Section Two

 

There have never been very many Aegyptans, and nothing much is known about their origins. No one knows why they live so apart from everyone else or why they hide their faces behind elaborate silver masks. Although they founded their own country in the equatorial desert regions on Caprica, in the place they called Aegypta (Capital: The Thebiad. Pop : unknown), they form a separate and distinct people, in alliance with the Council of the Twelve, but not a part of it or the Colonies. There are lots of similarities to the relations with the Nomen of Borallus, who are also a separate humanoid people.

Do you know what 'humanoid' means?

Just like humans, the Aegyptans are an ancient race, with a history reaching right back to Kobol. You know all about Kobol from your previous lessons. Think about three things that you know about Kobol and write them down here in this space

1.

2.

3.

We don't know very much about the Aegyptans, their lives or their beliefs. All we do know of them is that they're imaginative and creative, scientists and thinkers. Most of the technology that modern society depends on has been developed with their help.

In the far past, an Aegyptan adviser was one of the best assets of a strong political leader could have, planning and plotting on the politician's behalf. But as we united into the Twelve Colonies with one Government under the Council of Twelve, there were fewer opportunities - or need - for the Aegyptans to work for any one political faction like that. Instead, since the Council was formed, the Aegyptans have utilised their talents with the military instead, as weapons and systems advisers, logicians and strategists. Do you know what these words mean? If not, ask your teacher now.

It was the Aegyptans who invented the Stardrive, and who designed and built the great Battlestars, the deadly little Viper starfighters, the powered armour that our ground troopers wear. Everything from the largest laser cannon to the smallest weapon has been developed with Aegyptan help.

 

Starbuck threw down the datapad with a snort of disgust. "Boxey!"

"He's still in the bathroom," said Apollo, looking up from the breakfast table where he and Athena were finishing up.

Louder: "Boxey!!"

"Uh-huh?" Boxey trotted through into the living room.

"This school book of yours, the one about the Colonies. Is this the best it can do?"

"I don't know," said Boxey. "What's it say?"

"Nothing much at all, that's the trouble. Why can't it have some proper information in it rather than all this pap?"

Boxey shrugged. "I don't know. What's pap?"

"Dunno," admitted Starbuck after a micron of sheepish silence.

Athena laughed.

Apollo sighed. "Predigested food," said the conscientious parent. "Like birds. They eat something and start digesting it, then sick it up for their chicks to eat."

"Yeuch! You wouldn't do that!"

"Too true, I wouldn't. You're the one who sicks up mushies in this family. I think we'll keep it that way." Apollo grinned at his giggling son.

"What's up, Starbuck?" asked Athena. "I'd have thought that one of Boxey's books would be just about at your intellectual level. What are you reading about?"

"The Aegyptans."

"Why?" Athena asked, glancing at her brother.

"There was this guy who wanted to talk to me last night. He claimed to be Aegyptan," Apollo told her.

"Was he?"

Apollo shrugged.

"Gyps are spooky," announced Boxey.

"Boxey!" said Apollo warningly.

"They are, Dad. Everyone at school says so." Boxey caught his father's expression and sighed. "Sorry. I know. I'm not supposed to let things I don't understand scare me. I've got to learn to understand them and then I won't be scared." He said it in a sing-song voice that betrayed he was repeating a familiar lesson.

"And?" said Apollo.

"I mustn't use words like that. They aren't nice." Boxey frowned. "But everyone calls them that."

"We aren't everyone," said Apollo. "I don't like it."

Starbuck stared, then grinned. "Very enlightened of you, Apollo."

"I try," said the captain.

Starbuck gestured with the schoolbook. "But this won't do much to cast a light into Boxey's darkness. There's nothing in here worth teaching! No real facts, just this cra…" He caught Apollo's glance and corrected himself hastily. "… pap with a bit of a pretty unsubtle let's-be-grateful-for-all-they've-given-us diversity and tolerance message."

"What does Starbuck mean?" Boxey asked his father, coming to lean on Apollo's knee.

"That your school books are too easy."

"Well, they have to be easy ‘cos I'm still little and my brain's still growing," Boxey reminded him. He looked imploringly up at his father. "The bigger boys say that school gets harder the more you go to it. Can I stop going now before it does?"

"No."

"Nice try, though," murmured his aunt. She gave her brother a small smile.

"But what if my brain doesn't grow enough? Then you'll be sorry."

"That's a risk we'll have to take, son."

"You're really a very bad father," said Starbuck, returning to his study of Boxey's book. "It's not like the kid's asking for anything unreasonable."

What does an Aegyptan look like? No one's quite sure, because no one ever sees an Aegyptan's face. We know that there are a dozen or so Clans, each named for the totem animal or bird the families in the Clan have adopted. There's a Falcon Clan, Jackal Clan, Lion Clan, for example. They wear special clothes – loose sleeved tunics and long pants, made out of black silks, tucked into strong desert boots laced to the knee.

Many of the human tribes have their own distinctive tribal dress. Aquarians love bright colours, Taureans like ornaments and feathers, and Leonids like plain clothes with lots of heavy jewels. Just having a costume that says you're from a particular tribe isn't unusual. Write down here the kind of costume you would wear to show which tribe your family comes from

I would wear……

 

But the Aegyptans are different because they never show their faces. They hide them under silver masks that cover the entire head and look like wolves, or lions or Falcon heads, whatever the Clan's totem animal is. So Aegyptans look like people with bird or animal heads.

 

"Good grief!" said Starbuck in disgust. "If the best this can do is give fashion advice, what is the point of school?"

"I don't know." Boxey was mournful. "But Dad still makes me go."

"And if we don't go now, we'll be late." Apollo twitched the datapad out of Starbuck's hands and stuffed it into Boxey's satchel. "Starbuck, stop encouraging him. He's hard enough to get to school without your help. Boxey, have you cleaned your teeth?"

Boxey nodded, and drew back his lips to display white teeth, healthy pink gums and one yawning gap where a milk tooth had fallen out the sectar before. Boxey was inordinately proud of the instantaneous ability it had given him to whistle. "See?" he said, indistinct through the snarl.

"Very nice," approved his father, barely recoiling. "Here's your stuff."

"I've cleaned mine too, if you want to check," offered Starbuck.

"Not now, Starbuck."

"Later then," said Starbuck, and it was a promise.

Boxey shrugged into the satchel straps. "Have you got a headache?" he asked his father.

Apollo, chewing on his second anti-hangover pill since breakfast, merely nodded.

"Thought so," said Boxey. "You're cross. Grandpa said you were going out with Starbuck and when you got home this morning, you'd be poor and hungover. I meant to stay awake to see, but Aunt Athena made me go to bed, an' I forgot and fell asleep." He turned the sunny smile onto his aunt and delivered his best compliment. "She's really scary, isn't she?"

"Oh yeah, she's scary." Apollo and Starbuck were almost in unison and both were admiring.

"Thank you, boys," said Athena, serene. "I'd better be going. Catch you later, big brother?"

Apollo nodded and shepherded everyone out into the corridor and locked the door behind them. "Promise. Thanks, Thenie."

"Any time." Unusually, Athena reached up to kiss her brother's cheek, and walked away in the opposite direction, heading for her own quarters.

"So?" asked Boxey. "Are you poor and hungover?"

"Your grandfather confides all to much to an infant of tender yahrens," Apollo grumbled.

"And as it happens," said Starbuck. "We did so well at Pyramid that your Dad'll likely give you some extra pocket money this secton. Especially if he keeps ‘forgetting' to hand over my share of the winnings."

"Oh, is that why you insisted on coming back with me this morning and conning a breakfast out of me?"

"Just protecting my investment," said Starbuck, and smiled.

Apollo examined the smile closely. "Not too bad. You missed that upper left molar."

 

 

After depositing an unwilling Boxey with his teacher, and a detour to the duty office to deposit Starbuck and formally take over from Drake and Gillian, the Green and Yellow squadron leaders who had the graveyard shift that sectar, Apollo headed up to the bridge office for the morning command meeting. He got through that and the following briefing session with his officers with a fair amount of credit, despite the sharp pain behind his eyes and a tendency to wince whenever the light hit them. The commander had given him an amused look when he'd walked onto the bridge, but said nothing. Apollo generally preferred to nurse his hangovers without having people comment on them, even parental commanders.

By early afternoon he was feeling better, the headache receding. He'd left Boomer in charge of the duty office while he and Starbuck had eaten lunch, and returned to find the dark lieutenant hunched over the computer on the desk.

"What're you doing?" demanded Starbuck.

"Looking up Aegyptans," said Boomer. "There's not a lot on here."

"About as much as in Boxey's school book. I looked earlier." Starbuck caught the odd look that Apollo gave him and went on to explain. "When you were up top at the command meeting. I had to have something to do."

"What does Boxey's school book say?" Boomer looked up from the screen.

"Nothing much beyond asking me what costume I was wearing. Did you know that you Leonids like wearing lots of jewels?"

"I like. I also can't afford." Boomer punched a button on the computer keyboard. "I can't believe we live with these people for about seven thousand yahrens, and all we know about them fills no more than a page of script! How the hell is that?" He scowled at the screen. "No wonder people are antsy about them. Secretive bastards."

"I know. There wasn't anything that I didn't already know. Weird that, because when I sat down and thought about it properly, I realised that I didn't really know very much, despite being around them for yahrens."

"Yeah," said Boomer.

"The only edge that the system computer has, is that it's a tad more sophisticated than Boxey's book." Starbuck scooted around the desk to lean over Boomer's shoulder and read the screen. "It has the proper names for the clans. The Re-Harakhte clan, not Falcon; Anubis, not Jackal, and Sekhmet, not Lion. And it lists the others that Boxey's book misses out - Thoth, and Sebek, and Amon and Nekhebet and Khensu." He grinned. "First Aegyptan I ever saw was a Sebek. That crocodile head scared me rigid."

"Sekhmet?" Boomer looked up at Apollo. "Isn't that something like what that guy called you?"

"I hope not," said Apollo. "She was the lion-headed Lady."

"Oh. Wrong sex." Boomer looked back at the screen, chewing thoughtfully at his lower lip. "How did you know that? Did you look it up? I haven't found that bit."

Apollo shrugged, non-committal.

"The guy has to be nuts," said Starbuck.

Apollo shrugged again.

After Seti's extraordinary announcement, the man had bowed and left before Apollo could find anything at all sensible to say. He'd walked slowly back to his table, and, when taxed by Boomer and Starbuck, had denied that Seti had added anything that might help solve the problem. It was some time before any of them, even glib Starbuck, said anything very much beyond minor variants on What the HELL was that all about?

In the end, after a great deal of strong ambrosa, they had decided Seti was unhinged. Absolutely obvious the man's crazy , Apollo had said, with the tendency to a slight lisp that always appeared when he had too much to drink. He's got the wrong person. I'm not whoever he thinks I am .

"I can't believe he was really a Gyp," said Boomer now. "They never, but never, take off their masks when they're with humans."

"So he's not Aegyptan," said Apollo, with harsh emphasis on the proper name. "Forget it. If the guy's trying to wind me up, I'm damned if I'm going to let him get to me."

"Just curious. I've never heard of anyone claiming to be Aegyptan before. It's not like anyone would want to be."

"You have a problem with Aegyptans?" asked Apollo.

"Me? No." Boomer shook his head. "I'm okay with them, but they're not exactly popular with civilians, now are they?"

"Who know nothing about them," Apollo pointed out.

"When did that get in the way of blind prejudice?" wondered Starbuck.

Boomer nodded. "I can respect everything they do here on the ship and they're bloody good military advisers. We'd be dead without them, or so backward technologically, that I don't know a warrior who doesn't respect and even admire them. Shit, often our lives depend on them. But they scare most people rigid." Boomer looked thoughtful. "They scare me, sometimes. You can see why. People are scared of what they don't understand, and they don't understand the Aegyptans. Even when you saw one in Caprica City, they'd set themselves apart; people walking around the streets with heads like birds or something. Like that guy said last night, they want to be unmistakable and different and separate."

"I guess," said Starbuck. "It's like they've got some agenda of their own, that doesn't necessarily work to our advantage. You can see why people fear them."

"Yeah" agreed Boomer.

"They've given us a vast amount," said Apollo.

"But what everyone wants to know is, why?" said Boomer.

"Maybe they're just generous." Starbuck grinned sardonically.

"And maybe they are," said Apollo. "There's something - oh, I don't know - noble, maybe, about the way they help."

"Romantic!" jeered Starbuck, softly.

"Apollo, no one does something for nothing. No one. They'll have their own agenda." Boomer shook his head. "It stands to reason that they do. And because we don't know what that is, then people get antsy."

Apollo pulled a face. "So humanity takes the technology they're offered, but mistrusts the givers."

"Human nature," said Starbuck. "Besides, Apollo, when they do decide to do things for us humans, they hardly do their best to join society, now do they? It's not like they do anything socially useful. It was pretty widely believed that it was an Aegyptan who assassinated President Cleome of Scorpia only the yahren before the Destruction. Knifed her, I think."

"Messy," said Boomer.

"Starbuck, that is the worst kind of tabloid conspiracy theory rubbish." Apollo was dismissive. "It's like the sort of story they used to run about daytime holovid actresses having babies fathered by the Cylon Imperious Leader. ‘My nights of passion with the lizard-machines.'"

"Sounds reasonable to me when you saw how ugly their babies usually were."

"Starbuck!"

Starbuck's eyes widened and his lip trembled. He looked utterly crushed. "You mean, it isn't true? They didn't really have babies with the Imperious Leader?"

"Oh for heaven's sake," said Apollo, but he was trying not to grin.

Starbuck laughed. "On second thoughts, I take it back, what I said about the Gyps. Winnowing out a few politicians could be seen as a social good. Pity they didn't take out a few actresses and journalists while they were at it."

"You know what's really spooky?" Boomer was still looking through the data on the screen. "When that guy said that they sometimes lived among us unmasked. That's scary, if you can't even tell if they're there."

"Why?" said Apollo. "I mean, why be afraid of that?"

"Why? Because we'd have no idea they were there or what they were up to, of course! Why hide themselves in among us that way? What motive could they have?"

"Living, maybe," said Apollo, sour. "And you were right about the blind prejudice. I don't understand it. I get on pretty well with them, myself."

"But then, you're one of the favoured few," Starbuck told him. "Maybe it's the nobility thing. Underneath those masks, they're all raging romantics too."

"Starbuck!"

"Come on, Apollo. You know how they are. I mean, it's like they think we're children, or something, and they hardly notice we're there. But every now and again they treat one of us as worthy of their attention. Like you."

"That's nonsense."

"It's not. Didn't you tell me yourself that Tigh always asks you to talk to them about whatever work needs doing? They always look straight through him as if he's not there. They listen to you. If it's not that nobility you admire so much, it must be your innate charm."

"Starbuck's right, Apollo."

"About his charm?" asked Starbuck.

"Don't be daft. But they do seem to respect you, Apollo. It may explain why that guy last night thought you might listen to him."

"I don't know why he thought I'd listen to him and I definitely don't see the need to discuss any of this on duty," said Apollo stiffly.

"No? Not even when you have an Aegyptan admirer?" Boomer's grin was sly.

"It's not me and Boomer he's following around." Starbuck, too, was grinning.

Apollo held their speculative, interested gazes for a centon. "Not on duty, gentlemen. Boomer, can you hold here with Starbuck for a while? I've got to go and see the commander."

"That's the first I've heard of it," said Starbuck, who knew the captain's diary better than he knew his own.

"Well you're hearing it now." Apollo was sharp. He reached across the desk and hit the screen-clear button. "And try to use military equipment for the purpose for which the tax-payer gave it to you, Lieutenants. Stop wasting time. There's work to be done."

"What?" said Starbuck, unwisely.

"Well, you can do the filing, for a start. And if you've got nothing better to do, Boomer, you can review Blue's training record and make me some recommendations for improvements you want to make. By the time I get back, gentlemen, if you know what's good for you."

"You know, Bucko," said Boomer, as the captain departed, leaving more devastation behind him than a veritable whirlwind. "There's times I'll be damned if I understand what you see in him."

Starbuck blushed.

 

 

"Can I talk to you?" Apollo hovered in the doorway to the tiny bridge office.

Adama looked up from the papers and datapads scattered over his desk, and smiled a welcome. "I can spare you a few centons. Something wrong?"

Apollo let the door close behind him and stepped into the office. "I think I've got a stalker."

Adama stared, then waved Apollo into the visitor's chair. "Oh?"

"That guy I mentioned to you a few days ago, the one I said could be Aegyptan. Remember? He's back."

"I see."

"I'd barely been on the Rising Star a centar last night, and he turned up again, wanting to talk." One hand fidgeting with the fastening of his jacket, Apollo watched his father. "This is the third time he's tried it. That's worrying enough, but there's more. He's definitely Aegyptan, Dad."

"Unmasked?"

"It's not entirely unknown, now is it?"

"You can't be sure, Apollo." Adama laid down the datapad he'd been studying, carefully and precisely.

"He said so. All right, I know he might be lying, spinning some tale for the Lords' know what reason, but he knew mother's real name."

Adama closed his eyes for a micron. "You're sure?"

"He mentioned her by name."

Adama put his hands together on the top of the desk, clasping them to keep them still. "Yes. That's suggestive."

Apollo laughed, but there wasn't much mirth in it. "Pretty much. It's bothering me. He said quite a few things that bothered me."

"What did you do?"

Apollo shrugged. "Starbuck and Boomer were with me, so he didn't press it, although he was quite open about who and what he was. I did a nice line in bewilderment. After almost thirty yahrens, I'm good at hiding." He looked moodily at his father. "Their bewilderment was a bit more genuine. I'd hoped that I managed to cover it last night, that we all agreed the guy was just some attention-seeking nutter. But they're curious, Dad. They've both been searching the data systems for information on the Aegyptans."

"They won't find much."

"That won't stop them wondering about him and about me, and why an Aegyptan is so desperate to talk to me. And I'm wondering, too. The Clan has ignored our existence for thirty yahrens. Mother always said they'd leave us alone, once she'd made her decision to live as a human, so why concern themselves with us now? What's happened to change that?"

"I don't know." Adama shook his head.

Apollo looked at him doubtfully. "He called me something. He called me Sekhti."

"I see," said Adama again.

"He said that Mother had called me that, but that you made her change it. Is that true?"

Adama's smile was as lacking in humour as Apollo's harsh laugh of a centon or two before. "Apollo, when your mother and I were Sealed, she had to leave the Clan, you know that. That meant our children would be brought up as Capricans. You were her first child. Of course she'd have preferred to give you an Aegyptan name, but she knew in her heart that wasn't possible, the same way that being open about who she was, wasn't possible. She would have faced an enormous amount of prejudice. You, Athena and Zac would certainly have suffered. Do you think you'd have got into the Academy, no matter how good your scores were, if it had been known that your mother was Aegyptan, a Re-Harakhte? Do you think I'd have got the Galactica?"

"So what did she want to call me?"

Adama sighed. "Sekhet. Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit."

Apollo nodded. "And Seti knew that, too."

Adama looked down at his clasped hands. "I don't know what it means, exactly. I never could speak much Aegyptan."

"She taught me some, but I've forgotten a lot of it."

"I wasn't very happy about her teaching you. It would be all too easy for you to slip, to use Aegyptan in public. She let it go."

"The way she let her true name go?"

Adama looked up at the note in Apollo's voice. "It was her choice, Apollo."

Apollo said nothing for a centon, shrugging. "She gave up a lot," he said at last, moody.

"Yes. I've never denied that. The Clan was not pleased to lose her, and she knew that to be with me, would cut her ties there. Yes. She gave up an awful lot."

"Seti said that he saw us – her and me, and, yeah, he mentioned you too – when I was about eighteen sectars old, so the ties weren't completely cut, not at first, were they? Were they trying to get her to go back?"

Adama's mouth set, and he shook his head.

"And why did you pretend you hadn't heard of him, and why did you go and see him the other night, to warn him off?"

Still Adama said nothing.

"You did, didn't you?" persisted Apollo. "Why?"

Adama drew a deep breath. "I was taken by surprise when you mentioned his name, Apollo. And it's a name I didn't want to remember." The hands resting on the table in front of him twisted together slowly. Adama let out a sigh as deep as the breath he had taken a micron before.

"You know him."

"Yes. I wish to God I didn't."

"You lied to me."

Adama winced at the tone. "I suppose so. I'm sorry, Apollo, but you did surprise me. I never thought that I'd ever have to tell you about him, and I didn't know how. I still don't."

Apollo said nothing, his expression unencouraging.

Adama took another of those deep, sighing breaths. "Please don't talk about this to your sister."

"She already knows about Seti. Starbuck mentioned him at breakfast this morning. He was reading about Aegyptans in Boxey's schoolbooks. She's worried now, too. I said I'd talk to her later."

Adama shook his head. "I'd better speak to her too, then."

"Try telling us the truth. What's all this about?"

Adama winced again. "Apollo, I've tried for the last thirty yahrens to forget that man." He paused, hesitated, then said in a choked voice: "He caused a great deal of trouble between me and your mother, and I do not want my memories of her contaminated by him any more than they are already."

Apollo gave him a sharp look. "Oh," was all he said, shocked, the wind taken completely out of his sails.

Adama managed a slight smile. "It was circumstances, Apollo, that's all. When your mother and I got Sealed, we thought we'd faced up to everything it was going to mean for us. We talked it all over first. We wanted to be certain that we really understood all the implications, that we could foresee everything and be ready for it: your mother leaving her family and Clan, living on Caprica unmasked, what we would do when we had children, how we'd deal with it all."

"Sounds romantic." Apollo found his voice.

"Your mother was a very practical woman. Where do you think you got that from?" Adama sighed. "I suppose we were as prepared as we could be, but practice is very different from theory. You know that we married when I left the Rose of Sharon, where we'd met, for a six sectar stint at headquarters on Caprica before I was posted to the Rycon. That first six sectars was wonderful, spectacular, but then I had to leave."

"And she was on her own in a strange place, with a strange people," said Apollo, and there was more understanding in his voice.

"Precisely. She was separated from her own people. She had few friends. I was away a great deal of the time. So far as everyone knew, she was a family-less orphan from a distant agricultural colony, and she had that lie to live. The only people who knew who your mother really was, were my parents. Your grandfather was fine about it. Nothing much fazed my father. I think he was one of the most tolerant, accepting men I've ever met. Your grandmother Leis was a very different character."

Apollo grimaced slightly. "She hated me," he said. "She hated all of us."

"She was a deeply religious woman, with some very strong views. She never accepted your mother. It was better if she didn't see you."

"We never saw her much, especially after we moved to the shore house when Thenie was born," said Apollo, unregretful. "I guess that this Seti turned up after you'd gone to the Rycon?"

Adama nodded. "I don't need to say any more, Apollo. You understand what happened. It was a very difficult time. Your mother and I worked through it all eventually, but it took a long time and he caused us both a great deal of unhappiness. She was torn in two, between everything of the safety and familiarity of the old life that he represented, and the potentially very lonely life with me being away for sectars at a time. You were a baby, far too young to realise just how strained our marriage was at that time. We came very close to severance. I think that at the end of it all we were stronger and better for it, but I don't mind admitting that I could have lived without it."

Apollo reached awkwardly over the desk and briefly laid his hand over his father's, still writhing painfully and nervously together. Adama's hands stilled, then he twisted one hand to clasp Apollo's.

"Thank you, son." He smiled faintly.

"I'm sorry about it all." Apollo squeezed gently, and withdrew his hand. "I'm sorry this guy's turned up to bring it all back."

"You never really forget something like that," said Adama. "If you're lucky – and your mother and I were lucky - it just becomes less important, less significant than what came after. We had more than twenty five very happy yahrens together, and those first few were far less important than that." He sighed, and passed a hand over his eyes. "I miss her very much."

"Me too," said Apollo

Adama smiled at him affectionately. "You were always closest to her."

"Comes of being an only child for six yahrens," said Apollo. "Now I realise why I was."

Adama nodded.

"What does he want, Dad? What did he say when you went to see him?"

"I don't know what he wants," admitted Adama, ruefully. "When I saw him last secton, I was operating on pure emotion. I was so angry I could barely think straight. I didn't give him a chance to tell me why he'd approached you. I never even got past the door of his room. I just told him that if he came within half a parsec of you, I'd tear him apart, the way I should have done thirty yahrens ago, and I barely let him get a word in. All he did say to me was that it was my fault your mother had died. If I hadn't taken her away from the Clan, she wouldn't have been in Caprica City when the Cylons hit. And I'm military, a member of the military force that lost the war to the Cylons in the first place. He blames me for her death." Adama sighed. "He can't blame me as much as I blame myself."

"I know," said Apollo, awkwardly. "It wasn't your fault."

"You remind me of her, very much. I think it's because you're the only one to have inherited her eyes. I'll always have your mother here as long as I have you, but sometimes when I look at you, I just feel so guilty for not being there. For failing to protect her." Adama sighed again, heavier and more heartfelt. "I was never there when it mattered, Apollo. Never. That's why this whole thing happened in the first place, because I wasn't there when she needed me."

"If that's what he thinks, then maybe he's looking to cause trouble between you and me as revenge. I know he hasn't approached Thenie. She was scared and surprised this morning."

"No," said Adama. "I don't think he'll try to talk to her."

"He'll find it more difficult to get to her, you mean? But you'd better warn her, anyway. I'll stay out of the way until you get the chance to tell her."

"Thank you."

"Do you think he'll try and create trouble anyway by telling everyone who mother was?"

"I don't know." said Adama. "What has he said to you?"

"Nothing much. I just played dumb, and I guess he thought that I didn't know anything at all about mother being Aegyptan. It's hardly likely I could say anything with Starbuck and Boomer there."

"You've never told them? I thought you might have told Starbuck, anyway."

"After listening to them just now explaining why they distrust the ‘secretive bastards', I don't think that's on the cards. They tried very hard to say all the right things about respect and trust, but they're almost as antsy about Aegyptans as any civilian. Most military are, despite working so closely with them. No, I'll keep the family secret, Dad."

Adama sighed. "Unless, as you say, Seti reveals it."

"Then we'll just have to live with it. I hope to God he doesn't. I don't think it will do either of us, or Thenie, any good."

"It may not be as bad as you think. The Destruction has made people think a lot more about what's really important. They know that the Aegyptans are essential to our survival. That may moderate public opinion a little."

"I wish I shared your optimism. I think the exact opposite is happening, Dad. I've seen it, on the ship surveys. And if people like Starbuck and Boomer can share some of that prejudice, what hope is there that civilians will be more tolerant?"

Adama nodded glumly, and they were silent for a centon or two. "And if Seti approaches you again?" he said at last.

"Then maybe I'll do the tearing apart, for you. He invited me to do some research into genetics - so I'd find out I'm part Aegyptan, I guess - and then visit him on the Usermaatre. He's waiting for me to make the next move."

"And?"

"And he'll wait another thirty yahrens before I do."

Adama smiled. "Thank you, Apollo. And thank you for listening to me. I'm sorry you've had to find out about all this."

"It's better I did. We've more than enough secrets to keep already."

"Don't let it affect how you think about your mother. Please don't let it do that."

"I won't. I loved her very much too, Dad." Apollo got up and smiled, to try and lighten the atmosphere. "I'd better get back. Do you want me to send in Thenie?"

Adama nodded. "I'd like to get it over with."

"She's better off knowing. You don't have anything else you want to confess to before I go?"

"No," said Adama, looking into his son's green Aegyptan eyes. "Nothing at all."

 

 

"Apollo!"

Apollo paused and waited, letting Athena catch up.

"I've been looking for you," she said.

"You've talked to Dad."

Athena nodded helplessly. "I can barely believe it. They always seemed so devoted to each other."

"Yeah. Looks like we got that wrong."

"No, I think they were really. I think they really did work it out. They were happy."

"I thought so. Mind you, Zac always said that it only worked because Dad was away for most of the time." Apollo grinned slightly. "He reckoned no one could live with Dad full time, remember? Well, now me and you are finding that out for ourselves."

"We're managing." She grinned, both hands closing on his arm. "Come and talk to me, Appy," she said. "Please."

It wasn't often that she invoked the name she'd bestowed on him in childhood, only in special circumstances. When she wanted something.

He winced slightly, but his free hand covered both of hers comfortingly. "You're soulless and manipulative, you know that?"

"Of course, I am, brother mine. I'm female." She smiled up at him. "And I love watching it send you into instant big brother mode, remembering the sweet little sister who couldn't say your name properly. It brings out all the protective instincts in you. Works like a charm."

"You're ruthless and totally lacking in morals," he said in disapproval.

"But still sweet," she said, and smiled again. "I'll even lisp, if you like, if it reinforces the conditioning."

"Spare me." Apollo glanced at his chronometer. "All right. Starbuck can look after things for a few more centons."

"He'll steal the ship from under you. Come on. I'll buy you some tea."

The Commissary was only two decks down and a couple of hundred metres away. They found a corner table, quiet and secluded. Athena went one better than tea. She came back from the counter with mushies, as well.

"Comfort eating?"

"We need it. Are you okay with this?"

Apollo shook his head. "About learning that our mother was unfaithful within a yahren of their marriage? No, I'm not okay with it. I didn't say much to him. I was pretty much shocked by it all and didn't know what to say and he got a bit upset, the nearest I've ever seen him to breaking up. He misses her like hell."

"And you don't? I don't? You two were very close."

Apollo sighed. "I've been thinking about it a lot, since I talked to him. It all makes so much sense. When I was a kid, she would get so nervous before he came home. Everything had to be perfect: the house, the garden; her. Even me. Especially me. I had to have the best school reports to show him, I had to make things for him to see and admire, have done lots of things to welcome him home, things she could show him to show what I'd achieved. I remember once that she cried when I didn't come home with perfect marks for some project at school."

"I don't remember that."

"You couldn't have been more than two or so. It was just before Zac was born. I never saw her cry before, that's why I remember it. I hated it. It scared the life out of me, that I'd done that to her."

"It was probably being pregnant. Screws up the hormones, I'm told."

"Maybe, but I don't think so. It was more than that. She always wanted him to be proud of me. All the way through to the Academy, she pushed me to do my best for him." He broke off and shrugged. "I guess it's hindsight really, but now I think she was scared. I think that she was desperate to make it work with him and maybe making his home-life perfect fitted into that. Everything had to help that, even us kids. I don't know."

"I know that you've always thought they demanded at lot of you, but I really don't remember that so much, not for me. I don't remember it being so different than any of my friends' parents and what they wanted. Maybe things steadied down after me and Zac came along."

"Maybe." Apollo was frowning. "You mean, she just got into the habit of pushing me to be perfect and never saw the need with you and Zac?"

"Me and Zac were always perfect," said Athena, sweetly.

Apollo grinned, reluctantly. "Perfectly appalling, maybe. At least, Zac was. He was more destructive than a Cylon task force." There was a catch in his voice.

Athena stared down at her tea. "I miss them too," she said, and for a centon they sat quiet, remembering their dead. She sniffed slightly, and went on, "I think it was easier for them by the time they had me and Zac, so it maybe that's why it was easier for the two of us."

"Yeah. They never seemed to demand as much from you two."

"There are compensations in not being the eldest," Athena acknowledged.

"He still demands a lot."

"You deliver, so why worry?"

"Because I'm not so certain I deliver. He never tells me I do. He only ever tells me when I'm in for a kicking." Apollo sighed. "Maybe her insecurity rubbed off on me."

That would be my diagnosis, yes," said Athena. "I wish you'd get over this, Appy. I know you never wanted to come to the Galactica, but really you've nothing to worry about."

Apollo shrugged slightly. "It gets me down, that's all. Sometimes I think that his standards are impossibly high, and no one could reach them."

"You'll worry yourself into an early grave, if you aren't careful. Stop trying so hard, and relax about it."

"I can't do that either. I was always terrified that if I failed again, especially for him, she'd get upset and I couldn't bear that. Even now she's gone, I don't want her to be disappointed in me." He managed a laugh. "That sounds crazy, I guess."

"Moderately," agreed Athena. "She was never disappointed in you. Dad isn't either, and you really should know that without being told."

"I've never been so sure about that."

"You know he's proud of you," said Athena.

"He never says so, so how can I know? Look, let's get back onto track, here. This isn't about me. You don't remember anything that hinted that there was anything wrong with them?"

"No, but it all happened yahrens before I was born, remember. I think they were all right, in the end, by the time me and Zac came. You don't blame her, do you, or think less of her? Dad's a bit worried that you will."

Apollo stared. "Think less of her? She must have been so lonely, Thenie. All I am is heart sorry for her."

Athena put her hand on his arm. "Me too. He asked a hell of a lot of her, didn't he?"

"One helluva lot. And we've all been hiding, ever since."

Athena nodded. "What do you think he wants, this Aegyptan?"

"I don't know." Apollo's frown deepened. "And that scares me."

Athena shivered. "Me too. I've got a very bad feeling about this."

 

 

"You all right?" Starbuck asked.

"Fine. I couldn't sleep, that's all."

"It's just that you've been a bit jumpy since last night. The guy has to be insane, Apollo. Don't let him get to you."

"I'm not the one sitting at the computer looking up Aegyptans on the search engine."

"You know a lot about them already, it seems."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing," said Starbuck, surprised. "I was just impressed with you knowing who that lion headed woman was, that's all. I wondered how you knew."

Apollo looked at him steadily. "I must have heard it somewhere," he said dismissively. "Are you going to talk to me about this all night? Because I was expecting a little less chat and little more action."

Starbuck laughed, and reached for him. Apollo had paged him soon after midnight, complaining of insomnia and inviting Starbuck over with the admirable intention of making him come screaming; several times, if at all possible. Starbuck had got there running. Apollo, dressed in nothing more than shorts and the old tee that he liked sleeping in, had been waiting for him in the bedroom when he let himself in. Starbuck loved that old tee. It was shrunk and skimpy, and it showed off the bits of Apollo's chest that he liked the best. Apollo knew what Starbuck thought of that tee. He was almost certainly wearing it with nefarious and sexual intent.

"Glad you're here," said Apollo, a few centons later, as he was feverishly getting Starbuck to the same state of undress as he was himself.

"Mmmn," said Starbuck, mouth too busily employed in kissing the side of Apollo's throat for coherent speech. His hands were busy, too, rubbing over that tight white tee shirt where it peaked above Apollo's nipples.

"Dad!" Boxey banged hard on the bedroom door. "Dad! I need the flush, Dad!"

"Shit," hissed Starbuck, leaping backwards to get off Apollo so fast that he almost fell onto the floor.

Apollo flopped back on the pillows and counted to five under his breath.

"DAD!" Boxey was whining now. "I need it now! I wet everything, Dad. I want you, right now!"

"Coming," called Apollo. "I'm coming." And to Starbuck: "Stay here and think hot thoughts. I won't be long."

Starbuck moaned as quietly as he could manage it. Apollo, shrugging into a robe, could only smile apologetically.

For a little while, Starbuck listened to Boxey's hiccupping sobbing and Apollo's calm, soothing voice, both fading eventually into silence. Apollo had taken to fatherhood with the same practical whole-heartedness that he did everything, and Starbuck was impressed, wondering if his own father, if he'd ever been around, would have been the same. But half a centar later, considerably less impressed and tired of thinking hot thoughts on his own, he sneaked to the door of Boxey's bedroom. Whatever accident had happened had been cleaned up and Apollo was sitting on the bed, holding the child on his lap, Boxey's arms locked around his neck. Starbuck carefully edged his head around the doorjamb and raised an enquiring eyebrow.

"It's okay. He's asleep now," said Apollo quietly, tilting back Boxey's head to check the tear-stained face. "Sorry. Every now and again he gets upset about things. It's only been a yahren, and he's still a bit insecure, really. When he gets like this, he won't sleep unless I'm here."

"He misses his mother," said Starbuck with admirable detachment. His relationship with Serina had been spiky, at best. They'd circled each other cautiously, polite and unenthusiastic, both knowing that they were rivals for Apollo even if Apollo himself had seemed innocently unaware of it.

"Yeah. I know how he feels. I miss mine." Apollo eased out of Boxey's grip, laying the child down and wrapping him warmly. As he straightened, Starbuck's arms went around him comfortingly, and he leaned back against his lover's chest.

"At least your insecurity doesn't take the form of a weak bladder."

Apollo smiled and turning within Starbuck's embrace, he kissed him lightly. "Attention, you idiot. He's wanting attention."

"I want some, too, Apollo, and I'm almost desperate enough to pee all over the floor to get it."

Apollo's smile broadened. "Bed for us, too, then. I want no more accidents tonight."

"That was the idea." Starbuck took Apollo's hand in his as they walked back through the living room. "Unless I've somehow managed to sleep through it, he doesn't usually get up in the middle of the night to tell you he's using the flush, does he?"

"Not usually as late as this, no. He's usually comatose until morning after the first centar or so. But he likes to share these little things with me." Apollo closed and locked his bedroom door behind them. "I guess it's part of the bonding ritual. Usually, though, we manage to reach the flush in time."

"Ah, what it is to be the father of a small boy with uncertain bladder control." Starbuck yanked off Apollo's robe and pushed him down onto the bed, and climbed up to sit across him, straddled over a groin that was already hardening. He could feel the burgeoning erection pressing against him. "No regrets about taking him on, then?"

"None. I love him to bits. And I love you to bits…" Apollo's voice died away as Starbuck leaned down and kissed him. When he regained possession of his mouth, Apollo asked, more sadly than he realised: " Do you love me, Starbuck?"

"More than anything," said Starbuck, letting Apollo pull him down until he was lying on the captain, holding him still with his weight.

"I mean, we've never really talked about where we're going with this. It just sorta happened."

"Did it hell!" Starbuck snorted. "I spent yahrens manoeuvring you to the point where you thought you were seducing me. You really have no idea how much effort I put into catching you, do you?"

Apollo grinned. "So where do you want to take this, Starbuck?"

"In an happy ever after kind of way, do you mean? Well, I'm quite enjoying this extensive period of monogamy. It's been unique in my experience so far, but I could cope with it for the rest of my life provided I'm being monogamous with you."

"And you'd never be unfaithful to me?"

Starbuck pulled back to look at him. "I promised you," he said, with a touch of hurt dignity.

Apollo sighed. "It's not like we're Sealed, or anything. And even that's no guarantee."

"A promise is still a promise. What's up with you? Look, I love you, Apollo. I think I always have, ever since the day a certain snitrod of a captain celebrated his arrival by bawling me out the micron he saw me and putting me on report on his first day. I was so smitten by these beautiful green eyes - " and Starbuck leaned down to kiss each beloved eyelid "- that I went out of my way to get your attention after that."

"Usually by getting me so riled, I put you on report about three times a day."

"Hey, you noticed me, right? And I've stayed noticed. I'd say that it's worked out mighty fine. I'd rather that we weren't hiding it, but I'll do that for as long as it takes before you're ready to tell everyone. Although I should warn you that Boomer's seen me yearning over you one time too many and suspects we're up to no good."

"I think Thenie does too."

"She's a smart girl. I sincerely hope we're up to no good, Apollo. Because. I. Am. Not. Interested. In. Any. One. Else." Each word was punctuated with a smacking kiss. "Ever," Starbuck added.

"No matter what you find out about me that you won't like?"

"Secrets?"

"Maybe. We all have some, I guess."

"As long as you haven't secretly married Sheba, I can cope with anything. The one thing I don't like about you is this bad habit you're developing of wanting a serious talk when I've got a very urgent erection pressing into your thigh."

Apollo smiled. "All right. I noticed it, and I want it."

"Good. So we've finished the serious talk?"

Apollo nodded. "Just make love to me until I squeak."

"Squeak?" said Starbuck, laughing.

"If Boxey's this restless, we'd better keep the noise down." Apollo reached up and pulled Starbuck's head down for another bruising kiss. "Screaming's right out."

"You mean I was brought here under false pretences?"

Apollo licked his lips. "Oh no," he said.

Starbuck could almost feel his eyes go wide and glassy as Apollo's hands delved into his shorts to find the erection he'd been boasting about centons before.

"Oh Apollo!" he squeaked. "Do that again!"

 

 

"Last item today," Apollo glanced up from his datapad to meet the relieved gazes from six squadron leaders, thirteen flight commanders and one serenely unflappable Infantry lieutenant. "You've all got today's interview lists?"

There was a collective groan.

"Stop complaining. It's the last lot."

"Can I ask you something?" asked Drake. "How many of these applicants are you interviewing today?"

"Nary the one," said Apollo. "I've listened to Starbuck's good advice about delegating responsibility to my squadron leaders, and the job's all yours. I'll be minding the shop while you lot moil and toil, trying to see if any of our potential cadets have an operational brain cell. Let me know if you find one, and we'll celebrate."

Six squadron leaders and twelve flight commanders glowered at Starbuck. One serenely unflappable Infantry lieutenant smiled.

"You've been his wingman too long," Gillian told the lieutenant. "I've been interviewing ruddy cadets for more than three sectons now."

"And a very fine job you've made of it, too," said Apollo brightly.

The glowers increased in intensity.

"Far too long," muttered Bojay, giving Starbuck an unfriendly look.

"Can't Trent help?" said Boomer, desperate.

"Sorry," said Trent, but he neither looked nor sounded like it. "I'm on escort duty. There's a contingent of Aegyptans going on to the Windjammer today, to start work on the final survey before upgrading her Stardrive and building you airheads something to land those silly little fighters on. We're providing escort."

"There's been some trouble between the Aegyptans and the other survivors," said Apollo. "They aren't used to Aegyptans, the way we are. It may be a while until the people on the Windjammer get used to seeing Aegyptans around and accept it."

"You're expecting trouble?" asked Sheba.

"Could be," said Apollo, and shrugged. "Trent's going to be there, just in case."

"Did I ever mention how much I like Aegyptans?" said Bojay. "And can I go with him to help look after them?"

"Hey, I was about to say that!" complained Kyle.

"We'll all come," offered Sheba.

"I'd rather look after a riot than interview these idiots who want to join up," said Bojay, with an artistic shudder.

Apollo laughed and shook his head, turning back to the business of the day, closing the meeting and sending his grumbling pilots off to their interviewing duties. He held Trent back. "When are you going?"

"Right now. Why? Want to come along?"

"Yes," said Apollo doubtfully. Then with more certainty, "Yes, I think I will. I haven't been off this ship for almost a sectar. I could do with a change of scene."

"Delighted to have you along, Captain."

"Apollo?" said Starbuck, from the door.

"I'm going with Trent, Starbuck. Get Jolly to take this duty shift with you. I'll tell Core Command."

"You sure? You don't want me to come?"

Apollo grinned. "Occasionally, Starbuck, we get to cut the cord. I do have to go places without you sometimes, you know."

"I know." Starbuck grumbled. "But I don't have to like it. Especially when you've just blamed me for you getting out of a job you don't like to do. You're running out and leaving me to their tender mercy. They're going to keelhaul me for this."

"Ouch. Well, in that case I'd better do something about it. I'll authorise the use of protective clothing. How about that?"

Starbuck's expression darkened, and he said, with a sarcastic emphasis on Apollo's rank that promised later retribution: "Thanks a lot, Captain."

Apollo just laughed and let him go, spending the next few centons explaining himself to Core Command. Trent talked to his top sergeant making sure that everyone realised their captain was going with them and the troopers were prepared.

"Just so you don't get any nasty surprises and the boys and girls are on their best behaviour," Trent explained as they boarded the shuttle.

"You mean they aren't always this quiet and reserved?" Apollo shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry to be such a restraining influence."

"So are we," said Trent kindly. "We'll see what we can do to train you out of it." He went forward to speak to the pilot, confirming the platoon's readiness for takeoff, returning to rejoin Apollo. "You know Sergeant Acer?" Trent nodded towards the giant of a man sitting at the back of the shuttle, taking up enough room for two lesser mortals.

"I do," said Apollo. "I'm bloody glad he's on my side."

"Not only on your side, but a devoted admirer. Well, as devoted an admirer as a man can get, given you're an airhead." Trent paused. "No offence."

"None taken, mudbrain, and that's Captain Airhead to you." Apollo waited while the shuttle lifted up from the Galactica's deck, studying the big man sitting watching him stolidly. "I don't see signs of any particular devotion," he said when they were underway.

"It's there. Acer was a miner, working the tylinium mine on Selos. You led the raid that got him and the other miners out, if you remember."

"I remember Selos," admitted Apollo. "And I remember the miners. They were all built like him and they'd done a bloody good job of running the Cylon occupation force ragged. All they needed from me was transport out, but with all that weight, I thought I'd never get the rescue shuttle off the dirt. It got exciting."

"They were mostly ex-infantry."

"I remember. I know they all joined up again. I just hadn't realised it was due to anything other than a sincere desire to kick the pogees out of the Cylons. A lot of them didn't get out. Like I said, it got exciting at the end."

"Yeah, well, Acer's grateful for the assist. If anything happens when we get to the Windjammer, stick close to him. That way I won't have to explain myself to your grieving father. Not much gets past Acer."

Apollo frowned. "How much trouble are you expecting?"

"You tell me, Captain. You're the one who ordered the escort. Me, I always plan for riot and mayhem. That way it's a glad surprise if nothing happens and I'm ready if it does. And you're right, you know. They won't be pleased to have Aegyptans on board. We need to be able to cope with anything they throw at us." Trent's artificial left hand touched Apollo's flight jacket. "Leave that here. I've a body suit for you back here."

"Armour?" Apollo shrugged out of the jacket and followed him back to where Acer was sitting. The big sergeant stood to greet them, a padded vest in his hands.

"Just light stuff," said Trent breezily. "It'll turn a knife and absorb low-level laser fire. Of course, it won't stop anything serious. If that happens, hide behind Acer. He's big enough to stop a runaway shuttle."

Acer ignored this pleasantry and held out the vest to Apollo. "This should fit, sir .

Apollo nodded an acknowledgement, and allowed the big man to help him into the vest. It was lighter than he expected, but bulky and uncomfortable. Hands the size of shovels adjusted the shoulder straps for a snug fit, surprisingly deft for such a big man.

"Okay, sir?" asked Acer.

"Fine, thanks. The lieutenant says you're my nursemaid."

"Yes sir." Acer looked him over and nodded. "You'll do. Can you handle one of these?" He handed over a laser rifle.

Apollo took it rather gingerly. It was a lot heavier and more frightening-looking than his Fleet issue pistol. "On a range," he said. "Never in real life."

"Just point it and wave it around a bit." Trent was shrugging into his own armoured vest. "That usually does the trick and we want to keep the body count down."

"Are you telling me it's a common misconception that the appearance of the Infantry is inevitably followed by a pile of corpses so high you can't see over it?"

"A gross calumny – unless you're talking Cylon corpses, when we do our best to comply with the stereotype. But at heart, we're really a peaceable lot. Look at Acer and tell me that you can doubt that for a micron. Helmet, Sarge?"

Acer took a helmet from the seat rack. "Standard issue, Captain. You'll have to adjust the fit to make it comfortable." And to Trent, "I got him a command helmet."

"Good," said Trent. "I'll take him through how it all works. Thanks, Sarge."

"Lieutenant." Acer turned from Trent to Apollo, and nodded. "Sir."

They made their way back to the front of the shuttle, Apollo feeling more than slightly ridiculous in the bulky body armour and a little encumbered by the long rifle.

"Told you about the devotion," said Trent.

"I didn't notice anything."

"You've got to be joking! He called you ‘sir'. Four times. I counted each and every one, and I stood there marvelling. You must have noticed the way my chin hit the deck - I'll have the bruise for days."

Apollo just shrugged.

"For Acer, that's a record." Trent grinned. "He never calls me ‘sir'. I'd expect the suns to go out first."

"We're just coming up on the Usermaatre, Captain," the pilot called out. "The Aegyptan shuttle will rendezvous in two centons."

Apollo moved forward to stand just behind the driver's seat. He stared through the port towards the Usermaatre, watching it grow ever larger as the shuttle approached.

Looked at objectively it was a beautiful ship; elegant, beautifully designed and crafted, with short swept back wings and a organic flow to her lines that looked as if she'd been grown, not built. An essential part of the fleet's defences, the Usermaatre was heavily armed. Her laser cannon protected those refugee ships in the immediate vicinity when the fleet was attacked, as it had been in the past and undoubtedly would be in the future. But lovely as the ship was, anyone looking at her would be aware that it was an Aegyptan place; secretive and ritualistic, hidden away from humans.

"She's quite something," said Trent. "Ever been on board?"

"When she first joined us, I took a small squad over to carry out the Fleet census. Not since. Kam-Ahtes went with me to smooth the way - know him?"

Trent nodded. "He's the one in charge of the Gyps on the Galactica, isn't he?"

"He's the most senior Aegyptan on board, yes. They gave us a list of people on her and got us off ship as fast as they could move us. They were very polite, but they don't like strangers."

"I know. I've worked with lots of them, and I can't say I really know any of them, much less get on first name terms with them. There's her shuttle, look."

"I see her." Apollo watched the little shuttle emerge from the Usermaatre's bay and move towards the rendezvous, and headed back to his seat. "What happens when we get to the Windjammer?"

"We dock first, and she follows us in." Trent checked over his laser, tightened the straps on his armour slightly. He looked around the shuttle, at the twenty quiet, competent troopers waiting patiently for whatever the operation would bring. "Ten centons, people."

Leaning over the captain, Trent showed Apollo how the helmet systems worked. It was only a few centons before he could bring up the heads-up displays and targeting arrays that were linked through to his rifle. It was little different than his flight helmet, except in design, and Trent, recognising that in this, at least, Apollo needed little instruction, soon left him to it. Instead, Apollo spent the next few centons wriggling about in the body armour to try and get it comfortable, and trying to familiarise himself with the laser rifle. Once he glanced up to see Sergeant Acer watching and shaking his head sadly.

"Captain." The pilot beckoned him forward. "The Windjammer reports a disturbance on the flight deck."

"What kind of disturbance?"

"Peaceable demonstration, the comms officer says. About forty people have cut off the back of the landing bay."

"Can we still get the shuttles in?"

"No problem. Getting any further into the ship could be the problem."

"Oh great." Apollo made his way back to Trent. "You hear that?"

Trent shrugged. "We're ready."

"There was going to be a formal announcement tomorrow, but it looks like Teague let the news leak out. You ought to be careful about what you ask for, Trent. Riot and mayhem you said, riot and mayhem you get." Apollo went over his laser rifle again, carefully putting the firing mechanism across to stun mode. He fitted the comms head-set into place and settled the helmet over the top.

"One centon," the pilot called out. "Buckle up."

"All right?" Trent asked.

Apollo nodded. "Trent, this is your show. I'm just along for the ride. I won't interfere unless I think I really have to, okay?"

"Okay. Just stay close to Acer, and you'll be fine."

"When we get back, I'm going to put you into a training Viper and see how fine you feel in like circumstances."

Trent smiled. "You won't like that at all. I get hellish air-sick."

 

 

The Windjammer's landing bay was standard design, the back of the bay closed off by huge, transparent tylinium safety screens. What wasn't so standard was the group of demonstrators, some waving placards and all shouting noisily, milling about in the narrow space between the screens and the main bay bulkheads. Lines of security men in riot gear with interlocked shields held the access gaps on each side of the screen.

"That's a peaceable demonstration?" Trent aimed the shuttle's sensors and cameras at the back of the deck and watched the monitors closely. A placard flew over the heads of the security detail to bounce across the decking.

"Security should have kept them well away from the bay," said Apollo, half to himself.

"They won't get past us."

Apollo looked around the shuttle. "I'd rather we didn't put it to the test. Taking half a platoon of heavily armed troopers out there is only going to make matters worse."

"You want me to try talking to them first?"

"Can't hurt," Apollo pointed out.

Trent winced as another placard learnt to fly. "They might get better at throwing things."

Apollo grinned. "You," he said, waving one hand in the air. "Them." The other hand waved a metre away. "What's in the middle?"

"A bloody great tylinium screen," agreed Trent, patient. "But it has bloody great gaps at each end, Apollo, all the better for throwing placards through."

"Duck?"

Trent's stare was unfriendly. "And if they come bursting through them and into the bay - and frankly, would you be putting your pay on those security guards holding the line? - it'll be far too late to get the boys and girls out of the shuttle."

"Point." Apollo nodded. "Get them out and keep the shuttle between them and the crowd. Then they'll be out there, ready if needed."

Trent frowned. "All right," he said. "Gina, you heard the man."

"Sir." Trent's top sergeant looked as unconvinced as the lieutenant.

Apollo, shadowed by Acer, went with Trent down the ramp. The troopers filed down quietly behind them and mustered on the far side of the shuttle. "Good luck," said Apollo to Trent.

"Thanks," said Trent. "Tell me, Captain, if this is non-interference, what are you like in meddle mode?"

"Pray you never find out." Apollo watched Trent jog-trot across to the screens and blew out his breath noisily. "And I could have had a quiet day back in the office," he said, sadly.

"You mean you volunteered, sir?" Acer wasn't mustering anywhere more than a couple of feet from the captain he'd been told to nursemaid.

"It was shaping up to being a slow sort of day, Sergeant. I thought it might help pass the time."

"First law of the infantry, Captain. Never volunteer. Even you officer types should learn that."

"I needed some excitement," explained Apollo, apologetically, and turned his head to watch the Aegyptan shuttle glide in to a perfect landing. "Oh-oh. It's going to be fun when those shuttle doors open."

"Yup." Acer hefted the rifle in his hands. "All the excitement we can handle."

Apollo watched as the shuttle stopped, a few metres from where he stood. Even that most utilitarian of ships was beautifully designed, with same organic line as the Usermaatre showed, as if for the Aegyptans, nothing could be merely utilitarian. Everything also had to be aesthetically satisfying.

The sight of the lone Aegyptan walking down the ramp, was met by a frenzied roaring from the crowd that Apollo could hear even through the screens. He glanced over his shoulder. Trent was talking to one of the security guards and the Windjammer's captain, Teague. Apollo turned back to the Aegyptan, moving forward to meet him - or her. Her, he thought. The loosely flowing black clothes concealed the sex of the wearer, but there was something about the walk that made him think it was a woman.

The helmet represented a jackal, pointed muzzle and upstanding ears beautifully moulded in silver, every hair carved into place. All Apollo could see of the Aegyptan underneath was the bright eyes, as vivid a green as his own, through the eyeholes of the mask.

"Anubis," said Apollo, and it was a greeting.

The Aegyptan bowed slightly. "Captain. We weren't expecting to see you here today."

"I needed the exercise." Apollo glanced over her shoulder at the shuttle, faintly pleased he'd been right about her sex. "Are you all there is?"

"The rest are waiting on my signal. We haven't met before, although I do know of you. My name is Mene-ti-Auapet, Captain. You may call me Mene." She raised her crossed wrists to a point level with her shoulders and bowed, the traditional Aegyptan greeting, before holding out a slender hand.

"Apollo." He said it with a touch of defiance, shaking hands the Caprican way, his hand holding her forearm just below the elbow. Her hand on his arm was surprisingly strong.

"I'm aware that you are commonly known so."

Trent trotted back to join them before Apollo could respond. "Usual problem, Captain. Someone's whipped them up into a frenzy. This could take a while." He nodded at the Aegyptan. "I'm sorry the welcome isn't more fulsome."

"Any more fulsome and it would be a riot," said Mene, amused. "We'll stay on the shuttle until they're calmer."

"Then I'll go and open negotiations." Trent grinned a little fatalistically. "Captain Teague isn't very hopeful, but I'll see what I can do."

"Have fun." Apollo watched him go, and then turned back to Mene.

"Would you rather join him?" she asked.

"I promised to stay out of it. This type of operation is in his territory, not mine. I'll jump in if I need to."

"Well, I would welcome the opportunity to talk to you, Apollo." There was a measurable pause before she used his name. "We had hoped that you would have taken up the Re-Harakhte Seti-sen-Ankhaten's invitation to visit him on the Usermaatre."

Apollo glanced at the nearby sergeant. Acer stood stolid and phlegmatic, eyes on the increasingly agitated crowd, giving no sign of being able to overhear. "I don't want to talk to him."

"You should. He has things of importance to discuss with you."

Apollo stared at the crowd. "Last secton, Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon of the Khensu clan stopped me on the Galactica's deck and had a message for me. Two words, that he knew Seti had mentioned to me. Yesterday, I was talking to the Sehkmet leader on the Galactica about the upgrades to the Viper handling kit, and Kha-nes-akhat just dropped into the conversation that he hoped I would give Seti an answer soon." Finally he turned to look at her. "I'm beginning to feel hounded about this, Mene. What's it all about? You've all ignored me for thirty yahrens, and suddenly I'm so needed that every Aegyptan I come across, from every clan, is pressing me to see Seti?"

"Ah, then you do know about Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon. We weren't certain."

"Yes, I know. I always have. But that doesn't explain why you're all so interested in me now."

"We always have been, Sekhet." She shrugged, shoulders raised gracefully under the black silk. "There are not many of us and since the Destruction all clan rivalry has been set aside. I know that Seti wants to discuss something that is personal and affects only him; something that affects only you; and more important, something that affects all of us, all Aegyptans. We would welcome a resolution there"

"My name's Apollo."

She bowed.

"And a resolution to what?"

"Our relations with the humans grow increasingly strained. We don't want to wait much longer."

"You'll have to. I know his connexion to my family. I'm not interested in anything he has to say, period."

"You know what the commander has told you. It isn't necessarily everything."

"Captain!" said Acer.

Apollo turned to him. "What?"

"You've had some hand-to-hand training, haven't you, sir?"

Apollo looked over to the demonstrators. Things were looking very ugly. At the bay doors, the crowd, held back only by the interlocked riot shields of the scared-looking security detail, swayed against the interdict, a wordless rumbling murmur and the occasional shrieked imprecation acting as counterpoint to Trent's attempts to talk to them. The menace was almost visible.

"Some. Sergeant Kennedy gives us some basic training, but it's only intended to help us try and handle whatever we might face if we're shot down. I'm a Fleet officer, Acer, not a grunt. I don't expect to have to fight with my fists. Besides, the theory used to be that if we crashed, it'd likely be the Cylons that did it. Can you honestly see me trying to slap a Centurion around?"

"I'll have a word with Kennedy when we get back to the Galactica, sir, and take over your training. You're going to need to do better than that now." Acer met Apollo's gaze. "You were Fleet, sir. Now you're our commander. I think the lieutenant's going to need some help. This one smells bad."

Apollo watched for a centon, then nodded. Trent's efforts to talk to the demonstrators were having no discernable effect.

"You're right." He looked uncertainly at Mene for a moment.

"I'll come too," she said.

"If you think it will do any good." Apollo started off across the flight deck, Acer lumbering at his side. "I've never actually tried to stop a riot before. I mean, although things got a little hairy on these ships immediately after the Destruction, they never actually tried to tear me limb from limb."

"Do you have any idea of what you're doing?" Mene asked

"No," said Apollo, taking off his helmet and hooking it onto his belt. "I'm winging it."

Acer ostentatiously checked his rifle. "Stick close to me, then, sir. I'm right handed, so stay on my left and try not to get in my way if it comes to a fight."

Apollo glanced at the big trooper. "I can see that I'm going to find it very comforting to have your bulk between me and the mob."

Acer sniffed. "They only ever want me for my body."

Trent had retreated, with Teague and the security sergeant, to the middle of the bay. Apollo went to join him, Acer sticking to him like glue on the right, Mene walking quietly on his other side. The roar of the crowd, already muted by the tylinium barrier, faded into a muttering silence at the sight of the Aegyptan coming close. The mood darkened considerably, as if with the quiet came a greater menace.

"No luck?" Apollo asked Trent.

"They're not exactly amenable to reason, Captain," said Teague. "There's been rumours circulating here for the last few days that's got everyone agitated that you're coming to take over and hand the ship over to the Aegyptans."

"And that happened, how, exactly?"

"I don't know," said Teague stiffly. "My officers and I haven't spoken of it."

Apollo watched him, thinking of the last time he'd been on this ship, and the unexpected meeting with an old adversary, but he said no more. He looked at Trent. "Choices?"

"We go in or we go home." Trent shrugged. "And if we go home…"

"I know. We can't do that. We can't run." Apollo rubbed at his eyes with the back of one hand, his signature gesture of impatience and annoyance. "I guess that all they're interested in is seeing the back of us. No other demands?"

"They just say that they want those godless creatures off the ship," said Teague.

"Ah," said Mene. "I expect they mean me."

"Naw," muttered Acer. "They heard the infantry's here."

"But running off the Infantry means running off the commander's authority," said Apollo softly. And as an afterthought, "And the Council's."

"Yeah," Trent agreed.

Apollo nodded. "And we can't let that happen. I guess I get to try." He handed Trent his rifle. "Here. Hold this for me." He unholstered the laser from his hip and handed that to Teague. "I'm going in to talk to them."

"Don't be mad, man!" said Teague.

Trent stared. "Behind the screen? In there with them?"

Apollo nodded.

"Are you crazy?" demanded Trent.

"Probably."

"And what the hell can you say to them? All they want is us off their ship, Apollo. They don't want to negotiate."

"I have to try," said Apollo. "If I can just explain what it is we're doing here, maybe they'll listen."

"Apollo, don't even think about it. There's no danger here at all with them penned up against the inside of the screen like that, but once you go round there to join them, they could tear you apart before I could reach you."

"Risk?"

Trent looked the crowd over, frowning. "They aren't offering any violence at the moment, just shouting, but they're pretty excited. That means they won't be thinking as straight as they might, and some of the inhibitors against violence will be gone - the mob mentality thing. The crowd's pretty homogeneous, mostly young to early middle aged, no old people and no kids to protect, so if things turned nasty there wouldn't be that consideration to hold them back. And then there's who you are. It'd sure be one way to get the commander's attention, if they've got you in there. So, yeah, it's risky. It's very risky."

"The only other choice is you bringing in the troops and us rushing them. I don't doubt for a centon that you could roll them up without breaking into a sweat but that's not a long term solution. That's just us being bullies and using our muscle."

"And giving whoever is behind this more ammunition," said Mene, very quietly.

"I know," said Apollo. "I've this itchy feeling between the shoulder blades. I smell a set up."

"And if you opt for brain, not brawn?" Trent obviously saw it too.

"I just don't think that talking to them from this side of the interdict, dressed in riot gear, is going to do much on the winning hearts and minds front." Apollo looked thoughtfully at the Galactica shuttle. "There's no reason that they shouldn't realise what they're up against, though. Get your people visible and close and obviously ready. If those people back there feel like flexing their muscles on me, then the least they should realise is who'll be coming in to get me. And you will be coming in to get me, right?"

"Right," said Trent, frown deepening.

"Armament on stun only. Teague, can you be ready to have the screens retracted fast, to let Trent deploy without having to go through the bottleneck the doors create?"

"They retract?" said Trent.

"All safety screens do, to allow you to get to ships fast in an evacuation." Apollo grinned at Trent. "It's an airhead thing about wanting an unobstructed run at a rescue shuttle if your ship's about to blow."

"I never knew. But then, thank God, I've never been on a transport that's about to blow."

"I'll set it up with my first officer." Teague nodded. "It still takes several microns, though, even once she starts moving them."

"During which they could tear you apart," the security sergeant pointed out. She looked nervous.

"I don't think they're that rabid. But I could be wrong, so err on the side of caution, ladies and gentlemen. Please."

 

 

The huge tylinium screen stretched across the back of the bay for three quarters of the bay's width, about ten metres in front of the bulkheads and the airlock doors in the back wall of the bay, that led through to the decontamination Chambers and, beyond Decon, the rest of this big ship. The screen didn't meet either side wall of the bay, leaving gaps at each end that formed the access points. The demonstrators were in two groups, crowded against the gaps and held back only by the security guards with their interlocked riot shields.

A mistake by the demonstrators, Apollo had said to Trent as they'd made their final preparations, it meant he'd only have twenty to worry about at a time. Trent had merely snorted. It'll only take a couple to do you some serious damage , he'd said. It doesn't take all twenty. And just how long will it take the other twenty to travel a hundred metres?

After discussions with Teague about the likely leaders of the crowd, Apollo chose to approach the port access point and the people there. Making Trent and the others, even a reluctant Acer, stand back, he walked up to the security line, demonstrably unarmed and, he'd said hopefully to his doubtful subordinates, demonstrably harmless. Trent's view, trenchantly expressed, was that he was demonstrably unhinged.

Apollo walked up to the security line. On Teague's advice, he'd already chosen his target, singling out a small Kobolian priest who was likely to have some influence over the demonstrators. Unnervingly quiet now, the demonstrators watched his approach, expressions angry and unfriendly.

"Father," said Apollo, respectfully. "I'd like to talk to you and your people. Will you let me through without trying to rush the bay? You can see that I haven't come without an escort and it'll only take a micron for them to deploy. If they have to do that, people will get hurt. I don't want trouble, any more than you do. All I want to do is talk."

The priest hesitated.

"You can also see I've left my weapons behind. I'm not armed, Father, and I'll be the only one coming through. I just want to talk, to resolve this peacefully."

The priest glanced around, nodded. "Get back and let him through, friends," he said, pushing back himself against the press of people behind him to make room. The crowd backed off slowly, relieving the pressure on the interdict and creating a small space.

Apollo gestured to the security guards between him and the priest, and reluctantly, they unlinked their riot shields. Apollo squeezed through the gap, the shields snapping locked shut behind him.

Trent and Acer came up to the interdict. On Apollo's orders they'd left their laser rifles behind, although both carried sidearms. More important, both were as tough and as competent as they looked, and Apollo wanted them as near as he could get them. They made the itch between the shoulder-blades a little more bearable.

Apollo held out his hand to the priest. Surprised, the little man took it. "I'm Strike Captain Apollo of the Galactica, Father."

"We know who you are," the priest said.

Someone said, gloating over it, "Adama's son."

Apollo glanced over to the speaker, a tall, thin man in Piscean dress who looked prosperous, rich and well-fed. One of the ringleaders, Apollo thought, from the respect and space he was being given, although Teague hadn't been certain of him. They stared at each other for a micron, then Apollo turned back to the priest, marshalling his arguments in his mind.

He didn't get an opportunity to start talking. Even as he opened his mouth, a few people from the other group of demonstrators, realising that something much more interesting was happening at the port access point, left their posts to find out what, running down the narrow space towards them. It sparked off a sudden panic.

A man near Apollo stood up straighter, trying to see over the heads of the crowd. "What's going on?" he asked anxiously. "Are the guards through?"

Another man shouted. "It's a trick! It's a trick! Grab him!"

"Hey!" Apollo started, but they were far too spooked to listen to him. Anything else he might have said was drowned in shouts and a panicked scream from one of the women. He was grabbed and slammed up hard against the screen, the breath knocked out of him for an instant. He was spun round, a big man on his left twisting his arm painfully behind him. Something hit him savagely hard on the right hand side, but the flak jacket absorbed the worst of it.

"Shit!" Acer went for his sidearm and Trent was turning to signal the troopers.

"Leave it!" Apollo screamed at them. "Wait!"

"Shut up! Shut up!" The man on his left twisted Apollo's arm up higher, until the captain grunted with the pain.

"Get him down! Get him down!"

"Leave him be!" The little priest, who'd been bundled to one side, darted up to Apollo. "What in heaven's name do you think you're doing? Let him go."

"But security!" The big man holding Apollo's arm stared towards the other access point.

"Are exactly where they were," Apollo shouted at them. "They haven't moved."

"Shut up," Apollo's captor said.

He hooked his other arm around Apollo's throat. The captain stopped struggling, relaxing in the man's hold, hoping that passivity would disarm them. He was just able to turn his head far enough to see Trent's face. The lieutenant looked furious.

The priest hadn't spent a lifetime making sermons for nothing. For a little man, he had a bellow like a bull. "Shut up, all of you!"

The Piscean joined him. "Calm down, friends. Calm down! There's no reason to panic."

For a centon they waited, the big man holding Apollo, the crowd eddying anxiously first one way, and then another, looking to the priest and the Piscean for guidance. When it became apparent that the security detail was exactly where it had always been, the priest gave the big man a cold look.

"Let the captain go, Jak. There's absolutely no need for this. We're here to demonstrate peaceably, to make our views known. We don't want trouble. Let him go."

Apollo wondered if he was the only one who saw the glance exchanged by the Piscean and the man holding him. The big man grunted something, and let Apollo loose. He took two steps away, rotating his left shoulder slightly to ease the sharp pain as maltreated joints and muscles returned to normal.

"Thank you," he said to the priest.

"I'm sorry, Captain. I'm really very sorry. I don't know what got into them." The priest waited, then said, demandingly, "Jak."

The big man's grin didn't reach his eyes. "Sorry, Captain. We thought it was a trick of some kind."

"With the captain on this side of the barrier?" The priest snorted his derision. "Are you hurt, Captain?"

"Not at all." Apollo leaned up against the screen. He looked over to Trent and grinned slightly, his hand twisting slightly into the agreed signal that meant he didn't want any interference, that he was all right. Trent nodded, speaking rapidly and quietly into his communicator. "I just came to talk to you, Father. I need to know what's troubling your people here. I'd like to help."

Mene's approach to join Trent was leisurely, but the priest watched her nervously.

"We don't want their kind on board, Captain Apollo. We don't want to give up our ship to them. It's our home. The only home we have left."

"Their kind?"

"It!" said the Piscean, pointing to the jackal-headed Aegyptan. "That thing you've brought on board! That Gyp."

Apollo kept his attention on the priest. "Why not, Father? Why do you think they're here?"

A woman shouted at him, angry. "So you can turn us all off this ship and requisition it for the military! We know what you're planning!"

Apollo glanced at her and shook his head. "I'm sorry that you've heard about this before the official announcement, because as so often happens when rumour takes over, you haven't been told the whole story. It's true that I'm planning to house a Viper Squadron here in about a yahren's time, but I'm not taking your ship, Ma'am, no matter what you may have been told. You've my word on that."

The tall Piscean sneered. "The word of a man who associates with those things!"

Apollo glanced briefly at the tall man, then refocused on the woman. "They're here to help. The first thing they'll do is upgrade the Windjammer's engines so that you'll be able to match the Galactica for speed."

It was a shrewd move, and effect on the listening crowd was instantaneous. It was a perennial anxiety amongst the refugees that the fleet moved at the speed of the slowest ships, and many were terrified of being left behind. Not everyone in this fleet had bought Adama's vision of Earth, but every single one of them had bought very firmly into the idea that to be alone and defenceless without the Galactica's protection, was death. The promise of a faster ship that couldn't be left behind was quite something.

"They'll install laser cannon, and they'll build a Viper handling facility here. Apart from the extra job opportunities and money it will bring you during construction and from having some of my pilots stationed here, you'll be living on one of the best defended ships in the Fleet. And I've already worked out with Captain Teague how I can fit my pilots - and the Aegyptans - into this deck, without having to displace any of you. I'm not taking your homes, Ma'am. I'm trying to defend them, to the best of my ability."

There was a low muttering as they absorbed that.

A man at the edge of the crowd pointed to Mene. "And those things?"

"The Aegyptans help my warriors protect the Fleet. They're the best technicians we have," said Apollo "Without them we wouldn't have ships like the Galactica, or even the Windjammer. Without them we'd still be trying to build chemical rockets, and the Cylons would have destroyed us a thousand yahrens ago. Without them, we wouldn't have much chance against the Cylons now."

"That's all very well!" said the woman who'd spoken before.

"And they're pretty good about upgrading anything they can get their hands on. Between us, Ma'am, it's something of an obsession with them. You'll end up here with better air and water filtration systems, better environmental control systems, better computers. Real turbo showers, even." Apollo sniffed the air. "Your air filtration system's getting a little elderly, I'd say. They'll sort that for you. I'll bet that given the chance, they'd even reconfigure the living space."

"Don't let him talk you into anything!" urged the Piscean. "We don't want those creatures here!"

"But will they live here?" demanded the priest.

"A few will, on the military decks."

Another man said, "We don't want them here. They're different."

Apollo nodded. "Sort of, I guess. We're a bit more used to them in the military."

"They aren't human!" said the priest in protest.

"We're all from Kobol, Father. I think that means we're related."

"Captain." A man to Apollo's right took a step forward and laid his hand on Apollo's arm. On the other side of the interdict, Acer rumbled something disapproving, but again Apollo signalled for them to stay put. "We all know what happened. We all know those things betrayed us! Hundreds of ships left Caprica, getting them all away before the Cylons hit. We all know they sold us out!"

"What?"

The man nodded vigorously. "You must have heard it! You know it's true."

Apollo shook his head. "I was there, at Cimtar, and on Caprica afterwards, taking off as many survivors as we could cram into the ships. Including into the Usermaatre, friend, the Aegyptan ship. She took off hundreds of people, not just Aegyptans, and saved their lives. Yes, we were betrayed. But by a human traitor; by Baltar."

"They found papers to prove he was a Gyp!"

"He most certainly was not Aegyptan," said Apollo. "He was as Piscean as your friend over there. And who's ‘they'?"

"The Council. They've lied to us all these sectars! We all know he's hiding on the Gyp ship."

"Quiet, Cronin," said the priest, speaking loudly enough to be heard by everyone. "I've told you that that's all nonsense. We humans have to learn to accept some responsibility for our own actions."

"We marooned Baltar on an uninhabited planet five sectars ago, friend," said Apollo. "I took him down there personally, and believe me, I left him there."

"You know that's true, Cronin. IFB reported that the captain had taken the Traitor away."

"We left him there alone, to die," said Apollo. "He's not on the Usermaatre."

"It all makes sense, Father Timon," the man persisted sullenly. He dropped Apollo's arm and stepped away. At the back of the crowd, the Piscean fell back, talking quietly into a communicator.

"We are the last, those of us on the Usermaatre," said Mene. She paused. "I lost my sons and my grandsons on Caprica when the Cylons came. I know of no ships that took my people away. We died there when you humans did, in our thousands."

Some of them actually jumped at the very ordinary sound of her voice.

"There! See? They admit themselves that they aren't human!"

"It's those masks!"

"Why should they wear them?"

A woman shouted from the back of the crowd, her voice harsh with venom. "They look like Cylons in those things! What are they hiding?"

"Well, I've fought a few Cylons, and I don't think that the Aegyptans look anything like them." Apollo's tone was calm. "And your priest can tell you why they're masked, surely. Father?"

The priest looked at him blankly.

"It's in the Book," prompted Apollo. "The Second Book. Don't you remember? ‘And from the great whirlwind, the voice of the Lords rolled like thunder and spake unto Their servants, saying unto them, Take ye the outward semblance of the forms that We shall give ye, each unto to the likeness that We choose for ye. For each of ye is chosen by Us, and thy children and thy children's children, even unto the generations yet unborn, and Our mark is on ye, that all men will look on ye and say, one to the other, Here is one who serves the Lords in righteousness.' "

"Oh," said the priest. "Yes. But, I don't know if that's what it means. No one knows what it really means."

"It's a religious observance, Father. We're both Kobolian. You know better than me about religious observance, that we follow the service the way the Lords taught it to us. The Aegyptan's helmets are like our services: something the Lords gave them."

The faces showed indecision and confusion. They looked to the little priest for guidance "Is that true?" a man asked.

Father Timon shrugged. "Well the Book does say that, but no one really knows what it's referring to."

"And, we know that sometimes the Lords were shown wearing animal head masks," said Apollo.

"In some of the older hieroglyphic texts there are illustrations that suggest that," conceded the little priest. He nodded at Apollo, eyes bright and intelligent. "You were a scholar at the Kobolian Institute? You had to be, to see those texts."

Apollo nodded. "I had a history scholarship, Father." He gestured at Mene. "This Aegyptan is in the service of the fourth Lord of Kobol, Lord Anubis. The jackal head is in his honour. Her Anubis name is Mene-ti-Auapet." Apollo smiled at her. "Mene?"

The jacket head bowed slightly. "The captain is quite right."

"Beneath the helmet, I'd guess they look pretty much like us," said Apollo.

"Pretty much," agreed Mene.

"They're here to help us," said Apollo. "The way they've always helped us, because the Lords commanded them to. They're here to make your ship safer and faster, a better place to live. Please let them do that. Please let me do my job of protecting you."

"Do you trust them?" asked the priest.

"With my life."

The priest nodded.

"Every time I launch my fighter to take on the Cylons, I'm depending on them and the technology they've given us to help me protect all of you. I respect them deeply, Father. I don't know how else I can convince you that they mean us no harm. The opposite, in fact. The fleet couldn't survive without them."

The people muttered to themselves, doubt and confusion expressed on many of the faces in the crowd, but they were calmer, less hysterical.

"You mean that," said Cronin, the conspiracy theorist.

"Absolutely. I've been around Aegyptans for a long time, friend. All my career, they've had my life, and the lives of all my warriors, in their hands. I don't know a warrior who doesn't respect them and trust them."

"That means a lot," said Father Timon. He glanced around at the crowd. "If we let them come on board, what will they do?"

"Work hard. You'll barely know they're there. They'll keep to the military decks."

"And they'll make this place better?"

Apollo nodded, his eyes seeking out the woman who'd spoken before, the one who'd accused him wanting to requisition the Windjammer. "Have you ever been on the Galactica, Ma'am?"

The woman shook her head.

"Yeah, I forget. It isn't so easy for civilians to get aboard her. That's a shame. Like all warships, the Galactica's being worked on all the time by Aegyptans. You want to go and see some of the improvements they've made there, for us. I could arrange it. Maybe half a dozen of you could go aboard and see what the Windjammer might be like, if you let us do this work for you."

"I'd like to see that," said the woman.

"You'll be very welcome, Ma'am. You could do it as soon as I can get another shuttle here. Father? Will you go too and choose a few representatives to go with you?"

The priest nodded. "Yes," he said, hesitantly at first. Then, with more confidence, "Yes, I will, thank you."

The door at the back of the bay opened just enough to allow one man through. Sire Uri. The tall Piscean hurried to meet him, talking quickly and quietly.

"Sire Uri's arrived," said Apollo to the priest, unsurprised.

"Sire Uri?" Father Timon turned, as the former Councillor came towards him. "Ah, Uri! Let him through, friends."

The crowd parted to let Uri through to stand beside the priest. "I came as quickly as I could, Timon," he said. "I heard that these warriors were here, to force us to accept those creatures."

"There's no force involved. Father Timon is going over to the Galactica," Apollo cut across him ruthlessly. "He and several others are going to look at the improvements the Aegyptans will make here."

"Dear Lords! Are they arresting you for doing no more than exercising your democratic rights?" Uri's beautifully modulated, politician's voice was resonant, compelling and had an instant effect.

"Arrested!" There were shouts of alarm and anger.

Apollo shook his head and shouted over the top of the sudden unrest. "No one is being arrested. I give you my word on that." He glanced around at their doubtful faces, and at Uri's smug expression. "And if it worries you, then I'll wait here with the rest of you until your friends return."

"Here?" asked the priest.

"Right here," promised Apollo. He looked over at Uri. "I know you've been on the Galactica often, Sire Uri, but I wouldn't deny you the opportunity to go with your friends."

"I would like you to go with us, Uri," said Father Timon.

"You can make sure that they're being shown everything, of course," added Apollo, and Uri scowled. Apollo raised his left hand, showing the comm unit attached to his wrist. "Can I use this to call a shuttle to take you over there?"

The priest looked from Apollo to Uri. "Please," he said.

Apollo nodded, and called through to the Galactica's Core Command. He was patched straight through to the commander.

"Lieutenant Trent has already briefed me, Captain." Adama's voice was monolithically calm. "Am I to understand that you'll remain there while the delegation is aboard Galactica?"

"It seems best, sir. Then I can continue negotiations here, with Sire Uri and the other residents. Will you send a shuttle?"

"It will be with you in fifteen centons, Captain. Galactica out."

Apollo lowered the comm unit. "No trouble," he said. "Father Timon, I'll leave you to choose your delegation, sir."

Father Timon nodded, and drew some of the people to one side.

"Did you get that, Trent?" Apollo asked over his shoulder, not taking his eyes from Uri.

"Yes, sir," said Trent, with admirable restraint under the circumstances.

"Very clever, Captain. That could have been a risky stratagem," said Uri.

Apollo shrugged. "I don't think that the trouble makers were sufficiently sure of themselves to push this too far, and Father Timon seems to have the rest well in charge. And the first sign of trouble, Sire Uri, my people would have moved in."

"Are you threatening me?" Uri raised his voice, catching at everyone's attention. "It's the only answer you bone-headed military know, isn't it? Shooting and violence."

"I seem to remember that it saved your life on Carillon, when the Cylons hit just as you were about to disarm us, " Apollo reminded him. Most of the crowd were watching and listening, and even Timon looked up sharply at this. More than one of the demonstrators nodded as Apollo spoke, as if remembering Uri's less than glorious role in the Carillon fiasco. "I'm sure that these people will remember what you did there. A lot of people died that night." A pause for that to register. "And if all I believe in is violence, why am I on this side of the barrier? I brought trained troopers with me. They'd have rolled up this demonstration in microns, if all I was interested in was shooting."

Uri scowled He'd flushed a dull red at Apollo's jibe about Carillon

Apollo didn't press it. "And I see you're taking a renewed interest in local politics. That's interesting."

"Very interesting," said Mene. She had moved very close to the security interdict, jackal head swinging towards Uri, studying him. "This rumour linking us to Baltar and the Cylons is also interesting," she said to Apollo. "Some people are still looking for somewhere to cast the blame, and we make an easily identifiable target."

"And I wonder where that comes from," said Apollo. He stared contemptuously at Uri.

"I don't know what you mean, "said Uri, looking from Apollo to Mene and back again, frowning.

"You should take notice of it, Captain. We are linked closely to the military, and hostility to us – " Mene let her voice trail off, not needing to spell it out.

Apollo nodded. "Yes. I'll bring it to the commander's attention. I'm sure that the Council will want to discuss it."

Uri snorted and turned away, going to join the priest. Most of the demonstrators stood around irresolutely, looking rather lost and bewildered. One or two of those on the periphery started to drift back towards the bay doors.

After watching for a few centons, Apollo blew out his breath softly, in one long sigh. "Sweet Lords," he said, almost to himself.

"Your mother taught you very well." Mene sounded like she was smiling under the mask.

"She did," said Apollo, moving a little closer to the security interdict and turning to face them.

"Don't turn your back on them!" Acer hissed at him.

Apollo hesitated, then nodded and turned back. "I think it's over, Sergeant."

"Not until they've gone and we're on our way home in one piece. Never turn your back on them, Boss. Never."

"The sergeant is wise," observed Mene.

"I need to take his education in hand," mumbled Acer, shaking his head.

Mene nodded. "I think they will disperse now, Captain. I'll bring my people off the shuttle as soon as they do. And please, do as Seti asked. It becomes urgent." A short bow, and she walked away.

"What now?" asked Apollo, watching her go for a micron before turning his attention back onto the crowd.

"Now we wait." Trent's tone was flat. "You do realise what you just did? You're effectively a hostage in there. If this turns sour I'll have to shoot to get you out in one piece."

"Relax," said Apollo, and looked over his shoulder to grin at Trent. "I think we're well past the sour bit." He eased his still-aching shoulder a little. "There's no danger at all of them not being back here within a couple of centars, max. It'll all be over by tea time."

"I'll bet that's what the idiots said a thousand yahrens ago when they declared war on the Cylons."

Apollo laughed, and for the next ten centons he waited, his back to his friends, watching the discussions going on between the demonstrators. Sire Uri looked discontented, and more and more of the crowd drifted away.

Father Timon returned. "Eight of us will go, Captain. The rest will go to the Chapel, and await our return. Sire Uri prefers to remain here." He looked once at Sire Uri and then away again, and indicated a man to his right. "This is Jonas, my Sacristan. He will remain here with you, as my representative. You will be in his pastoral care, as if you were in mine. Jonas, too, was an historian. You'll have a lot in common and a lot to talk about."

No fool, this little priest. Apollo smiled. "I'm very grateful, Father."

"Boat's in, Boss," said Trent, quietly.

Apollo turned to see another of the Galactica's shuttles come into the bay. "I'll take you over to the shuttle, Father Timon, and make sure everything's set up for you there."

"The centon he's on the other side of the barrier, he'll be free and we will be arrested," warned Uri.

Apollo sighed. "Trent, will you please escort Father Timon's party to the shuttle?"

"That isn't necessary, Captain," Timon assured him. "I trust you."

"You don't know him as well as I do," said Uri.

Apollo just shook his head and stood to one side. The security sergeant ordered open the interdict again, and, after shaking hands warmly with Apollo, Father Timon led his deputation out to follow Trent to the second shuttle. Trent nodded to Acer before he turned away, and the big trooper tossed the security sergeant his side-arm and came in to join Apollo.

"Afraid I'll get lonely?"

Acer shook his head. "I've got a job to do, Boss. It'll be easier on both of us if you just let me do it."

"Unarmed?"

Acer just grinned. "I'm the dirtiest fighter in the entire platoon, sir, as you are going to find out the micron I can get you into a gym and start training you properly. Besides, I'm never unarmed. I just gave the Blackshirt the weapon you could see."

For a couple of centons Apollo watched as the pilots of the new shuttle transferred themselves into the one he'd come in on, taking Trent with them. Starbuck looked over as he followed Trent up the ramp, his face pale and set.

Apollo smiled. "You know, I think I'm in more danger from my friends at the moment, than these people here. Lieutenant Trent's mad with me, and if I just read their expressions aright, Starbuck and Boomer will be lining up to beat me senseless for scaring them."

Acer just sniffed. "They can get in the queue, sir. I aim to get you into that gym and teach you a couple of very basic lessons indeed."

Apollo sighed. "I look forward to them," he said politely.

Previous Chapter

Next Chapter