Section Four

 

"Can I come in?"

Apollo stood to one side, silent and tense. He let Starbuck in, not commenting on the fact that he'd given Starbuck the security code sectars ago and Starbuck hadn't needed to ring. He wondered what nicety of behaviour had Starbuck reverting to formality, what distance and loss, or maybe just uncertainty, that it might imply.

"Boxey?" Starbuck asked.

"Asleep."

"Good," said Starbuck. "Then at least we can talk."

Apollo sat down. For a micron only, Starbuck hesitated, then joined him on the long sofa. Apollo huddled into one corner, his arms crossed over his chest protectively, as if he were cold. He kept a distance between them.

"So," said Starbuck. "Did you mean what you said? It's not some joke?"

Apollo nodded. "I meant it."

Starbuck scratched at his nose, thoughtfully. "Okay. So now I'm wondering about the way you told me. Am I undergoing some sort of test here?"

"Test?" Apollo sat up a little straighter. "I don't understand."

"I mean, is how I react to this awesome news a test of how I feel about you?"

"You've lost me," said Apollo, bewildered.

"I do hope not, Apollo, and it won't be my fault if I do. I'm going to go on calling you Apollo, by the way. I'm never going to be able remember the other one, and besides, I'm used to it. There's no way I'm going to make the jump from a nice friendly monosyllable to something that needs half a dozen hyphens and ten centons to articulate. That's not something you can do when you're coming and you want to scream your lover's name, believe me. It's all I can do in those circumstances to manage the nice friendly monosyllable and still remain coherent."

Apollo stared, then relaxed, beginning to smile. His whole posture became less defensive, his hands dropping into his lap. "It's not a test, Starbuck."

"Good, because that would have made me mad. All you had to do was tell me."

"All I did do, was tell you. I'm sorry if it was a bit abrupt."

"That is one way of putting it."

"But I wanted to give you some time to think about it. For you to understand what it could mean."

Starbuck shook his head. "You just don't get it, do you? If you'd come and said that your terrible secret was that you've been married to Colonel Tigh for the last six sectars, then I'd have been a tad upset and you, my lad, would have been chucked. Telling me you're Aegyptan - well, all right, it's maybe not something I was expecting, exactly, but I've spent the last three centars thinking about it, the way you wanted me to, and I don't see it makes any difference."

Apollo shook his head. "It has to."

"Apollo, I loved you to death at 6pm this evening when you came into the Commissary, and I loved you to death at 6.05 when you walked out after delivering your bombshell. I still do."

"You're sure?"

"Pretty much. Look, I know I've said some pretty stupid things in the past. Everybody does. You just don't think, you know? They've always been there and no one knows very much about them, and it's just stupid, but people just go with the flow and never stop to think about it properly, never question it. I just snapped at Giles for calling them Gyps, and God knows I've done it myself a zillion times and never thought anything about it."

Apollo nodded. "I hate that. I always hated it."

"I know. And I remembered that day on the Windjammer, when I was over there with you and the looks on those people's faces, and then what happened when you were over there with Trent. That was pretty ugly. That's what happens when people are ignorant and don't think and go with the flow." Starbuck scratched thoughtfully at his nose again. "Of course, the Aegyptans don't help themselves very much, do they? I mean, they're not exactly into meeting us half way. But that aside, I did what you wanted. I've been thinking about you and what I know about you. Whatever differences there are, I can't see them. You're as human as I am in the only ways that matter. So the Aegyptans must be, too. I don't pretend to understand why they have to wear the headgear, but if they're like you underneath -"

"They are."

"Well then, I'd say that's a lot easier to live with than seeing you married to the colonel."

Apollo grinned, then sobered. "You're right about it being ugly, and it might get worse. Even without someone deliberately stirring up feelings against the Aegyptans, people won't like it when they find out about me. And they might. There are things that have to happen that might mean everyone finds out." He paused. "I think they will, Starbuck. I think this secret's pretty unsafe."

Starbuck shrugged. "Would you mind if Athena dated Boomer?"

Apollo blinked at the change of tack. "Of course not. Why should I? He'd be a lot better for her than you were."

"Because once they would have to fight for it, because it would have been frowned upon, been socially impossible, because she's white and he's black. I know! Stupid and ignorant almost beyond belief, and no one would believe it now, even all those stupid and ignorant people who are against the Aegyptans. It was exactly the situation we're talking about now. And if you're going to worry about what the stupid and ignorant think, then you're not my Apollo. Not my Sekthingy-an-thingy, I mean."

"Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit," said Apollo, but he was smiling.

"Well, I'll practice saying it until I'm word-and-hyphen perfect, but I'll stick to Apollo for everyday use, if you don't mind. I really can't cope with that mouthful, especially in those excitable coming centons I mentioned earlier. And it's important that I can do that. The whole point of screaming your name when I come is to prove my undying love and passion, and to reassure you that I know who I'm in bed with." Starbuck gave him a kindly look. "I'm stressing this because I know that you're not the most self-confident man I've come across, and I want you to get this firmly past that thick skull of yours. Short of killing me and stuffing my corpse out of an airlock, there is no way you're rid of me." Once more the maltreated nose came in for a bit of thoughtful scratching. "So if this is some roundabout way of dumping me, you've failed, and you're just going to have to come out and say it."

"I don't want to dump you."

"So I should think. I don't do getting dumped." Starbuck grinned at him. "I don't know why the hell I didn't guess though! I mean, what did I fall in love with the micron I saw you?"

"Dunno," said Apollo. "My charm and personality?"

"Dream on. Neither was very obvious, since the first thing you did was put me on report. Thing is, I didn't care. I was drowning in those lovely green eyes. They're so unusual and striking, they almost make you a handsome man. Almost as good looking as me."

"Thank you," said Apollo.

"And when I stop to think about it, I've never seen anyone else with green eyes, except through a mask. I really should have guessed."

"No one else has guessed either, so you're not alone."

"True."

"I suppose that it's because no one would ever think to make the connexion."

"And because no one else stares into your eyes quite as often as I do." Starbuck reached out to take Apollo's hand. "Have you talked to your Dad about this?"

"The commander, you mean? I've talked to him."

"Ah."

"I don't want to talk about that, Starbuck. Please. Not yet."

Starbuck sighed. "Okay."

"I can't believe he never told me. I can't believe he lied to me all these yahrens." Apollo stopped and choked.

"Well," said Starbuck, fairly. "You've been a bit secretive yourself about all this."

"I know. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Apollo choked a bit more.

"I won't let it matter, Apollo," said Starbuck gently.

"I love you," said Apollo, his eyes wet.

Starbuck smiled. "So why are you at least a metre too far away from me?"

"Come here then," said Apollo.

Starbuck laughed and closed the distance so rapidly that Apollo had no time to realise it before being pulled into Starbuck's arms for a kiss so rough and passionate that he stopped breathing.

"Love you, too," said Starbuck, when he got his mouth back. "Always have, always will." He held Apollo very tight, then released him with a little shake. "And that's for doubting it. And don't you dare apologise again!"

Apollo, who'd opened his mouth to do just that, closed it obediently.

"Good. Now, the tale I got in the Commissary was the abridged version. Do you think I could have the full story, complete and unexpurgated? Just so I get the full familial picture."

Apollo nodded, opened his mouth again to speak, and instead found himself clinging to Starbuck and sobbing his heart out.

Starbuck patted his back comfortingly. "Let it out, Apollo. Let it out."

 

 

 

"I was looking for Apollo."

Starbuck glanced up from the computer where he was painstakingly collating the day's patrol reports. "Well, well!" he said. "We don't often see bridge officers down here with the workers. Welcome to the real world, Athena."

"Not now, Starbuck. Where's Apollo?"

"Doing his last round of the troopdecks before handing over to Sheba and Dietra for the next shift. If you command-types came down here more often, you'd know that kind of thing. Take a seat. He'll be back in about ten centons."

Athena gave him a sharp look. "You know, don't you?"

Starbuck shrugged. "If you mean about the family secrets, yeah, I know. He spent most of last night telling me."

"I don't know why he tells you everything," fretted Athena.

Starbuck grinned at her. "Because he can trust me?"

"You're the most untrustworthy man in the fleet!"

"Only with girls." Starbuck readied the email to Tigh with its attachments for Apollo's authorisation, and turned to give Athena his full attention. "You've been talking to the commander, I take it."

He knew that Adama and his children all guarded their family privacy fiercely. It was perfectly understandable, considering what they had to hide, but it made it difficult for them to admit anyone into their confidence.

Athena scowled and prevaricated. "How much did Apollo tell you?"

"Every last thing." Starbuck watched her for a micron, not unsympathetic to her struggles. "And I should say that I am totally and completely on his side."

"Tell me something I don't know," she shot back. "All right. Dad was like an bear with a sore head all day yesterday. He was snapping at everyone, even the colonel. He was even worse today. Just impossible. Colonel Tigh asked me what he'd fought with Apollo over."

"How did he guess?"

"Tigh said that you could tell something was up between them at the command meeting. Apollo was so polite and formal, Tigh said it was unnatural, like having a talking shop dummy for a captain. Tigh said it couldn't have been more obvious if they'd both been wearing flashing neon signs."

Starbuck grinned at that. "Tigh's a smart man."

"And I have to admit that Dad was so unlike himself, something serious had to have happened."

"So you talked to the commander and he told you what, exactly?"

"Can we just stop playing games here?" Athena begged. "He told me what Apollo's told you. That this man, this Aegyptan, is Apollo's real father."

Her eyes were wet with tears as she said it, and she buried her face in her hands. Starbuck watched her for a micron, then silently handed her a tissue from the box in the desk drawer.

"It's breaking him up," said Athena into the handkerchief. "He was almost crying, Starbuck. Apollo's furious with him for letting him find out this way, and he walked out on him when he tried to explain. He's really, really upset."

Starbuck picked his way through the confusion of pronouns. "Apollo's the one who's really, really upset. He started out telling me the whole story last night and, well, there wasn't anything ‘almost crying' about the way it ended. It's a shock to find out that you're not who you always thought you were, and that your parents have lied to you all your life."

"For the best reasons!"

"Were they?" Starbuck shook his head. "He thought that you'd take the commander's side. You always do, don't you, whenever they disagree about something. Think about it, Thenie. Everything we are is defined by something. Who's Starbuck? I'm Lieutenant Starbuck, ace pilot, and that's one role. I'm Apollo's wingman and best friend, that's another. I'm Starbuck the court jester, that's another. I'm Starbuck the gambler, the Starbuck's who's never safe for anyone to date, the dangerous Starbuck who's too wily to be caught; that's another and another and another. Don't you think people define Apollo in the same way? As Captain Apollo, as the Galactica's strike captain, as Boxey's father, your brother, Adama's son. You tell me which has been the most important in his life, and which has just turned out to be a complete sham."

"There's nothing sinister about it, for heaven's sake! Dad said that it didn't matter, that Apollo was as much his son as Zac, that it made no difference. Surely you can see that it would be asking for trouble to make a difference!"

"I can see that it's asking for trouble to hide something that could so easily be found out! Anything could have done it. Lords, what if Apollo had ever been badly injured? Don't you think that the medics might have realised? This guy, Seti, he's sick, did you know that? And it's an illness that Apollo is very likely to inherit, Salik says. Anything like that could have done it. Adama was just storing up trouble by not telling him from the beginning."

"You don't understand."

"Because I don't have a family, you mean? Maybe not, but I've seen Apollo with Boxey. Boxey knows that Apollo isn't his genetic father, but he also knows that Apollo's his real father, the only one he's ever known. He knows Apollo loves him and wants him and will look after him, and this sort of crap won't ever cause them trouble because they both know, now, where they stand. Apollo knows none of this with Adama. None of it. He thought he did, but everything he knew has been turned completely upside down. He doesn't know why your father agreed to raise him, or what the commander feels about him."

Athena stared. "Are you crazy? He's Dad's favourite! He always has been. Have you any idea what it was like for Zac and me? We were used to coming second, but we thought it was because there was such a gap between me and Apollo, and they'd thought they'd never have any more children. We thought that's why Apollo was so special to both of them, why Dad always had a special way of talking to Apollo, of acting towards him. But all the time Dad was putting us second to some other man's bastard! I can't believe it!"

"If that's the tone you're going to use with him, then you can piss off out of here right now!" Starbuck almost spat out the words, astonished and angry. "I had enough trouble last night with him thinking he's lost his father, without he finds out his sister's a jealous little cat who thinks of him like that. Oh sorry! If you think that about him, then you won't want to be thought of as his sister, will you? You're just a half, and we must remember the distinction."

Athena flushed red. "I didn't mean it like that," she muttered.

"What other way was there to mean it?"

"I just can't believe that Apollo can't see how special he is to Dad." Athena disappeared back into the handkerchief to escape Starbuck's unfriendly gaze. "He must know it."

"You think? Did the commander tell you that he didn't want Apollo? When he and your mother got back together, he didn't want her baby as well. That's what's eating at him, Athena. He took Boxey because he wanted the kid, at least as much as he wanted Serina. But he was taken on sufferance, unwanted, and your mother spent all her time telling him that the only way he could be sure of your father's love was to be the best at everything, to make the commander proud of him. She didn't put it in quite that way, but that's how he sees it now."

Athena shook her head. "I know he feels like that. He told me so, when Dad first told us about Seti, when the man tried to talk to Apollo on the Rising Star. Only we thought then that it was mother being insecure about their marriage, and trying to make sure that everything was perfect for Dad, trying to make it work."

"Apollo thinks it was just him she was insecure about, that she was never certain that it was anything more than your Dad keeping him on sufferance, and that he's never been really deep-down wanted. Because if your Dad wanted to keep your mother with him, then he had to keep Apollo too, and Apollo's scared stiff that's all it's ever been."

"That's crazy!" Athena crumpled the tissue into a ball. "Look, yes, me and Zac were always a bit jealous about Apollo. He was six when I was born, and that's quite a gap, Starbuck, and there were almost eight years between him and Zac. Zac always said that gave Apollo a head start that we couldn't catch up on, so we'd just have to be content trudging along in his wake. Dad thinks the world of him. How can he doubt that?"

Starbuck shrugged and sighed. "He's not thinking too straight at the moment. It's a bit world shattering to find out you're not who you think you are, that all those Apollos may not be real and he has this whole new Sekhet person to become. He's trying to be fair, and he does say that there's no way that the commander would ever have taken it out on a kid for being some other man's bastard, as you so delicately put it. But there's a world of difference between being tolerated kindly for your mother's sake and being loved for your own, and at the moment, Apollo can't tell which is which."

"That's crazy!" said Athena again, reddening at Starbuck's unforgiving comment.

"You won't get any argument from me, but then I've never had my long-lost father turn up out of the blue and turn my nice safe world upside down. At least," amended Starbuck. "Chameleon tried it on, but he was a bit half hearted about it all. I haven't had to spend my time wondering at other people's motives for taking care of me all my life. Orphanages have that advantage over people. They rarely have motives."

"What a bloody mess," sighed Athena, dabbing at her eyes with the balled-up handkerchief. "What are we going to do?"

"I don't know," admitted Starbuck. "Seti is not going to go away. He needs Apollo's help to deal with this illness."

"I know. Dad said something about a bone marrow transplant."

"Apollo wouldn't let his worst enemy die in those circumstances. He's already seen Salik and Lyre about making the arrangements for it, and it'll happen in a secton or so. So we not only have to worry about how to fix things between your Dad and Apollo, we're also going to have to worry about people wondering about Apollo donating bone marrow to an Aegyptan and beginning to put two and two together. It's a complete bloody mess."

Athena sniffed. "I don't know what to do," she confessed. "Listen, Starbuck. I was closer to Zac than to Apollo, you know that, because he was so much older than me. But he's still my brother and I love him a lot, and I'm sorry for what I said but it's going to be horrible for all of us, and I just don't know what to do."

Starbuck nodded. "I know," he said, and his tone was kinder. "No matter which way you look at it, your parents truly and magnificently screwed up on this one."

"And we have to sort it out."

"I'm open to ideas," said Starbuck.

They stared at each other in silence.

"Yeah," said Starbuck, after a few centons. "I don't know what the hell to do either."

 

 

 

The council of war met seldom. They didn't want anyone to notice them particularly or for any attention to be given to their doings. If they were to win, then discretion was all.

The problem with discretion lay in the fact they were all, to some extent, public figures. Of course, since Carillon, Sire Uri's overt influence had waned as people noted the failure he had made of his bid for power and he was only slowly regaining his social position, but he was still something of a celebrity in the Fleet. The two councillors were even more notable. People recognised them, liked to know things about them, and their public images were carefully controlled and projected. For one audience, they'd stress Piers' passion for traditional dance, or Joel's sponsorship of children's charities. For another, it might be Pier's hints at a past within the Sagittarian ritualised duelling societies, or Joel's slightly more arcane love for his collection of old fashioned antique firearms. Their public personas were built around such carefully publicised snippets of information. Usually, of course, they wanted to be recognised. But in this case it told against them.

Discretion was all: secrecy was impossible.

So they hid their clandestine meetings by always holding them in public. They'd initially thought about meeting on neutral territory; not on the Rising Star, they'd thought, where both councillors lived, or on the Windjammer where Uri was now, or any ship where there may be a possibility, however slim, that they would be seen by anyone in authority. But a wiser head and colder intelligence had prevailed, counselling that the appearance of two current councillors and one notorious former councillor on some remote freighter was far more likely to be noticed than three middle-aged men of similar class and backgrounds meeting openly on the Rising Star to socialise and play a discreet game of cards. The counsel was accompanied by a slight sneer when admitting Piers and Uri to any kind of social equality, however remote, but Joel understood perfectly. He had given his orders, and Piers and Uri had had nothing to do but agree.

Joel laid his cards upon the table, and smiled at the winning run that gave him a greater pyramid. Neither of his companions could offer much to oppose him, and he appropriated the pot with satisfaction. "Perhaps it's time we returned to business," he said. "Review?"

The others nodded, watching the disappearance of their money with stoicism.

"Where do you want to start?" asked Piers. "Council or general?"

"The Council, I think. What luck?"

"Not counting Anton - "

"And who does?" murmured Uri, smiling.

"Apart from Adama, you mean?" said Joel. "Anton's the only one Adama can rely upon to back him consistently."

"And so is out of our calculations," agreed Piers. "Well, discounting Anton, there's no one who makes a natural rallying point and who could rival us."

"Solon?" queried Uri. "I'd have thought he had enough presence to try for it."

"Genuinely doesn't want it, I think," was Piers' judgement. "He's too uncompromising and independent to build up the alliances he would need, too inflexible and rigidly moral. Besides, although he often votes against Adama, just as often he supports him. Very independent. You can discount Tomas and Tinia too. They may not be Adama's greatest fans, but then, neither are they ours. Solon opposes everyone indiscriminately, but I think where the other two are concerned, it's almost personal dislike of us. The others are neutral or friendly."

"I'd thought that Tinia was less antagonistic to Adama than you're suggesting," said Uri.

Piers grinned. "Perhaps, but I think she's getting a little impatient with him. I think she believes it's time he stopped being the grieving widower, and realised what opportunities awaited him."

"Ah," said Uri. "I doubt she ever met Siress Ila, then."

"So long as she doesn't actively move against us, I don't care about her love life," said Joel. He frowned at Piers. "Jethric's been hanging around you a lot."

"He's pretty small fry," said Uri.

"But our small fry. That makes all the difference. He's useful."

"He's a political pygmy," said Joel.

"He's a vote," Piers reminded them. "And when it comes to a vote on the Presidency, he'll cast his in our favour." He grinned at Joel. "In your favour."

Joel smiled, pleased. "Well, continue to cultivate him. He's obviously flattered by your interest. We can use that. What about the others?"

"We can win over a lot of them with promises of advancement. Haleth, for instance, has a lot of influence over the manufactory ships, the Helen and the Turin. Some advantageous contracting will go down well there. He was disappointed that the Hephaestus was chosen to be the Viper forge ship."

"The others all have areas of interest that we can exploit," noted Uri.

Joel nodded. "You think that we could muster a majority, then."

"I think so." said Piers, and Uri nodded agreement. "Yes. We could."

Joel thought for a centon or two, then smiled. "Good. Now, the more general activity. How's that going, Uri?"

"We have several possible areas of unrest, all being carefully nurtured," said Uri, leaning back in his chair, his small eyes in their crinkles of fat no longer genial, but cold and calculating. "The inhabitants of the Aquilegia are increasingly concerned with the poor state of the ship's propulsion system, and have demonstrated twice. We have them terrified that they'll be left behind."

"Council Security were called out last secton," murmured Piers.

"They contained it successfully, but increased tension." Uri nodded. "There were a few broken heads and a vast amount of resentment as a result. I understand that even the warriors were put on standby in case of riot. That one's bubbling along nicely. It ties up a goodly proportion of security on a permanent basis, as does the tension between the Geminans and the Virgons on the Leander. Each faction there is convinced the other is being favoured in the matters of rations and accommodation."

"Good," said Joel. "The Borellian Nomen creatures?"

"Complaining vociferously that their customs are being ignored and their culture is in danger. They've been on two blood-hunts since the Destruction. Unfortunately, the last one, some sectars ago now, was against a Captain Dimitri and, as you'll remember, the Nomen involved failed in their attempt and are now on the Prison Barge. That's dampened their enthusiasm for more, but they're relatively easy to manipulate. As soon as you give the word, we could create an incident that has every Noman in the fleet on the hunt. It's another flashpoint that I'm confident about." Uri smiled complacently.

Joel's face showed a flicker of discontent. "Are you so confident about the Windjammer? Things there didn't go as well as I would like, Uri."

Sire Uri shrugged. "That one we may have lost, Joel. Maxim and the others are still on board, working with the people there, trying to keep up the pressure and rumours, but we've lost influence over Father Timon. He was key to it all. He has enormous authority over the Windjammer's population and he's got them accepting the Gyp creatures. We'll have to try and engineer something to raise the temperature."

"This is a delicate one," said Joel, enjoying Uri's discomfiture. "I don't want it to affect our attempts to win over the Gyps to help with the larger task we have - that's the bigger game that we mustn't jeopardise. At the same time, it's an excellent chance to sow more dissatisfaction with Adama's Presidency and offers us another opportunity to increase the insecurity I want the Gyps to feel. It's extremely important that the Gyps come to the Council - to us - for support."

"I understand," said Uri.

"They should never have been able to get on board," complained Piers.

"Yes. This was a good chance. I expected you to deliver this one, Uri, and I do not like being disappointed."

"We did our best."

"Evidently, that wasn't enough. Adama's son out-smarted you there. Odd. I never rated him as anything other than the usual straightforward military type who isn't able to think unless it's with his laser. He rarely displays any of that level of intelligence and subtlety when he attends the Council. Mostly he seems uncomfortable and eager to get away."

"I agree," said Piers. "I didn't think he would be much of a threat to us. I'd dismissed him as too unsubtle for politics."

Councillor Joel laughed. "Too honest, you mean, Piers? But perhaps he's more devious than I suspected. And there are others on the Council who regard him with more respect. Sire Anton, for instance."

"That's nothing to worry us," Piers snorted. "Anton's a fool."

"I think we may have under-estimated Captain Apollo," said Uri thoughtfully. "You don't get to be a Battlestar Strike Captain at the age he did and be as unsophisticated as we thought him."

"You forget whose son he is," Piers reminded him. "I'd thought that was enough to get him the promotions."

"Apparently we were wrong," said Uri. "And maybe that blinded us."

"Well, it's done now," said Councillor Joel. "I don't know whether the situation on the Windjammer can be exploited any further. I doubt it, though. We must find some other way. It's crucial that the Gyps feel threatened and come to us." He leaned back, at his ease.

"There's a general level of public disquiet about the Gyps," said Piers. "There always has been, of course, but I believe that it is growing."

"Slowly, perhaps. The rumour that Baltar was one of them?"

"Doesn't have that much currency," said Uri, regretfully. "A few believe it, but not many."

"Never mind. It all adds to the mix. We'll continue with it, and continue to spread all the rumours and ferment unrest across the fleet." Joel took a sip of his ambrosa, watching in some discontent and Uri won this particular hand. "As to the main game, the Gyps are still stonewalling our approaches, I think."

"Comprehensively," conceded Uri. "My people on the Galactica haven't made any headway in getting them interested in our proposition."

"We must have them. We have got to invoke the Accord." Joel scowled. "Whoever you have on the Galactica had better try harder, Uri. I must have their help."

"They're close to the military," said Piers. "I don't know if this will work."

"Captain Apollo seems very close to them," said Uri, thoughtful.

"To the Gyps?" Joel raised an elegantly plucked and arched eyebrow. "Is that so unusual? They've worked closely with our warriors for generations."

"Perhaps," said Uri. He gathered the cards together and shuffled them expertly, dealing the next hand with deft efficiency. "But I've not noticed that other warriors have the same ease with them as he has."

"So?" asked Piers.

"So." Uri shrugged. "It's what you said about him being uncomfortable in Council. I think that's true, and I've noticed it in other situations, too - social affairs, back on Caprica, when his mother and I were both members of the Caprican Senate. I don't think he's a man who's comfortable with people he doesn't know and trust."

"Very cautious. And perhaps wise," said Joel, frowning down at his cards.

"Perhaps it's nothing. But he was on very easy terms with those things." Uri sorted his cards expertly. "Ah. Well, gentleman, I'll bid ten cubits."

 

 

 

 

Colonel Tigh was an irritated man, and that was not a safe emotional state for anyone else. He disliked secrets. He particularly disliked secrets that could affect operational efficiency, and having the first and third in command of the fleet at loggerheads over something that was being kept secret from him, most definitely fell into that category.

For the fourth morning in succession he'd sat through briefing meetings where the commander and the captain had treated each other with a studied and exquisite politeness. It had increased the irritation by several degrees. Adama was not surprised when Tigh asked for a private interview. He'd known Tigh for many yahrens, and he could chart the colonel's state of mind with tolerable accuracy.

"You can tell me that it's none of my business, Adama," said Tigh with all the frankness of an old friend. "But when it starts affecting how this ship runs, then it becomes my business. Apollo has virtually to be dragged up here by the hair to do his bridge duty, and well, at least today you've been a little more human, but you do realise that half those poor beggars out there daren't even breathe loudly at the moment?"

Adama fiddled with the collection of holopics on his desk. "Yes."

"Yes what, Adama?"

"Yes, it's no one's business but mine and Apollo's, but yes, I also realise that it's affecting the day job. And for that, Tigh, I'm sorry. I'll make sure it doesn't, from now on."

Tigh was not a man to be dismissed if he didn't want to be. "I was reduced to asking Athena what this is all about, Adama. I don't appreciate having to do that and it doesn't help that she's as fanatical about family privacy as you and Apollo are." He waited. Adama fiddled with the holopics some more. "I assume it's something to do with him taking your shuttle the other night? Is it the Windjammer? I know you hauled him over the coals for the way he tackled it, and he resents that quite a bit."

"Does he?" said Adama.

"I would, in his shoes." Tigh was nothing if not frank. "I had a long discussion with him about it myself."

"Did you?" Adama looked up at that.

"I expect we covered the same ground. But I'm beginning to wonder if we covered it in the same way."

Adama sighed. "Tell me, what did you think of what he'd done?"

"He did a good job defusing all the tension. Teague says things are reasonably calm over there now, and the Aegyptans are just getting on with the work without much hindrance." Tigh being Tigh, he added darkly, "For the centon, anyway. Until those troublemakers stir things up again. Apollo's right to keep an escort on board."

"He could have got hurt."

Tigh nodded. "Sure. I told him that when you counted the cost of his uniform and his training, we had a lot invested in him and he ought to bear that in mind next time he risks his worthless neck. But he did what he thought was right and he pulled it off. He did pretty well. You can't second guess those kinds of situations from over here, where it's safe."

"Does he realise that's what you think? That beneath the ritual warning, you were pleased with what he'd done?"

"I made sure of it."

Adama nodded. "Well, that's one mistake I made. Yes, I thought he did all right, better than all right, stopping a riot. The difficulty is that I'm not sure he realises that's what I think. I over-reacted, Tigh. He scared me, and it made me angry, and that's what I focused on."

"Uh-huh. Is that at the bottom of this, then? I wondered when it would all blow up. It's taken long enough."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, this whole thing of balancing the him being the captain, who's paid to take those sorts of risks, versus being your son, who despite his age you still see as the little boy you're supposed to protect."

"I suppose. I think I've lost the balance, Tigh."

Tigh was brutally honest. "You never had it. You over-compensate all the time. You bend over backwards not to show favour, and you're always hard on him." Tigh shook his head. "You know, I was talking to him before the Destruction, about getting off this ship and onto one where he could be judged on his merits rather than as the commander's son."

Adama was silent for a centon. "I don't understand you, Tigh. " He paused, then said, firmly, "He's my son. It wouldn't do him any good to have people think that I'm lenient on him."

"They'd be in no danger of that," said Tigh, and the dry tone of his voice had Adama looking at him sharply. "I'd respectfully suggest, though, that it doesn't do him any good either to be convinced that the only assessments of his performance are critical ones."

"You think I'm unfair on him?" asked Adama, shocked.

"Not exactly," said Tigh. "I think, Adama, that sometimes you're bloody unfair on him. I understand - and so does he - that your family relationship means that you can't be seen to favour him, and he wouldn't want that anyway. But I do think that you're a lot harder on him than you were on his predecessors. He's a damn good officer and a fine warrior. It wouldn't hurt at all if he thought you believed that."

"But I do!" protested Adama, stung. "I'm so proud of him that I could burst, sometimes"

"And does he know that?" asked Tigh.

"He must!" said Adama, but Apollo's own cryptic comments about adequacy, Athena's account of Apollo's lack of confidence that he was delivering what was wanted, made him uncertain. He remembered Apollo's astonishment, sectons ago now, when Adama had said he was proud of him for something. He couldn't even remember what it was now, but he did remember Apollo's expression, his surprise. At the time he'd thought that Apollo was joking, but now he wasn't so sure. "He must know," he said again.

"Not if you don't tell him," said Tigh.

Adama let it go. He knew, as Tigh never could, that the colonel had diagnosed a symptom of what was wrong between him and Apollo, not the cause, but it might help considerably if he took Tigh's advice and was more demonstrative towards his son. Apollo was his son, his son in the only way that mattered, and he could barely believe that they'd got to the pitch where Apollo couldn't believe that. Maybe Adama's attitude about work had fed that insecurity. And maybe if he did something about that, he could reach Apollo on more important matters too.

He let Tigh go, hoping that the colonel was the better for having delivered the homily. Tigh certainly looked like a man who'd successfully performed an unpleasant duty.

He spent a considerable time sitting in the bridge office mulling over what Tigh had said and weighing it against the bitterness Apollo had shown. He'd been astonished and - yes, angry too, that Apollo had thought that nothing he could do would win Adama's approbation, that being Seti's son was too high a barrier to get over. It had seemed almost incomprehensible at the time, but if Tigh had seen it too …

When he did go back out onto the command dais, he was careful for the rest of the duty period to wall off his problems with Apollo, and not let them interfere with the way he ran his bridge. By the time he signed off, the atmosphere was almost back to normal, the relief on some of the faces of his bridge crew palpable. Athena even looked hopeful.

"Good news?" she asked, joining him in the turbolift.

Adama shook his head. "But I'm going to make another attempt to talk to him."

"Good." Athena had made no bones about telling him that leaving Apollo alone to stew over his grievances wouldn't help matters much.

"You saw him earlier, didn't you? Have you had any luck?"

"No." Athena looked rueful. "He stonewalls any discussion with me. Comprehensively." She sighed and came a little closer. "I may have blown it, Dad. I made it pretty clear to Starbuck that I was amazed at what he was saying about how unsure Apollo is about you."

"And what's so terrible about that? I'm amazed, too." But perhaps less amazed than he had been, if Tigh was right.

"It was the way I said it." Athena slid her hand under his arm. "I came across as the original jealous younger sister. A lot of things came out that I thought I'd got over yahrens ago. Because me and Zac did envy him, you know. We both loved him – Zac idolised him - but we were both terribly jealous of Apollo. I was surprised to realise that I still am."

"Why in heaven's name were you jealous?"

"Because he's your favourite and always has been."

Adama sighed. He was getting to know all too much of his children's hitherto unsuspected insecurities. "I loved you all very much," he said, feeling all the awkwardness of an inarticulate man forced into confession.

Athena gave him an odd little smile and a shrug. "It's all right, Dad. I know that."

"No," he said. "Given what Tigh's just told me and all that Apollo hurled at my head, then I more than want you to know this, Athena. I need you to know it. I don't think that I had favourites. I loved each and every one of you very, very much, and it's very important to me that you realise that." He coughed, finding this very awkward. "I don't want you to misunderstand that, the way Apollo seems to have misunderstood."

Athena looked faintly surprised at his vehemence. It spurred him to say a little more.

"And I know I don't say so anywhere near often enough."

She smiled, and if it was a little tremulous, then they weren't often this open with each other. "I know, Dad. It's all right." Her hand on his arm tightened. "I'm a bit scared, though, about what'll happen."

"I don't think Apollo will do anything to hurt you."

"No," she said. "I don't think he'll mean to." She sighed. "I wish he'd talk to me, Dad. But what came out with Starbuck - well, all I'm saying is that it wasn't pretty and I don't know how much of Apollo not wanting to talk to me is because Starbuck passed it on, or whether he's just closing me out while he thinks about things. He's not the easiest person to get through to when he doesn't want to be talked to."

"Don't give up on him," said Adama, alarmed. Athena was the greatest ally he had.

"I won't. Want me along?"

"Better not. We'll do the full frontal familial assault later, if this doesn't work." Adama looked at his chronometer. "He should have picked up Boxey by now. He should be at home."

Athena stopped the turbolift at her floor, and paused in the doorway. "Just tell him, Dad. If you have to, pin him into a corner and don't let him go until he listens to you. I told you what Starbuck thinks, and I hate to say it, but I think he's right. Apollo's shaken to bits over this. Like everyone else, he's coped with a hell of a lot over the last yahren but this cuts right to who he thought he was, right to the core. It's up to you to prove to him that it's been a bit more for the last thirty yahrens than you just tolerating him for Mother's sake. No one else can do that."

Adama smiled at her vehemence. Apollo might be the one to look most like Ila, but Athena and Zac had far more of her resilient temperament and her passion. He was reminded most pressingly of his wife when she was in reforming mode. "Promise," he said, dropped a kiss on Athena's hair, and sent the turbolift on its way.

It was easy to say, less easy to carry through. Adama stood outside Apollo's door for a good five centons, girding his loins, so to speak, for the task ahead. He hadn't been so afraid, so uncertain of the outcome, since he'd gathered his courage to ask a certain Re-Harakhte if there was any possibility at all he could see her after the test flight.

He had to ring twice before Starbuck let him in. Adama was unsurprised to see the lieutenant there, albeit without evidence tonight of a romantic dinner for two.

"Ah, Commander," said Starbuck, looking self conscious and absurdly guilty, as if he'd been caught red-handed at something nefarious. "Sorry. Me and Boxey were playing and he was winning, and it took me a centon to haul the little tyke off of me."

"Grandpa!" Boxey hurtled across the living room.

Adama fielded him neatly, scooping the child up to give him a hug. "Apollo?"

"Apollo's just getting himself sorted to go out. Hang on a centon, Commander." Starbuck went to the door of the bedroom and banged on it. "Apollo. Apollo, it's - " Starbuck hesitated only a split micron, then said, with a glance at Adama, "It's your Dad, Apollo."

Adama was absurdly grateful to the lieutenant for that, so grateful that he could forgive Starbuck anything at that centon, even what he suspected.

"I haven't seen you for ages," said Boxey, swinging on his tunics with a fine disregard for commanderly dignity. "Days and days."

"Three or four days," said Adama.

"Ages and ages and ages. Have you missed me?"

"Lots. I've missed both of you, lots." Adama put Boxey down and straightened to meet his son's cold green eyes. "Apollo."

Apollo just nodded.

"Dad's going out in a shuttle to get this sick man," Boxey chattered on. "So Starbuck's going to take me to the Recreation Room and teach me how to cheat at Pyramid, so I can help sucker Dad out of his pay. Starbuck says it's not hard, but the sooner I start the better I'll be at it."

"Snitch," said Starbuck. He looked from Adama to Apollo, who looked very still and cold, and started shepherding Boxey towards the door. "We'd better get going, if we want to find some other suckers to take money off. Boomer's going to be there, and Jolly. Jolly's even worse than your Dad at cards, so we can make our fortunes tonight."

"Cool. Are you coming, Grandpa?"

"Not tonight, Boxey. I want to talk to your Dad."

"So we'd better leave them to it, before we get thrown into the brig for being a nuisance. See you later, Apollo."

"Yeah." Apollo stirred from the statue-like stillness. "I won't be late."

"That's what you said last time." Starbuck had got Boxey to the door. "Goodnight, Commander. Come on, Boxey. I smell money and riches and if we do really well, I'll buy you mushies and raspberry sauce, and you can do like your Dad, and decorate the flush in new and interesting ways."

Adama waited until the door closed behind them. He felt unaccountably shy, and Apollo's stiff reserve did nothing to help. The silence dragged at him. He sought for something to say. Boxey's innocent revelation of Apollo's destination provided him with an opening.

"Salik told me today that he'd set the transplant for about ten days from now," he said.

Apollo nodded. "It's no big deal."

"Mmn," said Adama. He shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to another, smoothing the tunic that Boxey had crumpled. "He and Lyre have assured me that there isn't much risk for you."

"No. Not much. Standard procedure, Salik says."

"That's reassuring."

Another uneasy silence. This time Apollo broke it.

"I'll talk to Colonel Tigh about cover while I'm in Life Centre. I don't expect to be out of action more than a couple of days." He glanced at Adama and away again. "I expect the ship can survive without me for that long."

"If we have to," said Adama. "But no one can take your place."

Apollo's mouth twisted and Adama cursed himself for being so unsubtle. This time the silence was so loud that Adama was almost deafened by it.

"I've got to go," said Apollo at last.

"Apollo, please. I, um, I, that is, I mean..." Adama took a deep breath. "I was hoping that we could talk. I hoped that after a few days to think about things, you'd be willing to talk to me."

"What difference does a few days make? Besides, I've been trying not to think about it. It's safer."

"This is important, Apollo."

"Important? What do you mean, important?" Apollo's expression closed over, shutting Adama out.

Adama blinked. "Of course, it's important!"

"Really? It wasn't important enough for you to even mention it to me for nearly thirty yahrens. So what makes it important now?"

"Apollo," said Adama, helplessly.

"Oh yeah! Stupid of me. I found out. That's what makes it important." Apollo reached for the flying jacket hanging over the back of one the chairs tucked under the tiny dining table.

"The most important thing is that you're my son, and you mean the world to me."

"She did. She meant the world to you. I don't know what I meant, if anything, other than that hardship you mentioned."

"Hardship?"

"I remember you said that. That taking me was less of hardship than you expected, something like that. Well, I'm grateful, but that doesn't exactly imply you went into it with any great enthusiasm."

"I don't want you to be grateful! I want you to understand what this is about. It's about me loving your mother and loving you, and for God's sake, Apollo, what have I ever done in your entire life to make you doubt that?"

Apollo scowled and shrugged and evaded a direct answer. "I don't have time for this now. I've got to go and collect Seti."

"Please, Apollo."

"Just stop pushing it. Stop it. I told you I need to think about it, and I do not need you pushing me. She's not here any more. You've got nothing to prove to her any more."

"It's not like that!"

"And how the hell do you expect me to know what it's like?" Apollo shot back, then calmed instantly. It was so unlike his hot-tempered Apollo that Adama's heart sank. It was so rarely that Apollo got so coldly angry. "Not now. I don't want to talk about this now." He shrugged into the flying jacket. "If you'll excuse me, I'm due on the Usermaatre in half a centar to collect my father."

 

 

 

"I'm glad you came over to get me yourself." Seti held out his hand, and after a micron's hesitation, Apollo took it in his.

"I decided that I'd like to. How are you feeling?"

"Rough," acknowledged Seti. "Better for seeing you." He released Apollo's hand and let the two Aegyptans who'd helped him onto the shuttle, settle him into one of the seats immediately behind the pilot's console. "And for hearing from you, to tell me that you would go through with it. I'm grateful, Sekhti."

"You're welcome. Salik started me on some drugs yesterday to boost my bone marrow production, and he says about another ten days, and he'll do it."

"I shall be very comfortable on the Galactica, while we wait. And you? What's the verdict there? What did Lyre say about the Sysperchion's?"

Apollo had swivelled the pilot's seat around, to get up to greet Seti, and now he dropped back into place, watching as Seti was made comfortable by his escort.

"Well, I've inherited more than your chin," he said, keeping it light.

"I'm sorry," said Seti, simply.

Apollo shrugged. "Salik says it will be okay. He'll test me for it every three sectars and catch it the centon it appears. I'm not too worried about that, believe me." He changed the subject, trying to lighten Seti's obvious distress. "You didn't have to rush on board, you know. We could have had some time here."

"I didn't want to delay you too long. You must have just come off a long duty shift."

Apollo grinned. "Yeah, but that's nothing."

"And I expect you want to get back before Boxey goes to bed. Is Starbuck looking after him?"

"Yes."

Seti nodded and said softly, "You forget that I came upon you both in the Rising Star that first time. I don't think I'm mistaken."

Apollo looked at him steadily, then turned the seat and concentrated his energies on getting the relevant launch clearances from the Usermaatre's bridge. The shuttle lifted off with silent efficiency, ghosting out of the bay and onto the course back to the Galactica.

"Ah, now I've offended you," said Seti, when Apollo set the shuttle onto automatic pilot.

"Not at all."

"Liar," said Seti softly, and laughed when Apollo looked at him, startled. "Then we'll talk of other things on our journey, that's all."

"Uh-huh," said Apollo.

"And I'll be on the Galactica for the next two sectons, at least, Lyre tells me. You could come and visit me. Will you?"

Apollo shrugged slightly. "Yes, I'll come."

"So long as I recognise that some issues are off the agenda. And Adama?"

"What about him?"

"Doesn't he have anything to say about all this? You have talked to him?"

"Briefly."

"Ah." Seti looked at his son thoughtfully. "Something else that's off the agenda?"

"Yes."

"If you say so, Sekhti."

"I do." Apollo looked around the shuttle for a centon, seeing that the other two Aegyptans had retired to more distant seats, to give them some privacy and said, abruptly changing the subject, "So, what did you want to talk about?"

"Oh, some of the changes here," said Seti. They're quite important to our future, and I wanted your opinion."

"I may have one, and I may even tell you what it is, but that doesn't mean I'll let you pull me in to whatever role you think I can play over here. Shoot."

Seti smiled. "Do you know, most Aegyptans treat me with a quite wearisome respect. It's quite refreshing to be treated as a real person."

"Ah, but my mother taught me that no one treats the Clan-lords disrespectfully. Not twice, anyway."

"No indeed. A great social solecism."

"So I'll have to hope that I can trade on my newly acquired position and be forgiven. What's this all about?"

"Your mother told you about the clans, I know. And as you know, the other members of the Pharaonic Council did not survive."

Apollo nodded.

"And therein lies the problem. We're a people of a very deep and long tradition. You can't make a Clan-lord: he or she is born. We can't create a new Pharaonic Council, choosing new Clan-lords from the remnants of each Clan, because they would have no validity and some clans are so poorly represented, that almost every surviving member could be the Pharaonic member. We can't continue to take mates from only within our old clans because there are so few of us. There's less than twenty of the Sebeks. They'll die out in a generation. And, the other Clans feel a little diffident about accepting me as overall Clan leader, even though the Re-Harakhte are the most numerous, because I'm not of their clan, only of my own, and that will be to give the Re-Harakhte too much prominence."

"Tricky," agreed Apollo.

"So we've come up with a solution, a number of solutions. First, we're becoming one people, breaking down some of the barriers between the Clans by allowing cross-Clan mating, with the offspring free to choose which clan insignia they'll use. I've already presided over the bonding of an Anubis and a Sekhmet. Second, none of the clans will have separate Lords. Third, we're creating a new allegiance. The First Lord of Kobol never chose a set of servants, the way the others did. So we've decided that we'll do it for Him. Our leaders will be known as His servants, with new insignia and new markings."

Apollo frowned, then grinned. "Forgive me, but isn't all this as much a departure from tradition as choosing a new set of Clan-lords?"

Seti grinned back. "I know. I've laughed about it a few times myself. It's a compromise, Sekhti, and therefore completely satisfactory to no one and acceptable to all. So you and I are not longer Re-Harakhte, no longer Falcons. We're separated from the Falcons, who are the same in status as all the other Clans. We're Hawks, instead. My formal title, to retain a little of the flavour of my name, will be the Firehawk and I will be known now as the Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten, in the Lord's honour. You are the Horus Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit."

Apollo stared for a micron. "Things are moving a little fast for me, Seti."

"I know. I'm sorry. But this is needed."

"Needed." Apollo grinned ruefully. "That's quite a title. What's the difference? I mean, hawks and falcons look pretty much the same to me."

"Heretic! Hawks are altogether bigger and meaner. But, I admit, that's about all." Seti chuckled. "One of the Anubis people is an artist of some skill. She has fashioned me a new mask. She made one for you, too. Here." He handed Apollo a bulky rounded object, wrapped in black cloth, that one of the other Aegyptans had carried on board and put onto the seat next to Seti, beside his helmet.

Apollo unwrapped it slowly. The Hawkhead helmet was heavy, padded with thick, soft leather around the base where it would sit on his shoulders. It was beautiful, a work of art, with every feather clearly cut, the beak curved in a cruelly-sharp arc between the eyeholes. It did differ from the Re-Harakhte helmet he was familiar with; the falcon mask his mother had had hidden away had been something made on a smaller, less menacing scale.

"I can't wear this."

"Things have changed. You know, now, and one day you may need it. And you are Aegyptan: you should have a mask. Keep it, until you need it, in your mother's memory."

Apollo sighed and wrapped up the helmet again. "Thank you."

"We'll talk about your arm-markings another day."

Apollo stared, and Seti laughed aloud.

"Arm markings?"

"Well, only the Clan-lords are marked. " Seti let his sleeve fall back to show the falcons embedded in his arms. "We can't change mine, of course, so everyone will politely pretend that they are hawks, not falcons, but the Anubis who made us the helmets has created the moulds for your hawks."

"No," said Apollo. "I have to work out who and what I am, and you are not going to push me into being something I'm not prepared for."

"Of course not," agreed Seti. "But you're my heir, and you need to understand what your options will be, when you've worked out who and what you are. I'm a prudent man, Sekhti. I just want to be ready for every eventuality."

Apollo sighed. "You know, life was infinitely less complicated and infinitely more comfortable before you decided to disrupt it."

Seti nodded, his smile fading and his expression serious. "I know, my son. The truth is always uncomfortable. And always, in the end, unavoidable."

 

 

 

"Slow progress," said Joel, crossly.

His companion - he of the wiser head and colder intelligence - smiled. "You will learn patience as you grow older. There have been some interesting developments in the last few days, and every piece of knowledge helps us. The information that Uri's contacts have provided about Captain Apollo, now. That's interesting."

"About him taking a shuttle to the Usermaatre a few days ago and coming back with a sick Aegyptan? Fascinating. Very altruistic of the man, I'm sure." Joel paused, studying the older man with interest. "You think there's something more in it, don't you?"

"I've learned never to disregard anything. Whether there's anything in it or not, it's interesting. The captain is not totally devoid of political intelligence, Joel, no matter what you and Piers think of him. He has to know that in the current climate any kindness to the Gyps would be noticed, and noticed by his father's opponents on the Council. Yet he went ahead and did it."

"Maybe to annoy Adama?"

"Possibly. Things do seem a little strained there, at the moment. They're both strong-willed, and I suspect that Apollo sometimes chafes under his father's command. That's something to exploit, if we can. You should cultivate the captain a little - as subtly as you can, of course."

"Of course," said Joel, with equal irony.

"It's all very interesting, particularly when you consider it alongside Uri's speculation about the captain's friendliness to the Gyps. I wonder."

Joel waited.

"The Aegyptans are being so very coy about responding to our overtures."

"You think that the fact that the captain is very friendly with them may be a factor?" Joel frowned. "But we've not named the target. In fact, we've done little more than make some very vague general enquiries about employing their skills on our behalf."

"The Aegyptans are not stupid, whatever else they may be. They know exactly what is intended and there are few enough people in the fleet of sufficient importance to merit us invoking the Accord. They'll know who's in the frame."

Joel puzzled his way through it. "I would have thought that it's more likely that they're reluctant to face the backlash if it's known they did it."

"The Accord ensures that it would not be known they were involved. As for their reluctance to engage with us, well, I would prefer not to speculate blindly." The older man wasn't fretting exactly, but Joel was left under no illusions that his companion was displeased. "I'd like more information."

"Uri's very good," said Joel.

The other man nodded. "I know. But he needs to be better." His slender, patrician hand picked up the datachip that Uri had had delivered to Joel only a half centar before, the reason why Joel had asked for this rare meeting. "There's more useful information here, but not enough. I can appreciate that Captain Apollo had agreed to help this Gyp get medical treatment, and as you say, that's altruistic. But if Uri's informants are right, then Apollo has been visiting the man daily. That goes beyond a simple humanitarian gesture that gets a sick man some medical help. It's so very, very interesting. I want to know why."

"There's more," said Joel.

"I know. I read it all." The older man frowned. "Why is Apollo himself scheduled for surgery? Has it anything to do with this Gyp or is it pure coincidence?"

"It may be coincidence, I suppose."

"Only the wilfully obtuse believe in blind coincidence, and I've never been that. Who do we have on the medical staff?"

Joel shook his head. "We don't."

"Well, find someone, or find something we can use to buy or pressurise someone in Life Centre. Surely they don't pay those medtechs very much? One can be bought, or coerced."

"I'll talk to Uri."

The older man nodded. "He's an underbred upstart, is Uri, but he's useful. He has a lot of contacts that will help us. This -" he gestured with the datachip. "This, I suspect, came from a number of sources."

"Yes."

"Including a warrior, if Uri's already been passed the news of the announcement Apollo made to his squadron leaders this morning."

Joel nodded. "I know that his people have recruited one."

"Senior enough to be useful to us?"

Joel shrugged. "Reasonably. At least flight commander level, I understand. But I've tried to make sure that I don't find out too much and that there are plenty of layers between us and anyone Uri employs. He uses intermediaries and cut-outs to make sure that nothing is traced to him or us."

"Don't trust him too far. He's an opportunist and he'll bear watching. Sire, indeed! His family has only carried the title for the last four or five generations. I'm not entirely certain how someone like him was ever made a Senator - particularly on Caprica, where they had at least some pretensions to honour and decency."

Joel scowled. "I seem to remember you telling me that my meetings with Piers and Uri wouldn't be noticed. Three men of similar social class, you said."

"Yes," said the older man.

"Well, I suppose that I can decipher from that what you think of me."

The older man smiled. "You have no idea what I think of you, Joel, and I have no intention of ever telling you. Please try and cultivate a thicker skin. There are moments when you are all too like your mother."

"Who, of course, had no social standing at all."

"Ah, but she had other qualities. Can we please get back to the matter in hand? Uri is a social climber, but he's useful. Continue to cultivate him."

"I do. I even listen to his interminable stories. He was telling me the other day of his days of political greatness. He's known the Adaman family for a long time: as you know, sir, Siress Ila was also a member of the Caprican Senate."

"Hardly of the same political persuasion as Uri," the other man said dryly. "She had principles. I never could understand how she survived in politics."

"He got a little sentimental about the Siress."

"You never met her, did you?"

"No," said Joel. "You'll recall that I didn't move in your exalted circles. A junior aide to the Aquarian Minister for Culture, Media and Sport is hardly in that league."

"She was a lovely woman. I have to admit, though, that I know little about her. I believe that Adama met her when his ship visited some remote colony, so she wasn't from one of our better families."

"Rather like my mother, then," said Joel, honey sweet.

"Rather prettier and infinitely more adaptable, I'd say. No one meeting Ila would suppose that she was anything other than a Caprican blue blood."

Joel flushed.

The older man laughed. "You are remarkably thin-skinned about that, Joel. You had better take my advice about thickening it. And you should be grateful to me for that junior post you were so disdainful about a centon ago. Without it, you'd hardly be where you are today."

"I am very grateful, sir."

The older man waved a gracious hand in acknowledgement.

Joel was silent for a centon, and when he spoke again, his tone was bland as ever, the edge smoothed over. "Will it work, do you think? It's such a fine line to tread, trying to make the Gyps feel threatened enough to seek our help and protection so that they respond to our request for them to intervene, and yet not rouse up the common people to the point of open hostility. And certainly not allow the Gyps to realise that we're behind the hostility against them. We need those Gyps."

"We need them in many ways, not only as our private assassins - without their technical expertise this fleet will grind to a halt one day. It's a balancing act, Joel, but then anything we do is that, and more." The older man stood up to leave. "I must go, and you have a Council meeting to prepare for."

"Anything else?"

"Anything Uri can get on the Aegyptan and why he's here, and why Captain Apollo is so thoughtful and assiduous a visitor and why he's having surgery himself - information on any of that may prove to be beyond price. If there's some way of getting at Adama through this, we must find it. I am perfectly willing to sacrifice the son to get at the father. Indeed, as soon as we've disposed of the father, we will have to sacrifice the son." He smiled at the councillor gently. "A lesson that you should take to heart should you fail me."

"I won't." Joel's answering smile was thin and self-mocking. "I have, I think, always known that, sir."

 

 

 

 

It was Boomer who voiced some of the growing curiosity, partly because he was a practical man who disliked mystery, and partly because he was closer to Starbuck than any of them, more able to ask questions that Starbuck, however charmingly, would stonewall from anyone else.

"People are talking," he said, watching the day's entertainment.

"What about? Me and Apollo?"

"Well, let's say there's a little speculation about the pair of you and whether you've ever done it. Most people think it's garbage and are betting on him Sealing with Sheba within the yahren."

"That's outrageous!" said Starbuck, but his eyes were bright with mischief.

"Hey, they've all seen her on the hunt, and no one thinks any of her victims have ever got away. Giles reckons that if you look in her quarters, you'd find the dried out husks of all the men who've tried and failed. He's got twenty cubits on Sheba."

"Totally out of order!"

"And if you weren't the one secretly controlling the odds, I'd be worried about it."

Starbuck grinned. "Don't tell Apollo. He's a bit straight laced about these things. For some reason he'd be a bit cross about it."

"Really?"

"Can't think why! It's going to finance my next Pyramid ploy, which means he won't have to. The man has got to see the advantage in that."

"Don't bet on that, Bucko. Oh, that was great! Did you see that?"

"I never miss a throw," Starbuck assured him. "Come on, Apollo! Get up! You can't just lie there, groaning like that! It's not a very officerly thing to do."

"Watch what you're doing with your feet," said Acer to the captain, hauling him up again. "You walked right into that. Again, Boss."

"And you two really are an item?" Boomer watched as, half crouching, Acer and Apollo circled each other on the mat.

"You know we are," said Starbuck. "You saw us on the shuttle."

"I just want to be sure before I put down any of my hard earned money. I mean, I've seen you making out with some pretty thing in the back seat of a shuttle more times than I can remember, and I know how meaningless that is."

"Not with Apollo," said Starbuck, with dignity.

"You mean that making out with him really means something?"

Starbuck nodded, still dignified.

"Sorry," said Boomer, contrite.

"Although I'm not sure how you guessed. I've been so discreet, it was unnatural."

"Discreet? You having hysterics when you thought he was in trouble on the Windjammer and you two making out in the back seat all the way back? That's discreet?"

Starbuck had the grace to look ashamed. "Yeah, well, I mean that you guessed before then."

"I've known you a long time. I can pinpoint to the micron when you fell for him. You came in to the OC, twenty centons after you met him, and you were seething."

"So? He'd just bawled me out about my attitude. I was mad."

"Felgercarb, Bucko. You were seething with lust, and I knew it. You knew it. I reckon Apollo knew it. There was so much testosterone in the air, we almost had to call in the decontamination crews."

"Does it bother you? Oh nice try, Apollo! You can fly without a Viper, after all!"

"He bounced on the landing, though," said Boomer. "Acer's really good, isn't he? Bother me? Naw. He's been a lot easier to be around these last few sectars."

"It's my charm. It's rubbing off."

"I'm not even going to think about going there." Boomer grinned. "I was far too well brought up to ask where it rubs off, exactly and anatomically."

Starbuck laughed.

"Besides, the onlooker sees the best of the game. I've had a lot of enjoyment recently watching Sheba being baffled."

Starbuck laughed again. "Is she? I kinda stay out the way. Every time I see her I get an itchy feeling between my shoulder blades, like she's picking out the exact spot to stick in a nice sharp knife. She never did like me. When I was dating Athena and going to those suppers at the commander's every secton, she'd be sitting there on the other side of the table glowering me into a fit of indigestion. If she finds out about us, she'll kill me. It's bad enough as it is. She always thought that I'm a bad influence on Apollo and that I was doing my best to keep her and Apollo apart."

"Which, of course, you are, and very successfully, too. It's fun to watch. She's not good at doing subtle, poor dear, but she's very good at doing thwarted."

"It's good for her soul," said Starbuck piously.

"It most certainly is. The bemused and baffled expression on her face when Apollo wriggles off the hook is worth dying for. Cracks me up every time. I'd keep watching your back, if I was you. And so, does you and him being an item mean that he tells you everything? Hey! Did you see that? Apollo actually managed to land one on Acer!"

"Like a fly hitting a pachyderm." Starbuck shook his head sadly.

"Yeah, but it's the first time he managed it without getting swatted first. He only got swatted afterwards."

"But he got swatted good." Starbuck bent down to help Apollo up. The captain had landed at their feet this time. "Go and get him, Apollo! You can't let the mudbrain win. The honour of the Fleet rests on this."

"Fuck the Fleet." Apollo wheezed for breath. "I'm going to deck that bastard if it kills me!"

"Attaboy!" Starbuck gave him an encouraging little push back into the fray and shook his head. "He won't deck Acer. Ever."

"Yup," agreed Boomer. "By the way, what happened to the guy on the Windjammer? The one who Acer thought had tried to knife Apollo?"

"All Acer said was that he made sure the guy couldn't carry a knife for a while," said Starbuck. "Apollo wouldn't ask for any more details. He said he was better off not knowing."

"Looks like you're having an effect, then," said Boomer, dryly. "Whatever happened to that sense of duty that we used to suffer under? Thank you, Starbuck."

Starbuck grinned, but said nothing, watching Acer squash comprehensively another Apollonian attempt at retribution.

"So, you two really are an item. Does that mean that he tells you everything, Bucko?"

Starbuck took his attention off his suffering lover for a micron and gave Boomer a long and level look. "What's this about?"

"When I said everyone was talking, I didn't exactly mean about you and him. There's a bit of speculation, but really - I know I was ribbing you, but you two have been pretty discreet, and no one really believes it. Except maybe Trent, and I wondered if he's got some inside information from Athena? They're seeing quite a lot of each other."

"Anything she knows, she's guessed for herself, like you. Apollo's not said anything to her. I mean, given her and me, how's he going to tell her?"

"You're right there, old buddy. Heartless Starbuck loving and leaving with a vengeance."

"I'm not heartless. It was just the wrong member of the family, that's all. I made a little mistake. Anyone could do it."

"As I'm sure the commander and Athena will realise. You'll just have to hope that Trent's being a solace and she's stopped being mad with you. Oh nice one, Acer!" Boomer dragged his attention back to Starbuck. "Anyhow, let's not get sidetracked here. What people are wondering about right now is what's going on when he announces that he's undergoing surgery in three days, and that he'll be out of action for a couple of days after that. They want to know how bad it is."

"He's not sick," said Starbuck. He had stiffened slightly, shoulders and back straightening. It wasn't much, but Boomer didn't miss the slight air of tension.

"He doesn't look it," conceded Boomer. "And if he was, I don't think Acer should be throwing him around like that."

Starbuck sniggered as Apollo made another hard landing.

"But well people do not have surgery. Unless he's getting his nose done, or a few nips and tucks here and there?"

"He doesn't need them," Starbuck assured him. "Believe me. And his nose is perfect."

"I'll take your word for it. He visits the Life Centre every day, we've noticed."

That earned him another long level look. "Geez," complained Starbuck. "If I went into the inner store cupboard in the deepest hold, locked all the doors and put out the lights and sneezed, it'd be all over IFB within ten centons and every bloody person on the ship would be asking me how my cold was. Doesn't anyone have anything to do other than gossip?"

"Coming from the man who invented gossip, that's rich. Is he really okay, Bucko?"

"He's fine."

"Uh-huh. So if he's not going to Life Centre for treatment, and so far as I know, he's not going there to flirt with Cassie, or, heavens forefend, Salik."

"I sure as hell hope not."

"Then is he visiting?" Boomer watched approvingly as Apollo made another foolish attempt on Acer. "There's not that many patients in Life Centre at the moment. But there's one interesting possibility. An Aegyptan, I heard."

"Oh?"

"Greenbean's dating Cassie, these days." Boomer revealed his sources. "Now, is this the same Aegyptan who Apollo was seen bringing onto the ship a few days ago, I wonder?"

Starbuck sighed, but didn't attempt to deny anything. "How do you know?"

"Starbuck! Half the techs were on duty when Apollo brought the medical shuttle in and Salik and Lyre were waiting with a med-stretcher. Techs are awful gossipers."

"You could give ‘em a head start and beat ‘em."

"And I remembered the Gyp - sorry, the Aegyptan - who came up to us on the Rising Star that time, and I'm putting two and two together. I can't remember his name. Set, or something, was it? He wanted Apollo's help."

"You're so good, you should give up flying and take up being a cop," muttered Starbuck. "You'd do well in Security, and Reese is always after recruits."

"I look like hell in black. Tell me, Starbuck."

Starbuck blew his breath out in a gusty sigh. "All right. Yes. The Aegyptans asked him for help, but you know that they've always kinda used him as their liaison. They talk to him, for some reason. So far as I can work it out, this guy's pretty important to then and they wanted Apollo's help to get him treatment. That's all there is to it."

"What about the fact this guy said he knew the commander and Apollo's mother?"

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I distinctly remember him saying he knew the commander's wife and I got the impression he was an ex. ‘Course, I have to be wrong if he really is a Gyp – sorry, Aegyptan."

"Mmn," said Starbuck.

"And then there's the surgery."

Starbuck watched Apollo suffer for a few centons. "We're getting a little personal here, Boomer, but I don't want you getting hold of the wrong end of the stick. Apollo will kill me for telling you this, but the reason they're going to operate - and it isn't serious - is connected with a genetic condition, something congenital. Salik and Lyre diagnosed it a few days ago."

"That sounds bloody serious!" said Boomer, alarmed, and dropping the half-amused, half-quizzical tone.

"It's not as bad as it sounds. It's just something that he's likely to develop and they'll watch for it, and he'll be fine. They can treat it as soon as it appears."

"Swear?"

Starbuck grinned. "It's nice that you're this concerned, Boomer."

"He's a friend, Starbuck. A good one. Swear?"

Starbuck nodded. "I swear. If it was anything serious, would I be this laid back?"

"No," conceded Boomer, thinking that Starbuck still looked tense. "You'd be weeping all over me."

"I'm an emotional kind of guy. He's not sick right now, but they'll be monitoring him pretty closely from now on, to make sure that he stays that way. That's one reason why he visits Life Centre every day. Not treatment, exactly, but preparation for the surgery." Starbuck's guileless blue eyes met Boomer's. "You know what he's like, Boomer. He won't want to talk about this."

"I know that! I've known him as long as you have. What are they going to do to him?"

"Take some bone marrow to create a serum." Starbuck slapped at his rump suggestively. "From right here. He is not looking forward to it."

"I feel for him," said Boomer. "Thanks for telling me, Bucko. I was getting a bit worried, and so are a few others. You know, they're going to have to have some sort of explanation, or they'll start filling in the gaps for themselves. We may have to let some of this slip."

Starbuck frowned, then nodded. "I'll leave that to you. Slow and subtle, Boomer. You know Apollo won't want too much talked about."

"Low key, I promise."

"Thanks. I appreciate it." Starbuck grinned at him. "I told him he'd have to say something. Do you think he'll be grateful I've saved him the trouble?"

"I think he'll kill you." Boomer watched as the tension ebbed almost visibly out of Starbuck, and sprang the ambush. "And the Gyp?"

Starbuck's shoulders sagged. "Man, do you ever give up? He's taken an interest in the man, that's all. He agreed to help get him treatment, and he drops in to see him when he goes to see Salik. And that is absolutely all."

It was Boomer's turn to deliver the long and level look, and then he nodded. "All right, Starbuck. But I'm not the only one wondering, and I'm not the only one who'll be asking questions. I'm just the friendliest one asking questions."

"There's nothing to it."

"If you say so. Oh, another good one, Acer!"

Acer turned and bowed, before reaching down to lift Apollo up again. They spoke together quietly for a couple of centons, Apollo frowning as he nodded, listening to whatever analysis or instruction that Acer was offering. They shook hands, and Acer slapped Apollo heartily on the shoulder, almost knocking him off his feet again. Apollo, breathing heavily and looking slightly dazed, staggered over to join them.

"I guess that's it for today," said Boomer, sadly.

"Shouldn't you two be doing something more military than this?" Apollo leaned against the wall as if too tired to stand upright. "Like manning the duty office, taking your juniors through simulator exercises, doing the rounds, that sort of thing?"

"We are doing the rounds," said Starbuck. "We stopped off to inspect the gym."

"This is duty, Apollo," said Boomer. "Me and Starbuck are here in the line of duty."

"Yeah? That's good. Because I just arranged with Acer that he give you two a lesson as well. You first, Boomer."

Apollo smiled evilly at Boomer. Acer cracked his knuckles, grinned, and beckoned.

"Enjoy," said Apollo.

 

 

 

 

"No progress?"

"None." Athena sighed. "They're treating each other like strangers. It's all very polite and civilised, and it's driving me crazy."

"You and me both," agreed Starbuck. "I know that they're not seeing each other outside of work, so we have to assume they aren't talking about this."

"I know they aren't. Dad's retreated into a kind of patient waiting, hoping that Apollo will come round. Apollo said he wanted to think about it, and Dad's letting him do that, not bothering him."

Starbuck frowned. "That's maybe not the best move. Apollo might say that's what he wants, but I don't believe it for a micron. I don't think that he really wants to be left alone. I think he wants your Dad to fall over himself to hand out some reassurance."

"I think so too, and Dad has tried it. He had his nose well and truly bitten off. Poor Dad."

"He needs to try harder. Doing nothing and giving Apollo space is a bad move, Thenie. He's looking for something more than patient waiting. If it was me, I'd want your Dad to come out roaring and yelling and fighting to get me, to prove that I mean something. If he doesn't do that, Apollo's likely to think that Seti's right."

"Poor Dad," said Athena, again. "He's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. He can't win. Can you do anything?"

"Apollo just won't talk about it. He goes to see Seti every day, did you know?"

"Yes. Dad told me. He's a bit upset about it." Athena paused, chewing thoughtfully on a strand of hair. "What's he like?"

"Seti? Don't know. I've not met him."

Athena frowned. "He's certainly cast some sort of spell over Apollo. I mean, Apollo doesn't usually make friends easily."

"I'll say! It took even me a few sectars to charm him into not putting me onto report every time he saw me."

Athena ignored this. "Although if Seti really is his father, I can see it happening, I suppose. He was always fascinated by the Aegyptan side of us. He knows a lot more than me and Zac did."

"You two weren't as interested?"

Athena looked troubled. "Interested, but not fascinated. She had six yahrens more to fill him up with stories, maybe that's the difference. And maybe that's what's fascinating him now, something to link him back to mother. He adored her, you know."

Starbuck nodded. "Yeah, I know. But he's as mad as hell with her at the moment for keeping this from him. I think that's why your Dad's getting such a bad time. He's getting blamed on his own account, and, because Apollo can't get at her, the commander's getting your mother's share too."

"That makes sense. It's a bit unfair, though."

"Apollo's not interested in being fair, and the commander makes a convenient target. I'd be interested to know how far Seti is stoking this up."

"Do you think he is?"

"I would, in his place." said Starbuck, honestly. "If I thought I might get my son back, I'd make that kind of trouble. And you can bet he's being subtle about it, because Apollo says that they don't talk much about Adama - mainly I guess, because if he won't talk to us about it, I can't see him talking to a stranger, even if the stranger is his long lost father."

"I wish I knew what Apollo thinks he's doing."

"I think mostly he's trying to map out who he is, Thenie, that's all. He's still completely shaken by all of this, and Seti has some of the answers, at least."

"Dad has a few as well, and I wish Apollo would talk to him about it." A few more strands of hair were bitten at. "It's really odd, you know, Starbuck. Because it's not just Apollo who's off balance about all of this. It's affected me too, more than I thought it would. I spend half my time thinking back and trying to work it all out. Everything I thought about my family has changed a bit."

"I guess," said Starbuck, tugging the wet strand of hair out of her hands. "Stop doing that. You'll split the ends." He glanced at his fingers and wiped them ostentatiously on his jacket. "And it's disgusting."

Athena pulled a face at him, but didn't protest. "Did you ever have a kaleidoscope when you were a kid, Starbuck?"

"In an orphanage? Get real! Anything breakable wouldn't last two centons. All our toys had to be of the steel and concrete variety."

"But you've seen one, right? You know that it makes patterns. It uses the same brightly coloured pieces and shapes, and a set of mirrors, and you shake it up and each time you get a new pattern. That's what it feels like. We had a pattern - Dad, Mother, Apollo, me and Zac - and Seti's shaken it up and now there's a new pattern, and although most of the pieces are the same, they're different in relation to each other. It's taking some getting used to. That's what I mean about it affecting me too. My family's changed."

Starbuck blinked. "That's a bit deep for me," he said.

"And now there's a new piece in there, Seti-coloured. And I don't know how it fits in, and I don't like it, and I don't know how to adjust to the new pattern."

"Way too deep."

Athena's laugh was a pitiful sound. There were more tears in it than was comfortable. "It's a bit deep for me, too. I wish Zac and Mother were here."

Starbuck nodded, and after a centon or two, Athena shook her hair free and caught at another lock of it, biting at it savagely. Starbuck didn't stop her.

"This could all come apart, you know," said Starbuck, abruptly. "Word's getting out about him visiting Seti. So far, I've fended off the questions and I think it's all right, but he's running some risks here. It's like he's decided that thirty yahrens of keeping it secret is enough, and now he doesn't care any more. Or maybe he's trying to get your father mad enough to come out and fight. Who knows?"

"Not me." Athena chewed miserably on her hair. "It's all falling to pieces, Starbuck. Someone's shaking the kaleidoscope again."

 

 

 

 

"Want to talk about it?"

Apollo shook his head, and turned back to the day's patrol reports.

"I think you should. You're too fond of bottling things up."

"I wept all over you a few days ago," said Apollo. "That's not bottling anything."

"It was ten days ago, Apollo. And since then you've barely said a word about it. That's not healthy."

Apollo hunched a shoulder. "That's the way it is."

"And I think you're going about this all the wrong way. The man didn't do anything wrong. He just brought you up and cared for you for thirty yahrens."

"No more, Starbuck!"

"You're being unfair and you should talk to him properly."

"Starbuck, shut up! And that's an order, Lieutenant!"

"Shutting right up, sir."

Starbuck obeyed orders for a centon or two, settling back in his chair and watching Apollo try to work, thinking and remembering. More than five yahrens before, Apollo had come aboard the Galactica, carrying the twin handicaps of an early promotion and his (apparent) parentage. Starbuck, seeing only the slightly gauche, remote exterior that could so easily be mistaken for pride and superiority, had at first been one of Apollo's most inventive and imaginative tormentors. It had taken even Starbuck, sharp-witted and astute as he knew himself to be, a little while to see beneath the surface.

He wasn't sure when he'd first realised that the reason that he was so keen on attracting the new captain's attention had a great deal less to do with envy and resentment, and a great deal more to do with lust, and, eventually, love. But he knew Apollo hadn't been there long when he'd taken to studying him, ostensibly at first to find more things to needle him about. It hadn't taken long, either, for finding out about Apollo to become something of a secret obsession. Starbuck could still remember when discoveries of such things as the captain's favourite drink, or his favourite Triad player, or even his irrational fear of arachnids, had all been major events, hugely significant pieces of data to be filed away and mulled over, and fitted into the place in his mind that was building his picture of Apollo.

In his cups one night not long after the Destruction, when they were all re-evaluating themselves and their lives, he'd confided some of the results to Boomer. The captain, said Starbuck, was as multi-layered as one of those wooden dolls that dodgy Gemonese traders used to sell to unsuspecting tourists: open the outer layer and you found another doll fitting snugly inside, and inside that another, and another.

There was the shy and slightly remote Strike Leader on the outside, the one that was the closest most people ever got to the real Apollo, the one who trained them and worried about them and did everything he could to get them unscathed through fight after fight. And underneath that was the Apollo that his family knew, the Apollo who Starbuck had seen when desperation had had him dating Athena as an Apollo-substitute and when as Athena's professed suitor he'd been admitted into the edges of the family circle: the Apollo who was funny and loving and protective. And under that was the latest Apollo, who'd cheerfully taken on his dead wife's child, uncomplainingly and willingly, even more protective than he was with Athena and poor dead Zac. And underneath that, had said Starbuck blurrily, dear Lords, Boomer, I want to see what's underneath that. I really want to get into what's under that.

In retrospect, maybe Boomer's realisation that he and Apollo were an item wasn't so surprising after all. And maybe, just maybe, Starbuck could have been a little more discreet. But hey, it hadn't been discretion that had got him into Apollo's bed the night he'd found, in more ways than one, the innermost Apollo. The night he'd found Apollo.

Since Apollo had confessed what Starbuck couldn't help call, if only to himself, the Dark Secret (he even thought of it as capitalised), Starbuck had spent every night and every spare centon with his lover. But he didn't think that even he'd seen much past layer three. One of the Apollos was always there. Apollo was in hiding somewhere.

Well, not tonight. He'd coax Apollo out of hiding tonight, or he'd have to hand back every award he'd ever won as Seducer of the Yahren. He smiled as he thought about how he'd do it, wondering lazily how many layers Sekhet would have and whether finding out would take as long. Or, for that matter, be as much ultimate and amazing pleasure.

"Just leave it, Starbuck. I don't want to talk about it."

"I didn't say a word!"

"You're watching me."

"I do that all the time. You're good to look at." He grinned when Apollo looked up at that. "Very good to look at. Besides, all I was doing was thinking."

"What about?" Apollo added his electronic signature to the note covering the reports and hit the send button on the computer, sending the lot to the commander and Colonel Tigh with, Starbuck was willing to bet, his stiffest and most polite compliments.

"You, mostly," Starbuck confessed. "I was just thinking back to when you got here and I was planning on tonight's seduction." Starbuck smiled at Apollo. "I was thinking about kissing you. Neck and shoulders, I thought, to start with, then every inch of your chest and belly. Slow kisses, I thought, and maybe a few little nips and bites here and there. Definitely a nibble on the nipples."

"Licking?" Apollo shifted in his chair in a manner that had Starbuck grinning. Just a few suggestive words and he could get a lover hot.

"And licking," agreed Starbuck. "I kinda like that."

"But no talking?"

"I plan to be too busy for that," said Starbuck, virtuously, deciding that with Apollo this obdurate, any campaign to get him to be sensible about Adama was going to have to be of the slow and subtle variety, the embodiment of that old adage about water dripping and wearing away stone. He favoured his best beloved with a suggestive leer. "Orphanages don't prize etiquette, normally, but even my orphanage taught me never to talk with my mouth full."

 

 

 

 

The Officer's Club seemed to have more than its fair share of morose women that day, sitting together like the three Fates, weighing men in the scales and finding them sadly wanting. Any masculine attempt to join them had been severely repulsed. Girls' night out, they said, quelling even the bravest. The men they wanted weren't interested, and the Fates were interested in no one else.

"It's my birthday in a couple of days," said Sheba, breaking a long silence.

Cassie gave her a shrewd look. "Surely not! Well, you're looking good on it, Sheba. You don't look a day over thirty."

Sheba's eyes narrowed. "Not funny, Cass." She twisted the stem of her ambrosa glass in her fingers. "I've bought a new dress."

Athena said, kindly, "I'm sure we'll like it, Sheba."

Sheba sniffed. "I didn't buy it for you, Thenie, but I don't suppose anyone else will notice it. You'd think that people would make an effort on my birthday."

Neither of her companions pretended not to understand her. All three of them looked over to the table where most of Blue Squadron's pilots were sitting, all three of them glowered at an Apollo and Starbuck who seemed almost oblivious to the scrutiny. It's true that Starbuck, perhaps the most sensitive of the pair to atmosphere, looked briefly around the OC, his expression betraying some discomfort. He looked like he felt some vague threat. But all it took for his attention to be totally recaptured by the captain, was Apollo leaning in closer to say something to him. Starbuck instantly lost interest in anything else.

"He's got rather a lot on his mind right now," said Athena.

"When doesn't he?"

Athena and Cassie exchanged glances. Cassie sighed, loudly and heavily, and reached for the ambrosa bottle to refill their glasses.

"I thought that maybe I'd give it one last go. I thought I might ask him to dinner tomorrow night, over on the Star, just to celebrate my birthday. What do you think?"

Athena shook her head.

"I mean, I'm pretty, and young, and - " Sheba paused, glanced at Cassie and smiled sweetly. " - and we're social equals, we're the same class. That's all good."

Cassie, pretty mouth drawn into a harder line than normal, tipped more ambrosa into her glass and Athena's. She put down the bottle without offering to refill Sheba's glass.

"He really has got a lot on his mind right now," said Athena, again.

"He isn't really sick is he?" asked Sheba.

"No, not really," Athena assured her. "At least, he could be, but it's not serious now that Salik and Lyre know about it."

"What's wrong with him?"

Athena looked disconcerted, as if she'd inadvertently backed into a corner while being pursued by bears. A neutral observer who'd had the opportunity to have seen Apollo faced with Sheba in this mood, would have seen a distinct family likeness between Athena and her brother. Something about the hunted expression, perhaps.

"I don't really know." It was so unconvincing that she blushed scarlet.

"Athena!" Sheba protested at the naivety. She eyed Athena calculatingly, and turned to Cassie, raising an eyebrow.

"Don't ask me!" said Cassie. "Dr Salik's keeping things pretty close to his chest. I don't even know why Apollo's coming in on Fourthday. I don't know what's wrong with him."

"He goes to Life Centre every day," insinuated Sheba, giving Athena a malicious smile. It was evident that she had noted the earlier kindness and resented it.

"Well, I don't see him," denied Cassie. "He sees Salik every day and he visits that Gyp we're treating, I think."

"Can't you find out anything at all?"

Cassie got a little flustered. "No, I can't! Salik has his medical records protected." She stopped, biting at her lower lip and looked at Athena, apologetic. "Oops. Sorry, ‘The. I was curious."

"It's private, Sheba." Athena found the defence she needed, freezing up into a patrician dignity that not too subtly reminded them that she was a commander's daughter and specifically reminded Sheba that Athena's particular commander was still around to acknowledge his daughter. "He doesn't like his private affairs being talked about, and it's no business of anyone else's."

"Private," repeated Sheba, frowning.

"Family business," said Athena, still remote and dignified, her whole demeanour pointedly excluding Sheba from the definition.

Sheba flushed slightly and Cassie hurriedly poured more ambrosa, looking down to hide her satisfaction.

"Give it up, Sheba," she said. "Just give it up. You're like me and Athena. We're none of us going to get the one we want. Do what we're doing. Make do with someone else."

Sheba echoed Cassie's loud sigh of a few centons earlier. "Is that how you see it with Greenbean?"

Cassie shrugged prettily, the way she did everything. It was a half-unconscious mannerism intended to attract, as if she were always on show. "I'm looking at alternatives that will make me happier than Starbuck did or could. Greenie's responsible, good tempered and generous, and he wants to please me. I've got all his attention, not just about ten percent. That counts for a lot and I'm very fond of him."

"It's not exactly the height of passion, though, is it?"

"Been there, done that, and it doesn't last," said the cynical Cassiopeia.

Athena unbent enough to manage a faint grin. "It was fun while it did last, though."

Sheba took a swig of ambrosa. "Was it? What about you and Trent, then?"

Athena's grin widened. "He's steady and he's funny, and respectful and adoring, and that is as far as I'm going in spilling the beans. I like him."

Sheba gave them both a level look. "But neither of them are Starbuck."

"Been there, done that, and it sure as hell didn't last," repeated the cynical Cassiopeia.

"Starbuck isn't steady, he isn't responsible and he definitely isn't respectful," agreed Athena. "I can live with something that's at a lower altitude than what you're looking for. Cass is right. It doesn't do and it doesn't last."

Sheba downed some more ambrosa. "You know, I can understand Starbuck. He's always been like that, if everything I hear is right."

"Very untrustworthy," opined Athena.

"But why is Apollo being so elusive? He's not like Starbuck. He's the settling down type."

"He's stubborn, my big brother. You can't ever push him. On anything."

"You're pushing too hard, Sheba," added Cassie. The honey sweetness of tone and smile implied that Sheba was vulgar, brash and demanding as well. Athena caught Cassie's eye, and looked away quickly, hiding a smile.

Thick-skinned Sheba didn't seem to notice. "I'm beginning to think he isn't worth it. Maybe I'll see what Bojay has to offer."

"You were always good friends with him," said Athena, encouragingly.

"He's a much better bet," agreed Cassie.

"Not very exciting, though." Sheba sighed again.

Athena blinked. "Maybe I'm missing something, being his sister, but you can't seriously describe Apollo as exciting?"

"You aren't meant to find him exciting, dear." Cassie patted Athena's hand. "It's Mother Nature's way of ensuring a few new genes in the family pool."

"Do you think he's exciting?" demanded Athena.

"I think he could be, in the right circumstances." Cassie looked across to Apollo and Starbuck, then smiled ruefully at Athena. "But we'll never know, will we?"

Sheba finished her glass of ambrosa. "Maybe I will go and talk to Boj. He's not too bad."

"Not in a dark room, anyhow," muttered Athena, sotto voce, and smiled encouragement. "Good idea," she said, loud enough to be heard.

"Maybe I will." Sheba got to her feet. "See you girls later."

They watched her walk over to Bojay, and then exchanged glances.

"That girl has absolutely no clue, does she?" said Cassie, scornfully.

"None at all. I thought you'd noticed, though."

"I wouldn't say this if our socially unequal friend was still here, but I wouldn't have lasted long in my last job without being perceptive about people. I'm not blind, ‘The."

"She is, though. I can't understand why."

"She's a little stupid, really," said Cassie.

"She has to be not to have seen the way Apollo runs every time she gets within a parsec of him," agreed Athena. "And not to have seen who he runs to."

Cassie shrugged and laughed, still scornful.

"That was a nasty little crack from her, though. I thought that the two of you were getting on better? I mean, I thought she'd grown up a bit about you and Cain."

"She's okay, but too fond of getting in little digs about what she thinks of as her superior social position. Even without me being a socialator, she would not have liked me for her new Mama!" Cassie sniggered. "I'm far too working class for our Sheba. Anyway, I thought that the two of you were getting on and that your Dad had welcomed her into the family."

"There is one commander's daughter on this ship, thank you very much, and it looks like that's the way it's staying. That's all she's interested in Apollo for, anyway - to bolster her social standing."

"She's very like Cain. I hate to admit it, but he was self-centred, too." Cassie sighed over another unsatisfactory lover, then favoured Athena with another rueful smile.

Athena nodded. "My mother and hers were friends, you know. Sheba used to drive me nuts whenever they visited when we were kids. She's only a couple of yahrens older than me, but Princess Sheba always had to have it all her own way."

Cassie snorted. "Saying that Sheba likes having it all her own way is a bit like saying that the Cylon Imperious Leader is a bit bossy now and again."

Athena laughed. "Well, you're right there. She's never seen how that made her look to other people."

"I don't think she'd care, Athena. She really is a little stupid, you know."

"And I think you're right there too. She never saw how it affected Apollo. He always used to go off with his school friends to get out of the way. He hated it then and he'd hate it now."

"Oh?"

"Too much competition. There's another one who likes to have it all his own way."

"That's why he's the captain, I guess."

"It has something to do with it. But Apollo's a little sweeter than she is and he not only knows he's bossy and domineering - "

"Especially to his little sister," Cassie noted.

Athena grinned. " - but he occasionally has the grace to feel guilty about it."

They looked over to the Blue table again.

"Do you think it'll last for them?" asked Athena, after a centon.

"Well, let's say that Apollo was getting the ninety percent I wasn't, and now he's got the ten percent that did come my way, he's pretty much got it all. Starbuck always put Apollo first." Cassie sighed. "Who knows? But I think they've a better chance than you or me ever had."

Athena nodded. "I was mad about it," she said.

Cassie sniffed. "I still am." She clinked her glass against Athena's. "To a more responsible and respectable future."

"That's almost like a curse." Athena drank deep. "Should we tell her?"

"What? That the one we want has the one she wants, and vice versa?"

"Definitely vice and most definitely versa," said Athena.

They shared the last of the ambrosa. Athena smiled over her glass at Cassie, who smiled back.

"And spoil the fun of watching her make a fool of herself?" asked Cassie.

They looked from Apollo to Sheba. Sheba was flirting with a mystified Bojay, but a lot of the time she was watching Apollo for a reaction that never came. Apollo was totally absorbed in his conversation with Starbuck.

"He doesn't even know she's there." Athena's smile brightened. "Here, let's stay and watch a bit more. It'll be fun."

Cassie picked up the empty bottle. "Why not. I'll go get us another of these."

Athena looked from Sheba to her brother, assessing the prospects for amusement. "Get two."

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