Section One

 

"I'm sorry that I can't give you better news," said Doctor Lyre. "Synthetics can sometimes do the trick. They just haven't been successful here. It could be something to do with your physiology being slightly different from the human norm."

"The norm, as you know it," he said, with a wry smile.

"I'm biased that way."

"As are all humans. Can we try again?"

"At least once more, at any rate." Lyre turned towards her patient, a hypo in her hand, regarding him with compassion. "You're far too intelligent to be deceived into thinking this will be the cure. At most this will alleviate the symptoms and will buy us a little time. A few sectars, maybe."

"It will have to be enough." He winced as the hypo was applied to the vein in his neck, then sighed. "There is no alternative?"

She shook her head. "Effectively, your immune system has turned against you, attacking your cells, treating you as if you were infecting your own body. The synthetic serum only blocks that for a little while. The only permanent cure will come from a transplant from a donor, and we've drawn a blank amongst your own people here. I can't find a close enough match." Lyre watched him for a few moments, noting the changes in respiration and skin tone as the drug took effect, bringing him relief from the pain and fever. "It's a problem, there being so few of you to survive the Destruction."

"We were never numerous." He lay back against his pillows, watching her intently as she prepared the synthetic serum, readying the intravenous drip. "And now, as you say, we are very few. We will die out, overrun by you humans."

Lyre smiled at him. "You don't consider yourself human?"

"You humans don't consider us to be the same as you." His lip curled slightly. "And being different, we can't have the same worth and value."

Lyre nodded. Distrust and prejudice had not, unfortunately, been wiped out in the Destruction. "Well, I won't deny that there are definite differences in your DNA and physiology. I'd like to do some work on that. We don't know much about your people, really. Why is that? I mean, you lived on Caprica, not some distant colony."

"We live apart. We prefer it that way."

"But to know so little about you! It seems so unnatural. We're not so different, surely, that there's never been any links between us?"

"There have been marriages with you humans. But very rarely. We may not encourage it, but we can breed with you."

She grinned at the slightly disdainful look on his face as he said it. "I've never heard of any Sealings."

"There have been six since we left Kobol."

Lyre choked on the laughter. "Not even one every millennium! You're right. Intermarriage is very rare indeed."

"That's only to be expected."

"There aren't that many material differences between us," argued Lyre.

"Like the Borellian Nomen, we're - I won't say a subspecies, since that is a misapprehension on the part of some of you humans and implies an inferior position that most certainly does not apply - "

Lyre couldn't hold it back this time. "Of course! Self-evidently not!"

He smiled at her amusement. "I'm glad you agree. But, despite popular prejudice, we're a human species, too." He shrugged. "We all come from the same basic Kobolian stock, but we're of the same genus, not the same species. We do not encourage such Sealings, because, as you will realise, there are consequences for any children. They are genetic eunuchs, sterile."

Lyre nodded. "The DNA differences aren't huge, but hugely significant. Far more than the racial differences of, say, a Caprican and a Leonid."

"Yes. We mature a little earlier, age slower and live longer than you. I am considerably older than I look . And, of course," he added. "we're stronger and smarter."

Lyre snorted inelegantly. "Given how well you're withstanding the disease, that seems to bear out your theory about being stronger - but I've seen no evidence that you're any smarter then the rest of us."

He turned her words back on her. "It's utterly self evident, Doctor."

She matched his smile, then shook her head. "But what's more important is that those DNA differences are enough to ensure that I won't find a match outside your own people. Human bone marrow - if you want to make that differentiation - won't match. I don't know what else I can do."

He allowed her to put in the intravenous line. "There is another possibility," he said when she'd finished.

"Oh? What?"

"The possibility of a very good match indeed."

Lyre shook her head. "I've tested everyone here."

"Not here on the Usermaatre. On another ship."

"I've tested every one I could find." She gave him a quick grin. "There's very few of you left. Are you telling me I missed someone?"

He sighed. "It's only a possibility. And it's something that I'll have to think about, carefully. Very carefully. I'll have to break a promise, you see, and that goes hard with me."

"You'll die without it."

He shrugged thin shoulders. "We all die. I made a most solemn promise, yahrens ago, and I meant it."

"Who?"

"Someone I knew a long time ago. I've kept my word, since."

"I wasn't asking out of idle curiosity. What I meant was, can't you ask them to release you from the promise?"

He shook his head. "No. If I break faith, I can't ask her to forgive me. I would, if I could. But she's not here."

"She didn't survive then?"

"No. No, she didn't survive." He closed his eyes to sleep his way through the transfusion of the synthetic serum. "She died. He didn't look after her, as he promised. He let her die."

 

 

"Six out of ten today, Apollo. You were doing just fine at today's briefing when you made the announcement that we were finally going to get some reasonable, decent leave. Hell, you were heading for a perfect score with that one. And then you blew it with two of the stupidest statements I ever heard." Starbuck dumped his food tray onto the captain's table.

Apollo, fork in one hand and datapad stylus in the other, glanced up. "Do you always grade my performances in the staff briefings?"

Starbuck nodded.

"What's the scoring system?"

"You get two points for every item that doesn't sound like it's too much work." Starbuck settled into the chair beside the captain. "What is this stuff?" he asked rhetorically, poking dubiously at the food with his fork, and without waiting for an answer: "Four points for things that sound like they could even work out well. Where you really score is when you smile at me. That turns me inside out, and scores a perfect ten."

Apollo smiled, and Starbuck grinned back.

"Yeah, just like that. But then I start taking marks off for things I don't like the sound of."

"You're taking a lot of trouble over this. I could wish the same dedication went to your work." Apollo's smile took the sting out of it.

"Keeps me awake and gives me something to do. I know it's a great privilege for your mere wingman to be there along with your squadron leaders and their flight commanders, and I'm duly grateful for the honour, but Lords, Apollo, they do go on sometimes. Do you have to have everyone there?"

"Keeps them awake too," said Apollo.

"It gets a bit crowded. There's nineteen of us! At least you use the OC."

"I did try fitting them all in my office once, remember? I'm not totally stupid. Hit me hard enough a few times and even I can learn. In the OC I get a cup of tea to alleviate the misery and don't end up half out of my head with claustrophobia." Apollo closed down the datapad and tucked the stylus into its slot. "I need a bigger office."

"You need fewer people there. Don't you trust your squadron leaders to brief their flightcomms properly?"

"Probably not."

"You're lousy at delegating, that's your trouble. And all you're doing is pandering to the squadron leaders' egos, letting them bring along the domestic staff to show how important they are."

"Is that how you think Kyle and Boomer feel, as my flightcomms?" asked Apollo, interested.

"Kyle doesn't say much, and Boomer likes the responsibility. Guess not. But you can bet your last cubit that Bojay and Sheba love dragging their flightcomms along just for the show. They probably make them process to the OC, strewing rose petals and genuflecting on the way."

"I'd like to see Kyle and Boomer genuflect."

"Well, you can dream." Starbuck took another unenthusiastic forkful of food. "Mind you, that wasn't a bad attempt at wistful. At least Trent comes on his own."

Apollo glanced over to the nearby table where his infantry lieutenant was placidly eating his lunch, quiet and restrained in the middle of the noisy exuberant pilots around him. He grinned. "I did say he could bring his seconds in if he wanted to. He turned me down. He said, and I quote, that he felt reasonably confident in his ability to face the daily ordeal without a supporting cast."

Starbuck laughed.

"Have you been training him?" asked Apollo.

"Naw. His is a natural talent. He thinks about as much of the Pegasus lot as we do. You do know that he's dangling after your sister, don't you?"

"I'd noticed. He's had the usual warnings."

"The ‘break-her-heart-and-I'll-break-you-apart speech? I know that one."

"And a great deal of good that did for Athena," said Apollo, acid.

Starbuck had the grace to look self conscious and changed the subject rapidly. He waved the fork about a bit. "This crap is appalling. You know this real leave we're getting?"

"The real leave for a whole thirty six centars? Each?"

"That's the one. Can we go somewhere where there's real food to go with the real leave?"

"I'll even buy you dinner."

"You'll probably have to, if we hit a Chancery first."

"And will we?"

"Apollo! Immutable law of nature. How'd you get the commander and Colonel Tigh to agree?"

"It's so quiet at the moment, that they couldn't really argue against relaxing our alert status to amber."

"Quiet?" said Starbuck. "It's dead."

"Near enough," agreed Apollo. "And I, for one, am not complaining. But while it's quiet, I thought we should give the troops the chance of some R&R. The commander and Colonel Tigh agreed. Eventually."

Since the Destruction more than a yahren before, the warriors protecting the refugee fleet had operated at almost constant red alert status. But things had been quiet for sectars now, and for the last couple of sectons the fleet had moved through an area of space that seemed dead and uninhabited. They were passing slowly through a system of five ice-bound planets, dominated by a cool red sun. Scouting patrols had found no lifeform more advanced than a few single-celled bacteria eking out a precarious existence in ice-rimmed pools on the innermost planet.

No one was complaining. By the time the bacteria had evolved far enough to acquire attitude and wave a laser around, the fleet would be long gone. It was one less threat for its tired and jaded warriors to worry about.

Starbuck nodded. "Well, that was the good bit of the briefing. Then you screwed up, big time."

Apollo grinned.

"I can understand why you end up being last to get a furlough," said Starbuck. "I mean, your masochistic noble streak's a parsec wide and we all know you wouldn't take leave before any of the troops do."

"Bummer," agreed Apollo.

"Very noble of you, putting their welfare first."

"It's called setting an example, Starbuck. Try it some day."

"I do it all the time!"

Apollo stared, mouth dropping open in exaggerated astonishment,

"All right, all right! I may not be a Shining Example, but not even you could deny I'm the best Awful Warning in the fleet."

"I don't deny it. What astonishes me is that (a) you're admitting to it and (b) you're boasting about it."

Starbuck sighed. "The point I'm trying to make is that I can't see why the rest of Blue Squadron has to suffer by association. I can't ever believe we once thought it was an honour to serve in the commander's own flight."

"I think the technical term is collateral damage. I guess you could always go without me."

"That's a very tempting offer," said Starbuck. "I worked it out. Blue doesn't get to go for almost two sectons."

"Eleven days."

"Almost two sectons," repeated Starbuck, unmollified. "That's two sectons of watching five other bloody squadrons, not to mention Trent's mud-brained infantrymen, go off and enjoy themselves and listening to them boast about their sexual adventures when they get back here. You're asking an awful lot of my patience and self control."

"Just think about the delights of anticipation and don't hit anybody. Comfort yourself with the thought that no one's sexual adventures rival yours."

"Yeah, but it's not like I can boast about it, can I? Not while you want to keep it secret."

Apollo sighed. "Starbuck, you know it's just until I figure out how to explain things to Boxey. He has to come first, you know that. He's only seven. I'm not sure I want to talk to him about the facts of life just yet. Explaining het sex is going to be embarrassing enough, without I start in on explaining you and me."

"I get tired of hiding." Starbuck shrugged. "Especially when I'm not so sure it's Boxey you're hiding from."

This was an old complaint, and it had some justification. Apollo combined a deeply private approach to his personal life and a reluctance to discuss it with anyone, with a lively apprehension about how his religiously minded father would react to his relationship with his wingman having gone beyond the platonic. Way beyond.

"Not now, Starbuck. This is not a good time."

"It never is," said Starbuck.

Apollo hesitated. "I'm sorry. I know it's not ideal. Just give me some time, okay?"

"For now, Apollo. Okay." Starbuck concentrated on his lunch for a few centons, Apollo watching him uncomfortably. Starbuck finished the meal and pushed away his plate. "Then came mistake number two. No one could argue with the ‘Every squadron goes together because I'm too lazy a bastard to work out the roster if I gave you all a choice' line."

"Self-preservation. I'd go insane trying to sort that mess out."

"Well, like I say, that was reasonable. But what in Sagan's name possessed you to hand out the get-out clause by then letting people party with their significant others in other squadrons?"

"Oh come on, Starbuck! I could hardly separate Allan and Gillian. They've only been Sealed for six sectons."

"It's not Allan and Gillian I'm mad about. It's that Pegasus harpy."

"Sheba does not meet the definition."

"Harpy?"

"Significant other. Of course she's a harpy."

"She'd like to meet it. Your father would like it, too."

"Don't care."

"And I wish I believed that. You spend all your life trying to please him."

"I'm a martyr to my conditioning," Apollo grinned. "But there is a limit."

Starbuck made the noise commonly written as "Hhmph." and denoting a sceptical disbelief.

"And she's well beyond the limit. She already tried it on. She went into the full eyelash batting, sensuous lip-licking routine - "

"Spare me!" Starbuck said, disgusted. "I'm trying to eat, here, and the food's already turning me up without that image to help it along."

"Don't worry. You do sensuous a helluva lot better than she does. Anyhow, she was hinting that she'd like to come on leave with Blue so she'd ‘be with her friends'."

"Hinting? Sheba? She knows how to hint?"

Apollo shrugged. "Well, I guess it had all the subtlety of an exploding torpedo hint at you."

Starbuck laughed. "And?"

"And I said that Silver Spar goes tomorrow and she goes with it. The let out clause does not apply to squadron leaders." Apollo paused. "Except Gillian, of course."

"Just as well for you that your significant other's close to home, then."

"Why else do you think I finally caved in and gave you my body?" Apollo smiled in a way guaranteed to continue to turn Starbuck inside out.

"I thought that you'd finally seen the light," said Starbuck. "How'd she take it?"

"Sheba? Oh, she flounced off."

"Flounced?" Starbuck smiled. "Maybe I should try flouncing now and again. That way you might see the light sooner and oftener."

"You don't have the equipment for flouncing," said Apollo, then added hastily, "Of course, your equipment is just fine and dandy as it is."

"You said that so fast, I get the suspicion that you're pandering to my insecurities!"

"Me?" Apollo glanced at his chronometer and sighed. "Time to go."

Starbuck pushed away his plate and stood up to leave too. Half way from the Commissary to the duty office, he disturbed their companionable silence. "I wish you'd let me come," he said.

"You can, if you like," said Apollo, surprised. "It's only a ship survey. It's not that exciting."

"It's more exciting than sitting in the duty office with Jolly there instead of you. All he can talk about is working out how long ago it was he last ate and calculating to the micron when the next meal is coming along."

"He's a big man. He needs to keep up the calorific intake." Apollo paused at the office door long enough to stick his head around it. "Boomer, I'm off to the Windjammer. I'm taking Starbuck with me. You're in charge."

"Oooh!" said Boomer. "Power!"

"You'd better stay here too, Jolly," said Apollo. "Hungry?"

"I just ate fifteen centons ago, skipper." Boomer's wingmate sounded taken aback at the captain's interest. "I'm fine, thank you."

"Good. Carry on, gentlemen. Try not to lose my troops while I'm gone."

Boomer sighed. "Spoilsport. Have fun."

"Besides," said Starbuck, as they worked their way towards the Alpha bay, and picking up on the conversation as if there hadn't been an interruption. "You're spending an awful lot of your time on ship surveys, these days, and this is the second time you've surveyed the Windjammer. Pretty suspicious circumstances, if you ask me. If I was a jealous man, I'd wonder who you were playing with. Is the Windjammer's captain a handsome beast of a man?"

"Not as lovely as you, and stop fishing for compliments. Ship surveys with half a dozen Aegyptans in tow doesn't give me a lot of opportunity for playing."

"It's not one of the Aegyptans, is it, Apollo?" Starbuck grinned as the turbo lift opened onto the Alpha deck, and he saw the group of Aegyptan surveyors and engineers waiting patiently beside the shuttle, all masked and silent. The rest of the technical staff, all of them human, gave the Aegyptans a respectfully wide berth. "You get on with them, which is weird, given that they don't talk much to the rest of us. In fact, they're weird."

"Do you think so?" Apollo glanced towards the Aegyptans. "I like them. There's something about them, something cleaner, less petty."

"Cleaner? I do hope you're not hinting about my standards of personal hygiene, which are, I'd point out, bordering on the fanatical." Starbuck frowned over it. "They can be pretty direct, if that's what you mean, for all that they're so mysterious and hidden away. But it's hard to be sure of much about them."

"I guess that's it then. You always accuse me of being too romantic. Maybe I just like the mystery."

"And maybe you just like weird, because that's what they are in those head-masks. That's probably a turn on for you. You've a distinct predilection for dubious characters."

"Witness the dubious character I occasionally let into my bed," the captain retorted, starting across the deck.

"But that's what I mean! You don't get more dubious than me." Starbuck shook his head. "But I have a real problem with that ‘occasionally'. It isn't any where near often enough."

"Then we'll have to see what we can do to get into training for that thirty six centar furlough," promised Apollo.

Starbuck laughed. "I'll hold you to that. Tell me, if we aren't dodging the flouncing harpy, how are we going to spend our leave?"

"I'd thought about locking you in a room on the Rising Star for the duration," said Apollo.

"And fucking me senseless?"

"Not quite. I had something else in mind."

"Oh?"

"I was planning on making love to you until you screamed."

Starbuck smiled. "That's okay, Apollo. I do see the difference."

 

 

"I think this will be the one, Captain." The tall Aegyptan, the one with the helmet shaped like a dog-faced baboon, turned to face Apollo. "This is a relatively new ship and her systems will need only a few sectars work to bring them up to the level you're looking for. The hull is strong enough to withstand the stresses of us working on her." He turned in a slow circle, visually inspecting the big shuttle bay. "Plenty of room to land an entire Viper squadron. The most problematic area will be in fitting her with launch tubes."

"Solvable?"

"I think so. The computer modelling looks very hopeful, although we've some fine tuning to work through. Our techs are working on it now. We'll probably sling them underneath the keel, and cut some new turbolifts in from here to get the Vipers down into storage and handling racks."

"You'll be making my ship bigger, then?" Teague, the Windjammer's captain, looked so much the part of an ancient sailor, that Starbuck had sworn he could smell the fish and felt positively sea sick at the sight of the man's short nautical beard. At least, he'd said sotto voce to Apollo, that beard allayed any jealous fears. Not even Apollo, for all his alleged weird tastes, went for facial fur.

"We'll effectively be adding a new deck, yes," said another of the Aegyptans, her helmet a falcon's head.

Teague, who, like many humans, seemed uncomfortable around Aegyptans, just nodded.

The baboon helmeted Aegyptan shrugged thin shoulders under the concealing black silks. "It won't affect her performance or manoeuvrability. We'll be upgrading your engines anyway, and we'll streamline in the Viper deck."

"We can fit the Viper squadron into the compartments immediately forward of here." Apollo pored over the schematics on the hand-held computer the Aegyptan surveyor was holding. "If I remember what you told me about how your people here were organised, Teague, that means we aren't displacing anyone."

"No," agreed Teague. "It's all storage. It won't be comfortable."

Apollo grinned at the Aegyptan. "Converting those compartments into decent living quarters will part of what Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon is planning and modelling."

"Shuttle coming in," said Starbuck.

Teague glanced at it and then at his chronometer. "Usual five pm run. We'd better get back out of the way, Apollo."

They drew over to one side as the doors at the back of the bay opened to allow a steady stream of civilians through, all heading for the shuttle. The incoming passengers were disembarking, moving towards the decontamination Chambers beyond the huge tylinium safety screen at the back of the bay. The two streams of people milled past, most staring openly at the Aegyptans, expressions a mix of the nervous and the outright hostile.

"Is that meant for us?" asked Starbuck, unaccustomed to such open antagonism.

"For us," said Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon quietly.

"It's not unusual with civilians." Apollo's left hand brushed at the laser holstered on his thigh. "They're nervous around Aegyptans."

"And it's getting worse," said Kam-Ahtes. "Since the Destruction, it has worsened. In the past we were tolerated for the help we could give you, if not actually welcome. But in the last few sectons, the civilians have seemed to be actively more hostile. Nothing serious yet, but it concerns us."

"It concerns me too." Apollo frowned. "We need you. They should understand that."

A tall, well dressed man in late middle age paused on his way to the shuttle, hard and calculating eyes half hidden in their folds of fat. He looked disdainfully, and suspiciously, at the silent Aegyptans standing behind the two warriors. "Captain Apollo," he said.

Apollo nodded. "Sire Uri. Visiting?"

"The Sire moved here a few sectars ago," said Teague.

"I wasn't aware of it." Apollo turned back to Uri. "I'd have thought that you liked the accommodations on the Rising Star too much to transfer to another ship."

Uri's lip curled. "As if the Council's spies didn't keep you informed of my whereabouts!"

Apollo shook his head. "Well, they may. But I'm a busy man, Sire Uri. I don't read the dross these days. I concentrate on the important reports."

Uri snorted and moved on, one more glare aimed at Apollo.

"Oh, that silver tongue of yours!" Starbuck was admiring.

"I'm quite surprised myself," said Apollo. "Normally I can never think of anything clever to say until at least half a centar too late. There's something about that man that inspires me to brilliance."

"Well," demurred Starbuck gently. "I wouldn't go that far. As near brilliance as you ever manage, anyway. I don't think he likes you, Apollo."

"It's mutual. Teague, we'll be heading back now. I'll let you know the time scale for us starting work, but it won't be for a few sectons. I've got to get this through the commander and the Council first."

Teague nodded. "I'll wait to hear from you before I make any announcements."

"Thanks." Apollo shook hands, and followed the Aegyptans back to the Galactica's shuttle. A hundred yards away, the civilian shuttle lifted off silently.

"Apollo?"

"Uh-huh?"

"Does the Council really have spies?"

"Not that I know of. Why?"

"I was thinking about maybe a career change. We're getting a bit old to be flying Vipers all the time, and I could quite like being a spy."

"You don't have any of the qualifications."

"I have so! I'm handsome, debonair, charming and brave, and the ladies love me. What else does a spy need?"

"I was going to suggest intelligence," said Apollo. "But you wouldn't know what that is."

 

 

Dinner with the commander every secton was generally a purely family affair. Less frequently, maybe once a sectar, others were there, people the commander thought of as extended family, people he liked and cared about. Colonel Tigh came, occasionally, and Starbuck. When it had seemed at one time that Starbuck and Athena would make a go of it, he'd come every secton almost. Although he'd been invited less often when it was clear that whatever he and Athena were going to make, it wasn't a go of anything at all, he still came to the extended dinners as Apollo's guest. Sheba, too, had come regularly at first, just after the Pegasus people had joined the Galactica and Cain had vanished again, joining the more intimate sectonly meetings, but the closeness she had been looking for seemed to have eluded her and she came less often now, restricting her visits to the wider gatherings. Well, she isn't really family , Apollo had said, when Adama had taxed him about Sheba's uncertain position, and Adama had sighed and held his tongue, very well aware that pushing his stubborn son would gain him nothing.

So no Sheba for Apollo and no Starbuck for Athena. Tonight it was only the commander and his two surviving children and the grandson by adoption that Apollo had brought Adama when he'd Sealed to Serina. The adults were watching Boxey shovel away a frightening amount of sweet, sticky mushies when the talk came back to Apollo's visit to the Windjammer earlier that day.

"It's very interesting indeed, that Sire Uri's shifted his quarters," said Adama. "I'm not surprised. He lost a lot of credibility over the Carillon affair, and I expect he found the Rising Star too uncomfortable."

"You didn't know he'd moved?"

"How could I?"

Apollo sighed. "There are no spies, then. Starbuck'll be disappointed."

"Spies?" repeated Adama. His son just shrugged, and the commander changed the subject. "You've given the new rosters to Colonel Tigh?"

"I have." Apollo leaned back in his chair, relaxing, nursing the glass of ambrosa Adama had just poured for him. "You have almost two hundred very happy and grateful warriors out there, Dad. I gave them the news this morning and they're probably still shouting praises to your name. You should bask in the admiration for a bit."

"I'm not very good at basking," Adama confessed. "Besides, you talked us into it. How are you managing this?"

"I'm taking the easy way out. Each squadron goes in its entirety, starting with Silver Spar tomorrow. That way I don't have to play about with the roster too much, trying to fit in people's preferences. They don't mind. They're just grateful to be getting a decent break."

"We can do more, if things stay as quiet. Hopefully we can get back to the situation soon where people can have proper furlons." Adama frowned. "But the idea was that you all could take some time away from the squadrons and socialise more. I mean, with people that you don't spend every working day with."

"All of us? That's a logistical nightmare, Dad. I'd still be here next sectar trying to sort that one out."

"Of course not all of you. Just you," remarked Apollo's sister. "He means he was hoping that you'd be going on leave at the same time as Sheba."

"Athena," said Adama.

Athena shrugged slim shoulders. "How is the great romance going, big brother?"

Apollo shot Athena a quick glance, betraying his annoyance. "I am not romancing Sheba."

"Did I mention Sheba?" asked a spuriously innocent Athena.

"And I could ask you the same question," said Apollo.

Athena laughed. "I'm not romancing Sheba either!"

"She's a very fine girl." Adama's frown deepened.

"Yes. I'm sure that she is." Apollo was polite but unenthusiastic.

"You were dating her," said Adama. "I thought you were getting on very well together."

"Well, okay, we had a few dates but it was never that serious, Dad. She's a bit too much of her father's daughter."

"And you, your father's son," murmured Athena, blue eyes sparkling with mischief.

"Athena!" said Adama.

Athena laughed. "Dad, they go head to head every time they get started. Sheba thinks Cain was God or something, the best commander ever and Apollo always argues with her. You've quite the devoted son there."

"Really?" Adama smiled at Apollo.

"I've no illusions about your lack of divinity, Dad," said Apollo dryly. "But I still think you're a better commander than he is."

"Thank you, my son. I'm touched."

"And you're even a better man. But discussing paternal virtues is not guaranteed to add romance to a date, believe me."

"But she's prepared to forgive you, Apollo. The way I hear it, she was very keen about delaying her leave until Blue squadron took theirs. Sounds hopeful, Dad, don't you think? You needn't despair just yet."

"Brat," said Apollo.

"I guess that means she hasn't given up on you." Athena grinned at her brother provocatively. "I wouldn't relax, Apollo, if I were you, or she'll get you."

"I don't think so. I made it very clear that she's going on leave tomorrow with her squadron, and that, my dear sister, is that."

Adama shook his head. "I am sorry, Apollo. I had hoped that you and Sheba would hit it off. You mustn't cling to the past." He glanced at Boxey. "After all, it's over a yahren since it all happened. You mustn't brood."

"I don't brood. I'm doing fine. But it's not really that long, I definitely don't want to get Sealed again, and Boxey comes first."

"When?" asked Boxey, looking up from the mushies which his loving grandfather had so unwisely provided. His mouth was smeared with chocolate.

"How important are traditions in this family, little son?" asked Apollo.

"Very." Boxey had absorbed that lesson very well in the last yahren.

"Well, if we want to maintain the family tradition of you going to supper with your Grandpa and being sick at midnight as a result, you just eat your mushies and stay out of this." And to Adama: "Please just leave it, Dad."

"I only want to see you happy, Apollo."

"I'm perfectly happy. But I wouldn't be happy with Sheba, and I'm damn sure that she wouldn't be happy with me."

"Except she'd be important again," observed Athena. "Commander's daughter-in-law is almost as good as being the commander's daughter." A pause. "So I'm told."

"I don't like Sheba much," announced Boxey. "She tries to be nice to me."

"And that's a problem, nephew mine?" asked Athena.

Boxey nodded. "She only does it because she wants Dad to be nice to her."

"And there you have it," said Athena. "Her father's daughter."

Adama sighed. "All right, I accept that it isn't the right moment for you and Sheba, son, but I do worry about you. You can't hide in your work for ever."

"I don't. And don't worry. I'm fine."

"I can't help but worry. You're my son."

"Mmmn," said Athena. "This is getting seriously parental. Any centon now and he'll be referring to you as his Firstborn. In capitals."

"Athena, what is the matter with you tonight?"

"Nothing much, Dad. It's just that with all the concentration on Apollo's work and Apollo's interesting encounters with ex-councillors and Apollo's love-life – or the lack thereof – I wouldn't mind an occasional bit of interest in my doings. Just so I know that you realise that I'm still here." Her father and brother stared, and Athena smiled. "I just love family suppers, don't you?"

 

 

Just about the last person Colonel Tigh seemed to expect to see was the next in command after his august self. He looked pointedly from a flurried Apollo to the big chronometer hung at the front of the bridge.

"Dedication is one thing, Captain; overtime payments are something else entirely. I thought Blue was off now. Shouldn't you be on your way?"

"It is and I am. But I wanted to leave these for you and the commander." Apollo handed Colonel Tigh two datapads. "It's the best I can come up with, on how we might get this to work."

"If you've worked out how to get four yahrens of the Academy down to something we can manage, I'm impressed. That's a job well done, Captain, and I look forward to reading it."

"I've spent the last couple of sectons working on this. I think I've pared it down to essentials, but it's still going to be tough, Colonel."

Tigh nodded. "I know. We've talked about this before, but now's the time for you to give up Blue."

"Breaking with the tradition that the Strike Captain has always led Blue squadron?"

"You won't have time to do it. We've discussed the possibilities."

"I don't want to give up flight command."

"You won't have to." Adama joined them on the bridge dais to overhear this. "All you'll be doing is giving up the extra work running a squadron gives you."

"Yes sir." .

"We'll talk about it when you get back, Captain," said Adama. "Shouldn't you be somewhere else?"

"I'm on my way. Oh - Boxey. I picked him up from school and said goodbye. He's with Ford."

"Your flight-crew chief?"

"Ford's kid is in the same class as Boxey. Last secton, they were mortal enemies, this secton they're like conjoined twins. They're chasing around the Recreation room, and Boxey's barely noticed I've gone. Ford will drop him off on you when he's fed up with the noise. And Dad, keep the mushies to a reasonable limit. They make him hyperactive and very sick, and you will not enjoy cleaning up after him. I know that it'll be a whole new experience for you, but you won't enjoy it. Believe me."

"Get out of here, Captain, before I change my mind."

"I'm going. Oh, please, don't call me back for anything. Please. You have no idea how much I need this break."

Adama smiled. "Nothing short of being hit by the entire Cylon war machine. I promise."

"I was thinking nothing less serious than cosmic obliteration." Apollo glanced at his chronometer. "Oh lord! Sirs!" He threw them a fast salute and left at a run.

A fast detour to his quarters to scramble into the civilian clothing he'd barely worn for over a yahren, and to grab the small backpack he'd had the foresight to pack with essentials that morning, and he was racing into the shuttlebay two scant centons before the shuttle was due to leave.

"At last!" Starbuck complained, hustling him onto the little ship. "I'd almost given up on you."

Apollo looked from him to where Boomer was waiting for them to join him, fighting off all comers to hold three seats on the starboard side. Giving up Blue would mean that one of them would take over from him. Starbuck or Boomer, one or the other.

"Don't ever do that, Starbuck."

His eyes gleaming at the sight of Apollo in faded denims and heavy cotton cream shirt, Starbuck shook his head as he followed the captain down the aisle to the seats beside Boomer. He kept his eyes on the promised land, encased in those tight denims. "Never. Believe me. Never."

 

The Rising Star had once been the most lavish and sumptuous of passenger liners. Before the Destruction, she had plied the main space routes between Aquaria, where she'd been built, and the other Colonies. A palace and gaming chancery with every imaginable, and a few unimaginable, luxuries, her decks had been crowded with the rich and idle.

She had been one of the few ships to escape the Destruction, her decks crowded then with refugees from every class of society. As the remnants of humanity had fled towards the mysterious - some said mythical - world Adama was leading them to, the survivors had been more evenly distributed around the Fleet. This had freed up some of the Rising Star's deckspace, and she once more offered pleasure and relaxation to anyone who could pay for it. A primitive currency was now circulating in the Fleet, and much of it changed hands at the Star's gaming tables. And only here could you still get a meal that didn't look and taste like military rations, drink something that actually tasted like real ambrosa and find bars with exotic entertainers to dance the night away.

"Sure you two don't mind?" Boomer, lit up by ambrosa and sexual excitement, bounced on the balls of his feet, his body keeping perfect time with the beat of the music.

"You go ahead," said Apollo.

"Hey, the whole purpose of us military types getting some R&R is to have fun, get drunk and get laid," said Starbuck. "Not necessarily in that order. She's quite some looker and you don't meet that every day of the secton, Boomer. You'd be a fool to pass up what she's offering."

The girl was waiting over by the bar, draped over a bar stool in a lot of blonde hair and a very alluring manner - and not a lot else. A full page spread in the Intra-Fleet News with diagrams and full operating instructions couldn't have advertised her availability more convincingly.

"And, boy, is she offering," added Starbuck, admiring.

"I feel bad about deserting you two." But Boomer's eyes stayed on his dancing partner and the bouncing on his heels was more frenetic, more suggestive.

Starbuck and Apollo grinned at each other.

"Maybe we'll get lucky too," said Apollo.

"Just get the hell out of here, Boom-boom. Can you remember what to do? Power up, acquire target, aim, engage forward thrusters and fire. Have fun."

"Very funny, Starbuck. Very, very funny." Boomer swallowed down the last of his drink, grabbed his jacket. "See you tomorrow, huh?"

"Maybe, maybe not. You might get very lucky, Boom-boom."

"In that case, the seven am shuttle, day after tomorrow. Right?" said Boomer over his shoulder.

"We'll be there," promised Apollo. "Don't be late."

They watched him thread his way through the dancers towards his nirvana.

"That was fast," Starbuck observed.

"Two dances? You'd have got her half way through the intro to the first one."

"Fast for Boomer, that is," amended the lieutenant. "He's not in my class, but he's getting better. Helluva lot better than you, anyway."

"She was all over him by the end of the second dance."

"She'd given up on me by then. I had to do some very nifty manoeuvring to get her palmed off on him."

"Generous of you," remarked the captain.

"I was getting desperate. I mean, I'd have paid, if that's what it takes to get him off our hands for the night. And all day tomorrow. And tomorrow night…"

"Cheaper to spike his drink," said Apollo.

Starbuck laughed. "But not as much fun for Boomer. Now, let's see how lucky we can get. Stay here, my Captain, and I'll see what I can arrange."

"I have every confidence in you," said Apollo. "I'll just sit here and watch and admire."

Starbuck sniffed. "As if you ever do anything else."

Apollo sat back and waved his glass in salute as Starbuck threaded his way through the crowds towards the hotel desk, discreetly tucked away into a corner of the big bar, for the convenience of those patrons who had the sudden and pressing need for a room. He called over the waiter to get dessert delivered and settle the bill, hoping Starbuck wouldn't be too long. Needs were getting very pressing indeed.

Starbuck wasn't long, but the news wasn't as good as Apollo had hoped.

"Half a centar?" he protested.

"It happens," said a far more philosophical Starbuck, licking at his dessert-sticky spoon in a manner calculated to make anyone's needs press almost to unbearable levels. "We were lucky to get this one. There were three couples in line behind me all just begging for a space to get acquainted. They'll have a much longer wait."

"Well, why not take it immediately? Why wait the half-centar?"

"Believe me, Apollo, if what that manager told me about what went on in that room is only half-way true, we'll be grateful they're taking the time to clean it up. He even promised me he'd change the sheets."

Apollo just stared.

"And he said he'd even try to get the stains outa the carpets," added Starbuck, staring back, unintimidated. He grinned. "Wonder how old Boomer's doing?"

"Better than us," said Apollo, a touch sourly.

"Hey, I did the best I could, all right? It could be worse."

"It's a half-centar worse."

"Then next time, remember to book in advance. I mean, with Blue going on leave last, it's not like you didn't have enough warning. And we can't all have Boomer's luck in finding a girl with her own room prepped and ready."

"Jealous?"

"Nah. I remember what it was like with girls. I like it better with you." Starbuck finished the last sticky sweetness of his dessert and raised his glass in a silent toast. "I was just thinking that he deserves the luck. He's been so quiet and intent since he broke up with Dietra that he's in serious danger of turning into you."

"Me?"

Underneath the table, Starbuck's fingers were drawing little patterns across the back of Apollo's hand. "You, before I got hold of you and corrupted you."

"Well, maybe he is. Maybe that's to balance the scales, every action having an opposite and equal reaction."

"I am going nowhere near philosophy," said Starbuck. "So you can stop that right now."

"More like ancient religious belief. It might even be physics."

"Even worse." Starbuck shook his head. "Here we are and we don't have to get back until eight am, day after tomorrow. We've just eaten the best meal we've had in a yahren, we're in the most expensive restaurant on the Rising Star drinking good ambrosa, we've a room booked and - " He tipped his free hand with the chronometer on the wrist towards the candlelight. " - Great! Only twenty centons, and I get some hot sex. And you want to talk religion? Boy, have you been warped by your upbringing. What the hell am I to do with you?"

"Dunno. A little more corruption may be in order." Apollo turned his hand to take hold of Starbuck's.

"Well, now you mention it, that's a remedial therapy that's proved effective with past outbreaks. I'll have to deal with your backsliding somehow."

"And fronts sliding, and cocks sliding and - "

"Captain Apollo?"

Apollo jumped, hurriedly dropping Starbuck's hand, and twisted in his seat to look at the thin, middle-aged stranger who'd approached their secluded table.

"Uh-huh."

The man smiled. "You don't know me."

"No."

"But I knew your mother and the commander, a long time ago."

"So many people did."

"My name is Seti," the stranger said. He gave Apollo a quick, measuring look, then glanced at Starbuck. "I want to talk to you, Captain, but I can see that this is a bad time."

"It always is."

"Apollo!" said Starbuck quietly.

The stranger's smile was rueful without being ingratiating. "I understand, Captain. I do need to speak to you, but it will keep. For a little while."

"If you'll excuse me." Apollo made to turn back to Starbuck.

"Yes. Of course. As I said, my name is Seti, Captain. Please remember me to the commander. I think you'll find he hasn't forgotten me."

A cold nod and Apollo deliberately turned his back, tuning out the man. Starbuck looked past Apollo, over his shoulder for a micron, watching the man go, then shook his head.

"That was a bit hard, Apollo."

"Starbuck, if I had a cubit for every one of my father's ‘old friends' who've miraculously survived the Destruction, you wouldn't need to gamble to make us rich."

"I don't gamble to make us rich. I mean, I'd like to, but the run of luck I've had recently I'd be lucky to make enough to pay for dinner."

"You didn't make enough to pay for dinner. I'll be paying for this, remember?"

"Your generosity is just one of the reasons I love you."

"Maybe it's true, what they say about being unlucky at cards, lucky in love."

"I can live with that. But stop trying to change the subject. You're too keen on standing on your dignity, Apollo. You could forget the family pride once in a while, leave it behind with the uniform."

"It's the family that's the whole problem. I can't get away from it. Strangers don't come up to me in restaurants on the Rising Star because they're smitten by my unusual and beautiful green eyes and want to buy me a dinner and get to know me better. They want something. And what they want always has something to do with whose son I am."

"I guess. Did you notice his name?" said Starbuck. "Sounds almost Aegyptan."

"Yeah, I noticed it."

"I've never seen an Aegyptan without a mask. I've been around them ever since I graduated and I've lost count of how many I've seen, but never, ever, ever without a mask."

Apollo shrugged. "So it's not very likely that he is. But if he is, they look pretty much like everyone else when the mask comes off."

"I'd love to know if he really is. And why he's here and not masked."

"If he's Aegyptan, Starbuck, it'll be far easier for him to walk around this ship unnoticed if he doesn't look like one. I mean, if he walked in here with his mask on, it would cause a bit of a sensation, don't you think?"

"It'd turn a few heads," conceded Starbuck.

"And do you want to spend the rest of the night talking about him?"

"No, but he didn't deserve for you to be that rude, Apollo."

"No? How often do we get any time off and any time to ourselves at all?"

"Well, yeah." Starbuck conceded that point, too.

"And what would you rather have? Me wasting time talking to some freeloading stranger after a favour from my father, or me fucking you senseless?"

Starbuck panicked. "That's a multiple choice question! I don't do multiple choice questions! You know how confused I get."

"How about an easy yes-no question, then?"

Starbuck nodded. "I can do those."

Apollo laughed. "Okay. Do you want me to take you to that beautifully cleaned and hopefully unstained room that should be ready right about now, and make you scream? Yes or no?"

Starbuck sighed happily. "Oh yes."

 

 

"Did I tell you how wonderful you look in these clothes?" Starbuck eased the heavy cream shirt down over one of Apollo's shoulders, following its progress with his mouth, bestowing little kisses and bites along the clavicle bone, licking and kissing his way to Apollo's shoulder. His voice was necessarily muffled.

"What?" said Apollo, modestly. "These old things? I've had them for ever."

"Ha! As if you don't know how good these old things look on you. I almost came the micron you ran onto the shuttledeck, so many nice things were moving around under these lovely tight jeans. A little bit of heaven in blue denim."

"The jeans are a bit tight," Apollo admitted.

"But in all the right places." Starbuck abandoned the shirt to get both hands running over Apollo's tightly encased backside. "Oh Lords, in all the right places."

Apollo wriggled some more, pressing back against the hands that were moving on him with such proprietorial familiarity. Both his arms were hooked around Starbuck's neck, and as he wriggled backwards he pulled Starbuck with him, keeping their contact close and warm.

Starbuck pulled back to smile into green eyes that were wide and hot with passion. "If you don't get on the outside of those jeans and into the inside of me, I warn you that I am likely to burst!"

Apollo laughed, and for the next few centons they rolled around, getting each other naked and ready. They ended up with Apollo on his back, Starbuck sat carefully across his hips. Starbuck lifted up enough to tug Apollo's tight jeans open, and slowly pulled them down. Apollo's cock leapt up out of its confinement, engorged head reddish-purple and already oozing with pre-come.

"Oh my Lords," said Starbuck with absolute reverence. "Now that's what I've been waiting for."

He ducked his head, and Apollo, kicking off his jeans to join the shoes and socks already on the floor beside the bed, bucked wildly as Starbuck's hot mouth enclosed him. He shuddered and moaned as Starbuck's tongue worked its way up his shaft, shaking when it probed into the slit in the swollen red head.

"Gods!" Apollo carded his hands through Starbuck's thick hair, pulling him up for another heat-fired kiss. "I can't take too much of that, Starbuck. I've been too stressed up for centars waiting to get you alone. I've had a hard on since before Boomer left."

"I want you inside me." Starbuck had the lube ready. "I want you really, really badly."

"We've got centars, Starbuck. All day tomorrow. All tomorrow night."

"Yup, and I'm not getting out of this bed until we have to run for the shuttle home - if we can run, that is. I'm hoping that all I'll be able to manage is a hobble and a very bright smile. But that doesn't reduce the want-you-right-now-ness." Starbuck liberally coated Apollo's cock with lube and tossed his panting lover the tube. "We'll do slow and romantic later, Apollo. Like you say, we've got time."

Straddling Apollo, he ran his hands up under the opened cream shirt, letting his lightly lubed fingers trace over every inch of his lover's skin, then pushing his hands up over Apollo's shoulders, leaning in for a kiss. Apollo's hands slid down his back, and Starbuck jumped as he felt Apollo squirt the tube and a lube-slicked hand smoothed down into the crack between his buttocks. He moaned into Apollo's mouth, tongues duelling fiercely, instinctively pushing his arse back onto Apollo's hand.

He moaned again as Apollo's long fingers rubbed and soothed, teasing the tight ring of anal muscle, and grunted with deep satisfaction when one finger slid slowly in. He cried out in almost wordless encouragement, pressing his hips back, greedy for more. The second finger had him incoherent, especially when those wickedly long fingers found his prostate and rubbed the hard little gland gently, getting him ready. His own cock throbbed, and he propped himself on one elbow, reaching between their bodies to fist it, keeping his mouth on Apollo's, loving the taste of Apollo's tongue.

He was panting uncontrollably when the stretching fingers were hooked and pulled slowly out, catching on the muscle ring and making it throb.

"Now," said Apollo softly, speaking against Starbuck's lips.

Another deep kiss, and Starbuck raised himself on his knees, positioning himself over his lover's shaft. For a micron he waited, the tip of Apollo's cock pressed against his throbbing hole, then slowly, oh so agonisingly slowly, lowered himself down, impaling himself. He watched Apollo's face as he moved, listening to the soft moans as he came to rest with his backside pressed up against Apollo's balls, taking him in to the hilt.

"Apollo," he said, curving his body down to offer a kiss. Apollo raised himself up on his elbow, getting one arm around Starbuck's neck.

"Now," said Apollo, again. "Don't stop kissing me."

Starbuck raised his hips, letting the big cock slide out until he could feel it catching at the tightly stretched, burning ring of muscle. For a micron he waited, teasing, waiting for Apollo to move, and laughed against Apollo's mouth when the hand on the back of his neck slid urgently down to his waist and pressed down against a jutting hip bone. Only then did he let himself slide back down Apollo's cock, and the burning melted away into the sheer pleasure of having his lover deep inside. No other lover's touch, male or female, had ever thrilled him so deeply.

It took scant microns to get the rhythm into the one he knew Apollo loved best, deep and slow, pushing so that each down stroke took that swollen, jism-leaking cockhead stroking past his prostate, his hand timing the backward pull on his own cock to match, until his legs were shaking with the tension, the muscles in his thighs almost screaming with it.

Somehow, as always, Apollo knew when he couldn't take any more. Apollo's legs, hooked over his, tightened to hold him, and Apollo's arms were holding him very close around the chest, rolling them both onto their sides. Two more deep strokes, and Starbuck was rolled onto his back, his aching leg muscles relaxing.

Somehow, as always, Apollo had managed that without breaking contact, their bodies still completely joined, mouths and tongues still tasting each other. Now Apollo was in control of their thrusting, and for centons more he kept up the slow steady pushing, pulling back almost out of Starbuck before pushing slowly back in.

"Now," Starbuck whispered, taking almost three whimpering breaths to get out the word.

Apollo picked up the pace, moving faster and more urgently, each thrust pounding against Starbuck's prostate, his balls slapping against the slightly upturned flesh of Starbuck's arse, cock pistoning in and out faster, Starbuck's cock trapped between them, leaking and painting little jism-y patterns against Apollo's flat belly. Harder and faster, the sound only of two bodies slapping together on each meeting, groans leaking past two mouths locked together in a kiss so deep they were sharing air.

It didn't take long for Apollo to pull his mouth free, throw back his head and yell as the spasm in his balls was too much. Starbuck's body twitched as he was flooded with heat, tightening his rectum on the spasming cock inside him, draining Apollo dry. At the same instant, his own orgasm stunned him into spurting jism up between their hot, sweaty bodies. He was pretty sure he screamed loudly enough to satisfy even his aurally-demanding lover.

Gasping, Apollo collapsed onto him, pinning him down with his weight. Starbuck, blissed out, held him close, whispering endearments into the dark hair tumbled all over his face, his body still trembling and writhing under Apollo's, the echoes of orgasm in his still throbbing backside. He moaned softly as Apollo came enough to himself to take his weight on his elbows – ever the gentleman, Starbuck told him breathlessly – and allowed his softening cock to slide out.

"Love you," said Apollo, raising his head enough to kiss Starbuck somewhere south of one ear, too far gone to take proper aim.

"Love you too." Starbuck snuggled in close, kissing Apollo's hair. He loved kissing Apollo's hair. "And that, my own Captain, was worth the waiting for." He sighed happily. "And nearly thirty six centars more to go!"

 

 

"I've gotta go! I'll be late, and the traffic controller will give me hell!"

"You take off without him, and the captain will give you even worse hell. He'll flay you alive. You choose." Boomer stood against the hatch of the Galactica's shuttle, stopping the pilot from closing the outer airlock doors on him.

"Shit! Shit! You bloody military bastards always pull rank. Shit!"

"Relax. He's here. He just got through the check-in gate."

Apollo, hauling Starbuck along with him, covered the shuttledeck at quite a clip. "You holding it?" he yelled at Boomer as soon as he got within range.

"The driver's mad, but obedient."

"Bloody military!" said the pilot. "Tell him to hurry it up."

"Tell that driver he's dead if he closes those doors!" Apollo yanked on Starbuck's arm. "Hurry it along, Starbuck."

"He'll wait," said Starbuck. "You're scarier than the traffic controller. You're scary enough on your own without your father being Fleet Commander. The traffic controller's father isn't Fleet Commander."

"You ever see the controller? She never had a father. She was birthed out of a test-tube. I had better not be scarier than that."

Starbuck merely snorted and started up the ramp.

"Captain Apollo."

Apollo turned, one foot on the ramp.

"Another bad time?" Seti's smile was rueful.

Apollo frowned. "You're bloody persistent. Have you been waiting all this time?"

"Well, yes. This seemed the best chance of catching you."

"I've got to go!" yelled the agitated pilot. "Control are screaming blue murder at me!"

Apollo shook his head in denial. "I'm on my way back, and I'm late already. Sorry."

"I want to talk to you, Captain. It is important."

"Apollo!" yelled Starbuck and Boomer, in unison.

Apollo hesitated, then shrugged. "Some other time, maybe."

He sprinted up the ramp.

"About time," muttered the pilot, shutting the hatch doors and sounding the klaxon that warned everyone on the flight deck that the shuttle's engines were about to fire up. "Bloody military!"

Apollo dropped into a seat beside Starbuck, buckling himself into the harness, acknowledging with a grin the teasing from the other warriors from Blue squadron waiting to head back to the next duty shift. Those who were still conscious, that is. Quite a few of them would evidently be spending the journey home comatose.

Boomer, across the aisle beside a beatifically smiling Jolly, grinned at them. "What kept you?"

"We got lucky too," said Starbuck.

"I looked all over for you yesterday. Where were you? "

"Around," said Starbuck, casually.

"Uh-huh," said Boomer, looking from Starbuck to Apollo to Starbuck again.

"It's a big ship. What did you do last night?"

Boomer just smiled, the look on his face that of a man who'd spent his night in happy exercise.

"Aha! You got lucky again! Same lady?"

"Oh yes," said Boomer.

Starbuck laughed. "So tell us, Boom-boom, you up to answering a few consumer market research questions here? The packaging promised a great deal. Was the product inside all you expected?"

Boomer's smile widened.

"Yeah." Starbuck answered his own question. "You have that well-fucked look."

"So have you," retorted Boomer. "In spades. So who did you get lucky with?"

"Hey, they were the lucky one." Starbuck's smile mirrored Boomer's as he evaded answering. He took a fumerillo from his pocket, and casually stuck it into his mouth.

Just as casually, Apollo took it away. "No smoking on the shuttle, Lieutenant. You know the regs." He looked at his chronometer, and raised his voice. "Pilot, you're five centons behind schedule. Move it along."

 

 

Morning command meetings were mostly routine, a part of the pattern of every day military life, a little piece of military protocol and procedure that bound them together, gave them a structure and a sense of continuity that even the Cylons hadn't been able to take from them.

Lieutenant Bojay, Gold squadron leader, had been in command of the warriors for the last day, covering for Captain Apollo's temporary absence on leave. As he listened to Bojay's routine and uneventful report of the previous day's patrols and pickets, Commander Adama turned his head slightly to watch his son's face. The one interesting event of the day had been an altercation between two junior warriors. Apollo didn't even blink as Bojay reported it. Evidently Lieutenant Bojay had already gone through this once, had been put through his paces by a captain who was too cautious to allow himself to go into a command meeting without a thorough briefing first, no matter how uneventful the day. Adama smiled in affectionate amusement.

Adama thanked Bojay gravely, adding a mild commendation that had the ex-Pegasus lieutenant glowing with satisfaction and Apollo trying to mask a grimace. They moved on, with Apollo taking over to outline the day's duty roster. Adama listened, nodded and agreed, then dismissed Bojay.

"Do you want me to take the briefing?" Bojay asked Apollo.

"Delay it for half a centar so I can get there, but yeah, you can do it."

"Bojay did all right," said Tigh as the door closed. "Better than I expected, anyway."

"In what way?" Adama asked.

"More co-operative, less selfish, less self-seeking."

"Less like Cain, you mean," said Apollo.

"Exactly. More like I'd expect a Galactica officer to act." Tigh smiled, thinly. "You must be having more of an influence on him than you thought, Captain. Well done."

Apollo made some non-committal sound that was perilously near a snort, but both his senior officers let it pass.

"They're settling in at last," said Adama with an approving nod at his son, all the acknowledgement of Apollo's efforts to integrate the Pegasus contingent that the captain was going to get. "It's important that they do, if we're to move ahead on pilot recruitment. You're going to have far too much to do, Captain, to baby sit them for much longer."

"We all are," said Tigh. "And it's not like we're exactly free-wheeling as it is."

"Run over the programme again." Adama picked up the datapad in front of him and read over it, following Apollo's exposition of the pilot training programme he had put together, nodding at the various points and explanations. "Condensing four yahrens of Academy training into one," said Adama, with a sigh when his son ended. "Sometimes I wonder if all we're doing is creating cannon fodder."

"We've got to do it." Apollo was looking down at his hands, clasped lightly on the table before him. "They're already cannon fodder. We had to take the shuttle pilots to fill in the holes in the squadrons, and on the whole they've done pretty well with minimal training. But most of what they've had has been in combat, and it's hard won. They're always bearing the brunt of our casualties. They always will unless we can train them properly. Not just how to fly, but how to think strategically, how to handle themselves. I don't just mean in the air, but dirt-side missions too. We've got to be more flexible with the resources we have. We've got to train them better, and we've got to train more of them."

"I like the idea of breaking down the barriers between the two services," said Tigh. "How many of your troopers will take up pilot training?"

"As many as I can fit into Vipers." Apollo grinned. "Have you seen the size of some of them? We'd have to double the size of the Vipers and bore out bigger launch tubes."

"The ex-shuttle pilots have done well," said Adama. "They'll protest at being sent back to school with the new intake."

"I'll handle it, sir," said Apollo. "We'll run two levels of class to begin with. They'll all graduate within six sectars. They aren't being sent back to first base and I'll make that clear to them. All we're going to do is fill in the gaps while it's quiet and we have the opportunity. They'll understand that."

"And this is the best time to do it," said Tigh. "You're right about it being quiet. We've not seen any sign of the Cylons for sectars."

"You're still missing some tutors," Adama observed.

"I'm short on astrophysicists and astronavigational mathematicians. Most of the other stuff we can cover between the older pilots, some senior techs and the civilians we've located."

"I could help out on the math," Tigh offered. "But don't ask me to do the strategy course. I had the Lords' own time getting through that. I was always convinced that the Academy had us take strategy as some sort of punishment."

"It was my favourite," said Apollo. "I thought I'd take that. But I've been struggling with the math. I don't know any of the pilots who'll admit to being more than barely numerate, so your offer's gratefully accepted."

"God help them if their astronavigation computers ever break down." Tigh was amused, and showed it. "Maybe some remedial training is called for."

"I'll get Omega to do one more sweep of the fleet census data," said Adama, pulling them back onto the business in hand. "I don't expect he missed anyone the first time, but it doesn't hurt to run another check. There's a lot of expertise out there that we can call upon, but we may have to be inventive about it."

"I thought of asking the Aegyptans to help out."

Adama looked curiously at his son. "Do you think they will?"

Apollo shrugged. "Some, maybe. I talked to a few, people like Kha-nes-Ahkat. He's an astrophysicist as well as an engineer, and he said he'd take a couple of classes if we couldn't find anyone else."

"That doesn't sound like enthusiasm."

Tigh grunted. "It's more than we'd get if anyone else asked them for help."

"True," conceded Adama. "Very well. Let's hold that in reserve."

"Yes, sir."

"I notice you've cleaned up deck seventeen, ready to convert to classrooms and cadet barracks, Captain." Tigh grinned openly. "You always were practical."

Adama raised an enquiring eyebrow.

"Punishments for minor infractions of the regulations seem to have involved mops and brooms for the last couple of sectars," Tigh amplified. "I inspected everything yesterday. We're ready to roll."

"Almost," warned Apollo. "I need more simulators. The techs are working on them, but it'll be a few sectons yet."

"The first few sectons will be class-room bound anyway." Tigh shrugged.

"We can start recruitment," said Adama, and it was an order.

Apollo nodded. "I'll talk to Omega. He's made preliminary contacts with IFB, and he'll arrange for you to make your sales pitch to the fleet." He stretched, and straightened his shoulders. "With getting into all this detail I've lost track of where we are with the new Vipers. We've only about fifteen spares and they're the oldest, almost ready to recycle."

"The conversion of the Hephaestus to act as a forge ship is pretty much on schedule. They'll be rolling new Vipers off the production lines round about the time you have your first graduation ceremony." Adama watched his son for a centon. "You'll miss your own Viper, Apollo. You'll have far less time for flying."

"I know, sir, but I'm not giving up my wings altogether. I'm not that fussed about missing out on routine patrols. I've done too many of them to miss that."

"And, as we discussed, you'll have to give up direct command of Blue Squadron. You won't have time for that."

"It's always been an anomaly anyway," said Tigh. "The Strike Captain shouldn't have to worry about the day to day management of one particular squadron. Not when you have six squadrons to run, and we're adding up to fifty cadets into the mix. Not to mention the infantrymen."

"As long as I don't have to give up flight command."

"Of course not," said Adama. "All we're doing is rationalising the chain of command under you. Your recommendation for Blue squadron leader?"

"Boomer. He's ready. More than ready. He's better than some of the other squadron leaders, and being in Blue's held him back."

Tigh nodded.

"And I want him as my deputy, jointly with Bojay. He deserves that."

Adama smiled slightly. "Agreed. Tell him, Captain. Well, gentlemen, that's enough for this morning, I think. Would you excuse us a centon, Tigh? I'd like a word with the captain."

Apollo waited until the door closed, then grinned. "He was expecting that. You've been plotting with him again. What've I done this time?" He paused. "Oh God. What did Boxey do?"

Adama smiled. "Nothing. Neither of you are in trouble, today at least. Tigh knew I wanted to talk to you, that's all. I just want to be sure you've really thought through what this means. You love flying."

"I am almost thirty. That's getting pretty old for a pilot."

"I know to the centar how old you are."

"That's rich for someone who didn't bother to get back for me being born and didn't see me until I was nearly a yahren old! Great start, that was. I'm surprised you can remember the day."

"You don't mean that?" Adama had been checking over the datapad again, but looked up quickly. His relationship with his son, generally close and cordial, wasn't uniformly comfortable. It had the occasional bear trap to trip the feet of the unwary.

Surprised, Apollo shook his head. "No. No, of course not. I was just being flip. I know you'd have been there if you could."

"I can tell you I wish I hadn't been there for the subsequent ones. I never realised before how squeamish I am, and Zac's birth was purgatory. The point is, though, that thirty isn't that old and it's about average for our pilots."

"Yeah, because all the young ones bought it at Cimtar." Apollo glanced at him and looked away. "Like Zac."

Adama was silent for a micron. "Yes," he said, tone neutral. "Experience counts for a lot, and you're right to pass that on."

"I don't want any more Zacs, and I don't want any more Serinas."

"People die, son," said Adama gently. "Brothers, wives, sons. We can't stop that, however much we want to. God knows I'd give anything to have your mother back, and Zac and Serina. But you can't hold yourself responsible for every death that affects you. You aren't responsible, not for Zac, and not for Serina."

Apollo said nothing, only shrugged.

Adama hid a sigh, and shifted the conversation back onto slightly safer ground. "You're right, of course, to take the opportunity to train the latest recruits properly, but this is going to add to your workload considerably. I don't want you to give up flying, but it's going to get harder for you to find the time."

"I guess I always thought I'd move away from full time flying about now. But I never thought it'd be to teach. I thought… oh well, it doesn't matter. You do the best with what's handed out to you."

"You thought you'd be moving into command. I agree. You should have had your own command by now."

"I guess. Best laid plans, and all that. It doesn't matter."

"Doesn't it?"

"No. We don't have careers any more and it would be crass to worry about things like that. All we have is survival. I'll do whatever needs to be done, you know that."

"I do know it, and I'm very proud of you."

Apollo's mouth dropped in astonishment, and he stared at Adama in consternation.

"From your expression, it may be that I don't say so nearly as much as I should."

Apollo grinned. "I'll admit it's a surprise. I usually don't expect much more than silence, meaning I haven't screwed up too badly. I'm not used to compliments."

"Don't exaggerate. And don't worry, you'll be getting your command experience. You'll be spelling Tigh on the bridge from now on, so make the most of the free time you've got." Adama studied Apollo for a centon. "Have a good time on the Rising Star?"

"Very."

"I thought so. I heard you didn't get back until this morning's first shuttle, so I thought you must have made the most of it. Boxey missed you at breakfast, but it's good for you to get a break. You needed the rest, Apollo. I'll try and find some space for a little more down time for you before this all takes off."

"Well, I won't object to that. Thanks. Listen, I'd better get back down there. God knows what they're up to behind my back. Besides, there are two ensigns who have to be reminded not to take advantage of my absence to cause trouble. There's still some compartment floors to scrub clean." Apollo retrieved his datapad and stood up. "Oh, Dad?"

"Yes?" Adama had already turned to the next item on his schedule, checking through his papers for the Council meeting.

"Do you know a man called Seti?"

Adama looked up and stared for a micron, then shook his head. "No." He hesitated. "No. I don't think so."

"Sure? He wasn't masked, but with a name like that, I figured he had to be Aegyptan. He looked Aegyptan. He says that he knew you both."

"Not that I recall."

"Just someone bumming favours, then, I guess. Want me to send in Omega?"

"Yes." Adama reached for the water glass in front of him. "Thank you."

"Sir." Apollo threw him a half-way decent salute, taking them from father and son, back to commander and captain.

Adama watched him go, frowning, then focused on the task of lifting the water glass, drinking, putting it down again. His hand was quite steady.

"Commander? Captain Apollo said you wanted to see me. He said you wanted another census sweep?"

Adama glanced up from the datapad he was looking at. "Yes, please, Lieutenant. We're still looking for physicists and maths experts. Have another trawl to see what you can turn up. Look at primary degree level, this time. That may be enough to get us going."

"Yes, sir."

"And Omega, I want you to do another search for me. I believe that somewhere in the Fleet is a man I want to see." Adama paused. "An Aegyptan."

"Apart from the contingent here, and those working on the Hephaestus conversion, I think the Aegyptans are all on their own ship, the Usermaatre. Do you want me to arrange an appointment?"

"What? Oh. No. Just confirm his location for me, please."

"Yes sir. His name, sir?"

"Seti. Seti-sen-Ankhaten."

 

 

Colonel Tigh was waiting out on the bridge, standing on the command dais with a back as straight as a parade ground. He stopped Apollo as the captain crossed the bridge towards the turbolifts.

"Here, you'll want this back."

Apollo took the proffered datapad. "Thanks, Colonel."

Tigh nodded. "And I wanted to tell you that was a job well done, Captain. I wasn't at all sure anyone could pull it off."

"Much less me?" said Apollo, grin rueful.

"I have every confidence in you and that practical streak of yours," said Tigh. "It's about a parsec wide."

Apollo grimaced slightly and then glanced towards the bridge office door. It didn't seem to go unmarked.

"I talked the scheme over with the commander while you sampled the fleshpots of the Rising Star," said Tigh. " We're both pretty pleased with you, Captain."

"Are you?"

"A tiny amount, but don't let it go to your head."

"As long as I earned my pay."

"More than," said Tigh, handsomely. "If I was a generous man and if I had a budget, you could have a bonus for this. A cubit. Two, even."

"A man who knows my true worth. Thank you, Colonel."

"I can afford to be generous, since all we're talking about is theory." Tigh glanced at the bridge chronometer. "You'd better get moving, though and see if you can't get some return on the huge salaries we pay those pilots of yours. We're thirty centons into the new duty shift, Captain. Let's see if we can get one or two patrols out before the duty period ends. Nothing excessive, of course, but let's be sure that we have the means of defence in case we ever have to justify our existence to the tax payers."

"Heavens forefend," said Apollo piously, saluted smartly, and headed down into the depths of the ship, to the tiny compartment on the troopdeck, sitting plumb in the middle of the ship, that a reluctant quartermaster had generously designated as the Strike Captain's duty office.

Starbuck was already there. Wingman in battle, aide-de-camp at all other times, he was looking after the shop, as usual, in the captain's absence at the extended meeting. Looking suspiciously like he'd woken very suddenly as the door opened, he shifted his chair enough to let Apollo past and through to the desk.

"How'd it go up top?"

"Okay. They've bought the idea of starting a kind of Academy, so we start recruiting cadets."

"And that means what, exactly?"

"That we'll all have a lot more work to do."

"For you, I mean. And Blue."

Apollo put down the datapad on the desk, seeing Starbuck glance at it, the lieutenant's expression taut. "I'm giving up direct command of Blue. I told you I probably would."

"And who gets it?"

Apollo paused for a micron. "Boomer."

"Boomer? Just like that?" Starbuck's eyes were hard. "No competitors? Did you even consider me for the job?"

"Yes."

It stopped Starbuck before he could get really going. He opened his mouth, closed it, then tried again. "You did?"

"It was always between you and Boomer." Apollo looked him in the eyes. "Boomer just edges you, Starbuck. That's why he gets it."

Starbuck scowled, drumming his fingers on the desk top. "Did you really think of me for the job? Seriously?"

"Seriously."

The finger drumming increased. "Oh, right. And me and you didn't get in the way of the decision?" The disappointment and anger were still there, edging Starbuck's voice.

"If you think that I'd let that affect me, you don't know me very well," said Apollo.

"Oh, I wasn't expecting favouritism. If anything it'd make you jump the other way, be harder on me so you couldn't be accused of favouring me. I know you that well, Apollo."

"I'm not sure you do, if you think that. Starbuck, this wasn't a snap decision, you know. Me and Tigh have been talking over the possibility of me giving up Blue for sectons."

"Yeah, and he's my greatest supporter."

"You annoy the frack outa him, but he's not as blind to your good qualities as you think. He's noticed how you've acted this last yahren, since it happened."

"And how's that?"

"More responsible. More ready for command."

Starbuck sniffed. "Oh well." He was silent for a centon or two. "And Boomer's edge is that he's acted like that longer?" Apollo nodded, and Starbuck grinned slightly. "Well, there's no arguing with Boom-boom's worthiness. As long as I was in the running, and I mean, really seriously in the running?"

"Seriously. I swear."

"Okay, then, I guess I can curb my insatiable ambition. This time."

"And I've other reasons for not wanting it to be you just yet."

"It's a fetish you have? You only want to sleep with lowly pilots?"

"You? Lowly? And I'll remind you that my wingman has honorary flight commander status."

"Sorry. I should try to remember that I bask in your reflected glory and not be selfish enough to want any for myself. But to resume, you only want to sleep with lowly pilots and not and not with squadron leaders?"

Apollo said seriously, "I don't want to post you away from this ship."

Starbuck stared, frowned, shook his head. "Nope. That went past me at light speed."

Apollo looked down at the datapad. "In a yahren, if everything goes right, I'll have fifty new pilots and be recruiting the next fifty cadets. Where in hell can I put them on this ship? We'll be bursting at the seams. You were there on the Windjammer with the survey team. You know what I'll be doing over the next yahren to oversee the adaptation and upgrading ships like the Windjammer to take a Viper squadron. When we get to that stage, the ones I want to outstation will be the ones with the most experienced squadron leaders. I don't want that to be you. But in a yahren's time, when I've created some space, you will get one of the newer squadrons. Here. On the Galactica."

Starbuck stared, frowned, then nodded. "Oh."

"I guess I'm a bit selfish, Starbuck, if it means I get to keep you here with me for a bit longer."

Apollo reached over the desk and pulled Starbuck close. For a micron he breathed in the warmth and the spicy cologne that was his lover's familiar scent, his lips against the warm, soft skin of Starbuck's throat. Starbuck's arms went around him to hold him, fingers caressing the back of his neck.

Here, with the risk of someone walking in on them, all it could be was the lightest of kisses before breaking apart and sitting in their respective chairs, the desk between them. They smiled at each other, half embarrassed.

"Mmn. I guess you mean it," said Starbuck, mollified. "It's not like you to come over all unnecessary when we're on duty."

"Conditioning, remember? I've been trained too well. Duty and honour and pleasing the old man, especially pleasing the old man. The three principles I got through my mother's milk, I think."

Starbuck grinned. "Along with your good looks." He settled back into his seat. "What's it going to mean for you, Apollo? Do you really want to give up Blue?"

"I'll miss not being as close to Blue, but I'm going to have more than enough to do. I won't have time to miss the routine crap, and I'm not giving up flying altogether. I'm still strike commander, and he promised me some more command experience on the bridge."

"Promised or threatened?"

"Probably a bit of both. He sure knows how to pile on the work."

"You know, you should be a bit more like me, Apollo. You're a victim of your own success."

"I wish! I don't think I ever do as well as he wants me to. I sometimes wonder if I disappoint him."

"Oh boy," said Starbuck, eyes rolling. "Here we go. Not another one of your periodic fits of insecurity?"

Apollo's smile was reluctant. "Am I that bad?"

"Yes," said Starbuck. "You have to know that you're good at what you do, Apollo."

Apollo shrugged.

"Hey, come on! You know you're good." Starbuck leered. "At lots of things."

"I suppose I do okay."

Starbuck frowned. "Well, don't just take my word for it. Colonel Tigh may not be one of my greatest supporters, but he thinks pretty well of you."

"We have our rocky moments."

"That I can believe. The only moments I've ever had with the colonel had been rockier than the Caprican Mountains. But you get on with him a helluva lot better than that. He had to have felt a bit threatened at first, but on the whole he thinks you do more than okay. Admit it."

Apollo nodded, sheepish. "I guess. And I think I do all right, Starbuck. When I look at some of the people I first worked under, then, yeah, I know I'm good at what I do. But he doesn't seem to think so."

"I think you're crazy. Sure the man has high standards, but you meet them, don't you?"

"I dunno. He never tells me I do, so I guess not. You know what he just said to me about the Pegasus lot? That they're "settling in". Settling in! I work my butt end off for seven sectars trying to integrate that lot and they get the credit for "settling in". And the last two sectons I've worked on the cadet programme and all he can say about it is that I'm still short some maths teachers. All that bloody work, and that's what I get for it. Not even a ‘thank you Captain, that was a good piece of work.' Do you know what's so humiliating? Tigh realises that the old man can't bring himself to say anything, and says it for him. Tigh can tell me I'm doing okay, but for some reason, Dad can't." Apollo sighed, then laughed. "I tell a lie! He did say he was proud of me today, and I almost died of shock. It's amazing that I forgot that, given the novelty."

"Well then, that just shoots a hole in your theory that he's never pleased with you."

Apollo grinned and shook his head, still rueful. "I got the pat on the head for my attitude, Starbuck, not for anything I actually did. Not even Dad could deny that I try hard."

"Now you see why I stay away from responsibility. Trouble is, the more you give ‘em, the more they think that's the norm and unremarkable. You should learn to disappoint him now and again, just so he appreciates what he gets the rest of the time."

"That conditioning gets in the way. He has certain expectations, I'm too conditioned to try and meet them. There's no getting around that one."

"Duty, and honour and pleasing the old man. You're as worthy as Boomer."

Apollo grinned. "Praise indeed. And talking of whom, I had better pass on the good news. There's just time before the briefing."

"I'll go find him." Starbuck stood up, carefully adjusting his pants. "You shouldn't kiss me on duty, Apollo. The sheer wickedness of you doing something your Dad would disapprove of, turns me on like crazy. Does it show?"

"Only when you're looking for it."

"And are you?"

Apollo smiled. "Pretty much all the time and definitely as soon as our duty shift ends."

 

 

A secton later, and they were, as an excited and lit-up Starbuck had put it on the shuttle on the way over, unexpectedly but enthusiastically back on the razzle. The suddenness of the treat had taken them all by surprise. Ensconced in a corner chair in the Rising Star's main entertainment area, a good ambrosa in his glass and watching Starbuck strutting on the dance floor with a pretty woman, Boomer voiced the general ambivalence about the unexpected eight-centar furlough they'd been given.

"I can't believe the commander's given us another night off. He's softening us up for something."

Apollo nodded. "Motivational management, Boom-boom. There's so much more work coming our way, that this is his way of apologising in advance."

"I'm motivated enough, just getting the squadron. Are you sure you don't mind?"

"How many times have I told you that I don't? It was my idea. I'll have enough to keep me busy." Apollo poured the last of the ambrosa into their two glasses. "You deserve it, Boomer."

"That, I know. But I'm surprised you didn't put Starbuck up for it."

"Starbuck's good, and he'll make a damn fine squadron leader, but Blue's yours. Next vacancy there is and he'll be up for it. But you've the edge on him right now. You're a bit steadier."

"What I am is dull," said Boomer, and grinned. "According to Starbuck, that is." He added, hastily, "Don't sweat it, Apollo. He's cool about it, I think. Disappointed, but, like he says, heading up Blue means he'd have to stop being your wingman, and he just doesn't trust anyone else to do the job, not even me."

"I'd find it hard to fly with anyone else at my back," conceded Apollo. "But let's just see how things pan out. There'll be two new squadrons in a yahren's time and he'll get his chance. He knows that."

"Great. That's what he's banking on, I think. He does deserve it, Apollo. He's not nearly as frivolous as he seems. But then you know that."

"He's only ever as frivolous as he wants to be." Apollo grinned. "And in honour of his finest centar of frivolity, I think I'll call the new squadrons Purple and Orange. He can have one of them."

"Purple and Orange squadrons?" Boomer stared, then laughed. "Oh yeah! Carillon. I'm still mad at you two for leaving me behind for that one."

"Someone had to get the pilots back into the barn, and me and Starbuck were otherwise engaged." Apollo looked up to locate the lieutenant on the dance floor, gaze roaming over the crowds. He grimaced. "Oh shit," he said.

"Something wrong?"

"Sometimes I wish I was an orphan." Apollo took a large swig of ambrosa and nodded at the man who was almost at their table.

"Captain Apollo," said Seti, by way of greeting. "I'm glad to see you."

"Uh-huh. And how did you know that I was here?"

Seti grinned. "I have my sources on the Galactica who tell me when you leave it, and I bribed the shuttle control officer on the Rising Star to tell me when you next came here."

"Effective."

"I thought so." Seti turned to Boomer and nodded a greeting. "You must be Lieutenant Boomer."

"Yeah."

"You know a lot about me and my friends," said Apollo.

"As I said the other day, I need to talk to you. I do my research well."

"Friend of yours, Apollo?" Boomer was openly curious.

"Oh no. This is Seti, who claims to be a friend of my father's."

"Not exactly. I merely said, Captain, that I knew the commander a long time ago."

"And if only I had a cubit for every time someone's told me that," sighed Apollo.

"You'd be rich again?" Boomer grinned. Apollo's family had been very rich, once; before the Destruction.

"Well, I could retire, anyway." Apollo glanced back to where Starbuck was dancing.

"That bad?" asked Seti.

Apollo looked at him, this man who persisted against rude indifference. "Oh yeah. My father has to be the luckiest man in the universe, so many of his old friends made it through the Destruction. Thing is, he never remembers any of them."

"Really? I'm very surprised that he says he doesn't remember me. Very, very surprised. But somehow that leaves me with the impression that it's unlikely to help if I played up the strength of my friendship with him."

"Correct." Apollo reached for his drink, found that the glass was empty and callously appropriated Starbuck's. "They mostly feel pretty shy about approaching him direct. Maybe his poor memory for old friends is getting legendary. Instead, they think I'll help his old buddy find a job, or get better quarters or whatever it is they want and are sure the commander would be more than willing to grant them for old times sake. I guess they're just considerate enough not to want to bother him with trivialities. I wish they'd extend me the same courtesy."

Seti nodded, the smile not slipping by so much as a millimetre. "Ah, well, that explains your less than enthusiastic welcome. Let me assure you, Captain, that I would never claim to be an old friend of the commander's. As I say, I knew him and your mother, but Adama and I were never friends. Acquaintances, perhaps, that's all. We met only twice."

Apollo looked at the man for a long, silent centon. Seti waited, patiently, looking back steadily, keeping his pale green eyes on the younger man's face.

"Well, that's different," said Apollo, slowly. "Mostly people claim that they were so close to my father that they had to be separated by surgical procedure. But not you?"

Seti shook his head.

"So if you weren't the best of friends, then you never patted me on the head when I was in my cradle?"

Seti laughed. "Good Lord! Do people claim that?"

"Frequently."

"Then that explains a lot about your previous reaction. Quite disgusting."

Apollo grinned. "So did you?"

"Pat you on the head? Not that I recall." Set looked apologetic. "I, er, well I think that the correct expression is that I dandled you on my knee quite a few times."

"Oh. That's a blow."

"I know. Almost as reprehensible as the patting. It can remain our secret, if you like. The lieutenant looks like a discreet man who won't betray us."

"Lips are in the sealed position," said Boomer, giving Apollo a look that was almost conspiratorial.

"I saw a lot of you when you were very small," said Seti. "But the last time we met you'd forgotten me. You'd be about a yahren and a half old, I think, and you hadn't seen me for a few sectars. You took quite a dislike to me. It had something to do with me inadvertently sitting on one of your favourite toys and you made your opinion of that clear to everyone in hearing distance." Seti grinned. "You had a fine pair of lungs, as I recall."

"He still has." Boomer carefully avoided catching the captainly eye. "You should hear him on the troop decks."

Seti laughed. "The shrieking had a particularly piercing quality." He stopped and cocked an inquiring eyebrow at Boomer, as if seeking confirmation.

Boomer gave an exaggerated sigh and nodded. "Cuts through bulkheads faster than a military issue laser."

"Temper tantrums?"

"Oh boy, does that sound familiar." Boomer sighed again.

"Watch it, Lieutenant," said Apollo. "What the Lords of Kobol giveth, the Lords can taketh away again."

"Of course, it's someone else it reminds me of," said Boomer, promptly. "Never our sweet tempered captain."

Seti smiled at Apollo. "Some things don't change, then. Not even the commander could quiet you down that day."

"That has the ring of truth about it," said Apollo, laughing. This approach at least had the merit of novelty, and Seti had already got several parsecs further than any other of Adama's "old friends" who'd tried this ploy. "My mother always said I could shatter glass when I got started on the screaming. So, if you're not an old friend, then I guess that means you don't want me to find you a job, or better quarters either?"

"No, I don't. I'm content with my work and my quarters are excellent. All I want is a centar of your time. May I?" Seti had a hand on the back of Starbuck's chair.

Apollo hesitated, then nodded. "Until Starbuck gets through with the dancing, that's all the time you get. What do you want?"

"To talk to you, that's all. About old times." Seti sat down.

"Do we have any old times to talk about? Apart from the dandling that we won't mention, and me shrieking at you, that is?"

"Some. Although I doubt you'd remember. As I said you were only about eighteen sectars old, when I saw you last."

"I've changed a bit."

Seti laughed. "You've grown. But you're very like your mother. Very like her. Quite unmistakeable."

"So everyone says," said Apollo.

"Then, for once, everyone is right. I knew your mother for many yahrens, Captain, before she and the commander were Sealed."

Apollo said nothing, but sipped at the ambrosa, watching Seti over the rim of the glass.

"That explains it," said Boomer.

"What?" Seti's eyes didn't so much as flicker in Boomer's direction. He continued watching Apollo.

"The commander's lapse of memory. I guess jealousy of an old boyfriend might account for his amnesia."

"Hey, that's my seat." Starbuck was back, flushed from dancing. He looked aggrievedly at the empty glass at his place. "And why is the alcohol evaporating so fast around here?"

Apollo shrugged at Seti. "Sorry. But you'll understand that we don't get much free time."

"I understand perfectly. And I don't mind our centar being had in small doses. All I want to do this time is ask you how much you know of genetics."

"Genetics? I'm no scientist, Seti. I only had enough math and science to get me through Academy classes."

"What's going on?" asked Starbuck. Boomer shrugged.

"Then we must start at the beginning. My full name, Captain, is Seti-sen-Ankhaten."

"Then you are Aegyptan!" said Starbuck.

Boomer's jaw dropped comically, his eyes widening in surprise. He shifted in his seat.

Seti smiled. "Yes."

"Then why this?" Starbuck gestured to the man's face. "I mean, I've never seen an Aegyptan without a mask."

"We wear our masks only when we want our separateness to be obvious, when we want to be different, when we want to be noticed. Admittedly that's most of the time, but sometimes we live among you for yahrens unmasked. Tonight, I didn't want to be noticed." Seti smiled again. "If I'd come in here masked, I could hardly have a discreet conversation with your captain, could I? For some reason, over the last few sectars, we have been increasingly unwelcome on human ships."

"Why should you want to talk to me?" demanded Apollo. He wasn't smiling any more. "And why here? You could just come aboard the Galactica and ask for me at any time. There's always dozens of Aegyptans on board. One more wouldn't be noticed."

"True. But I thought that you'd prefer I didn't draw attention to our meeting. After all, is it usual for even you to have an Aegyptan in your meeting schedule? And I thought it was better, too, that we had this first meeting on neutral territory, where neither of us is on show and noticeable."

Apollo choked slightly. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Seti frowned, looking him straight in the eye. Then he nodded. "I see. That makes things a little more difficult."

"Do you have any idea what this is about?" Boomer asked Starbuck.

Starbuck, mouth open and eyes wide, just shook his head. He'd taken a step backwards, putting a little distance between himself and the Aegyptan.

"You'd better discuss this with the commander, Captain. Then all I ask of you is that you do a little research into genetics and recessive genes, and their particular relevance to physical and racial characteristics, such as skin and eye colour."

Apollo shook his head.

"Please do as I ask, Captain. You'll find it interesting. Then come and talk to me, on the Usermaatre. We Aegyptans are easy to find. The commander managed it the other night, very easily."

"Dad?"

"When he came to warn me off."

"What?"

"When he warned me to stay away from you."

"I don't understand."

"You will." Seti got up and half-sketched a bow. "I hope to see you again soon, Sekhti."

Apollo frowned, discomforted.

"Sekhti?" said Boomer, making it a question.

"Ah. Of course, you won't recognise it, Lieutenant, not being Aegyptan." Seti merely bowed again. "Good night."

He walked away, not looking back.

Apollo stared, then with a curse, got to his feet. "I'll only be a micron."

"Leave it, Apollo. He's trying to wind you up."

"He's succeeding." Apollo went after Seti, catching up with him on the edge of the dance floor. He caught at the man's arm, stopping him. "Look, what the hell is this all about? Why did you call me Sekhti?"

Seti smiled at him. "It's what we called you when you were a baby, a diminutive of your name."

"Of my name?" Apollo dropped his hand and took a step backwards, back towards the table where his friends sat, staring.

"Your name. Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit."

"What?"

"Your real name, Captain. The name Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon gave you." Seti paused, then said softly: "The name the commander took away from you."

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