re really hurting with the light right now, and I wonder just how badly the drugs have crapped up my system.

She’s crazy.  She’s as crazy as the others and if trying to get her to see the parallels between her and Boxey, to appeal to her for Boxey’s sake, isn’t going to get through, I don’t know what will.  I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know what to say.  It’s all useless.

I’m not going to see Boxey again.  I’m not going to see Starbuck again.

I think I want to be sick.

"Apollo," she says, wheedling.

I don’t want to talk.  "Why don’t you just leave?"

An impatient sigh, and I’ll bet she’s tossing her head again.  "I’ve got to get back anyway.  I’m due out on patrol in a couple of centars." 

"Good."

"I’ll be back in a few days, Apollo, and then I’m staying the night.  Won’t that be fun?"

I don’t say anything.  What is there to say?

She’s coming closer now, and leaning over me.  Her hair touches my cheek, and I brush it away with one hand.  She catches hold of my hand.  Hers is hot and soft.

"And don’t think that you’ll be doing this with a bottle and thoughts of Starbuck," she says, soft and quiet in my ear.  "The old fashioned way, Apollo.  That’s how we’ll be doing it."

I open my eyes.  Her face is only inches away from mine, and although it looks like Sheba, I think I know who’s really in there, smiling at me, cruel and pitiless.  There’s a flicker of red deep in those brown eyes, a flicker of something predatory. 

"Please, Sheba," I say, willing to beg, trying to reach whatever of her is left.

She just smiles and leans in to kiss me.  I let her.  Then she lets go of my hand and steps back.

"See you in a couple of days, lover."  She pauses in the door and looks back at me. "You know, your disappearance certainly put a bit of a damper on poor Thenie’s wedding; took the gloss right off it."  She smiles.  "That’ll teach her to try and lord it over me."

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

I’ve slept for a few centars, I think. 

After Sheba left, I think I must have fallen asleep where I was, because all I remember, vaguely, is Zhyn lifting me out of the chair.  The woman, Jianne, was with him, and a Kobolian priest.  There was no sign of Sheba or Cantor.

Zhyn must have carried me back here.  I’ve no recollection of getting here myself.  But someone’s pulled off my boots and wrapped me in the blanket to let me sleep off the rest of the drugs they gave me.  I’m warm and comfortable, and lying in this bunk is as good as place as any to think about my options.  No.  To think about my lack of options.  So I lie here and think about the people holding me and what I can do about it.

Answer : Fuck all, Apollo.  Fuck all.

This is a ship of over one thousand people… no.  Start again.  This is a ship of over one thousand religious fanatics, who all believe that their Salvation lies in me.  Even if I was free to wander this ship, that’s one thousand pairs of eyes that would be watching every move I make, half out of reverence, and half, I’d guess, out of a desire to make sure that I don’t go anywhere or anything happens to me.  If you know you depend on something or someone, it becomes more than mere possessiveness, something closer to over-riding self-protection to make sure it’s there when you need it.  So even if I was free, if I wasn’t locked up in here, I don’t know that I could get off this ship.

From what I remember of her, the Icarus is a fairly standard Gemonese freighter about a hundred and fifty yahrens old.  I've been on her before, during the Fleet Census, but I can’t say I remember much about her.  I’ve got to work this out with logic and reason, not relying on faulty and partial memories of one ship literally amongst dozens that I inspected briefly following the Great Destruction.

Her layout is the opposite of the Galactica’s, that much I do know.  Battlestar engines, intended for speeds the Icarus can only dream of, are too immense to be held in the wings and sit at the centre stern of the huge main hull: the launch bays and flightdecks are in the wings.  Here it’s the other way around.  The engines are held out from the main body of the ship on slender but workmanlike wings, her shuttle and freight decks in the centre. 

A standard freighter of this class has fifteen decks.  The lower decks, probably at least decks eight through to fifteen, will be mostly storage holds and some crew quarters.  She’s a freighter after all, and her builders would have maximised storage space (and their profits) as much as possible.  If I’m right in that assumption, then the shuttle decks are likely to be aft on Deck seven. 

Of course, I really have no idea if she has any shuttles left.  Most shuttles were commandeered to form the main transport facility between the Fleet’s two-hundred or so ships.  But I may get lucky and she has some left, or they operate out of here still.  There’s no other choice.  That’s where I’ll aim for and hope to be right.  It’s the shuttles or an escape pod, and if I’m ever desperate enough for it to be a capsule that has no navigational controls and limited air supply, I’ll find some pleasanter way to commit suicide.  A shuttle’s my best chance.  Just pray they still have one.  Even a garbage scow would do.

So here’s Plan A: make a chance to get away.  Fight every inch of the way through a thousand fanatics to the shuttle deck, hoping that you’ve guessed right about what deck it is, and hoping that there’s a shuttle still on board that hasn’t been commandeered for the civilian intra-fleet service, steal one from under their noses and head for home.

Easy.

Yeah, I know.  Plan A stinks.  Not a snowball’s chance in Hades of achieving it. 

If military training does anything at all, it teaches you to think straight about what your options are.  Despite what people think about the term ‘military intelligence’ being the juxtaposition of two irreconcilable opposites, soldiers are not dumb idiots.  If we were, we’d have lost the war a thousand yahrens earlier.  They teach us well.  And one key thing we’re taught is to be very clear about our objectives and deploy our forces to win them.

The objective is to get the hell out of here and get home.  The tough soldier that’s everyone’s stereotype would go for Plan A and die trying, heroic and futile.  Part of me says I should have one try at that, and then, when they’ve beaten the shit out of me and dragged me back here, go for Plan B.

And Plan B is?  Yeah, good question.

I guess that Plan B is trying to influence the leaders to make them realise that this crazy idea of theirs will never, ever work and the best thing they can do is just let me go home.

Cantor, I know of old.  So far as he’s concerned I’ve already screwed him once – metaphorically speaking – when I made sure last yahren that the Council knew he was trying to get control through me, and he won’t trust me again.  We’re enemies, pure and simple.  He’ll use me for his own ends, and I don’t think he’ll care much what he does, as long as he has me tamed and quiet and can get the numbers out of my head whenever he wants them.  I’m an asset to be used, that’s all, for the furtherance of the Church and his own ambitions.  

The Otori might be different.  I rake through my memory for everything I know about them.  It’s not much.  They’ve been around a long time.  As a sect, they’ve a long and honourable history, going back to at least the Founding of the Colonies.  They settled on Gemini very early, forming their own communities far away from the rest of the Gemonese.  They’re secretive and separate and always have been.  There’s a lot of speculation about them, not much known for sure.  What was it Starbuck said Cassie had told him, that day we took her off the freighter?  Oh yes, that the Otori didn’t believe in physical contact between the sexes unless sanctioned by their priest during High Worship of the Sunstorm.  She said that happened only once every seven yahrens, but I’m not so sure about that.  The Census evidence doesn't show a seven-yahren cycle of baby-booms, so maybe she got that bit wrong.  But even if she did, there’s no denying that the Otori are notoriously narrow minded when it comes to sex.

Which accounts for Zhyn’s attitude to me and Starbuck.  Het sex bad enough, gay sex an abomination.  It’s just as well that they think I’m important, because although Zhyn doesn’t really know me, I don’t think that he likes me much.  Not, if he did know me, his opinion would alter for the better, if Sheba’s attitude is anything to go by. 

Sheba, of course, is beyond reach.  I don’t think there is anything much of the real Sheba left now.  I think she’s long gone, lost and that something else is inside there now.  Although I'm as mad as hell with her, I'm sorry, too.  I didn't notice her going, really, no-one did.  All we noticed was what was left after she was gone.  And that’s sad.

So Sheba’s lost, Cantor hates me and Zhyn despises me. 

But they’re being very careful of me.  They’ve built up the legend to bolster their own positions, I expect, so now I’m important to them.  They wish it wasn’t the case, but it is.  And that’s the only weapon I have.

Of course, I’m not sure how to use it.  I might be important, but they aren’t likely to do anything I want.  Not unless they’re convinced that I’ve accepted the role they’re forcing on me, and, probably, that I’ve repented and returned to the embrace of the Church.  And I can’t do that overnight.  I really don’t think that Cantor and Zhyn will look upon any sudden conversion to holiness on my part, with anything other than deep suspicion.  Plan B’s going to be a slow business.  And I’ve just got to hope – and maybe even pray, if I can remember how – that they won’t get the opportunity to leave the Fleet before I can swing something that gives me a chance of getting out of here, and getting home to the people I love.

And that’s pretty important.  Because when they realise that the numbers in my head aren’t going to change just because they’ve taken me away from the Fleet, I don’t know how much value I’d put on my chances of surviving, Lords’ Anointed or not.

So that’s it.  Plans A and B.

I much preferred Starbuck’s versions.  Starbuck’s versions were about life and love, not violence and deceit.

Don’t think about him.  Don’t think about how wonderful his Plan B made me feel in that dim turboflush, as he’s pushing up into me, each pounding thrust lifting my heels from the floor, hurting me so good that I scream his name as I come.

Think about surviving this, and getting out, getting home so he can do it again.  Plan A and Plan B are to get me home, to Starbuck.

I could do with a Plan C, I think. 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

I’ve been planning and thinking for a long time when the door opens.

It’s not Zhyn or any other of the Otori, but a Kobolian priest in his full regalia.  I’ve seen him before, somewhere.  While he goes through a pantomime of creeping in to see if I'm still asleep, I remember.  He was the priest who helped Zhyn hang me in the filtration tower.

Dio.  Priest Dio, that’s what Jianne called him.

I’m really quite astonished by how much I do remember of those brief periods of lucidity, when the effect of the drugs must have waned momentarily, before they gave me the next shot.  I’d half thought they were dreams.  I know I was dreaming for part of it, of something or someone.  But some of it had to be real.

"Ah," he says, pleased.  "You’re awake."

Plan A’s on hold until I’ve shaken off the full effects of whatever crap they’ve given me.  I’m not up to leaping to my feet, braining him and making a run for it.  I settle for sitting up slowly instead, still sick and dizzy. 

"Uh-huh." 

He turns to someone outside and beckons them in.  I think it’s the Otori I saw earlier, the one who brought me the porridge and tea.  He’s carrying another tray.

"I thought you might be hungry," Dio says, as the Otori puts the tray down on the bed.

"Thanks."  I turn to the Otori.  "And thank you, Liu."  I take a gamble, here, but that’s the other Otori name I’ve heard a lot of. 

I’m right.  The man jumps slightly, and looks at me out of the corner of his eyes, before ducking his head and leaving without speaking.  He looks a little pale under his paint.

"You’ve met Liu, then," Dio says, genial.

Oh good.  Tea.  I pour it into one of those fragile porcelain cups and down it in one.  My head clears as if by magic.  I hadn’t realised how thirsty I am.

"No."  I concentrate on investigating the tray, keeping my tone casual, and deliberately don’t look to see if there’s any reaction from the priest.  Real food.  Oh God, real food.  No more bloody oatmeal porridge that reminds me of the son I think I've lost.

He coughs, and I hope he’s disconcerted.  "Well, now," he says.

He’s standing in front of me.  This cabin’s so tiny that there’s no room for a chair.  Just the blank dead screen and the little table beneath, with the Book and the Apocrypha resting on it.

I look up at him as he stands over me.  He’s an old man.  Hard to say how old, but I think he’s much older than Dad.  Actually, he reminds me a bit of Anton.  He has the same air of white-haired veneration, of ripe age, and he looks as saintly.  I wonder if he’s as much of a wicked old sinner as Anton is, but I doubt it somehow.

"You don’t have to stand before me, Dio," I say, and look down again to pour myself more tea.  I take no notice of the sharp intake of breath.  "Call Liu, and get him to bring you a chair."

"How do you…?"  He pauses, then smiles.  "You were a little more awake at times than even the Otori realised, I take it. 

"Was I?"

"That’s really very badly done of you, to scare Liu like that.  They’re a superstitious lot."

That’s rich, coming from a priest.  I just grin up at him, and don’t react to what he says.  "How long have I been asleep this time?" I ask.

"About four or five centars, that’s all."  He walks over to the table, and for the first time I see that there's a panel in the wall beside it.  A fold down chair.  He pulls down the seat and settles himself into it, turning the Book towards himself.  "His Eminence left a little while ago.  I am to be your instructor, Apollo."

I’m tempted to tell him that it’s Lord Apollo to him, but not yet.  If I have to go for Plan B, it’s too early for that. 

"Cantor told me that I was to rediscover my faith," I say.  "I took it that he meant it as an order."

"His Eminence must know best," Dio said reproachfully.

"Really?" I say.  "Better than the Lords’ Anointed?"

He frowns slightly.

I don’t push it, but look at him thoughtfully.  "I’ve never seen a priest like you before."

He looks puzzled.  "You’re Kobolian, Apollo.  You've seen priests like me all your life."

"No."  I push the tray aside, and get up, stretching to get the kinks out of my back.  I need the flush and I go through to it.  I’m pleased with how steady I am on my feet now, evidently better.  "I’ve never met a priest who broke his vows before," I say over my shoulder, and close the door so I can’t hear his protests.

I really have no idea where I’m taking this, but I let him stew on that for a few centons.  I’m not going to get very far, I know that.  But all I want to do is unsettle him a bit, get him thinking.  Any doubts I can sow about what Cantor is doing, any doubts at all have got to help me.  Maybe not much, but anything’s better than nothing.

When I get back, he’s sitting very straight and rigid, offended.  I don’t say anything, but settle down to the tray again.  God, but I'm hungry, and the food’s pretty good.  The tea’s wonderful.

"I would like to know in what way you think I have been unfaithful to my vows," Dio says stiffly.

I try to look as guileless as Boxey when he’s done something that’ll get him a lecture from Dad and make Starbuck very proud of him.   "I thought that priests swore to serve and protect the people," I say, offhand, pretending to concentrate on the food.

He sits even straighter, if that’s possible.  "There are three hundred of the Church on this ship," he says.  "I am their pastor.  I serve them.  I protect them."

I make my smile as brilliant as I can.  "Oh, excellent!"  Then a  touch of a frown.  Not too much, just a hint of bewilderment.  "What about the others, though?"

"What others?"

"There’s about 120,000 people in the Fleet, I think.  What about them?"

He looks surprised.  "They have their own priests."

"Oh!  You mean…"  I pause and shrug.  "I’m sorry, Dio.  I assumed that bringing me here is a Church matter."

"Of course it’s a Church matter!"

"Really?  But then, shouldn’t every Kobolian priest agree with Cantor?  I mean, he wouldn’t lightly make a decision to break faith and to break the law.  He’s had some spiritual revelation, perhaps?  And you don’t all share it?"

He’s spluttering again, trying to find words.  I don’t let him speak.  "That’s odd.  That’s very odd."  A minute pause, a shrug.  "Well, they won’t all be leaving with you when you go, then."

"Break faith?  The law?"  he says, staring at me, frowning.

"I was abducted," I say, gently.

"But, it had to be done, for your own safety, your own spiritual safety …"  he starts, but I don’t let him finish,  I don’t want his justification for what they’re doing.  I don’t want him thinking about the justification.  I want him thinking about the illegality and immorality of what they’ve done.

"Well, I’m pleased that so many keep the faith.  But we won’t talk about that now."  I swallow the last of my tea and move to the end of the bunk where I can reach for the Books.  I pick up the Apocrypha and leaf through it to find Xuian.  This is the Authorised Version, in Standard, not Kobolian.  The translation’s accurate enough.  "So, tell me, Dio, what’s the programme for my re-education?"

His mouth opens and closes again, and he looks slightly flustered.  I’ve got him a little off balance, anyway.  Anton would be proud of me, I think.  I’m going to need every one of that wicked old man’s lessons to get out of this.

Dio sort of shakes himself, and puts one hand on the ornate cover of the Book.  "We’ll study together, Apollo, every day, both the Book and the Prophecies.  And you’ll attend each morning service with me."

"Oh, good," I say, and sigh.  "And this will be a Kobolian service?  What about the Otori?"

"You’ll attend their evening prayers, starting this evening."

Oh joy.  Two services a day, Book-reading in between to improve my mind and the prospect of Sheba in full cry in a day or two.  Wonderful.  Maybe I died and went to Hell.

"I should warn you," he says after a moment’s silence while I digest this,  "Whilst our relations with the Otori are perfectly friendly, we have some real differences of doctrine and practice.  Because you are Kobolian – if lapsed -  they’re willing for the Church to try and reclaim you, to bring you to a sense of your duties and obligations, and of your new status.  Your attendance at services will help.  The people need to see you, Apollo.  They need the reassurance and hope that having you with us brings them."

"However unwilling the sacrifice?"

"Oh, I hope you won’t always think of it as a sacrifice!"  He’s back on an even keel, I think, back to being kind and fatherly, a man dealing with a child who wilfully misunderstands his kindness.  "I hope that you will come to understand the very great privilege you have been given.  To have been touched by the Lords!"

He looks rapt, dreamy.  I’m not getting the same sense of ambition from this one as I get from Cantor.  It could be Dio’s genuine, someone who really believes that I’m special because of the numbers.  That could be useful, later.  But for the moment, I have to keep going with being conciliatory, with planting the little barbs.

"Yes.  It was a very… strange experience," I say.  "I’m still trying to understand it."

"I’ll help," he says eagerly.  "It will be the supreme honour!"

I just nod.  There’s not really very much I can say to that.

"But I mentioned the Otori.  I find their services very strange, even, I don’t mind admitting, a little disturbing.  They’re all mystics, of course, and intensely religious."

"It’s not much like Chapel, then?"

He’s not one to spot sarcasm, this one, even when I’m virtually rubbing his nose in it.  He just shakes his head, and tells me about the way the Otori worship, mostly in a deep and, to hear him say it, unnerving silence.

"It doesn’t sound too bad," I say.

"The problem is how they deal with sin, Apollo."  He’s speaking very earnestly now, leaning forward to put a hand on my arm.  Normally I’d shake him off.  I don’t like being touched by strangers, but it’s important that he begins to see me as a real person, not an icon, so I let him feel the flesh and blood.  "They punish it.  You must be careful.  As I said, they’ll let me try first to help you, but if I fail, then they will make their own attempt."

"That sounds threatening."

He looks hurt.  "I’m not trying to threaten you.  Of course not!  I’ve every expectation that you and I will make great progress together."

"But Zhyn won’t be as patient, is that what you’re saying?"

He nods.  "The Otori believe that you’ve failed to take your proper role because you’ve been led astray."

"Starbuck."  Just for a micron I can feel and taste him, and it’s all I can do to look at this foolish priest and not show what I feel.

"Yes.  They believe that your relationship with Lieutenant Starbuck has blinded you to your real destiny."

Well, I don’t believe in the mystery of destiny.  I only believe in what I can see and hear and touch.  Not that it will be very profitable saying so to this old fool.

"The Church has accepted same sex relationships for centuries," I say.  "Even blessed same-sex sealings."

"The Church is more lenient, Apollo.  The Book is neutral on the subject, but the Otori are most implacable on this."

"You mean, I’ve a lot to do to convince them?"

He nods.  That’s exactly what he does mean, he says.  They’re a very virtuous and moral people, and it’s been difficult for them to accept that the Anointed isn’t one of them.  They think that they’re the only ones worthy, and have taken a little time to accept the Lords’ choice.  But they’re disturbed that the Lords’ choice doesn’t seem to be as virtuous and moral as they are.  Zhyn – who, to my complete non-surprise, turns out to be their High Priest – is very eloquent on this point.  They would have come for me sectars ago, but they had to resolve this moral point first.  They’ve put it down to Iblis, Dio says, and some lingering infection from his attempts to destroy me.  They want me, though, as virtuous and moral as they are, and this is my only chance to prove that I’m not irredeemably tainted.

"That’s ironic," I say, thoughtfully.  I wonder what mileage there’s going to be in this gap between their reverence for what I’m supposed to be, the reality, and the way they’re treating me.  I need to think about this more.  "The Redeemer unworthy of redemption."

He looks uncomfortable.  Yes.  Maybe there’s some mileage in this one.  Mileage in both me as the Anointed, and him as Believer.  It’s going to take some work, though.

"Do they support what Lieutenant Sheba has planned, then?" I ask.

He looks even more uncomfortable.  "Well," he says slowly.  "They know how important it is that you have a child, to carry on your tasks if anything should happen to you."

"I have a son."

"He’s not your real son," the priest objects.

"He’s my son in the only way that matters to me," I say flatly.

Dio reddens.  "I meant, he doesn’t share your DNA.  He won’t have the route to Earth."

No.  Thank God, Boxey’s free of this curse, at least.

"And a child I have with Sheba, will?"  I shake my head.  "Oh, I know, Dio.  I know Xuian’s prophecy.  I’m just surprised that the Otori will permit it.  I thought they were pretty straight laced about these things."

"Well, it’s a Sunstorm service soon, and Zhyn will sanctify it and you.  There’s no sin in it."  He picks up the Book and opens it, spreading it on his knees.  "Shall we start?  We have around a centar before they come to take you to their evening service."

"In a moment.  Look, has Cantor set down some precise system for this?  Or can we wing it a bit?  Because, actually, there is something I would like to talk to you about."

He smiles at me, looking pleased.  "I’d be delighted to discuss anything with you, Apollo.  Cantor’s given me full discretion in how we deal with your instruction."

"Good.  You see, there’s a few things I don’t understand,.  It’s a question about comparative morality, I think , that I’d like to try and get straightened out.  I mean, your tenet is that a relationship I have with someone that doesn’t hurt anyone at all and makes two people – no three, if you count my son – very happy, is morally repugnant and sinful, right?"

"Apollo," he says gently.

"But forcibly abducting someone, holding them prisoner against their will, forcing them to sire a child they don’t want whilst depriving the child they do love of his father, that’s all moral and virtuous, and perfectly in accordance with the teachings of the Church and the Book of the Word?  I don’t understand it, Dio.  Which bit of the Book exhorts the priests to turn wickedness on its head like this?  Please explain that to me.  Explain to me why Boxey has to be orphaned, what he’s done to deserve that?  It’s not really that long since he lost his mother.  It’ll be very hard on him."

Dio stares, looking distressed now.

"Please explain, Dio.  This is something where I really need a priest’s instruction.  Show me how this is a good and moral thing to do."

"Apollo," he says helplessly.

"How is my family, Dio?  Do you have any news of them?  Sheba couldn’t  - or wouldn’t – tell me.  Is my son all right?  Do you know?"

He just shakes his head.  "What we are doing is for the greater good.  His Eminence has said so."  He looks down at the Book.  "We will start at the Beginning," he says.

I lean forward and touch his hand.  "Dio.  Let’s discuss it.  Let’s discuss how the end justifies the means, even though it means destroying an innocent seven-yahren old boy.  Please, let’s discuss that."

He shakes off my hand, and starts to read.  "In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was God … "

But his voice is shaking. 

I sit back and we look at each other while he reads, and I let him see the tears, as I mourn for Boxey and for Dad, for Thenie and Starbuck.  Oh God, and for Starbuck. 

And he can’t read it.  He shuts up the Book with shaking hands, and closes his eyes to pray.

Round one to me, I think.   It’s not much of a victory, but the only one I’ve had so far.  It’s a start.

And then I forget about that.  While Dio prays, I curl up on the bunk and mourn.  And mourn and mourn.  It’s all so hopeless and helpless, and I’ve never felt this lonely and afraid.

Maybe I never will see them again.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^^

The temple the Otori use is in one of the smaller holds, a long way, Dio tells me, from the Kobolian chapel on one of the upper decks. 

That doesn’t surprise me.  The Otori are a secretive people, a people who’ve always felt that they were set aside by God.  They guard themselves and their rituals jealously.  I’m not sure that many outsiders will have seen one of their services.  I suppose that in their eyes, I’m privileged. 

It’s a privilege I can do without.

Zhyn doesn’t come for me himself.  Liu comes for me, with the two man escort who took me to their Synod room earlier.  And once again the corridors are almost deserted, no-one to see us pass as we work our way deep into the ship, dropping down several decks and back several sections to get to the aft starboard hold on deck twelve.

Which gives me something to think about for Plan A, working out where they’re holding me relative to where I think the shuttle-deck is likely to be.  If I say it’s a long walk, you’ll get the idea about why I’m beginning to think that Plan A’s becoming untenable.

Zhyn’s waiting for me outside the hold.  They’ve replaced the normal doors with something more ceremonial and ornamental, decorated with swirling patterns of black on silver.  There’s quite a contrast between the austere lives they seem to lead, the austere clothing and, I’d guess, the austere thinking that goes on behind those dark brown eyes, and the way they’ve marked the entrance to their most secret place.

Dio’s with me.  I don’t think he’s happy about it.  He sighed heavily when Liu appeared and definitely had the air of a man preparing himself for an ordeal.  From his quiet and temperate grumbling as we walked through the ship, it looks like Cantor's made it clear that I’m never to be alone at any Otori ceremony.

There’s a distinct lack of trust here.  I need to see how I can use that.  If my jailors fall out, there’s always the chance I can get away.

But that speculation is for later.  Right now, I have a service to get through.

Zhyn – High Priest Zhyn – doesn’t give much of his attention to Dio.  All his concentration’s on me.   "Kinan," he says as we join him. "Welcome to our temple."

He greets us with a curt bow of the head.  It must indicate something.  A faint respect, maybe.  And possibly for Dio, not me, priest acknowledging priest.  Hard to tell. 

I consider quite a few responses, most of them unrepeatable, but I content myself with nodding back, just as curtly.  The small twist to his mouth tells me he’s read that correctly and dismisses it for what it’s worth.

"I doubt whether you know much about our way of worship," Zhyn says, the faintest question in his tone.

"Nothing," I say and manage an indifferent shrug.

His face is expressionless.  "You will find it very different.  Nothing is expected of you, Kinan, except the courtesy of joining our silence.  We will walk in together.  Your seat is prepared for you, by the main altar.  When we get to it, please seat yourself and the service will begin."

"And all I have to do is sit through it?"

He nods.  "That is all."

Sounds worse than Chapel.  Dio had already hinted that the services were odd.  He wouldn’t elaborate on that.  Maybe he didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

Zhyn waits for a response that isn’t going to come.  After a centon, he turns to Dio.  His expression doesn’t even flicker, and his voice is cool and even, unruffled by small discourtesies from me.  And yet, all I’m doing is starting their silence a little earlier than he anticipated.

"Priest Dio, Liu will take you in now." 

Dio nods, and follows Liu, giving me a look I think he means to be hopeful and comforting.  The doors swing open silently to let them pass, then close again.

"I hope," says Zhyn, "that you are a little more reconciled to your position with us."

"I’m your prisoner," I say.  "It’s unlikely I’ll ever reconcile myself to that."

"Our guest," he corrects me.

I shrug.  "Guest.  Prisoner.  What’s the difference?"

"You will see, in time.  When there is no choice, even someone as obstinate as you are reported to be, will bow to the inevitable.  You will adapt."  He looks stern.  "It is important to us that you join our ceremonies, that the people see that you’re one with us.  I do not expect much from you, but that I will have, Kinan."

I tilt my head.  "Interesting.  You expect to own and control your Redeemer?"

"I expect to guide you until you come to a sense of your own sin and seek repentance, when you can truly take on your destiny."  He speaks sharply. 

"An interesting theological point that we must debate sometime," I say.  "If I am the Lords’ Anointed, how can I be in a state of sin?"

"Ask yourself how I found you," he says, pointedly. 

This time I don’t flush.  I won’t.  But neither can I antagonise him too much.  I just shrug.  "I don’t think that you and me will ever agree about that.  And you haven’t, of course, any idea what the Lords thought of it." 

I see him frown at that, but I don’t pursue it.  Set little barbs, Anton always says, never use a blaster.  Never overplay your hand, is Starbuck’s dictum.  Between them, they’d better be right.

He’s silent for a micron, considering, but I don’t suppose for a moment that I’ve punctured his conceit and self importance.  That’s the essence of priesthood, I think, that sense of absolute rightness and infallibility, boxes you have to tick on the application form. 

That’s just for priests.  Believe me, we Anointed ones are far more open eyed about our ability to be wrong.

"I know very little about the Otori," I say, before he can say anything.  "This will be an interesting experience."

"One that will become familiar," he says, as the doors swing open.

All too bloody familiar, I think, gloomy at the prospect of having to sit through it.  I wish to God I could think of a Plan C.

Four young men file out.  Acolytes, maybe, since each has a censor of incense in his hands, although they don’t wear the ornate robes a Kobolian acolyte would wear.  It reminds me suddenly of home, a long time ago, when our local priest asked if I’d like to serve at the altar.  Thank God my mother knew how I felt about that.  She got me out of it somehow.  I didn’t even have to beg.

I miss her.  I could do with her here to get me out of this one.

The acolytes bow solemnly and line up to escort us in.  The smoke from the censors drifts back to me, catching in my nostrils.  It’s pretty powerful stuff, stronger than anything that the Kobolian Church uses, something that’s heavy and invasive.  I don’t like it, but I decide that coughing might not be a good idea.

I walk in at Zhyn’s right hand.  The hold is dimly lit, but I can make out shapes, blacker against the darkness: columns and statues and rows of seats.  It’s crowded in here, packed with people, all silent and watchful.

They’re all watching me.  I can feel it, the prickle at the back of the neck that’s one of the last remnants of our primeval ancestry, the hairs rising to warn me of danger, of a threat, a menace.  They’re very quiet, very disciplined, but not even the Otori can avoid the almost simultaneous intake of breath that sounds loud and sharp in hundreds of pairs of lungs.  Dim shapes lean forward to get a better view of me as we walk slowly into the temple, and within a couple of centons I can feel my hands trembling, and the knot in my stomach’s growing.

I’m afraid.  I’m more afraid of what’s in here than I am of Zhyn and Cantor and what they have planned for me.  There's something so very frightening about being the focus of all these people, of having the absolute attention of so many.  They don’t know me, they don’t know anything about me except what they want me to be to them.  That’s so frightening.  So very frightening.

I don’t want to be their saint, their icon.  I’m just not sure that I’ll get the chance to refute it.

There’s a simple altar at the other end of the hold, on a low dais, with another of those canopied chairs set at its right hand side.  Zhyn nods towards it, and really conscious of every one of those eyes on me, I walk over to it and sit down, my knees trembling.  I really hate people looking at me like this.

I feel like I’m on a throne, and when I sit down, there’s a sigh that must come from a few hundred throats at once, and that scares me more.  There’s satisfaction in that sound, there’s ownership in it and a kind of ecstasy. 

I don’t like it.  I really don’t like the way they’re staring at their new, most precious possession.  I don’t like it at all.

For a centon I stare at the floor, until I’m sure that I can keep my face as expressionless as Zhyn’s, then I look out at them, at the people who think I’ve talked with their God and have a message that’s for them alone.

I can’t see much.  The light’s too dim for details, but I can see Dio sitting in the front row.  He nods at me, encouragingly.  Behind him are rows and rows of silent people, all watching me fixedly.

What are they thinking, behind those intent, painted faces?  How have they made that leap of faith that takes them from reverence for the message to a strange blend, if Cantor’s right, of reverence for the messenger and a realisation that the messenger is a flawed and faulty human being?  How do they see the Anointed bringing their redemption, when they think he’s in need of it himself?  Just how do they reconcile that? 

It just doesn’t make sense to me.  Religion never has, really.

And more important, how in heaven’s name can I use the legend that Cantor’s built up to help me, to protect me, if these people are willing to see the object of it kidnapped and held prisoner? 

It’s very silent.  I’m waiting for something to happen, and try to see what Zhyn’s up to, without actually turning my head.  Out of the corner of my eye, I can just see him.  He’s kneeling facing the altar, his back to the congregation, and after a centon he lays face down, his arms outstretched.

And that’s it.  I watch him as carefully as I can for I don’t know how long, but he doesn’t move, and they don’t move.  They watch me watching Zhyn lying there, abasing himself in front of the altar, presumably in silent communion with his God.

I don’t like the silence.  There’s too much noise in silence.  In that silence you can’t find anything to distract you from the voices and images in your head. 

Mine are decidedly secular. 

Boxey in the morning ritual, angling to get out of school.  Me leaning over him and shaking him for the third or fourth time, Boxey burrowing under the cover, his hair tousled and his eyes tight shut, his child’s voice unexpectedly early-morning-rusty as he mumbles while he’s still operating on automatic pilot, saying that he’s too sick to go to school.  His first words every morning, without fail, before ever he gets his eyes open.  Me tipping him out onto the floor, steering him into the flush to oversee proceedings, wondering if it’s true what Dad says about daughters smelling better and being less irrationally afraid of cleanliness, and not caring about the answer when those eyes, Serina’s eyes, brighten with life and energy and I know he's happy and well and that’s all that matters.  Five days, at least, and no-one to do his rituals with him if Starbuck’s still in the Life Centre.  Please God, I’ll be there to do it with him again.  Please God, let it be soon.  I miss my little son.

Dad looking exasperated as we argue about the troop assignments.  He thinks I'm wrong not to break up the Pegasus squadrons, spread them so that they can learn better by example how to be good Galacticans.  I tell him that I prefer to have all my trouble makers in one place, where I can keep an eye on them and that if we split them we’ll increase their resentment.  Lord knows how often we’ve argued about that, but he’s never over-ridden me, letting me manage them the way I want.  Last time we talked about it, he reluctantly accepted that things were working out, but for Sheba's own flight, and he gave me a funny little grin when he acknowledged that I’d been right.  That was sweet, that little grin.  There was affection and respect in it, an acknowledgement that I could make command decisions that were as good as his.  That’s a good moment; one to savour.

And Starbuck… oh lord, Starbuck.  Starbuck asleep beside me, his long limbs spread in a kind of abandonment that contrasts with the graceful control he keeps over them when he’s awake.  Starbuck’s eyes, very blue, as he smiles at me over the top of the wine glass with which he's just toasted our first yahren together, at the dinner we held for family and friends to help us celebrate.  Starbuck’s eyes, very blue, staring into mine as he lifts my legs onto his shoulders and slowly, oh so slowly, makes me give it up, taking me into heaven and beyond as we have our own private celebration later.  Starbuck’s mouth on mine, his fingers twisting in my hair, his cock thrusting up into me.  Starbuck holding me in his arms, safe in his arms, as we dance, his voice soft in my ear as he sings along with the song he knows I love.  The way I love him.

My eyes sting.  I can’t stop missing and wanting him.  I can’t stop thinking about him, praying that Zhyn hasn’t lied and that he really will be all right, that he really is recovering from the stun bolt.  Sometimes there’s real complications from the body’s systems taking the jolt.  If he’s still in Life Centre, he must have been hit badly.  Please God let him be all right.

I watch the Otori and think about Starbuck.

The Otori watch me and think, I suppose, about Paradise.

I don’t know how long I’ve stared into the dim space above their heads.  It feels like centars.  Once, I’m distracted by pins and needles in my foot, and I stretch out my leg to relieve it and hundreds of pairs of eyes watch me and hundreds of pairs of lungs draw in sharp breaths.  I freeze, suddenly feeling the menace, and Dio shakes his head at me, warning me.  I settle back down again, slowly and carefully.

I have to sit here and take it, if I’m forced into Plan B, if I’m ever to achieve any sort of position here that means I can get away.  But I don’t like it.  I feel threatened, very threatened, by this mindless, reverent devotion. 

And I wonder if God ever feels like this.

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

I feel fine this morning.  I’ve obviously finally slept off the effect of whatever narcotics they’ve been putting into my veins.

It’s very early when I get up.  Like most military people, I’ve an internal clock, honed by yahrens of training.  Mine always goes off early enough to let me play with Starbuck before the business of the day begins in earnest, when I have to get up to see to Boxey and start the duty period and all those military, family and social obligations overwhelm me for a few centars.

This morning there’s no-one to play with but myself.  I think of him while my hand moves, dreaming that it’s his hand, that he’s kissing me slowly up the side on my neck, that he’s telling me he loves me, and I come and come. 

When I get up and go to get clean, it’s some consolation, I suppose, that I can walk steadily, that’s there’s no nausea or dizziness.  My head’s clear; there’s no aches anywhere.  I’m not one hundred percent, but as close as I’m going to get.  The sonic shower’s adequate, if not luxurious, and I feel even better, clean.  There’s little enough room in here for exercise, but I can stretch muscles stiffened by five days of drugged inactivity, do a few basic sit-ups and press ups.

Not much, but put it all together and it’s enough to get me ready.  Plan A has at least to be given a try.  I don’t think I’ll win, and, if I have to, I’ll fall back and regroup as I go for Plan B.  It’s just that my pride won’t let me submit to Plan B without a fight.

Apart from the thin leather belt that goes with the Otori linens, I’ve not much in the way of a weapon.  I have a good look around, but there’s nothing much here I can use.  In this room, nothing but the Books, and much as the image of the Warrior of Light literally attacking his enemies with the Book of the Word almost manages to make me laugh, it isn’t much of a weapon.  There’s not much in the tiny bathroom either.  I can’t see me making much of a last stand armed only with a toothbrush. 

And that leaves the belt, and hand to hand.  Well, I’m not so bad at that, despite the opinion of the incredibly tough middle-aged Infantry sergeant who taught us hand to hand at the Academy, that all Fleet pilots were airheads and idealistic Capricans were worse airheads than most.  She tried very hard to beat the idealism out of me.  She was one of the best, Sergeant Bel.

When I got to the Galactica and Sergeant Kennedy got involved, I was taught by the very best of the best.  Kennedy has no truck at all with concepts of honour and decency.  In his view, if you’re going to fight, you fight to win, and you use everything you can to do it. 

He fights dirty, and he’s proud of it.  Kennedy was a Ranger until he was thought to be too old for forward scouting and infiltration missions, when he quit to join the Galactica and teach us airheads how to survive if we get grounded.  He’s survived things I can’t even begin to imagine, things the books don’t even know to tell you about.  He taught me skills, sure, but most of all he taught me something infinitely more valuable.  He taught me to hit hard, hit first, to get my retaliation in first.  He taught me to cheat.  He taught me the reason that gentlemen like the one my father expected me to be, who behaved with idealistic honour and decency, weren’t there to train me, the way he was there to train me: they’re dead, he isn’t.

Kennedy’s quite proud of me.  He reckons he had trouble knocking that Caprican nobility nonsense out of me, but that I’m pretty promising, all things considered.  I’ve even floored him a couple of times.  Of course, he is forty yahrens older than me, but it’s not many who manage that.  I’m still not quite sure what they thought he was too old for but very sure I don’t want to experience it for myself.  I’m nowhere near tough enough.

But this is the morning I do a Kennedy, and I try to break free.  I’ll do what I have to.

I slip the belt into the loops in my pants, but don’t fasten it, and wait. 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

"We’ll be leaving the Otori sector of the ship," Dio says.  "They have the lowest ten decks.  Everyone else lives in the upper five."

"They don’t mix much, then?" I say, trying to work out the ship’s geography in my head.  I think I’m being held on deck nine, but without some schematics to check, I can’t be entirely sure.  Definitely within Otori territory, anyway, and if it is deck nine, then smack in the middle of it.

"Not much," Dio concedes, and sighs.

If the Otori have the lowest decks, then that will almost certainly include all the operational decks except for the bridge itself: engineering, isometrics, the shuttle deck and loading bays and storage holds.  And if Zhyn represents this ship at their Synod then I suspect he controls the bridge - and hence the entire ship - even if the upper decks technically belong to the Kobolians.

But if I’m right about where the shuttle decks are, they’re sitting in Otori territory.  That makes things a bit difficult.

Right now, we’re on our way to the Kobolian Chapel for the Morning Light service, the first in the day’s observances in the Kobolian ritual.  It’ll be the first I’ve attended on the Icarus, and, if it pleases the Lords and I have anything to do with it, the last.  Dio’s already told me that the Chapel's sited on Deck one, with tylinium ports that allow the worshippers to, as he puts it, see the Glory of God as they praise Him.  My response to that is a touch non-committal.  I’m a bit more interested in working out how to get from the Chapel down through seven decks to reach the shuttles without being caught.

With my two Honour Guard in close attendance, we’ve walked quite some distance forward to section four of my deck, and taken a surprisingly slow lift up from there.  It definitely needs a service.  We’ve gone up three or four levels when one of the Otori stops the lift on deck five.  He opens the door and waits, silent, for us to get out.

I follow Dio out, puzzled by them stopping the lift and the fact that although the Otori steps out after us, he stays by the lift door.  Three Kobolians – Sagittarians, I’d say, from their dress - are waiting for us.

"Thank you," Dio says, with a polite bow to the Otori.

The Otori bows back at him, and gets back into the lift.  I take a step to the side, just in time to see him hit the floor button.  I think it’s the ninth.  I’m pretty sure it is.

The Kobolians greet me respectfully.  Like the Otori, they seem able to hold two opposing views of me at once.  They’re respectful, almost reverent, and they’re here to guard me.  Interesting, the infinite flexibility of the human mind.

"What’s going on?" I ask Dio.

"The Otori don’t come up here much," Dio says.

"Too heathen for them?"

"Perhaps," Dio says, with a smile.  "We agreed with Zhyn that when you leave their territory then Ben and his people here will take over protection duties from the Otori."

"Guarding the prisoner, you mean," I say, eyeing the Sagittarians.  Big men, but if I have to, I’ll take them on.  This is a chance to be assessed and used.

"I wish you wouldn’t view your destiny like that," Dio says with a sigh.

I say nothing, and he sighs again, heavier. 

"They’ll send the lift back up in a centon or two," he says.  "This lift opens out into the Chapel anteroom itself."

"Convenient," I say, and wait beside him quietly. 

Yeah.  Convenient for me.  The lifts will get me to the shuttle deck.  When the lift returns, that’s when I’ll do it.  Almost the instant I decide, the adrenaline starts, getting me ready to fight, heart pumping madly to get oxygenated blood to every muscle, getting ready for the supreme effort. 

I’m going to have to scare Dio a bit.  I won’t hurt him unless I have to, but I will scare him.  I’ll be taking him part of the way, I think.

I’m definitely going to hurt the Sagittarians.

"What’s the delay?" one of the Sagittarians mutters.

"The lifts are old," Dio says, and grins at me.  "Like me."

The man who’d grumbled takes a step to one side to reach the lift control panel and jab an impatient finger on the button.  Me and Dio are immediately in front of the doors, and I inch to a position that’s ever so slightly behind him.  The other two men are behind us.  I pull enough on the belt to wrap one end around my left hand, and wait, so tense that I stop breathing. 

The door opens and I do it all without thinking.  I don’t have to think.  Like Kennedy taught me, I’ve planned it all out in the microns we’ve been waiting. 

It goes like a dream. 

I kick out hard with my left foot, smashing into the man behind immediately behind me, hacking his knee and sending him stumbling off balance into the man beside him.  I’m already moving, whipping the belt free, my other hand pushing Dio hard in the middle of his shoulders, spinning to hook my foot, swinging back from the kick, around his ankle.  He stumbles into the lift, only the back wall stopping him from falling full length. 

The man who called the lift shouts something and jumps at me, but he’s not expecting what I’m going to do.  Most people expect blows from hands or feet, to prevent your opponent getting too close.  But I not only let him in real close, I pull him in, facing him, taking and ignoring the blow he gets in to my chest.  Then I headbutt him in the face.  The human head is a wonderfully hard weapon.  He goes down hard and he stays down, and I almost certainly broke his nose for him. 

Then I’m straight into the lift after Dio, catching him by the shoulder to spin him round and getting the thin belt around his throat before he can even squeak his dismay.

"Back off," I say to the two Sagittarians who are still on their feet, pulling Dio back against my chest and tightening the belt.  "Back off, now."

I don’t shout.  Kennedy always says the most frightening thing is the unexpected.  They expect me to be agitated and shout at them.  They don’t expect the calm, the almost conversational way I order them away.  It’s enough to make them hesitate, and that’s all I need.  I hit the button to close the doors and send the lift back down.  It closes on their shocked, uncomprehending faces. 

The whole thing takes about three microns, all told.

I let Dio go immediately.  He’s an old man, and he can’t hurt me.  He coughs and staggers away to the other side of the lift, his hands on his throat.  I don’t think I really hurt him, but he’s definitely shocked, his lips white and his hands shaking.

"Apollo!"

"Shuttles!  What deck?"  I hit seven anyway, only two decks down.

He looks at me, scared at first, then with some compassion.  "You won’t get away from here," he says.

"I have to try."

He shakes his head sadly, saying nothing.  I ignore him, tense and ready when the door opens on an empty corridor.  I’ve still just got the belt for a weapon, but it’ll have to be enough.  I’m straight out of the lift, and lean back in to send it and Dio back up, out of the way.  By the time he tells people where I am, I hope to be long gone.

I don’t waste time in saying anything to him, just punch the button and watch the doors shut on his sad, compassionate face, and start down the corridor at a run, checking the intersections, watching behind me, doing the count in my head.  Thirty microns, forty, a centar … they should be hitting the sirens about now, alerting everyone that the Lords’ Anointed is making a run for it.

Nothing.  That’s puzzling.  I reach another intersection, scout it carefully, and take the corridor I think leads aft, to where the shuttle decks ought to be.  Still nothing.  No alarm raised.  Dio must be in too much shock to think straight, because even he’s had time to reach a comunit and warn the bridge, but still there’s nothing.

The deck seems deserted.  I’m not too worried about people seeing me from a distance - all they’ll see is someone in their own image, another Otori dressed in soft linens – and I’ll not let anyone get close enough to see their mistake.  This quiet and silence should be even safer.  Should be.

Another intersection and now I’m more than puzzled.  I’m getting worried.  They should be doing something, and it takes me some effort to push that to the back of my mind and concentrate on what I need to do.  By doing nothing, they’re doing a Kennedy on me, they’re cheating, they’re trying to get me off balance. 

Absorb it, assess it, use it:  That’s Kennedy’s mantra.  It lets you roll with the punches and keep your balance when all around you are losing theirs.

Nothing to do but keep on.  No-one in sight.  No-one behind me.  Either they’re all at prayer, or… or not.  Or they’re playing.  They’re waiting for me.  They’ll know where I’ll head, that I have no choice but to go for the shuttles.  They’re waiting.  Absorb, assess, use.  And keep going.

More empty corridors and then the doors.  Double doors.  Very promising: there‘s got to be a flightdeck beyond here.  These should lead through into the airlocks that seal the shuttle decks from the rest of the ship, a series of two locks that protect the rest of the ship from contamination or air loss.  Beyond them, the back of the flight deck itself with the control rooms and decontamination chambers, and beyond them again, the decks with only the forcefield between me and the vacuum of space outside. 

I stand in front of the air lock and study it.  After a micron I stand to one side and lean across to open the door.  If anyone’s waiting, he won’t see me.  Nothing and nobody.  I dart in and across to the next airlock door, hearing the outer ones close behind me.  The next lock’s empty too, and I get inside.

And then I stop.  Absorb, assess, use.  They’re waiting for me.  They’re on the flightdeck and waiting for me.

No chance.  No chance at all.  But I'm going to go down fighting, doing the unexpected.  They’re expecting me to be sneaking.  They probably aren’t expecting me to do what I do now.  They expect me to be the one to be surprised.

Breathe deep and hard, the adrenaline rushing.  Smack hand against the button and hurtle through the door and into the middle of them, screaming like a banshee, whirling the belt around my head, the buckle giving it a little bit of weight.  

No, they weren’t expecting that.

The buckle gets a couple of them in the face almost before they realise I’m there.  But there must be about twenty of them, all Otori, and after a micron’s shocked silence, they all surge forward when they see me, like one person, a solid wall of them, and it’s like hitting that solid wall at light speed.

The shock of the impact knocks me breathless. 

I play Triad.  Me and Starbuck are still Fleet champions.  I’m used to playing a rough contact sport, and I’m used to taking tackles.  But not from twenty of them at once.  All I can think as I lie here under them is that it’s a miracle they haven’t snapped me in half and how extraordinarily difficult it is to breathe with that much weight on top of you.

"Let him up," Zhyn says quietly.

In a micron I’m on my feet, whooping for breath, held up by a couple of them.  One the men holding me is Liu, and he’s the one to take the belt from me.  I’m pleased to see I managed to hang onto it, but it’s like I have no strength in my fingers now, and he pulls it away without me even thinking about stopping him.

"Are you hurt?" Zhyn asks.

I shake my head.  Only in my pride, and I’ve the feeling that’s going to be taking quite a pounding.

"Good."  Zhyn’s standing in front of me.  There’s amusement on his calm face.  "You knew we were here."

I’ve more or less got my breath back.  "You weren’t behind me.  You weren’t even looking for me.  You had to be here, in front of me."

"But you did not give up," he comments, voice tinged with something.  A reluctant respect, maybe?.

I shrug.  The fact is that I gave up the micron I realised they were playing games, but sometimes I’m too stubborn for my own good.

He actually smiles.  "We knew, of course, that the first chance that you got, you would try to get away.  There is no way for you to get off this ship but on a shuttle.  The captain told me the instant that he got word from Dio’s people."

"And you got here first."  I look past him, to the empty deck. 

No shuttles. 

Not even one beat-up barely space-worthy garbage scow.  Not one.  It wasn’t worth it.  There’s no way off this ship.  No way.

I’m surprised at myself.  All I feel is a little flare of anger, then nothing.  Maybe the adrenalin’s still surging too much for the heartsick disappointment to hit.

"We know this ship a little better than you do.  There is no point to this, Kinan.  You are not a stupid man.  Take this as an object lesson, as we intend it.  I hope that you now realise that there is absolutely no point in trying again.  We will always be waiting and even if you got past us…"  He looks at the empty deck and smiles.

"Can’t blame a man for trying."

"Of course not.  None of us do.  Despite what you may think of us, we respect many things.  Courage and strength are two of them.  You have earned respect here today, but you *will* acknowledge the futility of trying to escape."

"I’ll acknowledge that I won't get off the Icarus this way," I agree.

He recognises that for what it is.  "In that case you had better meet the rest of your Honour Guard, who will all be with you from now on, wherever you are on this ship.  You can look at them as a symbol of that futility.  They are sworn to protect and guard you." 

He waves a hand, and ten of the Otori separate themselves and bow to me slightly.  They all look amused, but not maliciously so, and they all look very competent.  Because they are *big* boys.  Their mothers must have mated with shuttlecraft.

Good Otori shuttlecraft, of course.

"Pleased to meet you," I say politely, and one or two of the grins fade at the ironic tone.  I look at Zhyn.  "I had you taped as better than Cantor.  Maybe I was wrong."

"In what way?"  He gestures at Liu, who lets me go, and, with my new enhanced escort, he leads the way to the airlock door.

I don’t have any choice but to go with him.  "Cantor likes playing cruel little games too."

"It is no game," Zhyn says, calm and unmoved.  "It serves two purposes, Kinan.  First you have to realise that escape really is impossible and start adjusting to your new life here with us.  But more important than that, it establishes you with my people.  An Otori would not sit meekly in imprisonment, either.  We would have thought infinitely less of you if you had."

"And there’s a third benefit that I hadn’t thought of before," I say brightly.  "I needed the exercise."

Zhyn halts at a lift.  The doors open as we reach it and Dio’s in there, with the remnants of my Kobolian guard.  Dio looks ruffled, but relieved when he sees me.  The two Sagittarians look furious and give me some very unfriendly glances.  The third one’s probably somewhere getting his nose fixed. 

"Priest Cantor was right about that mouth of yours," Zhyn says, with no more than a nod of greeting at Dio.  "I am not easy to offend, Kinan."

"That won’t stop me trying."

"I dare say." Zhyn merely smiles.  "But now you have a service to attend.  I will talk to you later."

He turns away and leaves without another word.  I get into the lift, my ten Otori and Liu, who seems to be in charge of them, crowding in with me.  By accident or design, in the effort to get everyone in, the two Sagittarians get marginalised, pushed to the back of the lift.  I don’t think it improves their day much.

"Did they hurt you?" Dio asks in a quiet voice.

I shake my head and retire into myself.  I don’t want to talk.  I want to think.

This is, at least, confirmation of what I knew in my heart from the beginning.  There’s too many of them to make escape viable, unless and until I get desperate enough to use an escape capsule.  And I’m not that desperate yet.

Yeah.  Plan A’s dead in the water.

Time for Plan B.

Time to wait.  It’s like waiting for a mission, but different than sitting in the tube waiting for the launch order from Rigel, when you get a little jazzed on the adrenalin, finger trembling on the turbo button.  This is waiting for a mission the way Kennedy tells it, and staying calm and quiet and controlled. 

This is the biggest test of everything I am, because I have to stop worrying, stop fretting for Starbuck and Boxey and everyone and everything they’ve taken from me.  I have to wait it out.  I have do nothing, think nothing, roll with it.  And I have to wait as long as it takes.  A centar, a day, a secton, however long it is before my chance comes.  And when it does come, I have to explode into action to grab it.  The way Kennedy taught.

Yeah, I know.  Plan B’s not so hot either.




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