Boxey, thought Starbuck, was a good child with a great deal of potential. Apollo worried sometimes about his son's scatter-brained approach to life, but, since it meshed with Starbuck's own determinedly light-hearted reaction to everything that had been thrown at him, he quite enjoyed Boxey. In fact, he saw a great deal of himself in Boxey, and was merciless in encouraging it. He thought the more enlivenment Apollo got to relieve that intense Caprican seriousness, the better for everyone. Apollo would thank him for it, one day.
But not even Starbuck would claim that Boxey had any pretensions to a great intellect. It wasn't that the boy was stupid, it was just that his mind worked in other ways, and he occasionally gave the impression, in the imagery that Boxey himself had used a few sectons before, that his brain wasn't growing very big, certainly not as fast as his body. Apollo worried about that too, but Starbuck refused to join him. Brilliant scholastic achievement wasn't everything and Boxey had all the signs of a late bloomer. After all , said Starbuck, I was a late bloomer myself, and now look at me . He'd been hurt by Apollo's horrified reaction. A joke was one thing. Blanching chalk white and shuddering theatrically was something else entirely.
But even he wondered, when it took Boxey several sectons to notice that Starbuck was almost constantly in their quarters. He was there when Boxey went to bed, and there for breakfast most mornings as well. Although it had to be said, for the sake of the child, Starbuck often quietly left Apollo's quarters just before Boxey woke and came back again, loudly and cheerfully, fifteen centons later to have breakfast. He supposed Boxey was just fooled by that little act.
And maybe not. Boxey was watching him over the rim of the glass of milk, his brown eyes wide and candid. Starbuck shifted a little uneasily in his chair, wondering if the child had finally cottoned on to the fact something was going on.
Boxey put down the empty glass. "Why do you come here for breakfast every day?"
"How about because I love your Dad's cooking?"
Boxey giggled. "He's a rotten cook. Grandpa says its just as well we get something to eat at school every day otherwise I'd grow up all pale and skinny."
"Ha! I don't see signs of that. We're getting a little chubby around the middle." Starbuck poked the said middle in a most disrespectful fashion. "It's all those mushies you eat."
"I like mushies. Why?"
"Why do you like mushies?"
"No, silly. Why are you always here?"
Starbuck sighed deeply. "I don't think I can tell you, Boxey."
"Because you'll only follow my bad example and it'll fret your Dad."
"I really can't tell you that, Boxey." He made his eyes round and horrified, and Boxey giggled again. "But I will tell you that I'm being punished for it. It's the worst punishment in the world, being forced to eat your Dad's cooking. I'm going to grow up all pale and skinny."
Starbuck shook his head.
Boxey sighed. "Sometimes you're no fun." He looked sideways at his father. "It's getting late," he observed.
"Then we'd better get ready to go," said Starbuck, when Apollo didn't respond.
"Are you taking me to school with Dad as well?"
"Well, we have kinda got into the habit. Go get your things then."
Boxey ran to obey, leaving Starbuck shaking his head. "You know, if you have to worry about that kid, you should worry about how obedient he is, because that's bloody unnatural, and that he has no sticking power at all. He could've had me on the ropes."
"Mmn?" Apollo looked up from an unappetising breakfast of cold tea and toast. He hadn't touched a thing.
"Boxey. I think he needs some special training from me."
"Sure," said Apollo, and resumed staring at his uneaten breakfast. "Anything you like."
"That really is worrying." Starbuck glanced over to make sure that Boxey was still occupied in packing his schoolbag, and leaned forward to touch Apollo's cheek. "Galactica to Captain Apollo. Come in please."
"I know you're fretting over this, but we'll find some way of dealing with it. You'll just have to tell him."
"Tell him what? That my father would happily sit there and plot to kill him?"
"Do you really think Seti would do it?"
Apollo nodded. "He's capable of it, yes. He hates him for what happened. There's a very inhuman, ruthless streak in him, in all of them. I don't like it much."
"Ready!" said Boxey, bouncing back over to them.
Apollo pushed his plate away and stood up. "All right. I suppose we ought to get you to school."
Boxey opened his mouth.
"No. You're going." Apollo said it without looking. He couldn't even have seen Boxey's mouth open.
"How'd you know what I was going to say?" asked Boxey, tucking a forgiving hand into Apollo's as they went. Starbuck, on Boxey's other side, was touched and pleased when a small warm hand took his as well. It felt - well, nice. Like he belonged.
"I'm your Dad. Of course I know." Apollo caught Starbuck's sardonic glance over Boxey's head, and grimaced at him. "All right, Starbuck. I know."
They said no more until Boxey had been handed over into durance vile for a few centars, the child racing off to join Dillon after bestowing a perfunctory hug on each of them. Starbuck resumed the conversation as they walked to the duty office as if there'd been no interruption.
"You'll have to tell the commander, Apollo."
"Oh I know that, but not yet. Not until I'm sure. It's a pretty awful thing to say, isn't it? Someone's plotting to kill him and my father's seriously interested in helping."
"You'll stop it." Starbuck spoke with rather more confidence than he felt.
"I'm scared, Starbuck. It scares me silly. I don't want him to get hurt."
"More than you've hurt him already, you mean?"
"Is it? You cut him out of your life pretty ruthlessly, Apollo. Every bit as ruthless as Seti is being."
Apollo stopped dead and turned to face him, catching at Starbuck's arm. "It's different!"
"That depends on your point of view," said Starbuck, refusing to back down. "It's a kind of emotional assassination, if you want to think of it that way. You wanted to punish him and it seems to me to be every bit as cold hearted as taking a knife to him. That's the inhuman and ruthless streak you talked about. You have it too, Apollo. Maybe you're more like Seti than you think."
Apollo looked away. After a centon he started walking again, and said, stiffly, "There's a world of difference between me being mad at him for lying to me, and letting something like this even begin to happen."
"Why in hell won't you just admit that you care about him, you stubborn idiot?" demanded Starbuck, frustrated.
"Because that was never the issue, Starbuck!" Apollo stopped again. He closed his eyes for an instant, his face betraying the uncertainty, the need for reassurance. "Never. It's what he thinks about me, that I'm not sure of. He's not done a thing to stop me seeing Seti. It's like he doesn't care."
"He cares a lot. He's just willing to let you find out for yourself what it all means, and what Seti's like."
"I like Seti, too, that's the trouble. He's not - " Apollo paused, then said, "He's not my Da – the commander, but I could get to like him."
"If it wasn't for this."
"It goes against everything Dad brought me up to believe in." This time the little monosyllable slipped out uncorrected.
What Apollo had just said was one hell of a concession, and Starbuck knew it, and he understood everything that was layered under it, unsaid. Starbuck thought of it as a kind of re-admittance of Adama into a central part of Apollo's life, even if Apollo couldn't yet bring himself to say it, much less let Adama himself know it. Starbuck glanced around to make sure they were unnoticed, then put an arm briefly around Apollo's shoulders and gave him a little shake. Apollo said nothing, just looked faintly chagrined, as if he'd been found out.
After a micron, they went on. Duty - one of those principles that Apollo always claimed to have got through his mother's milk - called, voice insistent.
"So, is what you're scared of is that he'll think that you're as ruthless as Seti is? Tarred by the same brush?"
Apollo nodded. "I think I am like them, you know."
"With some essential differences. I don't think you'd ever kill anyone, and you know when you're doing something stupid and wrong. It's like you've been Capricanised."
"A hybrid," agreed Apollo.
Starbuck considered it. "You know, I don't think he'd be surprised at Seti's reaction. He was married to an Aegyptan for over thirty yahrens."
Apollo gave him an odd look. "That's weird, Starbuck. I've been thinking something like that. I've been thinking that there they are, hating each other when, really, both of them were victims of a sort. It was Mother who got us into this mess, after all."
"That's what I mean. She was far more ruthless than the gracious Caprican lady that she appeared to be on the surface, don't you think? I liked your mother, but no one could deny this has all come about because she liked her own way and was pretty hard headed about getting it. Odd that neither of them blame her in any way."
"They both loved her."
"I love you, but I'm not blind to your faults."
"I don't have any," said Apollo, with a reluctant grin.
"I'd need a secton to list them," said Starbuck, and flung open the duty room door. "But don't worry. They complement mine."
Joel had never even seen his father until he was almost twenty yahrens old, more than a quarter of a century ago now. Most of his mother's importuning having gone apparently unheard and disregarded - except the once, when his father had paid for reasonably good schooling for his son on the strict and absolute understanding that he would take no further personal interest - Joel had been surprised when his father had exerted himself and used some influence to get Joel into a low level government post on his mother's home planet. It was indeed low level, but with enough potential to allow Joel to rise slowly up the ranks. By the time that Joel was in his early forties and aide to one of Aquaria's ministers, he had met his father, a man close to the presidency, several times, usually on an official basis at political or diplomatic events. His father had never acknowledged him publicly - and barely in private, either - but just as the Peace was announced, Joel unexpectedly found himself included in the delegation as a junior aide to President Adar.
It was hard to be grateful for that intervention, even though it was a promotion and more importantly, it had saved his life. If his father had chosen to help earlier, to use his undoubted influence, Joel could have been a great deal higher up the evolutionary scale than a mere junior aide. And the old man hadn't even helped him get onto the Council after the Destruction. He'd had to do it all himself.
But it was harder still not to be apprehensive about the old man's motives. He was quite heartless, cold blooded and ruthless. If Joel was honest, he'd have to admit that he had always been a little afraid of his father, and probably always would be.
Now he sat in a public com booth on the Rising Star, watching the cold face on the viewer. He, Piers and Uri had sat late into the night, discussing this latest development and what, if anything, it could mean to their plans. It hadn't taken long for Uri to voice the fear and anger that had dragged at Joel, too. And now he raised it with the old man, seeking reassurance.
"This has ruined everything! We might as well give up now. They'll never listen to us. If they're under some sort of obligation to Adama, then they won't help."
"You're a fool if you think that this would make any difference to the Aegyptans," the old man said.
"But he saved the life of one of those things! They're sure to be on his side."
"If I understand things correctly, then he saved the life of their leader."
"See! It's useless. We'll have to think of some other way. They won't listen to us now."
The old man's calm held steady. "Please don't be so melodramatic. There's no need for it. And you really must stop assuming that the Gyps will act the way humans will. They aren't human. I suspect that all that they would say is that they owe some obligation to Apollo and won't move against him personally. I doubt that they'll extend that courtesy to anyone else in his family."
"I don't see it," said Joel, frankly.
"I realise that. Look at the history of the Colonies and the Aegyptans: the one thing that our dealings with them have shown is that they are totally ruthless. Believe me, they are. I made the approach to them to deal with President Cleome of Scorpia two yahrens ago and they impressed even me with how cold-hearted and ruthless they can be. If they decide to accept our approach under the Accord, then nothing will deter them, except, as I say, I don't think they would move against Apollo himself. It's quite clear from their latest response to our approaches that they're beginning to show some interest. We should persevere."
Joel stared and doubted. "If you really think that it's any use."
"I do. Send Maxim. Tell him to set it up immediately. He is to go and discuss it with them under the terms of the Accord. Make sure that he understands that he's to seek a solution only for Adama, not Apollo."
"Yes. Of course. I suppose it won't hurt to ask." Joel, who'd spent a sleepless, frustrated night raging helplessly against the obscure workings of Fate, relaxed a little. The headache that had nagged at him for centars receded.
"This story about the captain is interesting, but I'm not at all convinced that it's of much help other than to help us understand a little better the environment we're operating in with Gyps. It's not of much use for anything else. At least, not since the Council embarked on this campaign to overcome public anxieties about the Gyps. As you know, that's beginning to have some good effect. Adama has been too watchful there, ensuring that the Council all toe his line. A sectar ago, when I asked you to get this information, I could have used it. You've failed me, Joel."
"We did the best we could, in the circumstances. It was difficult getting Paye to co-operate."
"Well, it's too late."
"I've already told Uri to go ahead. He's spreading the word."
There was a silence so cold that Joel felt the chill, even over the communication link. The little booth felt constricted and suddenly unsafe. Hiding again by being in public, he wondered uneasily which booth the older man was using, how close he might be, that Joel could feel the ice.
"Without my agreement?"
It was said mildly enough, but Joel's hands, lying out of sight on his lap, curled into protective fists. "You weren't there to ask, sir, and delay would have had Piers and Uri wondering at my indecision. It was a heaven sent opportunity."
"Near useless at this late stage," the older man said, cold and distant. "Stop Uri."
"It's too late."
"You really are a fool. Uri doesn't have the finesse to handle this correctly."
"Uri knows what he's doing," said Joel, with a cautious bravura. It was too late to stop Uri, and they both knew it.
"I wonder. He made a fool of himself on Carillon, and he allowed himself to be out-manoeuvred on the Windjammer. I don't have as much faith in him as you have. Your allies are serviceable, but no more."
"They'll serve their turn," said Joel.
The older man smiled thinly. "As do you all. For the moment."
Joel winced, and changed the subject. "And Captain Apollo?"
"I want him dead as soon as Adama's gone."
Joel nodded, unsurprised.
"An accident, a faulty component in his Viper - I don't care how." The old man leaned forward. "And, Joel, the next time you do something like this without checking with me first, I will take action. Believe me, you won't like it. Your position is not so secure as all that."
The screen went dark.
For a centon Joel stared at it. He uncurled his fists, idly noting the little red crescents in his palm where his nails had pressed into the flesh. He spread his fingers, easing the tension in his hands, then nodded to himself, deciding to take the risk. It was time that he remembered that he owed the old man precisely nothing. He switched off the viewer.
"And once Adama is out of the way, neither is yours," he said aloud to the father who'd been absent all his life. "Not for a centon."
"So," said Boomer. "A bone marrow transplant."
Starbuck sighed. "You'd think that people had enough to do in fighting off Cylons every inch of the way to Earth, without listening to gossip. And Cassie had better hope no one finds out how much medical information she's passing out. Salik's not likely to view that too sympathetically."
"I think she's a bit sore about you," said Boomer. "Does she know about you and Apollo?"
"I dunno, but she dumped me for Cain, remember?" retorted Starbuck. "You don't find me trying to dish the dirt on Sheba so I can get my revenge." He glanced across the crowded OC to where Sheba sat with Bojay and other ex-Pegasus pilots, and he grinned. "Tempting though it is, so far I've been the perfect gentleman."
"Anyway, I'm pretty sure that this didn't come from Cassie, so don't blame her. Greenbean said Cassie told him that Salik and Parry have Apollo's files locked down and password protected, and none of the medtechs can get into them."
"You mean she tried? Sheesh!"
"Yeah well. Cassie's no gentleman. But it's out now, and everyone knows. They all know that Seti had some disease that needed a bone marrow transplant and Apollo was a close enough match to help him."
Boomer waved an expansive arm round the OC. "Every last one of them. What in hell do you think they're talking about?"
Starbuck blew out a noisy breath to signify his disgust. "Oh great. He is going to be so annoyed about this."
"It's a nice thing he did," said Boomer. "A very Apollo thing to do."
Starbuck brightened. If this was the general view, then maybe people wouldn't dig too deep underneath it.
"But you tell me, old buddy, just how come Apollo's so close a match for a Gyp?"
Starbuck looked him in the eye. "You might want to stand back from that statement, and think about how it sounds."
"And how does it sound?"
"Like something Sire Uri and his kind might say, the ones who are scared of the Aegyptans and the ones who're stirring up trouble against them."
"Hey! I didn't mean anything like that!"
"Well, I'd hope not," said Starbuck, fairly. "I wouldn't have thought it of you. But you think about what happened over on the Windjammer. The Aegyptans are coming in for the sort of reaction you get just before people go looking for a lot of brushwood to build the pyres."
"I am not a part of that, Starbuck, and you know it!"
"Then stop sounding so red-necked. If Apollo kept quiet about what he did, it's because of what's happening out there. But remember how he's always treated the Aegyptans on this ship. He seems to be in a bit of a minority, treating them decently. They're people, just like us."
"Fine! I'm sure they are. And the point I was going to make was that it's not so easy to find matches for transplants, and that if I'd worked out that they might be people especially just like Apollo, so might a few others around here. I came to find out if I was right and what I could do to help. But since all you can do is jump me about something I didn't mean, then excuse me, Starbuck, but I'll just go and sit with the rest of the bigots!"
Back stiff with outrage, Boomer stalked off.
Starbuck watched him go. "Shit," he said.
Sire Anton watched with a detached interest as the Council Secretariat once more ushered in a film crew from IFB.
"We seem to be incredibly popular viewing these days," he observed.
"I promised them another statement on the unrest," Adama said. "And an explanation of the measures we're taking to deal with it and some of the underlying anxieties people are feeling."
"Very public spirited of you, Adama, but my own view is that we should encourage them to be a little more adventurous and take the spotlight elsewhere."
"Don't you like the late stardom that's been thrust upon you?" asked Adama.
The old man shook his head. "No, indeed. I find that with this much light on our doings, things are far too transparent. I've always preferred to work behind the scenes, where the light is a little murkier. You can wield just as much power and you aren't nearly as accountable." Anton turned to face Adama.
Adama laughed. "You're a wicked old man, Anton."
Anton nodded. "Guilty as charged. But, unlike you, I'm also one that sees the potential for gossip to be a very valuable source of information. So people tell me the gossip they wouldn't dream of coming to you with. When IFB interview you, you had better be prepared. I think Apollo may feature."
"In connexion with that sick Aegyptan." Anton shrugged slightly. "Sire Piers is an untrustworthy young man, but he has a better grasp than you of the prime value of gossip. The latest whisper that he is gleefully passing on, is that the man needed a bone-marrow transplant and that Apollo donated it. Is there any truth in that?"
Mouth a thin line, Adama said, "It appears that Apollo was a reasonable match for the Aegyptan."
"Really! How intriguing. How in heaven's name did the medics discover that? Do they have everyone's medical profile on their computers and trawl through them for a match whenever they need one?"
"I believe that they do have a very complete database, yes."
"How very - er - totalitarian of them. It quite makes me wonder what they hold on me."
Adama smiled thinly. "You've been a very discreet operator your entire life, Anton. I'm sure they've got nothing to your discredit."
"That they have anything at all appals me."
"Unless, of course, you needed their medical assistance."
"Thankfully, Adama, I've also been a very healthy operator for my entire life and I intend to live forever. But even though I know that both humans and Aegyptans are from Kobol, I'm astonished that there's enough likeness between us for this to work."
Adama chose his words carefully. "I think that our two races have a great deal in common."
"An interesting viewpoint, and one that in the current climate definitely represents a minority opinion. Adama, why did you allow Apollo to do this? You know how delicate things are between us and the Aegyptans at the moment. It could just add to the gossip and unrest. In fact, I've no doubt that people like Piers are assiduously fanning the flames."
"Allow him? Apollo's nearly thirty. Outside of duty, it's been quite some time since he needed to ask my permission to do anything. Besides, the Aegyptan would have died without the transplant, and, well, you know Apollo. He's not likely to allow something like that to happen if he can do anything to prevent it." Adama paused than said firmly, "And I am damned proud of him for it."
"Even though it's for an Aegyptan?"
"What difference should we allow that to make? There are always some who are closer to the Aegyptans than most. Apollo has always treated them with respect."
"I'm sure he has." Anton shook his head. "His altruism does him credit, Adama, but these things have a tendency to be misrepresented. And he is handing ammunition to anyone inclined to make trouble for you."
"I'll bear that in mind." Adama was silent for a few centons as the camera was set up and trained on him, and the journalist prepared herself, speaking to camera while they carried out the sound and light tests. "I am very proud of him, Anton, and I'll defend him to the death, you know."
Anton eyed the preparations, and the excited glances the newspeople were casting towards the commander. "You may have to, old friend. Stand by to repel the first attack."
Adama straightened. "Shields are up. I'm ready." He smiled at the young journalist. "Good evening, Zara."
It took a fair amount of nerve to walk into the OC as if nothing had happened. He left Boxey with an anxious Athena, who'd also seen the live broadcast and was earnestly impressing on her nephew that even though everyone now knew that his Dad had helped Seti, Boxey still mustn't talk about it or tell anyone that Seti and his Dad were related.
He was conscious all the way through the ship of the odd glances he got, the way that people he passed drifted into little clumps, their heads coming together as the whisper passed from one to another. He rather dreaded what the OC reaction would be, but innate pride had him going in there as if nothing was different, as if it was any other night of the secton.
Well, given the way that most people stopped whatever they were doing and stared, they'd heard. He ignored them.
Starbuck was at a corner seat alone, playing a single handed game and working his way through a long beer. Apollo stopped off at the bar, ignoring the barman's wide-eyed staring, and bought a bottle of liquor. Beer or ambrosa weren't anywhere near strong enough, in the circumstances.
"It's tomorrow," said Apollo quietly, sliding into a seat opposite Starbuck and putting down a glass within easy reach of his lover's hand. "Kam-Ahtes just got a message through to me."
"Where?" Starbuck looked up sharply.
"On the Historia Stirpium. I'm to go to the Usermaatre then go on with Seti to the meeting." Apollo downed his liquor, choked slightly as it stung his throat, and poured another. "I have a very bad feeling about all this."
"I wish you'd let me come." Starbuck looked back down at his cards.
Apollo grinned, very slightly. "I think they might notice you, skulking around. At least they won't know it's me."
"You'll have to tell your Dad."
"As soon as I'm sure." Apollo glanced around the OC, seeing the speculative looks. Quite a few people didn't meet his gaze. "And that's not all. Seen IFB?"
"Nope." Starbuck shrugged, let the cards fall. "But given what's going on in here, let me guess. They covered the transplant."
Apollo nodded. "They ambushed the commander at the end of the news item on the Council meeting, but I think he must have been warned. Anton was next to him, as usual, and that old man's no fool. I bet he heard the rumours and warned him."
"Zara asked him if he knew about it and what he thought about it. He was really brilliant. He said that he was quite astonished that something so trivial could be considered even vaguely newsworthy, and - "
"That he was proud of me for doing it."
"That was nice," said Starbuck, and grinned. "Especially since we both know how much he and Seti love each other."
"I wonder how it got out?"
"The Lords alone can tell." Starbuck nodded at the rest of the OC. "They all know, Apollo."
"I guessed by the way everything went quiet and the way they're acting. Are they still looking at me?"
"Mostly. I don't know what they think about it all. I just had a very interesting conversation with Boomer." Starbuck paused, then said: "Well, if I'm honest, I just had a very interesting fight with Boomer. But the thing is that he said everyone's talking about the transplant. He implied that not all of it is favourable."
"I didn't think it could be kept quiet for ever."
"It might have been if Salik hadn't insisted on doing it here. But there's a lot of speculation about how it is you're a match. Again, not all of it friendly."
"Is that why you had a fight with him?"
"A bit. He sounded too much like those morons on the Windjammer for my liking. He says he didn't mean anything by it, but it grated on me. Min d you, I may have dropped on him a bit fast." Starbuck sipped the liquor. " If we can't even trust Boomer to stick with us, we've got a problem. What are we going to do?"
"How should I know?"
"Great. You make world-shattering changes to your life and you have no idea what to do with them when you've made ‘em. You'd better make your mind up fast, because he's on his way over here to join us."
"Ah," said Apollo.
"Ah? Ah isn't much of a defence. We're going to need something a bit more articulate than that." Starbuck's glance at Boomer was neutral. "Hey, Boomer."
"Gentlemen," said Boomer, stiff and dignified. "Forgive me for breaking up the chit-chat, but I think that maybe we ought to have a talk."
"Oh?" said Apollo.
Starbuck sighed. "And what my eloquent friend means by that is, what about?"
"About how to manage this so that everything doesn't fly apart," said Boomer. He sat down opposite them. "Starbuck and me have already had one fight about this and I don't want another. We've been friends for a long time, and I'd like to think you had enough faith in me to tell me what's going on. I'm sorry that you don't trust me."
"It's not like that," said Apollo.
"No? That's what it looks like to me. I know it's something to do with that Aegyptan you helped out, and so does everyone else around here."
Starbuck's expression warmed a little. Boomer just nodded at him.
"They're talking, Apollo. And they're talking about how come you're so close a match for him that the quacks can take bone marrow from you to transplant into him. And not all of the discussion's that friendly." Boomer poured himself a glass of liquor. "I know he said that he knew your family, although you didn't seem to know him. He said he saw you when you were a baby. So there's a connexion, and people are going to start making it."
"People like you who distrust Aegyptans?"
"I trust them every time I launch," said Boomer. "I just don't know any of them. And I think that's all I've ever said about them, that no one knows anything about them, and that's what spooks people. Spooks me too, but I don't think that means I'm going to be standing with those ignorant idiots on the Windjammer, despite what Starbuck thinks."
Apollo looked down at his glass
"I didn't say that," said Starbuck. "I just thought that you sounded like everyone else, the way they talk, and usually you make your own mind up."
Apollo continued saying nothing, concentrating on his ambrosa.
"Is that what you think?" said Boomer to him, after a centon's silence. "That I would be on the other side?"
Apollo shrugged. "I don't know, Boomer."
"Well then, I guess you don't trust me."
"I'm not sure it's about trust. It's about what you and other people think and do. I'm just remembering what you said, the day after Seti came up to us in the bar."
"That's more than I can, then." Boomer swallowed down his liquor and made to get up. "Whatever it was, I'm sorry if it offended you and I'm sorry that it means you don't trust me. I'll leave you to your secrets, Captain."
Starbuck caught his arm. "Don't go." He turned to Apollo. "You can't let this happen, Apollo. You two have been friends for too long to let this happen. You know you can trust Boomer."
"Not if he has to be persuaded by you." Boomer's hurt was obvious.
"Hell, he only told me when he had to," said Starbuck.
Boomer gave him a long look. "True?"
"Absolutely. Look, you know what's going on with the Aegyptans. You can't blame Apollo for being cautious, especially since even warriors can be a bit antsy about them. There's something about that kind of prejudice, Boomer. It's like acid."
"I said that I didn't know anything about them. I don't think that I've ever said anything that would hint I'd be like that lot on the Windjammer."
"You call them Gyps," said Apollo.
"Everyone does," said Starbuck. "I'm only just learning not to myself, so you can't get at poor old Boomer for that. And you'll note he very carefully didn't call Seti a Gyp today. That's an advance."
"Starbuck!" said Boomer, almost growling.
Starbuck grinned. He turned back to Apollo. "Apollo?"
Apollo looked Boomer in the eye, then said half aggressive, half apologetic: "Oh sit back down, you idiot. I do trust you, but…" He paused, hesitated.
Boomer's demeanour was all wounded dignity as he dropped back into the chair. "Well?"
"It's just that this has been something I've kept quiet about all my life."
"As you guessed, old buddy," Starbuck kept his hand on Boomer's arm. "You said that Seti had hinted he knew the commander's wife."
"Apollo, he's worked it out for himself. All he wants is confirmation."
Another short silence.
"They knew each other before my mother met the commander," said Apollo, slowly. "Because they were members of the same clan."
Boomer sat back, and blew out a long silent breath, and nodded. "Oh," he said.
"Okay?" Starbuck asked.
Boomer shrugged and nodded. "I was shocked when I thought I'd figured it out. Now I'm not even surprised. But I really want to hear all about this."
Starbuck grinned, and put his other hand on Apollo's arm, linking the three of them together. "In that case, let me introduce you to our very own Aegyptan Clanlord. Boomer, meet the Horus Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit."
"Is it my imagination or has there been a slight thaw over the last few days?" Tigh joined Adama on the command dais, glancing at the wall chronometer to check, he said, how long he had before Captain Perfect appeared and ruined his day.
"I don't know. I hadn't noticed anything. Do you think so?"
"Slight. He's definitely got something on his mind, I'd say, and it concerns you. He watches you all through the command meetings."
"Looking for something else to fuel the fire, I expect," said Adama.
"I don't know. He's just a shade less icy, I think." Tigh turned his back to the rest of the bridge crew, leaning back against the railing with a casualness that was just so out of character, so unlike the precise and demanding colonel, that forty pairs of eyes were instantly riveted onto him with something like wonder in their expressions. As an attempt not to draw attention to himself, it was a lamentable failure. Adama's mouth twitched, but he didn't smile.
"I didn't say anything yesterday because I figured that you had enough to worry about, but is this what's behind it all? This Aegyptan?"
Adama nodded. "A goodly part of it. Not the transplant per se, Tigh, but the man he gave it to. Seti-sen-Ankhaten and I have a long history, and none of it is pleasant. I didn't want Apollo pulled into that, and he disagreed with me. It blew up on us. That's all."
Tigh blew out his cheeks slightly in a long exhaled breath. "That's all? You're the best person I know at telling me something and nothing at the same time." He paused, then added. "Except for Lieutenant Starbuck, of course, who's elevated it into an art form. All right, I won't pry. But all I will say, is that what you said about it yesterday might help. Apollo has to have realised that you supported him to the hilt."
Adama smiled briefly. "To the death, I said to Anton, and I meant it. I hope he does realise that."
"And here he is," said Tigh, turning as the lift doors opened. "Let's see what happens today, then. Commander! The captain is thirty five microns late! Have the skies fallen in?"
Apollo, standing below them and looking up, saluted and waited, a fatalistic expression on his face. Behind him, at the navigational console, Athena smirked.
"Well, either that," said Tigh, not waiting for or seemingly expecting an answer. "Or someone threw the android out of an airlock and gave us the human one back. What do you think, Commander?"
"I think that we'd better get on with the day's business, gentlemen," said Adama, mildly.
Tigh shook his head as Apollo came up onto the dais to join them. "Everything else looks perfect. Maybe his power-pack's just running down. Are you feeling run down, Captain?"
"I'm fine, thank you, Colonel," said Apollo, politely.
"Tigh," said Adama quietly, leading the way into the bridge office.
Tigh laughed and followed him, Apollo in their wake. Once in the office, they were all business. They had to be. The Galactica and the refugee fleet were finally moving out of the dead zone that they'd been crossing for the last few sectars. The system up ahead had fewer planets, closer in to the hot yellow sun, infinitely warmer than the star system they were finally leaving behind them.
"The forward patrols have done their most detailed scanning on the inner three planets. Just to summarise that, there's no sign of sentient life anywhere in the system, although all the planets have an abundance of plant and animal life forms that may be worth investigating," said Apollo, finishing a long summing up of the reports from Green squadron, out on point.
"Preliminary isometric data support that." Tigh had the datapad at his elbow, but didn't need to refer to it. He and Apollo were alike in that respect, in any event, in the way they prepared themselves for meetings like this. "There may be microbial and viral threats, of course, but nothing's likely to declare war on us."
"We could perhaps authorise a short stop over to allow the agri-scientists the opportunity to investigate," Adama commented.
"Anything that improves the Commissary's output!" said Tigh, with the grimace of a man who ate all too many military meals.
"There's more. The mineral scans are really promising." Apollo gave Adama a sideways glance. "I asked Herefhaf-nu-uatu, one of the Khensu, to look them over for us. He's a metallurgist and geologist. He says there's a lot of very useful deposits, particularly on the second planet - solenite, tylium, tylinium and boron - just waiting for us to pick it all up."
Adama frowned. "You're suggesting a more prolonged stay to mine these deposits?"
"I don't think we can afford not to do this, sir. Heref says that a four or five sectar mining operation will give the fleet enough fuel for yahrens, and enough base materials for us to convert a second freighter into another forge ship. The potential's enormous. We could make ourselves truly self sufficient for the next ten yahrens."
"That," conceded Adama, with masterly understatement, "would be very useful."
"Do we have the expertise to set up a mining operation on that scale?" Tigh frowned, doubtful.
"We have to find it, or create it. Half of my ground troops are ex tylium and solenium miners. I'd trust to them to be able to organise it, with Aegyptan help." Apollo turned back to Adama. "And there's another thing. They can train others. There's a lot of people in the fleet who'd jump at the chance of getting out of these tin cans for a while, to do something useful. There's some ships where the strains are getting severe. We can maybe relieve some of the pressure points, like the Leander or the Aquilegia."
"By turning the malcontents into farmers and miners?" Adama pulled his datapad closer. "It's an interesting idea, Captain. But the atmosphere on the second planet is going to be an issue."
Apollo nodded. "We'd have to build a couple of bio-domes," he acknowledged. "But the gains could be worth it."
"And the downside?"
"We'll be stationery for a long time," said Apollo. "That has risks in itself, and we need to scout the surrounding systems. We don't want the fleet at a dead stop for sectars to find something is near enough to sneak up on us. And we'd need to try and balance frantic activity by a few miners and farmers, against the boredom and inactivity of the majority. What keeps that in check at the moment is the feeling that we're moving towards something, we're making some progress towards Earth. Sitting still for sectars is likely to make people feel insecure, even if we allow visits down to the planets to relieve the monotony. There's a lot to think about there."
Adama glanced at Tigh, who nodded. "All right, Captain. You'd better put some proposals together, for me and Colonel Tigh in the first instance. I'd like a full cost-benefit analysis before I put this to the Council." He watched the slightly sour expression cross Apollo's face, and smiled. "You should learn not to offer creative ideas if you don't want the work involved in carrying them through."
"I've no problems with doing it, Commander."
"Good. All that remains is for a more detailed scouting mission, and that, Captain, I'll leave in your capable hands. I think that's all for the day, gentlemen."
Apollo looked quickly at Tigh, then at Adama. "Can I have a word with you, sir?"
Adama nodded, ignoring the grin that Tigh threw at him.
"Spring," remarked that worthy, cryptically, and left them to it.
Apollo stared after him for a micron. "Spring what?"
Adama retreated behind his own barriers. He had no intention of mentioning the colonel's theories about a possible thaw. He wasn't sure he believed it, and wouldn't, no matter how much he wanted to, until he saw some signs of it himself. So far, there was nothing that convinced him the frost was melting. "What can I do for you, Captain?"
Apollo hesitated, a flush settling on the high cheekbones. "Two things, sir," he said. "First of all - " he hesitated again, then said in something of a rush, "Thank you for what you said yesterday. I appreciated the support."
Surprised - because in his heart, Adama had expected that if they talked about it, and he'd supposed that they'd have to do that to some extent, then Apollo wouldn't even refer to what he'd said - the commander did little but nod. Perhaps Tigh was right, after all.
"In the circumstances, I appreciate it even more. Em - it must have -er - I mean…"
Adama put him out of his misery. "I meant it, Apollo," he said, calling his son by name for the first time in sectons. "I've no love for Seti. He almost destroyed my marriage, and he's destroying us, but I wouldn't have you act any differently about something like that. Not even when it was him. It's what I'd expect of you. I am very proud of you."
Apollo wouldn't look at him. He stared down at the datapad on the table instead. "Thank you," he said.
Adama watched him. "What's the reaction been?"
Apollo shrugged. "Fairly muted, so far. I'll talk to the squadron leaders this morning. I've already told Boomer part of it. He knows about Mother, at least. He won't say anything about her - I mean, there's you and Boxey and Thenie to consider - but he's pretty steady, you know. They respect him a lot. If he makes nothing of it, then a lot of people will follow his lead. I think I can trust to Grant, too."
Adama said nothing. He didn't want to betray the gratification he felt at being something that Apollo considered worth protecting. He didn't want to be iced over again. He had a feeling, unaccountable and faint, that the distance between them was closing, and he didn't want to jeopardise that.
"I don't know how this will all play out," said Apollo. "I don't know if we can keep everything quiet."
"And you're tired of hiding."
Apollo nodded. "Very. But there's Thenie and Boxey - and you. It's not just me."
"No. It very seldom is that simple. Well, all we can do is see how things work out and try and control it." Adama waited, but there didn't seem to be anything else Apollo wanted to say about it, so he prompted him. "And the other thing you wanted?"
Apollo drew a deep breath. "The other thing is, that I'd like your permission to leave the ship. I'll need a shuttle."
The little feelings of warmth and hope were crushed instantly. "A shuttle?" Adama repeated, heavily.
Apollo nodded. "Or I could use my Viper. It doesn't matter which."
"To visit Seti?"
Adama wondered if he was imagining the slight tightening around Apollo's mouth.
"Yes sir. Sort of."
"Captain, I find it very difficult to believe that you seriously expect me to release you from duty and authorise the use an official shuttle, so that you can make a social call."
The distance was back. "No sir," said Apollo. "I don't expect any of that. It's not a social call. I wouldn't have asked if it was."
"No indeed, you tend to take shuttles without authorisation in those circumstances."
"Once," Apollo snapped back. Then he flushed and added, belatedly, "Sir."
Adama frowned, but knew he'd provoked it, and let it ride. "What is this all about?"
Once more, Apollo hesitated before he spoke, but when he did speak the words poured out, as if he was afraid that Adama would try and interrupt before he could get it all out.. "Look, I don't really know. I'm not entirely sure. Not sure enough to say anything just yet, anyway. I know what I suspect, but I don't have any proof. It's not good. There's something happening, something I really don't like, and they're trying to pull the Aegyptans into it. I don't even know who they are. I think that I can stop it, but I'm not certain, and I really need to be there so we find out what this is all about and try stop it somehow. There's a meeting, today, and I have to be there. I can't go from here, they'd realise it was me -"
"Hey!" said Adama, worried by this sudden agitation and wanting to stop the flood of words. He held up his hands in defeat. "Slow down. You're not making much sense."
Apollo flushed again. "I know that. Please trust me on this one. I'll report back to you as soon as I can, but until then, I'd rather not say anything, because I don't really know for sure."
"Apollo," said Adama, uncertain.
They looked at each other for a centon, then said Adama, slowly, "Pulling in the Aegyptans in a way we wouldn't like? I don't like the sound of that either, Apollo."
"Let me go."
"How long will you be?"
"I don't know. A few centars, maybe."
Adama thought about it. Apollo's sincerity was crystal clear. His son was profoundly disturbed by whatever this was - and Adama was under no illusions about the kind of thing that Aegyptans had been pulled into in the past. He was only sorry that Apollo had to find it out about it, first hand.
He nodded. "Tell Colonel Tigh that I've asked you to check on progress on the Windjammer. Take my shuttle. Whatever this is about, Apollo, I want a full explanation when you get back here, is that understood?"
"You'll get one. I promise."
Adama nodded again. "But I suspect I won't like it, any more than you do."
"No," said Apollo. "I don't think you will."
Apollo looked up once again, to see five squadron leaders and twelve flight commanders watching him with as much interest and trepidation as if he'd suddenly grown another head and they were waiting to see if it would bite them. One serenely unflappable infantry lieutenant regarded him with faint interest and, he'd swear to it, with amusement. His remaining squadron leader and flight commander - Boomer and Starbuck - were also watching him closely, although, he hoped, for different reasons. Both of them, he knew, were anxious that he didn't react too defensively to the general interest in what he'd done. A defensive captain , Boomer had said , is a captain I don't want to be around until you calm back down again. It's not that long since the last temper tantrum: I couldn't cope with another one . Starbuck's eyes had gleamed though, and he'd muttered something about helping the captain relieve the tension, that had had Boomer gagging.
Apollo felt uncomfortable under the fascinated gaze of all those pairs of eyes. They watched him avidly while he was looking down at a datapad, or talking directly to one of them, and whenever he looked up, all those pairs of eyes slid away, reluctant to meet his. Only Starbuck held his gaze, blue eyes encouraging. Boomer - and, he noted, Grant - was watching everyone else's reactions. It was beginning to make him very uncomfortable. At this rate, none of them would actually dare say anything about it, and it had the capacity to just sit there and fester.
So Apollo sighed, deliberately, loudly, intending to be heard. "All right, shall we get this out into the open and get it over with? I really don't want to spend the rest of my life with you lot staring at me like I'm a walking infestation of Corellian bed lice. I know you all saw IFB or have been talking to someone who did. Yes, the rumours are true. I did donate bone marrow to an Aegyptan."
At least now they were all looking at him. Nobody said anything, and none of them looked any more comfortable.
"And I can't see why this is such a big deal. Don't get me wrong. I know that people are intrigued by the Aegyptans and a lot of the civilians are scared of them, but we've been around them all our working lives and we know better. Or we should know better."
Grant was grinning at him, now, and Boomer, but a lot of the others looked like they didn't know what to think. Starbuck nodded approval at him: taking the male bovine by the horns was definitely a Starbuckian characteristic and he appreciated it in others.
"Why?" asked Grant, blunt.
"He'd have died without it. And irrespective of the fact that would've really upset the Aegyptans, since he's their leader, it was just something I could do to help someone. It wasn't that much to do if it meant someone didn't die." Apollo looked around at them. "I'd like to think that any of you would have done the same thing, if you could."
"I wouldn't bet on it," said Boomer. "I heard where they took the bone marrow from."
A few people grinned, Apollo included.
"You'd better believe it. My rear end had more colours than a rainbow for a few days."
"Sounds painful," said Bojay, then added, carefully, evidently voicing the general curiosity, "I guess that most of us are just a bit surprised you were a match for him."
Apollo put down the datapad of Green squadron's forward scouting reports. He chose his words carefully, aware of their ambivalence. "We all came from Kobol, originally. There's some differences between humans and Aegyptans, but we have a lot in common as well. I'm not a biology or genetics expert, Boj, but that's what the experts tell me."
"Sure." Bojay still looked a little uncomfortable.
"We thought that it was you who was sick," said Sheba, a faint note of accusation in her voice. "That's what Athena told us. And what Boomer said."
She'd seemed to have given up the pursuit recently, concentrating her fire on Bojay, who wandered around with a rather dazed expression on his face. Apollo wasn't sure if it was delight or shell-shock. He only knew that he himself was a great deal easier when she was around than he had been even a few sectons before, now that the focus was on some other poor victim. He had to strain to remember when the last time was that she'd tried to muscle in and make him notice her. When he'd thought about it at all - which wasn't often - he concluded that he was no longer the prey, or that maybe he was just so involved with Starbuck that he didn't notice her any more. This was the first time in over a sectar that he had that uncomfortable feeling of being back on her shopping list, up there with Get to be Commander's Daughter Again; Be Beautiful; Make Everyone Recognise Superior Social Position...
Reluctantly, because he never liked talking about his private affairs much, Apollo said, slowly, "Well, it's true that while they were testing to see how close a match I might be, they confirmed I have a congenital condition that will need watching. It's not serious - at least, not now they know I've got it. It could have been very serious if they'd not realised, but Salik sorted out some treatment for that at the same time."
As Starbuck had once said, telling the exact truth while misleading completely was a satisfying process. He waited for a centon. There were a few shrugs, a slight lightening of the tension. Sheba looked away.
Grant frowned. "You're all right?"
"I'm fine." Apollo resisted the temptation to say something weak and wishy-washy about hoping that this wouldn't be a problem for anyone, and went on the attack instead. It was a mild enough attack, but he wanted to signal quite clearly that he wouldn't allow anyone to have a problem over what he'd done. And maybe, ultimately, over what he was. "All this prompts me to say something that I've been meaning to say for a little while now. The Aegyptans have had a difficult time recently, going anywhere on human ships other than here. The civilians aren't used to seeing them around and working with them, and people get scared about what they don't understand. You all know how hard it was on the Windjammer when we first moved some Aegyptan engineers over there. I don't expect to see that kind of mindless prejudice here. We know what the Aegyptans do for us, and how much we depend upon them."
"Apollo, it's not as though we really know much more than the civilians," Jillia protested. "And what can we do?"
"You know what they've given us. And, Jillia, just how did you get away from Cimtar?"
She flushed, slightly. "Oh," she said.
Apollo nodded. "Yeah. A lot of you only got to the Galactica because you could use the Usermaatre to refuel, relaying onto her flightdeck as you followed her back to the Colonies. All I'm asking is that you remember things like that. IFB are making a bit of a fuss about this. They've left about a dozen messages on my com unit begging me to talk to them, and I expect they'll try and talk to some of the warriors too. You know the rules: if they try it, send ‘em on to Colonel Tigh and try not to comment. But if they corner you and there's no way out, take the opportunity to remind people what the Aegyptans have done for us."
A few nods, but still a few doubtful faces.
"I'm not expecting you to swear they're your new best friends. I just don't want anyone here parroting the civilian line about them. We really do know better than that, and I expect better from you and the troops." Apollo glanced around the table. For a centon he concentrated on Chelas, sitting on Bojay's right. He rarely took any particular or significant notice of her - he never had in the past, and he was concerned now to avoid making her uneasy. She returned his glance guilelessly, her face giving nothing away.
"Got it." Drake nodded. "No problem."
"And you're right," said Boomer. "We'll all do what we can."
"Thank you. Please pass that message on to your pilots and troopers. And now we really ought to get on with some real work. I'm heading over to the Windjammer in a half centar to do a progress report for the commander."
"Again?" Grant asked.
"I think he just wants me out of the way of the IFB film crew that's invaded the ship. Bojay, Boomer - you have squadron command between you. Try not to squabble over it. Take it as a lesson in co-operation."
Boomer grinned at Bojay, and sighed. "You really know how to take the gloss off things."
Apollo shrugged. "It's my job. I get special training in it."
Seti was waiting on the flight deck of the Usermaatre. Apollo closed the door of the Galactica shuttle behind him and walked across the deck. For once, Seti didn't come to meet him, didn't offer him a hand in greeting. The older man's face was set, his pale green eyes wary.
Apollo nodded to him, his eyes moving to the half a dozen armed Aegyptans flanking Seti. From the masks hanging ready on their belts, they were a mix of the clans; all of them standing quiet, but watchful . They looked competent, ready.
"I thought there were rules about civilians carrying weapons," said Apollo, to break the uncomfortable silence.
"The rules do not apply to us." There was some constraint in Seti's voice. "And this may be dangerous. Have you brought your mask?"
Apollo hefted the small bag in his hands. "Here. I've no Aegyptan clothes though."
"I thought of that. You and me are about the same size and we've a set of clothing for you on the shuttle. We'd better go. You can change on the way."
Apollo gestured for him to lead on, falling into step beside his father, crossing back across the deck to where the Aegyptan shuttle waited. The armed guard enclosed them protectively. Apollo sighed quietly.
Seti must have heard him. "We'll speak on the shuttle, Sekhet. And later, when this is over. We'll talk then."
"Sure," said Apollo, just as constrained as Seti. "Sure."
The interior of the shuttle was spacious, clean-lined. One of the guards went straight to the pilot's console, and they took off within centons. Apollo settled into the seat beside his father, quiet and waiting. It was a few centons before Seti broke the silence, concentrating for a while on the view from the port.
"I see that someone has leaked the fact of the transplant to the news media."
Was that what was worrying him? Apollo shrugged. "It was bound to happen, if you think about it. Someone's looking to cause trouble, and this was heaven sent. Salik's trying to find out who it was."
"Is it causing you trouble?"
"No. Not yet, anyway. The worst bit was fighting my way past an IFB film crew to get to the shuttle, but that's about all. I talked to my squadron leaders this morning, and they're okay. Even the ex-Pegasus ones, and they're usually the ones who give me grief."
Seti nodded. "Ah, yes. The Pegasus." He smiled suddenly. "Do you remember that when you and Starbuck first went aboard her, the Aegyptans there asked to talk to you?"
Apollo relaxed. The atmosphere was less intense, less strained. He wondered if Seti had been apprehensive that he'd continue the quarrel they'd had on the Galactica a few days before, or pick a new one over the revelation that he'd donated bone marrow. Whichever it was - or neither - Seti seemed to be relaxing.
"Yes. They asked me if they could leave the Pegasus for other ships in the fleet. I couldn't work out, at the time, why they seemed to want my approval."
"Well, now you know."
"Yeah. They were delighted when I told them that the Usermaatre had survived. They all came over, didn't they?. Cain was as mad as hell about losing them. He blamed me for telling them about the Usermaatre. It was one of the reasons we didn't get on."
"There would have been another reason, if he'd known. As soon as they got to the Usermaatre, they asked my permission to terminate him. He offended them terribly when he took the Pegasus off on a personal crusade after the battle of Molokai. He didn't seek their opinion, and they considered that he'd effectively kidnapped them. They were trapped on board. These shuttles aren't meant for long journeys, and ships like this were all they had."
"Well, now," said Apollo.
Apollo hadn't liked Cain. He disapproved strongly of the 'Juggernaut' taking the Pegasus away from the Colonies' defence in the first place, and his failure to return to the Colonies to see what help he could offer, in the second. He had been more than a little contemptuous of the brash warrior. Cain was full of a sense of his own rightness and superiority, of invincibility; and a supreme self publicist with an unflinching belief in his own abilities, fostering a reputation for recklessness and a kind of instinctive military brilliance. After a few centars of being as dazzled as the rest, Apollo's native common sense had soon reasserted itself, and he'd judged Cain's actions as something closer to an ageing man's almost desperate attempts to prove he was still the great warrior. His disapproval had deepened when the Pegasus pilots had almost mutinied, in an undisguised attempt to unseat Adama. He had never forgiven them for that, nor entirely trusted them since. His attitude hadn't made for an easy relationship with the man's daughter. It had definitely killed any idea of romance.
He wondered briefly why Seti had raised this - a testing of the water, perhaps, to see if Apollo was still angry after their disagreement about Aegyptan ‘interference'?
He grinned, keeping his tone light. "I could be tempted into saying that it was a pity you didn't say yes."
"I said better not, but that I'd give it some thought. By the time I'd decided that he had offended me too, by his treatment of you, we were at Gamoray and he and Pegasus disappeared again. A pity."
"Mmn. It certainly would have got Sheba off my back a lot earlier, if she'd known." Apollo hid his shock at realising that, as Mene had once said, the Aegyptans had never really left him alone. They had to have watched pretty closely to have seen the slights Cain had offered.
"We live but to serve," said Seti. "If I'd known that, I'd have had a change of heart much earlier." He indicated the Aegyptan clothes lying over the back of Apollo's seat. "You'd better get changed. We'll be there shortly."
"Why the Historia Stirpium, do you think?" Apollo asked. He stripped off his uniform, trying not to feel self conscious about it, aware of the measuring gaze of the watching Aegyptans. A woman, one of the Khensu, smiled at him. He grinned back, feeling his ears burn.
"There are some of us on board, carrying out the preliminary surveys you asked for." Seti watched him as he pulled on the thin black silks. "That has an advantage for us, in that our presence there won't cause remark or too much reaction - the humans who live and work on her are beginning to get used to seeing Aegyptans around. And it has an advantage for those who hope to hire us: we haven't been there long enough to have rigged every compartment, and they can be reasonably sure that the ship's secure. Here. I hope these fit."
Apollo took the soft black leather boots that Seti handed him and pulled them on. They were astonishingly comfortable after the heavy combat boots he was used to.
"They feel great," he said, after lacing them tightly so that the full pants leg ballooned slightly above each one. He flashed a grin at his father. "Very fashionable. I think I'll keep them."
Seti relaxed a little more, the constraint lessening. "They're yours." He leaned forward, and put a hand, surprisingly tentative, on his son's arm. "Listen to me. Whatever they say and do today we can't record as evidence, they'll make sure of that. We're meeting under the terms of the Utrechian Accord signed between the Council of the Twelve and the Pharaonic Council centuries ago. Everything is open, in that we will know who they are if not yet who they're working for. They'll know who you and I are. But everything is also secret. Neither side will record proceedings, both sides will respect the security of the other, so that everything is infinitely deniable. It would be our word against theirs, and not many human juries would listen to us above their own kind. Even if you had these people arrested now, without evidence there's no pressure to put on them. Listen carefully to what they have to say and offer: it may give you a clue about who is employing them."
"What's the use without being able to prove it?"
"We won't give them an answer today," said Seti. "But we may tell them that we're interested."
"With this story going the rounds, are they going to believe that? I mean, I can't see why they're persisting. Surely they're going to think that you'd feel you owe me something?"
"If everything was as it seems and you were indeed a human who'd helped me, then you yourself would have been immune from anything we were doing. We wouldn't have touched you. But what did Adama do? Nothing. Even without my dislike of him, owing you something wouldn't affect a proposition about him." Seti gave him an odd smile. "These councillors know us a little better than you do, I think."
Apollo sighed. Another example of that ruthless streak that made him feel so uncomfortable. "I keep hoping for something better," he said, pointedly.
"I know. It grieves me to disappoint you."
Apollo gave him a sharp look.
The odd smile broadened. "Later. We will discuss this later. There's not time now." Seti's hand on his arm tightened its grip. "Sekhet, please listen to me for a centon. Hear me out. We need to get ourselves into a position of having more leverage, of being able to apply pressure. My thinking is that if they think we've carried through the assassination, and then we demand a new meeting to discuss revised terms, we may be able to find that leverage."
"Fake it, you mean?"
Seti nodded. "Of course. I gave you my word that I won't harm Adama."
"I know that." Apollo paused for an instant. "I do trust you."
"Do you?" said Seti, with a very wry grin.
"Yes," said Apollo, not entirely certain that was true.
Seti smiled, and the constraint vanished. "I've missed you, these last few days," he said, quiet. Then in a more normal voice: "We need to plan this, carefully, but if we succeed it could flush our enemies out of hiding."
Apollo smiled back. "You've done this before."
Seti shrugged elegant shoulders. "Once or twice," he admitted.
"We have an approach vector," the pilot said. "Two centons."
"We'll discuss the detail later," said Seti. "Remember that at this meeting we'll do no more than signal our interest. You and I will say very little - traditionally, it's for others to debate the proposal, and for us to listen. We're considered above getting involved in the menial stuff. If you do intervene - " He gave his son a thin smile as he said it. " - then try and sound like an Aegyptan. Put on your mask."
Apollo took the silver Hawkhead from the bag. He'd only had it on twice before - the day Seti gave it to him, and the day he showed it to Boxey - and then only for microns. It had felt alien, and each time he'd pulled it off as soon as possible.
He hesitated. It couldn't be any worse than wearing his flight helmet, he told himself, it would feel pretty much the same going on, there wasn't any real difference. It was just a helmet with a face mask. He let it settle down over his face.
It was surprisingly roomy inside, and it was comfortable. It was astonishingly light to wear, a low-energy suspensor field meaning that even where the leather padding around the bottom edge cushioned the Hawkhead on his collar bones, he barely felt the weight. A leather skull cap helped hold it in place, secure; that and the padding the only points at which it actually touched him. He was conscious of the cool metal only millimetres from his skin.
But more potent than anything was the symbolism. It had the emotional effect he'd experienced the other times he'd worn it. It cut him off from the human he'd once thought he was.
"The Anubis who made it, modelled it to fit me," he heard Seti say. "I hope it's comfortable."
"It's fine," said Sekhet, at last. He tilted his head from side to side. "Cuts the peripheral vision, a bit."
"You'll get used to it."
"Maybe," he said, doubtfully. "It's a bit disconcerting. A pilot always has good peripheral vision. The last thing you want is a Cylon raider creeping up in a blind spot. I'm surprised it doesn't affect my hearing, too."
"There are tiny amplifiers built into the skin of the mask." Seti settled his own helmet into place as the shuttle touched down. "Ready?"
Sekhet nodded. The mask didn't allow for any vigorous movement, making everything somehow more significant and dignified. He followed Seti off the ship onto the deck, their masked escort around them. A tall Sebek was waiting for them.
"Sekhet, I believe that you have met the Sebek Seneferu-en-Aahmes, who will join Kha-nes-akhat in the negotiations."
"The Sebek is heading the survey engineers here," said Sekhet, remembering. "We met briefly a couple of sectons ago."
Seneferu-en-Aahmes bowed her head, and raised her arms in the traditional greeting. Sekhet, glad that the mask hid his apprehension about getting this wrong, mumbled a greeting in Aegyptan and followed suit. The heavy, loose silk sleeves fell back to his elbows when he raised his crossed wrists, turned outward so that Seneferu-en-Aahmes could see his inner arms.
The Sebek said something in Aegyptan to Seti. Sekhet's hold on the language was growing less shaky. He'd absorbed a great deal more from his mother than he actively remembered, and although he wasn't yet up to a complex conversation in Aegyptan, he understood most of what was said. Some of the words Seneferu used were new, but he thought that the Sebek was questioning a delay about something - the full meaning escaped him. A ritual of some kind?
"Soon," said Seti, in Standard, with a completely inexplicable chuckle. "Soon. Are the contacts here?"
"Yes. They've chosen a compartment beyond our normal territory. Kha-nes-akhat is there already. He has made a security sweep of that and the surrounding compartments. They're all clear." Seneferu-en-Aahmes led the way to the back of the deck. "We have instructed the humans in showing respect."
For the most part, the people on the deck were human. There were about thirty of them - deckhands, one of the civilian ship's officers, maybe one or two of the refugees who called the Historia Stirpium home. They were all there to work under the officer's supervision; loading and unloading shuttles, working on repairs, clearing and cleaning the decking of the inevitable detritus that formed around any place of hard physical labour. Sekhet just glanced towards them, casually, as he would have glanced at the people on any deck he was crossing. He didn't like their reaction.
People stared, they edged away, coming together in defensive groups of two or three, talking quietly to each other. They looked apprehensive, eyes wide. He saw one man close his hand on a wrench or something and hold onto it tightly. This man didn't shrink away, but held his ground, watching the Aegyptans pass him, his eyes hard and face expressionless.
He'd seen and felt something of this when he and Starbuck had made their visit to the Windjammer with Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon, sectars ago now, it seemed, before Seti had even appeared in his life. He'd seen for himself some of the hostility and fear directed at the Aegyptans by the people who lived on the Windjammer, but it hadn't been directed at him. He had been a bystander, almost, then. But this was aimed at him. It felt personal. The others walked on, indifferent and inured to it. He felt it more, he suspected, because it was new.
It was the first time he'd ever worn the Hawkhead in public.
It was the first time he'd ever been Aegyptan, in public.
When they reached the compartment Seti's hand closed on his arm as the door was opened for them. "This will be very short," he said, in Aegyptan. "But be careful."
It was a small compartment, bare of any kind of comfort or ornament. Two men and a woman sat in a row on one side of the little cabin. Two more chairs were ranged opposite them, empty and waiting. Kha-nes-akhat, his lion helmet gleaming in the harsh overhead lighting, was standing near the two empty chairs. He bowed.
Without speaking, Sekhet followed Seti to the chairs. When they sat down, silent, Sekhet on Seti's left, their escort grouped themselves behind, hands resting near their weapons. Kha came to stand beside Seti, on his right. Seneferu-en-Aahmes stood at Sekhet's left hand.
The three humans were uncomfortable. All of them had evidently been brought up to fear Aegyptans, the same nameless fear that, as children, they'd had of the dark, or the secret things that children know lie in wait for them in dark cupboards or under beds. Sekhet tried to imagine what he and Seti must look like to them. They hid it well, and it was the smallest things that betrayed their nervous tension at the image he and Seti must present, two forbidding, threatening, bird-headed men who sat in a waiting silence. All three sat on the edges of their chairs, one leaning forward slightly. The woman moistened dry lips with the tip of her tongue. That was all, but Sekhet didn't miss it.
Hidden behind the silver mask that Seti had given him, he studied them. He thought that they were merchant class, all probably prosperous before the Destruction. They were the most discontented of the refugees, those who resented the loss of riches and influence and power in the destruction of the Colonies; they would always be the kind to plot and scheme and try and win back what they'd lost. They would always be the ones to watch.
He knew one of them by sight, at least. The ostensible leader of the delegation, seated in the middle, was a grizzled thickset Sagittarian in his late sixties. He was flanked on his left by the young Aquarian woman, about Sekhet's own age. The other man, on the Sagittarian's right, was the tall Piscean he'd last seen on the Windjammer. The one who'd seemed to be linked to Uri.
Well, now. That was interesting. Not surprising. Just interesting.
"Lords, this is Kristoph of Sagittera," said Kha. He indicated the Piscean. "Maxim, of Piscea; and Liath, of Aquaria."
"You are in the presence of the Firehawk, the Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten," said Kha.
The three had enough self control not to look at each other, or let their expressions betray their nerves any further. They got to their feet.
"Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten." The Sagittarian ducked his head in respectful greeting, evidently primed in advance by Kha. The other two followed suit, murmuring Seti's name.
"And the Horus Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit," said Seneferu-en-Aahmes.
The three ducked their heads at Sekhet this time, repeating his name as they'd repeated Seti's. Sekhet copied his father's indifferent non-reaction. Kha nodded at the humans, and they resumed their seats, looking more uncomfortable than before.
"You may begin," said Kha, politely, "We are listening."
The Sagittarian nodded. He spoke to Seti, his speech having the smoothness of something he'd rehearsed often. "You know that we're seeking your help, sir," he said. "We're concerned about an imbalance, a power imbalance. There are many among us who are worried about how things are going, how we are governed, in particular, about the undue influence the military has in public affairs. We recognise their contribution, of course, but we want to see that confined to its proper sphere. Their role should be to protect and defend the people, but it should be carried under the command and rule of the elected representatives of the people."
"And that is not the case?" Kha asked. "The Council doesn't control the military?"
"Not even in name. The military has too strong a voice. Adama is a great man, and without him we would all undoubtedly be dead, but he is a warrior first and President of the Council of the Twelve a poor second. His voice rules. We need to return the military to their proper place. They should be the people's servants, not their rulers. I don't know the Aegyptan view of matters like this?"
"We don't vote," said Kha indifferently.
"I understand," said the Sagittarian. "I'm not entirely surprised. We thought that was the case. It complicates matters a little. If - speaking hypothetically - we sought your help formally, we need to discuss what we can offer you to get you on our side."
"We have no side but our own." Kha was dismissive.
The Piscean, Uri's friend Maxim, leaned forward. "You consider yourselves outside of this sort of debate, sir?" he asked.
Seneferu-en-Aahmes shrugged. "We are outside of it. Your laws and your institutions are nothing to us."
"Yet you are closely involved with the military, as advisers," the man said.
It was Kha's turn to shrug. "They offer us interesting problems to solve, give us the opportunity to experiment, to test theories and hypotheses."
Seneferu-en-Aahmes added, "Who rules, is a matter of some indifference for us. We'll continue to work with the military whoever is in power, just as we have always done. It doesn't touch us."
"And you need nothing from us?" asked the Aquarian woman. "There's nothing we can offer?"
"Aegyptans need nothing from humans," said Seneferu-en-Aahmes.
Maxim shook his head, still focusing on Seti despite the Aegyptan's silence and that fact that the Kha and Seneferu were answering for him. "I don't understand, sir. Your people have often intervened in the past. An Aegyptan assassinated President Cleome of Scorpia only eighteen sectars ago."
"The Sebek Clan," said Kha. The lion-head swung around to glance at Seneferu-en-Aahmes. "They chose to intervene, for their own reasons."
The long-muzzled crocodile head turned to return the look. "We intervene when we choose, stand back when we choose."
"That sounds very arbitrary," said the Piscean. The Sagittarian had sat back, letting this tall, thin man take the lead.
The crocodile head turned to study him. "Our reasons for action or inaction are our own."
The Piscean stared back at them for a centon or two, then smiled. "Then if there is nothing concrete we can offer you, let me put this another way. We have an interesting problem that we would like your help to solve, to offer you an opportunity for intellectual exercise, to test our hypothesis of returning power to the people."
Kha laughed. "You learn quickly."
"The key to this is to get the military in disarray," said Maxim.
"We have considered a straight forward assassination," the woman put in.
"Well, the straightforward solution has its attractions," said Kha. "Simplicity is always attractive. And then you will do what?"
"My principal is ready to step forward and claim the Presidency," said Maxim, smoothly. "Once that is secure, we can begin to return power to the people, where it belongs."
Both Kha and Seneferu-en-Aahmes looked to Seti. He sat with both hands on his upper legs, relaxed. One finger raised a few millimetres, and fell again. Sekhet almost missed it, and he was watching his father as avidly as the three humans.
"The Aegyptans and Adama are unfriends," said Seneferu-en-Aahmes. "And he is a religious man; such a martyrdom should appeal to him."
"There is the question of his son," hinted Maxim.
"It has no bearing," said Kha.
"It is a different matter." Seneferu-en-Aahmes was as indifferent. "He is not the target. We will not allow him to be a target. We have an obligation."
"We have no obligation to Adama," said Kha.
Maxim smiled and bowed slightly.
Kha said, "If we consider this, then the full Articles of the Utrechian Accord will apply. We will not be named as the assassins. Commander Adama's death will be announced as being from natural causes. Every effort will be made to assure the safety of our operative, and he or she will be recovered by us unharmed. The Council will accept that we acted within the terms of the Accord."
The Piscean smiled again. "Of course! My principals want this to be on the most formal footing. Thank you! Can I take that as agreement to help? I would like to take a positive answer back."
Kha looked at Seti. Seti's finger lifted again.
"We will consider it," said Kha. "You will be given an answer tomorrow. Or perhaps the day after."
The three humans exchanged disappointed glances, but doubtless Kha had briefed them about this as well. They nodded at each other.
"Thank you, sir. You have been most patient," the Sagittarian said, and rose.
"We look forward to hearing from you," said the woman.
Seti spoke for the first and only time. "The pleasure will be mine."
Keeping quiet until they got back to the Aegyptan shuttle took every ounce of will power that Sekhet had. He was desperate to talk about what they had to do, but he knew that Seti was as private a man as he was himself, and would not want a discussion in front of his escort. He was very grateful for the Hawkhead. It hid his agitation.
"Patience," Seti murmured as they re-crossed the flight deck.
This time Sekhet barely noticed that the people he passed, or their confused expressions at watching the Aegyptans leave again barely twenty centons after their arrival. Seneferu-en-Aahmes bowed as Sekhet followed Seti up the ramp, and turned away to return to her more normal duties of surveying the Historia Stirpium.
"Kha. Join us please." Seti went straight to their seats near the pilots console. The escort went further back, out of earshot, only the pilot following them forward.
"Immediate take off?" the pilot asked.
Seti nodded, and took off his mask as the doors closed and the engines were fired up.
"Politics are definitely getting interesting again," he said, keeping his voice low. "How do you want to play this, Sekhet?"
Sekhet pulled off his own mask, holding it on his knees, his hands trembling. His fingers traced the hard curve of the beak. "The Piscean is a crony of Uri's. I saw him on the Windjammer when they tried to stir up the reaction to Mene's people going on board."
"Sire Uri? Ah yes. He's the one who almost got everyone trapped at Carillon."
"He's been quiet since, but I think he's been pretty active in this recent campaign against us." Apollo, feeling curiously like two people were inhabiting the same body and that he was swinging wildly between the two until he was giddy, grinned mirthlessly at Seti. "I wouldn't be surprised if he's behind the revelation yesterday that I donated bone marrow to you. IFB are being encouraged to think a lot about that and that I'm known to be friendly to you Godless Aegyptans."
"I'm sure we have a God," Kha remarked. "On good days, I even remember who He is."
Seti laughed. "So, we assume that there's a two-fold game going here. The commander's assassination opens up the political succession on the Council to allow Uri to move, and they are trying to do what, by fostering the anti-Aegyptan campaign? Drive us into their arms for protection? They must think we're stupid."
"Species pseudo-differentiation," said Apollo.
"I dare say," said Seti.
Apollo frowned. "Uri's not in a position to take the Presidency. He resigned his Council seat after Carillon. He has to be working for someone else."
"And perhaps his reward will be his political rehabilitation, and a chance of power and the Presidency at some future date?" Kha took a seat near them as the shuttle lifted off the flight deck, graceful as a feather. "But whoever is behind this, if we accept Uri is not the key player, is most definitely on the Council. Those humans knew too much of the Accord for it to come from anywhere else."
Apollo nodded. "What do we do?"
"If we refuse, I think that they'll just go elsewhere for less professional help, where we can't control what happens," Kha warned.
"I see that," Apollo agreed.
Seti smiled. "I think that you and I, and Kha, Kam-Ahtes and Mene - if we can get her over from the Windjammer to meet us - will spend the next few centars planning an assassination. You, my son, will carry it out."
Apollo opened his mouth, then closed it again. His heart thudded painfully and his gut twisted. "Oh," he said, after a centon, when he was sure he wouldn't be sick.
"Once we have decided how to deal with it, I suppose you'll tell Adama?"
"Of course," said Apollo. The sick feeling receded.
Seti nodded. "No one else, at this stage." He smiled thinly. "Except, I expect, Starbuck."
"As you say," said Apollo, refusing to be baited. "Except Starbuck."
"There's a lot to work through," said Kha. "When do you want us to do it?"
"Not for a few days. A secton, at least. Sekhet will need to have the chance to heal, first."
"Heal?" said Apollo, startled.
"Heal." Seti nodded at him. "When I saw you last, you laid down some conditions for taking up your life with us here."
Apollo glanced at Kha. "Yes."
"Kha knows. He and Mene and Kam-Ahtes are the most senior advisers I have. We've discussed your proposal, and I've given it a great deal of thought. It's true that circumstances have changed, almost beyond recognition. If we aren't to fossilise, to die out, then we must change and adapt with them. When this is over, we will tear up the Accord. I accept your terms."
Relieved, Apollo grinned. Despite the gloss that Seti was putting on it, it had been rather more of an ultimatum. He'd wondered what their reaction would be.
"I want you very much, Sekhet. But I have conditions, too." Seti raised one hand, letting his sleeve fall back, the silver falcon inset into his arm catching the light. "If you're not going to pretend about what sort of relationship you can have with me, or with our people, then we'll sweep aside all pretence. I want you to get your arm markings."
"Oh," said Apollo.
"That's my price for what you demand of me."
Apollo frowned.. "What you're asking me to do is be open about being Aegyptan. It means coming out of hiding."
"Yes," said Seti. "And it means fighting for what you think is right. For everything you think is right, not just the comfortable, easy moral battles that don't touch you personally or your standing with the humans." He smiled. "Today's the day for - how did you once put it? - a little social re-engineering. Humans and Aegyptans are going to have to live a little closer than in the past. This fleet is almost claustrophobically small, and we can't escape each other any more. If you're to be both human and Aegyptan, then both have to be equal and balanced. Maybe then we can all find a way to co-exist."
"It's not just me. If it was just me, I wouldn't hesitate. I don't like hiding. But there's Starbuck and Boxey and Athena - and him - to consider."
"I know. But do you want to spend the rest of your life in hiding from the people you saw on the Historia Stirpium, the ones on the flightdeck, who disturbed you so much?"
Apollo looked at him, startled, surprised that Seti had noticed.
"I haven't forgotten my first sight of humans," said Seti. "Nor how they reacted to me. You didn't like it."
"Your son knows what you are. Do you want him to grow up thinking it's something so shameful that it has to be hidden?"
"No," said Apollo, slowly. "It's just I'd never considered setting myself up for public martyrdom. Nor of taking him and Thenie with me."
"We'll see," said Seti. "It will be uncomfortable, but the truth usually is. If we're to live closer to the humans, it will be your job to make it work. Well?"
Apollo sat back in his seat, thinking about it. There was no denying he was attracted to the idea of ending the pretence. He'd been thinking about little else since he had realised the truth. He wasn't afraid for himself, not really. He'd had time to get used to the idea. But the thought of the effect on Starbuck and Boxey and Athena - and on Adama - frightened him. Starbuck he was sure of, no matter what; Boxey was young enough to adapt: Athena always accepted who she was and she was strong enough to cope – like she'd once said, she'd inherited Nefert-ila's backbone - but Adama…
"You're asking me to repudiate him and everything he's done for me," he said, quiet.
"Haven't you done that already?" asked Seti.
Apollo flushed, found himself with nothing to say.
"But no, I'm not doing that. I'm asking you to acknowledge that despite everything, you are still Aegyptan, and that you have obligations here too. A Caprican would understand that."
"Yes." That was inarguable. Adama would always recognise the claims of duty.
Seti looked away for a micron. "He kept you safe and he treated you as his own. I don't ask you to repudiate that, Sekhet: if you do, that's your own decision. But again, I'm asking you to acknowledge the truth. I am your father."
"Yes," said Apollo again. Something else that was inarguable.
"We can't resurrect something that is thirty yahrens dead, I accept that. But I want my son."
Kha said, quietly. "The Aegyptan for father is tef , Sekhet."
Apollo stared at him, thoughts whirling. Then he understood what Kha was trying to tell him, and grinned in relief and gratitude. He could do that. "Yes. Yes, I can do it that way. In Aegyptan."
Seti gave Kha a sour look. Kha shrugged.
"That's where the balance is." Apollo nodded. He fingered the Hawkhead again. "All right."
He heard Kha's relieved sigh, and Seti's. They hadn't been too sure of him, then. No wonder Seti had been so constrained earlier. Then he remembered what Seti had said about needing time to heal.
"Just what exactly am I agreeing to here?"
"Something that should have been done when you were fifteen. Of course, then we would have sedated you. It is very painful, but at your age, I expect you to endure it."
"You're telling me this is going to hurt and I'll have to grit my teeth and bear it?"
"An Aegyptan always endures," said Seti, unable to hide his amusement any longer.
"Very funny." He turned his father's hand over, studying the markings on Seti's arm. The falcon curved right around his forearm, the wing-points meeting on the backs of his arms. On the inside of his forearms were the falcon heads and bodies, elongated and stylised; the head, surmounted by an elongated double crown, turned to one side just below his wrists. The clawed feet ended at the inside of Seti's elbow. The whole thing was about eight or nine inches long.
"It's upside down," he said.
"Think about the ritual greeting," said Seti, and raised his arms to face level, crossed at the wrist and turned outwards. The falcons were the right way up.
"Oh. Sorry. How do you insert the silver? Is it really metal?"
"It is. There is a device. We will enclose both your forearms in it, and it will cut the hawk shapes into your arms and insert the silver in one go. It takes a centon or two. If you keep very still when it's being done, you will have beautifully clear markings. You never met the other Clan-lords, of course, but some of them had markings which were not so clear. They were the ones whose fear over came them. I don't expect that to happen to you."
"And they would have been sedated too? Great. You're showing an hitherto hidden talent for sadism."
"You'll live," said Seti. "Once it's all over we'll give you something for the pain."
"It'll be a bit late then," Apollo pointed out, tartly
Kha laughed. "The Lion was my cousin. I remember when she was marked. She was as apprehensive as you are."
"That's not very comforting, Kha, but thank you anyway."
Seti smiled. "It will be over quickly, I promise. I want you to do this, Sekhet. I will be very glad to have you more clearly your mother's son."
"I'm looking forward to it, myself."
Seti smiled. "And, of course, my son too."
Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit sighed. "Yes, tef ."
"Apollo's on his way back." Athena left her work station to come to the bottom of the command dais. She rested her hands on the edge of the dais and smiled up at her father. "He'll be here in about ten centons. He's asked to see you as soon as he gets in. He didn't say why."
"No. He wouldn't," said Adama. "It's all right. I was expecting it." He walked down the steps and joined his daughter.
"Getting you down?"
"What do you think?"
"I think that your strategy of patient forbearance isn't working," said Athena. "I know it sounds odd, Dad, but I've already told you this and I think I'm right. I don't think Apollo knows what to make of it."
Adama sighed "More of Starbuck's wisdom? You're beginning to parrot him."
"He knows Apollo better than any of us, Dad. And you know exactly what I mean by that. If Starbuck says that your reaction is giving Apollo all the wrong signals, then I'd listen to him."
"I thought if he saw that I was waiting for him to get it out of his system and forgive me, that I loved him enough to wait for him to come to terms with everything…"
Athena shook her head. "I can see what you're trying to do, but I'm not sure he can. But then my judgement isn't clouded the way his is."
"It's just not working. Frankly, Dad, you aren't suffering enough"
"I'm not suffering?" Adama had to remind himself that he was on the Galactica's bridge, and to keep his voice low so that only his daughter could hear him. The effort made his voice shake. "I'm not suffering enough? Athena, he's breaking my heart!"
"I know that and you know that. But does Apollo know it? What I mean is you don't look as though you're suffering. All he sees is that commanderly façade, you being as remote and unmoveable as a mountain. Starbuck says that Apollo doesn't think he's getting a reaction. He probably feels like he's trying to punch air."
"You want me to break down in public every time he treats me like I'm a complete stranger that he doesn't like very much? Thenie, I'd be in constant floods of tears." Adama sighed. "Look, I deserve all the anger and resentment he feels towards me - "
"Yes," agreed his daughter, and he glowered at her, irate that she made no protest. "It was a pretty stupid thing to do. Starbuck was right: anything could have got at that secret over the yahrens, Dad. You were lucky to get away with it as long as you did."
"All right. I know that. But it was with the best of intentions, Athena! Why can't he see that? Why won't he listen to me? If you think he feels like he's trying to punch air, for me it's like trying to wrestle with ice." He paused then looked at his daughter hopefully. "Has he said anything to you about it, first hand?"
"Well, sort of," said Athena and looked thoughtful. "I do think that he's not sure that the patience doesn't mean indifference. That you don't care enough to react."
"How can he think that?" protested Adama . "And what makes you think he's not sure he's hurting me? I'm pretty certain he knows exactly how well to twist the knife. He didn't take Boxey to see Seti for any other reason than to hurt me."
Athena winced slightly. "I know. But listen. I said something the other day to him, when he brought Boxey over, about how he was cutting himself off from his family and you'd lose patience eventually. I was just trying to get him to see how destructive it all is and how much he's hurting you and that it's not exactly doing him any good either. But all he said was he hadn't seen any evidence that you cared much one way or the other and then he walked off."
"I don't know what else to do to prove it to him! And I don't know how long Apollo intends to go on punishing me. It's been a long couple of sectars."
"Maybe you should suffer a bit more obviously. Why don't you try talking to him again?"
Adama smiled slightly. "You don't think that I look sufficiently pinched and blue from the cold? Apollo's temper's usually hot and over quickly, but when he gets this angry, he's an iceberg."
"And you come to grief on the iceberg every time you set sail, so to speak?"
"He only talks to you, love. He only ever talks to me about work."
"I'm sorry, Dad." Athena put a hand on his arm, warm and comforting. "But he doesn't talk that much even to me, I'm afraid. I have tried. He just gets up and goes away if I try to talk to him about you. Starbuck's the only one he listens to. And Starbuck is trying."
Adama shook his head.
"The captain's shuttle is landing, sir," said Omega from the other side of the dais.
"Thank you. Ask Captain Apollo to join me in my quarters, please, Omega." Adama smiled down at his daughter, sorry that they were on the bridge where a fatherly hug really wouldn't be appropriate, and said, quietly, for her alone, "Well, maybe I'll try to look more like I feel, Athena. What have I got to lose?"
"Only your son."
Adama sighed. "I think I already have."
"I thought we'd meet in here, rather than the bridge office. I'm beginning to appreciate comfort in my old age." Adama turned away towards the small kitchen. "Tea?"
Apollo nodded. "Thanks," he said.
"I never understood your mother's preference for the stuff or yours." Adama seemed determined not to let any uneasy silences fall. "But I've always kept some about for you."
Apollo said nothing, and Adama turned to look at him.
The commander's quarters were among the largest on the ship. They were similar to Apollo's own: the same living room and kitchen, with the big sleeping quarters off to one side, but all scaled up, to point up the superiority the commander had over a mere strike leader. Adama's walls were covered in photographs and pictures: of Ila, Zac, Athena - and Apollo. A couple of yahrens before the Destruction, Ila had given him four huge holopic frames to mark his naming day. He'd dedicated a frame to each of them. Ila's charted the maturing of a quite astonishing, luminous beauty, the attraction felt by two such different men as Adama and Seti easy to understand. For each of the children he had chosen pictures from their babyhood, as children, and adolescents, each one culminating in their graduation portrait at the Academy.
Apollo frowned at the frame of holopics of himself, trying to square this with Adama's calm patience with - indifference to? - the cold politeness he'd been treated with for the last couple of sectars. It was almost the same as the frames of Zac and Athena, except that in the earliest pictures of him and Adama together, he had to be nearly a yahren old. He wondered if it was hindsight that made him think that Adama looked apprehensive and uncomfortable, holding the child that Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon had foisted onto him.
Apollo glanced at the ones of his siblings. Adama looked easier with Athena and Zac, he thought. Because they were his, or because he was used to babies by then? Who knows? But he didn't look for long. The holopics of Zac, particularly the ones from Zac's graduation, scant sectons before the boy died, made him feel slightly sick, and he looked away from them quickly.
Adama had seen where his attention was. "It helps me remember," he said quietly. "Sometime I forget how beautiful your mother was. I miss her."
"I only hope it was quick and quiet, and that she didn't have time to realise what was happening and be afraid." Adama smiled. "Although I think that, knowing your mother, she'd have been more angry than afraid."
Apollo swallowed hard to get rid of the sudden lump in his throat. He too had hoped that when death came for his mother, that she hadn't suffered. He knew that Zac, blown to atoms in battle, would have died instantly. The pain came from knowing that Zac had seen it coming; he'd known he couldn't get back to the Galactica in time, and he'd known that Apollo had had to abandon him. Lucky Zac was the one who didn't have to live with the knowledge.
"I expect it was quick," he said, and the emotion he was keeping firmly under control served to make him sound cold, even to his own ears.
"Yes, I expect it was, but it doesn't stop me feeling guilty about failing her." Adama joined Apollo before the holopic frame. He reached out and touched one of the holopics: Ila and Apollo together on his graduation. The one he'd taken, and the one Nefert-ila had sent Seti-sen-Ankhaten to remind him of their son. "This was always one of your mother's favourites. I liked it too. She loved you very much, Apollo."
Apollo nodded. For once he didn't draw away, didn't put physical distance between them to point up their emotional estrangement. "That's one thing I'm sure of." He added, with an irony he knew that only he could understand, "I know she liked that one. She sent copies to just about everyone."
"We were both very proud of you that day," said Adama.
Apollo shrugged, said nothing, wondering if it was true.
"Apollo – "
"Not now," said Apollo, panicked. "Not now."
Adama took a step away. "Tea," he said, and he sounded as cold as Apollo had an instant before. He walked away to the kitchen area.
Apollo bit at his lower lip in vexation. He glanced once more at the holopics of the younger, apprehensive Adama holding the cuckoo in his nest awkwardly and uncomfortably. He had to be forced, Apollo reminded himself. Coerced. It doesn't matter what he just tried to say. He wanted her. He didn't want me.
"I take it that you've something to tell me?"
"Yes." Apollo forced himself away, coming back slowly to the table. He sat down, automatically going to his own usual place, opposite Adama's chair. "Yes, but what I tell you now mustn't go any further, not even to Thenie. I want your word on that."
Adama put the tea in front of him, and sat down with his own mug. He took a sip of the hot liquid. "I was under the impression that my word was worthless. I believe you said that you couldn't believe a word that I said."
Apollo found himself chewing on his lip again. Adama had every right to throw Apollo's words back in his teeth, but this wasn't the time for it. He refused to rise to the bait. This wasn't about him. It was about someone trying to kill Adama. trying to kill his Da… - his mind stopped at the word, refusing to let him even think it.
After a centon, he said, "Someone wants to kill you. They want Seti's help."
Adama drew a deep breath. Then he nodded, grave. "Are you telling me someone's trying to invoke the Accord?"
"Yes." Apollo concentrated on his tea. It tasted pretty good. "You know about that?"
"The Accord? Yes. I've been on the Council, don't forget, ever since I took command of the Galactica fifteen yahrens ago."
Shocked, Apollo looked up, thinking suddenly of a dead president on Scorpia, the traditional ritualistic knife in her heart. The one thing he'd thought was immutable was Adama's sense of morality and honour, everything that Adama had passed on to him. He'd thought that Adama would share his own abhorrence for the shady, despicable agreement between the two Councils. For an instant he thought that he really knew nothing of the man he'd thought of as his father for all his life. It was like an abyss opening up in front of his feet, all certainty gone.
He put down the tea quickly, his hands shaking. "Of course, I should have known!" he said, scornful. "It's pretty ironic, don't you think, me being the one to be repelled by it?"
Adama didn't appear to notice the scorn. He scowled. "I've been trying to get the thing formally revoked for yahrens. It's abominable and immoral."
"Oh," said Apollo, jolted and shocked back again.
"I'd hoped that it would die a natural death with the loss of the old Council. So few of the old political guard are left, that I'd hoped that this Council wouldn't even know about it, much less consider using it," said Adama. "So far as I know, it hasn't been used in yahrens. It's an anachronistic hangover from the time of the Colonial wars, before the Colonies united."
"Tell that to President Cleome."
Adama looked at him sharply, sighed and shook his head. "I had my suspicions about her death, but if some on the Council did pull in the Aegyptans then they kept it from the rest of us. Was it the Aegyptans?"
"The Sebeks," said Apollo. For a moment he was so relieved that Adama was still what he'd thought, that he felt giddy. He had to fight the desire to put his head down on the table and close his eyes.
"I should be more shocked than I am," said Adama, wryly.
Apollo remembered something that Starbuck had once said. "Well, you were married to Mother for over thirty yahrens."
Another sharp look. "What I meant was that I've been too exposed to human politicians to be surprised at the lengths to which they'll go." He sipped at his tea. "Apollo, the Aegyptans have a reputation for ruthlessness and, true enough, they can be bitterly ruthless. You show it yourself. But don't ever make the mistake of thinking that humans are morally superior in any way. We've more than enough proof that they're not."
Apollo pushed aside both the recrimination Adama had just tossed his way and the moral equivocation he felt on his own account, clinging to the one certainty he did have. "I've told them to stop it. I don't like it. Your influence, I guess. I'm too Capricanised to like it."
Adama smiled at that. "That sounds like it may be a Starbuck-ism."
Apollo nodded. "It fits. I'm neither one thing nor the other, so I guess I get to make my own way somewhere between the two. I've been very clear about that with them. They've agreed that they'll break the Accord, and they'll help us - me - try and find who's responsible for trying to invoke it this time."
"Good. At least, I'm delighted that the Accord is dead in the water. I must say that I'm astonished that Seti agreed either to stay his hand against me or help me. I thought he'd delight in disposing of me."
"He's doing it for me," said Apollo, quietly.
He and Adama looked at each other for a centon, saying nothing. Apollo had to fight to keep everything from showing on his face. He hoped he succeeded, but wondered, when Adama softened his tone.
"Yes. Thank you, Apollo."
Apollo mumbled something, that he deliberately kept indistinguishable.
"What happened today?" Adama asked.
"It has to be someone on the Council, but you'll have realised that since they're trying to use the Accord, and most people don't know about it. It wasn't a councillor, though, who came to the meeting today. I've seen him before, the man who came to talk to Seti about using the Accord to kill you, on the Windjammer. He was helping orchestrate some of the reaction to the Aegyptans going on board, and the men who tried to rough me up were taking orders from him, I'm sure of it."
"Do you know who he is?"
"A Piscean, called Maxim. He works for Uri."
"Uri?" Adama nodded. "Well, there's our Council connexion. That he should be involved in something disreputable, doesn't surprise me. But he was a Council member for such a short time, I'm surprised that he even knew about the Accord."
"It wouldn't do him any good to get rid of you, not directly. I think there's someone behind him, who's on the Council and who'll use your death to seize power. Uri can't do that. He has to be working for someone else."
"You could be right. But what would Uri get out of it?"
"A place on the Council, if everyone shifts up a seat once you're dead." Apollo grinned ever so slightly. "Dead man's shoes."
"Not the happiest of metaphors," said Adama. He glanced at the empty mugs, collected them and stood up. "More tea?"
"Thanks." Apollo watched as Adama busied himself in the kitchen area. He got up and followed him there, leaning against the counter. "We can't prove anything, you know. Not against Maxim, and certainly nothing against Uri and whoever's higher up the food chain than him."
"No," said Adama. "One thing that I remember about the Accord is the elaborate ways that secrecy is assured." He handed Apollo the refilled mug. "What do you suggest?"
"If we turn them away, then they'll go find someone else to do it, and we can't fight that, can't control that. So we're going to do it."
Adama raised an eyebrow. "I've a rather basic objection to that," he said. "I'd rather not be dead."
"I won't let that happen."
Adama gave him a long look. "Thank you," he said, his tone neutral.
"Look, we could take Maxim and Uri now, and try and prevent the whole thing happening. But with nothing but vague talk of a conspiracy, they'd wriggle off the hook, and I doubt any court would ever believe Seti's word over a human's. And if I came clean about who I am and gave evidence, do you really think that a court wouldn't be influenced by that?"
Adama grimaced. "It wouldn't help our case," he admitted.
"All that they'd have to do is sit tight, and it would all blow over. But if we fake this, then we can see who falls out of the woodwork to try and take over. Afterwards, I can take Uri and Maxim and apply some pressure, some very heavy pressure. Once there's the fact of an assassination, I'll be able to tear Uri apart to force him to talk. And Seti suggests that we create even more confusion by having your assassin apparently killed in the attempt, so that he can start yelling at the Council for breaking the terms of the Accord."
"And that will mean what?"
"That the Council are likely to fall over themselves to make sure he doesn't kill them all in revenge. It's just another ploy to try and force Uri's backers out of hiding: Seti's not too hopeful, but it's possible that they'll try and mollify him in person, and that gives us another chance. And even if it doesn't work, it'll sow fear and confusion in the enemy camp. And I think that with you apparently dead, they'll move against me, try to get rid of me too. Maybe not as permanently, but they'll try and make sure I'm in no position to threaten them, especially if I refuse to play ball about the terms of the Accord and start shouting. That gives us three possible ways in to finding out who they are."
"It could be dangerous."
"It is, for you."
"I'm more worried about you," said Adama. "It's a different kind of risk to the ones you're used to. There's no obvious enemy here, just shadows that it's hard to protect yourself from. I don't want you hurt."
Apollo stared, taken aback by the concern and affection in Adama's voice.
Having had Athena's pithy analysis directed at him too, recently - she had echoed Starbuck so closely that Apollo had viewed his lover with a suspicion that Starbuck had met with blithe unconcern, asserting that other people had Apollo's best interests at heart even if he couldn't see it for himself - Apollo could have confirmed that it was very close to the truth. He often wondered if he was having any effect on Adama. Every thrust, every acid word, every occasion on which Perfect could be rammed down the parental throat was met with patience and forbearance, as if Adama didn't notice the attack. Perversely, his father's very patience sometimes had him wondering if Adama didn't actually care enough to get irate at Apollo's attitude. At times Apollo thought he was hurting his father; at others, he just didn't know.
Often Apollo had found himself trying to decide who it was he was punishing, because he was, again perversely, getting little satisfaction out of it. He didn't seem to be making much headway. Although he wouldn't admit it even to himself, Apollo resented this greatly. An Adama who wasn't obviously suffering, wasn't pleading to be forgiven,wasn't playing by the rules. It would help if Adama even lost his temper with him: that would prove some feeling at least. But the man didn't even protest when told his rival was being invited onto his own ship to supplant him.
Apollo was getting glumly convinced that the patience was really the indifference that he feared, that he had always misread what Adama had felt towards him; that, in his eagerness to prove himself to his father and to give his mother the assurance she'd needed, he'd blinded himself into believing that, despite the occasional difficulties, they had some real father-son relationship. Where once he'd believed there was love, there was only indifference. A kindly indifference, because that was the way the man was made and he couldn't ever be anything other than kind to the child his wife had brought back with her, but indifference for all that. And now Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon was gone, there was no longer any need to pretend. They could all come out of hiding.
Apollo realised he'd been staring for too long. "I don't think we have much choice," he said, shaking off the introspective mood. This was not the moment for analysis. "We've got to use everything we have to make them move."
Adama concentrated on his tea for a few centons. "There's a flaw in that. They won't move immediately. Given we're Kobolian, you'll have to hold the funeral service at the next Morning Light. They won't do anything before then: they can't without causing a public outcry. And don't forget that the Farewell will be public, and probably filmed by IFB. Can you fake me in the coffin, too?"
"Probably, yes. We'll have to bring in Salik, but I trust him. Seti has a lot of faith in Parry, too. They can probably do something with drugs to fake you looking very dead."
"It had to be someone on the medical staff who leaked yesterday's bit of news," Adama pointed out.
"Neither of them, I'm sure of it. It might have been Cassie."
"She was a bit mad over Starbuck," said Apollo, and looked up from his cooling tea to look Adama in the eye, a touch of defiance about him.
"Hhmph," was all Adama said. Then with some asperity: "That's all very well, and after the Farewell, we can push out everyone who's not family for the actual committal, but the fact remains that they'll be watching you all the time. How could you smuggle me out of the Chapel and back into the ship, especially if you've had your tame medics dope me up to the eyeballs?"
"Er - well, we thought of that."
Adama gave him a dark look. "Well?"
"Kam-Ahtes says that the best thing to do would be to pick up the coffin from outside, and take you to the Usermaatre, then get you back on board here from an Aegyptan shuttle. You can wait it out in the Aegyptan sector."
Adama blew out a long and noisy breath. "You seem to have it all thought through."
"Hhmph," said Adama again, with even more disgruntlement.
"I don't see many alternatives," said Apollo.
"No. Or they'll succeed."
"I won't let that happen," said Apollo, again. He choked back the ‘Dad' that almost escaped him.
Adama's raised a hand, and for an instant it seemed he intended to rest it on Apollo's hair. "I know. I trust you, absolutely." Adama paused, and let his hand drop, the gesture incomplete. "When?"
"Not for a few days." Apollo swallowed hard and put down his mug. "I need to be on the Usermaatre for the about the next secton, until it happens. Getting ready. There's things Seti wants me to do."
"Preparing for this, hopefully mock, assassination?"
"Yes." Apollo looked him in the eye. "I'll be doing it."