Section Ten

 

The morning was shaping up to be intensively, almost frantically, busy.

Apollo and Kha had seen Athena and Boxey onto the shuttle, first. To Apollo's faint surprise, Athena was the more apprehensive and excited of the two. For all her service on the Galactica, she'd never had much contact with the Aegyptans serving there. Her only real experience had been with their mother, and despite her snappish comments about Apollo's high handed belief that all he had to do was speak and everyone would jump to obey, everything about her spoke of the excitement she was feeling. She said as much, nodding a greeting to Kha and staring at the shuttle. About time they let me in on it, too. It's not like I don't belong here a little bit . He felt a little guilty that she'd felt closed out of everything like that.

He didn't have to worry about his son. Boxey had remembered his visit to see his Aegyptan grandfather and was so intent on showing his aunt the lion headed man and making her touch the silver teeth, that there was no room for very much else. And, as Apollo pointed out, he was missing another day of school. That was enough to put Boxey's delight into overdrive, something wearing on every adult within hearing range, and he didn't fuss about going onto the strange shuttle without his father. Apollo felt a brief pity for Mene, and hoped she liked small boys. She'd said something once about sons of her own, so she at least couldn't be surprised about anything Boxey said and did.

Apollo was left on the deck as the shuttle took off, feeling manipulative and rather lonely. He knew Mene would take care of them, but he was sick that he felt so unsafe that he'd had to send them away. It wasn't only the warriors who were worrying him. In fact, he wasn't worried about them, not really. There was a faint gratification that they felt so strongly about Adama, and if he had to, he'd use that ruthlessly to keep them in order until this was all over. No. The itch between his shoulder blades came from knowing that at ten Joel would make his move, and there was no guarantee that he'd be able to counter it.

He said as much to Kha. The Sekhmet leader said very little, but his stolid confidence was reassuring. He promised Apollo that they would be ready on his signal, and handed over the tiny transmitter that he would activate when he wanted them. It had been cleverly shaped to look like the normal Galactica insignia that sat on the little collar of his flight jacket, and it was the work of a micron to remove the real thing and replace it with the transmitter. All he'd have to do was finger it to activate it, and, once he'd left Kha's reassuring presence behind, he had to keep reminding himself not to touch it. He was constantly wanting to check that it hadn't somehow slipped from its place and he'd lost it.

Starbuck caught up with him a few centons later, as he was on his way to the troop decks. His lover's face was set and anxious. Tigh had paged him, sending him down to join Apollo, under orders – which, said Starbuck tartly, were totally unnecessary – to help and support.

"It's all I ever do, anyway," he said, taking Acer's place at Apollo's side. The sergeant obligingly fell back a few steps. "I think you wrote it into my job description."

"That's a bit prosaic, Starbuck. I've a distinct memory of you once telling me that the stars had traced it in their courses in the heavens in the instant you were born."

"We'd just had sex! You blow me away every time. It's not fair to hold the consequences of that against me later."

"Ah," said Apollo.

"And I was drunk. I say all sorts of stupid things when I'm drunk."

"You didn't mean it, then."

Starbuck's eyes rolled. "Of course I meant it, idiot! I say all sorts of stupid things when I'm sober, too, but that's completely beside the point."

Apollo felt his spirits lift. They always did when Starbuck was with him. If he got nothing more out of life, then this would enough to keep him eternally happy and grateful. "You usually are, Starbuck," he said, and smiled. "Beside the point, that is."

"Yeah, well at least I'm on your side of it. What are we going to do if more people decide that they'd risk you making them lick the decks clean if it means that they could have a go at the Aegyptans first?"

"God alone knows. I'm not worried about them getting onto the Aegyptan deck, because there's enough weaponry down there to hold off a Cylon taskforce, but I am worried that they'll block the deck and stop Seti getting to me when he needs to."

"Trent," said Starbuck.

Apollo nodded. "Yeah. I think so too. I'll talk to him. Let's just hope we can keep things calm until after the Council. It'll all be over then."

"We can hope," said Starbuck, darkly, following him into the OC for the morning meeting.

Although the command meeting had been suspended, Apollo had insisted on the usual morning meeting with his senior officers. He left Acer, ostentatiously threatening, to guard the door and took his usual place, conscious of all the sidelong looks they were giving him. He brushed aside their stammered, embarrassed attempts at condolence and got straight down to business.

"We've got trouble," he said, and told them about the attempt on the Aegyptan shuttle and Chelas' arrest.

"Chelas?" said Bojay, in disbelief.

"She was the most senior officer present. Either she's behind getting that rabble all stoked up and ready to attack the Aegyptans, or she's so weak and ineffective that a group of kids can pull her along into it. Either way, she's not fit to command a flight." Apollo pushed a hand through his hair, forgetful of the ash there, and he frowned at the dirt it all left on his fingers. He wiped them against his jacket. "Frankly she's not my first priority at the moment. I'm due back in a Council meeting at ten, and there's a billion things to do before I go. First and foremost, I want this ship locked down so tight that the warriors are going to have to ask the bridge's permission in triplicate to go to the 'flush and one of you goes along with them to make sure that all they're doing is taking a crap."

"There's a lot of talk, Apollo," said Gillian.

"Then tape their bloody mouths up. I don't want any more trouble. I've got enough to worry about. You all did really well in keeping things quiet last night. We just need to do that for a little bit longer, until things calm back down."

"That Council statement didn't help matters much." Bojay looked up from where he'd been staring at his hands. "They believe it, Apollo. I'm sorry, because this is the last thing you need at the centon, but, well, at the least they're ready to believe that the commander was murdered and that something's going on with the Gyps. There's been too many things been said over the last few sectons, and people are starting to listen to it. And –" he stopped and hesitated.

"Yeah?"

"A few of them were mouthing off about you helping that Gyp a few sectons ago, that's all."

"I thought that they might."

"What do we say to that?"

"Do you really believe that I'd plot to kill my Da – " Apollo brought himself up short. " - the commander?"

"Of course not!" said Bojay, maybe an instant too quickly.

Apollo shook his head, so tired that all he wanted to do was sleep for a secton. He still hadn't fully thrown off the effects of the stun, but paradoxically hadn't been able to sleep the night before. There was too much to worry about, not least knowing that he was in something of a dilemma here. He had to keep a lid on things, but at the same time, he had to continue to present a threat to the Council. It was a fine line to tread, and someone was industriously shaking the tightrope. He didn't think it was just Chelas. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand.

He got a startled look from Bojay and the others.

"I'm sorry." Bojay looked horrified, and this time he sounded sincere. "I'm really sorry, Apollo. Of course, we'll do anything to help."

Slightly puzzled by this reaction, Apollo looked from Bojay to the rest of the squadron leaders and flight commanders. Even Sheba was looking sympathetic and supportive and the usual signals she gave off of wanting to eat him for breakfast, were muted, almost non-existent. Starbuck gave him a quick grin and a nod, but the expression in his eyes was wary and the grin looked forced.

"Thanks," said Apollo, a little stiffly. "Then get to it, please, everyone. Could Boomer, Bojay and Trent stay behind, please."

He was silent while the rest filed out, acknowledging with a nod the murmured condolences he'd brushed off earlier.

"All right?" asked Trent as soon as Acer closed the door after the last of them.

Apollo nodded. "There's a lot to do," he said. "Boj, I need Boomer for the rest of the morning. You're in command. You'll need to look at the rosters. I left about ten pilots cleaning up Beta."

"Sure," said Bojay.

Apollo hesitated, looking down at his hands. "I guess you'd better get everyone together, and I'll talk to them."

"Might be an idea," said Boomer. "They'll listen if you tell them it's all nonsense. They're not going to argue with the commander's son about it, if you're standing there looking like hell in ash. It'll be a bit difficult for them to go against what you say."

"Set it up, then." He glanced at his chronometer. It was only eight forty five. He could barely believe it. "Get everyone in here in fifteen centons. I don't want to do it, but I don't want to have to court martial anyone else, and I don't want to see kids like Jaime make stupid mistakes because someone's intent on stirring up trouble." Apollo sighed. "Trent, your people are probably less liable to be persuaded into anything. I mean, they're not Fleet."

"He was still our commander," said Trent. "But yeah, he's more distant from us than you are, and we've only had a yahren to get used to being commanded by Fleet, so it's a bit different. What do you want me to do?"

"Guard the Aegyptan deck, and be ready." Apollo didn't say for what, and knew he didn't need to. "Can I keep Acer?"

"Did I bring my amputation kit?" Trent grinned. "That it?"

Apollo nodded. "Thanks."

"Any time. You know you can trust me." Trent got up to go, then hesitated. "Athena?"

"Safe. I got her and Boxey off the ship, to friends."

Bojay looked astonished. "But why?"

"Because evidently I can't trust my own warriors not to cause monumental trouble," said Apollo. "And I don't want Boxey caught in the middle of it."

Bojay shook his head, bewildered.

"There's people on the Council who'll move now, Boj. Did you think it was all clean and tidy up there, and there'll be some decent, logical succession? There's some people who've been waiting their chance, and now they have it. They're more than capable of stirring up the warriors to help create the chaos that they can move in, and I'm not so sure I'm not in the frame."

"Uh – right," said Bojay.

"And we need to be ready too. I may call on you later."

Bojay gave Boomer an anguished look. "Right," he said again.

Boomer smiled back, sympathetically.

Apollo grinned slightly. "Go and get started, Bojay. Get them all along here."

Bojay stood up, then said, hesitant, "Apollo? I know that we never got off to the greatest start in the world, and I guess you've never really trusted us since, and sometimes we act like we deserved that, but it's not that simple, is it? Things change."

Apollo stared, and waited.

"I guess what I'm trying to say, is that the commander was all right. He and Cain were very different – I'm not saying one was right, and the other wrong, but they were different."

"Yes," agreed Apollo.

"I'll be honest and say I never thought I'd think this, but I do. I'm sorry he's gone, Apollo. Very sorry."

"Thank you," said Apollo, surprised.

"Anything I can do," Bojay said.

"Thanks, Boj," said Apollo, more warmly.

Bojay nodded, and left with Trent. Apollo stared after him for a centon.

"What was all that about?" he asked. "What in Hades had him turn like that?"

"Well, it's one of two things, Apollo," said Starbuck. "It could have been the centon that you looked so lost and vulnerable that you almost had him and everyone else in tears, not to mention having me fight down every urge I have to kiss it all better. Or maybe it was the centon where you sounded so paranoid that I could almost hear him thinking about yelling for the medics."

"Lost?"

"You looked dreadful for a centon. Didn't you plan it that way?" Boomer shook his head and answered his own question. "Of course you didn't. You're not that devious."

"Anton still has some way to go with his guile training," agreed Starbuck. "Which means that you really felt that lost and dreadful. You okay?"

"I'm fine. Just tired, and I want this to be over." Apollo glanced at his chronometer again, and saw how long he had to go before there was any chance that it would be. "Dear Gods, but I want this to be over."

"We're here," said Boomer. "We're always here."

 

 

 

Anton came out into the outer Council Hall to get them. He had endured the last centar with his usual urbane equanimity but he was pleased to see Apollo and Tigh. They were on the last lap, and with luck (in which he had less faith than he had good planning or even, judicious bribery and blackmail, but it was all they had at the centon) it would all be over and, as he'd said to Adama a couple of days ago, they would win. And winning was everything. It was how he'd kept score in this long life of his, by his wins and his very few reverses.

"My last task as deputy President, to welcome you in," he said in greeting. "The Council convened a centar ago and took the vote."

Tigh grunted something patently uncomplimentary about his government.

"Joel?" said Apollo.

Anton nodded. "Joel. He seems to have done a lot of work in assuring himself of a majority. I'm dismissed as deputy."

Apollo looked sorry. "Who's replaced you? Piers?"

"No. Haleth, actually. I've never actually rated him very highly. Haleth's a man who's been around almost as long as I have and this has to be the most senior position he's ever aspired to." Anton laughed, amused. "But then it was for me, too."

"I wonder why not Piers?" said Apollo, thoughtful. "I've got Uri, Anton, and we know that Piers was working with Joel on this."

"Yes, I rather expected you'd get Uri. You Adamans have a disconcerting habit of coming out on top, even when it's least expected. I take it that Uri talked."

Apollo nodded. "Loudly."

Anton shook his head. "Ah well, breeding tells. Joel and Piers, we'd suspected. No one else?"

"Not that Uri knows of."

"Those two are enough," said Tigh, gruffly.

"Indeed they are." Anton sighed. "As for Haleth, it's probably a temporary measure to ensure his vote, and I don't expect that his position is that secure in even the medium term. Joel had a good majority, Apollo. Eight voted for him."

"Who didn't, apart from you?" asked Tigh.

"Solon, Tomas and Tinia. Solon, as ever, stood pretty aloof. He and Tinia abstained from the vote, Tomas and me voted against. I'd guess that Joel didn't offer Tomas enough and offended him into outright opposition. There was a lot of glaring going on."

"At least opposition won't be too lonely a place for you," said Apollo.

"I'm used to it, my boy. Colonel, you got my message about IFB?"

"They'll be here any centon. I'm not sure why you agreed to the Council's request to have them over."

"I bowed to necessity, Tigh. There was no choice, as they'd have deposed me and ordered you to do it anyway. All we'd have achieved is a small delay, and really, there's some benefit to be had to have this all on record."

"What happens now?" asked Tigh.

"They're having an informal recess, to recover from the excitement of the vote. Joel has already said that he'll talk to you, Apollo, on their behalf, so when we get in there don't be surprised if he wants to carry you off into a quiet corner for a conference. You know what you're doing. Just play him along."

Apollo nodded, and glanced at Acer. "You'll have to wait out here, Acer."

"I know what to do, Boss. It's okay."

"I'll take you in." Anton opened the inner door and shooed them in before him, then hesitated, beckoning Acer in closer. He spoke very quickly and very quietly. "I know from Captain Apollo that you know what to expect. Things could get dangerous. Watch Joel and Piers. Don't trust them. Watch Joel."

The big sergeant's eyes widened slightly, and he nodded understanding.

Anton slid into the room behind Apollo and Tigh, meeting Apollo's questioning gaze with a nod. The councillors were taking advantage of their unexpected break, standing in their usual groups, talking and negotiating, jockeying for position. Most of them were lit up, excited by the changes and by the opportunities that the Fates were offering. Anton smiled. He understood them perfectly, even sympathised with them to some degree and he was amused to see the expression on Apollo's face when the captain saw Joel, who was glowing with triumph, in Adama's usual chair.

Lords, but the boy was almost a political innocent. He'd shown some promise in the last few days, but his disdain for subterfuge would be his undoing if Anton couldn't train it out of him.

Well, hopefully he'd get the chance. He would be satisfied, in lieu of any viable alternative, if his political legacy was the establishment of the Adaman dynasty. And truly, looking at the Council, he didn't believe that there was an alternative; not one that he could support, anyway. Much as he deplored their innate goodness and decency and lack of political guile, the Adaman family won. That was always an attractive proposition, being on the winning side, and he'd always rather enjoyed being the power behind the throne. It was such a safe place to be, in the shadows where few people marked you or what you did. The amount of power you had and leverage you exerted was almost as great as in the spotlight.

Joel saw them and got unhurriedly to his feet, catching Piers by the arm and nodding to them. The two councillors progressed across the Council Chamber to join Anton and the two warriors. A nod from Joel to a quiet corner and they followed him and Piers there in silence. Anton took Apollo's arm.

"Colonel Tigh," said Joel, with unusual bluntness. "I don't have a great deal of time before the IFB cameras arrive to transmit my inaugural speech to the people, so I'll be brief. You're confirmed as temporary commander."

"Temporary?" said Tigh, raising an eyebrow.

"Until we consider who we want to command the Galactica," said Joel. "I may follow Adama's precedent and take formal command myself."

Tigh choked. Apollo looked shocked, then contemptuous, and Anton shook his head at him warningly. It just didn't do to display so much emotion. In response, Apollo's face smoothed, expression blanked. Well, the boy was trainable, at least.

"In which case," said Joel, smoothly, "I will need those around me I can trust." His tone was both a warning and an invitation. He turned his attention to Apollo. "Captain Apollo."

Apollo waited.

If Joel was expecting some response, some acknowledgement, he covered its lack well. "When you were last in front of the Council, you were distraught and shocked; we accept that. You made, however, some foolish and inappropriate accusations. I am prepared to overlook them, but only on the proviso that you withdraw them and reaffirm your allegiance to the Council."

"I've never wavered from it," said Apollo, as haughty as Adama would have been in like circumstances. "I took an oath on my commission, Councillor, and I defy anyone to say that I've ever broken it."

"President," said Joel, soft.

Apollo said nothing, his head coming up proudly.

Joel didn't press it. "You have a choice, Captain. You do as you're told and behave yourself, and I may leave you in charge of the warriors. Or Reese takes you down to the brig until you come to your senses."

"On what charge?" growled Tigh. "Of being his father's son?"

"Insubordination, perhaps? I believe that's against military regulations, and, as President – " Joel once more gave the title emphasis, letting the word fall with such loving intensity, that Apollo's mouth thinned into a sneer again, "- I am head of the military, I believe."

"One of you had him killed," said Apollo, dogged.

"And yet I understand from Reese that you stopped a group of - how shall we describe them? Concerned citizens. Yes, that will do. You stopped a group of concerned citizens this morning from discussing that very notion with the Aegyptans arriving on Beta deck. And, I believe, you've stood up before all your warriors and told them that the rumours they're hearing are baseless. You'll acknowledge that there's a paradox there? And one that I find extremely interesting. You're very quick to accuse us, and equally quick to protect the people who murdered your father. Your explanation for this, Captain?"

Apollo stared, his face expressionless again. "I didn't want a riot," he said, after a centon. "And I hold the Council responsible, not them."

Joel shrugged elegantly. "I think you're too close to those things, Captain, and if we really started digging into your relationship with them, we might find the extent of that friendship is also extremely interesting. Extremely. It quite makes one wonder what they will do for you as a result. They owed you a great deal for that bone marrow, didn't they?"

Anton frowned, and his fingers closed tight on Apollo's arm in warning, but the boy wasn't so easily caught, not a second time.

"Sire Piers tried that one the other day, Councillor." The title was a sneer. "It didn't sound too feasible then, and two days thinking about it doesn't make it any better."

Joel smiled. "Perhaps. But the facts are getting out, and the damage an unsubstantiated rumour can do – well, it would very sad if your career came to an ignominious end when we suspend you to investigate it all."

Anton sighed. So unsubtle! Really, it was almost painful to watch.

Apollo gestured to the ash. "And you tell me, Councillor, if the people out there are likely to believe it, with me standing here like this, and you're the one sitting in my father's chair."

Joel smiled thinly. "And you tell me, Captain, whether the people out there are likely ever to see you grieving in so filial a fashion? After all, all they would ever know is that you're politically suspect, under investigation. An investigation that may take Reese - oh, yahrens, while you languish in some sort of official limbo. Yes. I think that would be enough to pull your teeth."

"There's other people who'll speak for him," said Tigh.

"Not if they want to command the Galactica, they won't."

Tigh blinked, and glanced sidelong at Apollo.

"You'd have to tell them the truth, to admit to the cover up." Under Anton's hand, Apollo was trembling.

"The rumours appear to be doing that for us." Joel smiled. "Let me lay the choices before you, Captain. You can publicly accuse the Council, without proof -"

"Mene," said Apollo. "She came to the Council and said someone there had contracted with them."

"She's a Gyp," said Piers. "They aren't human. The Council's not about to accept the word of a Gyp."

"Quite," said Joel. "As I was saying, you can make public accusations about the Council and two things will happen. First, those rumours will spread, like wildfire, and every Gyp in the fleet becomes a target. We'll be looking at civil war and bloodshed – and all on your conscience, Captain. All because of you, those deaths and that blood."

Apollo said nothing.

"Of course, a by-product of that will be the removal the threat that they delivered to the Council. They'll be too busy avoiding those concerned citizens I mentioned. That could be an attractive proposition." Joel's smile broadened. "And the second thing that will happen if you go down that route, is that the Council will throw you to the wolves. Let's be honest. The fact that you gave bone marrow to that Gyp will already make your life very, very difficult in the days to come, even if those uncomfortable rumours never go any further than the Galactica. All we have to do is keep reminding people of that altruistic little act of yours, and I don't think it will be long before you find it impossible to call off the mobs the way you did this morning. I think you'll find that it will be your blood they'll look for, as well as any Gyp they find."

Piers laughed, softly.

"In the end, Apollo, we'll win over the Gyps. There's less than a thousand of them, and in the end they'll be dead, or they'll leave, or they'll submit."

"And the other option?" said Apollo, steadily.

"I'll pay you the compliment of believing that your own position won't weigh with you. I don't think that would stop you for a centon. But equally, I don't think that you would ever want to be the cause, however innocent and inadvertent, of bloodshed and civil war. I don't think that your conscience would allow it or that you'd believe that to be much of a memorial to your father. He'd not be at all likely to approve, do you think?"

"No," said Apollo. He added, slowly, "I don't want any more deaths."

"Then your other option is quite simple and quite obvious." Joel leaned in closer. "Let's come to an understanding, Captain. For obvious reasons, I don't want anyone calling my accession to the presidency into question. You don't want civil war. All I'm suggesting is an accommodation between us. You keep your doubts to yourself, and I'll make sure that I do everything humanly possible to keep public order by squashing the rumours. That's all I ask of you: your silence. I don't want your approval or endorsement, just your silence, and there's no need for anyone else to die."

Apollo swallowed hard. He looked at Anton. "They get away with it," he said, anguished.

Anton sighed. "You're not in a strong enough position to counter it, Apollo," he said gently.

Joel glanced over Apollo's shoulder. "Ah. IFB are here. What will you do, Captain? Hundreds of lives may hang on what you do when IFB start filming my inauguration. Will you speak out and kill them all? Or will you be sensible, and keep your silence?"

Apollo shook his head, and half turned away, shoulders slumping in defeat. Joel smiled.

"Thank you, Captain." He looked at Anton, and the smile became unpleasantly triumphant. "I suggest that you stay here out of the way, Anton, along with the other failures."

"Perhaps I will," said Anton, equable as ever. "The view from here will be more than enough for me."

They watched him and Piers walk away, towards the Secretariat member who had brought the IFB crew into the room and was fussily overseeing the installation of cameras and recording equipment.

For a few centons Anton was silent. Then he said, thoughtfully, "It wasn't very subtle, but it was effective. He knows you well enough to know that's the only argument that might persuade you to keep quiet. Cleverer than I thought. More than I thought he was capable of."

Apollo was fingering his collar, removing one of the insignia pins. "And if we were really in this position, how long do you think it would be before my Viper develops a fatal fault?"

"Sectons," said Tigh. "If that."

Apollo pressed on the insignia. "You know, looking at reptiles like that, today's the first day ever that I've been glad that I'm not human."

"It doesn't show," said Tigh, dry as hell.

"You've sent the signal?" asked Anton.

"Yes." Apollo closed his long fingers over the pin, holding it safe in his right hand. After a centon, he nodded. "It just vibrated. Kha signalled me back. It's started. They're on their way."

"Well, then," said Tigh, satisfied.

Anton smiled. "It'll soon be over, Apollo."

Apollo shook his head, and in the wide green eyes that met Anton's, there was both fear and resignation.

"No," he said. "It's only just beginning."

 

 

 

A lifetime of religious training wouldn't grant a man patience enough to deal with Seti.

And, reflected Adama ruefully, he had only had a few sectars of such invaluable training before realising that, devout as he was, he had mistaken his vocation and that he was better fitted for a life of action with the military than one of contemplation with the priesthood. His decision to follow in his father's footsteps rather than his mother's, had outraged Leis, not least because one of the consequences of his decision was the bride he had so unexpectedly brought home with him. It was little of consolation to her that Adama didn't cut entirely his association with the governance of the church or that he became one of its leading lay members. For Leis, that wasn't nearly enough.

No, and nor were a few sectars of training in mortifying his soul enough to equip him for dealing with Seti-sen-Ankhaten. Not nearly enough

Adama had slept for most of the day. When he'd finally dragged himself awake, only Lyre was with him – a benison for which he was grateful. For centars after that he had dozed and woke and dozed again as his system threw off the last effects of the fendrazine, and whenever he woke, Lyre had been there. She'd reassured him about Apollo's safety, given him water when he needed it, supported his unsteady progress to the fresher when he needed that, and had waited patiently outside when he'd closed the door firmly in her face, before supporting his unsteady progress back to the bed again. Each time, he'd fallen asleep again almost before his head had touched the pillow, certainly before he had the time to thank her. Sometimes he had fallen asleep half way through trying to articulate the words.

She had left in the late evening, when she was sure that he was well on the way to recovery. He supposed that she was convinced of this when he managed to stay awake for a centar or so, and even to eat something without having to take a fast (and hence dangerously unsteady) trip to the fresher. For a little while he had been left in blessed peace and quiet to worry about the next steps, and to try and master the discomfort he felt at being on Seti's ship and essentially at Seti's sardonic mercy. But he hadn't been left in peace for long. Within a couple of centars of Lyre's departure, Mene had arrived.

He liked the Aegyptan woman, whose acidic sense of humour reminded him irresistibly of Ila - and of Zac, who'd inherited it the lion's share of it - but he would have preferred to be left alone until they were ready to go back to the Galactica and he could resume his life. It was somehow safer, less – how could he think of it? Less alien. That was it. Less alien and less alienating, less threatening. By himself and with the doors closed, he could almost persuade himself that he was somewhere on the Galactica, a million parsecs from Seti and the dreadful disruption the Aegyptan had brought to his life.

He didn't fear physical violence, of course, or even that their simmering hostility would flare to the point where they'd fight, verbally or otherwise. Worse than that was the fear that, as long as he remained a guest on this ship, he might be forced into some dreadful parody of normal societal interaction with the man who was trying to steal his son, he'd have to be polite, he'd have to talk to the man. And now Mene was heralding it, the dreadful intimacy that dismayed him.

He had been, it was true, immensely glad of her news of Apollo, although he'd bridled at her gentle insistence on calling his son by the Aegyptan name he'd been born with; and glad, too, that Uri had been taken and was providing proof of the conspiracy they had to unmask. But once told these prime snippets of news, he'd have preferred the privacy to mull over them and savour them, particularly the first. He hadn't been granted that. Mene had kept him company until, just before midnight, Seti had come, courteous but stiff and reserved and most unnervingly unmasked.

Seti had dispensed with hypocritical enquiries into his health: he was to be spared that insincerity, at least. They were not to pretend a concern that neither of them felt, then. Instead, Seti launched straight into the reason for his late visit. Sekhet was planning to call at midnight, he had said, and wanted to talk to both of them: he was having the transmission routed straight through to Adama's room. Adama had nodded, not even protesting, this time, at the Aegyptan name. Of course, he'd seen Seti unmasked before, but it was still a trying experience, faced with such incontrovertible proof of Apollo's true parentage. It was too keen a reminder of that hurtful, bitter, unforgettable centon when Apollo, reeling from finding that he was also (really?) Sekhet, had hurled those hurtful, bitter, unforgettable words at him. Not related at all, Apollo had said, not by one molecule of DNA. It had been a death, a bereavement almost too dreadful to bear.

And, he knew, Seti had unmasked deliberately, to remind him, to flaunt the resemblance with Apollo. As if he needed reminding.

Truth was uncomfortable at the best of times, casting a pitiless black shadow with no room for comfortable, grey equivocation. It was his own fault that by denying it for so long, he had handed the truth to Seti to use as weapon against him. He acknowledged freely that it was, in some measure, his own fault, but still he had to try very hard to keep the hostility at bay, calling on every tenet of his faith to carry him through.

But, luckily, Seti seemed to feel some similar constraint. Everything was conducted with that parody of civility that Adama had dreaded, but which made the short talk with Apollo possible. It even, once the link had closed, made possible a civilised and concerned discussion about how Apollo was coping. Pretty well in the circumstances, they had agreed, if understandably (and characteristically) a little short-tempered about it.

The unexpected harmony, however shallow and fleeting, left Adama feeling uncertain. He hadn't ever considered that he and Seti would have anything in common, and he wasn't entirely sure how to deal with it. He had no trouble in knowing how to deal with his hostility. Once the theological dilemma would have intrigued him. Now he was too busy trying to keep things on an even keel to worry about theory.

In the end, he had decided that it was a consciousness of the need to propitiate the son whose regard they were grimly fighting for, that had them able to keep it peaceful. A strained peace, but a peace for all that. A momentary lull in the war.

But it took every ounce of willpower to keep it that way. He was glad when he was left to get a few centars sleep before returning to the Galactica. He could close out this alien world for a little time, at least.

And now he was sitting uncomfortably in the only part of his own ship where he'd never set foot before, waiting. There wasn't anything he could do except wait, and helplessness was an emotion he didn't enjoy. It was all the more galling because it was lasting so long, and he was irked by Seti's determined courtesy. They'd toured the Aegyptan deck; discussed with a chill politeness safe topics that didn't touch, even remotely, on what might happen when this was over, what choice Apollo-Sekhet might make; and eaten a meal that for all the culinary genius that lay behind it, had tasted of ashes. Seti seemed to be as distracted as he was himself, and the painful conversations had long since fallen into silence.

Well, at least that took less energy than being polite.

Kha-nes-Ahkat appeared in the doorway. "All quiet," he said. "I've just talked with Lieutenant Trent. Sekhet and Colonel Tigh are in with the Council now."

"At last!" Adama straightened in his chair. "At last!"

Seti nodded.

"No more trouble from the warriors?" asked Adama.

"No. According to the lieutenant, Sekhet talked to them all earlier this morning. The lieutenant seems to have enjoyed it, if no one else did. He tells me that they were left in under no illusion but that Sekhet would view any action taken against us, when they didn't know what was going on, as an insult to your memory, Commander." Kha laughed, softly. "Trent says that Sekhet was unusually eloquent and the threatened punishments more than ordinarily imaginative. They were, he says, suitably cowed. Several of them had already seen a rather dejected cleaning detail on Beta deck and the word was spreading."

"He did well this morning," said Seti, voice rusty after more than a centar's silence.

"Yes," said Adama. His heart had almost stopped at Apollo's sudden appearance between them and the angry, threatening crowd. Apollo's savage practicality in dealing with them had reminded him of Ila, and, he supposed, the man sitting opposite him now; a very Aegyptan response. But Apollo had done well. He was glad he'd said so.

"But I didn't like him risking himself." Seti frowned. "I wish you and the others were with him, Kha." He caught the look Adama gave him. "It's usual for a Clanlord to have an escort," he said in explanation. "I have appointed Kha-nes-Ahkat as the head of Sekhet's."

"Oh," said Adama, thinking that if Starbuck's explanation of Acer was anything to go by, then people would likely be falling over each other to offer protection. Whilst it made him feel a little less anxious, it would, he knew, annoy the Hades out of Apollo. He didn't think his son would know what to do with them all.

Kha evidently had similar thoughts. "The Infantry sergeant was with him, and sticking like glue. I've no doubt that he's more than adequate to the task, and he seems to take it seriously." He nodded at Adama. "The other lieutenants are out there, too, with Trent."

"Starbuck and Boomer?"

"They're anxious," said Kha. He said, after a micron's consideration, "We're all a little overprotective of him, I think. He'll handle it."

"Yes," said Adama again, lamenting to himself that Apollo had to handle it at all. It wasn't fair to make the young fight on behalf of the machinations of the old, allowing them their political power plays, but that was the way it had always been.

"And that – " Kha stopped suddenly, lifting one hand and tilting his head to one side as if listening. Adama realised that the Aegyptan had a tiny transmitter in his hand, that was vibrating gently. Kha's fingers closed on it. "The signal," he said. "It's time. Joel must have declared himself."

Seti was already on his feet and reaching for his helmet. "Let's get this over with," he said.

"You escort is ready," said Kha, leading the way. "And Trent will bring his troopers. We should be enough."

"I hope so," said Adama. "I don't want outright civil war."

One batch of the Galactica's turbolifts was dedicated to serving the Aegyptan deck, linking it only to the flight and engineering decks a few levels up. Whilst that protected Aegyptan privacy, it meant that they had to transfer to the more public turbolifts on one of these two levels.

To Adama's surprise, Starbuck and Boomer, along with Trent, were waiting here, on the Aegyptan deck, rather than at one of the other levels served by these turbolifts. He hadn't expected to see other humans on this deck. They saluted when they saw him, murmuring quiet greetings, Boomer explaining that Kha-nes-Ahkat had allowed them to wait there, the lieutenant's dark eyes wide and watchful. He was mostly watching the Aegyptan escort, who were off to one side, hidden behind their helmets and most fearsomely armed. Adama hadn't even seen before some of the weapons they were carrying. He was pretty sure he didn't want to see them in action.

Uri was there too, his arms held firmly by two Aegyptans. "Adama!" the man said, despairing.

"Be silent," said one of the Aegyptans holding him, and Uri shut up, shrivelling into himself somehow.

Adama ignored him, giving his attention instead to his own warrior escort. Starbuck didn't have much colour to him, even his hair dulled and somehow greyed over, his eyes listless. Adama realised he wasn't the only one who was sick with anxiety, desperate to get this over with.

"We're on our way," he said, putting a hand briefly on Starbuck's arm. The lieutenant managed a thin, unconvincing smile. Adama smiled back, reassuring. "Where's the Infantry?"

"One troop on the flightdeck, guarding the other end of these turbolifts; the other, under Gina, on Engineering," said Trent, promptly. "She's my top-sergeant, Commander, and I'd rather we went via Engineering. She's the steadiest."

She would have to be, when a group of armed Aegyptans boiled out of the lift, and she'd have to adjust pretty fast to realising that Trent was working with them. Adama was relieved at the assured nod he got from the lieutenant. He'd have to hope that Trent's confidence in his sergeant's abilities wasn't misplaced.

"There'll be less chance of trouble, too, on the Engineering deck," said Kha. "There's always fewer people around than on the flightdecks, and no warriors – except Trent's – to get in the way of a fast transfer to the main turbolifts."

"That's why I put Gina there," said Trent.

"Can we just get this over with and save the small talk for later?" Starbuck was fidgeting, on edge. His eyes had brightened, but his hands were trembling and his tone showed the strain.

"Now," said Seti, and there was a surprising edge to his voice, too.

Adama donned the Falconhead that Seti had loaned him that morning, when they'd left the Usermaatre. There had been a very odd smile on the Aegyptan leader's face when he'd handed over the helmet that was the twin of the one that Ila had once had, but Adama hadn't asked for an explanation. He didn't want to know.

When they emerged from the lifts in Engineering, the corridor was deserted but for the troopers. Trent was first out, calling Gina in a way that was urgent, but didn't convey alarm. He talked to her quietly and fast for a centon or two. Too far away to hear what was said, Adama watched the sceptical expression on her face smooth into a professional indifference as she looked them over. She shrugged and nodded.

Trent turned and grinned at them. "We're off."

"We'll follow you, Lieutenant," said Adama, feeling a little less oppressed now he was back in his own territory. "Lead on."

Starbuck and Boomer fell into place on either side of him, just in front of Seti and the main body of the Aegyptans. Adama was aware that behind him, the Aegyptan escort had surrounded Seti, shielding him from any potential harm. Seti appeared to accept it as a matter of course. Apollo would hate it. He wasn't sure how Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit would feel about it. He didn't know Sekhet. He wasn't sure that he ever wanted the opportunity to know Sekhet.

Trent set a fast pace. They didn't see anyone. They moved swiftly down the corridors, past the main Engineering control room, the door closed tight, and down to the main turbolifts that took you up into the main body of the ship, and which, at the very top deck, stopped outside the Council Chamber. Trent had sent two troopers running ahead: two of the lifts were ready and waiting.

Adama got into the same one as the Aegyptans, Starbuck and Boomer both sticking with him. It wasn't that he didn't trust the Aegyptans exactly, but he wasn't entirely certain of Seti's motives. He may be uncharitable, but there it was. At least, if they were in the same lift, Seti couldn't try anything. Whatever it was he might try. Or not. He didn't know what Seti thought of it. The Aegyptan was silent under the obscuring mask, but if body language was anything to go by, then Seti was as tense as he was.

The ride to the top deck took only microns. Trent's elevator had arrived an instant before Adama's, and he was already getting his troops ready as the doors opened to disgorge the Aegyptans.

"There's usually two security in there," he said, nodding to the door that led to the entry lobby and beyond that, the outer Council room. "And one man in the outer room. Colonel Tigh told us that security had been doubled. I think that you'd better let us handle it, sir. Five or six of them are no match for us. I can talk our way in – Reese asked us to come up and provide extra cover, or something – and then we can jump them. Acer's in there already, and if he hasn't already worked out how to take out a couple of them, if not all of ‘em, then I guess the suns have stopped in the heavens and love's pickled his brain."

Adama glanced around the corridor. It was quiet, deserted. "Agreed. Be quick."

"Done. Give me a couple of centons." Trent nodded at his troops. "Listen up, people. This is a covert operation, and we're here on the captain's orders. When we get in there, fan out and cuddle up close to the security people. When I give the word, take them out. No casualties, please. Just disarm them. Understood?"

The troopers nodded stoically, more than one of them eying the Aegyptans curiously, but too well trained to ask questions, not when they were on combat alert. Trent, Gina beside him, led the way into the Council Chamber. The door closed behind them.

"A most enterprising young man," said Seti. "Sekhet tells me that he and Athena are keeping company."

"So I understand," said Adama, straining to hear what was going on inside the room.

"She could do worse," was Seti's considered opinion.

Adama glanced at Starbuck. "She has done," he said, dryly.

"Mistaken identity," protested Starbuck, but there wasn't much conviction in it, and he looked strained, his attention on the door. "What's going on in there?"

Nothing much, appeared to be the answer when the door reopened a centon later. Gina beckoned them in.

"All done," she said, and let them pass her into the entry lobby.

Impressed by the troopers' speed and efficiency, Adama glanced around. A trio of sullen and shocked security guards were sitting up against a side wall, their hands on their heads. A fourth lay beside them, a trooper bending over him.

"Lieutenant Trent?"

Trent glanced over at the prone guard. "He's out cold, but I don't think there's any real problem. He was the only one who put up any resistance out here."

The door to the outer Council room was open, and Adama glanced into it. Two more security guards were sprawled on the floor in there. Acer bent and picked one up beneath the arms, dragging him towards the door to join them.

"Fools in there decided to take on Acer," said Trent, sending in a couple of troopers to retrieve the last unconscious security guard. "Any damage, Sergeant?"

"They never laid a finger on me," said Acer, depositing the guard beside the others.

Trent's eyes rolled. "Very funny. To the guards?"

Acer shrugged. "They'll be fine, when they've got over the headache." He glanced at them all incuriously. "There's an IFB team in there, filming."

Adama crossed quickly to the monitor on the security desk. It was running, the volume turned down low: the security guards had been as interested as anyone in what was going on inside the Council Chamber. They crowded around it, watching.

Joel was speaking to camera, solemnly announcing his appointment as President. He spoke of the difficult conditions in the fleet, reminding people of the unrest on several ships and announced the imposition of a state of emergency in which the Presidency took all civil and military power unto himself, ' … until circumstances are clearer…' .

"There's a thought. You could have done that yourself. You'd make a better tyrant than Joel." Starbuck strained to see past Seti. "There's Apollo! He's all right."

"Of course he is. What do you expect will happen to him in there in front of the cameras?" Adama watched, frowning.

"I don't trust any of 'em," said Starbuck, darkly.

Joel went on to announce curfews and restrictions on public gatherings without prior permission – 'temporary restrictions only, and we'll endeavour to grant permission whenever possible and with as little delay as possible' .

"I'll leave a couple of people out here to keep the guards nice and quiet," said Trent. "Do we go in, sir?"

This was it. This was the final little move to pull the conspirators' teeth. Adama hesitated only a micron, aware of Boomer's calm-eyed regard, of Starbuck's anxiety, and the expression on Trent's face that spoke of a cool and calm competence that could face anything. And he was very aware of Seti, close beside him, watching him from behind that unreadable mask.

"Yes," he said. "We do. And seeing how IFB are there, then we'll make a spectacle of it, if you don't mind, Lieutenant. A dramatic entrance would be very appropriate."

Trent grinned. "You've got it, sir." He turned to the troopers. "Follow me, boys and girls."

They moved into the outer Council room, nothing between them and the Council now but one bulkhead door. Seti and the Aegyptans followed more slowly, staying back, as agreed. This was, as far as possible, for humans to resolve.

Trent looked briefly at the locking mechanism of the door, and signalled to Acer to join him. He spoke quietly and forcefully to the troopers, capable and efficient. "Weapons drawn and on stun. I want you in there with maximum bounce. Don't kill anyone but you're at liberty to scare the shit out of them. Let's move. The door, Acer."

The big sergeant drew his laser, and on Trent's nod, put a bolt through the mechanism for the heavy Council room door. It slid aside instantly.

Acer was first in. The troopers were through the door in a split micron, yelling and running, and taking no account of the shouts of surprise and terror from the Council members, or of the cameras from IFB that were transmitting this live to every monitor in the fleet. Trent bounded through the door last and fired at the ceiling. Adama followed him to the door, not wanting to miss anything that happened and desperate to see that Apollo was all right.

"Listen up!" Trent shouted and the Council fell silent, staring at the Infantry lieutenant in outright fear. The troopers scattered throughout the room, taking up position to cover the councillors.

Joel leapt to his feet. Piers was scowling, gnawing anxiously on his bottom lip. Solon, frowning, was leaning over Tinia; her hand was at her mouth and her eyes seemed impossibly wide above it. Someone dropped a water glass with a crash, and in the harsh silence that followed, whimpered like a scared child. The rest of the Council sat stunned, frightened and bewildered. Reese, standing behind Joel's chair, had frozen, one hand on his laser hilt, the weapon half drawn. Gina issued a half-heard order and a trooper bounded over to Reese. He let his hand fall away, letting her disarm him, seemingly too shocked to resist. She pushed him away to a corner and frisked him more expertly. He just let her.

Apollo was standing over to one side, Tigh beside him, Anton on his right. The sulky sullenness he was wearing seemed to fall off him, like old clothes he shrugged out of, and he grinned, brightening visibly. Tigh looked relieved. Anton nodded, smiling faintly.

"Thank you, Sires and Siresses," said Trent, politely, into the stunned silence. "Now someone else has an announcement to make." He beckoned to Adama. " Mr President, sir."

Adama came fully into the room, flanked by Starbuck and Boomer, both of whom had weapons drawn. Seti and his Aegyptans followed behind quietly, two of them still holding Uri firmly by each arm, almost holding him up. Once in the room, Adama reached up and removed the helmet that had hidden him so briefly.

The Council's reaction was suitably shocked, but offered little other satisfaction. They all stared, mouths open, but few of them were gratifyingly pleased to see him. Solon's frown grew deeper, Tinia's hand dropped from her mouth, the knuckles red where they'd pressed against her teeth.

"Adama!" she said, shrill with disbelief.

"Adama!" Joel echoed her an instant later. He leaned forward onto the table, supporting himself, his hands whitening under the pressure. Then seeing Uri, his eyes narrowed. "Uri?"

Piers said, white with shock and fear, "But...dead! You're dead!"

"A premature misdiagnosis," said Adama. "I see that you have appointed my successor."

Piers tried to find something to say. "But - of course, if we'd known - " He seemed to remember suddenly about the cameras, still running at the side of the room, and waved frantically at the IFB crew. "Turn those off!"

"By no means," said Adama. "Our people have a right to know what's going on. They have the right to know about the plots and machinations of the traitor who has sat on this Council for so long. It may help them choose more wisely next time." He looked at the staring, slack-jawed IFB crew, none of whom had moved to obey Piers, but Adama thought that came more from surprise breeding inertia, rather than wilful disobedience. "Are you broadcasting?"

One of the technicians nodded, mute.

"Then please continue. I'll tell you when to stop." Adama turned his attention back to the dumbstruck councillors. "Some of us have known for a while that there was a traitor on the Council, an opportunist with a lust for power." Adama was looking at Piers with distaste.

"N-not me," stammered Piers. "Not me."

"You? You're no more than Sire Joel's lapdog. You'll go down with him, but I wouldn't flatter you by letting you think I believed you capable of anything remotely resembling independent thought." Adama looked at Joel and smiled. "Sire Uri has been most co-operative, Joel. Most co-operative. He has explained in full detail your conspiracy, the way you tried to invoke the Utrechian Accord and get the Aegyptans to assassinate me. But you miscalculated. You miscalculated badly. The Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten is allied to my son, I'm afraid, Joel, not to you. Never to you."

Joel's mouth opened, and closed again, like a fish gulping for air. He looked towards Apollo, his face set and hard. Apollo smiled back, openly mocking. He had taken a handkerchief from his pocket and was industriously rubbing away the ash. He caught Adama's glance, and the smile faltered a little, gradually becoming more guarded and uncertain. Adama nodded reassuringly. He was briefly amused, if unsurprised, to see that Starbuck had insinuated himself between Apollo and Tigh, and that Acer was hovering close by, his laser still openly in his hand.

"He's one of them," said Uri, finding his voice. "We didn't know. He's one of those bloody Gyp things."

"I am Aegyptan, yes," said Apollo, his expression serious now. He looked steadily at Adama.

Adama ignored the startled gasps, the stares, concentrating on Apollo. "You're my son, and I'm incredibly proud of you," he said, and put everything he had into it. "More than I can say."

Apollo stared at him, the same steady green gaze, then there was the merest smile on his face. He nodded. His gaze slid to one side, towards Seti, and became, briefly, troubled.

"Oh for Sagan's sake!" said Joel. His face was white, eyes bright with fury. "Spare us the sentiment!" He glared at Anton. "You knew!"

"Of course," said Anton, at his most urbane.

"It's finished, Joel," said Adama. He moved a little closer. "I believe that's my place you're occupying."

Joel didn't react to Adama except to straighten up, pushing against the table top to give himself some momentum. His attention seemed to be on Apollo.

"You cunning bastard!" he spat out, half admiringly.

"Right on both counts," Apollo said evenly.

"Reese," said Adama.

"President Adama?" Reese seemed to have recovered a little faster than most of the Council had. He took a step forward, shaking off the trooper.

"Please place Sire Joel and Sire Piers under arrest, on charges of treason and conspiracy to murder. Our Aegyptan allies have already taken Sire Uri and some of his helpers. That will do to begin with."

Joel's hands were trembling and he put them behind his back. He glanced at Adama, real hatred in his eyes, not just the jealousy he would have of a successful political rival, before looking back towards Apollo again.

"At least you're here now," he said, bitter as death.

Apollo frowned, surprised.

"Sergeant!" said Anton, sharply, just as Joel moved.

The hand that whipped out from around his back held something small and black, something that cracked flatly, twice, a little tongue of red flame coming from it. Apollo yelled and fell to one side, pushing Anton out of the way, covering the old man's body with his own. Acer's laser flashed once, hitting Joel a micron before the intersecting beams from half a dozen Aegyptan weapons. Joel was fried where he stood. His heart had to have stopped instantly the weapons fire hit him, and his body was hurled backwards to slam up against the wall behind him. For a micron he hung there, his clothes already beginning to smoulder where the lasers had impacted, before sliding down, leaving a trail of blood and smoke on the wall behind him.

"Apollo!" Adama jostled past the people between him and his son, without seeing them, ignoring the half hysterical screams and moans from the councillors. "Apollo!"

"Sekhet!" came like an echo to one side of him.

Starbuck was already pulling Apollo off a feebly protesting Anton. "Apollo? Apollo?"

"Okay," said Apollo, scrambling to one side with Starbuck's help, letting Anton struggle back up. "Okay."

Then his expression changed, and he sat down on the floor suddenly, clutching at his right shoulder with his left hand. Blood seeped through his fingers.

"Apollo!"

Adama reached him, almost beside himself with terror. He and Seti were falling over each other to get there first, and he turned on the Aegyptan, snarling a curse. Acer, swearing sulphurously, lifted Anton bodily out of the way and got behind Apollo, supporting him, while a white-faced Starbuck prised Apollo's fingers away from his shoulder. The flight jacket sleeve was reddening, from shoulder to elbow.

Apollo looked at them, eyes wide with shock. "What did the bastard want to shoot me for?" he demanded, aggrieved.

Starbuck, trembling, rested his forehead against Apollo's for a micron. "Well, you're bloody annoying sometimes," he said, in answer to Apollo's question, and looked up at Adama. "I don't think it's serious, but we'd better get Salik up here."

"And when did you get your nursing qualifications?" demanded Apollo. He bit his lip. "It hurts," he said, sounding surprised.

Adama found himself wanting to laugh, so relieved that he was, quite genuinely, dizzy with it. Someone put out a hand to support him. It was Seti, pale green eyes behind the mask bright with relief and amusement.

"I think he'll live," said Seti, and Adama heard in the Aegyptan's voice the shadow of the heart-stopping terror he'd felt himself. The Aegyptan's hand shook slightly on Adama's arm, then was withdrawn.

Kha-nes-akhat pushed past Adama, holstering one of those unfamiliar, wicked looking lasers. "Joel is dead," he said. "Let me see to Sekhet."

"Kha's a reasonable paramedic," said Seti.

"I've had enough practice," said Kha. He took a small medipack from his belt and shook its contents onto the floor.

"I'm all right," said Apollo, looking up at Adama. "You'd better get back and deal with that." He nodded at the cameras, then, and added, softly, "That was a bit public, what you said."

Adama smiled at him. "I hoped it might get through that thick head of yours," he said, and finished the gesture that more than a secton before, he hadn't dared to finish. He stroked the thick black hair briefly, before giving it a loving tug.

Apollo let him. "I'm all right," he said again. "You'd better finish that."

Adama straightened up, and looked at Seti. "I won't be a centon. Look after him for me."

"And for me," said Seti, with a nod.

Adama grunted, and turned away. Despite the tension, he was almost light-hearted, believing that he'd come to some sort of agreement with both of them, although he wasn't entirely certain yet what it was. Apollo's reaction to having to carry through the fake assassination, his reaction just now; all of that gave him so much hope that it was difficult to control his emotion, to be the remote and dispassionate commander that he had to be now, in public, to get this situation under control. But in private: that was a different matter. In private, he intended to be anything but dispassionate. They'd have to talk - Good Lords, but how they'd need to talk - but for the first time in sectons Adama felt that he still had a son. He wasn't prepared to risk that again.

He glanced around. Someone – Boomer and Trent, he thought, given their positions in the room – had pulled the ornate embroidered cloth from under the Book of the Word that sat always on the Council table, and had covered Joel with it. The rest of the Council were sitting very still and shocked in their places. Piers looked like someone had punched him in the gut, doubled over on himself, arms wrapped around his chest. He was shaking visibly. Uri, still held by his Aegyptan guards, stared down at his feet, his face hidden.

Adama settled the Aegyptan black silks as he walked towards the camera, automatically tidying himself up. He saw Anton's nod of approval, and thought wryly that too close an association with that old fox was detrimental to the morals. He stood in front of the camera and let the words come without much conscious thought.

"People of the fleet, this is a terrible thing that you've witnessed here. Sire Joel is, I'm sorry to say, dead. I'd have preferred him to stand his trial and for you to know the full story of what happened here." He paused, then said in less magisterial tones, in something warmer and more intimate, "I'm sorry for the deception that's been practiced on you in the last two days. Please understand: a faction on the Council was intent on taking power under the legislation that allows for the Council to appoint a successor in the event of the sudden death of the President. You have just listened to Sire Joel, appointed to succeed me, announce measures that cannot be justified, but that would have severely curtailed your freedom and your liberty. Think about what he said to you and consider if you believe that he would ever have allowed you the free and fair elections he promised you, if the restrictions would ever have been lifted, if the powers he took to himself would ever have been revoked.

"He and his fellow conspirators thought that they'd arranged for me to be removed, using various treaties between the Council and the Aegyptans – treaties which both the Aegyptan leader, the Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten, and I believe to have long outlived their usefulness, and have agreed to revoke. Knowing how difficult it would be to secure their arrests and conviction without concrete evidence, Lord Seti worked with us, through my son, Captain Apollo, to fake the assassination and bring the conspirators out of hiding, letting them make their move." Adama gestured to the silent Aegyptans. "The Aegyptans have proved, once again, to be our good friends. We owe them a great deal, not least our freedom. They defended democracy today."

He looked straight into the camera. "Please stay calm, and quiet, and remain on your ships tonight. I'll make full statement later today, in a centar or two, but you have just seen the confusion that this attempted coup has brought in its wake, and my son was hurt in the melee." Adama managed a wry smile. "You'll understand that the most important thing for me now that I know that the surviving conspirators are under arrest, is to be with him. Please stay calm. Everything is back to normal and I will make a statement later."

He nodded to the cameraman, who switched off his camera and nodded back.

"Pretty neat, Commander," the man said.

It's a bloody mess, snorted Adama's internal voice, but he said nothing aloud, getting back across the room as fast as he could.

"He's fine," said Kha, as soon as he rejoined them. "One bullet went straight through his upper arm. The second's lodged in his shoulder. It's not serious."

"That's all very well for you to say," grumbled Apollo. He was very pale and sweating, his left hand in Starbuck's.

"Bullet?" Adama relieved his feelings in a little more hair stroking.

"A solid projectile," Starbuck said. He was sitting beside Apollo, letting Kha do all the work. The Aegyptan had cut away Apollo's flight jacket and was packing the wound with field dressings.

"Joel collected old weapons," said Anton. "I remembered him showing them off, one day. I'm astonished, though, that any of them were useable. Lieutenant Trent has taken charge of it, I think."

"It's a bloody museum piece," said Trent from somewhere behind Adama. "It's not very big, although it packs a punch. He had it in some sort of spring loaded holster on his arm."

"Salik's on his way up," said Boomer. "How's Apollo doing?"

"He'll be fine." The lion mask lifted to look at Acer. "Thanks to the sergeant, here. You were faster than any of us."

"And thank fuck for that," said Starbuck, fervently. He grinned at Apollo. "Just as well you were wearing this flight jacket, Apollo. I'd hate to see you explain away ruining yet another one. The quartermaster would keel haul you."

Anton, a little wan, smiled gently from a nearby chair. "Young man, you have an attitude that I admire greatly. Life's a game, isn't it?"

Starbuck nodded. "And as the old song has it, true love is a trophy." He smiled as Apollo turned to face him, and, unselfconsciously, used his free hand to trail down Apollo's cheek.

No one, thought Adama, except maybe Starbuck, had the right to see Apollo's face at that centon. No one but the person it was meant for should ever see that amount of need and passion and love. It was positively frightening.

Flushing a little pink, and feeling uncomfortably like the worse kind of voyeur, Adama stepped back, clearing his throat. Well, there was no mistaking what was going on there. Something else to adjust to, but adjust he would.

He took another step, finding himself beside Seti. For a centon he watched as Kha tended to Apollo and Apollo saw nothing but Starbuck. "Thank you," he said at last.

Seti nodded. "You're welcome."

 

 

 

Epilogue

It wasn't a formal reception. But it was a thanksgiving, a gathering together of friends and allies and those who were just plain neutral, to celebrate, quietly, that they'd got through it all in one piece (or almost, if you ignored the hole in Apollo's shoulder and that would be healed in a few days, according to Salik) and with no losses that they needed to regret.

But there was ambrosa, and food and music and, the speeches over and done with, they were prepared to relax.

And talk.

 

 

"So," said Starbuck. "No more secrets?"

"None at all."

"What about me and you?"

"Well, if you're serious about the offer you made me when I was coming round from the anaesthetic – "

"I was. You need someone to look after you."

" - then it's time we came out of hiding and told them. No more secrets, Starbuck." Apollo looked from Adama to where Seti was sitting, quiet, surrounded by a small escort.

Starbuck laughed. "Apollo, I'm the worse kept secret of the lot. They both know. Believe me, they know."

 

 

"I suppose you know that today makes you as much a politician as the rest of us?" said Sire Solon. "Devious and, in the eyes of the people, self seeking. You'll never be quite the same to them again; certainly less saintly, possibly more human. More equivocation and less certainty." He smiled thinly. "Welcome to my world, Adama."

 

 

"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you, Boj, but you'll understand that the fewer people who knew about it all being a sham the better. But I am grateful for all your help and support the last couple of days. And so is he. I made sure he knew."

Bojay shrugged. "I wish you'd trusted me."

"It wasn't that I didn't, exactly," said Apollo.

"Then what, inexactly? Because of Chelas, or because I was Pegasus and what happened that day?"

"I never thought that you were in with Chelas. Maybe a bit about the Pegasus, but mainly because of something I've kept silent about all my life."

"You told Starbuck and Boomer."

"They knew about me. They knew about me being Aegyptan. I didn't have to explain to them how I'd managed to get the Aegyptans to play along, the way I'd have had to explain to you, because they already knew. I'm not cut out for martyrdom and I guess a bit of me hoped that I could just go on after this and no one else would have to know." Apollo laughed, but there wasn't that much amusement in it. "I never really thought that would happen, though. I always knew that the social re-engineering starts here." He waited, then said, quietly, "Does it bother you, now that you do know?"

"Bother me?" Bojay considered it. "As far as I can see, you're still the uptight unreasonable bastard who has a rule book shoved up his astrum as you were before I knew. No, it doesn't bother me. Not everyone will think that, though."

"Yeah."

Bojay swigged down a mouthful of ambrosa. "Chelas? Do you know why?"

"Nothing political, that I can make out. She resented the lack of advancement, apparently. That's what she said when the first inquisitors went in to talk to her. She wanted more."

"She wanted my job, you mean," said Bojay, then he shrugged again. "Or yours?"

"I guess."

"She was deeper than we thought, then." Bojay reached out as a steward passed and snagged something edible off the tray. "You were, too. You broke a few rules for him today. Would you have broken them all? Would you have threatened mutiny for him? Gone against the Council?"

Apollo hesitated. "I don't know," he said, after a centon. Then, honestly, "Yes, I think so. I had good reason."

"Right and wrong, you mean." Bojay grunted, then grinned. "You always see things like that. It wasn't as clear cut for me. I still don't know if I'd have gone through with it. Luckily for me, the tinheads' attack meant I didn't have to push it. I was shitting myself, that I'd have to jump, one way or the other. I mean, Cain wasn't always right and I know he was in the wrong that day, blowing up those fuel tankers to force you into the attack on Gamoray, but he was our commander. We had a few divided loyalties to deal with."

"And now?"

"Now Cain's gone, and Pegasus with him. I meant what I said to you this morning."

"Yeah," said Apollo. "I know. Thanks."

Bojay nodded, and the grin grew a little broader. "We'll shake hands when you get out of that sling. In the meantime, why don't you get me another drink and we can get into a pissing contest?"

Apollo grinned back. "You'd win. You humans have a far better tolerance of alcohol. It's one of the things I envy most."

 

 

"What did Solon want?"

"I think he was congratulating me for fooling the Council about the assassination. At least, I think that's what he was doing. He seemed to be taking a lot of satisfaction from what he seems to see as the amount of moral equivocation it's left me in."

Anton smiled. "He probably sees it as a sign of a delayed political maturity on your part, Adama."

Colonel Tigh laughed. "You're as bad as Solon!"

"Of course I am, Colonel. As Adama knows, we're two of a kind, Solon and me. We both recognise the value of shadows."

 

 

"Does everybody know now?"

"Yes," said Apollo. "It's not a secret any more."

Boxey took his father's uninjured hand in both of his and squeezed it tight. "Will they know at school too?"

"Yes, they will, I guess." Apollo waited, watching as Boxey stared at their hands, then he tugged gently, pulling his son over to a nearby empty seat. When he sat down, Boxey crawled onto his lap. "It'll be all right," said Apollo, getting his left arm around him. "I promise, it will be all right. There's no more secrets, Boxey, and no more lies, and no need to hide. Everything is going to be all right."

 

 

"So that's what it was all about," said Cassie. "No wonder Salik locked up his records."

"Yes," said Athena.

"Did you hear about Doctor Paye? Salik was furious. He called us all in this afternoon and put us all on warning that he won't tolerate anyone breaking confidentiality. I don't know what's happened to Paye." Cassie glanced over to where Salik and Lyre were, the two doctors keeping a less than subtle eye on their patient. Apollo had insisted on joining the gathering, despite medical advice. "Salik didn't want Apollo to be here, but he'll be all right, you know."

"Yes," said Athena.

"After all, he has Starbuck to look after him." Cassie sipped delicately at her ambrosa, blue eyes studying Athena over the rim of the glass. "So you're what, half Aegyptan?"

"Yes," said Athena.

Cassie smiled. "Amazing! Why don't we have a night out and you can tell me all about it?"

"Yes," said Athena, and smiled back.

 

 

"Fine," said Adama. "That's just fine." He smiled. "Welcome to the family."

 

 

"I don't suppose you'd ever have told me!"

"Probably not," said Apollo. "Why should I?"

Sheba took her fork and stabbed angrily at something on her plate. "And there it all is! Why should you?"

"It was a family thing, Sheba."

She scowled. "And I'm not family. I've worked that one out for myself, thank you."

"I'm sorry," said Apollo. He glanced over to where Seti waited for him. "Excuse me, Sheba, but I need to talk to Seti. I've something I need to tell him."

"I wouldn't have married a Gyp, anyway," she said to his back, voice low and vicious.

He stopped and turned, and regarded her, meeting the angry brown eyes. He really didn't like her, he decided. She was far too much her father's daughter. It made it easier to be honest - and rude.

"What makes you think that you were ever going to be asked?"

 

 

"I suppose that I must go and say something to Adama," said Seti.

"I'd appreciate it," said Sekhet. "You're both going to have to learn to share and play nicely, or I'll be putting the lid onto the toy box and locking it away from the pair of you."

"Your association with Lieutenant Starbuck is having a detrimental effect on you," said his tef with disapproval.

They both half turned. Starbuck and Boxey were talking with Athena. At least Starbuck was talking: Boxey was too busy shovelling down chocolate mushies with both hands.

"He'll be sick, tonight," prophesied Sekhet.

"Your son or your lover?"

They watched Starbuck filch a mushie, to Boxey's incoherent protests.

"Both, probably." Sekhet smiled.

"Then that should be fun for you." Seti hesitated, then said in slow and careful Aegyptan, "We must talk, Sekhet. About the future."

Sekhet turned and looked at him, expression guarded.

"I've said nothing to you about your relationship with Starbuck – "

"You don't have the right to."

"I am your father."

Sekhet shrugged. "You're my tef ."

Seti nodded. "I have said nothing to you before now," he started again, but again wasn't allowed to finish.

"Because you weren't too sure of me before I had my hawks done?"

"Because I'm still not," said Seti, honestly. "Because as you said, I can't pretend the last thirty yahrens didn't happen and that I didn't let Nefert-ila take you. Because I was wrong to give you up, then, and I'm trying to be delicate in how I try and get you back now."

Sekhet looked grave. He nodded. "I appreciate that. But Starbuck is non-negotiable. Completely non-negotiable."

"I don't have any objections on religious or ethical grounds," said Seti, patiently. "That the Lieutenant makes you happy is good and is very important to me, too, but I have to remind you that Aegyptan lords are born, not created."

"That's delicate?"

Seti sighed. "That's truth."

Sekhet nodded. "I know. But the answer's no, tef . Starbuck's too important to me."

"More important than a thousand Aegyptans who look to you for leadership? You need an heir. They need an heir."

"Yes," said Sekhet. "More important." He smiled at Seti, but there was a warning in it. "You knew that, when you first approached me."

"He's human, Sekhet."

"Live with it, tef . Boxey's the only grandchild either of you are getting out of me."

"He's human, too."

"Yes," said Sekhet.

Seti said nothing for a few centons. "I've more faith in your sense of duty. Don't confuse the two, Sekhet, love and duty. They are not mutually exclusive."

Sekhet shook his head. Then he said, with a sly glance at the commander, "He accepted it. You'll have to, as well."

"Please don't try and manipulate me, Sekhet. You're not nearly subtle enough." Seti watched Adama and Anton talking for a centon or two. "Well, it's true enough he'll have no more grandchildren."

Sekhet glanced towards Athena, who had drifted away from Starbuck to join Trent. The Infantry lieutenant looked at her and smiled, taking her hand in his.

"I wouldn't be so sure," he said. "If you've never been to a human wedding, I may be able to wangle you an invitation."

"They may marry, Sekhet, but I would be astonished if there are any children. We are the same genus as humans, remember, not the same species. We talked about this once, why there are never any green eyed humans."

"Because the gene for green eyes is recessive?"

"Because the gene can never pass into the human population. The offspring of cross species matings are infertile, Sekhet. You and your wife could have had children together, but they would never have given you grandchildren." Seti paused, the pale green eyes narrowing behind the mask. "I thought you'd worked that out."

Shocked, Sekhet could only shake his head. "I didn't – " he paused, then said, self loathing in his voice, "I didn't think much beyond how it affected me. I never made the connexion for Thenie."

"I'm sorry," said Seti.

Sekhet stared at him for a centon. "Did she know? Did she know what she was condemning Thenie and Zac to, that her choices were denying them theirs?"

"I don't know," said Seti, gently.

"She was a scientist."

"An engineer. I don't know if she knew about this, Sekhet."

"He said, once, that they'd thought through what it would mean, them getting Sealed. Did she think about this? Do you know how many generations he can count back? And it all ends here."

Sekhet's gaze moved from his sister to Adama. He was watching his daughter, smiling as he talked to Anton.

"He doesn't know," Sekhet said, positive. "If she did, she never told him."

"I don't know," said Seti again, distressed. "Don't judge, Sekhet. Don't judge."

Sekhet was silent for a long time, a very long time. "No," he said at last. "We don't judge. We just do as she wanted, Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon." The smile he gave his father was pained. "I just hope she got what she wanted in the end, tef . That it was all worth it."

"Only she can say," said Seti. "And she'll never tell us now."

 

 

"Do I have to be here?"

"Better than the brig, Acer," said Trent. "Luckily you're off the hook there, given the man was armed."

"Huh," said Acer. "No comeback, then?"

"Not in the circumstances, no. There'll be an inquiry, but I think it'll be a mere formality. But the next time I say don't kill anyone, please try and remember that I mean it."

"He nearly killed the captain."

"Well, I'm grateful to you, Sergeant Acer," said Athena. "Very grateful. He's annoying, but he's the only brother I've got."

"Thank you, Ma'am. You're welcome."

Trent grinned at the sight of Acer being a gentleman. "It's uncanny," he said. "Acer's turning into an old family retainer right before my very eyes."

Acer grunted, and Athena laughed.

"That's what you get for getting yourself tangled up with these Fleet types," said Trent.

"You should know," muttered Acer, with a pointed glance at the commander's daughter hanging on Trent's arm. "Get used to it."

Trent looked from Acer to Apollo. "You too," he said.

Acer shrugged.

 

 

"You lost him?"

"Not in a million yahrens." Starbuck offered Boomer a glass. "He's just had a long talk with the Aegyptan one and went off to the turboflush to compose himself, I think."

"And you got left behind? I thought you two were joined at the hip."

Starbuck rolled his eyes to a nearby chair where Boxey was keeping a plate of mushies close company. "I'm left in charge of the baby," he said. He watched Boomer over the rim of his glass. "Well?"

"Most of 'em are okay," said Boomer. "I did a lot of talking while you were in Life Centre with him."

"Okay?"

"As in not wildly enthusiastic, but not hostile either. They don't know what the hell to make of it. It's one helluva lot to swallow, Bucko, finding your captain's really an Aegyptan. It was for me, when you bothered to tell me the full story."

"Sorry," said Starbuck. "You know I am."

"I don't know that he is, though. And I don't know that I want him rushing to apologise to me because you've told him he has to. Let it lie."

"You sure?"

Boomer nodded. "I'll get over it. I'm not so sure about the crew, though. He's been the commander's son for too long for them to adjust very quickly."

"He still is the commander's son. He's just about remembered that."

"What about Seti?"

Starbuck grimaced slightly. "He's Seti's son too. And that's the trick, isn't it, Boom-boom, to be both?"

Boomer shook his head. "I don't see how he can do that."

Starbuck took a sip of ambrosa. "I don't see he has any choice."

"And you?"

"I don't have any choice, either. I'm moving in, Boom-boom. We just told the commander."

"And he said?"

"Fine. That's all he said. That's fine. Mind you, he couldn't really kick up much of a fuss here, could he? Why do you think we decided to tell him right here and now?"

Boomer grunted, and concentrated on his ambrosa for a centon or two. "And the other one?"

"A little more difficult," acknowledged Starbuck. "Seti's more concerned about an heir than Adama seems to be."

Boomer let out a harsh crack of laughter. "And you don't want to ruin your girlish figure?"

"I don't have child bearing hips," said Starbuck.

Boomer laughed again, then sobered. "Does it bother you?"

"It bothers me if it bothers him," said Starbuck.

"It doesn't bother Apollo?"

"No. Something's bothering him, but I don't think it's that. Not yet, anyway." Starbuck paused. "But it will."

"You like your troubles to come in multiples, then," said Boomer. He shook his head. "Seti, who Apollo really is, and now leaping out of the closet? It's going to have its moments, Bucko."

Starbuck grinned. "I never did hanker after the quiet life. I like excitement too much for that. And it's never so exciting as wondering how in Hades we're going to explain ourselves to Boxey."

"Boxey's easy. It's the rest of the world you need to worry about."

"But that's what I'm there for. To keep the rest of the world off his back."

"Well, hold on to your hat, Starbuck. In that case, it could get very exciting."

The grin broadened into a knowing smile. "It always has been, and always will.

 

 

"Are you all right? You look a bit pale," Athena dropped Trent's hand to take her brother's. "Maybe Salik was right and you should have stayed in Life Centre tonight."

"I'm fine." Apollo smiled at her, the smile strained and difficult. He put his uninjured arm around her and hugged her tight. "Thanks, Thenie."

"For what?" she said, surprised.

"Oh I don't know. Do you need a reason?"

"It helps."

"Well, all right, how about for looking after Boxey for me?"

"Not tonight! I've plans of my own tonight," she said, smiling. "Even though I love him to death, Appy."

"Do you?" He smiled back, genuinely this time. "I'll give you part ownership, then. We'll get the papers drawn up tomorrow." He glanced at Trent, who was standing self consciously to one side. "This one's okay, Thenie. I've had words with him."

Athena's smile vanished abruptly. "Appy, will you please stop scaring off my men!"

"Relax. I had words with him sectons ago and he's still here. I guess that means something." Apollo grinned at the lieutenant.

Trent remained serene and unflappable. He took Athena's hand. "I guess it does."

 

 

"One thing puzzles me. Why did you make him do it? Why Sekhet?"

Seti shrugged.

"To try and break the link with Adama?"

"I'm not that unsubtle, Mene."

"I know. That's why I asked." The jackal head turned to face him until he could see the glitter of her eyes. "You must have known it would have the opposite effect. That, more than anything, would drive him back."

Seti shrugged again. "It was something you once said to me, Mene, about him belonging to both of us and neither of us. I realised it was true. He needed to realise it for himself."

"Ah," she said, and there was amusement in her voice. "Very noble of you, Seti."

"No. Not noble. Realistic. I'll never have all of him, Mene."

"No," she agreed. "You won't. We won't."

"He's forcing us into change." Seti sighed softly. "Not such a bad thing, maybe. You were right, what you once said, about them not needing us in the same way. And if it was the last time that we were to do this, because of him and what he sees as right and wrong, then it was only fitting that he should carry it out. It was the symbolism of the thing that appealed to me."

"Mmmn," said Mene, and the amusement deepened.

"It appealed to him too, as it happens," said Seti. "He knew why I was doing it." He laughed. "Besides, he wouldn't trust anyone else not to do it for real. He didn't altogether trust me!"

Mene laughed too. "He's an Aegyptan."

Seti nodded. "He's my son, and he'll realise what that means."

"I think," murmured Mene, "that he already does."

 

 

"Fine," said Adama, for the second time that night. "That's just fine." He smiled. "Welcome to the family."

 

 

"But what's Aegyptan for grandfather?" Boxey asked.

"There isn't one. You have to say tef tef ," said Apollo, relieved that the child had cheered up. "It means, my father's father."

Boxey considered it. "That's silly."

"I'll say," agreed Starbuck. "What would Boxey call your grandfather then, if he was still alive? Tef tef tef ?"

"You got it," said Apollo.

"That's really silly," said Boxey.

"He's not alive, is he, Apollo?" asked Starbuck, earnest. "I mean, I can just about cope with Seti but I draw the line at a multi- tef ."

 

 

Adama inclined his head. "Seti. You're very welcome here."

"Am I now? But you are surprised I came?"

"Very. It's not usual."

"It is not usual to have a son who lives outside of the Clan. I find I have to keep adapting myself to new circumstances. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing. We were beginning to ossify, and he's shaking us up." The chuckle that came from behind the mask was thin and unamused. "You and I will have to learn to share him, Adama."

"I think I can live with it. It's infinitely better than the alternative."

Seti turned to watch his son, back with Starbuck and Boxey. Boxey was holding tight to Sekhet's left hand. The child's gaze roved the room almost blankly, and he was yawning. Sekhet was frowning, and the lieutenant was talking earnestly, helping adjust the sling on Sekhet's right arm.

"Rest easy, Adama. You have the lion's share of him, after all. It is this life he cares for. I come second to that "

"And you accept that?"

"What can I do about it?" Seti asked reasonably. "I am content to at least have him, after all these yahrens."

"And now everyone knows."

"Is that such a bad thing?" Seti said

"It's an irrevocable thing." Adama, too, was watching Apollo and Starbuck. "Well, there's nothing to be done about it."

"No. That's the nature of the irrevocable. I'll make the best of it, Adama. You have Apollo, I'll have Sekhet. It will have to do."

"And you can comfort yourself with the thought that he is so very like you."

Seti laughed, and this time it was genuine. "As I was sixty or seventy yahrens ago. Aegyptan traits breed true."

"I can live with that, too," said Adama. "Apollo is very proud of his heritage."

"And you?"

"I am very proud of my son," said Adama. "I love him very much"

Seti nodded. "I am very proud of my son, Adama, and I love him very much. We have more in common than you think." He was silent for a centon. "Nefert-ila would be proud of him, too. He is a true Aegyptan".

"I don't deny that." Adama was rueful. "I've been on the receiving end of it once or twice."

"That's something else we have in common, then." Seti laughed again. "I must go. Your people are not comfortable with me present."

"They might not be so comfortable with Apollo from now on either," said Adama dryly

"Perhaps not," agreed Seti. "But that, too, is irrevocable." He paused for a centon. "I think it's probably best that we meet as seldom as possible, Adama, if we're to maintain the semblance of polite relations. Mene will remain our representative at the Council until Sekhet takes it on himself. He will, one day."

"Yes," said Adama, sighing.

"Another irrevocable thing," said Seti.

 

 

"And so I'm going to be there all the time, with your Dad," said Starbuck. "What do you think?"

"Like you're Sealed or something?"

"Something," agreed Apollo. "Two men can't get Sealed."

"More's the pity," said Starbuck, and grinned.

"You won't do soppy stuff, will you?" asked Boxey, anxiously.

"Oh, but I kinda like the soppy stuff," said Starbuck, disappointed.

Apollo laughed. "No. I promise we won't, not when you're around."

"It'll be hard," said Starbuck, slipping his hand into Apollo's. "But okay, if that's what it takes to get your permission, Boxey, I won't do the soppy stuff."

Boxey gave him his very best commanderly stare, one that Adama had taught him, looking pointedly at their clasped hands. Starbuck sighed, and let Apollo go.

"All right," said Boxey. "That means she won't come and live with us."

"Who?" asked Starbuck. "Sheba?"

Boxey nodded.

"No," said Apollo. "She won't. I have it on the very best authority that she wouldn't dream of it."

"Grandpa says she wants to be a mother to me," said Boxey.

"Don't worry about it," advised Starbuck. "I'll come and be a mother to you instead."

 

 

"Sekhet!"

"Coming, tef ."

Sekhet crossed the room, Starbuck where Starbuck would always be, by his side. Yet another irrevocable thing. Well, the only thing to do with irrevocable things was to work around them. Seti watched Starbuck halt a few feet away, and take Boxey's hand when Sekhet released it.

"I must go now, Sekhet. No, don't bother to see me to my ship. My escort will do that." Seti's hand imitated the gesture Adama had made earlier, touching Apollo's hair then tugging on it. "Adama and I have agreed that we'll play nicely."

"Good."

"And everything else will sort itself out."

"Will it?"

"Yes. It always does, in the end. The conversation is deferred, that's all."

"You're really not used to people telling you no, are you?"

Seti laughed softly. "I'm an Aegyptan lord, Sekhet."

"Yes," said Sekhet, with a sigh.

"You'll grow accustomed to it, my son. Duty is as important to you as it is to me, I think."

"Duty, honour and make the old man proud," said Sekhet, half to himself, and his eyes widened in sudden understanding.

"Yes. She taught you very well. She taught you to be an Aegyptan lord." Seti took a step forward and his hand touched his son's face. "Don't be too long in coming to see me."

Sekhet sighed again, and shrugged. "I won't."

"Good." Seti put his arms around Sekhet, careful of the injured shoulder, holding his son very close for an instant. "We're your people, and you're going to have to start that re-engineering project soon."

Sekhet glanced around the room, at the people staring and whispering. "I think I already did. I just don't know how it will all turn out."

 

 

"Well?"

"On your head be it," Adama said rather soberly, watching as the door closed behind Seti and his escort.

"I'll not hide any longer. I can't now, anyway, can I? Not with these." He gestured to one arm. "Dead give-away"

"Yes," said Adama. "I'm sorry, Apollo. It's not going to be easy."

His son nodded, and half turned to go, to rejoin Starbuck and Boxey. Then he stopped and turned back. "There's some re-engineering to be done at all levels, I think. You'll have to get to know Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit. He's always going to be here."

"Yes," said Adama, heavily.

"It's all right. Apollo's here too."

It was an invitation. Awkward and embarrassed, Adama put his arms around Apollo, careful of the injured shoulder, holding his son very close for an instant.

"Yes," he said. "And I'm very grateful."

 

 

"I'm sorry, Dad." It was a whisper, no more.

Adama's hold tightened.

 

 

"All right?"

"I guess," said Apollo.

Starbuck watched him for a micron or two. "It's not going to be easy, Apollo, but you knew that when you decided to get the birds done."

"I know."

Starbuck nodded, glanced around the room. "Most of them seem okay," he said cautiously.

"Some of them are. They won't all be." Apollo echoed the move, looking around him, noting the eyes that slid away from contact or stared with open curiosity. Not everyone had been as hostile as Sheba, but some he'd counted as friends were keeping their distance. Maybe they'd come back, and maybe they wouldn't.

"You knew that too."

"Are you winding your way up to telling me it's all my own fault?"

Starbuck shrugged, and grinned. "You could have walked away from it," he suggested.

Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit looked towards the door, through which his tef had disappeared a few centons before. "No," he said. "I don't think I could. I'm not wired that way, Starbuck. I don't mind putting off the unpleasant moment as long as possible, but I can't walk away from the truth once it hits me in the face like that."

"And you have obligations there," said Starbuck, nodding.

"Yes. Just like I have here. I've got to do both. Somehow, I've got to do both." He glanced around again. "And they'll have to get used to it."

"I guess," said Starbuck.

"And will you? Are you sure about this, Starbuck? Are you sure about moving in with me and Boxey?"

Starbuck's eyebrows rose. "I thought I was doing a pretty good job of proving to you that it didn't matter a bent cubit. Do we need a little more convincing?"

"It won't be easy for you, either, if some people decide that that was a revelation too far for them. I don't want that, Starbuck. I don't want it to affect you in any way."

Starbuck grinned. "And what did I tell you was written in the job description?"

"In the stars, you said."

"The stars never lie, Apollo. Never."

 

 

Boxey lay across a chair, his head on Apollo's lap, fast asleep, one hand fisted into his father's shirt. Apollo, stroking Boxey's hair with his good hand, talked to Athena and Cassiopeia, sitting on his other side. Starbuck was leaning over the back of the chair, watching and listening, and the look on his face mirrored that terrible vulnerable expression that had been on Apollo's earlier that day.

"That looks significant," said Anton.

"Yes. It is, and I'm delighted. Starbuck, though I never thought I'd say this, is good for him. And Apollo's going to need Starbuck in the days to come." Adama sipped his ambrosa.

"It's not that, then, that was the problem between you and Apollo? I couldn't help noticing that relations have seemed even more strained than dealing with Joel's plotting would seem to merit."

Adama looked down into the depths of the ambrosa, swirling it around the glass. "It'll be better now, I think. Something to build on, maybe. He was very angry with me when he discovered something I never wanted him to know."

"Seti."

"Yes. I hope it's beginning to pass. I think it is. It may never be quite the same as before, but I think it might be close."

"You don't like Apollo being so open about this, I think," said Anton.

Adama sighed. "No. The prejudice against the Aegyptans runs deep and not even today's events will have changed that. He'll suffer for his honesty." He paused. "I could have killed Uri," he said. "I could have killed him."

"Well, it's done now."

Adama nodded "There's no going back."

"No," agreed Anton. He sipped meditatively at his ambrosa for a centon or two before saying, in the same thoughtful way, "You're very lucky, Adama, if you meant what you said this afternoon."

"If you mean about being proud of him, then I am. I think the world of him, Anton. I've just been a bit stupid about not making sure he realised that." After a centon, Adama added, quietly, "I never wanted him to know about Seti because that would have meant telling him that he wasn't mine, and that wasn't true, you know, in any sense other than the literal. I couldn't bear him to think it could be true in any other way. I can't bear to think it's true in any way at all. He's mine and I think he's beginning to realise that."

"I rather envy you." The old man looked uncharacteristically, if very briefly, saddened.

"I'd offer you part shares in Apollo, but I'm likely to be pretty jealous of what I can get for myself."

Anton smiled. "Perhaps a grandfatherly share would be possible."

"You'd be welcome. He's very fond of you." Adama looked at him over the rim of the ambrosa glass. "Do you regret never marrying and having children? A grandfatherly share of mine can't be as satisfying."

"Families are what you make them." Anton shrugged. "I had a son, Adama."

"I hadn't realised," apologised Adama. "Forgive me, Anton."

"There's nothing to forgive, except the differences between my son and yours. What I regret is that I couldn't stand here and say of him what you say of Apollo, that I loved him and was proud of him. He was something of a disappointment, actually."

Adama stared. "That's really very sad, Anton."

"I can live with it," said Anton. "I've lived with worse."

"I meant – " Adama stopped and shrugged, then said gently, "What happened to him?"

Anton took a mouthful of ambrosa, and savoured it, shrugging gracefully. "He died."

 

 

"I wish it didn't affect you too," said Apollo, fretfully. "I don't want it to be difficult for you."

Starbuck rolled his eyes. "That's about all you've said for the last centar. Stop worrying about it. We've got through the first five or six centars. We've got to be over the worst."

"I wish!" Apollo laughed, despite himself. " But I guess that what's done, is done."

"Uh-huh. That sounds a bit more like my fatalistic Apollo." Starbuck gestured to Boxey. "I guess I get to carry him?"

"I've got this sore arm, you see." Apollo grinned and yawned.

Starbuck smiled and leaned down, lifting Boxey up without waking him. He settled the child in his arms.

"Time for bed, Apollo," he said. "Tomorrow's going to be quite a day."

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