Starbuck considered that artistic verisimilitude was all very well, but when it came to crocodile heads, it was carrying artistry too far. The woman stood four square in front of the door to Seti's room to bar his entry, and her mask was all too lifelike. The long reptilian snout was far too full of teeth for his peace of mind, and the scales, so faithfully reproduced, were, quite frankly, unpleasant.
Her companion's mask was some sort of bird with a small head and disproportionately long curved beak. An ibis, was it? He nodded a greeting to Starbuck, opened the door of the room and said something incomprehensible to the old man inside. As he listened to the reply, his head tilted to one side in a very birdlike manner. That was an interesting thought. Starbuck wondered if the various different tribes took on the attributes of the animal whose mask they wore. He knew it was fanciful, but he gave the crocodile woman a respectfully wide berth when she stood aside to let him through, just in case.
"Good morning," said Starbuck with the kind of cheerfulness that was meant to give his self confidence a boost every bit as much as to greet the Aegyptan leader.
Seti smiled slightly. "And to you too, Lieutenant Starbuck." He was out of bed, and dressed, his helmet ready to his hand. He looked better even than he had the day before, evidently regaining health and strength rapidly. "My son?"
"Apollo sends his apologies, sir, but he's unlikely to be able to get away today to take you back to the Usermaatre. We've got all the cadets coming today, you know."
"I know, but he still thought he'd be able to find some time to take me home. What's changed that?"
Starbuck shrugged. "To be honest, I don't know, sir. He's in a steaming temper, and I didn't dare ask. When he's in that mood, you just salute and run, otherwise you can find licking the outer hull clean."
"Even you?" asked Seti.
"Even me. Sometimes especially me. Being his wingman means I'm all too handy a victim when he has a temper tantrum."
"Just his wingman?"
Starbuck kept smiling. "I think that if you want to discuss anything else, you'd better do that with Apollo, sir."
Seti laughed and shook his head. "Ah, but Sekhet won't ever answer that one either, Lieutenant! I'm left to draw my own conclusions."
"Yes sir," said Starbuck, with that bright near-insolence that was the despair of his commanding officers and that he'd taken considerable time and effort to cultivate. It was one of his best weapons. "Apollo asked me to take you back myself. I'm happy to do that."
And that was the literal truth. Starbuck really would be happy to get Seti off this ship and try and get Apollo back to some sort of normality. He thought that Seti had created quite enough trouble.
Seti seemed to take the rebuff in good part. "If Sekhet can't take me home, then I'll arrange for my own transport, I think. Will you call Hekaht-ptah for me? He is of the Thoth people, and wears the ibis mask."
Starbuck nodded and did as he was asked. He listened as Seti spoke briefly with the man in Aegyptan. The ibis head bowed and the man withdrew, closing the door behind him.
"Hekaht-ptah tells me that it may take half a centar for a shuttle to be made ready to return me to the Usermaatre," said Seti. "I would be glad of your company while I wait, if you can spare the time."
Starbuck hesitated, then grinned. "It's as good a place to hide from Apollo as any. I'd be honoured." He took the seat that Seti waved him to.
"What's brought on this temper tantrum?"
"Beats me," said Starbuck. "He was a ravening fiend when he came out of the command meeting. When he's like that, you don't hang about asking for explanations. You run for it."
"And what do you suppose happened at the command meeting to make him a ravening fiend?"
"I don't know, sir. I wasn't there." Starbuck could stonewall with the best, and he had no intention of giving Seti the satisfaction of suggesting that the commander and Apollo had fought, big time. He himself was certain that was what was behind Apollo's appalling mood. He'd gained enough out of the incoherent swearing and spluttering that was all his lover could manage, to realise that.
Starbuck smiled back, bland as you like. He returned to that brightness that was kissing cousin to outright insolence. "This is nice. What shall we talk about?"
Seti's mouth twitched, but he refrained from laughing. "Anything you wish."
"Then can I ask you a question? It's something that's always puzzled me. You Aegyptans, you've helped us get all of this." Starbuck waved an arm vaguely at his surroundings. "All the technology, I mean. They told us in school that when we got to the Colonies from Kobol, we regressed for a while, sinking into a kind of Dark Age and forgetting the technology and science that took us there. You Aegyptans didn't forget, did you?"
"No. We didn't."
"So why didn't you clear out and leave us humans to it? What made you stay with us? It must have irked you, sitting about waiting for us to grow up again."
Seti smiled. "We're still waiting, Starbuck."
"Well, personally I'm still working my way through adolescence, but I do so hope that Society's ahead of me, or we're really in trouble." Starbuck watched the older man's face, then sighed softly. "No? Then we really are in the felger."
"Would you describe the way your people think of mine as very grown up?"
"No," conceded Starbuck. "More like unreasoning and primitive. Sometimes there's not a lot between modern man and the savage. But that makes it all the more intriguing. Why did you stay on the Colonies with us?"
"You never had a family, did you? Sekhet told me you were an orphan."
"Mostly," said Starbuck, dryly, thinking of Chameleon and his equivocal relationship with him and wondering what in Hades his lack of known family had to do with anything.
"Then this may be difficult to convey to you. Humans and Aegyptans are members of the same family, Starbuck. Think of us as your older siblings. When the Lords left Kobol, they left you in our charge. We were told to protect you, as much as we could, without overwhelming you and stopping you develop the way you should."
Starbuck shook his head at that. "You're babysitting?"
Seti laughed and nodded, then said, "Sekhet had a half-brother and sister."
"Thenie and Zac."
"Yes. I never saw Zac, but Athena looks only a little like her mother. A pity. She's pretty enough, but Nefert-ila was glorious." Seti sighed, then smiled. "There were a few yahrens between Sekhet and them, I think. How did he act towards them?"
Starbuck grinned in sudden understanding. "Oh, you're talking big brother in a massive way. You know: the superior, always-right, always-knows-best kind of big brother. He loved them, protected them, bossed them about a bit, helped them when they needed it, and never really learnt to get out of the way when they didn't. And he'd never believe that they would ever be old enough not to need all that. He's still like that now, with Athena. It drives her crazy sometimes. You should talk to her if you want to get the full horror of it."
"Then you understand the relationship we have with you humans." Seti laughed. "You seem to have defined it perfectly."
Starbuck laughed too, amused. Then he shook his head. "That all sounds very benign, but our relationship isn't the same as Apollo's with Zac and Athena. They knew he was their brother, he didn't hide from them. They loved him a lot - Zac, in particular, hero-worshipped him - but most humans are scared of Aegyptans and don't exactly give you the warmest of welcomes. And while he stopped Zac getting bullied at school and chased off the most unsuitable of Athena's admirers - me included - he's never actually terminated anyone on their behalf. Apollo tells me that it's not unknown for you to carry out the odd termination."
"The word you want is murder, Starbuck. Or assassination, if you want to put a better gloss on it. Yes, we've intervened in the past to remove those who threatened peace and order." Seti shrugged indifferently. "But not really that often, you know."
"Well, that's a comfort," murmured Starbuck, a little taken aback by the casual response, and understanding better Apollo's reluctance to discuss it. This kind of callous indifference would not sit well with the Caprican blueblood that Apollo had been brought up to be, someone for whom duty and honour and service were more than just words. Starbuck was a little pleased that something was taking the romance off what had happened, was dulling the gloss. It might mean that Apollo saw sense eventually.
He went on, "I suppose I'm just wondering why you haven't all got bored, babysitting us for thousands of yahrens because the Lords said so. Why don't you do something to improve relations with us humans, to help us understand you and get on better? And why didn't you all decide you'd had enough and take off?"
"We're content to live apart, Starbuck. It's the way it's always been, and really the minor hostility we've faced rarely becomes more than a little name calling."
"But it's unpleasant enough to make sure that Siress Ila didn't tell anyone who she really was, and for them to have hidden that, to protect Apollo, and Thenie and Zac."
"By living in secrecy, yes. That says a great deal how far you humans have to go to grow up and we can leave you to your own devices." He paused, then said, a little less scornfully, "And as for leaving you, some have always come and gone to and from the Colonies, exploring and searching. But we wouldn't leave you altogether. There were always some of us to watch over you."
"We promised," said Seti, simply.
Astonished, Starbuck stared. "You promised?"
"It is a hard thing for us to break a promise." Seti looked troubled for a centon. "I broke mine to Nefert-ila when I approached Sekhet. That was hard."
He said something in Aegyptan, and looked away. His hands, long and slender, stroked the silver helmet on his lap gently, fingers tracing the wicked curve of the sharp beak.
Starbuck watched him for a centon, wondering what had upset the old man. But the cadence of the soft-spoken words intrigued him. "You know, it's odd, but I don't think I've ever heard so much Aegyptan spoken as I have in the last few days. You usually speak Standard around us."
"We don't share our language easily," said Seti, after a moment.
"It's interesting. Apollo's been trying to remember what his mother had taught him when he was a kid."
"He thought at first that he couldn't remember very much, but in only a couple of sectons he's improved amazingly. Well, it's bred into him, after all. Do you speak other languages yourself, Lieutenant?"
"Caprican and Standard, of course," said Starbuck. "And Sagittarian - I spent my first posting out of the Academy on a ship that was mainly Sagittarian. I learned or stayed silent for two yahrens, and believe me, suns would go out before I could be quiet for longer than two centons. I even talk in my sleep."
"A linguist, then."
"Not really. I can speak a few languages reasonably well." Starbuck grinned impudently. "But I'm fluent at disobeying orders in any language you care to name, both living and dead."
Starbuck put on his poker face. "I've even been known to disobey orders in Kobolian. Apollo's tried that one."
Seti laughed, and Starbuck grinned, surprised to find that he was enjoying himself and surprised, too, to realise that he was pleased to have brought Seti back from whatever had distracted him.
"Like I say, Aegyptan sounds amazing. I love the names. I always did even before I knew about Apollo. They always sound so incredibly important. Apollo told me they all mean something. Something real, I mean, unlike Apollo which is just the name of some old God from thousands of yahrens ago, or Starbuck, that doesn't mean anything at all, so far as I know."
Seti nodded, and Starbuck thought he looked amused. The idiot, immature younger sibling could amuse his older, wiser brother then.
"Yes, they do."
"So, what does your name mean, sir?"
Seti's smile deepened. "My name? Well, we don't usually translate our names, but for Sekhet's wingman, I'm sure I can stretch the point. After all, we don't usually show our faces either."
"I'm honoured, sir," said Starbuck, politely. "And I do understand just how great an honour it is."
Seti inclined his head gracefully. "Seti, sometimes known as Set, was one of the Lords of Kobol, the red-haired Lord of war and death and destruction. Sen means fire or flame, and Ankhaten - well, the ankh in our language is the symbol that signifies life, and the Aten was a name for the Sun, from which all life and light came: actually the disc of the new-risen sun at the horizon, if you want be precise. So either you could translate it as Seti-of-the-flame-of-the-Sun's-new-risen-life, or it could mean Seti-the-living-flame-of-the-Sun-at-the-Horizon."
"Oh," said Starbuck, blank. "That's - er, that's very nice, sir."
Seti laughed again. "I know. To your human ears that sounds ridiculous. But not to an Aegyptan. What it does, in either variant, is remind me of my place in our traditions. All of our names are taken from our version of the Book of the Word, and they all remind us that we're the Lords' servants. Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon, by the way, means The Beautiful One, most Beautiful to Amon. She lived up to her name."
"She did," agreed Starbuck. "She was a very lovely woman. I liked her."
"What does Apollo's other name mean? What does Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit mean?" Starbuck wondered if the answer would be as incomprehensible.
"Sekhet is a meadow or field."
"A field? No wonder he sorta shuffled his feet and tried to tell me that he didn't really know what it means!"
"Ah, you have asked him, then? Not just any sort of field. Sekhet is verbal shorthand for the Sekhet-Annru, the Field of Reeds; and that, Starbuck, is our name for Heaven."
Interested, Starbuck nodded. "So his full name is Sekhet-Annru-an-Ankhmehit?"
"Yes, but every Aegyptan will take the Annru element as read, so we didn't need to include it in his name in full. Ankh, as I said, is life, and mehit means a treasure, the most precious possession you have. It is a difficult name to translate into Standard, and frankly, it loses something in translation and sounds, like my name did, a little ridiculous to non-Aegyptans. The Treasure of Life from Heaven."
Seti laughed. "I told you, it loses something in literal translation. I suppose that if I tried to give it a little more sense and less literalism, it might mean something like Heaven's-Treasured-Gift-of-Life. It signifies how precious he was to his mother and me, how much he was wanted and welcomed."
Starbuck stared, then nodded slowly. Suddenly he wasn't enjoying himself so much any more. "I said to Athena that you were probably being subtle. That's pretty good, sir. Effective."
Seti only smiled.
"And I'm sure you have your reasons for doing this, but he's not very happy about all. It's tearing him and the commander to pieces, and he doesn't know which way is up. He's acting like Boxey in a sulk, sometimes."
"Standing with a foot in two different worlds does not make for peace," said Seti quietly. "But he will find his balance. All I want to do is help him do that."
Oh yeah, thought a cynical Starbuck, indignant. And I'm next in line to be Imperious Leader.
"He wouldn't need to if you'd let well alone," he said, and the switch from ease to hostility surprised him. "It could really cause trouble if people find out."
"And if I'd said nothing, they may not have diagnosed the Sysperchion's in him until it was too late. And I would be dead, too, of course. You'll forgive me it that is something of a consideration."
Starbuck gave him a cool look. "For you," he agreed, not bothering to hide the implication that it was a matter of some indifference to him.
Seti sighed. "I see that you care for him deeply. So do I, Starbuck. I didn't really plan any of this, you know, but I have spent almost twenty nine yahrens deprived of my son. You'll appreciate that now that we have been unexpectedly reunited, I will do everything I can to make up for that."
Starbuck thought of Chameleon and his suspicions about his relationship to that wily old conman. Here he was, with a (probable) father who always seemed vaguely glad to see him but who never sought him out and never did anything to attach him. Sometimes Starbuck wondered if Chameleon would miss him if he decided never to see the old man again. And there was Apollo, with two men battling for his filial affection. The essential unfairness of it hit him somewhere in the gut. Sometimes he could understand Athena's resentment.
From the depths of his own bitter experience, Starbuck struck back, forgetting to be polite and deferential. . "I'd appreciate that a lot better if you hadn't given him up so easily all those yahrens ago, and kept in touch."
Seti stiffened slightly. "Do you imagine that I gave him up easily?"
Starbuck shrugged. "I don't know. I wasn't there. But I do know what it's like to be reunited with the father who effectively abandoned me when I was two. Sure, you've found out something about yourself and why you're the way you are: why you look like you do, act like you do. And sure, that's all important stuff to know, it all helps define you. But at the end of the day, what you wonder is why he was never there, why he didn't at least try and find you. You think about that, a lot. Believe me, it doesn't make for a close father-son bond. In my case, Chameleon at least has the excuse that he'd have had to do some looking, but you knew where Apollo was all the time. If Apollo hasn't asked himself the question yet, he will. I hope you've got a good answer."
"I do not owe you an explanation."
"I'm not asking for one. It's Apollo you owe the explanation to. Oh, sorry: to Sekhet. But I don't think that Sekhet really exists, you know. Apollo's a bit bowled over by all of this, but he's still Apollo. He's been Apollo for almost thirty yahrens. You can't shrug that off in a couple of sectons, no matter how mad you are at your Dad."
Seti looked more thoughtful than offended. "No. He has been, and always will be Sekhet. He just has to grow into it. The heritage can't be denied."
He sounded so confident, so quietly sure of himself that Starbuck's indignation faltered into uncertainty. Starbuck frowned at the older man.
"That's important to you."
"And to him."
Starbuck pulled his feet up into the chair, and wrapped his arms around his shins, hugging himself and resting his chin on his knees. It was a comfortable way to sit and think. Although he'd never want to ruin his reputation by admitting it, he had a broad streak of irrepressible honesty. He was very aware that Apollo was fascinated by his Aegyptan heritage, something the experience of the last three sectons had fired. And although Apollo had been startled and disturbed by Seti's admission of the deadly type of interference the Aegyptans had made in human affairs, it hadn't been enough to disgust him altogether. He was still fascinated. Just a little more cautious about it, Starbuck thought.
"Maybe you're right," he conceded. "He is interested in it. He's still trying to work out who he really is."
"And who else it there to tell him what he wants to know?"
Starbuck shook his head, admiring. "It's neat. You create the vulnerability in the first place, then you're the only one who can help him deal with it. Subtle. You're a clever man."
Seti frowned. "I am not quite that devious, Starbuck. Whatever else you may think, Sekhet is my son. I've been separated from him for all of his life. I want to get to know him, for him to know me."
"And for him to see you as his father."
"I am his father."
Starbuck nodded. "Sure you are. But you aren't his Dad."
When Starbuck went to find Athena for their daily progress meeting, he spent a great deal of time checking behind him, scouting the corridor ahead (he was especially nervous at junctions), and reconnoitring the Commissary from behind the door jamb before he committed himself to going in there. He was feeling a touch stressed. It had not been a good day. In fact, only a day spent juggling primed solium bombs with both hands in splints and someone tickling him in the armpits - and Starbuck was dreadfully ticklish - could possibly be considered worse.
The Commissary was safe. Athena was waiting for him, and she'd even bought him a coffee. It was sitting on the table in front her, the steam curling up invitingly and smelling like a piece of heaven.
"I thought you might need it," she said. "Rumours of mayhem reached even the bridge. Even Colonel Tigh's been taking an interest. He's had Omega give him briefings every centar on the body count."
"Thanks." Starbuck drank half of it in one gulp, and sat cradling the mug, sighing as the fragrant warmth spread through him comfortingly.
Athena smiled. "Where is he and what's he doing?"
"I don't know. I'm hiding from him." Starbuck took more coffee, a sip this time, savouring it.
"That's not very brave of you, Starbuck."
"I'm not brave. I want to live. He'll be out committing carnage somewhere on the troop decks and I'm staying out of harm's way."
"He can't be that scary, surely?"
"He's been your big brother for almost twenty four yahrens, and you can sit there and say that!"
"I'm pretty immune, usually. He doesn't lose his temper at me, more on my behalf. At least, what he thinks is on my behalf. I do wish he'd stop scaring away my men."
"Be careful that doesn't fill you with a false sense of security. If he comes in here, run. I've managed to avoid him all day, and I don't want my luck to turn."
"You're his wingman, how've you been able to avoid him?"
"You have no idea how inventive I can be in a crisis."
Athena frowned. "But hasn't he been calling you?"
Starbuck raised his left arm and looked at the communicator attached to his wrist. "Did you know that if you press the edge of a cubit into that tiny little slot - just there - and twist it, you can get the top off these things? And did you know that if you inadvertently and completely accidentally drop the cubit in there before you jam the top back down, for some reason that means no one can get through to you? Shorts it out, or blocks the signal, or something."
"That's very inventive," conceded Athena.
Athena patted his arm encouragingly. "There, there. Tell me everything, Starbuck. I'm here for you."
Starbuck glared at her.
"I mean it," she said. "Sheba hinted the other night that I'll never get a man because I'm too intelligent and efficient, and I scare them off. Me, I thought it was Apollo putting the frighteners on them that did that, but Sheba may have a point. So I'm practicing being sweet and vacuous and supportive, to see if that will work better."
"As long as you're just using me for practice." Starbuck took a deep breath. "What did your father say to him this morning? Apollo was in a towering rage when he got back from the command meeting."
"Was he now!" murmured Athena.
"Yes, he bloody well was! He managed to hold it together while he gave the cadets the welcome speech. I'm hoping they mistook the snarls for smiles, but I'm not so sure. One or two of them were looking pretty nervous towards the end. Apollo was showing an awful lot of teeth and it's only by sheer good luck he hadn't found anyone disobeying Regs between him leaving the command meeting and reaching the cadet deck, otherwise they'd have been dripping blood. That would have really have reassured the cadets, meeting their commanding officer for the first time and watching the gore run down his chin."
"It's not funny, Thenie. Sometimes ritual slaughter is the only thing that gets him out of this kind of mood."
"A truly noble and public-spirited person would offer himself up as a sacrifice, then, for the greater good," observed Athena.
"Don't be daft." Starbuck shuddered. "Anyhow, then the commander appeared and did his speech, and I thought Apollo was going to explode, or implode, or something."
"Oh, the commander's speech was all about honour and glory and duty and suchlike things that only cadets and commanders believe in. He wound it all up by saying something about the cadets being able to look forward to the finest training and the finest tuition from Captain Apollo and the other tutors. There was a bit more, but it was definitely a little paean of praise to Apollo for pulling it altogether, and the commander hoped that they'd benefit and have great careers etcetera, etcetera, because they'd be learning from the best."
"That sounds a bit unsubtle," Athena conceded. "But then, Dad meant it to be."
"You know something," said Starbuck, suspiciously.
"I'll tell you in a centon. What happened next?"
"The commander and Tigh left, and I managed to get Apollo out of there before he exploded. You know, those warship designers knew what they were doing when they put the Duty Office three decks away from the cadets, because he was incandescent." Starbuck paused, finished his coffee, then repeated it, drawing out the syllables with relish. "In-can-des-cent. You should have seen him, Thenie, breaking up the furniture and tearing apart Vipers with his bare hands. And the language! I didn't think Apollo knew words like that. I was so impressed."
"No, not really. That's a lie. I was scared. We've hidden the cadets, in case he starts in on them. We have to break the children in gently to the true horrors of service life. They have to learn, slowly and carefully, that the terror of battle with the Cylon horde pales into insignificance against the terror that's the captain in a snit. It's not good for them to see him in such a bad temper on their first day. It's the kind of thing that they need to be led up to in easy stages, carefully and with due warning, and never without advanced survival training and protective armour."
Athena laughed, heartless.
"You know, when you're trying to hide, this ship feels all too small. It truly isn't funny."
"It is from where I'm sitting. Good old Dad! I'll have to tell him how well it worked."
"How well what worked?"
Athena told him, passing on what Adama had told her of his conversation with Apollo after the command meeting. As he listened, Starbuck's mouth fell open.
"I thought so," agreed Athena.
"Now what's he going to do?"
"Exactly what he promised, . He'll treat Apollo exactly like any other officer on board this ship and let him stew over it for a bit."
Starbuck considered it. "As long as Apollo doesn't get to thinking that's some sort of proof that your Dad never wanted him."
"I know. It's risky. But up until now, Apollo's had it all his own way. He's been able to play the martyr on about three different fronts, but Dad's just cut his legs out from under him on every single one of them."
"We'll have to see. But that was a masterstroke, that crack about Boxey. Apollo adores that kid. He has to see how illogical it is for him to be mad at the commander because the commander adores his step-son."
"At least you see that, Starbuck. Dad does adore him." Athena's smile was a little twisted.
"I'm sure of it. He just needs to tell Apollo a bit more often. And to praise him so publicly when Apollo's been whingeing about being unappreciated - that was wonderful!" Starbuck thought about it a bit more. "Yeah, I can see why Apollo's ravening for blood at the moment."
"Apollo won't like it," said Athena. "He won't like feeling he might, just possibly, be in the wrong. He likes getting his own way."
"You're telling me! But the fun part is finessing it so that he gets to believing that his own way is what I wanted all along. Well, that and his temper keep life exciting."
Athena frowned. "This is ridiculous! Does everyone in the entire cosmos find him exciting, except me?"
Starbuck, equanimity restored by the coffee and the opportunity to unburden himself, just smiled.
"Don't tell me," said Athena hastily. "I really don't want to know."
"I won't then," said Starbuck. "We'll take it all as read. But, I've got to tell you something else, Thenie. I had a long talk with Seti today."
She scowled. "I'll bet that was fun."
"It was different," acknowledged Starbuck. "Apollo was so mad he didn't trust himself to fly anything - he's in the sort of mood to ram a Cylon baseship today. Actually, he'd ram the Galactica, given half the chance - so he sent me to offer Seti a lift back to the Usermaatre." Starbuck paused, then said, thoughtfully. "I think he didn't want Seti to see him like that, either. It's not an edifying sight, Apollo in a temper. Anyhow, Seti decided he'd take his own transport home and we had a little chat while he waited for it to be got ready."
"What's he like, really?"
"Subtle, and clever. He's got Apollo completely off balance about your Dad, and he's keeping him there." Starbuck frowned, thoughtful. "Actually, I don't dislike the man. I'm not sure I trust him and his motives, but I guess you have to accept he only came forward when it became clear that Apollo could inherit this disease he's got. Once Apollo knew about him, whatever promises they'd all made each other thirty yahrens ago were pretty much out of the window. Apollo knows now. There's no need to hide away any longer, and I suppose in the circumstances, Seti has every right to want to be something to his own son."
"You sound like a Seti apologist," said Athena, a touch scornful.
"I'm just thinking how horrible it was growing up without a family, and wondering who and what my father was. It's a helluva gap in your life. I think Seti had that from the other side, knowing he had a son he couldn't ever reach because he'd promised your mother he'd leave them alone." Starbuck sighed, caught Athena's puzzled glance and shook his head, trying to laugh. "I think I'm beginning to understand it a bit, but that's all. I can't blame him for taking the chance to try and get to know his son properly - " his voice dropped. "And I wish mine had done that."
"Nothing. I'd have liked it better if he'd not caused so much trouble between Apollo and the commander."
"I'd have liked it better if he'd not turned up at all. It was bad enough growing up with one secret, hiding what we knew about Mother. This is even worse. Being half Aegyptan - well, that's difficult enough but given all we've done to serve the Colonies, and given who Dad is, maybe we could ride it out."
"You're not ashamed of it, Thenie?"
"No! Of course not." She paused and frowned, and said uncertainly, "But we've hidden it so long. Sometimes I wonder why we did that. Why not fight it out? It's not like the Aegyptans are our enemies. They've helped us so much."
Starbuck shrugged. "Oh I agree. It should be the same as Sealing with a Leonid or - where's Grant from now? He's Virgon, isn't he? It shouldn't have to matter."
"But it does, you know it does. And what does Grant have to do with it?"
"Nothing that you don't want, honey."
But his attempt to lighten up the atmosphere failed. Athena held her cup in one hand, running one finger constantly around the rim, concentrating on the slight, high-pitched humming noise it gave off.
"Bad enough that I'm a half breed, and that's what they'd call me, isn't it? But being completely Aegyptan, even with everything Apollo's done - " She paused, shrugged, and resumed her concentrated stare at the cup. "Well, I don't know that I'm worried about most of the people in the fleet, because there's ways of influencing and controlling public opinion. They'll listen to the last lot of propaganda they hear, and Dad and the Council are about to embark on a charm offensive about how much we owe the Aegyptans, and Captain Apollo the hero plays out quite well out there. We'll never be able to make people love the Aegyptans, but maybe we can persuade them to be a little more tolerant, when we remind them about Cimtar, and Caprica, and Arcta and Gamoray and a hundred other times he's been a hero."
"That kinda depends on whoever's behind this being outwitted and not getting their propaganda in first."
She nodded. "But at the last analysis, most of the people in the fleet never see Apollo for real and can't really harm him. No. They're not the real enemy. Whoever it is on the Council who's forcing this, they're the ones who'll try and tear Apollo apart, if they find out."
"They'll engineer it so he loses everything: command of the troops, command of the Galactica, one day. He'll lose everything." The hand that carefully placed the teacup onto the table top, was shaking visibly. "I'm not ashamed, Starbuck," she said quietly. "But I am scared."
Starbuck put his hand over hers, comforting. "So am I."
Starbuck stuck his head around the Duty office door, wary as a deer in a den of wolves.
"Safe to come in?"
Boomer, who'd jumped theatrically when the door had opened, fell back in his chair and nodded. "Fine. I think the storm's over. He was a lot better when he came in here a half-centar ago. Almost human again."
"Is that so?" said Starbuck. In the circumstances, he wasn't sure if that was either as a good a thing as Boomer appeared to think it, or particularly accurate.
"Yeah. I think he's spent the day tearing heads off politicians and torturing bureaucrats, or something soothing like that." Boomer moved a few papers around the desk, casually touched a button on the desk communicator.
"Who are you calling?" demanded Starbuck, alert and suspicious.
"Me? No one." Boomer's expression was bland. He flicked at the communicator again. "Just caught it by accident. You just missed him. He's headed down to the gym for his daily tryst with Acer. That should work off the last of it, if we're lucky. D'you think he's mad enough to beat Acer? They say that rage can give you superhuman strength."
"He'd need it, not to mention a century's supply of the very best kind of luck and finding Acer unaccountably sunk into an unbreakable coma."
"Well, one outa three isn't bad."
"Not good enough. Mind you, I don't want to test how superhuman rage has made him. I've been avoiding him all day."
Boomer interrupted with an unkind crack of laughter. "I noticed. So did he. He said that when you came out of hiding you were to go down to the gym and join him."
Starbuck grinned. "I'm still hiding."
Boomer just smiled and shook his head. His hand reached for the communicator again.
Starbuck's grin was wiped off instantly. "Oh come on, Boom-boom. You wouldn't!"
"Starbuck, while you've dodged around the ship keeping out of trouble, I've either been shepherding around groups of terrified cadets and trying to keep him from scaring them out of several yahrens' growth, or I've been in here being his whipping boy. I've had enough of it. That's your job, not mine." Boomer deliberately flicked on the comm unit this time. "Lieutenant Boomer to Captain Apollo."
"Boomer!" agonised Starbuck, edging towards the door.
"There's no way out, Bucko. I lied about not calling anyone a couple of centons ago. I signalled Jolly the instant you came in here. That door's been secured."
"It's no good. I've watched you escape your responsibilities for yahrens. But not this time. He's your boyfriend, or whatever. And although most of the troops don't know it, we're relying on you, God help us, to stop him tearing us limb from limb. You get down to that gym right now and do whatever it is you need to do to make the man feel better."
"Apollo here," said the rather tinny voice over the communicator. Apollo sounded breathless and cross. Acer had to have been throwing him all over the gym again.
"Our wandering boy's come home, Captain. Do you still want him down there?"
A pause. Then in a voice that dripped with menace: "Oh yes. And Lieutenant, I'm holding you responsible for getting him here. I don't want him going missing again en route, do you understand?"
"Sure," said Boomer, chagrined. "We're on our way." He closed down the link and scowled at Starbuck. "Shit! You always get me into trouble."
"Serves you right," said Starbuck, allowing Boomer to hustle him out of the room. towards the lift. There was no one in the corridor standing guard. "And Jolly is where, exactly?"
"Were you lying about Apollo being in a better temper? Because if you were, prepare to defend yourself, because I ain't giving up without a fight."
"Naw. He's better. Believe me."
"And why should I do that? You're not exactly coming over as Sire Trustworthy today. I'd never have believed that you'd play such a dirty trick on me."
"I wouldn't, if you'd let me win at Pyramid, now and again. I had plans for that twenty cubits you took off me last night, and you've ruined them."
"All my own fault then."
"It always is," said Boomer. "Is it your fault he's mad, Bucko?"
"My fault? No. Why should it be my fault?"
"Why should the suns rise in the west?"
"The east, Boomer."
"Not on Leo. We went our own way on Leo. Anyhow, the point I'm trying to make is that you cause trouble as a kind of natural phenomenon as immutable as the stars."
"Not this time."
"You swear? You haven't dumped him or anything?"
"Are you kidding?" Starbuck was shocked to realise that his heart lurched uncomfortably and he was almost whining. "I live in dread of him dumping me! I wouldn't do that to him in this or any other life."
Boomer's expression softened. "Oh, you really have it bad. Well, if it wasn't your fault, then I'm sorry I turned you in."
"You didn't turn me in, Boomer. You betrayed me to a insatiable blood drinking demon, that's what you did." Starbuck smirked, and said, with so much suggestive meaning that Boomer made gagging noises. "At least, I hope he's insatiable."
Boomer's shudder was true artistry. "Disgusting! Whether it's your fault or not, I'm going to enjoy watching him give you your comeuppance."
But Apollo was too occupied with keeping Acer at bay when they reached the gym, to do anything other than vaguely acknowledge their presence when he landed hard at their feet. He certainly couldn't spare the time and attention to give Starbuck anything. The two lieutenants leaned against the wall, and watched.
"There is such a thing as divine justice," said Starbuck dreamily. "And divine punishment for evil temper."
"He's getting better, though," observed Boomer. "Acer's having to put more effort into decking him."
"A bit. He's not so much as breathing heavy about it, though."
"It's still impressive. Given that this is his first day back after the surgery, that's a bit worrying. I think it makes me nervous. "
Starbuck agreed. "And he's not exactly fighting like the Caprican gentleman he was brought up to be. Did you see where his hand just went? I thought Acer's eyes would pop out."
"Maybe Acer's enjoying it."
"From the way he just bounced Apollo around the floor by his hair, I'd say not." Starbuck sighed. "I'd enjoy it, though."
They watched for a little longer as the captain's bad temper was bounced, thrown, stamped and wrestled out of him by a trooper who was, if anything, scarier than the captain in a snit.
"Better," said Acer to Apollo, at last. "That's enough for today. I don't want to over do it, considering you're just back on duty. We'll build back up to a full work out over the next secton."
"Uuuh," said Apollo, trying to push Acer's foot off his chest.
"Sorry, Boss." A contrite Acer reached down a massive paw, hauling Apollo to his feet. He glanced at the two lieutenants. "Want me to deal with those two?"
Apollo shook his head. "I've my own plans for them. Thanks, Acer. Listen, do me a favour, will you, and leave me the place to myself."
Acer looked from him to the shower room, then shrugged. "If anyone tells me I stink, do I have your permission to kill them?"
"Permission granted, Sergeant. Carry on." Apollo turned to his lieutenants. "And thank you, Boomer. That will be all."
"You mean you don't want me here?" asked Boomer, brightening.
"I wanted you to escort our prodigal down here to make sure he didn't disappear again, that's all. Thanks, and close the door on the way out."
"All right!" said Boomer, happily.
"You can't leave me here alone!" panicked Starbuck. "You can't!"
"Just watch me." Boomer headed for the door with alacrity.
"And when they find my blood-drained corpse here tomorrow, you'll be to blame!"
Boomer didn't even pause to look around and spare the victim one last glance of sympathy. "I promise to apologise. See you, Apollo."
Acer shambled past Apollo and managed a half-way decent salute. "See you tomorrow, Boss."
"Thank you, gentlemen."
Apollo followed them to the door, past a silent and apprehensive Starbuck. One swipe of his security card through the lock and inputting the code that only the command staff had, was enough to secure the gym and jolt Starbuck out of his silence.
"Hey! What're you doing?"
"Making sure that we don't get disturbed. Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to find you for centars."
"Have you? That's strange." Starbuck raised his wrist communicator to his ear, took it off and shook it, and put it to his ear again. "Can't be working," he said, innocent. "There's something loose and rattling inside. Dunno how that happened."
"Couldn't be anything to do with forcing it open and shoving a bit of metal in there to short it out, would it?"
Starbuck's mouth formed a round O of consternation.
"You told me about that little trick when you were drunk once, a couple of yahrens ago. My memory's not that bad, Starbuck. I figured that's what you'd done." Apollo came closer.
Starbuck backed off a step. "Well, look, Apollo -"
"Get naked," said Apollo
Starbuck stared, still backing off, stepping carefully and gingerly. "What?"
"I said, get naked. We've technically been off duty for twenty centons, and we need to have sex right now."
Starbuck gaped at him, taking two more steps until his back came up against an unyielding wall. Apollo stalked him relentlessly.
"Hurry it up! You're in enough trouble skiving off work all day, without you holding me up now. Do it!"
"But, Apollo -" whined Starbuck.
"Oh, for heaven's sake!" said Apollo, and slammed Starbuck up against the wall, hard, cutting of the lieutenant's faint protests with a kiss that virtually sucked the air from Starbuck's lungs.
Starbuck sighed. Arms that had come up in automatic protection found themselves pulling the ravening demon in closer instead, and although he later swore that he'd intended to bring up his knee sharp to deliver a savage jab to the demonic groin, somehow his legs betrayed him as much as his arms had done and they spread wide to let Apollo in. Besides, he said much later, he was knocked completely off balance by having Apollo's groin shoved so hard between his legs that his feet left the ground. He was forced to hook his legs around Apollo's hips, or fall over.
He became aware, when Apollo let him up for air, that he'd been moaning into Apollo's mouth and making the most ridiculous noises. He blushed, feeling pleasantly giddy.
Apollo got one hand down to Starbuck's pants. Now was the opportunity to make his move and get away. Starbuck made his move. He held on to Apollo with only one hand, using the other to help get his pants opened and pull them down. He kicked off one boot and by a series of complicated manoeuvres that rubbed body parts together in a very suggestive and highly gratifying manner, got that leg of his pants down over his foot.
He jumped to get his leg back up around Apollo's waist. Apollo was dressed only in sweat soaked shorts and a tee, and it was the work of microns to trail one hand down Apollo's back and push the shorts down and let the heavy-balled cock spring up to greet him. Apollo grunted something that could be approbation, or could be the prelude to some serious bloodletting, since he was biting at the side of Starbuck's throat at the time, grinding his hips against Starbuck's erection. Starbuck chose to believe it was approbation, although some small portion of his mind that was still working remembered reading somewhere about sexual fetishes, and that cutting yourself during sex and letting the blood flow could give you one helluva orgasm. Maybe he should try it sometime.
And then again, maybe not. Not if it was his blood, anyway.
Then Apollo's cock, only slightly moistened by spit, was forcing itself bluntly up into him, and those ridiculous needy noises were back, muffled only by Apollo fastening onto his mouth like a leech, trying to find Starbuck's tonsils with his tongue. Sex with a soundtrack. Well, it could be worse.
Apollo pulled back, and in one hard movement sheathed himself into Starbuck to the hilt, and all coherent thought fled. For the next few centons there could have been a soundtrack provided by a full brass band with accompanying cheerleaders, and Starbuck wouldn't have noticed. There was nothing for him but the pounding his grateful backside was getting, the feel of the wall against his back as he was ridden into it, Apollo's mouth on his, Apollo's hand on his cock, encasing it with his fist as he worked it. There wasn't room for anything else.
It didn't take long.
"Oh fuck," said Starbuck, recovering the power of speech, and he spurted all over Apollo's hand, spraying a thick jismy stream up over the sweat-stained, clinging tee that was all that Apollo seemed to be wearing now. He wondered vaguely what had happened to Apollo's shorts.
A micron later, and Apollo echoed him. Heat burst through Starbuck's gut as Apollo came, pulsing inside of him, and he hung on hard, clenching his legs around Apollo's waist and burying his mouth on the side of Apollo's neck. He bit gently.
Apollo yelped and surged in harder. Ha! Blood ravening demons couldn't take their own medicine then. He clung tightly, pulling Apollo in as close as he could get. Apollo leaned against him, panting.
Starbuck kissed up the side of Apollo's neck and along his jaw, then pulled away slightly, leaning back against the wall. Apollo had his hands braced on the wall each side of Starbuck's chest, taking their combined weight as Starbuck hung on him like a limpet, and for a centon Starbuck admired the play of arm muscles, letting his eyes travel up to Apollo's shoulders, nicely marked in the thin tee. He'd have to get that tee off him, Starbuck thought absently. It was clinging in all the right places, but skin was even better.
Apollo raised his head and looked at him. Apollo, Starbuck thought, looked not only well fucked, but a little sheepish.
"Feeling better after that?" he demanded, trying to find some shreds of dignity.
"I hope so! Have you any idea how horrendous today has been for every single person on board this ship?"
"I'm good now," said Apollo meekly.
"Boomer said you were, otherwise do you think I'd have let him herd me down here? I'd still be running." This time he kissed Apollo. "Mmn. No blood."
"I didn't know who'd been sacrificed to satiate you." Starbuck did a little writhing to check. "Although, now I come to mention it, there's not much sign of satiation here."
"I did tell you to get naked, Lieutenant. I get sated better without clothes."
"Oh I will. As soon as you carry me over to that pile of exercise mats and let me down - gently now!"
Apollo straightened with a grunt, and staggered the requisite five steps to the pile of mats.
"Don't drop me!" Somehow they got onto the mats, still joined. Starbuck landed on his back, with Apollo on top of him. "Oof!"
Apollo kissed him again, lifting up far enough to shrug out of his tee and toss it aside. Oh good! Skin, thought Starbuck happily and kicked off his other boot, using his free foot to push his pants down and kick them away.
"All right?" Apollo asked.
"Dandy," said Starbuck.
He sighed deeply when Apollo eased out of him, but relaxed when his lover showed no signs of getting off him altogether. He loosened the grip his knees had on Apollo's sides, letting them fall outwards so Apollo could settle comfortably between his legs. Another kiss, and he managed a little writhe that had pricks rubbing together in a very exciting fashion. Apollo groaned, his cock hardening again and trying to poke its way into Starbuck's stomach. For a micron, the lieutenant regretted not having obeyed orders and stripped. He'd never be able to explain the stains on his tunic to the laundry.
He sighed happily. "Tell me, every time you get into a tantrum like that, will I get a quickie just like that? You just banged me into the middle of next secton."
"Not at all," said Starbuck. "Just seeking clarification."
"Well, I was a bit tense. I needed something to relax me."
"You get that tense often, Apollo, and you'll burst." Starbuck let Apollo ease the flight jacket off his shoulders, and raised his arms so that the tunic could be pulled off over his head and thrown somewhere into the middle distance. The thin pressure vest followed. Well, at least he'd finally obeyed orders.
"I guess I was a little ratty today," conceded Apollo, working over Starbuck's left nipple.
"Ooh, that's nice! You weren't ratty. You were disgusting. Half the cadets are sucking their thumbs and calling for their mummies."
"What about the other half?"
"Lying there wetting the bed. The squadron leaders are on lullaby duty. Oh, don't stop, Apollo!"
"I'll have to," said Apollo. "I'm not as young as I was. I don't think I could repeat that performance just yet."
Starbuck lay back and grinned at him. He raised a hand to stroke the damp black hair, and something in him melted into tenderness. Despite the post coital glow, Apollo looked tired and there were darkening circles around his eyes, giving them a bruised and vulnerable look. Apollo may well have been disgusting all day - and nothing would shake Starbuck from that diagnosis - but he was heart sorry at the emotional turmoil his lover was going through. Sympathy took the form, as ever, of intense physical activity. His favourite method of expressing it involved lots of kissing and more hands than an octopus.
"Did Seti get back?" Apollo asked after a few centons, when he got the use of his mouth back.
"I think I've brought home one bashed-up Viper too many," said Starbuck, doleful. "I seem to have this reputation with our Aegyptan allies for recklessness, and I don't think he trusted my driving. He flatly refused to be piloted home by me and had one of the Usermaatre's shuttles come and pick him up."
"Don't take it to heart. I think you're a great pilot. Honest."
Starbuck sighed. "I'm not that insecure, you know. At least, not about my flying, anyway. I know I'm the best, thank you." He wriggled in closer. "You'll miss seeing him every day," he insinuated slyly.
"I guess," said Apollo, but he didn't sound very certain. "I need to get to know him, but it'll be better if it's a bit less intense. It's been a bit overwhelming."
Starbuck grinned to himself, satisfied by that. Apollo wasn't so dazzled that he didn't know it was happening.
"Besides," said Apollo. "I need to think about some things, and it's hard when he's here. Too many competing pressures."
"Not to mention arguments with your Dad." Starbuck tightened his hold on Apollo. "Want to talk about it?" he asked gently.
Apollo shook his head.
"I know it was something your Dad said."
"The commander," said Apollo, and although he sounded savage, the bruised look about the eyes was more noticeable. "He told me today that's all he was."
"At least you can't complain he doesn't listen to you. It was basically what you've been telling him, isn't it?"
Apollo muttered something. It may have been Caprican, or Standard, but Starbuck thought that it was probably Aegyptan. It looked like Apollo was more fluent than he'd been letting on. Either that, or he was a better linguist than Starbuck had given him credit for.
"Hoist on your own petard, that's what you are, my lad. And the rest of us have suffered for it all day."
Starbuck saw the way Apollo's expression closed over, and decided to let that particular thought take root, and rankle. Besides, despite having been banged into next secton, his cock was taking a lot of exuberant interest in a possible rematch. He argued to himself that another bout would help further restore Apollo's equanimity - this was one helluva way to deal with the emotional backlash from a temper tantrum, and one that would bear further experimentation - and make him a little more amenable to argument. He kissed Apollo gently, then with more force.
"Do you feel like being hoist on mine?" he asked, smiling and suggestively pushing up his hips to grind against Apollo.
"My petard, thickhead. It's hard enough to run a flag up it."
Apollo laughed. "You have a nice big cock, Starbuck, but it's hardly the size of a barrel of gunpowder."
"Although, I suppose I have to admit that making love with you is a bit like an explosive charge."
"At least your fuse is likely to be slower burning than mine just was."
Apollo laughed again. "Never mind."
He ducked his head and started chewing Starbuck's neck again. Starbuck forgot all about the incomprehensible rubbish Apollo had just been spouting, and moaned prettily, taking action for consent. As he writhed and got his hands working, smoothing down Apollo's back to knead his buttocks, his head turned to one side to let Apollo have better access to his throat. His gaze, already a little unfocused, fell on the trail of discarded clothing. How in Hades did his boots get all the way over there?
Then he laughed, feeling his throat vibrate against Apollo's lips.
"What?" asked Apollo, barely stopping.
"Athena and excitement," said Starbuck, running one hand through Apollo's hair, tugging him up for a proper kiss. Actually, no. For an improper kiss. "That girl has absolutely no clue. None at all."
Another morning, another uncomfortable command meeting, another half centar spent sitting across the table from the stranger who used to be a son.
How did we come to this, so quickly? Adama thought, half despairing. He glanced again at the chronometer on the wall of the bridge. Less than five more centons and the lift door would open, absolutely on time, and Apollo would come onto the bridge bringing with him the chill of green ice. According to Tigh, Apollo was capable of inflicting a greater climate change than a striking meteor. Adama thought it an apt metaphor.
"You're going to have to sort it out, you know," said Tigh quietly, standing close to Adama's right. Where he usually stood, ready and supportive: the perfect executive officer.
"It's a very difficult one, Tigh," said Adama.
"This is more than the Windjammer episode, I take it? I mean, that was sectons ago."
"Let's just say that threw up a fundamental issue that we're still wondering how to work our way through."
"And while you two are wondering, the rest of us are reaching critical. I can't speak for the rest of the crew - although I assume that he unbends a bit when you aren't around, since I haven't yet seen any signs of the severe frostbite in the pilots, that he inflicts on us - but I'm about ready to jettison him out of an airlock and see if we can't replace him with something human."
Adama winced. Tigh couldn't know how many people would want to jettison Apollo for something human.
"You do know about yesterday?"
"I provoked it, I'm afraid," admitted Adama.
"Well, normally I would not be pleased to see him like that. Me and him have had more than one discussion about keeping control." Tigh met Adama's gaze, and laughed. "All right, all right! You don't have to say it! Believe me, I've passed on the everything you used to say to me whenever you hauled me over the coals for losing my temper! Isn't that what senior officers are meant to do, pass on their experience and wisdom? He should learn by my example, if he ever wants to command this ship."
Adama felt a momentary discomfort. It was true that Tigh's hot-headed, bullish approach, much mellowed by the passing yahrens, had cost him the command role that might otherwise have been his, but then there had never been enough ships to go around to everyone that deserved one.
Tigh didn't dwell on it. "Anyhow, as I say, normally I'd drop on him for it, but if you provoked it, then at least something you said to him yesterday morning must have got through. It was almost pleasant to have something of our old hot-tempered captain back. So, when he gets here, how are we treating what happened yesterday?"
"I intend to ignore it."
"I don't. Does that sit okay with you?"
Adama nodded. "You're his immediate superior, and this is the little disciplinary matter you've been looking for to try and crack through the ice. Just don't overdo it."
"I'll deal with it outside the meeting," promised Tigh. He hesitated, then said, quickly, "Is there something I can do to help, Adama? You know you can trust me."
"With my life," said Adama, promptly. "And I wish I could tell you, old friend. But I can't tell you my side of it without telling you Apollo's, and I don't have the right to do that. Things are bad enough without that."
"Is it something to do with the Aegyptan who was here for treatment?"
Adama didn't deny it, taking refuge in silence.
Tigh shook his head, impatient. "Well, I can't understand it, and I'll respect your privacy. But when it starts affecting the day job - and it is, Adama - then I'm going to have to deal with the symptoms."
The lift door swooshed open, to the micron, decanting a pristine, highly polished Apollo onto the bridge.
Tigh's expression was not friendly. "What's more," he said, "I'm going to enjoy it." He leaned over the dais. "Good morning, Captain."
"Sirs." Apollo's salute was flawless, something that would have had hardened parade ground sergeants weeping for joy at such perfection.
Tigh looked admiring. "Good Lords, Captain. One glimpse of you and those cadets will see exactly how to live the Regulations. It's quite frightening, how you've turned into the living embodiment of military decorum. It's like it's imprinted on your DNA, or something."
Apollo blinked, and the glance he shot at Adama was unfriendly. Adama steeled himself not to react, not to defend himself against the suspicion he saw there at Tigh's unfortunate reference to DNA. If Apollo really thought that he'd spoken to anyone about what ailed them, then there really was no hope for them at all.
"Of course," said Tigh. "We'll have to persuade them out of hiding first."
Apollo's face blanked into the expressionless mask again, and Tigh grinned, wolfish.
"Time for business, gentlemen," said Adama, gentle, but inexorable, and led the way into the briefing room. Tigh swung into step beside him, and, he heard Apollo, after a micron's hesitation, fall in behind.
The meeting was routine. The area of space they were in remained quiet, unthreatening, and there was nothing much to report, nothing much to discuss. Even the most forward patrols were picking up little of interest and nothing that might alarm. A quick review of the cadets' first day, that was about all worthy of any discussion. And despite Apollo not having seen much of that first day - Adama knew enough of his son ( And he is my son!) to know that Apollo wouldn't let loose in front of cadets that raw and impressionable - he was able to report his squadron leaders' first assessments and still sound credible. Apollo was never one to let himself go into a command meeting unprepared.
Finally Adama drew things to a close, but before Tigh could leap in to deliver whatever chastisement for ill-temper that he had planned, Apollo spoke.
"I'd appreciate a word with you, sir," he said. "In private."
Adama glanced at Tigh. The colonel looked nonplussed for a micron, like someone had suddenly snatched away his lawful prey. "I believe the colonel wanted to speak to you, Captain."
"It can wait," said Tigh. "A pleasure deferred is a pleasure doubled, in this case."
Apollo didn't react. "Thank you, sir."
"Don't worry, Captain. I'll get you later." Tigh got to the door. Before letting it close, he shot a hopeful glance at Adama and gave him the thumb's up.
Adama thought he'd need whatever good luck Tigh was projecting. "I'm at your disposal, Captain, but please be brief. I've a meeting with Councillor Solon in ten centons."
"Thank you, sir." Apollo's tone was smooth and underlain with a massive amount of significance. "I'm sure I've taken up quite enough of your time."
Ah, about twenty nine yahrens worth, presumably. Another nasty little jab. Adama considered it, and decided not to react. Whatever reaction Apollo was trying to provoke, he was not going to get it. Adama waited. Apollo wasn't the only one who could do expressionless. In fact, Adama thought that age and a natural gravity made him better at it.
There was a flicker of some emotion on Apollo's face that Adama couldn't quite read, gone so fast that he wondered at first that he'd imagined it. After a micron, Apollo went on, "It's about Boxey."
Adama nodded, and waited some more.
"If you're serious about wanting to continue seeing him -"
"Do you doubt it?" Adama asked, stung.
That got a definite reaction, although Adama couldn't be sure what. Apollo looked taken aback by Adama's sharpness.
"No," he said, slightly hesitant. "No, I don't doubt that."
Well, that's something . Adama resumed the massive and unmoved expression, and waited some more, refusing to help Apollo out.
"I don't know where you got the idea I'd stop you seeing him -"
Adama unbent enough to explain, but in a distant way. "Extrapolation," he said.
This time he could have sworn that he saw Apollo grit his teeth.
"I'm happy for him to visit you as usual, sir. I've had a talk with him. He knows that I want to spend some time getting to know - " There was the tiniest of pauses. " - Seti, and I'll use the time he's with you to do that."
It was a blow he'd been expecting, but it hurt all the same. It hurt like fury. Adama felt his gut tighten, but all he said, in the same distant fashion, was, "Well, Captain, you know that we agreed that you would be treated in exactly the same fashion as any other officer on this ship, and I will not permit you or any other member of this crew to use military equipment for personal reasons. In view of other developments, we seem to have lost sight of your last misappropriation of my shuttle, and I suppose it's a little late to impose any retrospective sanction, but it must not happen again. I hope I'm clear."
Once again a flicker of some emotion. Satisfaction, this time? But for what? It was the mildest of reprimands, and Adama had deliberately kept it low key. What was so satisfying to Apollo in that? The boy was getting very hard to read.
"Of course, sir." Apollo was stiff and formal. "If I go to the Usermaatre, they'll send a shuttle for me." He paused. "Or he'll come here."
There was a definite note of defiance in Apollo's voice now, defiance and challenge. Adama was hard pressed, and beneath the surface of the table, his hands were twisting together in mute distress and misery, but he wouldn't allow any of that to show. He made his hands unclench, and stood up.
"It has always been an accepted practice that the Aegyptans could come and go with full freedom. Please ensure, Captain, that Colonel Tigh or whoever has bridge command is aware of your location. Now, if you'll excuse me, I really should go and meet the councillor."
Just for a micron, he could have sworn that there was a flash of anger and frustration on Apollo's face, and that once again he had his son off balance. He wasn't entirely sure why, this time - it wasn't deliberate and calculated the way the previous day had been - but he was entirely and absolutely sure that he wanted to keep it that way. Adama didn't give Apollo the chance to come back at him. He headed straight for the door, moving at some speed. Hesitant and, Adama thought, reluctant, Apollo got up slowly and followed him.
"I'm due in the Council Chamber, Colonel," said Adama, as he regained the bridge command dais. "You have the com until I return." Apollo was still hard on his heels. "I believe you wanted a word with the captain."
"Yes, Commander. Thank you."
Adama nodded and walked to the turbolift, resolutely not looking back, but very aware of the intense gaze Apollo had turned on him. He was intent only on getting somewhere quiet, where he could think about what Apollo thought he was doing by bringing Seti on board Adama's own ship, to supplant him. What level of resentment and anger made the boy capable of such vicious, malevolent revenge? And what had he done to deserve it?
Behind him, as he stepped into the turbolift, he heard Tigh's voice.
"I thought we should have a little chat about yesterday's body count, Captain," said Tigh. "I'm sure your explanation will be fascinating."
Add in the one he got today, as well, thought Adama as the doors closed. It'll be quite the total.
"My name is Mene-ti-Auapet, and I am of the Anubis people." Mene had offered the Council the ritual Aegyptan greeting, crossing her wrists in front of her, her hands spread like wings and briefly bowing her head. Now she let her hands drop gracefully, and she tucked them into the outer silk robe, facing the Council table. "I am here to represent all Aegyptans on behalf of the Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten."
"You're very welcome, Anubis," said Adama, gravely.
She nodded, the silver jackal head dipping. "I should say before we begin, that we are all grateful for the help you gave the Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten during his recent illness. We are particularly grateful for Captain Apollo's assistance."
"My son was glad to help," said Adama. "We both have the greatest respect for the Aegyptan people."
"We are aware of it, thank you, and return the esteem." Another graceful bow. "I should also say that I am a temporary representative. We hope that, at some time to be mutually agreed with you, Commander Adama, Lord Seti's heir, the Horus Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit, will represent us here. That would be our wish."
Adama remained composed. "We shall discuss it privately in due course. But in the meantime, Anubis Mene-ti-Auapet, we're glad that you're here." He gestured to the seat that had been set at one end of the table, a little distance from its nearest neighbour.
Mene bowed, and walked towards the chair, every member of the Council watching her, some with interest, some with disquiet and trepidation.
When she was settled, sitting very still and quiet, her hands folded on the table in front of her, jackal face turned towards the commander, Adama glanced around at his fellow councillors.
"You are all aware of the reason for today's meeting and the presence of the Anubis Mene-ti-Auapet. Worrying as the general unrest has been, there have been increasingly frequent attempts to stir up trouble and popular anger against the Aegyptans. You'll remember the near riot on the Windjammer a few sectons ago."
"In which Captain Apollo also distinguished himself, I understand," said Councillor Piers, tone bored. "As well as with his humanitarian gestures. A versatile young man."
Adama ignored the interruption. "I hope that I don't have to explain to anyone just how undesirable it is that there is any serious rift with the Aegyptan people or how necessary is their technical expertise and advice." He glanced at his wrist chronometer. "The news team from IFB will be here in a few centons. They are going to record a formal welcome from the Council to the Anubis Mene-ti-Auapet. We will make it plain to every viewer that the Council has absolute faith in the Aegyptans, that we're delighted to welcome their representative to our meetings. We will explain some of the work that is currently being done on the Hephaestus and the Windjammer and, shortly, on the Historia Stirpium, to increase the security of the fleet."
"We've been through this," said Piers.
"Indeed we have," agreed Adama. "But I wanted to add something of my own. This has to be a unanimous effort. Anyone undermining it, by word or expression or gesture will be compromising the safety of our people." He paused, then added an unmistakable threat. "And I will take notice of it."
He glanced up at the door as the duty clerk from the Council Secretariat opened it and ushered in a video camera crew. Several irate, flushed and offended councillors swallowed their anger at the commander's uncompromising words and manner, and allowed their expressions to smooth into the benignity expected of enlightened political leaders when on public display.
Sire Anton leaned in close to Adama, taking advantage of the distraction. "That was a little unsubtle, Adama. Deliberately so, I expect. I think you enjoy occasionally doing the blunt soldier act to remind us what honesty and probity are all about. As politicians, we've long ago forgotten, of course."
"It was really for Mene-ti-Auapet's benefit. We have to win her trust. We have to make this work."
Anton's sigh was as much for effect as Adama's bluntness had been. "If we have to use of all those - admittedly euphonious - names in full every time we open our mouths, Council meetings are going to take at least twice as long to get through."
Adama's smile was thin. "Twice as much time for you to plot and scheme."
The old man brightened instantly. "That's true. There's always a silver lining if you look hard enough. Well, I've never found Council meetings much use for anything else." Then he sighed again, with a touch more genuineness. "It will have to make up for the time I'm losing for plotting and scheming outside the meetings."
"And do you do a lot of that?"
"All the time, Adama. Didn't you know?" Anton smiled. "It's the air I breathe. I do all my best work out there, where no one's there to see it."
In his better moments, Adama hoped he'd live long enough to be able to look back on the sectons that followed the unlucky revelation of Apollo's true parentage with a certain amount of philosophy and acceptance. Of course that would only be possible if Apollo ever came round, and things got back to at least some approximation of how they'd been before. He knew that wasn't entirely possible, that for good or ill, things had changed and a new pattern had to be worked out. But he'd settle just for not being cut out of Apollo's life and seeing a man he disliked intensely - the religious training he'd undergone had him shying at the word ‘hate' but that came closer to what he really felt - well, seeing someone he disliked and distrusted, who'd already cost him dear, stealing his place as once Seti had stolen his wife.
He hoped it would be as temporary. But in the meantime, glad as he was to still have Athena, and see Boxey whenever he wanted - and both were a comfort - he missed the other member of his family with an acute and, sometimes, almost incapacitating pain. It couldn't have been worse if Apollo had died. At least then he wouldn't be tortured by seeing Apollo's ghost several times a day, and seeing how distant that ghost had become.
He'd been heartened at first by Athena's account of Apollo's fit of bad temper. He knew that Apollo had been jolted by everything he had said to him, but it didn't seem to have the effect he'd hoped for. He'd wanted Apollo to think very hard about what he was doing, the effect he was having. He didn't know if Apollo had thought about it at all. Apollo seemed, if anything, a little colder, even more remote. It was true that he actively encouraged Boxey to visit his grandfather, perhaps to demonstrate that he wasn't as selfish and manipulative as Adama had implied, but that was the only beneficial effect Adama could put down to his attack.
Other consequences seemed less happy. He could only impute Apollo's disappearance into the Aegyptan section of the ship to see Seti at least once a secton, as a deliberate attempt to wound. Apollo wasn't too overt about it, but he knew that if Athena brought Boxey to see him, then Apollo was likely to have gone to Seti. At least Apollo was being discreet about it, not (yet) prepared to be open about who and what he was, not prepared to come out and take the place that that jackal woman, Mene, was holding for him. But the fact remained that Apollo was seeing a lot of Seti. An awful lot.
Adama acquiesced in that. He never raised it, never discussed it. He never had much of an opportunity. Outside of work, Adama never saw his son or spoke to him. During duty hours they were polite to each other, and Apollo's behaviour and demeanour were exemplary. It was indeed as if all there was, was a commander and a captain.
Of course, he was the commander. He could make the opportunity, insist on it, have a glorious fight that might clear the air and get things sorted out, but something prevented him. At first he told himself it was a generous magnanimity, a recognition that Apollo had the right to find out about his heritage, and, even, to know his genetic father. His son would soon remember where his loyalties lay, who had brought Apollo up since he was a baby, who had loved him, who was the one owed filial gratitude and love. All Adama had to do was wait, be the same loving background presence he had always been, and as soon as the romantic glamour wore off a little, then Apollo would come back, and everything would be the way it was before.
And then he told himself that it was the sense of fair play that he prided himself on, that he had, in Seti's words, stolen Apollo from the Aegyptan and it was only fair that Apollo should… should what? Find out about his heritage and even to know his genetic father? Or should recognise that fairness had damn all to do with it when you were so completely desperate to have her back and you'd have agreed to anything, an assault on hell itself, if it meant that she'd return. And then he admitted to himself what held him in such helpless inactivity. Just as Ila had had the power to wring his heart, so did her son - their son! - and he was indescribably hurt that Apollo could ever doubt how much he was loved and wanted. Bereft, Seti had said, to describe how he'd felt for almost thirty yahrens, and for the first time in all those yahrens, Adama felt a faint fellow feeling. Bereft was exactly how he felt.
And although he was beginning to think that it wasn't entirely consistent with being the aforementioned same loving background presence, he did what he said he'd do. He withdrew. He treated his son with the same distant courtesy that all the crew got from him, never once hinting at the special relationship that they had underneath that. Had once had. Didn't have any longer. Hadn't had for sectons now.
All he could hope was that Apollo was as uncomfortable with that as he was and that it would provoke the obstinate, headstrong boy into some sort of response. He couldn't think of anything else to do, except beg - and it was almost too late even for that.
And at that point, Adama conceded that he just didn't know what to do. Magnanimity and fair play had frack-all to do with it, and even the unaccustomed profanity didn't even begin to touch the indescribable hurt that held him in some sort of helpless stasis. Everything seemed so appallingly hopeless. He was estranged from the most important person in his life, the one he still stubbornly thought of as his son, and had to watch as that son became an indifferent and unloving stranger. Some future time when he could look back on this with any sort of philosophical acceptance seemed very far away indeed. Adama began to doubt that he'd live long enough to see it.
"It's annoying the frack out of him," was Athena's diagnosis when she brought Boxey to supper one night. It was the seventh such supper since Adama had laid out the rules for their new relationship, and Apollo was most noticeable by the absence that was more intense, more pressing on the consciousness than his presence would have been. Odd, that an empty space could have more impact than a living body.
"I haven't seen much evidence of that," said Adama. He and Athena had retired to relative privacy of the sofa, leaving Boxey in sole possession of the dining table a few feet away. He watched as Boxey dived almost headfirst into choco-mushies almost awash in choco-sauce. He'd taken to indulging the child too much, he knew, in compensation.
"Oh, it is. The section heads meeting two days ago, remember?"
"I remember the meeting."
The once-a-secton briefing meeting with all the officers at lieutenant and above ensured everyone was up to date on any new developments in their long search for Earth. Adama didn't remember anything significant about it. Like any other meeting where he and Apollo were in the same room, he had to battle with his misery to maintain the air of grave and attentive calm, and that was about as much as he did remember.
"Apollo reported back on the work on the Windjammer and the preliminary surveys of the Stirp, and you told him how pleased you were with it. And then later, you praised him for that briefing he'd given the Council on progress with the cadet programme."
"Well, he hated it. He winced each time, didn't you see?"
"I try not to look at him too much," admitted Adama.
"Winced," said Athena with emphasis. "He's hating it. He was squirming."
"It was what he wanted, wasn't it? Appreciation for everything he's doing? According to you and Starbuck and Tigh, I didn't tell him often enough. All I'm doing is redressing the balance a little."
"You're gushing with it, like a fire hose. Starbuck says Apollo thinks you're doing it to embarrass him in public. Apparently he thinks you're being snide."
"Snide! I thought that this was at the core of this insane idea he has that I expect him to be perfect to justify the time and trouble I've had to expend on him by allowing him to be a part of my family. Wasn't that his big complaint? That, and that I never said how well he'd done but only dropped on him when he did something I didn't like?"
"I don't know that he wanted it heaped publicly on his head like that. He wanted to know that you felt he'd done all right, not you telling the entire world."
"I can't win," said Adama.
Athena grinned. "Oh yes, you can. Keep it up. Like I said, he hates it. You're getting to him."
"He doesn't react. Boxey! Eat slower or you'll be sick."
"I have it eat it fast, Grandpa, while the sauce is still sticky." Boxey's voice was muffled, but he slowed down obediently, eating with an exaggerated slowness that had Adama smiling reluctantly. Boxey, most unaccountably, was almost a reincarnation of Zac, of the step-uncle he'd never met. Either that, or he was spending far too much time in Starbuck's company.
"He's getting good at hiding," said Athena.
"He should be pleased. He's decided for himself what our relationship is. I've merely acquiesced in his decision."
"Have you, indeed? I thought that you were being really sneaky. It's like aversion therapy isn't it, like teaching Boxey moderation by letting him gorge himself on mushies until he learns better. Isn't that what you're up to? Teaching him that he really doesn't want what he thinks he wants?"
Adama shrugged. "I'm trying, Athena. But I'm not too certain of my success."
"Oh, I don't know. Starbuck says it's really getting to him. He spends a lot of time trying to analyse what's going on, apparently."
"Really." Athena sniggered. "It's annoying the frack out of Starbuck, as well. He's used to a little more attention from my big brother than he's getting at the moment. I don't think Starbuck likes playing second fiddle to Apollo's fight with you."
Adama looked at her thoughtfully, but didn't pursue the diversion she offered of a discussion of Apollo's relationship with Starbuck.
"According to Starbuck, Apollo spends half his time trying to think up things to make you mad, to provoke you, like announcing that he was going to see Seti instead of coming here. You didn't say anything, apparently, and that caused endless angst and suppressed fury." Athena grinned. "You're driving Apollo mad by not reacting, Starbuck says."
"It broke my heart, Athena."
"I know that. But you didn't say anything."
"As his commander, what could I say? It's hardly against military regulations to visit your father."
"You could say a lot, as his real father."
"Except that's a role he's denied me, Athena. He no longer accepts it."
Athena shrugged. She got to her feet and went back to the table, catching Boxey's chin in her hand. Despite his wriggling and protests, she applied a napkin to his sticky mouth with vigour.
"Be still, you big baby. It didn't hurt," she said, and grinned at him. She turned back to her father. "You used to have to do that for Apollo when he was Boxey's age, remember? The way you did for me and Zac, too. It's a tiny and inconsequential thing, don't you think? But it's one the myriad tiny, inconsequential things that go towards what makes you my Dad. And his."
Adama winced, but Athena was unmerciful.
"So just what do you think you're doing, letting him get away with it like this?"
"There has been another approach," said Seti.
They were at dinner in the Aegyptan part of the Galactica. Like the Usermaatre, the Aegyptan deck was quiet and comfortable, if minimalist in décor, a stark contrast with the utilitarian feel of the rest of the warship. The food was wonderful, every bit as good as that served in the Rising Star's restaurants. Apollo had spent a great deal of the meal in serious discussion with Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon, the most senior Aegyptan on the Galactica and who sat on Seti's left, about importing some of the technology that produced such bounty into the main agri-ships. It was, he argued, a simple and effective way of tackling the public's current distrust of them. Kam-Ahtes, amenable, had sketched out a project plan as they talked, his napkin spread onto the table and used as an impromptu datapad.
The others let him work on it, the talk turning instead to the Council's attempts to lessen public disquiet. It was having some effect, Mene had commented. The atmosphere on the Windjammer was almost cordial these days, thanks in no small measure to the way that Father Timon had talked enthusiastically and publicly on IFB of his conversion to amity with Aegypta. He'd used the Book, too, to support the links with the Lords, taking his cue from the steer Apollo had given him sectons before. The decision to let the little priest front some of the campaign had been inspired.
"Thank you," said Apollo, laughing. "It was my idea. He was pretty ashamed of his first reaction, and there's nothing a Kobolian likes better than a little guilt and lot of public repentance. He was glad to help."
"It was a good move," Mene acknowledged. She was seated at Apollo's right. He'd grown fond of the Anubis-woman over the last few sectons. She was what his mother might have become if Ila had lived another fifty yahrens or so, and he enjoyed her company. He suspected that Seti did too, and sometimes he wondered just how old his father was, how close he was to Mene. "But we're no closer to finding out who is fermenting all this."
It was then that Seti remarked on the persistence of those courting Aegyptan help for some political scheme or other. "She has come again," he added. "The lieutenant I mentioned to you."
Apollo looked at his father, his expression suddenly wary. "Chelas?"
Seti nodded. "Yes, with no indication of who she's working for. The principals in this venture are undoubtedly highly placed."
Mene laughed softly. "True enough. No one seeks Aegyptan help in petty disputes."
"I meant to try and keep an eye on her," said Apollo "But I don't really see that much of her after the morning briefing meeting. Are you any clearer on what she wants help with?"
"Still to be declared," said Set, indifferent. "I told you what the initial contacts were about, just vague questions about whether we would advise on a proposition. Your Lieutenant Chelas approached Kha-nes-akhat, asking for an interview with me."
Apollo turned to Kha-nes-akhat, who was sitting beyond Mene. "And?"
"And I told her that whilst we would always consider advising - but only if the proposal interested us - Clanlords did not talk to anyone so unimportant and insignificant."
Despite his obvious discomfort, Apollo laughed. "A very timely reminder of our consequence and dignity. I'll bet that went down well."
"She was angry, but tried to hide it. I assured her that we were a little interested, and she went away satisfied." Kha lifted his ambrosa glass. "I had our people watch her, unobtrusively. She later left a data crystal in a storage bin in the far corner of the Beta deck Viper hanger. After that duty shift ended, it was retrieved by a tech, who took it to the aft engine room and left it hidden inside an air vent there. Another tech removed it, and transmitted the data, coded, from a computer terminal in engineering before destroying the crystal. We weren't able to trace the destination, but one of the Sebek engineers was able to reconstruct a part of the message from the terminal's memory store. I have a couple of mathematicians working on breaking the code."
"Sneaky. But impressive."
"Techs and pilots disregard us, Sekhet," said Mene. "We're a part of the background. That means we can watch them, and not be noticed." She smiled at him. "It meant we could watch over you all these yahrens, and not be noticed."
"They're showing a level of organisation that's a little worrying," said Kha. "They're evidently using a number of layers and cutouts and dead-letter drops to keep a safe distance between the principals and those who work for them. I doubt if Chelas knows who's paying her. Indeed, I doubt if either of the techs knew who had left the data crystal in the dead letter drops for them to collect."
"Most impressive organisation." Kam-Ahtes nodded. "This is no casual enquiry. They seek serious intervention."
Seti stirred, his pale green eyes fixed on his son's face. "The likelihood is that they'll want our help in removing someone of importance, of some authority in the fleet here."
"Dad!" said Apollo, voice sharp with shock and alarm.
"If by that, you mean the commander, then I would expect so," said Seti. "Politics are getting exciting again."
Apollo stared at Seti. The older man endured the look for a few centons, his own expression calm.
Apollo's mouth hardened. "I shouldn't have to ask you this, but how do you stand on that, if he is the target?"
"I owe him nothing," said Seti.
Apollo's mouth tightened even further. His tone was flat and uncompromising. "I won't let it happen."
Seti smiled grimly. "So. Starbuck said to me that you were sulking, as a child would. It seems you have decided you've sulked long enough."
Apollo looked contemptuous, and angry. The half-admiring, half wary respect he'd always shown Seti, was gone. "It won't happen."
Mene and the others all stirred, uncomfortable, perhaps, at someone speaking so bluntly to a Clanlord, but they sat silent, not interfering. Mene looked a little distressed. But Apollo was uncompromising. He and Seti stared each other down.
"Where do you stand on this?" Apollo asked, again.
Eventually, Seti raised still-thin shoulders in a resigned shrug. "I'll stand by you, Sekhet, because you are my son and I care for you and I'll do whatever you want. But not for him Nothing for him, directly."
Apollo nodded, but his face was still set into the angry, half-contemptuous expression that said, more clearly than words, that whatever he had begun to feel and believe about his genetic father and his own people was shaken and precarious and threatened.
"Thank you." It was said without warmth, a mere polite acknowledgement. He turned to Kha-nes-akhat. "What happens next?"
Kha glanced at Seti, who nodded, then said, his voice carefully neutral, "That depends on how serious they are. If they really want us - and I think they do - we'll be approached to arrange a meeting between someone of importance in their organisation and Lord Seti."
"One of the principals?"
"Probably not, but someone close to them. They may risk someone of real importance later in the negotiations, but not so soon as this. But he or she will be senior enough not to offend a Clanlord, and they will want to meet, although probably not on the Usermaatre. The usual thing is for the negotiations to be held on neutral territory, where neither side have the advantage."
"The usual thing?"
"These things are governed by formal agreements between the Pharaonic Council and the Council of the Twelve, Sekhet. The Utrechian Accord is the most recent."
Apollo took a centon to absorb that. "What sort of advantage are they guarding against?"
"That one side or other will record the negotiations," Kam-Ahtes cut in. "They seldom want any witnesses and take precautions against any chance of anyone compiling evidence against them. The Accord allows for such reticence."
"You should attend that meeting, Sekhet," said Seti.
Apollo shot him an impatient look. "I've every intention of being there."
Seti sat back in his chair, apparently at ease. "I will be interested to hear what they have to say. Then we can decide whether we find that we are interested enough to offer them the help and assistance they seek."
"We will not," said Apollo, in the same flat tone as he'd used before.
"As you say, if Adama is the target, then we will not. But I may be wrong about that, and the target may be someone else."
"We don't kill anyone."
"No? Perhaps not. But it may not be necessary to say so immediately, unless, of course, we decide we kill these people out of hand."
Apollo's stare was unfriendly. "You'd do that."
It wasn't a question. Seti shrugged. "If they threaten me and mine, and most of all if they threaten you, then yes. I wouldn't hesitate for an instant. I'd kill them without compunction, without remorse."
Apollo nodded. "Well. And there's another difference between us, then. Maybe all I did inherit was your chin." He glanced at the other three. "I wish to speak to Lord Seti alone, please."
It might have been phrased as a request, but it was quite unmistakeably meant as an order. It was the first he had ever given them, but there was no doubt at all but that he expected it to be obeyed. Conditioned from birth, almost, to obey the Clanlords, all three were half on their feet before checking, confused, looking to Seti for guidance.
Apollo stared at his father, face set and cold. He said nothing more, but the challenge lay there between the pair of them: they go, or I do .
Mene opened her mouth to say something, then caught Apollo's eye, and swallowed her words unsaid. She took her outer robe from over the back of her chair and shrugged into it, picking up the jackal-head mask. Slowly, Kha and Kam-Ahtes followed suit, collecting their belongings.
Watching them, Seti took a sip of his ambrosa, then he smiled, a little grimly. Both he and Apollo waited in silence until the three had bowed and gone, the door sliding closed.
"You learn a Clanlord's arrogance, quickly," said Seti after a centon.
"That's in the genes, most likely." Apollo put down his ambrosa glass, carefully and precisely. "We need to talk. I don't like this, Seti."
"It's the way things are," said Seti, frowning slightly.
"I don't like it. I'm not prepared to accept it."
Seti blinked. "I'm sorry about that, Sekhet, but this is reality. We have a task to do, in protecting the humans and helping them develop. I once said to you that sometimes that meant we intervened to shape the way they develop - "
"Not acceptable. It's immoral."
"I prefer to think of us as amoral." Seti shrugged, but his eyes were wary. " Not being swayed by morals - which are mutable - but by necessity, which is not."
"That's hardly a more attractive or sustainable position to take. If you don't do this from any sense of right and wrong, but because a proposition interests you, you can't even claim a defence that you're doing what you think is right. We don't need you to do this, Seti. We just don't need any more disruption and disorder. We've been through enough of that."
"Everyone." Apollo waved an arm at the ship around them. "My family, my friends, my warriors." He paused. "My people."
"Your people?" It was Seti's turn to scowl. "Your people are on the Usermaatre, or on ships where they live under constant threat from these humans. It's your duty to lead and protect them. You're Aegyptan. Never forget that!"
"I look like one," Apollo conceded. "But underneath, in here, I'm as Caprican as they make them. And one who's been brought up to think duty and service are important, not spending half my time living apart and the other half indulging in political manipulation and assassination. I don't like this, Seti, and I won't allow it to happen."
"I've already given you my word that Adama won't be harmed by us."
"I don't just mean him. I mean this whole thing you have of ‘intervening'. If this what it means to be Aegyptan, then I don't want it."
"It's a part of it. Something you must come to accept."
"Not a hope. If you wanted me to think like an Aegyptan, and feel like an Aegyptan, then you shouldn't have handed me over to a human to raise. Maybe you should have fought a bit harder to keep me thirty yahrens ago."
The hand that reached out for the ambrosa was shaking, but Seti's voice was calm enough. "Do you think that I gave you up so easily?"
"I don't know," said Apollo. "I've never understood why any of you did anything. It's beyond me. I don't know why she went back to him, why you gave me up, why he took me. There's just what you all tell me, and I don't know who and what to trust anymore."
"But in some ways it doesn't matter. What matters is the results, the consequences. I'm not Aegyptan, Seti, and I never will be, not the way you want. I can't be. I wasn't brought up to be. I'll always look like one of you, but I don't act like one of you, I don't think like one of you. But in the end, I'm not just Caprican either. Between you, you and Dad have created something that's turning out to be neither one thing or the other."
"Or both," said Seti. He was gripping his glass so hard that his knuckles were white. He said, carefully and slowly, "It cost me a great deal to let Nefert-ila take you. I loved you both, very much. She was everything in the world to me."
"She was to him too," said Apollo. "All I seem to have been is the baggage she carried around with her. At least, I can assume that since she wouldn't leave me behind, I was important to her, at least."
"And to me. Please don't ever doubt that."
"Yet you handed me over to him, and promised her you'd leave her and me alone, never contact us. I would never have known." Apollo got up and walked over to the viewport to watch the stars go by.
"I loved her, Sekhti. I could never refuse her when she begged me. Never."
Apollo shrugged, keeping his back to Seti.
"And he promised to care for you both," said Seti. "I trusted him to that."
"Yeah, well he did a reasonable job of it." Apollo turned, asked a blunt question. "Do you want me back, now?"
"More than anything."
"Because you're my son, and this is your place, with your own people. Because I made a mistake twenty-nine yahrens ago, when I let you go. You belong here."
"I have another place too." Apollo came back to the table.
"One that you seem to be throwing to one side."
"You mean that you hoped I was, that I was angry enough to throw it all away and leave to come to you and the Usermaatre. Don't make that mistake. I'm mad with him for lying to me and I wish to God he hadn't, but I've got too many ties and obligations as Apollo to give that up. I belong there too."
"That will be difficult."
"It's a problem of your own making." Apollo resumed his seat, and picked up his glass. "I've been thinking about this a lot, ever since the day before the operation when you first mentioned this habit you all have of intervening. And I've a proposition for you."
Seti's grip on his own glass loosened. "What?"
"It fascinates me, but you know that, don't you? I mean, you've used it a lot over the last few sectons. When I thought I was half-Aegyptan, I loved that, I was so proud of it, because she was proud. Although we hid it, she made sure I was never ashamed of it."
"I could be ashamed now. I really disapprove of what it means."
Seti's expression hardened. "And? Your proposition?"
"A compromise. I don't think I can ever go back to being just Apollo. I'll never be just Sekhet. I'm always going to be both. The only way I'm ever going to able to balance them is by not pretending any more. And the first thing I'm going to stop pretending about is you and me. You're my father: fine. We'll work on that, but believe me, Seti, it's like Starbuck once said about him and Chameleon. You can't resurrect a relationship that's thirty yahrens dead. The best we can do is map out a new one."
Pale faced, Seti nodded, slowly.
"I don't know you. You don't know me. We're going to have to get to know each other. Just please don't expect that it'll be as if we were never parted. You gave me away. That's always going to be there."
"Yes," said Seti, bleak.
"I'm going to have to make some changes," said Apollo "I'll learn to be Sekhet for you, because it's a part of me and I can't deny it, but I won't be throwing away everything that's Apollo: I can't. I've been Apollo for too long. But I'll find a way for the two of them to co-exist."
Seti nodded again.
"And if I have to change, so will you. No more interference in human affairs. Not now, not ever. Or I go back to being Apollo and bury Sekhet as deep as I can do it."
Seti looked him, the pale green eyes unblinking. "I'll think about it."
"Don't take too long."
There was a long silence. "If you're not throwing away everything that's Apollo, what about him? Adama?"
"That's for me and him to sort out, but whatever happens there, you'll just have to accept it." Apollo paused, the most curious expression on his face. "After all, he was there for thirty yahrens. You weren't. If I'm balancing the two halves of me, I'll have to balance you two, as well."
"A very difficult proposition."
"Don't I know it," said Apollo, rueful.
Seti was silent for a long time, seeming to concentrate on the ambrosa, savouring it. "And this approach from Chelas?"
"Oh, I don't mind pretending that we're interested." Apollo leaned forward, his long fingers picking at the fruit in the centre of the table. "If we turn them down, then they may try some other way to get rid of him, and I wouldn't like that. This way, we can not only try and stop them, but find out who it is."
"And stop them permanently?"
"Yes," said Apollo. He chose one of the fresh dates, biting through the wrinkled skin into its rich sweetness. "Let the law take care of them."
Seti sighed, and held up both hands in a gesture of surrender. "As you wish, Sekhet."
Seti sighed again. "Not the ending to our evening that I'd hoped for. We have a great deal to talk about, you're right there."
"Then let's start with why you let all this happen in the first place." Apollo looked his father in the eye. "I'm listening."
It wasn't often that the management of the Rising Star held live classical music concerts. Fleeing for their lives, only the most dedicated musician had thought to bring with them his or her instrument. It had taken time for even a tiny string orchestra to be built up, and they had only begun public performances. Tickets for the concerts were at a premium, and everyone who had any pretensions to any kind of social standing attended. Still in mourning, many of them, for what they'd lost at the Colonies, the programme reflected that, the little orchestra performing music that was the most evocative, the most poignant, of the best the Colonies had had to offer.
"They're really not bad at all," said Sire Piers, as the applause marking the end of the first part of the programme, died away, and people started leaving the tiny theatre for the nearby bars. He busied himself for a centon getting the ambrosa opened. Like most of the social elite, he and Joel had their own supplies with them, to avoid having to join the crush in the public bars and restaurants.
"Very good," agreed Joel. He leaned out of their private box and scanned the audience below them. He raised his voice. "Look, there's Sire Uri. Uri! Uri!" He waved at the man in the stall seats below, and beckoned. "Come up and join us."
Piers sighed. "This meeting in public seems so unnatural."
Joel leaned back and grinned. "So very non-conspiratorial, you mean?"
"It just seems a bit odd," said Piers, uncomfortably. "I quite understand it, Joel, but I don't feel safe, somehow."
"But it's perfect, Piers. With such a public display, who would ever suspect us of anything more than a desire for convivial company?"
Piers grunted, unconvinced.
"Besides," said Joel. "Surely the spy rings that Uri is building are enough to make you feel conspiratorial?"
Piers managed a faint grin. "I suppose I'm just getting a little nervous as time goes on and we're not making much headway with the Gyps. I worry about them turning on us, you know. They're not the most trustworthy creatures in the world."
"Yes," said Joel, more soberly. He touched his right arm, quelling the memory of the reaction shown by he of the wiser head and colder intelligence to the news that Joel was carrying one of his treasured collection with him at all times. I suppose you think that popgun gives you an air of dashing bravado , the old man had said in amused contempt. Joel rubbed at the spring-loaded pistol, seeking reassurance from its comforting hardness.
The door of the private box opened.
"Ah, Uri, do join us and close the door." Joel waited a centon until Uri sat down, turning in his chair so that he was sideways on to the people in the theatre. "You said that you had something for us."
"Something very important. I've had Maxim working on getting us someone on the medical team." Uri took the glass of ambrosa that Piers handed him.
"With some success?"
Uri nodded. "It seems that Doctor Paye, doesn't."
Piers looked fleetingly puzzled. "Oh?"
"Pay. At least where his gambling debts are concerned, he doesn't. He owes a great deal of money, here and there. Maxim managed to find someone to whom the good doctor owes rather more than he could repay, and, through a series of intermediaries, was able to exert some pressure. We had Dr Paye do a little research. We've covered the debt, in return."
"Much?" asked Piers .
"Over a thousand cubits, I'm afraid, but necessary expenditure. And, believe me, well worth it."
"Well?" demanded Joel.
"He was able to access the Gyp's case notes." Uri took a hurried gulp of his ambrosa. "The man suffers from Sysperchion's Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects the bone marrow and damages the immune system. The Gyp's condition was pretty advanced, and at that stage the only cure is a donated bone marrow transfusion. Paye says that's what the Gyp was admitted into Life Centre for, to receive a donated transfusion. That happened the same day as Captain Apollo had surgery."
"And you're suggesting that the bone marrow came from the captain?" It was almost a rhetorical question. Joel knew the answer, and his eyes were gleaming with suppressed excitement.
"Paye told our people that the transfusion had to be fresh. There were no other procedures that day. It would normally be at most an overnight stay for the donor - Captain Apollo was released from Life Centre the following day, although it was a few days before he resumed duty. Unfortunately, Paye couldn't get into the captain's medical records to confirm. It seems that Dr Salik has those held within a security regime that is above Paye's clearance level."
"Is all this even possible?" wondered Piers.
"Dr Paye won't commit himself and say that's what happened, of course, but it looks likely. He's been told to try and access the captain's record, to get us verification. I'm assured he's working on it."
"Well. well. well!" said Piers. He looked to Joel. "So, what do we do with this little snippet of information?"
"I must give it some thought," said Joel, very quiet.
"We don't want to let this go by," urged Uri.
"We won't." Joel's smile was a little twisted. "We won't hesitate to sacrifice the son to get at the father. Believe me."
"You shouldn't let him go away angry."
"He'd calmed down by the time he went," said Seti. "I think everything will be all right."
Mene-ti-Auapet shook her head. "You need to be careful, Seti. You haven't caught him yet. Indeed, you came very close to losing him tonight. He didn't like what he saw, and it would be unwise to leave that unresolved."
"He knows that I hate the man who took him from me," said Seti, with suppressed anger. "I can't hide that."
"Except that it was Nefert-ila who took him," said Mene, softly.
Seti glared, but said nothing.
Mene shrugged gracefully. "I do understand your desire to reclaim him for yourself and the People, truly I do. And of course, we need him. But go gently, Seti. He's the oddest mixture of Aegyptan overlaid with human, and I don't think he'll react in a way typical of either."
"He doesn't. It's certainly keeping me on my toes." Seti shut the doors of his quarters and waved her into a chair. He dropped into his own chair and sat brooding for a centon.
"He's very like you, and in more than looks. I'd thought that he was closer to Nefert-ila in temperament but that flash of sulky temper: that was pure you, Seti."
"I don't sulk."
"Really?" Mene laughed. "Is that why you sat silent all the way back in the shuttle?"
"I'm angry, Mene, not sulking. I know that he feels torn between the two. He thinks he's found a way to deal with it, by dictating terms to me!"
"Really?" Mene laughed again, softly.
"Either we do what he wants, or he'll drop us."
"So you and we are on a kind of probation, are we?"
"Me, I think," said Seti, grim.
Once again Mene laughed. "Well, he may not yet be quite Aegyptan, but there's no mistaking but that he's a Clanlord! But, seriously, if you think he still needs to balance being human and Aegyptan, be careful what you do to help him. Don't be too partisan, however much you want it. He's not stupid, and he'll recognise manipulation for what it is."
"You're full of sour advice tonight," said Seti.
"It's the best kind." Mene was untroubled.
"And the right kind. You're right. My influence on him will be equivocal, at best, I think. He doesn't entirely trust me any more. It's odd, but before I left the Galactica he was keen and approachable. He's backed off since, become more wary. I wonder what's been said to him?" Seti stared thoughtfully at the holopic of an Apollo who had briefly been but wasn't yet again Sekhet, with Ila who had once been, but never would be again, Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon. "He just demanded an explanation for why I left him with Nefert-ila and Adama, why I didn't force the issue thirty yahrens ago."
"And why didn't you?"
Seti sighed. "When could I ever deny her anything?"
"Well, I hope he found it an adequate explanation."
"I don't think that he did. How can I blame him? I can't believe myself at how weak I was!"
"Poor Sekhet," said Mene, with compassion. "So he now believes that neither of his fathers wanted him. No wonder he's a little angry."
"He resents not knowing from the beginning, and he resents finding out the way he did, and I think that if he doesn't resent me for giving him up to Adama, he's at least regarding that decision with suspicion."
"A more realistic view of you - and us - may be beneficial in the end."
"Cold comfort. There was a certain glamour about it all before, a secret that they couldn't tell, something romantic and even slightly unreal, perhaps. And when he first realised he was one of us, there was something wild and romantic about that too. He's an idealistic one, that son of mine. He sees what's stirring against us and he sees all the charm of a noble cause to fight."
"He's young yet," said Mene, indulgent.
"But this approach with the commander as a possible - probable - target, that's bringing him back to harsh reality with a vengeance."
"Yes indeed. He's seeing everything about us, and much of that is not in the least glamorous. He doesn't like at lot of it. The way a human wouldn't like it, Seti, because fundamentally that's how he thinks. He's not quite like one of us, not really. We're too used to equivocation. He likes certainties." Mene sighed gently. "Maybe it's time we left them to themselves, Seti. They really don't need us anymore. They'd manage without us."
Seti didn't seem to be listening, still brooding over the holopic on the table beside him. "I'd thought he was at odds with Adama."
"A situation so carefully fostered by you," she said.
"I want him here, Mene, where he belongs. And – " he paused, then said in a tone that was tightly controlled, "And I've been angry for so long."
"With Adama? Or with Nefert-ila?"
He shook his head.
She smiled. "And so you thought to make him angry as well, and get your revenge. You're a fool, though, if you think that his anger would extend so far as to condone Adama's assassination."
Seti made some impatient gesture. "Of course I don't think that. I - oh, I don't know what I think. I'm worried this will send him back to Adama, to protect him. That same noble, quixotic urge."
Mene considered it. "More than that, I think, old friend. Much more than that, and something that you must reconcile yourself to never being able to change. For all his anger, he loves Adama deeply. He is Adama's son, too. More his than yours."
"He belongs to me, not to Adama!"
"He may say that he belongs to both of you." Mene smiled again. "But I think that he's more intelligent than that. I think that he would say that he belongs to neither."