Section Three

 

I can’t say I enjoy the Kobolian service much.

It at least has the advantages of familiarity, compared to that alien service I went to with the Otori last night, but the Sagittarians watch me throughout with pretty unfriendly expressions on their faces.  The one I head-butted isn’t here, but the others are not happy with me.  Not happy at all. 

Well, no more trying to balance two opposing view of me for these three.  That’s a few of the Faithful who’ll find it more difficult to see the divine in me.

As I point out to Dio in their hearing, when he tries a little gentle remonstrance, they all know I’m not exactly here of my own accord.  What the hell do they expect, other than I’ll make a break for it if I can?  They would, if they were being held somewhere against their will.  Dio sighs and blesses me, and prays specially for me in the service, that I might find Light.

I’m distinctly unimpressed about being prayed over like some unrepentant sinner.  I don’t join in the hymns and prayers, although I know them off by heart.  Instead I sit in the front pew and stare mindlessly at the altar, ignoring Dio and the stares and whispers of the rest of the congregation. 

They’re all watching me, not Dio.  There’s the same sense of possessiveness, of reverence that I faced in the Temple last night, the same sense of ownership and worship.  When the service last night was over, and Zhyn and I were walking back down the aisle to those ornate door, many of them knelt as we passed, praying.  At first I thought it was usual, that it was done for Zhyn, but when I looked at him I saw that his mouth was hard with annoyance and it was me that hands were reaching for as I walked.

It could be the same here.  The Kobolians are all going through the ritual with less than half an eye on Dio and most of their attention on their Anointed, sitting silent and resentful in the first pew.

There’s no way out.  I do recognise the futility of trying to escape.  I’ve absorbed and assessed the lesson Zhyn wanted to teach me.  I’m a prisoner here, and powerless, completely in his power, and Cantor’s.  They’re all watching me and guarding me – and after today, they’ll do that rigorously – and there’s no way out.

Absorb, assess, use.  Lesson absorbed, situation assessed.  And using it?  Well, this is where plan B comes in.  Now I have to start being compliant and working to a position where I can try and influence what’s going on, where I can take on the mantle of the Lords’ Anointed.

That’s not an enticing prospect.  I just can’t see any other way.

At least I tried.  I had to do that.  I can’t just accept imprisonment without at least once trying to escape.  Zhyn understands that, even if this mild little priest and the Kobolians don’t. 

Zhyn says so, later, after Chapel and the short Synod meeting he chairs with the captains of the other ships and Dio.  I don’t take much part in it.  I don’t think I’m expected to, really, but when the Calliope’s Captain defers to me and asks me for my opinion, I suggest that he gives up on this stupid idea and gets me home. 

Zhyn looks grim.  Dio sighs again, and blesses me again.  Both reactions could get to be irritating.

The Synod meeting is very short.  They talk a little about progress on some repairs they’re doing to the life support system on the Icarus, then Zhyn dismisses everyone except me.  That's when he tells me again that he expected me to make the attempt, and adds that he’d have been deeply suspicious about any show of meek acceptance, if I hadn’t.

"It would not have been in character," he says. 

"I hate to disappoint," I say.  This may help with Plan B, this modicum of respect I’ve earned with him.  I don’t know.  I can only try to build on it and hope it outweighs his annoyance at the reaction in the Temple last night.

He smiles briefly.  "I am sure of it.  But I hope that you have accepted that there is no way off this ship."  

I sigh and shrug.  "If there is, I can’t see it," I acknowledge.

"Good.  Then you will begin to adjust to your new life here, with us."

"Do I have a choice?"

"No."  He’s not smug exactly, but there’s that religious certainty there all the time.  This is a man who can’t even envisage serious opposition, because he knows he’s right and that God is with him, that’s he’s invincible and his enemies will fall like chaff before the flail of the Lords. 

I just sigh again.  I know what the chaff feels like.

"We will talk here each day, Kinan, after the Synod meeting."  He leans back in his chair and his hand is touching an ornate copy of the Prophecies.  "I wonder if the Lords deliberately chose you because you were a scholar once, and know more than most of our history?"

"I don't know why they chose me," I say flatly.  But I can’t even begin to explain how much I wish they hadn’t.

"Why did you never pursue your studies?"

"Was your father a priest?"

"Of course."  He looks faintly surprised, then nods in understanding.  "Ah, I see.  The pressure to conform to family tradition was too strong."

"Yes."  It still bugs me a bit, when I remember Dad giving me the silent, hurt treatment, so distant I might as well have not belonged to the family, until I gave in and went to the Academy.  Then I was suddenly his blue-eyed boy again.  Trouble is, it left me under no illusions about how precarious a position that is and I spent a lot of time wondering whether it was a position worth worrying about.

"Well, you can rediscover your scholarly pursuits here with us.  I am looking forward to discussing the Prophecies with you."

"Mmn," is all I think it’s safe to say to that proposition.  But before he begins I ask him something that’s been bugging me today.  It didn’t strike me much yesterday, but then most of yesterday was a haze.  "Can I ask you something, first?"

"What?"

"Look, I understand what you want to do.  I can see that you believe that only the most faithful, the religious, are worthy of this journey.  I’m not saying I approve of it or agree with it, because I don’t and you wouldn't expect me to, but I do understand it.  But I don't understand why you’ve done it now.  Why did you take me now if you weren’t ready to go?  It doesn’t make sense to me.  They’ve searched the ship once and they could come back.  Why take the risk of having to hide me, for the Lords’ only know how long?"

"I agree," he says, and under his calm exterior I sense fleeting exasperation.  "We were ready to go.  Our intention was to leave within a few centars, while the Fleet was in confusion following your disappearance and while your father was suitably distracted.  But you heard what we said about the problem we have here with the primary life support system.  It developed just after we took you.  As long as that is under repair, I can’t risk my people."

I’m so shocked by this I think my heart stops.  Geez!  So if it hadn’t been for chance, I might already be light-yahrens from the Galactica, and Boxey and Starbuck, and no hope of ever getting home again.  I think about what they said at the Synod, wishing I’d taken more interest in them and less in sulking over a situation I can’t change.  They’d said it would take sectons to repair.  There’s seldom enough parts to repair the Fleet’s ships and they’re having to build some parts from scratch. 

I say a brief prayer of thanks to whichever Lord is the god of fucked-up technology.  Without that, no plans would help me.  At least I have a chance now there’s a delay.

"Chancy," is all I say.

"The Lords will protect us."  He says it with absolute conviction, and I wonder just how far this religious fanaticism will take him.

"Tell me," I say.  "If it had been the Calliope or the Danae, would you have delayed your departure?"

He smiles.  "Of course not.  They are not Otori ships.  They are not of the Faithful."

That far, huh. 

"I thought so."

"Then why waste time asking?  Now, Kinan, let us discuss Xuian’s vision and the part you will play in bringing it to fruition, at last."

The man is completely ruthless.  Far more dangerous than Cantor, who’s merely venal and ambitious.  As I thought before, this man’s ambitious for Paradise, and that’s a great deal more frightening.

"Yes, let’s," I say, politely.

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

The days pass very slowly when you’re in prison. 

I’m being good and conformable.  I’ve no choice.  So I submit to the regime Cantor mapped out for me: Chapel, instruction, Temple.  Chapel, instruction, Temple.  It’s tedious, but I don’t see any alternative.  Not yet.

The last few days have been difficult.  Oh, not because I’m being mistreated.  Even after my little escapade, the nearest I come to being tortured is the constant religious talk I’m subjected to.  I don’t respond much, just let Dio and Zhyn talk to me, like white noise in the background that you eventually learn to filter out.

They’ve been difficult because I want to go home.  I really want to go home.  I just don’t see how to do it.

I’m never without my escort.  Never without someone to watch me with cool slanting brown eyes accentuated by the those red streaked cheekbones.  What they want of me is so important to them, so crucial, that they see keeping guard on me a holy duty, an obligation.  So Dio says, anyway, and he understands them better than me, although even he says he hasn’t been allowed very far into their closed little community.  Only far enough to suit their purpose.

All of which is fine for them, and never let be said that I want to prevent others from carrying through their religious obligations, however little it’s one of my own ambitions.  But makes any attempt on my part to get out of here even more theoretical.

Every morning I’m escorted to the Kobolian Chapel for the Morning Light Service.  Now Liu and his band of merry Otori take me all the way there, joined on Deck five by my Kobolian guard, and they even come into the Chapel, standing in a silent and solemn row at the back of Chapel, listening with unreadable, expressionless faces to the hymns and prayers.  They never comment on the contrast to the Temple.  They never say much to me at all.  We don’t socialise.  Apart from Liu, I don’t even know their names and I don’t ask.

Zhyn is never in Chapel.  I don't think that he views it as a real place of worship.  Only his temple counts.

The Kobolians may not be as exclusive as the Otori, but they’re almost as extreme.  On the whole they manage to combine a respect and reverence for me with the need to keep me a prisoner.  At the end of every Morning Light, they try to speak to me, and anyone who manages it looks smug and delighted, as if I’ve conferred a benediction on them.

Every morning, after Chapel, they hold one of their Synod meetings.  I’m expected to be there, enthroned in that ridiculous chair.  The Lords alone know what they think my reluctant presence confers on them, what holiness or blessing I bring to their deliberations.  I take no part in them.  I’m just there.

After that first day when I woke up, almost a secton ago now, Cantor hasn’t been here.  Dio says that he has to be careful not to be away from the Galactica too much, and some of his time he spends with the people on the Calliope and the Danae, keeping them faithful.  I’d thought I’d see more of him, but he seems content to let this old priest take his place as my instructor.  It puzzles me because Dio doesn’t seem to me to be in Cantor’s image, and I wouldn’t expect Cantor to entrust me to anyone he didn’t completely own.  But I don’t think he owns Dio.  Dio’s essentially a good man, a good priest, dazzled by Cantor’s vision.  That must have been enough to reassure Cantor.  And it leaves me some possibilities.

It’s not that I miss having Cantor around.  Dio stands in for him, mostly, although Tomas has been here twice.  Tomas tried to speak to me the first time.  He hasn’t tried again, and avoids looking in my direction.  I hope it’s guilt and shame keeps him silent.  If one word of anything I said to him hit home, there should be enough guilt and shame for ten men, much less one weak Councillor.

Zhyn and I have our scholarly discussions after he dismisses the Synod each day.  The Otori world view is different, I’ll give them that.  Religion and prayer is the central focus of an Otori’s life.  They pray constantly, striving for a perfection that, frankly, would scare the felger out of anyone normal. 

It scares me, what he thinks I’m here to do.  It’s not enough for him that I can give them the numbers.  He wants the Kinan for far more than that.  It’s the Redemption and Peace he’s interested in. 

My discussions with Dio remind me of childhood centars in Chapel, listening to the stories in the Book that reassure you about the essential goodness of God, assure you that He watches over us and protects us.  Salvation is a passive thing.  I just have to be good, and God will look after me.

Discussions with Zhyn are more about teasing out what Xuian meant.  Zhyn explains to me what he and the Otori believe the prophecy means to them, what their religion means to them.  Their religion is far more active, at least as it applies to me.  He’s even more vehement than a Kobolian about the need to avoid evil and sin, but he looks for more than that from me.  He looks to me for miracles, I think, something to protect them on their journey.  As the days go on, I begin to see what it is he expects of the Lords’ Anointed.  Not just the healing of the sick that Anton once, only half teasing, warned me about. 

This man is looking for me to have some sort of religious epiphany that will release the power of God in me. 

This man is looking for me to have the power to stop suns.

This man is going to be bitterly disappointed when he realises that’s never going to happen.

I’m always grateful when he leaves for his next round of praying, and Dio and the escort take me back to my little prison cell for my more normal Kobolian lessons.  Dio starts with a review of what he talked to me about the day before.  I repeat his lessons back to him dutifully and faithfully.  Survival tactic, not interest; but it’s enough to mollify him.  Not that I’m being enthusiastic, but I’m at least compliant as he goes over the new lesson, until the Otori come to take me to the their temple.

It’s enough for him to tell me that he’s pleased with my progress.  I don’t respond much to that.  Even as an intellectual exercise, it’s not thrilling me.  But I need allies and he could be one, if I cultivate it a bit.

Dio doesn’t seem to me to be a happy man.  He’s battling with himself, maybe with his conscience.  I thought that I’d scared him badly in the escape attempt, but that doesn’t seem to be the real reason.  He forgave me freely for that.  It seems that I scared him even more badly that first day, when I started planting those little seeds of doubt in him about Cantor and the rightness of what they’re doing.  And he heard the bitter words I threw at Tomas, the contempt and scorn with which I countered Tomas’ attempt to use the Book to justify his complicity.  It disturbs him enough to have him clinging closely to the words of the Book for each lesson, to have him pray with me constantly.  But he won’t talk comparative morality with me.  Maybe I rattled his cage too badly for that.

He doesn’t like what’s happening, though.  Maybe I rattled his cage to good effect. 

And every night, those silent threatening services in the Otori Temple.  Dio’s come with me to each one, but he’s not enjoyed them.  He’s as uncomfortable with them as I am, seeing them as alien. 

I know that feeling.  At least the Kobolian services are familiar.  The incense is familiar, the hymns and prayers are familiar.  And although the Kobolians in Chapel spend most of their time watching me, talking about me behind their hands to their neighbours, it isn’t as bad as the Otori.

And that’s my day for you.  Chapel, instruction, Temple.

The only time I’m alone is when they lock me in for the night.  That’s when I have the greatest difficulty in keeping it all together.  That’s when I can’t block the thoughts and fears any longer.  When there’s no longer anything outside to distract me, then I can’t fight it off any more.  I think of Starbuck and Boxey, Dad and Thenie.  I miss them.  I miss them like they’re dead, like they’re the ones who disappeared and left me behind to mourn.

That’s when I think about Starbuck beside me, with me, loving me, inside me; closing my eyes as my hand moves faster, muffling the moans in the pillow. 

And that’s when I mourn the most.

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

Zhyn’s dressed differently tonight.  For once he’s abandoned the soft linen for heavy white robes, thickly embroidered with gold and silver, and his face paint tonight is gold.  He looks quite remarkable.  Prophet or charlatan?  Who the hell knows.

He nods a greeting of sorts at Dio.  "High Priest Cantor has arrived and is already seated.  You will wish to join him."

It’s a dismissal, and Dio, huffing slightly, pats my arm comforting – a gesture that serves only to worry me about what’s going on - and goes into the temple.

Zhyn’s watching me in the dim light.  I don’t react, just lean up against a wall, and wait.  It’s almost funny.  The one thing my father always despaired about with me was my impatience, my hastiness.  This is teaching me patience, at least; teaching me how to wait and watch and listen.  Kennedy would be proud of me.  Dad should be, too.  Let’s hope he gets the chance to be.

"Tonight is a special service, Kinan," Zhyn starts.  "Tonight is the High Worship of the Sunstorm."

"Uh-huh," I say, and he sighs quietly. 

"It is special in many ways." In the dusk, his face grows rather stern. 

"You permit physical contact tonight."  I use Cassie’s delicate little phrase from so long ago.  Funny, really, that a socialator should have been so prissy about it.

He nods.  "Once every secton we worship the Sun-storm, a service in which joy is sanctioned between man and wife."

I hide a grin.  So, once every seven days, not every seven yahrens: Cassie got that bit wrong.  Unless Starbuck did.  It’s quite possible that all Cassie had to say was "They don’t believe in physical contact between the genders…" for the rush of horror to make him mishear the rest.   He’d be pretty horrified at the thought of any kind of rationing.  I can’t see Starbuck, who’s a two or three times a night man, being able to cope with six nights of abstinence, even with the prospect of a seventh night of sanctified joy to keep him going.  He’d make a pretty bad Otori.

One the plus side, he makes a pretty wonderful lover.  For a micron I tune out of what Zhyn is saying.  Just the thought of Starbuck makes me choke. 

"Are you all right?" demands Zhyn.

I shake my head and turn away.  For a centon he watches me in a puzzled silence as I fight back the thoughts of Starbuck and home.  It’s only a centon, and I can turn back to him and I can hide it again.

"I’m fine," I say.  "Nothing you would understand.  You were saying?"

He frowns.  "That tonight we sanctify you and the Lords’ Chosen Vessel, as well."

The what?  Oh shit.

"Sheba?"  I ask, with some dread.

"Yes."

"I don’t want that.  Do you hear me?  I don’t want that, or her."

"That is not relevant," he says, calm as you please.  "She was chosen by the Lords for this task, and we will need your Seed in the yahrens to come.  It will be done."

The hell it will.  I will not sleep with that bitch.  They can’t make me.  Nothing can make me.

"And Priest Cantor is here, with his Kobolians.  We will worship as usual for a centar, then Priest Cantor will speak, and you will give us the Lords’ message.  Then we will sanctify you and the Vessel."  He smiles suddenly.  "There is no precedent for this, Kinan.  We’ve adapted the ceremony by which I sanctify a Vessel for my own seed."

This man should have been a farmer.  He certainly views sex in a pretty agricultural light.

"I’m all gratitude," I say, ungratefully.  "Just don’t expect me to take any part in it."

The smile grows broad enough to get me worried.  "You will do what is needed," he says. 

And while I wonder what the hell he means by that, the double doors of the temple open and the acolytes file out.  The doors close softly behind them.

They’re robed tonight, as well.  Long dark robes with short embroidered over-tunics of a silvery grey, the silver censors swinging gently at their knees as they make some sort of obeisance.  One of them carries an unlit taper in one hand.

Zhyn stands very straight at my side, taking the taper, enclosing it in his hands.  He bows his head, and for a couple of centons he mutters and prays over it.  I think it’s Kobolian, but I can’t hear properly, so I’m not entirely sure.  It could be Gemonese, but I doubt it.  He straightens up again and opens his hands, and the end of the taper glows and burns slowly into flame.

I'm not that impressed and I let him see I’m not.  He looks at me, the slanting brown eyes hard and unfriendly, when I shrug.  I wonder what he had on his hands to achieve that little party trick.

He nods to the acolytes, who throw open the doors, and we process slowly into the temple.  Two acolytes in front, then Zhyn and me together, the other acolytes falling into place behind us.  It might look pretty and ritualistic, but basically, I’m being escorted in.  They’re making sure I can’t make a run for it.

It’s very dark in the temple, even more than usual.  The darkness seems almost solid at first, breached only by glow of the taper in Zhyn’s hands.  The incense is very strong tonight, and I can almost believe that there’s no real darkness, but only the thick dark smoke, so heavy it oppresses.  I can feel the presence of a lot of people, all close to me, all silent, all watching the little glow of light in which their Redeemer walks through the darkness to the altar beside one of his High Priests.

And if the irony is lost on them, it sure as hell isn’t lost on me. 

We reach the altar and Zhyn mutters quietly to himself some more, before lighting the great candles that flank it from his taper.  He hands the taper to an acolyte who plunges it into a goblet of water.  It goes out with a satisfying hiss.  Oh, very theatrical.  It’s a gala performance tonight, then. 

I walk to my chair when Zhyn nods at me, escorted there by two incense swinging acolytes.  I fantasise for a micron about grabbing one of the censors and swinging it like a weapon.  I could brain Zhyn with it, I’m sure, before they stop me.  I’d be very happy to use a blunt instrument to bring him some Redemption and Peace.

I’ve found over the past six days that such fantasies stop me from going entirely crazy, and I might do it, one day.  They’d kill me of course, so it might be my way out of here, even if that’s in a box.

I settle into the chair, desperate to get comfortable.  The service will start any centon.  The acolytes are lighting other candles in the temple and slowly the light grows.  The place is packed as usual.  I think every Otori not on his or her deathbed attends these services, and even the children are here, as silent and as watchful as their parents.  Several women have babies in their arms, but I've never heard a peep out of them.  I can’t believe they never cry, but I can believe that they drug the poor little mites to keep them sleeping and quiet.  All in the name of perfection and religious obligation, of course.

Cantor and a batch of his priests and other leading Kobolians are in the front row.  Dio’s on one side of him, and Sheba, God curse her, on the other.  She has her hair up in some elaborate fashion, wreathed with flowers, and she’s wearing a long white dress, like a bride.  It reminds me of the one that Serina wore, the one I gave to Thenie.  I glance at her once, at her smiling, smug, anticipatory face, and look pointedly away.

Time passes silently, the Otori all watching me fixedly.  In between thinking of my family, of my lost lover, I watch Cantor and his priests and their increasing discomfort at both the silence and the need to stay still.  It makes me feel a little less scared, somehow, to concentrate on their discomfort and enjoy it. 

As usual, Zhyn lies in front of the altar, not preaching, merely praying.  When he gets to his feet, it’s almost surprising.  I don’t have a chronometer now – they must have taken that, days ago, when they first kidnapped me – but I’ve already grown used to being here, silent and watched, for longer than this.

I’m used to thinking about Starbuck for longer than this.

"Priest Cantor," he says, quietly, and comes to stand beside me, his hand resting on my shoulder.  I jump slightly.  There’s something sharp that catches the side of my neck, but before I can say or do anything the grip of his hand tightens on my shoulder, telling me without words to sit still.  I glance up at him, but he’s looking out at the congregation, his face stern and forbidding.

Cantor gets up, and I’m cheered to see that when he walks to the altar, he moves stiffly and there’s a brief expression of discomfort on his face.  Those seats look damned hard and I like to think that the man’s backside is feeling it.  Until you’re brought to it, you’d never realise how these little, vicarious triumphs make a prisoner’s life more bearable. 

For a centon he stands and looks at the congregation, and smiles at them, a fatherly, priest’s smile.  Then he starts to talk.  I’m not entirely sure what he’s talking about.  It’s very warm in here and I’m getting a little sleepy, I think.  I shake my head to try and clear it.  This damned incense really does dull the brain. 

I’m only half listening, wondering what the hell is going to happen next.  It’s odd, though.  Although I’m not really listening and couldn’t repeat anything he says, what he seems to make some odd sort of sense, his voice low and charming, and very compelling.  There’s an extraordinary sense of everything he says putting the world to rights, vanquishing pain and terror and evil, if we only will believe.

His voice drones on, and incense is stronger, the air gets thicker and thicker, so I float into it, letting his voice take me there, to the place where there's no pain or terror or evil.  He’s talking only to me, I know it.  There’s something here that's only for me.

An acolyte holds a candle before me and Cantor tells me to look at the flame.  He tells us all to look at the flame, but I think he really only means me.  It wavers and fades as his voice rises and falls, and sometimes, although he’s standing near me, I can barely hear him and I have to concentrate hard, so I don’t miss what he’s telling me.

He walks over to stand beside me, still talking, gesturing with his hands so that his wide crimson sleeves look like wings, like blood-drenched wings.  As his arms move, the sleeves make wonderful patterns, and for a while I watch them, a dim, rich ruby against the dull light.  The patterns make sense too, are trying to tell me something.

His hand falls onto my other shoulder, heavy, and he’s suddenly quiet.  I’m  waiting for the next part, almost tense with expectation, all strained attention.  There’s another long silence, then he leans down and speaks to me, quiet, but his voice must carry to every corner of the room.

"Give us the message, Anointed.  We are worthy."

Message?  What message?  Surprised, I close my eyes to think about it and the numbers start scrolling behind my eyes, golden against the darkness.

"Give me the message," he says, soft and persuasive, his voice only for me.  Only for me.  "Tell me where we’re going.  Give me the route."

So I do.  I tell them.  I want to do what Cantor wants.  I listen to my own voice, dragging and slightly slurred as I recite the numbers for them. 

"Elliptical course 195.1 gamma, by epsilon 56.31, 366.839; course change; 781.352 delta by alpha 92.7 .." 

For a long time I listen to my voice, wondering why I’m telling them this.  Every time I falter or stop, Zhyn or Cantor squeezes my shoulder in unspoken encouragement, and once, there’s the little sting in my neck again from the side where Zhyn stands. 

I want to tell them.  I can’t help myself telling them.  The numbers roll on, clear and shining.  And then the end.

"The third planet in a system of a single Class two sun orbited by nine primary planets," I say and fall silent.

There’s a strange sound, as if every one of the hundreds in the hall all draw breath together, and someone, far away, makes an odd keening noise.  There’s a low murmur, the most noise I’ve ever heard in that quiet place, and someone cries out, incoherently.  He or she is hushed, and the place falls quiet again.

"A blessing," Cantor pronounces, his hand on my hair now, in benediction, and he leans down to whisper in my ear.  "Thank you, Apollo.  I told you you’d give me the numbers whenever I wanted.  Be still, now, and watch."

They gave me something, I realise.  Zhyn jabbed something into my neck that let Cantor’s smooth, charming voice hypnotise me into giving him whatever he wanted.

Zhyn says, quietly,  "Thank you, Kinan."

"Be still, now," Cantor says again.

I sit quiet, obedient.  I can’t help it.  I don’t want to do it, but I can’t help it. 

There’s more noise now, a kind of chanting.  Zhyn’s back over by the altar, the acolytes all kneeling around him in a half circle.  Sheba, her eyes glittering with excitement, is standing just behind him, her arms held out, hands palm up.  She stands there for a long time, her white dress glowing in the light, while a new service goes on all around her.  She’s enjoying herself.

I try to listen to the chanting, but I can’t make it out.  I don’t think it’s actual words, in either Gemonese or Kobolian.  It’s just noise, a more co-ordinated version of the keening that met the end of the recital of the route to Earth; a muted howling, something primeval and, after the silence, shockingly emotional.  It makes the little hairs on the back of my neck prickle.  I shiver.  I was hot, before, but not now.  It’s cold in here.

Cantor’s still beside me, his hand still on my shoulder.  I don’t like it.  It feels like he’s glorying in his ownership.  I try to shrug his hand away.

He leans in closer.  "Keep still.  Watch."

So I do. 

I watch while they marry me to Sheba.

*^*^*^*^*

"We can’t condone that heathen ceremony!" Dio says.

Someone’s carried me out of the Temple and laid me on a bed.  This isn’t the little cabin where they’ve kept me locked up, but something grander.  It’s almost as big as my quarters back home, the bed as wide as the one I share with Starbuck.

I wonder what else they’ve given me.  I can remember the service ending, but when I tried to get up, I couldn’t.  My legs wouldn’t stop shaking and everything went very fuzzy around the edges.  Then only the sensation of the world whirling around me, Zhyn and Cantor both reaching out to catch me, and nothing until here and now.

I wish to fuck they’d stop drugging me.  It’s beginning to get to me.

"They may not be of our own Church," Cantor says.  "But they are hardly heathen."

"There is only one true Church, Eminence!" protests Dio.

"Hush," Cantor says.  "They’ll be back in a centon."

"It’s not right, Eminence." Dio’s unusually firm.  I wonder why.  He’s normally meek and mild enough for three priests.  "He’s a Kobolian."

"A shamefully bad one," Sheba says.  "I’m content, Father Dio."

"And I am not, child," he retorts.  "Eminence?"

I open my eyes and look at them.  They look fuzzy against the light, like I can’t quite focus.  I narrow my eyes to see them properly.

A sigh from Cantor.  "Very well, Dio.  I see your point."

Which means he doesn’t.  Dio’s looking flustered and a little scared – I don’t suppose he’s ever questioned the Vicar General’s orders before – and Cantor has that look of saintly patience on his face that means he’s really put out.  Sheba’s smiling a lot, every inch the blushing, happy, bride.

"No!" I say, remembering the Otori temple.

Cantor takes my hand and puts Sheba’s into it.  He winds the cold chain around our wrists, and starts reciting the closing words of the Sealing Ceremony.

"No!" I say again, panicking, jerking my hand free, but I feel like I’m falling, and there’s no way I can keep my eyes open much longer.  "No."

Sheba catches my hand back.  "Stop it," she says, impatient, holding tight as Cantor winds around the chain again.

"What did you give him?" Dio asks, sounding subdued.

"Just a little something to make him more tractable." Cantor finishes his blessing, and unwinds the chain.  "There, my dear.  He’s all yours."

"This is no true Sealing," Dio says, quiet, positive.

No.  No, it’s not.  But my eyes have closed again, despite everything I can do to keep them open.  What in hell have they given me this time?

"That's quite immaterial." Cantor’s annoyed now, and sounds it, not hiding it.  "No more, Father Dio.  Be silent.  I require this of your obedience."

There’s a long centon of silence.

"Eminence," says Dio, quietly, submissive.

Shit.  I hoped for a centon that he was wavering, that he was on my side.  I suppose a lifetime’s obedience is a habit too hard to break.

"There is a problem?" Zhyn asks.

I didn’t hear him come in, and I wonder if the others did.

"Nothing.  Father Dio’s conscience is a little tender."  There’s no mistaking the sneer in Cantor’s voice this time.  "Nothing that need concern us.  Or him."

A long time ago I remember thinking that getting awake, fighting off the drugs they give me, is like fighting quicksand.  It catches you and holds you, and your struggles against sinking become weaker and weaker; and the weaker you get, the faster you sink.  Each time I get my eyes open for a few centons, the harder it is the next time, the harder it is to struggle free of the mire.

This time it takes me a lifetime to get my eyes open.  Jianne is bending over me, a hypodermic in her hand.

"What are you giving him?" Sheba asks.

"We gave him an hypnotic and a truth serum in the Temple," Jianne says.

"To make him talk," Sheba says, and laughs.

"Yes.  He will be more controllable and suggestible as a result.  But for.. " Jianne pauses, then gives Sheba an acid little smile.  "For your purposes, we need him aroused.  This will do it.  A combination of Bliss and Shadow, principally, with some other narcotics."

Shadow!  Shit, not Shadow.

"No!"  I manage to say it, through a mouth that’s dusty dry, and though the quicksand’s trying to pull me under again.

[About time you woke up] Cole says.  [ I hear you got married]

No.

[Afraid so.  I don’t want to be critical, but she’s a little on the determined side, don’t you think?]

Oh God.

[Yeah]

"No," I say, as the hypo’s pressed against the side of my neck.  There’s the slight sting as Jianne uses it.  I jump, and Cole fades away again.

Sheba sighs.  "Thank you, everyone.  I would really appreciate being left alone with him now."

"Of course, child.  Every blessing."  

The traditional good wishes from Cantor are obscene.  I hear Dio choke, but he says nothing.  Zhyn’s chuckle is the same mocking sound I first heard in the dark corridor on the Rising Star when Sheba had shot me and Starbuck down with the stun bolt, and he and Liu had shared some joke about her.

She’s no joke.  She’s out of her head, but still they’re leaving.  They’re leaving me here with a shell of a woman I once knew.  They’re leaving me with this she-devil.

"Be careful," Jianne says, quietly.  "I said the drugs will arouse him.  They will.  But he will not be able to control himself and you should be very careful.  He is likely to be…"  she pauses again, and she’s obviously someone who likes to find the right words.  "…demanding," she finishes.

"I can handle him," Sheba says confidently, and turns to smile at me. 

"I have warned you, friend Sheba," Jianne says quietly and she’s the last out.  The door closes quietly.

My head’s buzzing now, but I’m not going to go under again.  In an odd sort of way, I’m more alert, more able to see what’s going on.  I can turn my head to look at her, where she’s standing over near the door, watching me, waiting for the drugs to kick in.  I begin to feel very peculiar, with the buzzing in my head spreading down through my chest. 

She moves, and the image smears, leaving a trailing tail behind her of a dozen Shebas, each advancing slightly.  It’s like watching an ancient film, frame by frame, of a clever animation of something that looks human. 

I think she’s being animated.  I think she looks human, but isn’t.  I think that she fell when Iblis tempted her, and we lost her then.  I think Sheba’s the one who died at Iblis’ hands, long ago, and nobody noticed, and now she’s being animated by something or someone else, by a pollution that’s taken on some life of its own, that’s taken over her life.  A pollution that came from him: from Count Iblis, from Diabolis, from Satanas.

It isn't her anymore.  Sheba's long gone, poor girl, and left this thing behind.

I manage to get my hands to my eyes and rub them where they’re hurting suddenly against the light.  It’s getting very hot in here.  Very hot.  I can feel the warmth making my skin tingle under the rough linen.  My heart’s starting to pound, feeling like it’s leaping around in my chest, and I put both my hands over it to hold it still.  The tingle becomes almost unbearable.

"Apollo," she says, softly, like she cares about me and she’s half afraid to wake me.  "Apollo."

She’s still coming towards me, frame by frame, until the room’s full of faint Shebas.  The first ones are fading away, their edges thinning and wisping into smoke, wavering on the air and dissolving away into nothing. 

She’s slipping the dress off her shoulders as she comes.  I never knew her shoulders were so white and pretty.  She’s really very pretty.

She leans over me and kisses me, her mouth hot and wet and her tongue darting in past mine.  Her hair falls down to sweep across my face and neck, its touch like a whisper of brown silk.  Her hair smells good.  She tastes good.

Her skin’s so soft, so soft.  She’s slid out of the dress altogether now and is in the bed with me, her mouth wide and hot under mine, her breasts small and tender.  She whimpers slightly when I pull hard on a nipple, but she’s excited, roused by the little pain, and kisses harder, hungry for it.

Her hands are small and delicate, and they’re soft too.  Everything about her is so very soft and yielding, compliant, and she laughs a lot, whispering encouragement and endearments as I use her.  Those soft hands are on me now, stroking and encouraging, feeling like they’re leaving trails of fire as fingers trail down my stomach to stroke my cock and balls.  I’m hard as hell.

The buzzing in my head’s louder, drowning out everything except the sound of her voice and her breathing, warm against my throat and chest.  She’s murmuring something as I touch her, between fast and exciting little kisses that leave me gasping.  I don’t know what she’s saying.  I don’t care.  The fire in my groin, in my blood, in my head, means that nothing matters.  Nothing matters but heat and sweat and the feel of her.

She makes a little moaning sound when I slide my hand between her legs, and spreads them wide to let me in.  She’s wet and ready, throwing back her head when I push her back and thrust into her.  No need to be careful.  One smooth thrust and I’m all the way in, her thighs spread wide, and her legs hooked around mine.

Lords, but she’s hot and feels so tight.  She kisses me, and laugh and laughs and laughs as I start fucking her, pounding into that hot wetness, letting the friction take me.  There’s nothing but heat and a building, suffocating pleasure, and I hammer into her, one hand twisted in her hair to pull her head back to take my kisses, the other on a tit, pulling it, kneading it, making her mine.

She’s gasping now, not laughing, crying and shuddering under me.  I can’t stop.  I don’t want to stop.  She’s mine, and I’m going on, and on, and now she’s crying and I’m hurting her, and hurting her, and pounding into her, again and again.

I don’t care.  Nothing else matters.  And Sheba’s gone and I’m gone, and all that’s left is this. 

And I’m not here and it’s not her, and it’s something and someone from the past, from my past, who I loved and who’s gone, but who lives and loves again in my memories and dreams.

So I dream and remember.

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

"Sorry, Captain!" Cole said.

We’d almost cannoned into each other at the rec-room door in the race to get there before the bar closed, and he’d grabbed at me to stop us both going over. 

It was the second time I’d seen him that evening.  He was on the flightdeck when I got back, there to help me out of the Viper and take my helmet, checking that both me and my ship were okay.  At the time, I thought he was more intent on checking me out, that he’d looked anxiously at the scorch marks on my Viper, then quickly at me to make sure I wasn’t hurt.  His voice, when he asked if I was okay, had a note in it that was a lot more than professional interest. 

I’d found it exciting, wondering if it might be worth me doing some checking of my own.  Cole had been assigned to me the day I arrived as one of my flight crew.  We’d always got on.  Right from the start there was something there, underneath the surface, something that might be worth exploring a bit further.

I wasn’t as lonely on An-Nath as I first thought I might be.  In the two sectars I’d been there, arriving six sectons after my twenty fourth birthday, I was making friends with my pilots and the crews and I’d had a brief fling with one of the admin assistants, who’d just been posted back to Military HQ - and therefore safe, I thought.  No risks of entanglements I couldn’t handle.  She’d left three days before after a night that was, I hope, mutually satisfying, but although I’d liked her a lot, I wasn’t going to break my heart. 

So the attraction I felt towards him wasn’t just loneliness looking for congenial company.  But he seemed as shy as I was, and although we’d shared a few beers in the rec-room now and again, and I thought his interest was more than me being the pilot he was responsible for getting into the air each day, I couldn’t be sure.  I’d have to go slow and careful.

But there’d been no chance to talk to him much when I landed.  I’d had an awful lot to do to stow my prisoners away safely and go off to the debriefing and I hadn’t expected to see him again before the next day.  But now we were both off duty… well, why not?  Why not see how far that hint of interest went?  I could always start with buying him a drink.  There was nothing underhand in that.  Just a nice, friendly gesture.

He let go of me as he apologised, although our collision had been at least half my fault.

"I should have been looking where I was going," I said.  "Drink?"

But even as we looked through the door, the steward pulled down the shutters on the bar.

"Oh," I said, and sighed.  "My timing sucks."

"You’ve had a busy day," he said.

Well, that was one way of putting it.  It hadn’t been the Cylons, that day.  No, that day I took a raiding party out to protect one of the shipping routes used by traders.  Amazingly, they did trade that far out from the main Colonies, although we were more than five days from Aries.  An-Nath was the outermost static deep-space station guarding the Colonies, its face towards the Cylon Empire and its back to home.  We saw quite a few traders.  They operated amongst the smaller agricultural colonies, mostly, and they’d been reporting recent and unexplained losses.

Colonel Marcus sent me out to take a look.  We thought it might be the tinheads, although we couldn’t work out where they might be hiding, but it turned out to be a group of Piscean "merchants", who were into a bit of free trading, surprising the lightly armed traders from their base in an asteroid cluster.  Well, they got the surprise that day.

So did Marcus.  I knew what it had all been about, that little mission, that little test he’d set me. 

Everyone on An-Nath was being very fair and seemed to be withholding judgement until they saw how I shaped up, and the only comments I’d overheard so far hadn’t been about my father, but about how young I was; barely old enough for my balls to have dropped, according to one middle-aged sergeant, who hadn’t realised I was close enough to hear him.  They had, but there was only one way to prove it to him and I’d be damned before I went there with him.  He wasn’t my type.

More seriously, I was trying to get out from under that long parental shadow.  Very young, new boy, balls-still-up, just promoted to Captain: I could cope with all that.  Son of the great Commander was less easy to get over.  That one I’d been fighting all my life.

Marcus probably thought I’d been foisted on him and I knew he didn’t trust the spin Military HQ put on my transfer, that I needed more command experience than my first ship, a destroyer, could offer me.  He was distant and formal.  He wasn’t ever unfair on me, but he was wary, waiting for me to live up to the early promotion, to prove myself, to prove I didn’t get this because of who my father was.  Because this was An-Nath and we saw a lot of action, I’d been through a few firefights in the sectons since my arrival, but always with him in command.  That day was my first test under fire without him there to watch over me. 

I don’t know what he’d expected.  But no losses on our side, thirty sullen and disconsolate Piscean pirates and two captured gunships probably hadn’t been on his list of likely outcomes. 

Well, they hadn’t been on my list, either.  He didn’t seem put out, though.  He grinned at me a lot during the debriefing, and he called me Apollo all the way through it.  I think I did alright.

And now Cole.

"A pretty good day, really," I said, stretching.  "But, yeah.  Busy."

He grinned, nodding.  "I’d say so.  Thirty of the bastards!  Security had a hard time fitting them all in the cells."

I was a little surprised by his vehemence, but then I remembered he was a local boy, from one of the nearby agricultural colonies.  He’d grown up in a war zone, subject to the ever present danger of Cylon attack, dependent on those small traders to make a hard life bearable.  He’d see the Pisceans as traitors preying on their own kind.  As, of course, they were.

"I’d have bought you a drink to celebrate," he went on, "if they hadn’t just closed the bar on us, that is."

I nodded back, suddenly a bit gloomy.  The pilots who’d been out with me had escaped the debriefing session and from the supine look of those I could see from the door, had managed to relax, but it looked like I was fated to be as wound as watch spring.  I could have ordered the steward to reopen the bar and serve me and Cole, but that would be to set a bad example to the troops.  Seriously hampered by my background and upbringing and the prejudices bred into me, I knew that was one thing I shouldn’t, mustn’t do. 

Instead, we turned away, and he walked along beside me, natural and friendly.

"Oh well," I said, and sighed.

"I could have done with something, too," he said.  "And you definitely look like you need a drink, Captain."

"Apollo," I said.  "We’re off duty."

He nodded, slowly.  I’d said that before, only the other night when we’d ended up drinking together late, when most of the rec-room had emptied.  He’d called me Apollo a couple of times, trying it, not entirely comfortable about it, a little shy.  Corporals didn’t usually get to call their Captains by their given names, but I’d made it my rule when I joined up, that off duty I’d allow anyone to do that.  Oh, I was still the captain, still in command, and there were lines they couldn’t cross, that I couldn’t allow them to cross, and they all knew it.  On duty, I was as by-the-book as I had to be, but it would have been a poor life on a little station like An-Nath if I couldn’t relax a little now and again.

And I liked him.  I liked him a lot.  He was about twenty one or two, beautiful looking and almost as tall as me.  He had dark blond hair and warm brown eyes, a crooked little smile that lit him up, a sense of humour that matched mine and a body that looked good under a tech’s coverall and, I thought, would probably look a lot better out of it.

"I’ve nothing hidden away I can share," he said.  "You?"

I shook my head sadly, cursing my abstemious habits.  If I'd had any forethought at all I’d have been able to invite him back to my quarters for a drink and who knows what else? 

"Damn," he said.  "I really need to relax."

"Me too," I said, softly.

He smiled at me, his eyes warm.  "Pity I can’t get into the aft storeroom," he said.  "I shouldn’t say this in case you put me on report…"

"There’s no room in the brig," I reminded him.  "I’ve put enough people behind bars for one day.  If you’ve a solution to our problem, you can have an amnesty in advance."

"Well, I happen to know the Chief has a few emergency rations in the aft storeroom," he said.  The brown eyes were full of mischief, and he was daring me.

We stopped and looked at each other.  I think I knew what would happen that night.  I knew I was about to break the rules.  He watched me while I thought about it, and I knew that I wanted to do it.  I kept telling myself that I really, really, shouldn’t do this.  Apart from anything else, I was his commanding officer and this could have got me court-martialled if he claimed I forced it.  At the least, I was handing him a weapon to hold at my head for the rest of my career.

Oh, I knew I really shouldn’t do it.  But I thought I could trust him.  I wanted to trust him.

I leaned forward a little.  Actually I leaned in very close, but he didn’t pull back, and there was nothing but warmth in those brown eyes.  He wasn’t alarmed by having me that close. 

"And it crosses your mind that I just happen to have a pass key?" I asked

He grinned and nodded. 

"He’ll notice it’s gone."

He shrugged.  "You outrank him, Apollo."

"True.  But stealing another man’s ambrosa, even an illicit stash of ambrosa… that’s not right.  I’ll just have to replace it tomorrow."  Even I could see the mad irony of that statement, but I didn’t really care.  "Lead me to it."

The aft storeroom was dark and deserted.  It took us about five centons to get to it, talking together about nothing much, mapping out a few more things about each other.  The other night we’d broken the ice, swapping information about our families, and background.  This time, we moved on to things deeper than just information.  Once in the storeroom, he rooted out the ambrosa, and we decided, without really discussing it, to have a drink right there and then, still talking as the smooth ambrosa slipped down.

Now I came to think about it, I wasn’t sure about letting him into my quarters.  It was the only place on the whole station where I could lock the world out, and it was a very private place for me.  The storeroom was just fine, and I went across and locked the door to make sure we weren’t disturbed.  Cole, not stopping in what he was telling me, just nodded his approval.

I told myself it was to make sure that the Chief  - the middle aged sergeant who'd expressed such doubts about my physical maturity - didn’t walk in on us unannounced and found us pirating his ambrosa.  

Sure, Apollo.  Sure.  And it had nothing to do with seeing where you could take this and see how you could prove the Chief wrong with a more attractive proposition, with someone who *was* your type.  Nothing at all.

Sitting on the floor was hard on the backside.  There were a couple of old blankets wrapping up some stores, and we folded them to make a sort of cushion where we were sitting with our backs to a crate.  The ambrosa was good.  Not the very, very best, but pretty good and mellow, and I mellowed right along with it. 

The talk got very deep and personal.  I even found myself telling Cole about what I had really wanted to do, that I had never really wanted to join the military.  He was sympathetic, although he said he’d never had any taste for history himself, and he sounded almost surprised when he admitted that he hadn’t realised that having a famous warrior for a father might not all be unalloyed joy. 

"It’s a lot to live up to," I said, gloomy again.

He chuckled.  "I think you did pretty well today, Apollo.  Pretty well.  Everyone was talking about it on shift, what you did.  What *you* did.  Not your father."

I could feel my ears burning a bit with embarrassment.  "Thanks."

"You’re welcome.  General opinion is that you’ll work out just fine." 

"Once I grow up, you mean," I said.

He laughed, understanding what I meant.  "Well, you can’t be much older than me, you know, and they all think I’m a kid.  Most mornings the Chief wants to know if I’ve washed behind my ears and cleaned my teeth.  But I don’t think that’s an issue right now, so far as you’re concerned.  All anyone thinks now is that you’re An-Nath’ captain, and they’re proud of it.  That’s all that counts."

"More than who my father is?"

"He’s not An-Nath." Cole said, dismissive, making it plain where the crew’s loyalties lay.  "Your father’s parsecs away, Apollo.  You’re the one who’s here and just led them into one doozy of a raid against those rats.  This is your place, you get me?"

I nodded.  Maybe he was right, and here I could get out from under the shadow at last.

He passed me the bottle for my turn, and I thought of it as a sort of kiss, my mouth on the bottleneck where his had been an instant before. 

A kiss by proxy. 

And I thought that I’d like to try a real one.  Very soon.  All I needed was the right opportunity.

So we passed the ambrosa bottle back and forth, and leaned comfortably against each other and the crate, and we talked and talked until my opportunity came.  Eventually, I told him about the last dig I went on with the Kobolian Institute’s archaeology team, the sectar before I went to the Academy.  The last time I was really, unconditionally happy. 

What I told him wasn’t about the about the technicalities of the dig and what we’d found, but about the Terrible Twins.  They really were twins; very close, and very alike to look at, although not identical.  They were older than me – hell, I was just eighteen and everyone was older than me – and she was a senior researcher at the Institute and he was a curator at the Museum.  They liked me.  It started out with them offering help with some of the more technical stuff and being flatteringly admiring when I didn’t need it.  It was only later that I realised they were flirting with me, flattering me, making it their life’s ambition at the dig to get into my sleeping bag.

"Which one did?" Cole asked, laughing.

And that was it.  That was the line I shouldn’t have even thought about letting him cross, and all I did was pull down the barriers and invite him in.

"Well, the last night, he did, actually."

Cole choked slightly on the ambrosa, and I watched his eyes grow round.  He just never expected me to say that.  He still had the bottle between his lips and the sight was somehow very funny and very endearing.

"Only we were so drunk that nothing much other than a little kissing and petting went on," I said, rather sad about that.  Gregory had really been very attractive and he’d dazzled me a bit.  It had been one very confused teenager who had gone to the Academy the following sectar.  I’d stayed a bit confused, in that department, ever since.  It had made a shy teenager into a shy man.  It hadn’t made my love life a roaring success, notwithstanding the odd willing admin assistant.

Cole carefully removed the bottle from his lips, swallowed hard, and reached around to put it on the crate behind us.  For a micron, I was devastated, tensed up, thinking that he was going to get up and go.  But, still looking a bit solemn, he shook his head at me.

"Then no more ambrosa for you, Apollo," he said, and he sounded shy and tentative.  "I don’t want to you to be too drunk this time."

We looked at each other, then I relaxed and grinned at him.  He actually blushed and looked away, and only turned back when I reached out and turned his face towards me with my hand.  I was trembling, and so was he.

"Sure?" I asked him.  Because I had to be sure, because he was only a Corporal and it would have been the most evil thing in the world if he’d thought he had to give in to me because I was his commanding officer.  That’s a line I wouldn’t cross.  Not ever.

He nodded, and pressed the side of his face against my palm.  The gesture was sweet and trusting.

"I like you," he said, simply.  "I like you a lot, and I think I want to.  But I’ve never done it with another guy.  I’ve wanted to, especially since you came here, but I don’t know what to do."

"Neither do I," I said, truthfully.  Gregory was a one-off experience that left me too scared to pursue it further, and, at the same time, desperate to pursue it.  It had been a frustrating six yahrens.  "At least, I can remember enough about the kissing and petting to get us started on that."

He laughed, and leant towards me.  His mouth was only inches from mine.  "I’ve done a bit of that myself, with girls.  I can’t imagine it’s that different."

I was drowning in the soft brown eyes.  They were the colour of treacle or honey, clear and bright.   "The kissing’s the same," I said.  "But I can promise you that the rest’s a bit different.  Quite a bit different."

He nodded again, and licked his lips, looking a little expectant.  I realised that he was waiting for me to make the first move, still unsure of himself, so I leaned in close and just gently touched his lips with mine.  They were soft but firm, a little different to a girl’s.  I pulled back to smile at him, then went back in, and this time his lips parted under mine to let me in, and within microns we were both lying on the blankets, kissing like there’s no tomorrow, deep and hot, and my hands were undoing the fastening of those flight-tech coveralls and touching his bare skin for the first time.

No longer a kiss by proxy.

*^*^*^*^*^

 

"Are you sure you want me to give him another dose?" Jianne says, waking me from my dream of Cole and the dark, wonderful storeroom where I was happy.  "You do not look as though it has been all pleasure, friend Sheba."

I roll over and open my eyes.  Sheba’s sitting on a chair, naked, hunched over, her arms wrapped around her torso.  She looks up, and there’s a dark bruise on one cheek and her mouth looks a little swollen. 

"I’m all right," she says, straightening and letting her hands fall into her lap.  Her legs are spread, and I can see the streaky purple of bruising on her inner thighs, the scratch marks on her rounded belly.  Both her breasts show the unmistakeable marks of a hand, the bruises spread like fingerprints across the white skin.  There’s bite marks around one red nipple, and she winces as Jianne handles it gently.  "It’s nothing serious."

"Just bruises," Jianne agrees, taking something from the medical kit she carries and smoothing a little cream over the red nipple.  "Rub that in.  It will soothe the soreness.  You are lucky there is no internal tearing.  He has been rough."

Sheba laughs shakily and obeys, her fingers rubbing around the nipple in little circles.  She winces some more.  "It’s just that I can’t stop him.  He’s constantly wanting more."

"I warned you that the drugs would make him very demanding." Jianne says, and her slanting eyes meet mine for a micron.  I can’t read the expression in them.  "You should stop."

I roll onto my back and close my eyes again.  I’m hard, and I run one hand down over my belly to smooth up the length of my shaft, the other reaching to cup my balls.  I think about Sheba’s fingers rubbing the cream into her nipple, and start rubbing my cock in the same slow rhythm.  That feels good.

"No, I can’t.  You know that."  Sheba sounds impatient.  "We had to time this right.  And Cantor promised me these two nights with him."

I move my hand faster, catching my bottom lip in my teeth as I concentrate, trying to intensify the heat flooding through me with the little pain it brought.  I hear a soft moan.  From me, I think.

"You have had over twenty four centars of it now and you want another night?"  Jianne’s amused.

"I have to do this.  It’s the only way." 

"But dangerous.  You look dreadful.  How do you think you will explain the bruises away back on the Galactica?"

Sheba’s laugh is brittle.  "They’ve got other things to think about than how many men I’ve fucked on my furlough.  They all know that's how I’ll spend it, getting fucked.  All anyone will think is that one of them was a bit rough."  She sighs.  "I’m sore, though."

"Use this on him then, for lubrication.  It will make things easier."

"Thanks.  Listen to him.  He’s ready for more.  What the hell do those drugs do?"  Sheba sighs again.  "It’s not like him to be like this."

A hypo presses against my neck just as I come, jizz bursting into my hand, hot and thick and sticky.

"They are wired for sex," Jianne says.  "The drugs just remove all the inhibitions and trip the switches.  With drugs like these I could raise the dead."  Her hand lifts and moves mine and she laughs softly.  "I think you just missed an opportunity, friend Sheba."

"There’ll be more," Sheba says, and she’s leaning over me again, her lips brushing mine, an oily hand on my still-hard cock.  "Believe me, there will."

"Then I will leave you to it."  Jianne’s voice is fading as Sheba’s mouth works its magic and the world fades out to desire.

I don’t hear the door close.  I catch Sheba by the upper arms, hearing her little gasp of pain, and roll her onto her back, pushing her legs apart with one knee.

"Gently," she says, spreading her legs for me, lifting her hips to let me in.

I hear her, but it doesn’t mean much.  She has what I want, she has the hot, wet channel that thrills, that holds my cock tight and warm and feels so good as I push up into her.  She’s gasping and crying as I lie on her, her hips pumping rhythmically under me, her breast soft and yielding under hard fingers that pummel and pull at it, kissing me frantically as I fuck her hard.

I close my eyes, and it’s not her anymore, not Sheba, but memories and dreams that hold me and love me. 

So easy to get lost in.

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

"Hi," Cole said quietly.

I turned to him.  "Hi, yourself."

He looked a bit uncertain, unsure.  He was holding my helmet in one hand, the other hand steadying the ladder up to the cockpit.  To anyone watching us, he was just every inch the flight-tech doing his duty and getting his pilot into the air.

He looked as uncertain as I felt.

The previous morning, we’d woken up in the storeroom, wrapped together.  We’d kissed for one last time and sneaked out of the storeroom before anyone could see us, going our separate ways.  We met again a couple of centars later when he oversaw my launch when I went to clear out the Piscean base, both very proper and professional.  I hadn’t seen him since.  By the time I managed to get back to An-Nath, the shift had long since changed and Cole was nowhere to be found.  I’d figured that he’d gone to his quarters, the quarters he shared with two other launch techs, where I could hardly go after him.  He hadn’t been in the storeroom.  I’d checked there first.

I’d spent most of the night not sleeping, watching the vid and wondering if he’d decided it was all a mega mistake.  And wondering if I’d made a mega mistake.

"I missed you yesterday," he said, looking at carefully at the safety gauges on my Viper. Not at me.

"I didn’t get back until really late." I took the helmet from him, keeping my voice low because of the bustle of the launch bay around us.  I didn’t want to be overheard. 

"I know.  I watched for you until I figured that the late shift would be wondering what the hell I was up to, haunting the landing bay."  He looked at me properly and smiled a little, tentatively.  "I checked with Core Command, but they said you’d be centars."

"I looked for you when I got in," I said.

His smile steadied.  "Did you?  I wondered if maybe you’d changed your mind."

It was hard to be vehement in a whisper.  "Like hell!"

"Good."  The smile grew very bright.  "You going to be late today, do you think?"

I shook my head.  "A three centar patrol then I’m back here to make out my deposition and sort the paperwork on the Pisceans."

"See you later, then?"

"You can bet on it," I said.  "My quarters?  They’re more comfortable than the storeroom."

"I’ll be there.  About seven?"

I grinned at him and jammed on the helmet.  "I’m looking forward to it."

I was, too.  I spent the patrol in a romantic daze, thinking about our time in the storeroom, and thinking about the night to come.  It’s a wonder I didn’t run into something: an asteroid or a star, or something inconsequential like that.  I was seriously distracted.

The paperwork for the authorities on the pirate base, and the evidence I’d found there of collusion by some of the high-up’s on the Piscean Council, got only intermittent attention, too.  Trying to get the case outlined got all mixed up with dreaming of Cole.  I did the best I could, but I knew that in all likelihood all the noble merchants would wriggle off the hook and get away with it, to get rich and cause more trouble later: their kind always did.  But mostly my mind was on Cole, and not on the dubious business dealings of equally dubious Piscean aristocrats. 

We’d got naked and very urgent in the storeroom, with a lot of touching and licking and kissing.  He said later that nothing felt as good as coming in my mouth as I sucked his lovely, long cock.  He tasted wonderful, thick and salty.  I knew what he meant.  It felt pretty wonderful when he sucked me off, too.

We did try to make love, but we had nothing for lube and neither of us had done it before.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to do, really.  I had a broad idea about what went where, but that was about as far as it went.  I remembered from that night in the tent how amazing it felt to be finger fucked, how astonishing it was when Gregory’s fingers brushed against something inside me that had me screaming and coming.  Cole liked it, too, when I tried it.  God, did he get hot when I got a finger up into him, bucking wildly on my hand, gasping and incoherent, but it hurt him when I tried with my cock.  After a lot of sweating and quite a bit of swearing, we stopped trying and settled for sucking and kissing each other into insensibility.  It was wonderful.

That wasn’t to say that I didn’t want to try again.  I’d loved lying on Cole, our cocks rubbing against each other, kissing his ambrosa-tasting mouth, and running my hands over his chest and thighs.  That had been hot - really, really hot - but all it had done was whet my appetite for more.  But I had to know what I was doing.  When I’d got back the night before and couldn’t find Cole, I’d downloaded a couple of porn chips and sat through some very educational material.  Very educational.

At least I hadn’t got it too wrong in the storeroom, but the vids showed me there was definitely room for improvement.  I’d watched the actors on the screen touch each other, lick each other – in places that I had never even thought of - and then watched them fuck deep and hard.  There was no way they were faking that.  I hated the cheapness of it, but at the same time I was so excited by what I was seeing, that I spent most of the night watching and masturbating in almost equal measure.  There was one scene, of two men sixty-nining each other, sucking and finger fucking each other simultaneously, that had me coming twice in five centons at the thought of doing that with Cole.  I needed a shower after that one, and a definite need of clean bed linen.

I didn’t get much sleep.  Every time I closed my eyes the vids replayed, only this time it was Cole’s hands sliding down between my legs to stroke the sensitive area between the base of my cock and my backside, Cole’s mouth on my cock and balls, Cole’s oily fingers thrusting into me to get me ready for the big, generous cock hanging between his legs.

There is no way a man can sleep through that, believe me.  Another shower and more clean linen had been called for. 

When I finally gave up on the reports and depositions, I headed for the medical storeroom to find some supplies – one of the advantages of being second in command was that I had all the pass keys.  I didn’t have to go to the medical officer and die of terminal embarrassment at having to ask for what I wanted – and headed for my quarters and a very, very thorough shower. 

Then I watched a few centons of the vid, and had another very thorough shower.

By the time Cole rang the bell at seven, I was so hot that I was beginning to think I was going down with a fever.  He looked shy again, so I didn’t jump him the micron he got through the door, although it was a pretty close run thing.

"Hi," he said, leaning back against the door.

"Hi," I said, looking at that strong, lovely body and thinking of the vids again.  My cock was hot and hard, straining against the off-duty jeans I was wearing.

He had one hand behind him, and, with a flourish, he brought out the ambrosa he was holding.  "I thought I’d bring the drink."

I nodded over to the table and the bottle I’d got from the rec-room that afternoon when I came off duty.  "Me too.  We don’t want to get too drunk, though."

"Just nice and relaxed," he said, grinning.  He handed me the bottle, but stayed over by the door, looking nervous.  "Listen, Apollo, don’t take this wrong…"

For a micron, I thought he wanted to say that it wasn’t going to happen, and my heart almost stopped.

"It was great the other night, but I wanted to be a bit more… well, you know, a bit more like I knew what I was doing.  So I did some web searching while I was waiting for you last night."  His eyes met mine, and were a little wide.  "I was pretty much blown away by what I found.  There’s some amazing stuff on there.  I can barely believe some of the things I saw and read about."  He blushed slightly.  "Some of the things I’d like us to do."

I started breathing again in relief.  "As good as the vids I watched?" I asked, and he laughed and relaxed.

"You’re not mad?"

"Only with myself for not finding you last night.  We could have watched the vids together."  I put down the bottle.  Somehow I didn’t think we’d need too much ambrosa that night, and I went to him and took his hand to draw him further into the room.  "They gave me a few ideas too, Cole."

I honestly don’t remember how we got naked and into my bed.  I just remember how good he felt, warm and bare in my arms, how his mouth tasted of peppermint from the tooth-cleaner, how good and clean and warm his skin smelled.

I was right about not needing the ambrosa.  We forgot about it, I think, in the haze of pleasurable excitement that was exploring him to find again all the spots that made him jump, or laugh, or almost purr like a cat with excitement.  His hands were busy mapping me out too, and we laughed and kissed and played, and kissed some more, for a long time.  It was fun and warm and sexy.

And one helluva lot more comfortable than the storeroom floor.  My worries about letting someone into my little haven were so petty, so irrelevant compared to this.

I found that he loved having his nipples sucked, and when I used my teeth, worrying gently at the little brown nub, he bucked under me so hard he almost threw me off onto the floor.  If he hadn’t been holding me so tight, that is.  He threw his head back to let me kiss his throat, while I got one hand on the wet, red nipple I’d just mistreated and the other on the beautiful long cock between his legs.  His hands were kneading my backside, pulling me in close, one finger worming its way into me.  When it touched my prostate, I was the one bucking and yelling, and he was laughing up at me, his eyes gleaming.

"Will you do it to me?" he asked when I’d calmed down a bit, and was once more licking and kissing his throat.  I could feel his throat vibrating as he spoke.  "Make love to me?"

The scenes from the vids flashed across the inside of my head.  "Sure?" I asked.  "I don’t want to hurt you."

He considered that.  "I don’t think you ever will.  It’s different tonight, can’t you feel it?"  He laughed suddenly  "In military speak, Captain, the other night was the reconnaissance for tonight’s main engagement."

I grinned at that.  "I know what you mean.  I wasn’t so sure of myself the other night, but now it all feels right."  I kissed my way up to the point of his chin, and then settled on his mouth.  Gods, but it was hot and wet and I couldn’t get enough of it.

But Cole wanted more.  After a few centons he pushed me gently away and turned over onto his stomach.  "I brought some stuff," he said, his voice a bit muffled.

"Me, too." 

I kissed the back of his neck.  He turned his head and smiled at me, trusting me absolutely.  I kissed what I could reach of his mouth and reached under the pillow where I’d stashed the lube I’d appropriated.

My hands were shaking so much I could hardly get the tube open.  The stupid manufacturer had covered the actual tube opening with a tiny film of foil, to seal it, and it seemed to take an eternity to prise it off.  In the end I had to use my teeth.  Cole just lay and watched me, smiling.  I coated my fingers liberally and then trailed one down his spine.  One of the men on the vid had done that with his partner and I was delighted to see that Cole liked it.  His back arched as my finger smoothed down, down across the little hollow at the base of his spine, then slid into the hot, moist crack between his buttocks.  I hesitated, allowing my finger to slide around his hole.

"Ready"? I asked, and my voice had gone up a few tones with nerves.

"Yes," he said, and wriggled invitingly.

He sighed very gently as I pushed my finger into him.  It was much easier than the other night, when all we had was spit.  This time it slid in easily.  I couldn’t believe how hot he was inside, and how tight the ring of muscles around his entrance held and gripped my finger.  I had serious doubts that it would ever stretch wide enough to take my cock.

I’d realised when I was watching the vids that I’d been really inconsiderate with him the other night, not taking the time to prepare him properly.  No wonder I’d hurt him.  Of course, I hadn’t known what I was doing, but that’s not really much of an excuse.  This time I knew better.  I never wanted to hurt him.  Not ever.

Cole stayed relaxed and moved his arse gently as I finger fucked him, jumping only when I found the little hard gland inside him and touched it.  That got a moan out of him, and the little ring of muscles dilated almost instantaneously.  I got two fingers into him straight away, taking advantage of the relaxed muscles.

"Hey," he complained softly, his body stiffening against the intrusion.

I didn’t move.  "Relax," I said, softly, leaning down and kissing my way up his spine to the back of his neck.  "I won’t hurt you.  I swear I won’t."

He nodded and turned his head to smile at me, letting himself relax every tense muscle.

"I know," he said, trustingly.  "And I want this."

I kissed his cheek, keeping still, not moving my fingers, letting him get used to it.  But he started moving himself, fucking himself gently on my fingers.  After a centon or two, the discomfort must have passed, because he was moving faster.  I stroked his hair with my free hand, encouraging him, as his hips pumped, with little kisses along the back of his neck.

As soon as I could, I got the third finger in.  He didn’t even notice it, this time, except that his breathing got ragged, and the low moans got louder and more urgent.  I was grinning.  This was working.  It was really working.

After another few centons, I got him to get onto his hands and knees, with me kneeling behind him, still keeping my fingers in him, encouraging him, loving him.  With my free hand, I managed to get enough lube spread onto my cock.  I was so scared I could barely breath as I let my fingers slide out of him, so scared I’d hurt him, that I’d be crap at this, that I’d hurt him or disappoint him.

"Oh," was all he said as I pressed the head of my cock against his entrance and took him by the hips.

I don’t think I breathed once as I pushed forward, watching the point I was pressing against.  The muscles resisted for a micron, and he grunted, throwing his head back.  Then all at once the head of my cock slid inside.

"Lords!" Cole gasped.

I think I must have yelled out loud.  His body clutched at my cock, enclosing the head inside him, the muscle ring holding it tight and he was so hot, so hot and velvety smooth inside.  It was almost too much for me, and I had to fight hard not to come, not to disappoint him.

"Apollo," he said, his voice faint.  His head was hanging and he was breathing deep and hard.

"All right?" I managed.  I slid one hand around his hip to reach for his cock, where it hung hard and heavy between his legs.

He moaned some sort of reply, but he was pushing back at me, and I didn’t think that he wanted me to stop.  As soon as I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to come too soon, I started again, penetrating him.  It fascinated me, watching as I pushed slowly and gently up into him, letting him get used to the feel of me there, watching as his body slowly swallowed me up.  It was astonishing that his little arse could take something that big and it not split him in half.  Astonishing.

"All right?"  I said again, leaning forward when I was about two thirds inside him.  "I’m not hurting you?"

"No!  No.  It’s wonderful.  Wonderful."  He spoke in little breathy jerks, getting his head up to turn and look at me.  I wondered what he saw there, because he smiled at me.  "Don’t look so worried.  You feel great.  Keep going, Apollo.  I want it all."

So I did.  In another centon I was all the way in, my balls pressed up against his backside, and my entire length in his arse, held hot and tight and safe.

"Oh God," I said faintly, drooping over his back for a micron, the heat and tightness almost too much again, and he seemed to know, because he just knelt there, waiting, his head hanging again and his sides heaving, waiting for me to be ready to start.

I was breathing as hard as he was, but I pulled back slowly, not all the way out, then pushed forward again.  His arse pushed back to meet me, so that my balls slapped against his backside, a little stinging pleasure-pain that made me gasp.  I did it again, pulling on his heavy cock with one hand to match the rhythm I was trying to set up, and again, and again; and slowly, surely, we found the rhythm that suited us, slow and easy, with his hips rocking gently to meet each thrust, bodies moving in the most perfect harmony.

"Oh, that’s good," he whispered, moaning as I picked up the pace.  "That feels so good."

And then we were both moving faster, my cock slipping easily in and out of his arse, and I was jacking him off faster to match, and we were both gasping for breath, and he was coming all over my hand, his hot, thick, creamy jism spurting from between my fingers.  It was too much.  It was too sexy and it was too much.  The white heat in my balls boiled over and I made one last thrust all the way in, holding myself hard against him, and shot up into him, three huge spasms emptying me into him.  I’d never felt anything so wonderful, so completely shattering.

We were both shaking when I pulled out of him, and he collapsed almost immediately, a heap of almost boneless limbs.  I was, I think, speechless with exhaustion and happiness as I held him, unable to say anything, but I hoped the noises I was making as I kissed his face and hair reassured him, comforted him.  He shifted slightly to wrap himself around me and kissed me back sleepily.

And that’s all I remember for some time.  I think we must have fallen asleep like that, wrapped safe and warm in each other’s arms, his mouth against my throat, my face in his hair, because all I don’t remember anything for a while until he was kissing me and his hands were playing with my softened cock and balls.

"That was wonderful," he said, when he was sure that I was awake enough to be taking notice again.  "You were wonderful."

"Didn’t hurt you?" I mumbled, still sleepy.

He shook his head.  "A bit sore, but it’s worth it.  It’s worth it to feel your cock in me like that.  It was fantastic, Apollo.  Fantastic."  He rolled me onto my back and lay on top of me, kissing me.  "And now…"

"Now?" I prompted him after a few more centons of hot kisses, of his hands on me, owning me.

He pulled back and smiled at me.  "Did anyone ever tell you you’re beautiful, Captain?"

Only my mother, and not since I was about five.  I shook my head, and he smiled wider.

"Well you are.  Very beautiful.  And now it’s my turn."

I smiled back.  "Fine by me."

God, it was too.  Mighty fine.

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

There’s odd sounds when I wake up, the sound of running water.  It runs in and out of my dreams, mixing itself up with the memories of a long time ago, of a shared shower after my first night with Cole, of getting hotter instead of concentrating on getting clean.  I can feel the water running down my face, his mouth on mine, his hands holding my cock the way I’m holding his.  It’s a good dream, and even as I surface, I’m trying to keep it safe in my memory, catching at its edges as it slips away.

I feel very lethargic, sleepy, my legs and arms so heavy with sleep that I don’t want to try and move them.  The light’s bright in my eyes.

This isn’t the little cabin they normally lock me into, my cell, the prison they keep me in.  This is a better cabin, bigger and more luxurious.  I close my eyes again and drift for a few microns, thinking about it.  A freighter the size of the Icarus doesn’t have that much room for luxurious quarters.  These have to belong to the owner, or the captain, maybe. 

I wonder why they’ve moved me here.  Not that I mind the improvement, but I can’t really see why they’d do it.  

I roll over onto my other side, facing out into the room, thinking about it.  I can still hear water: a real water turboshower like the one I had back on the Galactica a lifetime ago, not like the sonic shower in the little room they keep me in.  Real luxury.

Just as I realise who must be using it, she comes out.  She’s walking very stiffly, and she’s covered in bruises and abrasions.

"Sheba?"

She gives me a look of alarm, and anger and hate.  "Oh no you don’t!" she says, backing towards a chair where her clothes are stacked neatly.  She winces as she pulls panties on.  The inside of her thighs are red and bruised.  "I’ve had quite enough of you."

"Shit," I say, sitting up.  I regret it almost immediately, as the world spins dizzily.  I grab at my throbbing temples, and sit hunched up against the head of the bed with my head in my hands until everything settles down and the nausea stops welling up into my throat and choking me.  I can’t stop shaking, my hands trembling like an old man’s.

Shit.  What the fuck did they give me this time?

When I can look up, she’s almost dressed, getting gingerly into her pressure suit.  As she fastens the front tabs, I can see the bruises on her breasts, the bite marks.  She eases on the tunic and tucks it into her pants, moving slowly and carefully, like everything hurts.

They bloody drugged me up again.  I can remember that much, that they brought me here after the temple where they went through some ceremony with Sheba, and they drugged me.  I’m getting tired of that.  It makes it very hard to fight them, to resist, if you’re doped out of your skull all the time.

Sheba’s folding a pretty white dress, her hands shaking a bit.

"Did I do that?" I ask her, aghast, remembering the state she was in beneath that concealing uniform.

The bed’s damp with semen, and smells of sex.  There’s traces of blood on the sheets, and my cock’s sore and red.  I know the answer really.

She glances up at me, and pushes the dress into a overnight bag.  "Did you do what, Apollo?  Abuse me?"  She lets that sink in and then she smiles.  It looks painful, because her mouth’s swollen and there’s a dark bruise on one cheek.  Her eyes are red with crying.  "Oh yes, lover, it was you.  Get the right stuff into you and you certainly like to fuck, don’t you?  Is this what you’re like with Starbuck?  I’m surprised he can ever walk."

"Oh shit."  I don’t know what else to say.

"And I always thought you were such a gentleman," she says, jeering.

I stare at her, feeling dazed and sick.  It couldn’t have been me.  I wouldn’t ever do that to her.  I wouldn’t do that to anyone. 

Not even to her. 

"I don’t believe it," I say, desperate not to believe it.

She looks around.  "You see another animal in here?"

No.  There's no-one here but me.  But I can’t have done it.  I can’t have.  I can barely stand to look at her, I feel so sick.  She shrugs into her flight jacket, lifts the bag and puts it carefully on her shoulder.  She’s hurting, and I did that.  I can’t remember doing that, but I must have.

Like she says, there no other animal in here but me.

I want to throw up, but not with her in here.  I swallow it down and get my head in my hands for a micron or so until I can control it.  I’m cold and sweating.  "What happened?"  I ask her when I can speak.

She smiles at me, and it’s the usual old Sheba, bright and malicious despite the pains and the bruises.  "I told you, lover.  The old fashioned way, I said.  I wasn’t expecting just how old fashioned.  I wasn’t expecting the caveman pulling a girl along by her hair routine."

They’d given me something, I know it.  Shadow, Jianne had said, Shadow and Bliss.  I’ve never tried either before, but I’ve heard that both gave a sexual kick like a turbo kicking in.  But surely I’d know?  Surely I’d remember! 

Surely I’d be able to fight it off?  I don’t want the woman, after all.  She’s the last thing I want.

"What did they give me?"

"And just why do you think that they gave you anything?"

"Because there’s no way in hell I’d touch you, otherwise," I say, and I don’t care how hurtful that is, because, God knows, by the look of her, I’ve just hurt her worse than that. 

"Oh you touched me, Apollo.  You saw how much you touched me."  Her mouth twists.  I flinch, and she sees it and she smiles at me, enjoying it.  "And you loved it," she straightening up.  "You loved every damned centon of it." 

She moves slowly and painfully over to the door and taps in the security code.  As it opens she turns back for a micron and smiles at me again, her smile vicious and there’s something red flaring in the depths of her eyes.

"And you know what, Apollo?  You never called on Starbuck once."

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

I’ve been throwing up for what seems like centars.  There’s nothing for me to bring up.  Lord alone knows how long it’s been since they locked me in here with that thing that looks like Sheba, how long it’s been since I last ate something that I could bring up, but my stomach doesn’t seem to accept that, and keeps trying.

I’ve had two showers, trying to get rid of the smell.  I stink of sex and semen.  Worse, I stink of her, the faint perfume clinging like guilt.  I can’t seem to wash it away.

"Kinan?" Jianne asks quietly, from behind me.

"Leave me alone," I say, still crouched over the flush, stomach heaving.

"I can give you something," she offers.

I retch so badly that my stomach’s hurting.  This time I cough up bile, spitting the yellow acid into the flush. 

"You need something to settle that," she says.

I ignore her.  I feel fractionally better, well enough to lurch to my feet and get under the shower again.  She’s still there, hovering at the door of the bathroom, watching me.  So much for that famous Otori virtue and morality then.  This one doesn’t seem too bothered by watching naked men, and she wasn’t too upset by having to deal with Sheba either.

She comes forward with a towel when I get out of the cubicle.  "You should not be reacting to the drugs like this," she says, looking worried, and gets her hand against my face.  "No fever?"

"Leave me alone," I say again, but I’m too tired to be angry.  And even if I wasn’t, the memory of what I’d done to Sheba would stop me from being abrupt, or angry or violent with another woman, even this one.  The very thought has my gut roiling again.

It wasn’t me.  It was the drugs.  It wasn’t me.

Except maybe all the drugs did was find the real me that hides behind the face I show to the world.  Maybe the real me isn’t so nice.  Maybe the real me enjoys raping women; enjoys hurting; enjoys hitting someone - anyone - smaller and weaker than I am.

"I am a med-tech, Kinan," she says, in a reasonable tone of voice.  "It is my job to take care of you."

"You’ve done that already," I say, rasping through the burn in my throat.  I shake her off, trying not to hurt her but to make sure that she gets the message that I don’t want her to touch me, and get into the main room.  My knees are still a bit shaky, but I make it without falling over.  Not like when I got into the fresher after Sheba left.  I fell over twice on the way in. 

Dio’s there, looking grave.  He reddens when I walk out of the fresher, naked, with Jianne behind me, and looks hastily away.

"Apollo," he says, primly.

I don’t answer him.  I find my clothes – no, the Otori clothes they gave me when they took mine away -  and get back into them, ignoring the faint, semi-protesting noises that he’s making.  Jianne’s standing beside him, watching me, looking helpless and anxious.

"Let’s go," I say, as soon as I’m dressed.  I straighten up cautiously.  My gut’s sore from all that retching.

"Go?  Where?" Dio asks, looking bemused.

My turn to be bemused.  I’d thought he’d come to take me back to the little cell I’m used to, but as I glance around I see that there’s a tray of food on a side table, beside the familiar Books. 

"Apollo?"  he sounds anxious now, obviously not sure how to deal with me.

I cross to the tray.  Tea.  Please God let there be tea…  My hand shakes as I pour it and lift the thin porcelain cup.  The steam smells wonderful.  I’m developing quite a taste for the way the Otori drink tea, black and unsweetened.  It’s amazingly refreshing, and for the first time since Sheba left, I feel marginally comforted.  It settles my stomach, too, making me feel less nauseous, more like myself.

The real me.  Not the me that the drugs found.  The me I don’t want to be, ever.  The me I don’t want to think about.

I put the cup down.  I’m not hungry and I can’t face the food.  "Let’s go."  I say again.

"But these are your new …"  he starts, but I won’t let him finish.

"I’m not staying here," I say flatly, not looking at the bed where I rutted with that thing.  I couldn’t.  This place found something in me I don’t want to think about, and definitely something I can’t face.  Not yet.  And not every day, in this room, reminding me of what I did.

I don’t know how I can ever tell Starbuck what I’ve done, what I am.  But I’ll never get the chance, will I?  I’ll never see Starbuck again, or Boxey or Dad and Thenie.  I’ll never see Starbuck again.

"But they decided that you should be moved here," Dio says.

"Then I’m un-deciding for them.  I’m not staying here."

He stares at me helplessly and I wonder if he really doesn’t or can’t understand. 

So I tell him.  "In that cell, I was at least in a clean prison, Dio.  *I* was clean.  Before you…"  I choke, unable to say it. 

Before you connived at my corruption.

Too melodramatic and I was the one who hurt Sheba.  Before you conspired to help me find my own corruption, maybe.

"Oh, my son," he sighs.

"No!  Don’t you *dare* call me that!  You have no right to call me that.  My father’s on the Galactica, and I’ll be damned before I let a sanctimonious old hypocrite call me the name only he has the right to."  I turn back to the table, pick up the Books and hurl them at him.  He dodges them with a surprising nimbleness. 

"Apollo, please, I did try and protest, really I did…" He’s babbling, scared.

"Protest!  Protest at what, Dio?  Protest at kidnapping me in the first place?  Protest at destroying my family?  At keeping me prisoner and humiliating me?  At that sham of a sealing?  At drugging me so I won’t care what it is I fuck with, even with that thing that Iblis left behind?  At drugging me so she manages to do what Iblis wanted her to do?  I heard your protest, Priest.  I heard your little bleating.  You shut up fast enough when Cantor told you to." 

"Iblis?" he repeats, looking shocked. 

"His whore.  The creature you locked up in here with me so I could… what is that corrupt Book says?  So I could do my progenitive duty.  That’s it.  Do my progenitive duty with the thing Iblis left to destroy me."

Even as I yell it at him, I freeze as I have some sort of revelation.  A blinding, shattering revelation, pierced with truth and certainty. 

Sheba was left by Iblis to destroy me. 

There’s a chair near me, near the table, and I sit down suddenly, all the anger draining away while I think about it.  My knees are shaking too much for me to stand up any longer.  I stare at them.  Dio’s pale and trembling and Jianne looks frightened.  She’s close to the door, leaving the old man between me and her, ready to get out in a hurry if she has to.

"Dear God," I say.  "Dear God."

Now I understand.  Xuian had a true vision.

Mai Aekestre Sem-ve, Rhamminadth, Kobol-galathdh Kinan gesinthe-ka voi, fro-sa Aekestrennt mai Citrudth voi.  Bystre sen-za Kinan, wei sen-zi drydtha Inspel, mai gardhe drydtha Rhinn.  Gesinthe Kobol-galathdh Kinan, tha-lei phosasdth.

God’s own truth.

I *am* the Kinan.

I am the Lords’ Anointed.

Now I have that religious epiphany they’ve all been waiting for.  There’s no blinding light, no voice of God.  Just a deep certainty about who and what I am, a certainty that needs some thinking about.  I sit in silence for a long, long time, doing just that, looking down at the floor without really seeing it, ignoring everything around me, even the subdued, frightened voices.

Zhyn is here, touching my shoulder.  "Kinan?"

I don’t know how long he’s been here, but his voice is slightly hoarse, and now I think about it, I realise that he’s been talking to me for a long time, calling me.  I look up at him.  Yes, I’m his Kinan.  I didn’t want to believe it before, but now I know it’s true.

He sighs when I focus on him.  "Kinan."

"Iblis always knew who I was," I tell him, slowly.  "That’s why he appeared when he did, to try and stop the Ship of Lights from reaching me.  It wasn’t an accident.  It wasn’t an accident that he and the Ship were both there at the same time.  They were both looking for me, the Ship to change me, Iblis to kill me."

Zhyn stays silent, his hard eyes looking into mine, calculating and weighing what I’m telling him.

"I don’t understand," Dio says, quiet and scared.

"That’s why he came to the Fleet, to try and destroy me, so the Ship couldn’t give me the route to Earth."  I stop to think about it 

Why me, though?  Why did they choose me?  There’s never been anything very special about me.

Except if family history’s true, we can trace our heritage right back to Kobol, to Lord Aerion, the First Lord, the Heretic.  But I’m not unique in that.  Lots of people in the Colonies think they can trace their families back to Kobol. 

Why me?

I think about it, but I can’t really make any real sense of why they chose me to be their message boy.  I’m may be marginally more pure Kobolian than most of the rest of the survivors, but I’m certainly less bothered about it than most.

Of course, there may be something in that.  Someone more religious, more like Cantor,  might have been tempted to try to lead a crusade, become spiritual and secular leader.  It’s as good a route as any to power and tyranny.  I don’t want that.  Not because of any inherent virtue: I’m just not wired that way.  All my wants are smaller and more personal.  All I want is Starbuck.

I won’t think of Starbuck.

I go back to thinking about Iblis and the Ship of Lights.  Why me?  Why Aerion’s line, unless it’s because we carry his questioning, heretical blood, his thirst for knowledge and change?  Unless it’s because if Aerion stood here with me now, no-one could tell us apart?

I wonder how I know that, that I’m his likeness born again.  But I am and I know it.

"Kinan," Zhyn says, softly, prompting me, and I wonder how long I’ve sat in silence this time.

"Iblis wasn’t expecting me and Starbuck to go back to the planet to try and find out what we could about him," I say.  "He’d intended to kill me on the Galactica." 

This is right. 

This is truth. 

It’s all gelling, something inside me crystallising into a sure knowledge, as sure a knowledge as the course co-ordinates in my head.  I close my eyes for a centon and call them up, for reassurance that being touched by Iblis’ whore hasn’t robbed me of them.  They scroll across, golden and indifferent.  Safe inside my head.

Safe where Aerion put them.

There’s a memory stirring in a place I thought devoid of memory, a place where I was unconscious or dead, and there’s been nothing till now but bright light.  But now there’s a remembrance of the light fading until I can see the man who’s holding both my hands in his.

My own face looking back at me, as others see me.  Exactly me, as if I had an identical twin, the only difference the streak of silver this man wears at each temple.

"Kinan?" Zhyn says.

Aerion’s voice inside my head, greeting, explaining, instructing, telling of the enmity between him and his brother.  Telling me that I would remember only when I hear his voice again, distorted and faded through the words of a true vision.  Through Xuian.

"There is more," Zhyn says, prompting me again.

I open my eyes to look at them, and wonder if they understand.  Dio’s on his knees, his hands raised in prayer.  Jianne’s over by the door, looking terrified, but listening avidly.  And Zhyn… well, if Zhyn’s thinking anything at all, I can’t see what it is.  His face as calm and unreadable as ever.  It’s him I’m speaking to, mainly, and I can’t see what it means to him.

"That’s why he lost his temper with Dad and threatened him with the loss of something more precious than his own life.  Mine.  That’s when he let slip his real intention.  He never meant to kill Sheba at all on that planet.  It was always me he was after.  Me.  You don’t kill one of your own, and he had her by then, his fall-back plan in case the Ship – Aerion - got to me after all.  The plan he has in operation now."

"Apollo?"  Dio says, his voice shaking.

"I think I *did* die on that planet," I say, wondering at it.  "I did.  Iblis did kill me, after all."

I understand it all, at last.  Who Iblis is and what he wanted then and wants now, that terrifies me.  What the Ship of Lights did to me, what Aerion wants of me, terrifies me.

But right now, Iblis is what matters.  Aerion and his people on the Ship of Lights may have prevented him from coming to us again, but he doesn’t need to, not directly.  Now these people are doing his work for him, the infection spreading from Sheba.  I bet that somewhere he’s having his laugh at my expense.

I look at Dio.  "Tell me something.  When we got back from the Ship, Starbuck and Sheba were offered counselling, weren’t they, a priestly ear to confide in?  I know Starbuck refused." Did Sheba?"

"Well, no," Dio says.  "She was very glad to accept a counsellor, someone she could trust …"

"Cantor."

Dio only nods.

"Cantor was her counsellor."  I almost smile as the pieces fall into place.  "That’s how Iblis got to him.  That’s why he’s lost, infected, and the poor fool doesn’t realise it."

"I don’t understand," Dio complains, but he’s looking at me with wide and frightened eyes.  He knows what I’m saying, what I mean, and it’s scaring him.

"He is disorientated," Zhyn says, eyes narrowing.  He knows, too. 

"The drugs?"  Dio asks, almost with relief.

"No." I say.  "You know it." 

Dio shakes his head, obviously not wanting to think about what I’ve said, not wanting to believe it.

But it’s true.  I know it, understand it, at last.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m aching inside, because knowing and understanding doesn’t mean that I can do anything about it.  I may be the Kinan, the Lords’ Anointed, I may be Aerion’s heir, but I’m still their prisoner, still totally at their mercy. 

Right now, I want to be on my own somewhere, where I can think.   "I want to go back to my cell.  Take me there, Priests."

"You do not want to stay here?"  Zhyn asks.

"I’ve said so.  This captive prefers a cleaner cage.  This one stinks."

"This is your choice," Zhyn says.  He steps away from me, giving me room.  He’s watching me carefully, a faint frown on his face.

I nod and get up.  My knees are a bit shaky, but I can stand.  "Yes.  There’s few enough choices your prisoner can make, Zhyn, but this is one of them."

Zhyn looks annoyed, and then nods at Jianne.  "She is concerned about you, Kinan.  Please let her examine you."

"Kinan?"  Jianne says, tentative.

"Yes.  Yes, I am, aren’t I?  I am your Kinan, and your Redeemer, and the Star Seer, and you keep me prisoner and drug me, and how, Priest Zhyn, do you reconcile your tender religious conscience to that?"  I smile at him, and he stares back, his face cold and watchful.

I lean forward and touch his shoulder, my voice gentle and quiet. 

"How do you think I can save one so unworthy?"

*^*^*^*^*^*

I’m lying on my back on the narrow bunk.  It’s set into the wall, in a narrow little niche that means the ceiling is only a metre and a half above my head.  I’ve been staring at it for a long time.  All day, I think.

And for a long time, I haven’t even been able to think of home and Starbuck.  There’s too much else going on in my head since this morning, since that unexpected little religious epiphany.  I’ve been thinking of Sheba, all day, trying to get straight in my head what happened there.

Well it’s that, or think about Aerion the Heretic and the rest of the Lords and being what the Faithful think I am, and I’m not ready to do that yet.  Sheba’s marginally preferable to sainthood.

Dio has been with me all day, but every time he tries to speak to me I silence him ruthlessly, and for the last four or five centars he’s sat silent, watching me with a very troubled expression on his face.  I hope he’s mulling over what I said about Iblis.  I hope he’s examining the state of his soul for darkness.  This old man is my best hope of help and I need him to be entertaining serious doubts about his loyalty to Cantor.

I leave him to it, and think about what I did with Sheba.  I’ve thought about it a lot.  There was a kind of inevitability about it, that brings a modicum of comfort.  I remember that she threatened me with this, a couple of days before Thenie’s wedding: *I just have to find some other way.  I’ve got to do what they told me to do, Apollo.  Any way I can.*

Well, she certainly got what she wanted.  It’s understandable, I suppose, that I didn’t see the threat for what it was, but how was I to know she’d go to such unbelievable, crazy, ridiculous lengths?  What sane woman would?  What woman who wasn’t possessed by Iblis would do such a thing?

Iblis’ motives are clearer to me, I think.  It’s purely a matter of corruption.  He delights in it, and it’s particularly important to him that he can corrupt me, Aerion’s heir, the Lords’ Anointed.  He goes about things in a very simple way.  He corrupted Sheba.  She’s the tool to corrupt me.

If I let her, that is.  But I won’t do that.  I won’t let her.  I won’t let what she’s done, what they all connived it, paralyse and cripple me until I’m helpless and open to Iblis.  I’ll regret it for the rest of my life, but I won’t let it corrupt me.

All of which brings up interesting questions about whether the Ship of Lights recognised her for what she is and yet still laid her task on her, or whether Iblis was so subtle that only the seed of corruption was in her then, well hidden even from them.  Certainly it took some time for her to change, and it happened slowly; a slow, careful metamorphosis into something else.  It’s more obvious now, if you know how to look.  Now you can almost smell the changes in her, stinking of something rotten.

The other possibility, of course, is that the Lords want her to do nothing, and everything she’s done is for Iblis.  After almost an entire day’s deliberations, I’m inclining to this theory.  I’ve no evidence, only a reluctance to think that if the people of the Ship of Lights really were the Lords – and they were the Lords, it was Aerion’s voice I heard in my head giving me the numbers - they could be bamboozled so easily.  I’d prefer God’s angels to have a little more intelligence than that. 

I’d prefer my ancestor to have a little more intelligence than that.

And I think again about the strange dichotomy in the way the people on this ship think of me.  They revere their Kinan, their Anointed, but every one of them had to realise how drugged I was at that service, how I had to be drugged for Sheba.  How do they reconcile that?  It gives me a headache to think about it.  It’s totally senseless.

Nothing I think about makes me feel much better about what happened.  I can’t quite make up my mind if it was rape or not.  Or, for that matter, who got raped.  If it comes down to a matter of consent, then she consented and I most certainly didn’t.  But I was the violent one, reduced to nothing but lust.  It’s not much consolation that the drugs diminished everything that’s human in me to the unthinking and unreasoning state of an animal in rut.  I’m an animal, animals like to fuck.  That’s all there was to it.  The drugs stripped away any veneer of civilisation.  Without that, I would never have done it.

Not much consolation, but a little.

I’ve just reached this conclusion when we’re interrupted.  We’ve been on our own in here since Dio brought me back and I’ve almost forgotten the outside world.  Liu’s appearance in the doorway has all the qualities of the unexpected, despite him having appeared here every night I’ve spent in this room, at the same time and with the same words.

"It is time to leave for Temple, Kinan," he says, ducking his head respectfully.

Dio sighs, and shakes out his long robes, and starts to get up.  I don’t move, though.  I’m not going.

"No," I say.

Their reaction is satisfactorily stunned.  Dio sits back down again, suddenly, as if his knees have given way, and Liu hovers in the doorway.  His normally expressionless face looks uncertain.

"Kinan?"  Liu says again.

It takes a centon before I bother to turn my head to look at him.  He’s come into the room, the rest of my escort clustered curiously around the open door.

"I will not go to your Temple today," I say.

"Apollo."  Dio says it very quietly, warning.

"Priest Zhyn’s orders…."

"Mean nothing."  I try for regal indifference, but I’m a bit scared.  I’m not exactly in a position of power, here.  I really don’t know how far I can push the legend, how far I can rely on that part of the odd equation that balances their reverence and their contempt.

"We expect you there, Kinan," Liu says.  "Priest Dio?"

"It might be wiser," Dio says softly.

"It’s no longer a time for wisdom," I say.  "That’s something else the drugs stripped away."  I look at Liu.  "Zhyn’s wishes and orders are irrelevant, friend Liu."

"He is High Priest!" one of the escort protests.

"And who am I?"

They’re silent, looking at each other, shifting their weight from foot to foot, uneasy.  No answer to that one, huh?

"Who am I, Liu?"  I ask again.

"The Kinan," he says.

"Aekestre Sem-ve, Rhamminadth, Kobol-galathdh Kinan," I say, keeping my tone cold and remote.

Instantly, they all bow slightly.  An instinctive reaction, I’d say, to the use of the holy language by the holy and blessed Anointed.  They’re looking at each other, and it’s obvious they haven’t the faintest idea of what to do.

"I won’t attend a place so unworthy of me," I say.  "You may go." 

"Unworthy?" Liu looks astonished, and the escort is muttering behind him. 

Good.  If they truly believe I’m the Kinan, and word of this spreads, I can begin a little corruption of my own.

I don’t respond to their consternation, taking Anton’s advice about little barbs being left to fester.  Instead, I watch them, with as remote an expression as I can manage.  Liu stands there, irresolute for a few microns, looking helplessly at Dio.  The old priest shrugs, just as helpless.

After a centon, Liu bows and the Otori leave, Liu shutting the door behind him with almost reverent care.  Dio sighs.

"This is very unwise."

"After what they’ve done, their affectation of holiness stinks," I say.

"Does mine?" he asks, and the smile he gives me is strained, almost painful.

"You’re adrift, Dio," I say.  "I think Cantor and Zhyn are seriously compromised by Iblis.  I think you’re misled and mistaken."

I talk like a priest counselling a sinner, and am inwardly slightly amused at the role reversal.  And perhaps slightly disconcerted too.  A long time ago Anton warned me that a religious role might be forced on me - *They’ll bring you the sick and dying to heal* he’d said – and I’m taking some dangerous first steps on that road, here tonight. 

He sighs again and is silent for a few centons.  Then he shakes himself slightly, and straightens in his uncomfortable little drop-down chair, very definitely an air of a man readying himself for certain unpleasantness.  "Zhyn will be angry."

"And will be here any centon," I say.  "You don’t have to stay."

"I won’t leave."

I smile my thanks at him.  His support, weak as it is, will be welcome.

"What will you say to him?  There’s an awful lot of them to fight off, Apollo."

"There’s more than one way of fighting," I say.

I lie back and await Zhyn’s arrival with anticipation.  Almost, I’d say, with pleasure.  It’s high time I remembered what’s due to me, from the Lords’ priests.  High time I started reminding them.

For I *am* the Lords’ Anointed.

"I can understand that you’re a little upset by what happened, my son, but it’s very foolish to think that there’s anything of the Evil One in it." 

Cantor’s voice is soft and he’s trying hard, but today I’m not drugged with whatever hypnosis-inducing drug they used on me at the Sunstorm ceremony, and it’s lost its charm.  I can listen to him, and it’s not some compelling, charismatic saviour I’m hearing, but a venal, ambitious priest infected by Iblis.

For the last two days I’ve refused to attend the Otori Temple.  Just to be even handed, I’ve not been to any Kobolian services either, and the last two Synods have managed without my presence there to bless them.  Me and Zhyn have had a couple of very invigorating discussions about it all, but so far he hasn’t attempted anything more forceful.  He hasn’t even resorted to the needle, which must be hard for him, given how fond he is of keeping me drugged and compliant.

The first night I refused to go to Temple, he rushed into my little room as if catapulted in, almost incoherent with fury.  He obviously hadn’t appreciated what Liu told him.  I just refused to be moved, and we had some interesting exchanges about hypocrisy and holiness.  We ended up shouting at each other in Kobolian, quoting opposing texts and prophecies at each other.

Dio sat there as if frozen, looking very, very nervous, but refusing to leave.  Poor man, I don’t know what protection he thought he could offer me, but I appreciated the thought.  He tried once or twice to intercede, the voice of reason and moderation, and got shouted down by both of us. 

After a while, I moved onto phase two.  I told Zhyn that he might leave my presence, just for the fun of watching him explode.  When he refused to go anywhere, I picked up the Prophecies and lost myself in them, tuning him out.

It worked.  He left me alone after a while, and stormed out to his much-delayed service, almost incandescently furious with me, but, I think, very aware of the message it would send to his people if he had to physically drag me down the aisle to their altar and gag me into silence when he got me there.  And he knew that’s exactly what he would have had to do. 

I wonder if the reverence is now more dominant in the Faithful than the knowledge that I’m as human as they are, now they’ve heard the numbers.  I suspect it might be, but I’m not entirely sure how to use it.  All I know is that is, in some measure, a protection; something to be nurtured and fostered to my advantage.

Dio thinks I’m mad.  He says that he feels insecure enough dealing with Zhyn and his fanatics, and he’s not a prisoner, locked away in a little cabin in Otori territory with no help or recourse.  I’ve reminded Dio that he spends centars each day locked into the little cabin with me, and he grows rather stiff.  It’s his choice, he says, and I realise that I rather like this old man, this priest who’s adrift and lost and who’s increasingly looking to me for his salvation.  So when he asks me, diffidently, to go with him to the Synod this morning, to speak to Cantor, I agree.

I sit through the Synod in my usual silence.  Tomas is there, and Cantor, but not Sheba, thank the Lords for that mercy.  The captains of the other ships look relieved to see me, and I remember that Dio told me that Zhyn had used illness as the excuse for me not showing at religious ceremonies recently.

And now it’s just me, Zhyn and Cantor.  Dio’s been dismissed along with the rest, and leaves reluctantly, making a point of telling me that he’ll be just outside.  Cantor smiles at that, but refrains from making any jokes at Dio’s expense.  Instead, he tries to sound reasonable and fatherly, reassuring me about Sheba.

"There’s nothing more to it than the usual human desires and the need to do what the Lords told her to do," he says, when I don’t respond to his first gentle reproof.

I lean back in this ridiculous canopied throne that they like me to sit in, and try to keep my face expressionless.  They’re sitting one at each end of the table, with me between them.  I’m still unsure if I’m to be shared or fought over, although I need to work on provoking the latter.

"When Iblis was on the Galactica, did you ever speak to him?" I ask.

Zhyn makes some sign that wards off the Evil Eye, a superstitious attempt to avert disaster. 

Cantor shakes his head.  "No," he says, and adds, significantly, "Unlike you, Apollo, I’ve had no dealings at all with Diabolis."

Oh, neat one.  But I can counter that. 

"Nor with the Lords, Cantor," I say, and smile at him, amused at the way he looks momentarily annoyed that I’ve snatched back the moral high ground.  "And you haven’t even defied and defeated him, the way I did.  No, not even that.  You never defied him.  I didn’t think you had, otherwise you’d have recognised it in Sheba."

"Is it possible?" Zhyn demands.

"No."  Cantor’s dismissive.  "He’s just trying to sow dissent amongst us."

"Perhaps," Zhyn says.  He gives me an odd look, measuring, weighing.  "I went along with that foolishness because we need his seed, but we only have the woman’s word that this task was given to her by the Lords.  We have no proof."

"No, indeed," I say.  "But then, what religious belief is ever susceptible to proof?"

"Shut up, Apollo," Cantor says.

I ignore him.  "It doesn’t seem very likely that the Lords would connive at such evil.  You might ask Iblis what he told her to do, though."

"Will you shut up about that nonsense?" Cantor says, irritable.  "She told me what they wanted her to do when it happened, when we started counselling her.  She’s never deviated from that, and I believe her.  At this centon, I’m far more interested in this revelation that you’ve had."  A pause, and a marked sneer for my religious intransigence.  "Finally."

"Ah yes," I say.  "I can imagine that’s more comfortable to think about, rather than worry about whether, as her counsellor and confessor, you got a little too close to corruption."

He flushes angrily.  I’m watching him, as he talks to me, and there’s no sense of anything red and feral in him, the way there is with Sheba, but there is a sense of wrongness, of ambition and greed.  Feelings she fed in him, and nurtured.

"I wonder how close," I say softly.

The flush grows deeper and I smile.  Zhyn looks at me, uncomprehending.

"Sheba’s a little indiscriminate in spreading her favours," I explain.  "As his Eminence seems to have discovered."

Zhyn looks like he’s smelling something bad.  A bit rich from a man who has a sharp agricultural interest in consecrating vessels for his own seed, but consistency has never, so far as I’ve been able to judge, a requirement for a religious life.

"So you understand why I hate the way you help Sheba." I go on.  "Or, rather, the way you help Iblis."

"Oh please," Cantor says, so exasperated that I swear his hands are itching to hit me.

"When did you plan to drug me again for her?"

"We will not," says Zhyn.  "I give you my word on that."

"Oh?"  I’m politely disbelieving.

"I always had my doubts about her suitability," Zhyn says.  "She is not one of us, not one of the Faithful, and there are alternatives.  We need your son, Kinan, to protect us when you are gone.  We will find some suitable Otori virgin to bear for you."

And that leaves me with nothing to say, I can tell you.  I just stare at him, and then at Cantor.  We’re probably equally as disconcerted.

"Far more suitable, that the mother of your son should be one of the Faithful."  Zhyn watches me closely, almost daring me to object.

I don’t.  It’s better than Sheba, and please God he won’t try until he’s a bit surer of me, until he feels that he’s re-established the control I threw off a couple of days ago.  And anything can happen between now and then.  For his part, Cantor takes a very deep breath and I can almost hear him counting to ten, a desperate attempt to hold on to his patience.  After a couple of microns, he turns a more priestly expression to us and starts again, ignoring the whole discussion about Sheba and virgins.

"Perhaps we can discuss something more important?  The revelation?  Father Dio tells me that you seem to realise, at last, the magnitude of your task."

I weigh the value of continuing to bait him, against any advantage I can gain from becoming the Anointed, and getting myself into a position where I can challenge them on their own ground.  Not yet, though.  By my calculation, it’s almost exactly two sectons since they kidnapped me.  Far too soon, no matter how desperate I am to get back home.  Any conversion to belief on my part has to be subtle enough to convince and I need to start appealing to a wider congregation, so to speak, to undermine these two sorry excuses for shepherds of the people.  Time to be their legend.

Tempting though it is to let Cantor stew a bit longer, I opt for consolidating my position as the Kobol-galathdh Kinan.

"I don’t know," I say.  "Some things are clearer, but I’m still not sure what it all means."

"Tell us," Cantor invites.

So I repeat what I’d said to Dio and Zhyn three days ago, in that luxurious cabin that smelled of musk and semen, that smelled of rutting with that rotten thing that wears Sheba like a suit of clothes.  I tell him that I know, now, that I had really been chosen, although I still don’t understand why, and that both the Ship and Iblis had deliberately looked for me; one to give me the route, the other to destroy me. 

I’m trying to be slow and subtle, the way Anton taught me.  So, I don’t say what there’s no need to say, what they already know. 

I don’t say that I am Aerion’s heir.  I don’t say, although it hangs in the air between us, that I am Xuian’s prophecy given bones and blood and breath and life.  I don’t say that I am Aekestre Sem-ve, Rhamminadth, Kobol-galathdh Kinan. 

There’s more power in what’s unsaid, sometimes.

Besides, there’s the words of the Prophecy. 

Gesinthe Kobol-galathdh Kinan, tha-lei phosasdth.
Walk with the Lords’ Anointed, or be silent.

I only have to lead the way.  I don’t have to preach.

"It’s a start," Cantor says, looking at me, and chewing doubtfully at his bottom lip.  "I’m not sure I trust to it, though."

"I do."  Zhyn’s endorsement is surprising.  "I was there when it happened.  It was quite unmistakable, Priest Cantor.  It took me nearly two centars to get through to him, to bring him out of the trance."

Well, that’s news to me.  I know I was pretty deep in thought when he was there, but two centars worth of silence?  Interesting, and I wonder why Dio hasn’t said anything about it.  Perhaps he’s still thinking about what it means, is too tentative and anxious about it.  Or maybe he doesn’t want me to be anxious.

Cantor nods, either satisfied or reluctant to tell Zhyn that’s he’s a superstitious idiot.  "And now?" he asks me.

"I don’t know." 

"Are you willing to accept instruction from us?"

Like hell!  But I don’t say it quite so forcefully.  I can’t capitulate completely, that just wouldn’t ring true and they don’t trust me anyway. Why add to it?  They know I won’t accept the offer.  Everything hinges on how I refuse it.

"I don’t think you can help," I say, gently.  "I need to think it out for myself.  I think that’s what’s expected of me."

I frown as I speak, and look past them, trying for an air of faint bewilderment underlain with a hint of new faith.  I hope to God that I’m not over-doing it.  Starbuck says I always overplay my hand.  That’s why I’m such an easy mark when it comes to him taking money off me at Pyramid.

"Prayer will help," Zhyn says, confidently.

Prayer’s never ever been one of my strong suits, so I say nothing in response to that enticing suggestion, still looking into the middle distance.

"We’ve given you a couple of days to come to terms with this revelation," Cantor says.  "It’s better that you return to church and seek guidance there.  You will go to Temple this evening, and Chapel tomorrow."

"Will I?"  I say, focusing on him sharply, so he feels the difference. 

"It would be best, my son," he says with such obscene hypocrisy that even I’m impressed.

I pause, thinking about it.  Today I’ve won a little victory in that I’m pretty sure that Zhyn won’t help Sheba again.  Oddly, I think I can trust to what he says about that.  That will help.  I know her for what she is, and I don’t want to be anywhere near her.  I owe him a little for that.  And I really need to start working on making being Kinan more real, more a weapon I can use against these two.

"I’ll attend one service each day," I say.  "Alternate days for Chapel and Temple.  I need time to think."

They look at each other.

"Acceptable," Zhyn says.  "For now.  You will go with me to Temple, tonight."

I sigh softly.  "I look forward to it," I say.

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

And so I become the Lords’ Anointed.

When Liu comes to take me to Temple, I’m ready for him.  I’ve asked for, and been given, new clothes.  Although they’re still Otori style, I’ve asked for bleached linen this time, almost white.  They should glow nicely in the semi-darkness of the Temple, give my people something to look at through that long dreary time, something to contemplate, something to be the focus of their devotions.

More steps on that dangerous road to sainthood.

Dio is with me as usual, ready in his crimson robes and with the Book in his hands.  Maybe he sees it as protection.  He’s very nervous about anything I might pull.  I have the Prophecies in my hands: not for protection but absolutely for effect.

Liu looks as uncertain as Dio, but relaxes when all that happens is that I gesture to him to lead on.  The escort outside fall in around us, watching me carefully for more signs of sedition, but they don’t have to worry tonight.  I’m going to be a very good and compliant little Kinan tonight.

Zhyn looks momentarily relieved when I appear, although he hides it quickly with his usual priestly imperiousness, and flanked by the incense-swinging acolytes, we process grandly down to the altar.  The collective sigh when the congregation sees me, glowing in the dim light in my white clothes, is almost one great sigh, as if some huge animal is here in the dark with us. 

I go straight to my chair, not waiting for Zhyn’s nod, and while he prostrates himself to God, I open the Book of Xuian and turn it to the light of the altar candles.  So far as the watching congregation can tell, I read quietly to myself for the whole of the service. 

Actually, as usual, my thoughts are more secular and profane.  This is for you, Starbuck, this charade.  So I can get home to you. 

But I don’t let myself get lost in thoughts of Starbuck tonight.  When Zhyn stands up, I close the Prophecies and get up to join him at the altar.  His wary expression is so wonderful, amuses me so much, that the smile I aim at him is completely genuine.  And when I speak to him, I make sure that every man, woman and child in the Temple can hear me.

"Now then, priest Zhyn, I’d like to meet the Faithful, to meet my people," I say, a marked emphasis on the ‘my’.  "Shall we start with the children?"

At this moment, I know I’ve made him my most implacable enemy.  He’s never liked me, although he was, I think, reluctantly willing to tolerate me, but this alienates him completely.  He knows exactly what I mean by it, but he’s built up the legend so far that there’s nothing he can do publicly as I take it from him and turn it to my own use.

I hand him the book of Prophecy.  Taken aback, he takes it and stands and watches in a cold silence while I walk into the main body of the Temple, and bestow blessings on people who can barely speak to me for awe and reverence.  Many of them kiss my hands, catch at my clothing as I pass and bow to take it to their lips.

Horrible.  Horrible. 

But I have no choice.  Tomorrow I’ll do this with the Kobolians in Chapel, touching them, blessing them, seeking to influence them.

Oh yes, I *am* the Lords’ Anointed.

It’s the only weapon I’ve got.

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

"And what do you think you are doing?"

Zhyn’s hurried out of the Temple to catch us up before we get back to my little cell.  Normally he takes me to the door and hands me over to Liu, displaying a totally spurious air of respect.  I don’t know what he does after that.  Maybe he moves amongst the Faithful, dispensing blessings.

Zhyn often seems unnaturally calm.  The temper tantrum I was treated to the night I rebelled against going to Temple was out of character.  Now he has a hold of his temper: he doesn’t shout, doesn’t threaten.  He still looks calm, but his eyes are coldly angry.  He isn’t pleased.  Mmmn.  Maybe he *does* do some blessing of his own and doesn’t like the competition.

He waves a hand at Liu, who fades quietly into the background, taking the escort with him.  Dio sticks with me, braving even the cold glance he gets from those hard brown eyes.  Dio’s developing a nice line in bland incomprehension when faced with authority.  Dio's got potential.

"What do you mean?"  I don’t over do the innocence.

"In there.  That little scene?"

"Meeting the people?"

"Is that what you call it?"  He sounds contemptuous.  "Why?"

I shrug.  "You said it the first time I came to the Temple, Zhyn.  I’ll have to adjust, you said.  You and Cantor have made it clear that despite everything I told you about how futile this is, that you aren’t going to let me go.  So I’m taking your advice.  I'm adjusting."

"Really?"  Now his voice is heavy with sarcasm.

"You’ve made them my people," I say gently.  "That gives me some responsibility for them, wouldn’t you say?  And wouldn’t you say that they have the right to know their Redeemer?"

He almost laughs, shaking his head.  "You are most transparent, Kinan.  They are my people, not yours.  You will not repeat this."

"You were at my elbow all the time.  You didn’t hear me speak one subversive word, Zhyn."

"Do not repeat this," he says again.

I grin at him.  "You want me at your services, friend Zhyn.  Your motives for that are   equally as transparent.  I’ll come, but you can’t stop me talking to them afterwards.  They need to get to know me.  To know their Kinan."

Dio’s hand closes on my arm in silent warning, but he has the sense to keep quiet.

Zhyn’s mouth hardens.  "You are beginning to be more trouble than you are worth."

I close my eyes for a micron.  "Elliptical course 195.1 gamma, by epsilon 56.31, 366.839; course change to 781.352 delta by alpha 92.7. 67.881…"  I pause, open my eyes and smile at him.  "More than I’m worth?  You’re sure?"

He says nothing, but looks speak volumes.  The first time he heard me say that, his reaction was almost one of reluctant reverence.  Now there’s just acute dislike.  Oh, I don’t doubt that Zhyn believes I’m the Kinan, he’s just having real trouble adjusting to the facts. 

I’m not Otori, I live with another man, I’m not Otori, I’m not obedient to the priests, I’m not Otori, I’m not religious, I’m not Otori… 

You get the idea. 

"You’re just worried I’ll steal them out from under you," I say.

He turns away abruptly.  "Liu!"  he shouts, and stalks away without answering.

The hand on my arm loosens its grip and Dio sighs gently.  "You’re taking so many risks," he says.  "He's a dangerous man, Apollo.  And an angry one."

"Yes.  It really must be galling for his Kinan to be so ostentatiously non-Otori."  We resume our progress towards my little cell.  "Do you get some satisfaction in me being Kobolian?"

Dio smiles at me.  "You’re a lapsed son of the one true Church," he says.  "But, yes.  Some."

I grin back at him.  "Well, hang on to it, Priest Dio.  Because I’ll be after your congregation tomorrow."

He stares at me, disconcerted and dismayed, and I let the grin widen.

Oh yes.  I am the Lords’ Anointed.

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

"You’re thinking of them,"  Dio says quietly. 

I put down the book of Prophecies.  It’s all I have to read, and I’ve been amusing myself in translating this Standard edition back into Kobolian, and then into Caprican.  It’s something to do.  After three sectons or more incarcerated on this ship, any intellectual exercise affords some diversion.

For over a secton now, since Sheba, my only other diversions have been to remember more and more of what the Ship did to me, and to make myself agreeable to the poor fools who think I have a message for them from God.  The legend that Cantor started is growing now, is overcoming the secondary image they had of me of an ordinary man like themselves.  I’m becoming the Anointed.  I don’t like doing it, I’m not comfortable doing it, but it’s necessary.

Many necessary things are uncomfortable, Aerion said on that Ship as his hands held me and he put his forehead against mine and gave me the numbers, shared with me the Lords’ knowledge and changed me for ever.  Many necessary things are said and done, and I have spoken necessary things to others, left messages for you so that you understand your role in the fight against my brother, that you become one more arrow I shoot at him.  Studying the messages will be uncomfortable, but necessary.  Becoming what you are to become, will be uncomfortable and necessary.

What I’m doing is uncomfortable and necessary.  And it annoys the priests.  There’s some small comfort in that.

That, too, Aerion would agree with.  He isn’t called the Heretic for nothing and there’s no denying the bloodline.

"Your family and Starbuck, I mean," Dio persists, and the thoughts of the Ship and what happened to me there vanish.

You’re a prisoner, I tell myself, a captive.  You have no rights, other than those your jailors grant you, not even the right to memories and dreams.  Or, at least, not even the right to a decent silence about them.

"I’m so sorry, Apollo.  Really I am."  The old man means it, I think.  "I’ve been thinking very hard about what I should do.  Praying."

He sounds despairing, and. despite myself, I feel sorry for him.

"No answer?"  I ask, tracing the ornate binding of the Prophecy book with one finger.

"No," he says, and sighs.

"It’s worrying, when God stops talking to you," I say, looking at him properly.

He looks old.  I thought once that he reminded me of Anton, but he doesn’t have Anton’s unshakeable serenity, or the wickedness that keeps Anton young.  Dio’s an old man, grown old in the service of the Church, grown old in obedience.  It’s too much to expect him to be able to shake that off.

"I thought… I thought it might help if you could see that they’re all right.  I mean, I’m sure that they’re missing you, but they’re all right."

I stare at him, wondering what he’s talking about.

He takes a little data crystal from the pouch at his belt.  "The Otori are very strict about not allowing outside influences to pollute them," he says.  "They block these screens, so that they can’t be used to pick up any broadcasts.  But in the Kobolian part of the ship, we have free access, of course."

Before Dio can go on, Liu opens the door and comes in with our lunch on a tray.  I notice that Dio’s hastily put away the data crystal so Liu won’t see it.  He speaks casually to Liu, and waits until the door closes and takes out the data crystal again. 

"You really should eat more," he says, as I pick at the food he hands me.

I ignore that.  I force a little food down every day, but I don’t really feel hungry.  I haven’t since Sheba.  Dio knows that.  We’ve had this conversation before.  But today I don’t want to talk that much and I’m not going to waste my breath in repetition. 

"What’s on the crystal?"

"I taped the noon news bulletin.  It’s still mostly about you."  Dio looks nervously at the door and slips the crystal into the slot below the screen.  "It’s not easy to watch, Apollo, but you’ll see them."

He presses a few buttons, keys in a password at the prompt and turns down the volume as the familiar IFB logo flashes up on the screen, so it won’t be heard outside the cell.  It’s all right.  I’ve got sharp hearing.

I put down the food and sit up to watch it.  Dio’s not joking.  My disappearance is still the top story, and Zara, the news-reader, talks with some relish about the failure of the fleet-wide search to throw up any clues.  It’s quite impressive how she manages to spin out a story from thin air, and much of it seems to be a rehash of old news or even airier speculation.  She goes over the story from the beginning.  It’s interesting, if a little macabre when it’s about you.  They say the oddest things.  I find that they even did a physical check on the Rising Star’s airlocks to see if any were opened manually, without authorisation.  Personally, I’d have preferred that they did a little more investigation into why the monitors on the freight deck so conveniently failed, but she doesn’t even mention that.  She’s far more interested in speculating that the airlock check implied that I’d committed suicide.

I look at Dio.  "Are they serious?"  I ask in disbelief.

Dio looks uncomfortable.  "They have to check every possibility, I suppose, Apollo," he says.  "And they hinted a couple of sectons ago that you’d been drinking heavily, recently."

"What?"  I’m astounded by that, but even as I say it, Zara is telling everyone that the Galactica command had flatly denied that I ever drank on duty.

"Damn right," I mutter, then remember Sheba coming in just as I’m finishing what’s left of the ambrosa after Boomer was at it, a couple of days before the wedding, and I know where that particular story came from.

Bitch.

Zara twitters on about the growing belief that I’m dead and the dreadful time mourners have when they have no physical body to bury or cremate.  Cantor, damn his hypocritical soul, is interviewed, talking sadly about counselling the bereaved in such difficult circumstances.  I just look pointedly at Dio and he has the grace to redden and look away, shamed, I hope, by such a blatant display.

Then I see them.  Dad first, coming out of a Council meeting.  He looks drawn, taut, his face set and grieved.  He looked like that when Zac died, and he had to tell me it was too late for me to go back and get my bright, brave little brother, when he told me that there wasn’t anything else I could have done.  And he’d looked like that on Caprica, standing in the still-smoking debris that had once been our house, trying to find something, anything, that would link my mother to life, when we both knew her ashes were blowing about the charred ruins with us.

I get up and take the two steps that get me close up to the screen, to get closer to them, wishing I could touch them.  This is maybe as close as I’ll ever get.

Dad brushes past the IFB crew as if they aren’t there and disappears, Anton beside him.  Anton looks old and frail and for the first time that I’ve ever noticed, he has a hard time keeping up with Dad.

I don’t listen to what the reporter’s saying to Zara, but think instead about the look on my father's face.  We’ve had our differences, me and him, but there’s something very deep between us that half the time we don’t realise is there.  For all that he sometimes irritates the life out of me with his certainty that he’s always right, I love my father very much.  It’s mutual, I know.  I’d give anything in the world to be having one of those arguments with him, right now. 

Back to Zara again, and some inane comment on the President’s refusal to give interviews, and then another reporter.  This one’s in a crowd of people pretending they don’t know they’re being filmed, people being ostentatiously casual.  There’s a group of warriors there, standing to block the camera’s view, more than one staring angrily back at the camera.  They aren’t pretending to be anything other than ostentatiously pissed off. 

It’s the school on the Galactica.  The kids pour out of it, and among the last comes my son.  My poor little son, who looks at the camera in patent bewilderment, then is swept up by the group of warriors, into Starbuck’s arms, and hustled away. 

I can’t say anything for the choking lump in my throat.  The warriors all crowd around Starbuck and Boxey, blocking the camera’s view, but I catch a glimpse of them.  Starbuck’s thinner and pale, and he looks hunched and defeated and ill.  Starbuck’s a creature of light, but it’s like someone quenched the irrepressible light that’s always been him, quenched it almost completely so he’s all in shadow now. 

And that’s all, because Jolly and Greenbean have loomed up into the camera field and the broadcast’s over, the camera probably wrecked.

I put one hand on the screen.  "Play it again," I say, when I can speak without choking.  "Just those last few centons."

Dio sighs and does it.  I watch Dad and Anton again, see the grief on their faces, and watch Starbuck catch our son in his arms, to hold him safe against the intruding cameras.  My hand touches his face on the screen, but he doesn’t know it.  He’ll never know it.  He’ll never feel it.

And I watch it again, and again, and then I lean forward myself and take the crystal from its slot.

"You can’t play it without the password," Dio says quietly.

I shake my head.  It doesn’t matter.  Dio was right.  It was difficult to watch, but I’m glad he did this.  They’re in the crystal, the people I love, and it helps me remember the faces that fade, sometimes, when I get too tired or I’m too drugged or too despondent to remember properly.  I hold it in my hands carefully, getting back to the bed.  The crystal slides under my pillow, safe.  Please God, I’ll dream about them tonight, when Dio’s gone and no-one’s here to overhear what I tell them.

"I’m sorry," Dio says after a few centons.

I look up at him.  Grief’s an odd thing.  You think that you’re beginning to cope a little bit, that you can go on, however diminished you are, then it punches you in the chest, punching a hole right through you.  I feel dazed with it, disorientated, and it hurts to breathe.

"What do you pray for?" I ask him abruptly, going back to what he said earlier.

He blinks, then adjusts.  "For guidance.  To know what I should do."

I look at him, at this tired old man, at this priest of a Church that I was brought up to revere, an old man who’s as confused and anxious and as much a prisoner, I think, as I am.  Only he doesn’t realise it yet.

There isn’t much I can say, but I say it before I turn my back to him and mourn. 

"Pray harder."

 

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