Section Three

 

Three centars sat bored and quiet on the shuttle while Apollo talked to the Windjammer's residents had given Starbuck time to calm down. His earlier fright and frustration had ebbed as it became clear that all Apollo was in for were some protracted negotiations. If there had been potential trouble, it was over now. Not that that made his fright any the less real when it had almost overwhelmed him to the exclusion of every other thought, but now he could almost relax, and settle in to waiting. He could do nothing but watch the back of the bay on the monitors while the talks went on, so he concentrated on watching, the enforced inactivity enlivened only by Boomer's occasional acid comments on his, Starbuck's, histrionics. Starbuck ignored that. Boomer had been worried, too.

Protracted the negotiations may have been, but they were successful. The Aegyptans were fanning out across the landing bay when Apollo came back to the shuttle, lugging equipment with them as they settled in to the preliminary detailed surveying. The residents had long since dispersed, even Sire Uri taking himself off and leaving the field to Apollo. Trent's troopers interdicted the bay access points, and looked a whole lot more efficient than the Blackshirts had.

"Are you all right?" Starbuck almost fell down the shuttle ramp in his eagerness to get to Apollo, but the question was calm enough, not shrieked as it might have been three centars earlier.

"I'm fine," Apollo assured him, submitting to a hug that left him breathless. "What are you doing here?"

"Trent told the commander what you were up to and that they'd roughed you up a bit. He sent me to report back to him on what was going on. I choose my words carefully, Apollo: he sent me. But I couldn't have left Starbuck behind without knocking him out and locking him up." Boomer elbowed Starbuck aside and hugged the captain briefly, giving them both a critical look. "You're going to need to be a tad more discreet, the pair of you. Starbuck running around in circles, screaming and having hysterics, is not discreet."

"I did not!" protested Starbuck.

Apollo did little more than glance knowingly at Starbuck, but evidently Trent and Acer joining them inhibited him from making any comment on his lover's behaviour. Instead, he concentrated on Boomer. "You'd do anything to get out of those interviews," he said.

"Hey, I wasn't the one who'd rather be taken hostage. Although if you're offering that as an alternative, I'll take it. I had to fight off half the pilots to get here."

"That's flattering!"

"Don't let it go to your head. They were just desperate to get out of the interviews, too. Being torn limb from limb by a ravening mob has its attractions, in the circumstances."

"I don't think I was in any real danger," said Apollo.

"No? That big guy was making a fair attempt at wrenching your arm off. And what about this?" Trent was helping Apollo out of the body armour as he spoke, and pointed to a tear low on the right side of the vest. The outer covering was slashed away and the inner armour scored and dented, the metal bright and shiny in the scratch. "Knife, I'd say. Me and Acer thought we saw something. It was all I could do to hold him back."

Something inside Starbuck's chest lurched and jumped, and he drew in a sharp breath. He grabbed at Apollo's arm, to reassure himself that Apollo was still there, unhurt.

"Oh," said Apollo.

"Yeah. Oh." Trent shook his head.

"Who did it?" Starbuck demanded.

"I marked him out, Boss. Don't worry," said Acer, calm.

"One of Uri's, I think," said Apollo slowly. "But just taking an opportunity as it came."

"He had to have known that the armour would turn it. He was either trying his luck, just in case it got through, or he was trying to scare you." Trent looked thoughtfully at the vest and tossed it to Acer. "Of course, you have to have enough sense to be scared. He wasn't to know he was wasting his time, there."

Apollo grinned. "I don't think killing me would have fitted with whatever it is they're planning. They want unrest, not a ship held incommunicado during a murder hunt."

"Unless he had reasons of his own for wanting you dead," suggested Boomer.

"I don't think I've got anyone that mad at me," said Apollo, startled.

"Don't bet on it. There's three of us here." Trent glanced at Acer. "Maybe even four."

"Very funny. I reckon it was just someone trying it on."

"With something a little more pointed than political debate," said Starbuck. He let go of Apollo's arm, trying to hide the way his hands were shaking. "If he was trying to knife you, he must have been a sick sort of psycho to attack a stranger like that."

"Then he was trying to scare me, that's all. I don't believe that anyone wanted me dead. They couldn't have expected me to go behind the barrier to talk to them, and yeah, they seized their chance. But while I don't think Uri and that Piscean of his would have minded me getting a bit roughed up, they didn't want me hurt that badly. The Piscean tried to help the priest hold them off."

"They aren't the only ones who didn't expect you to go behind the barrier," said Trent. "That was you in meddle mode, I take it?"

Apollo grinned and nodded.

Trent sighed. "Next time, Boss, I'll shoot you myself and save us all the grief."

"Shame you couldn't have found an excuse to shoot Sire Uri," said Apollo, disappointed.

"Can you imagine the paperwork?" demanded Trent.

"Some sacrifices are worth it. Thanks, Trent."

"You're welcome, Boss. Just don't ever do it again."

"What is it with this Boss thing?" asked Starbuck.

"He earned that, today." Trent nodded and stepped back. "I'd better get on."

"Lieutenant?" Acer asked. He nodded towards the captain and raised an eyebrow.

"Oh no, you don't. The only danger he's in right now is from the lieutenants here, and we don't come between friends and their lawful prey. You don't get out of the day job that easily. Back to work Sergeant."

"It was worth a try," said Acer. "I'll go find me that man with the knife and have a little chat with him. I'll be along tomorrow, sir, to start your training." He saluted Apollo smartly and lumbered away.

Trent's jaw dropped visibly.

"He salutes, too?" said Apollo.

"I've never seen him do it before. Never. It must be love." Trent's own salute was a touch less precise. "Catch up with you later."

Starbuck had got hold of Apollo again. "Who's the gorilla?" he asked, as they walked up the ramp to the shuttle, his arm around the captain's shoulders. Apollo let him leave it there.

"My latest admirer." Apollo dropped tiredly into a seat.

"I'll drive," said Boomer, giving them a knowing glance.

"He thinks we'll be making out in the back seat, or something." Starbuck sat down beside him, and safe in the knowledge that it was only old Boomer in there with them, and he wouldn't talk, he pulled Apollo into his arms and kissed him roughly. "Like that," he said, and his voice was shaking as the suppressed fear overwhelmed him again for a micron. "Oh Apollo, you scared me."

"Knock it off, you two," said Boomer. "Or at least get down behind the seats where I can't see you reflected in the viewer screen. It's enough to turn a man off his dinner."

 

 

 

"If."

Thrust.

"You ever."

Thrust.

"Do that."

Thrust.

Apollo moaned softly, his head thrown back against the pillow, eyes closed. His hands smoothed down Starbuck's back to rub over his lover's buttocks, pulling him in closer and tighter. His legs had started out over Starbuck's shoulders, but had slipped down to hook around the waist. They tightened their grip convulsively on each thrust.

"To me."

Thrust.

"Again. Swear."

Thrust.

"I'll kill."

Thrust.

"You. Oh Apollo…"

One more deep thrust and Apollo, wriggling under Starbuck like a fish on a line, almost boneless with pleasure, was screaming Starbuck's name and pumping hot jism up onto his lover's body. Starbuck gritted his teeth, trying to hold back, but it was too much for him, feeling Apollo spasming around his hard cock, and he made one more wild and deep thrust and held himself there, coming so hard his balls felt like someone was wringing them out the way a woman would wring washing. Apollo kissed him frantically, one more boneless wriggle pumping Starbuck dry.

"Oh Apollo," said Starbuck, again.

"Uuuh," responded the captain, intelligently.

Starbuck kissed him, less frantically this time, and allowed himself to slip free of Apollo's body, lying down beside him and pulling him into his arms.

"Love you," he said.

"Uuuh," said Apollo, with another little wriggle. He kissed Starbuck back.

It was several centons before Starbuck got his mouth back long enough to resume the conversation, but he proved that he had tenacity and staying power. He could even remember what they'd been talking about. At least, he could remember what he'd been talking about while Apollo had moaned. "But I'll still kill you if you ever scare me like that again, you hear me?"

"I was fine," said Apollo, recovering the power of speech. "I don't think they really wanted to hurt me."

"Oh sure. That knife wouldn't really have cut you either, I suppose? And that's why you spent the entire journey back shaking."

They'd only been a few centons into the journey back to the Galactica when reaction had kicked in, and Apollo had started trembling uncontrollably. Nothing Starbuck could say or do helped, not even providing a distraction through comforting kisses. Ever more practical - if less romantic - Boomer had raided the shuttle's emergency medical pack and managed to get the captain to swallow a large amount of diluted stim, but Apollo was still shaking when they'd got back to Galactica. Stumbling off the shuttle, he'd been slightly put out to find the commander was, paradoxically, infuriated by the state he was in. His father was, said Apollo later, in fine vocal form and utterly lacking in sympathy. The most that Apollo would admit to was that Adama's acerbic reaction had completely dampened any tendency to mild hysterics.

"I over-reacted." Apollo snuggled in close.

Starbuck grinned. "What did your Dad say to you?"

"Well, he was pretty concerned by the reaction of the civilians to the Aegyptans. He's going to talk to the Council about it and see what we can do to counter some of the propaganda. It bothers him, what they – whoever they are, and I'm willing to put money on Uri being in it up to his fat, unlovely neck - are doing to convince people that the Aegyptans are subhuman, or something. Classic case of species pseudo-differentiation."

Starbuck stared, mouth open.

"What's the matter with you?" demanded Apollo.

"What was that you just said? Pseudo-something."

"Species pseudo-differentiation. You must have covered it at the Academy, Starbuck. Don't you remember any of your lessons?"

"Not when they got into words of more than two syllables. They lost me then. I used to doodle Vipers all over my datapad, instead, and think about girls. Of course, that was before I knew you were around somewhere in the world waiting for me. If I'd known that, I'd have doodled Vipers all over my datapad and thought about you." Starbuck accompanied this handsome declaration of undying devotion and the obscure workings of Fate, with a loving kiss. "But are you telling me that after me fracking you nearly senseless, not only can you say words that long but you know what they mean? I'm impressed. Or de-pressed because my technique's not what it was."

Apollo grinned. "The technique is just fine."

"Then I'm impressed. What does it mean?"

"It's easier to kill your opponents in war if you see them as members of an inferior species; something unworthy and second rate. You train soldiers into thinking that way. Think about how easily we were trained into thinking of Cylons as the tinheads, something derogatory and inferior-sounding that made us feel superior and brave. Someone's doing that with the Aegyptans, Starbuck. It's bad enough them being called Gyps, but when I was talking to those people, they kept referring to Mene-ti-Auapet as "it" or "that creature." Someone - Uri - is persuading them into thinking she isn't worthy of being thought of as a person."

"Lots of people don't like Aegyptans, Apollo. They're scared of them."

"And that makes it all the easier for the civilians to be whipped up into a frenzy about them. And they're only a step away from us. The Aegyptans and the military have always been close."

"Now that would worry me." Starbuck pulled Apollo in closer and kissed his hair, chuckling. "This is one helluva an after-sex conversation. And you don't divert me that easily. What did your Dad say?"

Apollo sighed. "Pretty much what you just said. In fact, word for word for what you just said. He was mad as hell with me."

"Was he as emphatic as me about it? In a different way, of course!"

"Oh yes. If you must know, I was on the pointy end of a sharply jabbing forefinger." Apollo rubbed ruefully at his left shoulder. "I think he left bruises. I was stupid to let myself get into that situation, my judgement was seriously at fault, and if I ever did it again he'd put me on charges. He wasn't pleased."

"He was scared, I expect," said Starbuck.

"I dunno. I think the forefinger was mostly commander and maybe a little bit parental, but mostly he thinks I screwed up and he was mad about it."

"Well, I was scared. I was scared they'd hurt you."

"It was a calculated risk, and I didn't think it was a high one."

"And he doesn't agree with your calculations?"

Apollo sighed and shrugged. "You said a few sectons ago that I ought to disappoint him, but I hate it when I do."

"I don't think you do. Ever. I think he was just scared stiff that you'd get hurt. People don't like being scared. It makes them angry."

"That wasn't what he said. He was very clear about what he thought of me."

Starbuck frowned, kissing Apollo's hair. "I've said this before, you get far too caught up in worrying about the commander's reaction to everything."

"Often. You say it often."

"A vain attempt to get it through your thick head," said Starbuck. "Sometimes you're a bit dense about these things."

"Maybe that's why he resorts to the pointy parental forefinger when he's telling me what he thinks of me."

"I know what I think of you," said Starbuck, and pulled Apollo even closer to demonstrate it. "And it won't be a forefinger I point at you. Let me show you."

 

 

 

<<Enter search criteria>>

Apollo stared at the computer screen.

<<Enter search criteria.>>

He typed it carefully, making sure the spelling was perfect.

^Recessive genes^

He paused, his finger slightly depressing the enter key but not hitting home yet. For a long centon he looked at the screen, then sat back, chewing on his lower lip. The cursor blinked at him, ready and waiting.

Seti, first, then in the past couple of sectons virtually every Aegyptan he spoke to, all of them waiting for him to do this. All of them wanting him to acknowledge his genetic heritage and do something for them. What was it Mene had said? Something for Seti, something for himself, something for all of them.

Apollo sighed and raised his hands away from the keyboard. He looked at the screen for a centon, then shook his head, cleared the screen and switched off the terminal. Whatever it was Seti wanted, Apollo didn't want to know.

Pulling his robe closer against the cooling air – the Galactica powered down during the sleep period, and he was always one to feel the cold – he headed back for bed, pausing, as he passed Boxey's room, to check on his son. The scene was a familiar one. As always, the child was sprawled on his back, the covers kicked down into an unholy tangle around his feet, his mouth open and whistling breaths working through the gap in his front teeth. It was a very unedifying sight, and Apollo loved it.

He watched for a few centons, marvelling at how fast Boxey had worked his way into the centre of Apollo's life. Apollo knew it was an odds-on certainty that if Serina had survived, Boxey would have been the prime reason for staying with her. In his more honest moments, Apollo would admit to himself that his interest in Serina was initially powered by the need to propitiate Zac, whom he'd failed so terribly, by looking after the child who had reminded him forcibly of his dead little brother. The fact that he'd found her sexually attractive as well was a bonus, and one that would have made married life bearable, but the attraction was a pale imitation of the aching need he felt for Starbuck. He sheered away from that thought, the one that was almost a betrayal of his dead wife, and concentrated instead on her son.

Knowing that it was a waste of time, and that when he came in the morning to wake him, he'd find Boxey exactly as he was now, Apollo pulled the covers up and tucked the child in warmly. He took the opportunity to ruffle the brown hair in a way that always affronted Boxey's dignity when he was awake, delighting in having someone small and dependant to care for. It filled some need in him he hadn't even been aware of until Zac had gone, and if he and Starbuck worked this into something permanent, Boxey would be all the family Apollo would ever have. He intended to make the most of it.

Back in his own room, and the scene awaiting him there was another familiar one. As always, Starbuck was sprawled on his back, the covers kicked down into an unholy tangle around his feet. At least he slept with his mouth closed and had all of his teeth, but the general inelegant attitude and the covers kicked off mirrored Boxey. Another unedifying sight, and Apollo loved it.

They were both more hot blooded than him, Apollo thought. Every time Starbuck stayed over, Apollo woke up shivering, huddled into his lover for whatever warmth he could get, the covers tangled somewhere around Starbuck's feet where they did a fine job of keeping the bed's footboard warm. Sometimes Apollo wasn't sure if Starbuck didn't do it on purpose, a subconscious mechanism for coping with the insecurity of an orphan's life, something that made sure that when he woke someone was cuddling into him, someone was there to hold on to. But if he and Starbuck did manage to work this into something permanent, then some negotiation over the quilt would be in order.

Ruffling Starbuck's hair was a sensory pleasure and one that never seemed to offend the lieutenant's dignity, if his normal reaction was anything to go by. Apollo slipped out of the robe, and pulled up the bedcover, settling in to some serious ruffling. He kissed each closed blue eye.

"I'm scared, Starbuck," he said quietly, shivering with cold and something more. "It's not just him. They all want me to do something. It scares me, not knowing what they want. And the thought of finding out scares me too." He kissed Starbuck's left eye. "It really scares me that if you find out, you won't love me as much as you do now." He kissed Starbuck's right eye. "And I love you so much, Starbuck. So much."

"Mmmn?" said Starbuck, sleepy and tousled.

Apollo ruffled some more, carding both hands through the shock of dark blond hair. "I'm scared. I think I need comforting tonight."

"Mmmn," said Starbuck, getting one eye open.

Apollo kissed the other one, then kissed his mouth. "Wake up, Starbuck. Comfort time."

"Oh. Right." Starbuck managed to open the other eye, still operating on automatic pilot. "Right."

Apollo let one hand slide down over the beautiful golden body to the erection that he knew he'd find there. Starbuck jumped awake, startled but game.

"Hot and horny?" Starbuck was wide awake now, returning the ruffling favours, running his fingers through Apollo's hair.

Apollo smiled against Starbuck's mouth as he plundered it for kisses, pulling his lover with him as he rolled onto his back and spread his legs wide.

"Cold and scared, Starbuck, and in need of serious comfort."

Starbuck raised himself up on one elbow. "That's my job. Now, where shall we start?"

 

 

 

<<Enter search criteria>>

Apollo stared at the computer screen.

<<Enter search criteria.>>

He typed it carefully, making sure the spelling was perfect.

^Recessive genes^

He hit the enter button and leaned back in his chair in the quiet duty office while the Galactica's computer searched its databases. He shifted uneasily, stretching his aching back and shoulders. Acer had turned up at the duty office a couple of centars earlier and despite Apollo's faint and obviously ineffective protests, chivvied the reluctant captain along to the gym for the promised lesson in hand-to-hand. Otherwise known, said a highly amused Starbuck who'd come along to cheer from the sidelines, as the lesson in why you shouldn't ever piss off a very big trooper who fought dirty and didn't understand the meaning of the words ‘not now, Acer, I'm busy.'

Apollo didn't disagree with Starbuck's diagnosis. He'd spent most of the centar's "training" on his back, looking up at the ceiling and groaning with pain. After hobbling back to the office, he'd spent the centar since wondering at how his normally firm methods of dealing with the troops had failed him in Acer's case. He was sure he'd said no. Several times. He still couldn't work out how he'd ended up in the gym being effectively spread all over the bulkheads.

The computer chimed at him gently, as the data streamed in and started scrolling down the screen. He leaned forward and read it, letting it spool to the printer. He was still reading when Starbuck got back from a round of the troop decks.

"Everyone is really sorry they missed it all, Apollo. Boomer even said that he'd have paid to watch. I guess you really hacked him off yesterday and he hasn't my methods of making you pay for scaring me." Starbuck leered suggestively. "So I was thinking, why not sell tickets? We'd make a killing."

"Huh?"

"I said, that we could sell tickets to watch you getting the next lesson. We'd make a killing. Believe me, there'd be queues."

"Acer was the one making the killing. I was the one doing the dying." Apollo straightened his back. "I can barely move."

"Well, I'm sure I can do something about that later," said Starbuck, with another suggestive leer.

Apollo smiled faintly, and turned his attention back to the screen.

<<Enter search criteria>>

He stared at the screen for a long moment, thinking, wondering what he could do to refine the data he had. He typed it in carefully.

^Eye colour.^

"What're you up to?" asked Starbuck, from his side of the desk.

"Just looking something up," said Apollo, and leaned forward when the computer chimed again. He stared at the page in consternation. "Bloody search engine!"

"What?"

"I type in eye colour and it gives me eye diseases. If I wanted to look up conjunctivitis, that's what I would have bloody well typed in."

"You can spell it?"

"On a good day." Apollo shrugged, muttered balefully, and retyped the search criteria he wanted.

^Check genetic code for human eye colouration^

"Why, though? Something for Boxey for school?"

Apollo looked up and grinned, non-committal.

Starbuck shook his head. "And I remember when you were too honest to misuse the tax-payers equipment in this way. Why, it wasn't even that long ago. Only a few sectons ago you were bawling out poor Boomer for this very same offence. How fast the corruption spreads."

"You must be very proud of your achievement." Apollo read the data on the screen avidly.

In the background Starbuck nodded agreement and expounded on his theory that good sex, hot and often, was the best cure for repression that he knew. Only trouble, of course, was getting past the repression to reach the hot sex, and just look how long it had taken him, the galactic expert, to get past Apollo's hang-ups and get him into bed to put the theory into practice.

Apollo let him talk. He read the information twice, not hearing a word of Starbuck's exposition.. He printed the page and added it to the papers in his hand and typed in a cross reference.

^Recheck genetic code for human eye colouration, specifically green^

<<No data.>>

Apollo frowned and tried again. ^Recheck genetic code for human eye colouration, specifically green^

<<No data.>>

^List human eye colour variations.^

It took less than a micron. Apollo read the data, barely hearing Starbuck still chattering on as he sorted some of the pilots' reports, then printed the page, folding all the sheets of paper carefully into quarters, tucking them into his flight jacket pocket. Equally carefully he pressed the pocket studs together, keeping the papers secure. His sight blurred as he looked at the computer. He blinked rapidly, cleared the screen, closing the network connexion down, and looked up at the chrono on the wall.

"Will you do me a favour?" he asked abruptly.

Starbuck broke off in mid-exposition. "Sure."

"Boxey's with Ford in the Recreation Room. Can you pick him up for me when you get off shift and stay with him until I get back? I don't know how long I might be, Starbuck. I could be late."

"Sure. But where are you going?"

Apollo hesitated. "Over to the Windjammer. I just want to be sure that everything's going all right."

"Core command would've told you if it wasn't," said Starbuck sensibly. "Can't it wait until tomorrow?"

"No," said Apollo. "No, it can't."

Starbuck gave him a long considering look. "Are you all right?"

Apollo hesitated again. "I'm fine. I just want to check."

Starbuck was the one to hesitate now. "Do you want me to come with you?"

Apollo shook his head. "Please just take care of Boxey for me, Starbuck. I'll try not to be late. But if I'm not back in time, Boxey has to be in bed by eight."

Starbuck looked doubtful. "Okay," he said.

"Thanks." Apollo got to his feet.

"Something's bothering you," said Starbuck.

Apollo shook his head. "Nothing to worry about. I'm just antsy about yesterday and I want to check that everything's okay. I'll see you later." He paused in the doorway, and turned back. He pulled Starbuck into a quick embrace, holding him close for a micron, and left.

 

 

 

Getting a shuttle had been easy. Colonel Tigh had raised an unsuspecting eyebrow, commenting that it was getting awfully close to the end of the duty period and if the captain wanted to spend his own time checking up on the Windjammer it was all very commendable but he needn't expect any overtime. Acknowledgement of his dedication would have to be reward enough and would he please try not to get taken hostage this time?

"I wasn't a hostage," Apollo had said, for the n th time and through gritted teeth, but had otherwise taken the ribbing with as good a grace as he could muster, as long as it got him his shuttle and permission to leave the ship.

He took the smallest of the shuttles, the commander's personal craft. The irony didn't escape him.

He logged the Windjammer as his destination with Core Command, and took off from the Alpha deck within half a centar of leaving Starbuck in the duty office, as soon as Corporal Rigel gave him clearance. Four Gold Squadron Vipers coming in from picket duty ritualistically challenged his right to pass them and gave way after buzzing him - possibly good-naturedly, but the motivations of the ex-Pegasus people were never pellucid, exactly. He got a little extra victory roll from Bojay, who'd been out with his pickets.

Core Command had given him a course that both threaded its way through the main ships of the fleet and kept him away from the regular civilian shuttle service routes. A few kilometres to starboard he could see one of the shuttles plying the Rising Star-Ramesses-Hypermestra-Altarion service, approaching the Ramesses' open bay, its lights bright. He watched as it was swallowed up into relative darkness.

Most of the farther big ships were no more than bright gleams of light on his sensor board, only those close in the Galactica's wake most clearly delineated through the clear tylinium port, grey shapes in the dim reflections of their own navigational lights. He came up on the Bellerophon, another adapted space liner like the Rising Star, although never as rich and exclusive. Once past her, he flipped the shuttle to port and onto a new heading, recalculating the course as he went.

The Usermaatre helped guard the port flank of the fleet. She bulked large over her smaller, less well-defended neighbours, offering them the protection of her guns. Apollo guessed that the smaller ships were glad of the guns but infinitely less sure about the gunners, and that seldom, if ever, was there any kind of interaction between the ships. Shuttles almost never asked to board the Usermaatre, but he wasn't kept waiting. Once he announced himself, he was given an approach vector with as little fuss as if he'd done this daily.

He brought the shuttle in on the single central flightdeck. It took him a few centons to close down the systems, and argue with himself about what he was doing there, but it was too late to back out now. He had to go through with it.

It was difficult to put an age onto the woman waiting for him on the other side of the flightdeck's decontamination Chamber. She had a beautiful, strong face, one that didn't betray her age, her eyes as bright and as intense a green as Apollo's. The only hint that she had had sons and grandsons was that her long dark hair, held in place by a thin silver filet decorated with a miniature replica of the jackal head that hung at her belt, was liberally streaked with silver. She smiled when he came out into the back of the bay.

"Sekhet," she said in greeting, and bowed in the Aegyptan fashion, wrists crossed and raised to her lowered head, arms turned outwards. She rested her forehead on her crossed wrists for a micron.

Apollo nodded, frowning slightly. "Mene?"

She nodded. "Welcome aboard the Usermaatre."

"I thought you'd be on the Windjammer."

"Not yet. We'll establish a permanent presence there when things are a little more settled. We've come a long way with the Windjammer's residents in the last twenty four centars, but we're still a little short of co-habitation. If you think of it as a courtship, we're still looking coyly at each other and wondering if we dare hold hands."

Despite himself, Apollo smiled.

Mene smiled back. "Seti asked me to come and meet you and take you to him. He grows weaker, and keeps to his room a great deal now"

"I wasn't expecting this," Apollo gestured to the woman's uncovered head. The jackal-head mask hung at her belt.

"We're among our own here, Sekhet. We don't need to hide." She led the way deeper into the ship.

"Not from me?"

"Oh no," said Mene, amused. "Never from you."

Apollo said nothing, but gestured to her to lead on. As they walked through the ship, a small unoccupied part of his mind logged his impressions of the ship and its occupants. The Usermaatre should have looked pretty much as he would expect any ship of her size to look, but her paint was fresh and clean. She was surprisingly quiet, the engines no more than a faint vibration under his feet, barely to be felt, and the air smelled as clean and fresh as her paintwork looked, as if it wasn't recycled constantly. The few Aegyptans they passed were all unmasked, and showed no reaction to having Apollo there, other than the nods of polite greeting and slight bow that he got from each and every one of them.

"I'm glad you came," said Mene, and knocked on the door of a compartment.

"I wish I hadn't. I wish you'd all left me alone."

Mene-ti-Auapet smiled. "But we've never, ever, left you alone, Sekhet. It's just that you never realised it."

 

Seti's living quarters were large and comfortable. There was no sign of a bed or sleeping platform - one of the other doors had to lead to a bedroom. This was a living room, twice the size even of the command quarters that Apollo had on the Galactica, and, like everything he'd seen of the Usermaatre, it had a kind of ascetic minimalism about it despite the unusually carved furniture. Under other circumstances, it would have appealed to Apollo.

"I'm glad you came," said Seti, repeating Mene's greeting. He stood with some difficulty, holding onto the carved arm of his chair to steady himself before holding out a hand.

Apollo ignored it. "I'm here. I'm not happy about it, but I'm here."

Slowly, Seti let his hand drop. "Yes. I'm sorry, Sekhti."

"My name is Apollo."

"That's just the name he gave you, to make you sound more like a Caprican."

"It's the only name I have." Apollo touched his jacket pocket, where the papers were. "What do you want?"

"Why are you here?" countered Seti.

Apollo scowled. "You asked me to come," he said, after a centon's silence.

"Almost four sectons ago."

Inarguable. The scowl deepened. "Well, I'm here now."

Seti smiled. "Again, I could ask you why. But I suspect that you know why. You did the research I asked you to."

"It doesn't mean anything." Apollo got the pocket open and slipped his hand inside, closing his fingers around the wad of papers. "Nothing at all."

"Every Aegyptan is green eyed."

"I know. She was. My mother, I mean."

"And every Aegyptan you have ever worked with, yes?"

Apollo nodded.

"It's an Aegyptan genetic trait, Sekhti. There are no green eyed humans. For those very few children of an Aegyptan and a human, all other eye colours dominate. The gene for green eyes is recessive."

"But Aegyptans and humans have married before. The gene could still be present in the human population."

"That isn't possible. Have you ever seen a green eyed human?"

"I'm human! I'm half-human."

"You are Aegyptan. The gene is not present in the human population at all. We're of the same genus, not the same species."

Apollo shook his head. "It's just some sort of genetic accident, me having green eyes. It could happen."

"Sekhti, how often have you come across a human with green eyes?"

Apollo said nothing, biting at his lower lip.

"Ever?"

In the end, Apollo shook his head. "Not that I remember," he said. "It's the first thing anyone ever notices about me, how unusual it is."

"There are no green eyed humans," said Seti again. "The child of an Aegyptan and a human will every other eye colour you can imagine - grey, brown, black, blue - but never green."

There was a long silence. At last, Apollo pulled the papers from his pocket and looked at them blindly, not really seeing them. "Athena's blue-eyed," he said reluctantly. "And Zac."

Seti said, very gently, "You have your mother's eyes. "

"He's their father."

Seti nodded. "I have no reason to doubt it."

"But not mine."

"No." Seti gestured to the papers. "As they will have told you."

"Eventually. I got a clue when I realised that green is just not listed as a human eye colour variation and the computer denied the possibility that it ever could be. It took me a while, but I worked it out." Apollo refolded the papers carefully, putting them back into his pocket.

"You are Aegyptan, Sekhti."

"He told me about you and her, when you came up to me that time on the Star. He told me she'd had an affair with you." Apollo took a very deep breath, but his voice was steady when he said it. "You're my father, then."

Seti nodded. He started to sit again, and lost his balance, almost falling into his chair. Apollo leapt forward on automatic, to catch hold of the older man and help him.

"Thank you."

"You're sick?"

"Very." Seti's smile was rueful, almost deprecating as though he deplored his body's betrayal, his physical weakness.

Apollo released his hold on Seti's arm, and stepped back. "And is that to do with the something personal that affects you?"

Seti looked fleetingly puzzled, then nodded. "Ah, your conversation with the Anubis Mene-ti-Auapet. She told me. Yes, this is the thing that affects me. You can help me."

"How?"

"If you're a match, and there's every reason to hope that you will be, then they can take bone marrow from you to replace mine, with a good chance of success."

Apollo's short laugh was mirthless. "Is that all? Just a little thing, then."

"I'll die without it, Sekhti."

Apollo shrugged, but made no reply. For a centon or two he roved around the compartment, looking it over. The room seemed uncluttered, yet Seti had a fine collection of historical artefacts on show that in other circumstances would have had Apollo almost incoherent with excited interest. Now he barely glanced at them.

There was a low glass-topped table beside Seti's chair, set on a frame made from the elegant, elongated bodies of two carved animals; leopards, Apollo thought, but didn't spend much time thinking about it. He was more interested in a set of framed holopics on the table top. There were holopics there of subjects Apollo would rather not think about: a tall unmasked Aegyptan, recognisably a younger Seti, with a child in his arms or on his shoulders, the kind of pictures every proud father has of his children. The kind that Adama had of Athena and Zac, but didn't have of him.

Those holopics Apollo glanced at and looked quickly away, not wanting to think about them, looking instead at the others. Some of the holopics, like the one of him and his mother at his graduation from the Academy, were twins of ones Ila or Adama had. It shocked him that Seti had these copies, at what that implied. That pushed them as far above the comfort level as the ones of him as baby, being held by Seti.

Staring with pained concentration at that very familiar holopic, he said, without looking at Seti: "Helping you is going to be hard. I understand what you want and why, but I don't want him to know about this. It upset him enough the other secton when he had to tell me and Thenie about you and my mother. I don't want him to know about this. I don't want him hurt any more than he has been already by being reminded of you and her. And I don't want you talking to Thenie."

"But he knows, Sekhti."

Apollo reached for the holopic of him and his mother at the Academy Graduation ceremony. He was in his Ensign's uniform, so new it almost shone, with Ila hanging proudly on his arm, green eyes bright, smiling, her long, dark hair framing the beautiful high-cheekboned face. The likeness between them was very marked. Adama had been the most relaxed and carefree that day that Apollo could remember him, every inch the proud father, delighted with what Apollo had achieved. Apollo had been as delighted, for once thinking that he'd reached whatever standards his parents were setting for him, that he'd pleased them both, that they were proud of him.

Adama had taken that holopic of them, preferring the informal snap to the formal pictures produced by the professional recorder. He had one of those too, of course, with an unnaturally solemn Apollo trying to look at least a decade older than his twenty-one yahrens, but he and Ila had preferred this one. Apollo's hand trembled slightly as he picked it up. All a fantasy, if Seti was right, an illusion.

"He knows," repeated Apollo.

"Yes. He's always known."

Apollo stared down at the holopic, at his mother's beautiful, so typically Aegyptan face, her unmistakably green eyes smiling back at him. "He knows that I'm not his son? That I'm your bastard, hers and yours?"

Seti's mouth tightened. "We have no marriage here as the Kobolians have, and no bastards. But yes, he has always known that you're my son, not his. Please don't think that he was ever deceived about that. It's impossible that he could be."

"He never told me," said Apollo. He put the holopic down, gently, almost reverently, an icon of his mother. It was one of his favourite pictures of her. "He never told me," he said again, faintly surprised.

"Then I'm sorry that you've had to find out this way, from me. But I'm not sorry that I've got to see you again. You've never been far from my thoughts all these yahrens."

Apollo made some dismissive gesture with his hands. "No. Not that. Don't give me that sort of crap, not now. I can't do with that now." He straightened the holopic in its frame, all his attention on it, carefully half turning it so that the light fell on it just right. When he was satisfied with its positioning, he spoke again. "Do you know why? Why they didn't tell me, I mean? Why did he let me grow up thinking he was my father?"

"He wanted her back. More than anything else, he wanted her. I'll give him that much, that he did love her." Seti's mouth was a thin line of displeasure, but Apollo thought that was for Adama, not him. "As much, maybe, as I did. He loved her enough to pay the price she demanded for her return. It was both of you, or neither. She refused to go back and leave you with me, the way he wanted. He accepted her terms, in the end. He knew he wouldn't get her without he took you, too. So he did it. He didn't want to, but he did it."

A chair was set opposite Seti's, a twin to the one the older man sat in. Two beautifully carved falcons formed the back support, each with wings at right angles, one wing forming the chair arm, the other stretching across the back of the chair to touch the wing of the other falcon. Apollo moved to it.

"May I?" he asked, his hand on the back of it, an echo of the Rising Star in his mind, and the memory of Seti with his hand on Starbuck's chair. And now their roles were reversed.

Seti nodded. "Please."

Apollo sat down, his knees trembling. "I think," he said, very calm. "I think that I'd really like to know what this is all about. All of it."

Seti rubbed the back of one hand tiredly at his eyes. Apollo watched, something in his chest constricting. His father – Adama had teased him about that little gesture often enough, what Adama called Apollo's signature gesture of tiredness and, often, irritation; as much a part of Apollo as the dark hair and green, Aegyptan eyes.

"You've always known about your mother?"

Apollo nodded, staying silent.

"Then you hid it well, on the Rising Star." Seti paused, then said, quietly, "You can't even begin to imagine what I felt when she left the Clan for him. I was furious, outraged, appalled. The first Aegyptan to leave us for a millennium, and that it was Nefert-ila! That was too much." Seti's smile was strained. "I knew her all her life, Sekhti. She was a few yahrens younger than I was, and I think I loved her from when she was a girl. She didn't, though, love me. She was fond of me, but she loved him."

"It sure as hell looks like it."

"Don't judge!" Seti was sharp. "You're in no position to judge! You don't know what it was like for her. He left her alone on Caprica, no one near her but that evil old harridan, his mother. She was frightened and lonely, trying to find her place with a people who are in our care, but who are really strangers to us and who despise us. She was tired of hiding. She glad to see me when I came to try and persuade her to return. She was very glad."

"I can guess how glad."

Seti frowned slightly, but didn't pursue it. "He was away, on the Rycon. When she knew he was coming back, at that point she decided to leave, to go back to Aegypta with me. He had been gone almost a yahren. When he returned, she was more than two sectars pregnant."

"With me."

Seti nodded. "With you. She didn't run away from him, Sekhti. She was no coward, your mother. She faced him and told him about us, about you, and then she came away with me, back to Aegypta, back to her own place."

"And you were able to persuade the Clan to accept this, how, exactly? I thought Clan law was quite explicit about those who married out."

Seti smiled and shrugged thin shoulders. "When you are head of the Clan, Clan law is what you say it is. We're an autocratic people. They accepted her return because I wanted it."

Apollo had looked almost anywhere in the room except at Seti. Now he finally met the older man's eyes. The thin silver filet holding back Seti's hair had a falcon on it, eyes set with emeralds. Seti's eyes were a paler green, paler than Apollo's own, set in lines that showed some pain and suffering; but the line of the jaw, the shape of the nose and cheekbones, they were familiar. Those he looked at in the mirror every day. He wondered how he'd missed that on the Rising Star when Seti had first approached him. Perhaps because then he wasn't looking for it.

"Go on."

"She lived with me in Aegypta. You were born in my house in the capital, in The Thebiad."

"Were you there?"

Seti nodded. "Of course."

Apollo's eyes stung sharply and his sight blurred. "I knew he wasn't there when I was born. I knew there weren't any pictures of him and me until I was almost a yahren old, but I always thought that was because he was on the Rycon, that he couldn't get home. That's what they told me, anyway."

"Oh no. The Rycon moved onto close Colony protection duty, and he was on Caprica regularly and often over the next couple of yahrens. I found out later that she saw him quite often. They started meeting before you were born." Seti turned to look at the holopics on the low table. "There are no holopics of you and him because he refused to see you - at least, he did at first. There are pictures of you and me, because I was there. I have a few pictures of you when you were born, and just after. Not many, but I took them everywhere with me, and I managed to salvage them when the Destruction came. Those and the ones your mother sent me now and again were all I had of you, really."

Apollo, who'd been staring at his combat boots in an effort not to show this stranger how he felt, looked up at this. "She did that?" He flushed at his own stupidity. "I'm sorry, that sounds stupid. I can see she did. But I'm surprised she stayed in touch with you."

"Not often. But every now and again, I'd get a parcel of holopics, copies of your school reports, things like that, reminders of you and her. It was a part of our bargain. She kept her word. I kept mine to stay away, to give her the chance to build a life with him."

"What happened? Why did she go back?"

Seti shrugged. "She wasn't happy with me, although I tried to make her so. She loved him, not me. All I was, was a comfort when she was lonely and afraid, and he wasn't there. When he came back, she was torn between him and me, but the balance was all on his side, despite how happy you made her. She adored you. We both did, and I hoped that you would be what kept her with me. I tried to keep her, Sekhti, I tried to keep you both. But what I didn't know was that all the time she was with me, she was talking to him, meeting him, bargaining with him, negotiating her return. When you were about ten sectars old, she told me she was going back to him and taking you with her. For a while I gave up, too angry with her to persist, then I made one more try to get her to reconsider – the visit I told you of, when you were a yahren and a half."

"What happened?"

"We were very civilised. Nefert-ila made her choices clear and unequivocal. She wanted the freedom an unmasked life in Caprica would give her, and, of course, the commander was a rich man. I could offer her comfort, but you know yourself how luxurious your home on Caprica was. We don't live that way, and I couldn't compete. He swore that he would raise you as if you were his own and agreed to register you as his son with the authorities. That's when he changed your name, of course." Seti smiled slightly. "I expect he had some small fine to pay for not registering your birth sooner, but as I said, he was rich and his family had influence, so I don't expect that it troubled him. I promised that I would not contact you or her. Nor did I, until I came up to you on the Rising Star."

"And he accepted all this?"

Seti shrugged again, thin shoulders lifting. "With difficulty. What man would be indifferent to it? Even though he forgave more than I could, and with better grace, it still took a long time for her to negotiate her return. The price he paid was to have to take you with her, to accept a permanent reminder in his house of her infidelity. The prices she paid, the loss of her name and yours, and probably others I know nothing of; all that had to be paid when she returned."

"That's why she was always so nervous, when I was a kid." Apollo rubbed at his forehead. He had a headache starting, a dull pain behind his right eye. "That's why she was always making me into the perfect son."

"To make sure he didn't repent of his bargain, I suppose." Seti nodded agreement. "I don't know how difficult it was for her and you, especially when she had his children. When I came that last time, you were very easy with him. You were walking and talking, into everything." Seti smiled, rather sadly. "You were a very active child. I'd missed all that, the first words, the first steps. You'd forgotten me, and he was the one you called Daddy, not me; he was the one you went to for protection against the stranger. That's when I realised I'd lost, and that you were no longer mine."

"Difficult," said Apollo, awkwardly.

Seti nodded. "It broke my heart. He - Adama - accepted it readily enough, seemed at ease with it, picking you up to comfort you. I didn't like it, but it was obvious he was filling that role for you."

"But reluctantly."

"He wanted her. He didn't want you. Understandable, I suppose."

"Yes," said Apollo, unemotional. "Very understandable."

 

After a while, a girl brought food, coming in quietly and with an air of grave respect. She acted as if it was an honour to serve them both, moving deftly and quietly to present the meal. The food was as good as anything the Rising Star could offer, but Apollo wasn't hungry. He'd listened to Seti's memories of his mother, trying to match them to his own memories, trying to see what she'd felt and understand what she'd done. The pain behind his eyes had grown steadily. It was worsening now and he felt slightly sick.

"They look after you well," said Apollo when the door closed quietly behind the Aegyptan girl, picking listlessly at the food she'd served him.

"I'm the last member of the Pharaonic Council and they respect that. You know what that means?"

Apollo nodded, and pushed the plate away, food untouched. "The Aegyptan ruling body. You're Re-Harakhte clan, like my mother. If you were the Pharaonic Re-Harakhte, you have to be the Falcon."

Seti lifted his hands, letting his sleeves fall back. Apollo glanced at the incised, stylised silver falcons embedded in the man's inner forearms.

"She taught you well," said Seti.

"The fleet census doesn't have you listed as anything special. Just your name."

"We were cautious, to begin with, and they're protective of me. And with you on the Galactica, there has been little need - until now - to set up a formal relationship with the Council. Anything that we've been asked to advise on has been channelled through you. If the need had been there, then I would have established formal links to the Council, as the Re-Harakhte, and Adama would have realised sectars ago that I was here."

"That would have pleased him," muttered Apollo.

Seti smiled. "No doubt, but he would have had to work with me, Sekhti. I'm the last. The Jackal is dead, and the Lion, the Baboon, all the others. There's less than a thousand Aegyptans now, a few from every clan, but I'm the only clan ruler."

"How did you escape?"

"I was at the Council meeting on the Atlantia, the Pharaonic representative to the peace envoy. The Usermaatre is my ship and always has been, my transport to Cimtar." He smiled again. "It was the first time I had seen Adama in about twenty-eight yahrens. He looked well."

Apollo didn't react to that in any way, not sure what Seti was looking for and unwilling to give it even if he did know.

"I saw you too, when you came to get him at the end of the first day. I hadn't seen you for so many yahrens, but I knew. I knew."

Apollo looked away, uncomfortable at the emotion in that hitherto restrained and controlled voice.

Seti said, controlled again, "He didn't realise it was me, of course, since I was masked and said little. I listened, instead, to what he and the other military had to say, heard their distrust. Even though I had no very charitable thoughts towards Adama, what he said made sense and I was as uneasy as he was. I warned the Aegyptans in the other Battlestars. They were ready when the Cylons hit, able to get to their shuttles and away. We lost people in the melee and battle, of course we did, but enough of them were able to gather with the surviving Vipers reach this ship. Did you know that we gave landing room to many of the Vipers and brought them with us as we followed the Galactica? When we got to Caprica, we transferred the Vipers to the Galactica and picked up what survivors we could find, both Aegyptan and human."

"And now you're what? Their leader?"

"I am the most senior, yes. Yes, they accept me as their leader, I suppose."

"And that's why they wanted me here, to arrange the transplant and make sure that you didn't die and leave them leaderless. I see."

"They wouldn't be leaderless, but things would be difficult. In part, that's why they want you here, so they will be less difficult in the future, when I'm gone."

"Something for you, something for me, something for them. That's what Mene said." Apollo rubbed again at his temple.

"Are you all right?" asked Seti.

"Headache, that's all." Apollo smiled a thin, humourless smile. "I'd put it down to the stress, myself. Yesterday was quite a day in itself, without today's revelations. It makes me dread what tomorrow's adventure might be."

"Mene told me about the Windjammer episode. I was very proud of you."

"Were you? He yelled at me for taking risks and for what he liked to call my poor judgment. He was probably right."

"A little ungenerous. You stopped a potential riot, got a few humans to understand us a little better, and no one was hurt."

"It was stupid." Apollo shrugged. "I'd rather not talk about it. It's not important any more, is it?" He changed tack abruptly. "So if me donating some of my bone marrow is what you get out of this, what's in it for me?"

"The reason I decided to approach you, despite my promise to Nefert-ila. I have a genetic condition, a variant on the disease that in humans is known as Sysperchion's syndrome, where my bone marrow has degraded to the point where my immune system is compromised." He laughed a little. "It's ironic evidence of a link between humans and us, and also of the chasm between us. We can share the same diseases, but the genetic differences between us and humans mean that no human could help, even if they wanted to. No one else here on the Usermaatre is a good enough match for me. Without treatment, I'll undoubtedly die soon. A few sectars, at best."

"Which is where I come in."

"I hope so. But more important, Doctor Lyre tells me it is hereditary. There is a strong chance that you may have inherited this."

"Oh, great. This is turning out to be such a good day."

"I'm sorry, Sekhti, but it's not as bad as it sounds. It was diagnosed very late for me, too late for them to take and freeze healthy bone marrow and reintroduce it after treatment. But if caught early enough, it's easily treatable and rarely fatal. You have regular medical checks, as a pilot. Every six sectars, I believe. Lyre will be able to map your gene sequencing to see if you have inherited the gene from me. If you have, you must be tested for the syndrome at each check-up. That way they can be certain to diagnose it in time. It shouldn't be a problem, but you had to know."

"Yes." Apollo was polite. "Thank you for telling me."

"I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry that I've had to do this. But there's more than my health – or yours – at stake. There aren't very many of us left. You and I need to start making provision for our people for when I do die, and in the meantime, we need to do something about our relations with the humans."

Apollo stared, then sighed. "Oh no."

Seti smiled. "I'm afraid so. I have no other children."

"No," said Apollo flatly. "Whatever arrangements you make for governing your Aegyptans will not involve me."

"They're your people, too."

"The hell they are! That's the whole fucking problem, can't you see that?" Apollo took a deep breath, and said more temperately, "Suddenly I'm not who I thought I am, the Apollo who'd worked out how to manage balancing being half Aegyptan with being human. But I'm not human, not even half human, and I'm not really Aegyptan, except genetically. I don't know what I am."

"By balancing, you mean you were ashamed of it and her, and hid it."

"Ashamed? I most certainly am not!" Apollo straightened in his chair. "But - "

Seti smiled sadly. "Exactly. But. You hid it for what were very good reasons, I know that, living as you did in their society. But that society's gone now, and you can do much to help mould a better one."

"Hell, no! I only do social reforming every other day. This isn't the day for it."

"One day you'll be commanding this fleet and governing us. You've a foot in both camps, if you like."

"Or neither," Apollo pointed out. "If I tell everyone I'm Aegyptan, then I certainly won't be commanding the fleet, one day or any day. It's going to be difficult enough getting this past Lyre, and Dr Salik will have to be told."

"Well, we can delay the full revelation until after you've done your social reforming." Seti smiled at the look Apollo gave him and leaned forward. "Listen to me. I'm not suggesting that you announce to the world who and what you are, not until you're ready to do it. I think we can rely upon the doctors to be discreet: it's a part of their job. What I am suggesting, is a slow process of getting these humans to understand that we're no threat to them and never have been, to begin a process of bringing us closer together."

"Ending your isolation?"

"Not entirely. But there's less than a thousand of us, less than one percent of the fleet's population. It's not a viable number, Sekhti, for us to remain so completely isolated. We thought about it. We thought about striking off on our own, but we knew it wasn't really possible, even if we were prepared to forego our oaths to the Lords to guide and help the humans. This ship can't support over a thousand of us. We rely upon you humans as much as you need us, a symbiotic relationship."

"Not one the humans are willing to acknowledge. They're afraid of you."

"Yes. But you know as well as I do that we're all the same Kobolian stock. The humans need to understand that, and we're going to have to adapt and change and learn to live closer to them than we might like, the way the humans will have to adapt and change. And you will have to help that process along."

"I'm a warrior, not a politician."

"You have to be both. It has to be more than playing at toy soldiers from now on, Sekhti. You have two different peoples to protect and try and reconcile. No one else could do it. No one else could understand the humans and be close to us. You'll be accepted by both."

"Or rejected by both."

"Not by us," said Seti, and smiled. "Never by us. Or do you forget that you're one of the few "humans" we deal with?"

Apollo only shook his head. "Not now, Seti. Please don't lay this all on me right now. I've enough to be getting on with, don't you think, before you get me changing the world."

"We'll see. To begin with, we'll formalise what happens now, whenever the Council decides it needs something doing by us. As I said, Adama always engineers it so that you ask us, Sekhti. He, at least, recognises the asset he has in you there. So we will ask that you act as formal liaison between us and the Council."

"Oh shit," said Apollo, and for a moment he buried his head in his hands in very real confusion and, almost, despair. After a centon or two of silence, he looked pointedly at his chronometer. "We'll have to talk about it some other time. I'd better go back."

"So soon?"

"There's Boxey. I can't stay much longer. I left Starbuck looking after him."

"Ah, yes," said Seti. "Starbuck. Well, I won't press you now. You've a lot to absorb and come to terms with."

"Don't ask too much of me," said Apollo "Absorbing is one thing. Coming to terms may be quite a way down the road from here. A long, long way."

 

 

 

"You'd better let me pilot you home," Mene offered.

"Huh?"

"You seem a little distracted, Sekhet. I've no desire for you to demonstrate just how distracted by bouncing this shuttle off the Galactica's hull." She smiled at him.

"Oh." Apollo glanced at the shuttle console. He had to concentrate hard to remember taking off from the Usermaatre.

"I expect you're flying on automatic, but you'll forgive me if I prefer to do that for you. I'm a fair pilot. You don't have to worry."

"I won't worry." Apollo leaned over the console and passed primary controls to the co-pilot array.

"Thank you. And I won't talk to you unless you want me to."

"Isn't that why you're here?"

"Cynic," she said, then added with a wry grin and a spurious innocence that reminded him of Starbuck: "It's most important that I talk with Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon about the modifications to the Windjammer, of course, and I'm grateful that you could offer me a lift."

"Hah!" he said, settling into his seat and letting himself drift for a little while, wondering to himself how he could wipe out the knowledge he'd gained in the last three centars. To begin with, he was grateful for Mene's companiable silence, but after some centons locked in his own thoughts, it grew intolerable. His headache was worse, and the feeling of nausea was stronger.

"Did you know my mother?" he asked abruptly, pushing the physical feelings to one side.

Mene smiled and nodded. "She was younger than me, of course, but then everyone is. We were on the Rose of Sharon together."

"Were you now!" Apollo sat up straight. "And is that why Seti asked you to come back with me?"

"I expect so," said Mene. "Men are intrinsically unsubtle, even Aegyptan men. He thought that you would like to hear about her from another, less biased source."

"Yes. And about how she met him. The commander, I mean."

"Yes." Mene made some minute course adjustment. "You mean that this, too, is a story that you've heard for which you require another, less biased opinion? Well, I'll supply it. You know of the Rose of Sharon?"

"It used to be the Fleet's primary test ship. Until the Cylons got her about twenty yahrens ago, every new model was tried out there. They used to put our best pilots onto her, testing all the new ships you came up with." Apollo grinned a little mirthlessly. "They stopped doing that when the Rose went up and took most of our best flyers with her. They realised the folly of keeping all the eggs in one basket."

Mene nodded. "There are never many Aegyptans on ships as small as the Rose, and it's harder to keep ourselves as separate. It's easy on a ship the size of the Galactica, where an entire deck is Aegyptan territory. On the Rose, we were more crowded. So I got to know her well. She was a wild one, Sekhet, always on the look out for fun and adventure. One bit of fun was to see how far she could go to defy conventions and get close to the humans. She knew, even then, that Seti had his eye on her, and she thought that she could get away with anything she liked."

"And she got too close to Da - … the commander?"

"She was working on testing a new fighter, the Asp, the predecessor to your Vipers. The commander - he was Captain Adama then, of course - was just finishing his tour of duty on the Rose, and was one of the best test pilots the Fleet had. Did you know that?"

Apollo nodded. "I knew he was good."

"Very good. And they spent an awful lot of time out in space together, test flying the prototype. All you need, Sekhet, is time and privacy, a shared passion and youth. A heady mix."

"And she was willing to give up everything for him." It was half a statement, half a question, and wholly unanswerable. The only person who knew the answer to the unspoken ‘why?' was dead on Caprica in the ruins of the house she and Adama had built.

Mene shrugged. "I think she found life behind the mask too restrictive, the traditions and rites too onerous, and a future as an engineer unenticing. It was too regimented, too much a life that she felt was imposed on her. She decided that the unknown that she could shape for herself, was more attractive."

Apollo nodded. His mother had had a lively time dabbling in Caprican politics, and perhaps that had been more to her taste that living in a society that Seti himself had described as autocratic, where there was one Clan-lord in charge and no chance to change things.

"She wanted the freedom, Sekhet, to make her own choices. Adama offered her that." Mene smiled at him. "Now, does that agree with what you thought you knew, what she and he told you?"

"Yes. Thank you."

"You're very welcome." She hesitated, then said, carefully, "Forgive me, for saying this, Sekhet, but this is as true as the rest. She was young and very pretty, and she liked pretty things around her. Our lives are simple and uncluttered by possessions. This is the most important thing I own." Mene lifted her helmet from her lap, and let it fall again. "She wasn't satisfied with that. She wanted more. She was no ascetic, your mother."

"And he was a rich man. He could give her anything she wanted."

"I don't think for a centon that that was the sole reason why she left us for the commander, or why she returned to him, but it was there in the balance with the other things."

"Seti hinted as much."

Mene sighed, and laid her hand on his for a centon. "She was very young," she said, again. "You alone can know how important material things were for her."

Apollo shrugged. "No more than most, I suppose. She never struck me as being that bothered about things for their own sake."

"Then she learned to put them in their proper place." Mene reached for her mask. "You had better resume control. We're on an approach to Galactica."

Apollo took back control of the shuttle, and negotiated his approach vector with Core Command. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Mene settled the mask over her head.

"Do you never find it restrictive, wearing that?"

The silver jackal head turned towards him. "No, not really. But then, I'm Mene-ti-Auapet not Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon. No two people want the same thing, Sekhet."

Apollo thought of his mother's history. "I don't think she knew what she wanted."

Mene laughed. "Oh, I think she did. But like many people, what she wanted changed as she changed. She made her choices and she eventually learned to live with them."

Apollo sighed. "Very nice for her, Mene. But her choices have fucked up mine. Funnily enough, I am not too grateful to her for that. Not too grateful at all."

 

 

 

 

"You're bloody late!" said Starbuck. "And supper is ruined."

Apollo reached for him. Everything he'd heard in the last few centars boiled itself down to one essential. He didn't want to lose Starbuck. The truth could cost him Starbuck. He didn't want to lose Starbuck. If he didn't tell Starbuck, he'd be lying to him. Lying could cost him Starbuck. And he really didn't want to lose Starbuck.

"Sorry." With an effort, Apollo stilled the restless circle his thoughts had got into and put his arms around Starbuck's neck, and for a moment buried his face in the warmth. Another effort, to keep it light, "You sound like a wronged wife."

"I feel like one. Not even a bunch of flowers to say sorry." Starbuck's kiss landed somewhere under Apollo's left ear.

"I'll bring you some tomorrow." Apollo looked over to the tiny dining table, set for a romantic dinner for two. Candles, ambrosa and even the napkins folded into elegant cocked hats. "Did you do that?"

"You think it was the Tooth Fairy or something?" Starbuck grinned. "Hungry?"

Apollo thought about shaking his head and telling Starbuck that he didn't feel too good, but he couldn't do that. Not to the Starbuck who was waiting for the praise and appreciation that so seldom came his way. He kissed his lover gently. "It looks beautiful, Starbuck. Thank you."

Starbuck looked absurdly pleased. "Yeah, well I had to do something after I got Boxey to bed, and preparing supper kept me occupied while I waited for you. Now that might seem like a minor domestic detail, but hold onto it, because it comes in useful later. Go and check on your son and I'll see to the meal."

Apollo nodded, and obeyed, going to the door of Boxey's room. It was like a repeat of the night before, with Boxey whistling though the gap in his teeth, covers down at his feet. He looked happy and peaceful and innocent, and Apollo envied him. He didn't know what he was going to tell Boxey, either.

"You know," said Starbuck companionably, once they'd settled down to the meal. "We're really the attraction of opposites."

"Incompatible, you mean?" Apollo picked at the food with his fork, forcing down a mouthful that tasted of sawdust. The feeling of nausea he'd had on the shuttle was growing, and the dull headache behind his right eye was sharpening.

"We're perfectly compatible, so long as you realise that together our bad parts sort of cancel each other out."

"I don't have any bad parts. What are you on about, anyway?"

"I mean, that unlike you, when someone goes to the trouble of making me a nice, romantic meal, I can manage to eat and talk at the same time. You can't manage either. You aren't eating, and you haven't said anything for the last five centons."

"Sorry." Apollo took a swig of ambrosa, and tried not to cough it back up again. It swirled around inside him in a very regrettable fashion. He took another mouthful to settle his stomach. "I'm not very hungry, and I've one hell of a headache, but I'll talk."

Starbuck looked comically put out. "That's a girl's excuse, that is. No, no sex tonight, I've got a headache. Or I've got to work tomorrow. Or I've the laundry to do. Which is it?"

"I'm just tired. It's been a long day. But I'll talk. I'll talk. Tell me, I love the table and the food's just great." Apollo forced down another mouthful of food and washed it down with a gulp of ambrosa. "But why is this domestic detail so important?"

"Ah, that's because of your visitor, Apollo. The commander dropped by about a centar ago."

"And what the hell did he want?"

Starbuck stared. "He didn't say. He was a bit surprised to see me here. You did ask his permission to leave the ship, didn't you?"

"Tigh's." Apollo took another mouthful of ambrosa to drown the surge of anger the mention of Adama had raised in him.

"Well, I wasn't sure, given how surprised he was to find you'd gone to the Windjammer. He asked if you were all right, and I had to say you were a bit antsy about yesterday and went to check up on things. He sort of harrumphed at me, and let it go, but he may have words to say to you at the command meeting tomorrow. But if you cleared your lines with Tigh, it should be okay."

"Don't bet on it," said Apollo sourly. He abandoned the fork and concentrated on the ambrosa, getting down another mouthful. He refilled the glass and drank another mouthful. And another. And another.

"Oh well, there's nothing we can do about it," said Starbuck, philosophical. "So then he wanted to know why I was going all domestic on you. He said that he could appreciate the gesture of a good friend in getting supper ready, and that was a nice thing to do, but would I care to explain the candles?"

"Oh." Another huge gulp of ambrosa.

"Easy peasy."

Apollo grinned reluctantly. "And your excuse was?"

Starbuck beamed. "You can never tell when you might get a sudden power cut."

Apollo groaned and refilled his ambrosa glass again. He was a touch over generous, the ambrosa spilling down over the side. He was conscious of Starbuck's eyes on him.

"Hey, I was a Boy Ranger, I'll have you know. I told him that the training left an indelible mark on me. Be prepared, and all that."

"Starbuck, you were thrown out of the Rangers after two sectons. For bad behaviour. For very bad behaviour."

"Your Dad doesn't know that." Starbuck shrugged. "Dreadful bunch of homophobic reactionaries, the Rangers. I was well rid of them. Anyhow, I wouldn't say he was satisfied with the explanation, exactly, but he didn't out and out call me a liar. Of course, the ambrosa and flowers and the beautiful table setting – impressive, eh? – well, all that would have been a bit harder to explain away. Luckily he didn't ask me to. He just gave me his very best Hard Stare, then said he'd see you in the morning."

Apollo shrugged.

"Sorry," said Starbuck, contrite. "It looks like he may have joined the list of those who suspect we're up to no good."

"I'll deal with it," said Apollo, indifferently. He and Adama had quite a lot to talk about, and a discussion of his relationship with Starbuck was no longer the terrifying ordeal he'd been dreading. If it came to it, Adama was not, in the end, in any position to take Apollo to task over Starbuck's place in his life. No position at all.

"Confident," Starbuck watched as Apollo drank off more of the ambrosa. "All right. What's wrong?"

"Wrong?"

"The drink? It won't evaporate if you take it slower."

"I'm thirsty, that's all." Apollo picked up the ambrosa glass defiantly and swigged it all down. His head swam unpleasantly for a micron.

"Uh-huh," said Starbuck.

"That's all," Apollo snapped back.

"Uh-huh," said Starbuck again.

Apollo put the glass down, very carefully setting it down just so, so that it sat in the exact middle of the little pool of ambrosa that he'd spilled a centon ago. Everything was going a little fuzzy about the edges. His eyes stung, and he rubbed the back of his hand over them, then froze, remembering Seti doing that earlier.

Nothing that he knew about himself was safe or concrete any more. Everything was up for re-definition.

"Apollo?" said Starbuck gently.

"Sorry," he said, thickly. "Sorry. I guess I don't feel too good. I'm sorry."

Starbuck frowned. "Too much booze on an empty stomach! You just downed almost an entire bottle in about five centons."

"Yeah." Apollo got to unsteady feet. "I feel a bit sick. ‘Scuse me…"

Starbuck followed him into the flush. "Shit!" he said, a faint note of disgust in his voice.

Apollo couldn't respond. He was far too taken up in being noisily and copiously and endlessly sick, the ambrosa sour and acid in his mouth.

"Shit," said Starbuck again, but there was resignation in his tone. He got his arms around Apollo and helped support him as he slid to the floor. "Take it easy, Apollo."

Curled into the foetal position that helped with the nausea, pressing his now savagely aching head against the cold metal of the flush, Apollo got some minor relief from the coolness and from Starbuck's hand stroking his hair. For a little while he just drifted with it, head thudding and stomach churning. He wasn't certain, but he may even have drifted into momentary sleep, coming awake with a start when Starbuck shifted position.

He stared at Starbuck for one startled micron. "Sorry," he managed when he realised who it was.

"I'm the one who's sorry," said Starbuck, sadly. "I think I'll be one cleaning up. Why'd you drink so much? You know you've no head for that much alcohol."

"Sorry," said Apollo again. He got one arm around Starbuck's neck, clinging.

"It's okay. Finished?"

"Think so."

"Think you can get up? We'll get you into the shower, and clean you up a bit, then you're better off trying to sleep this off. Ready?"

Apollo nodded slowly. He let Starbuck haul him upright and into the shower cubicle, letting the lieutenant strip his soiled uniform from him. Normally a shower with Starbuck was a prelude to some serious fun, but he went through this one with both brain and body on hold, some parsecs distant from where the chaotic and tangled thoughts were raging. Apollo leaned against the wall, suddenly too tired to speak, aware of very little but the weariness that made every bone in his body ache, that made everything seem so remote and far away that he was outside of it, detached and floating.

"Out you come," said Starbuck

It took a real effort to try and lever himself upright, even with Starbuck's help. He had to push hard against the wall to get some momentum going to get out of the cubicle and under the dryer. He wouldn't have got to the bed without Starbuck's support.

"What's wrong, Apollo?" Starbuck asked, sitting on the edge of the bed and resuming his soothing stroking of Apollo's hair.

For a moment Apollo focused on him. "Secrets," he said miserably, then closed his eyes against the tears that burned at them. "Secrets and lies."

 

 

 

 

"What's your report on the status of the Windjammer, Captain?"

Apollo shook his head. "I don't know any more than I reported yesterday, sir."

Adama frowned. "I understood that you went there yesterday evening to check on progress."

"No sir," said Apollo. "I didn't."

Tigh raised an eyebrow. "I'm under the distinct impression that's why you borrowed a shuttle."

"I just needed a shuttle." Apollo raised eyes that had steadfastly stared at the table throughout the command meeting, and met the commander's cold gaze.

Adama's mouth was drawn into a thin line of disapproval. "And is it too much to ask why?"

Apollo shrugged. "I was asked by someone to visit another ship. I'd rather explain to you privately, sir."

"Captain," said Tigh, coldly.

Apollo returned his look. Tigh had been suspicious in the first couple of yahrens after Apollo's arrival on the Galactica, about what having the commander's son there would mean for his own position. Although their relationship had become easy on the surface, and Tigh had seemed to develop a respect for Apollo's abilities, the colonel was still occasionally uncomfortable about Apollo's links to Adama, and hinting at secrets would not improve matters.

"I'm sorry sir, but I really would prefer to explain to the commander in private."

Adama frowned. "Remain behind when we're finished. Your explanation for why you took a shuttle and, presumably, filed a false flight plan, had better be a good one."

"Yes sir," said Apollo, and remained scrupulously polite to both his superior officers for the rest of the meeting.

"Thank you, Colonel. I appreciate your forbearance." Adama closed the meeting and waited until the door closed on Tigh's stiffly disapproving back. "Well?"

"What, sir?"

"I'd like to know what this is about. It's not like you. I was concerned enough when I thought you'd gone to the Windjammer. Starbuck said that you were worried about it, and I wondered if it had affected you more than I thought, and that I hadn't let you talk about it." Adama didn't take his eyes off Apollo. "Starbuck hinted delicately that you misunderstood why I was so angry with you about it."

Apollo shrugged.

"I was furious with you because you scared me almost silly with that trick, you have to know that."

"I don't know that. All you said was how crap a decision it was."

"I was scared. You could have been hurt."

Apollo shrugged again. "I could get hurt every time I launch. Or dead."

"And you think I don't think about that every time I send you out there?" Adama shook his head. "I find it hard enough to deal with the ordinary risks, Apollo. I'm sorry if my reaction to you increasing those risks upset you to that extent, but you shouldn't really be that surprised."

"No? You'd be astonished yourself at what surprises I've had in the last twenty four centars. But, I'm okay about the Windjammer. I did what I thought was necessary and I'm used to being told that I'm wrong."

"What?"

"I mean," said Apollo, trying to be exact. "I'm used to being just about adequate."

"I don't understand," said Adama.

"I don't expect to be told it was a good thing to prevent a riot, just bawled out for it. Don't worry. I'm used to it."

"Well, of course I'm glad that they didn't riot! My only point was that I'd rather you didn't put yourself in danger to achieve that!" Adama stopped, his mouth drawing into a thin line. "Look I'm not at all sure what it is we're arguing about. What is all this about? This is so unlike you that something has to be wrong. What is it?"

"Nothing to do with the Windjammer or you yelling at me. Let's just say an unusual social situation got to me."

"Will you stop talking in riddles, Captain? I don't have time for this. Where did you go last night and why did you lie to Colonel Tigh about it?"

"I went to the Usermaatre." Apollo paused. "To meet my long-lost father."

Adama was not given to dramatic gestures, but there was no mistaking the shock he felt, not from the audible gasp and the way the colour drained from his face, leaving it grey and old.

"The Usermaatre?"

Apollo nodded.

"To see Seti? In God's name, Apollo! Why?"

Apollo shrugged. "Every Aegyptan I've spoken to in the last couple of sectons has been on at me to do as Seti asked. So I did."

"To pay me back for shouting at you?"

"No. Do you really think I'm that childish? Besides, it was hardly the first time I got told I only just get by, and that I don't meet your standards, now was it?"

Adama just stared at him.

"Mostly it was because they were getting to me. I looked up the stuff on recessive genes he told me about, and then I realised. The gene for green eyes is so recessive that the colour doesn't even rate for humans. A green eyed kid needs two green-eyed parents. A green-eyed kid needs two green-eyed Aegyptan parents. I must just be so stupid. How come I never realised before?"

It was a rhetorical question, but Adama chose to answer it. "Because your mother and I did everything we could to make sure you never had cause to realise it."

"Would you ever have told me?"

"No." Adama didn't hesitate, and he seemed to be relaxing, reassured by Apollo's calm. "We never wanted you to know."

"I must be so stupid," said Apollo again. "I went over there to try and find out what he wanted, to keep you out of it. I didn't think you knew. I didn't want you to find out and be hurt. He was so astonished when I said that. It was stupid. You've always known."

"I'm sorry, Apollo. I'm sorry that he's done this, that you had to find out."

Apollo said nothing for a centon or two. "I've heard his side of it all, and now I'd like to hear yours."

"What did he tell you?"

"Like I said, his side of it. Of course, I don't know him or anything about him, so I don't know how much I can trust of what he told me. But then, I've known you thirty yahrens and I can't trust anything you tell me, either."

"Apollo!"

"You've lied to me all my life." Apollo said it flatly, uncompromisingly. "I'd like to know why."

Adama was grey and pale again. "Apollo, it just didn't matter."

"It didn't matter? Your wife foists her bastard on you and it didn't matter?"

"Don't call yourself that!"

Apollo shrugged. "It's what I am, isn't it? The legal definition."

Adama shook his head, not able to speak.

"He said - Seti, I mean - he said that you didn't want me, when she was talking to you about coming back, that you had to take me if you wanted her. You must have wanted her very much."

"More than anything in the world," said Adama, his voice thick.

"Enough to even take on her bastard. That was big of you. Charitable. Generous."

"Apollo, please."

"That's not my name."

"It's the only name you've ever really had."

"No, it's not. But you took that away from me, didn't you? Apollo's not real, and Sekhet never got the chance to exist. No wonder I feel a little disorientated, this morning. Identity crisis, I expect."

"I'm not going to argue with you about that. Listen to me. When your mother told me she was pregnant by Seti, just what do you imagine I felt? Can you possibly think I was delighted? I could have killed him, and her. She hurt me more than you can begin to imagine, Apollo. When we starting talking about her return, she insisted on bringing you with her. Of course I didn't want that! Of course I didn't want Seti's son there in my home."

"Well, so far he seems to be a reliable witness."

"I said to listen to me. I agreed, Apollo. I wanted her, and in the end, I agreed. She was everything in the world, and I'd have done anything to get her."

"And you wouldn't have got her without me."

"No."

"She forced you into it, then. Not so charitable after all, but the price you paid to buy her back."

"Adopting her baby - adopting you - was a price I was prepared to pay, if you insist on calling it that." Adama tried to smile. "You were less than a yahren old and it ended up no hardship . You wormed your way in soon enough. I couldn't imagine life without you there, after a while. I grew to love you, Apollo, very much."

Apollo ignored this. "All the time he was talking to me I was trying to work it out. I mean, I finally understood why she pushed me so much to be the perfect son. It all makes so much sense. She must have been terrified that you'd decide the price was too high, that you didn't want me around, that you were only tolerating me being there as long as I was no trouble. Especially when she had Athena and Zac, I guess. I'll bet that was the worst time for her, watching to see if you made any difference."

"I promised her I never would. I kept my promise, Apollo."

"Did you?"

"It wasn't hard! You've been as much mine as they are," said Adama, angry now.

"But I'm not yours at all. Not one molecule of DNA. Not one." Apollo stared Adama down. "And while I was talking to him, I thought about what it had been like. She was always on at me. Do well at school; make your father proud of you. Be the best at the Academy; make your father proud of you. Do well now you're on his ship; make your father proud of you. It was like it would only work if I was constantly justifying that charity of yours. I've ever managed it, though, have I?. No matter how good I am, it's not good enough for you. And maybe that makes sense as well. It was too big a hurdle to jump, being another man's bastard foisted on you."

"What?" Adama's jaw dropped.

"And now, I don't know. I don't know if you ever did come to want me for myself, whether it really came not to matter, or whether all the time I was the price you kept on paying to keep her with you."

"If you don't know what I feel about you, then I really have failed you."

Apollo concentrated on moving his datapad on the table top, in small circles, making patterns. "But I don't. How can I trust what you're telling me? You lied about the most fundamental thing about me, you lied about who I am. You tell me it doesn't matter." The calm deserted him so suddenly that he shook with the anger. "Well, it fucking well matters to me!"

"Yes," said Adama. "I'm sorry. At the time we thought it was for the best. We were a family, Apollo. I… we didn't want to jeopardise that. Please believe me, it really didn't, in the end, make any difference."

"It makes a difference to me." The flash of anger was gone as fast as it had come. "Everything I am and I've done has been defined by her need to keep propitiating you, do you realise that? I didn't. I've only just come to realise that. You weren't the only one paying a price. The one I paid is pretty high. I don't know who and what I might have been if I hadn't been moulded into something to keep you generous and charitable."

"For God's sake, you're my son and I love you!"

"I'm not your son, and I'm not sure that you do." Apollo rubbed at his eyes, tired. Even with the alcohol and Starbuck there to hold him, his sleep had brought no rest, no refreshment. "I'm not sure of anything anymore."

Adama just shook his head, looking helpless.

"She's not here any more. The bargain's null and void. You don't have to be charitable any more, and I just don't know where that leaves me." Apollo took a deep, sighing breath. "Look, I'm pretty tired today. I'm not up to a long debate with you about what you've done. I'm just not up to it. I'll do what Seti's asked me to do and that's as far as I can see at the moment."

"And what's that?"

Apollo grinned very slightly. "Nothing much. He just needs a bit of bone marrow."

"He's sick?"

"Very. I'd do it for anyone, not just because he's my father. But it'd be a bit of a blow, don't you think, finding him and losing him in quick succession. A boy should get to know his father. I'd like the chance, so I'll go and talk to Salik and see what they need to do. And get the tests: what he's got is hereditary."

Adama looked at him sharply, alarmed.

"Give him his due, I think that weighed as much with him as needing my help."

"We need to talk about this, Apollo."

"Sekhet. My name's Sekhet, Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit, which is, admittedly, a bit of a mouthful, but it's at least all my own. Not some human name that doesn't really belong to me at all."

"Apollo, please."

"I am really very mad with you. I can't tell you how mad. I can't believe that you lied to me, that she lied to me, for so long. So, no, I don't want to talk about this any more. I want to get used to it. I want to try and work out what to do about it, where I belong. And while I do that I just want you to leave me alone. Just don't bother me. Leave me be." Apollo got up. "I'll make arrangements through Thenie for you to see Boxey, but just stay away from me. All right?"

"Of course it's not all right!"

"It's all you get." Apollo moved to the door. "I'd better go and make my peace with the colonel. I'll think of something to tell him and you can tell him you chewed me out for taking the shuttle."

"Apollo, you can't leave things like this! You've got to see that you're my son and I love you more than anything I can tell you. I'm your father, for God's sake!"

Apollo paused in the doorway.

"Ah but you're not," he said, cruel and unforgiving. "You're not. You're no relation at all."

 

 

 

 

"Bad meeting up top?" Starbuck asked.

"You could say that." Apollo kicked at the desk leg.

"And could I say that you're hungover, too?"

"I don't know. I wasn't drunk."

"In a pig's ear. You just can't hold your liquor, Apollo."

"I got a little sick, that's all."

"Did you hell! Tell that to the poor fool who ended up cleaning up the bathroom after you. You got a lot sick. It had quantity, quality and even trajectory."

Apollo winced. "I'd rather not know."

"And I'd rather not have been the poor fool who ended up cleaning up after you. Are you going to tell me what's wrong? Falling asleep on me after handing out cryptic clues, and refusing to talk to me about anything at all this morning - well, that worries me, Apollo. What's bothering you?"

"Later," said Apollo "I promise. All right?"

"No."

"Well, it'll have to do. I'm going to see Salik. I'll be back soon."

"Why?"

"Headache pills, what else?"

"You tell me," Starbuck yelled after him. "Since you've got two packs in the desk drawer!"

Apollo ignored him. It was not the safest thing to do - Starbuck didn't do being ignored - but it was all he could think of for the moment.

Salik's greeting was cool and discouraging. "You have the look of a man who imbibed too freely last night," he said.

"A little, but I'm fine." Apollo allowed the doctor to push him into a chair and submitted to the indignity of being scanned, and prodded and having an ophthalmoscope shone into his eyes.

"You'll live," said Salik.

"I know. The consultation's nice, Doc, but I really wanted to see Doctor Lyre. Is she around?"

"Seeking a second opinion?"

"I trust you absolutely. It's something else."

"She and Paye are both here, running the morning sick parade. I'll give her a call. Do you want me out of the way?"

Apollo shook his head. "No. This is something you'll need to know about as well." He met the searching gaze. "About a patient of hers. It affects me too."

Salik's eyebrow nearly disappeared under his hairline, but that was the farthest he was prepared to go to express astonishment. He nodded and buzzed the com through into the outpatient clinic. Lyre was there in centons.

"Good morning, Apollo! Nice to see you. What can I do for you, then, that the great one here can't?"

"It's about a patient of yours. On the Usermaatre."

"Seti?"

"Ah, your favourite Aegyptan," said Salik. "The one with Sysperchion's."

"That's the one." Lyre nodded. "What about him, Captain?"

"He asked me for help." Apollo held out a hand. "How much blood do you need to see if I'm a close enough match to be a donor?"

Lyre frowned and stared. "But, Apollo, you can't - " She stopped, stared a micron more. "My God! Why didn't I realise?"

"I've never actually advertised it."

"But I must be one of the few people to have seen Aegyptans unmasked. I should have realised!" She looked at Salik. "I've had a dozen or so Aegyptan patients since you put the Usermaatre into my patch. They were all dark haired and green eyed, every last one of them."

Salik merely shrugged.

"You aren't even surprised!" said Lyre, aggrieved.

Salik shrugged again. "I've been a military doctor on Battlestars for over thirty yahrens. Like you, I've treated Aegyptans, and again, like you, I'm one of the few who's seen one unmasked. And I'd have to be blind not to see the anomalies in the captain's health profile - and the anomalies in Athena's, too - and not see the link. I've always assumed that their mother was Aegyptan."

Apollo nodded confirmation, surprised that both doctors were so calm about it.

"Was she a relation of Seti's?" Lyre had risen to find a needle, intent on the tests. "If she was, then there could be a reasonable match."

Apollo allowed her to take the few drops of blood and watched as she plugged the tiny vial into an analyser. "No. She wasn't related to him, except distantly. They're the same Clan."

Lyre sighed. "I won't hope for too much, then. We'd need some reasonable DNA commonality to get a good match. Generalised racial commonality isn't likely to give us enough to work with."

"She wasn't related to him. I am."

Lyre stared. Salik merely nodded.

"And so far as I understand it, this illness he has - "

"A variant on Sysperchion's Syndrome," breathed Lyre, her eyes wide.

"Yes. He told me it was hereditary. You'd better have a bit more blood, doctor. You need to check to see if I'm likely to develop it."

Lyre looked helplessly at Salik. "What you're telling us, Apollo, is that Seti is your genetic father."

Apollo just nodded.

"And you're full Aegyptan?"

Apollo nodded again.

"You aren't surprised by that, either," Lyre said to Salik.

"It's interesting," said Salik, with all the understatement of a man who prided himself on never allowing himself to get flustered by anything. "But I've treated Aegyptans too long to be surprised. Athena's profile, however, is slightly different."

"She's half. The commander is her father."

"Yes, I see," said Salik.

"I have to ask this, Apollo, because if you're a match for him and we take bone marrow from you, you're going to be out of action for several days. But does your father - " Lyre paused. "I mean, does the commander know?" She hovered over the analyser.

"He's always known."

Salik gave Apollo a sharp look. "Have you?" he asked, astutely.

Apollo shrugged.

"I've got the leukocyte-antigen count. More than ninety percent," Lyre announced, and sighed. "That's amazing! A ninety percent match is wonderful. I'd given up on him."

"Then I can donate bone marrow?"

She nodded. "Oh yes. There's such a good chance of success with that amount of concordance. But we don't really have that much time, Apollo. We should do it soon."

"What's involved?" Apollo's natural caution reasserted itself.

"Basically, his bone marrow is damaged through disease. You know that marrow is the manufacturing house for your blood cells?"

"Yes. He said his was defective, diseased, deformed and otherwise delinquent."

Lyre smiled. "I love that man's sense of humour. It's a fairly simple procedure. We'll start him on a course of anti-rejectants, and you on some drugs that will increase stem cell production in your bone marrow, and in a couple of sectons, we'll harvest it with you under a general anaesthetic."

"Harvest it? That sounds unpleasantly agricultural."

Salik smiled thinly. "It means taking some marrow from the bones of your pelvis."

"Do I want to know how?"

"There's a special needle that we'll insert through the skin and into the bone, usually in several places," said Lyre in her best lecturing tone. "We'll take about a litre and transfer it straight into him through a normal intravenous transfusion. You won't miss it, and all you'll have is a few bruises and little puncture marks. They'll soon heal and you'll replace the marrow in a few sectons."

"No. I don't want to know how. Thanks."

Lyre laughed, then sobered slightly. "With that amount of DNA commonality, Apollo, it's likely that you will develop Sysperchion's. It'll take the analyser a centar or so to do the DNA sequencing, but I think we ought to expect the worst there."

"And if it's a yes?"

"There are some implications for you," said Salik, but he didn't appear concerned. "Sysperchion's affects the immune system, and even long before it kicks in, in its entirety, it starts compromising your ability to fight infection. We'll need to watch for that, and we'll up your normal fitness tests to every three sectars. That will give us every opportunity to catch it, and caught early. it's easily treated. We'll take enough marrow from you to create the serum and keep it in store. Seti's problem I suspect, is that he's been sick for sectars, if not for yahrens, and never sought medical help until too late. He frowned at Lyre. "You'd better arrange to bring this Seti on board. I'd rather we did the procedure here."

"The facilities on the Alcestis are adequate." Lyre was always hot in the defence of the long-term care facility that was her special charge. "Come to that, the Medcentre on the Usermaatre is as good as here, if not better."

"I'm sure it is. But we're talking about the Galactica's strike captain. Any surgical procedures involving my patients, and I want it done here, where I can be involved."

"Where you can do it yourself, you mean," said Lyre, good-natured.

"Precisely."

"The commander may not appreciate this," said Apollo.

Salik's expression was cool. "This is a medical decision. Your father would never allow personal considerations to come into it."

Apollo merely scowled, forbearing to ask which father Salik was referring to.

Salik was always sharp. The look he gave Apollo was measuring. "Come in tomorrow morning after the command meeting and we'll start you on the drugs you'll need. They won't affect you in any way other than to increase stem cell production, and you won't feel that."

"Until you stick me with needles."

"One of the perils of being altruistic. And not one that you'd expect me to sympathise with." Salik waited until he got to the door. "Oh, Captain?"

"Yes?"

"Absolutely no alcohol, please." Salik smiled thinly. "Tell your liver you're giving it a little vacation. The way you look this morning, it'll appreciate it."

 

 

 

Dinner in the Commissary was always something of a lottery, but beat standing over a hot stove all evening cooking for ingrates who didn't eat more than two mouthfuls and demolished the entire stock of ambrosa before heaving it all up all over the flush. And who didn't tell you what was wrong, even though you'd had the good taste not to bat your eyelashes at them and whine about how much you loved them and didn't they trust you any more.

Starbuck had spent his entire day waiting, resisting the temptation to eyelash-bat, very aware of how distant and distracted Apollo was. With Boxey to collect from the after-school care facility in half a centar, his only chance for a tête-à-tête for some centars was to persuade the captain into the Commissary for an early dinner, to see what gastronomic delights the mass murderers who masqueraded as the Galactica's chefs had come up with that day.

"Do you really want to eat this stuff?" Apollo let himself be hustled into the queue of reluctant, but captive, diners.

"Jolly tells me it even tastes of something today. He wasn't able to tell me of what, but he hadn't turned purple or fallen over and was going for second helpings. Although, to be fair, Jolly would have seconds of absolutely anything. You eating?" Starbuck watched Apollo, noting the pallor and the drawn look about the clear green eyes.

"I think if I ate any of that, I'd be repeating last night's performance." Apollo took a frugal bottle of water. "But, I can take a hint. You want to talk."

"That's why I got you here. Come on." Starbuck led the way to a table that was just far enough apart in one corner to give him and Apollo a little privacy. Apollo fielded greetings all the way over, but showed no inclination to stop and talk to anyone, and the pilots all gave them some space. That gave Starbuck food for thought.

"I wonder how many people I should add to the list of those who think that you and me up to no good," he mused.

Apollo only shrugged.

"What did Salik say?"

"That I should give up drinking."

"Excellent. But don't take it to heart. He's a bit of a puritan on things like that. My body is a temple, and all that sort of felger. Go in there with a slight headache and he always assumes that you're a dipsomaniac." Starbuck tucked into the food. "Time for confessions," he said. "What's going on?"

Apollo frowned, then took a long drink of his water. He nodded. "Starbuck, did you like my mother?"

Starbuck paused with the fork halfway to his mouth, raised a surprised eyebrow and tilted his head on one side. "Did I what?"

"Like my mother."

Starbuck nodded. "A lot. She was a lovely lady, and that time you took me home with you on leave, she was gracious and kind and she made me welcome. I didn't feel too much like an interloper, an outsider. She made me feel at home, and that was nice. I'd never felt that before. I'd never been inside a real home, really."

"She knew what it felt like to be an outsider."

"She was an orphan, too, wasn't she? I remember her telling me that. She made me feel part of the family. So yes, I liked her. I liked her a lot."

"She wasn't an orphan," said Apollo slowly. "That's what they told everyone to explain her lack of family. She was an outsider, the way you always felt, but for a very different reason." He paused, took a visibly deep breath. "She was Aegyptan. She was a member of the Re-Harakhte clan, one of the Falcons, and her real name was Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon."

Starbuck stared, the food on his fork falling unheeded onto the plate.

"She shortened it to something that sounded more Caprican after she married Da- the commander. She met him when he was our chief test pilot on the Rose of Sharon and she was part of the Aegyptan contingent assigned to develop the Asp star-fighter."

Starbuck's mouth opened and closed, then opened again. "You're half Aegyptan?"

"I always thought so. Then Seti came along. You remember him."

Starbuck nodded dumbly.

"I didn't go to the Windjammer yesterday. I went to see him instead, on the Usermaatre. That's when I found out that I'm not half Aegyptan at all. I'm head to foot, top to tail, one-hundred percent Aegyptan, and Seti-sen-Ankhaten is my real father. And Da- the commander knows it. He's always known it, and they never bothered to tell me. It wasn't important enough to tell me. I wasn't important enough to be told. That's what upset me yesterday, Starbuck, and made me hit that ambrosa too hard and fast. It was a bit of a shock."

"Uuuhh." said Starbuck.

"Apollo's the Caprican name they gave me to hide who I really am. My real name's Aegyptan, too. She and Seti called me Sekhet, Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit." Apollo glanced at his chronometer. "That's about it. Now it's up to you. I've got to go and get Boxey and get him home. Please don't come after me. Please stay here and think about this. You said that you don't trust Aegyptans, I remember you saying so that day you and Boomer were searching the database for information on us. No one knows what they've got to hide, you said. Secretive bastards, one of you called us. Well, it fits. I'm both secretive and a bastard, but I don't think this secret's too safe any more, and I want you to think about what it means if it gets out." He got up. "Come and see me when you've decided what you want to do. But not while Boxey's likely to be up. I haven't worked out how to tell him yet."

"Apollo!"

"He'll be in bed by eight. I'll see you later. If not, if you don't come, I'll see you back on duty tomorrow and we'll deal with it on a professional basis." Apollo paused, then shook his head and walked away.

Starbuck stared after him, stunned, half rising to go after him. After a micron, he dropped back into his seat and turned his attention back to the food.

"Lover's tiff?" asked Boomer, slyly, sliding into the chair Apollo had just vacated.

Starbuck shook his head. "No."

"No? Didn't look too lovey-dovey from where I was watching avidly. Is he okay? He hasn't seemed too well all day and he doesn't look a hundred percent, to me."

"He says he is," said Starbuck, not without irony.

He focused on the plate, letting the familiar mechanics of eating absorb him, while he tried to take in what Apollo had said and tried to understand what it would mean. What could it mean? And what the hell was the story behind those cryptic revelations?

If truth be told, he regarded the Aegyptans on the ship as little as he regarded the laser cannon or the shuttles. They were just there, always in the background. There were always Aegyptans on the flightdecks, whether he was taking off or coming in, moving around doing whatever it was they did, dark figures with silver animal or bird heads. Always there, always quiet, always mysterious; coming when he yelled for a tech when something went wrong with his Viper, patiently taking him through some new modification, never talking that much but not hostile, just as indifferent to him as he was to them. Always there, unknown and unknowable, but familiar. The Galactica would be unimaginable without them and, he realised, infinitely less safe.

Most of the military respected the Aegyptans, but not even the military made friends with them. The most you got was a little conversation as they did something to your Viper, a little stilted and polite, maybe, but a point of contact for all that. Marrying one of them - well, that was unheard of. The commander deserved a little respect for his courage with that one. But if Ila had been Aegyptan, then there really wasn't that much difference between Aegyptan and human. Not that much difference at all.

But he had to work out if it made that much difference to what he felt for Apollo.

He found himself in a familiar little day dream, one that filled many a quiet moment, replaying a favourite, persistent memory of the first time they'd made love. They'd both been slightly drunk and exhilarated after the ceremony celebrating their destruction of the Cylon baseship, both been trying to evade the women who wanted more of them than they had to give. Somehow, they'd ended up in Apollo's quarters, just drunk enough to end up in Apollo's bed naked and sweating, aching sweetly in all the right places, limbs entangled and heavy with sleep.

Starbuck sighed and glanced around. While he'd thought about it, the Commissary had filled up, and half a dozen pilots were at his table. He'd barely noticed that they were there. He pushed his plate away.

Giles was telling one of his long, convoluted stories. As ever with a Giles story, it was another stage in the saga of his long and so far fruitless courtship of his flight tech, Lisle, and involved a lot of "She said, then I said, and then she said" and not a lot of action as Lisle effortlessly avoided committing herself. It was safe to float your way through a Giles story mindlessly. Not even Giles expected more than the occasional grunt or nod, and most of the pilots were nodding and grunting, glazed-over eyes revealing that they were floating with brains in neutral.

"And then the Gyp came over," said Giles. "One of the Lion-headed Gyps, and he wanted to know if Lisle had run the tests he'd asked for."

"What did you say?" Starbuck asked, abrupt.

Surprised, Giles lost his thread. "Whaddya mean? Weren't you listening?"

Boomer caught Starbuck's eye and grinned at that, but Starbuck was frowning at Giles.

"What did you just say?"

Giles frowned in the effort to remember. Starbuck usually reckoned that Giles floated as mindlessly as any of them through his own stories, and he was probably taken aback to find someone was actually listening.

"About the Gyp?"

Starbuck nodded. "That's the bit."

"All I said was that the Lion-headed Gyp came over to my Viper."

"That's enough!" snapped Starbuck. "What do you mean by calling him a Gyp?"

Giles stared. "But everyone calls them Gyps," he protested.

Starbuck remembered looking through Boxey's schoolbooks, and what Apollo had said. "We're not everyone, and I don't like it," he said.

"Ease off, Bucko," said Boomer.

"I bloody well won't ease off. It's stupid and ignorant, and I really don't like it. We'd be dead without them, and they're having a hard enough time out there as it is without ignorant bigots here, who ought to know better, calling them names. If anything, we should be out there shouting their praises for what they do for us."

"I'm not a bigot!" protested Giles.

"Then call them by their proper name. They're Aegyptans. Ae-gyp-tans. It's not that hard. Do it."

"But, Starbuck!"

"I said, do it!"

Giles shrugged. "Okay, okay! Who fired up your turbos? One of the Lion-headed Aegyptans came over to my Viper. Satisfied?"

Starbuck nodded. "Yes. Don't do it again."

"I wouldn't dare," mumbled Giles, shaking his head in bewilderment. "I've heard you call them that often enough."

"I know better now. And so do you lot."

"We've got the message, Starbuck," said Trent. "Like Boomer says, ease off on Giles a bit."

Starbuck pushed his chair back and got up. "I'll see you all later. I don't think I'll wait around for the rest of the story."

"I don't think I remember it," said Giles. "I never can, once I'm interrupted."

"You problem, not mine," Starbuck snapped back, and walked off.

But his hearing was acute, even over the noise of the Commissary, and Giles, in his indignation, didn't bother keeping his voice down.

"And what the hell's got up his astrum?"

That didn't bother him. But Trent's reply had Starbuck's ears burning.

"If you really don't know that," the Infantry lieutenant said, laughing, "Then you're sure as hell missing out on all the best gossip."

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