Section Nine

 

 

"Commander! They've just started making the announcement." Boomer zapped up the volume control on the com-screen. "I suppose they delayed until IFB could get the news team over from the Equus."

Adama had set Boomer to scan the IFB channel while they waited. They were all impatient, desperate to find out what was happening in the Council Chamber. They were trapped and confined here in Life Centre, helpless, and not knowing what was going on was the worst part of it. Aware of Apollo's plans to try and draw the enemy's fire and of Seti's plan to declare open season on the councillors, none of them were patient about waiting.

Athena had left about a centar after Apollo and Anton, going to Deck 5 to take Boxey out of the Galactica's school. Adama had been reluctant at first to let her go, anxious about her safety and torn between that and an anxiety for Boxey's. To no one's surprise, Trent had offered his services as escort, solemnly promising the commander that he'd look after her. It had been one of the lighter moments since the whole sorry mess had started, but they controlled themselves. Even Starbuck saved the sardonic comments about the sad state of Trent's hormones until after the door had closed.

Athena and Trent had got back only fifteen centons ago, Boxey safely with them. Adama had spent the time since explaining what was going on. The child was frankly puzzled and uncomprehending, but had accepted the idea of pretending, of a game. He wanted his father back, though, for a reassurance that no one else seemed qualified to give. He clung closest to Starbuck as the next best substitute. It seemed to comfort Starbuck, too, and surprised no one.

The little room offered only marginal comfort. There were too many of them crowded into it, and even though Starbuck had brought in as many chairs as he could find from the near by rooms, it was still too close and intimate. They couldn't get away from each other and only Boxey's presence kept the tension – and tempers - within bounds. All the same, there was something grandly bathetic about them gathered around the screen like a family watching a vid.

Athena sat down beside her father on the narrow hospital bed. Boxey, still a little bewildered, snuggled into Starbuck's chair, set close by. Adama reached out a hand to cover the child's thin shoulder and squeezed gently.

IFB had set up their cameras in the Council Chamber, and were recording the Council as the announcement of Adama's death was made. The camera focussed on Anton, the old man flanked by sombre looking councillors.

"People of the fleet, I have very grave and very sad news to give to you all." Anton was at his most impressive, using his most serious, sorrowful tone. "Earlier today, President Adama suffered a sudden attack as he left the main Council Hall." Anton paused, seeming to fight for composure. "He collapsed, and although we rendered every possible assistance, we believe that he died almost instantly, before he could be taken to the Life Centre. Despite repeated attempts to revive him, at two forty-five he was officially declared dead by the Galactica's chief medical officer."

Anton paused, and the camera swung to focus on Apollo, standing, with Tigh, to one side of the Council table. His face was white and set, mouth thinned down to a line. Anger gave him at least the look of shocked grief and the smudges of ash added to the generally ghastly effect.

"It's not for real, Boxey," said Starbuck.

"It's just part of the pretending." Adama's hand tightened its grip.

"Does Dad know it's not for real?" asked Boxey, anxious. "He looks awfully upset."

"He knows," Athena assured him. "He's pretending, too."

"And rather better than I expected," said Starbuck, putting his arms around the child.

"Everyone's a critic," murmured Boomer.

"We hope and believe that the end came very quickly, and that President Adama didn't suffer. This is a very terrible time for all of us, but we have to take comfort in the fact that death came so swiftly. He could have felt little pain." Anton, resplendent in a borrowed Council robe that was a couple of sizes too large for him, looked directly into the camera. It had refocused on him when he began to speak again. His eyes, young eyes in the old face, were wet. "We have none of us had time to begin to understand what the consequences of this will be – the shock is too great for that – and we will all, I think, want to reflect on what Adama meant to each of us. His courage has never been in doubt. We all owe our lives to his action at Cimtar and afterwards, in rescuing as many of our people as we could get into the ships of this fleet. His vision, too, was always clear, resting on his deep faith and an unshakable belief that there is something better and greater beyond this imperfect world in which we live. Indeed, his has been the vision of a future on Earth that has given us a reason to survive, beyond mere existence. Since the terrible Destruction of our people, his has been the hand to protect and guide us."

Athena made gagging noises, and Trent grinned at her, eyes warm with admiration.

"At this centon, none of us on the Council can see how we shall continue without him. That we shall have to try and find his courage and go on, is clear. That we shall have to try and realise the vision he had for us, is the task he has left us. But all we can hope to do is follow the example he set us. We won't see his like again. He was an outstanding warrior, a very great fleet commander and an example to us all in his personal gentleness and humility."

"Humility? He does mean you, does he, Dad?" said Athena. "I can't say that I've noticed that the men in my family lacked egos. Any of them."

"It's very moving." Lyre sniffed loudly. Salik solemnly handed her a tissue.

"I'm still here, Doctor," Adama reminded her, rather tartly.

"As you will all know, Adama was one of our leading Kobolians. In accordance with Kobolian ritual, his Farewell will take place very early tomorrow at the Morning Light service, at the time corresponding to dawn on Caprica. The family will retreat into seclusion and will hold vigil tonight. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time of loss and sorrow." Anton glanced over to Apollo. "The family understands that theirs is not the only loss; that we are all lost and grieving. We will all share the Farewell with them tomorrow morning, in the Kobolian Chapel here on the Galactica, although Captain Apollo has asked that the actual committal remain a private, family service in accordance with the Kobolian ritual. There will be more announcements as the family finalises the arrangements, so please be patient. IFB will broadcast the information when it's available. In the meantime, I can only ask you to remain calm, to consider quietly how we can honour President Adama and all he stood for, and to think about how we all can learn from his courage, and his vision and faith. God bless him, and all of us."

Anton nodded gravely at the camera, and the screen faded slowly to black. Solemn, majestic funeral music came over the speakers, and Adama ordered Boomer to turn it off before it could get any worse. The lieutenant obeyed, his shoulders shaking with what Adama hoped was repressed emotion, but suspected was repressed laughter.

"Good God," was all Adama could say. He said it several times, with increasing disbelief and volume.

Starbuck turned awed blue eyes to Adama. "That was amazing," he said. "I've never heard anything so sick in my life."

"It was awesome," agreed Athena. "That man's a consummate actor, Dad. Did you see the tears in his eyes?"

"Well, I thought it was very touching," said Lyre, defiantly.

"So will most of the fleet, thankfully," said Boomer.

Starbuck agreed. "If you listen hard enough, you can probably hear the sound of massed sobbing. That was one helluva speech, Commander. It almost had me in tears."

Adama said, annoyed, "That's enough, everyone. This is far too serious to be joking about."

Athena's hand on his was comforting. "It's all right, Dad. It's the way they deal with it, remember? The black humour to keep the shakes away."

Adama looked down at his hands, and covered hers with his own. "It's a long time since I left off flying," he said, by way of apology. "I don't like this. I don't like sitting here, helpless, while my son sets himself up as a target. I don't like that."

"Me neither," muttered Starbuck.

"What's Dad doing?" asked Boxey.

"Nothing." Adama assured him. "Nothing. He'll be here in a few centons."

"All right." Boxey looked doubtful. He looked from one to the other, and now he was scared. He looked like he might cry.

"I promise," said Adama, and put his hand on the child's shoulder again. "Any centon now."

But it was more than twenty centons before Anton and Apollo got back. Tigh was with them, and, surprisingly, Mene-ti-Auapet.

"Thank God!" said Adama, jumping up. He stopped, uncertain, letting Starbuck and Boxey reach Apollo. They almost fell over each other to do it.

"All right?" asked Starbuck, unusually restrained. He touched Apollo briefly, as if to reassure himself, then smiled, relieved.

Apollo nodded. He sat down heavily on the bed, Boxey scrambling up beside him.

"It went reasonably well," said Anton. His voice was dulcet soft. "The Council's adjourned for now, Adama, out of respect for you. It won't meet again formally until the day after tomorrow."

"Very touching," said the commander, as dryly.

"And, as we agreed, I've locked the ship down tight," said Tigh. "The Council's spending the night here in guest quarters under heavy guard with Reese's people on every door. No objection there: they're all scared rigid that troops of Aegyptan assassins are after them. We've talked to Omega, and we've closed communications down, too, with everything routed through the bridge. Omega will track everything in and out, and we'll know if any of them try to contact their friends off ship."

"They've friends on this one, though," said Apollo, prising himself out of the chokehold Boxey had on him.

"If you mean Lieutenant Chelas, Bojay and me redid the duty rosters this morning," said Boomer. "I've got her on picket duty for the next eight centars. We don't have to worry about her just yet."

Adama nodded and looked enquiringly at Mene-ti-Auapet.

"I did a fine job of frightening the Council, I hope," said Mene. "But having made such a performance out of demanding Sekhet's corpse, I thought I had better come down here and leave with a body bag, just in case anyone checks. Although what I'll put in it escapes me."

"You have several Aegyptans outside," said Anton. "Forgive me, Mene, but people don't notice things like how many were with you and what sort of helmets they were wearing, If one of them were to be carried out of here in the body bag, by the others, no one will notice that you have one less escort than you arrived with. I can guarantee that will fool everyone on the Council into believing that you left here with the commander's killer."

Mene laughed. "Are you sure you're not an Aegyptan, Anton? Masterly!"

"Oh, I'm good at plotting," said Anton serenely. "I've had a lifetime's practice."

"You'd better get back to Seti." Apollo looked up at Mene, taking his attention from Boxey. The child was unusually clinging and he pulled Boxey up onto his lap, to hug him comfortingly. It was a moot point about who was getting the comfort out of it. "Trent, please go with Mene, and see her escort gets past Gina. I left Acer out there, too."

"I'll go, as well. I'll need to sort out a body bag." Salik looked at Lyre and jerked his head towards Apollo. "You see to him."

Lyre nodded.

Mene took a small device from her pocket and put it on the bedside stand. "From Kha-nes-akhat, as he promised, for tomorrow's service."

Apollo nodded his thanks. Boomer solemnly handed Mene the bag of Aegyptan clothes and the silver Hawkhead.

"I'll leave these with Kha, here," said Mene. "You'll need them tomorrow. I'll see you then, Sekhet, on the Windjammer."

"Sekhet?" asked Anton curiously.

Apollo glanced up at him and then at Adama, silent.

"It's Daddy's other name," said Boxey. "His weird name."

"Hush now." Athena shook her head at him.

Apollo pulled Boxey into a comforting hug, but said nothing. Mene bowed gracefully to him, and he nodded.

"How did it go?" Adama asked as soon as Mene, flanked by Trent and Salik, was out of the door. He took one of the chairs. "Apollo?"

"Fine. It was fine." Apollo gave Boxey one more hug, then persuaded the child to let him go. "I just need to get cleaned up a bit, Boxey. I'm not going anywhere."

"If Mene did well in frightening them, the boy did pretty well in insulting them," said Anton.

"Good." Adama watched Apollo's progress to the tiny fresher at the side of the room. Starbuck hesitated, then followed him, standing protectively in the doorway while Apollo got rid of as much of the ash as he could.

"What happened, Apollo?" asked Athena, raising her voice so he could hear.

"He was good, Adama," said Tigh, when Apollo didn't answer. "Between them, he and Mene have the Council pretty rattled. Apollo made it clear that as soon as the funeral's over and he's out of seclusion, then he'll start making a lot of noise about your death. He accused them to their faces of murdering you."

"But I couldn't see that any one of them was any more rattled than the others," said Apollo. Looking weary, he came back to the bed, Starbuck his shadow. He sat down again, face and hands cleansed of the mourning ash. He'd combed wet hands through his hair, but nothing short of a shower would get rid off the ash there. Boxey pressed close and watched proceedings with wide eyes.

"Me neither," agreed Tigh. "And I was looking pretty closely."

"There was Piers," said Anton, thoughtfully.

"He accused me, more or less, of being behind your death," Apollo said, speaking directly to Adama for the first time since he'd got back, then he suddenly laughed. There was more than a note of hysteria in it.

"I doubt that he'd appreciate the irony." Adama looked at Lyre, who was frowning. She drifted casually over to Apollo.

"No," agreed Apollo, the laughter dead as quickly as it came. He put his arm around Boxey, but if it was to hide the shaking, it didn't work. The hand resting on Boxey's tunic was trembling visibly. "About as much as he appreciated the slapping down he got from Anton. That was pretty impressive. It scared me, and he's on my side."

"Every now and again, you should do something unexpected," said Anton, serene as ever. "It relieves the monotony. And, of course, it stops people taking you for granted."

"We wouldn't dare," said Adama with an affectionate smile for his old ally. "We respect you too much for that."

Boxey pulled at Apollo's hand to get his attention. He was sitting up against his father's chest, leaning back and his hands playing with Apollo's, very obviously happier now that Apollo was back. "Grandpa says we're pretending, ‘til we get the bad men."

"Uh-huh."

"Are they very bad?"

"Yeah," said Apollo. "They are."

"Are they scary?"

"We're scarier," said Starbuck. "And braver. And the good guys always win."

"Okay," said Boxey. "Dad'll get them. And Starbuck," he added, as a kindly afterthought.

Anton smiled. "Children have a simplicity that even a hardened old cynic like me finds himself totally – " he paused, and the smile broadened. " – totally able to resist. Why is that do you think? Am I irredeemable?"

"Probably. We wouldn't have it any other way," said Athena, and kissed the old man's cheek. "The day we see you melt in the face of childish innocence, is the day we look for long term care for you."

"I'll take that as a compliment," said the old reprobate.

Lyre had ignored most of the conversation, keeping her attention on Apollo and the scanner she had pointed at him. "Headache?" she asked quietly.

Apollo nodded.

"Ribs hurting still, too? You look moderately terrible."

"I feel it."

"It's nothing serious, just that the stims Salik gave you are wearing off." She glanced down again at the scanner in her hand, then bent to look into his green eyes. "Normal pupil dilation, so that's all right. You're not concussed, but your system took one hell of a shock from those stun waves, you know, so it's not so surprising that you feel bad. Don't forget that the whole point of a stun is to close the system down. The stims only delay that for a while."

"Okay," said Apollo. He rubbed at his eyes, the usual gesture of tiredness and stress.

"And maybe next time you won't ignore medical advice when it's offered. You feel worse now because you wouldn't take the painkiller earlier." She took a pressure hypodermic. "You'll take it now," she said, and injected it into his neck.

"Lyre?" Adama's tone had an edge to it.

"Are you sick?" asked Boxey, fearfully.

"No. I'm just tired." Apollo gave him a reassuring hug. "Honest."

"He'll be fine when he's had some sleep," said Lyre.

Boxey was scornful. "Only babies go to sleep this early."

Lyre looked her patient up and down. "It won't be long. He's almost asleep now."

"I'm fine," protested Apollo.

"Hah!" said Lyre, as scornful as Boxey. She grinned at Starbuck. "You're the betting man, I hear. Ten centons, tops."

"I never bet against certainties." Starbuck was chewing worriedly at his lower lip.

"Stop fussing," said the object of this solicitude, ungratefully. "It was only a stun wave."

"Three," said Boomer.

"Okay, three," said Apollo. He looked up as Salik and Trent came back.

"All done," said Salik.

"I've pulled back the guards to about half way down this corridor," Trent told them. "We've opened up Life Centre again. No one will get in here - Acer's camped immediately outside this room and they'd need solenite to get past him - but I'm not entirely happy about letting anyone into the Life Centre at all. Doctor Salik was pretty insistent about it."

"We can't keep the whole of Life Centre off limits," said Salik. He looked from Apollo to Lyre. She nodded. "There's nearly two thousand people on this ship alone, not counting the half dozen ships around us for which Galactica provides medical facilities. We're too essential to close us down."

"Quite right, Doctor." Adama was soothing. "We'll be safe enough with a corridor full of troopers preventing anyone getting in closer."

"I'm more worried about the medics and medtechs," said Starbuck. "We're pretty sure that one of them leaked the information about the transplant. It may be co-incidence, but you've got to wonder if whoever it was, is working for the enemy."

"No one will get in here except me and Lyre, and I assure you it was neither of us." Salik frowned. "I wish I knew who it was."

"I thought it might be Cassie," said Apollo.

"Cassiopeia?" Salik stared. "I doubt it. She hasn't got the clearance to access either your medical files or Seti's. In fact, yours are locked so tight even I have trouble getting into them. Why Cassie?"

"She's a bit mad at me." Apollo looked at Starbuck.

"Well, I don't think it was Cassiopeia." Salik's frown deepened. "But whoever it was, isn't likely to be here now. I've sent all non-essential staff away until after the funeral tomorrow morning."

"What about the other doctors?" asked Starbuck.

"Paye is making his rounds and is carrying out a procedure on a patient on the Cyprian, and he won't be back until at least the day after tomorrow. Simonz has taken Lyre's place on the Alcestis. Me and Lyre will handle any patients that may come in."

"Thank you, Doctor. I'm more grateful than I can say." Adama's tone put a line under the discussion, and he turned to Apollo. "We expected you back earlier. What held you up after the broadcast?"

Apollo didn't respond. Anton gave him a look that spoke volumes about his concern, and answered for him.

"The Galactica's chaplain was waiting for us when we came out of the Council Chamber. He needed some instructions about tomorrow. It took a few centons for them to agree all the arrangements."

"I see." Adama watched his son, worried.

"Apollo found it a difficult conversation, I believe," Anton said softly.

"It wasn't real," said Apollo, but there were dark shadows under his eyes and his mouth was hard with tension.

"No," agreed Adama. "It wasn't, Apollo."

Apollo said nothing. He rested his chin on Boxey's head and pulled the warm little body in closer. He closed his eyes.

"You're squeezing," protested Boxey, with a giggle.

Anton smiled very slightly. "Actually, it presented us with one of the day's lighter moments. The extremely large and capable sergeant you insisted went along with us, Adama, takes his duties seriously but seems to have at least some respect for the cloth. The chaplain had been thoroughly frisked, but not denied access, whatever the affront to his ecclesiastical dignity – and that, I may add, was considerable. The IFB reporter who tried to corner Apollo was not so lucky." Anton looked wickedly innocent. "I don't think that there will be any permanent damage. I'm almost certain that the man will recover the use of his - er – progenitive equipment eventually. Yes, I'm sure he'll recover. In a few sectons, perhaps."

"That's my Acer," said Trent.

"Actually, that's Apollo's Acer," pointed out Starbuck. "The man's besotted."

Trent sighed. "Love's a wonderful thing."

"Good God," said Adama.

"You should be a worried man," Boomer said to Starbuck. "Remembering all the training that Acer's been giving Apollo over the last couple of sectars."

"I'll only worry if Acer decides to get jealous," said Starbuck. He glanced from Apollo to Adama, looking worried. "What next, sir?"

"I think we're essentially incarcerated in here until after tomorrow." Adama kept his gaze on Apollo.

"I've got Gina arranging rations to feed us, and we've got this end of the corridor - four rooms - sealed off," said Trent. "It's not going to be comfortable, but there's enough room for all of us." He looked at Adama, and added, deprecatingly. "That is, sir, if you're willing to let me stay and help out."

"You're part of it, Lieutenant," said Adama, glancing to his daughter and getting his reward in the half-smile he got from her.

Anton looked faintly surprised. "All of us? Here all night?"

"Me and Apollo can't leave, anyway," said Athena. "We're supposed to be on Vigil. No one will raise an eyebrow at you and Tigh being here with us, or at the fact Trent's troopers are on guard."

"But, my dear, there's so much to do!"

"You can't go. I wouldn't give a bent cubit for your life out there," said Apollo, opening heavy eyes.

"From everything I've heard so far, I'd agree with that." Trent was slightly pink about the ears, and carefully not looking at Athena. "Neither you nor the Boss will be going anywhere without a squad of my troopers with you until this is all over."

Anton frowned. "I really don't think that's necessary. Do you, Adama?"

"I'm afraid that I do, old friend. I'd rather not be doing a Vigil for real, for you. So please stay here tonight and go with the family to Chapel tomorrow. And after that, as Trent says, you'll have a warrior escort."

Anton seemed about to argue, then shrugged. "Well, if Lieutenant Trent has all these spare troopers, then it seems a kindness to take them off his hands and give them gainful employment."

"Besides," said Adama. "There's still all the details to talk through."

"I don't think that all of us will be awake long enough to talk about anything," murmured Anton, with a nod in Apollo's direction.

"I wish he'd stop fighting it." Lyre checked the scanner again.

"Are you cold, Dad?" Boxey twisted to look up at Apollo.

"No," said Apollo, slowly. "I'm not cold."

"You're shivering."

"I'm not cold," said Apollo again.

Athena moved faster than anyone, scooping up Boxey out of Apollo's slackened grip. "Come on, nephew mine. Let's go and see what Gina's managed to find us to eat. The rest of you had better come as well."

"But I wanna stay with Dad!" Boxey started. "An' Starbu –"

"Don't whine," his aunt said, kindly. "That's a very bad habit you've picked up from your father."

Boxey glowered, offended.

Athena swept on, regardless. "Your Dad needs some rest and I think your grandfather needs to talk to him, so we're going, right now and no more arguments." Cool blue eyes raked across the rest of the assembled company. "And so is everyone else," she said, very firmly.

"Er – right," said Tigh. "Although I've managed to have a quick word with Bojay and Omega, Boomer and me had better go and talk to them properly and make some sort of announcement to the troops. We'll be back later."

"Good idea," said Adama. "Thank you."

"And I'll stay with you, of course, my dear," said Anton to Athena, as meek as Tigh. "Boxey may need help and protection. I'm an old man, but I'll do my best to provide it."

Athena sniffed and turned to her father. "Those troopers are right outside now. You'll need to stay out of sight when we open the door."

"Yes, Athena," said Adama, getting obediently out of the way.

She crooked a finger at Trent, nodded imperiously at the doctors, and stared inimically at Starbuck. "You can stay, I suppose," she conceded, and herded everyone else to the door.

Starbuck watched it close behind her. "You know, she might run Apollo close for commander, one day" he said. "She's good at chivvying." He knelt down beside the bed and started unfastening Apollo's boots.

"She is," said Adama. He came closer, almost tentative. "Apollo?"

"I'm not cold," Apollo said. "I just can't stop shaking." He sounded more surprised than anything else.

"You'll be fine when you get some sleep." Starbuck got the right boot off and started on the other.

Apollo laughed shakily. "I didn't know that it felt like this to be hit with a stun."

"Better than a full charge," came from the philosopher kneeling at Apollo's feet and tugging determinedly on a recalcitrant left boot.

"Apollo?" said Adama again.

Apollo, trembling so violently now that the bed was rattling, finally looked at him. "I can't stop," he said.

"Stop fighting it," Adama sat down beside him.

Apollo shook his head and, most unexpectedly, clutched at Adama with shaking hands. "I didn't want to. I didn't want to."

"I know," said Adama, gently. He put his arms around his son, trying to still the shaking.

Starbuck got the second boot off and dropped it, getting up quickly. "Apollo?"

"I didn't –" Apollo stopped and choked, hardly able to breathe for the dry sobs.

Adama's hold tightened and he pulled Apollo in closer. "It's all right." He might have been soothing a child. He stroked the ash streaked hair. "I told you so, remember? I told you to do it. I told you that you had to do it."

Starbuck's eyes widened with comprehension.

Adama glanced up at him. "Help me get him out of this," he said, indicating the torn flight jacket.

Starbuck had to pull Apollo's hands from where they were fisted into Adama's tunic, unclamping the fingers one by one. It was like helping Boxey undress; or, at least, something as helpless and as fretful as a tired child. He dropped the jacket onto the floor beside the discarded boots.

"I didn't want to," Apollo said again, increasingly distressed. The instant Starbuck had released his hands, they'd reached for Adama again. "I didn't want to, Dad."

Adama's hold on him tightened convulsively at that unexpected monosyllable, and he felt like shouting. It was an effort to keep his voice low and soothing. "I told you to. It's all right, Apollo."

Starbuck sat on Apollo's other side, putting a hand on the bowed shoulders, rubbing soothing circles over Apollo's back. He said nothing, leaving it to Adama. Apollo cried helplessly for a few centons before slowly quieting, Adama crooning soothing nonsense to him all the while. When he'd been still for a little while, even the trembling finally lessening, Adama put his hand under Apollo's chin and carefully tilted his son's head back to scrutinise his face.

"Asleep?" Starbuck asked quietly.

Adama nodded, letting Apollo's head fall back onto his shoulder. "It's what he needs. From the look of him, I don't think that the last secton on the Usermaatre has been a rest cure."

"No. He didn't say that much, but I reckon getting those things in his arms hurt. And other things."

"What other things?" Adama spoke sharply, alarmed.

"Psyching himself up for today wouldn't be fun, that's all I meant." Starbuck lifted his hand from Apollo's back to tangle his fingers into the thick dark hair. "Shall I get Lyre or Salik? Just to check him over?"

"They'll be back in a few centons, as soon as they can escape from Athena." Adama looked at him over Apollo's head. "I'd like a moment with him., Starbuck. It's been a long time since I was allowed to do this. No - " as Starbuck made some move to get up, "-no, you needn't go. He'd be happier with you here, I expect."

Starbuck nodded, and settled back down again. He didn't deny or accept the assumption that was implicit in Adama's words. "It wasn't easy for him."

"What do you think we talked about in the outer Chamber? I had to order him to do it." Adama's smile was slight and twisted. "I suppose I ought to be grateful that he had to force himself to carry it through. I don't think the symbolism was lost on him. At least he didn't want to cut the last cord between us."

"I don't think he's cut any of them, yet. Not really. Mind you, I'll admit he's stretched some of them a bit."

"Yes," said Adama.

"But they aren't broke, not really." Starbuck grinned.

Adama nodded, and pulled Apollo in closer. After a few centons he said, a reluctant amusement in his tone, "I haven't had to rock him to sleep since he was about six. Not since Athena was born."

"He was jealous?"

"You have no idea. He went through a phase of refusing to sleep unless me or Ila was there to hold him It worried Ila a lot."

"Mmmn," said Starbuck.

"I know, I know. I didn't see why then, or what damage that kind of thing did. Maybe I understand a little better now." Adama shifted slightly, settling Apollo's weight more comfortably. "At the time all I worried about was how to get a fractious six-yahren old to sleep without letting him get into bad, manipulative habits. But I don't know if you've noticed, Starbuck, that he's very loud when he doesn't get his own way."

"The whole fleet notices. You should issue ear defenders."

"He was just the same at six."

"Attention seeking," said Starbuck wisely. He grinned at the commander. "He still is. He's been working pretty hard over the last few sectons to get your attention."

"Does he think he hasn't had it?"

Starbuck's answer was oblique. "How'd you deal with it when he was six?"

"We did an awful lot of reassuring until he was convinced Athena hadn't taken his place. He settled down eventually."

"Uh-huh."

Adama sighed. "Athena doesn't think I've done enough, either. But Starbuck, to be very honest with you, I haven't known what to do. This blind sided me completely, that he could doubt me so much."

"I'd say you were doing something right, right now," said Starbuck.

"This? He's a bit old to rock to sleep every night, you know."

Starbuck shrugged. "I didn't mean that, although I don't often see you doing something like this, showing what you feel about him. But, I'd say you got it right this time. You reacted, and you reacted in a way that even he has to see means that you care for him. That's what he needed. He's been trying to provoke you for sectons, and you've never let him see that."

"He hurt me very badly," said Adama, with difficulty.

"He was pretty hurt himself. If you'd come out fighting, Commander, you might have been able to have sorted this out sectons ago. I'm not saying you wouldn't have had some fights - Lords, I expect between you, you'd have shattered bulkheads – and he'd still be bloody mad at you for not telling him all these yahrens, but he wouldn't doubt your motives so much. He still does need a fair amount of reassurance, you know."

"I don't find it easy to let go very much, Starbuck. It was easier when he was Boxey's age."

"I thought you liked a challenge. Besides, I don't know that people grow out of needing a bit of affection. He's no exception."

"I'm learning all too much about my children's insecurities," said Adama.

"We are what our parents make us." Starbuck shrugged. "Or orphanages, in my case, since my father didn't care enough even to screw me up that way."

Adama sighed. "That may be a blessing in disguise."

Starbuck leaned back and stared at the pair of them. "It can be worth it," he muttered.

Adama gave him a sharp look, but pursued it no further. One set of emotional problems at a time was enough for anyone to take care of. "Let's get him into bed."

"Sure," Starbuck said, and helped Adama get Apollo's tunic off. He hesitated so long over divesting Apollo of his pants while his father was watching, that Adama, using a finger to trace the silver hawk embedded into Apollo's left arm, growled at him.

"Oh, just get on with it, Starbuck!"

Starbuck actually blushed, but did as he was told. Adama laid Apollo down and they wrapped him in the covers.

"He'll be all right," said Adama, hopefully. He dropped a hand onto Starbuck's arm. "Thank you"

"S'okay."

"Yes," said Adama. "It is okay, Starbuck."

Starbuck blushed again, even the tips of his ears reddening. Adama smiled, and let his hand drop away. Starbuck looked down at Apollo, and, despite his obvious embarrassment, grinned happily.

"Some people," the lieutenant observed, face still flaming, "will do anything to get the one and only bed in the room."

"You aren't going to tell me that if I wasn't standing two feet away, you wouldn't be in there with him?"

"You're his Dad, sir. I'm not going to tell you anything at all."

Adama laughed softly.

"Mind you," said Starbuck. "I wouldn't tell you I wasn't tempted, either." He reached out to tangle his fingers back in the ashy hair again. "Because I am. I'm bloody tempted."

Adama's smile was a little grim. "I'd curb it just now, Starbuck if I were you. I'm only two feet away and let me tell you that I'm the best antidote you can come across against a night of unalloyed joy."

Starbuck grinned back. "Naw. The fact he's pretty much comatose is the best antidote for that. I don't ask for much, but I do prefer my best loves to be awake enough to remember it."

Adama sighed, defeated. "Good God," he said.

 

 

 

They were ready before dawn.

It was voices that woke him, Starbuck's close in at his ear, calling him insistently while his lover's hand was a familiar weight on his shoulder, shaking him. Further off he could hear Thenie, upset, her voice husky with tears, and Trent's soft murmur in response . He opened his eyes reluctantly, blinking against the light.

Boxey was curled up warm beside him, arms and legs wrapped around him like a small incubus. The child's face was pressed up against his shoulder, and Apollo could feel the warm, even breathing against the side of his neck.

"Hey," said Starbuck, softly, letting his hand rest against Apollo's face for an instant. "All right?"

He let himself realise slowly where he was and what had happened. "Yeah," he said, after a centon. He turned his head. Apart from Boxey and Starbuck, only Athena and Trent were there.

"Time to go, Apollo," said Starbuck.

"Where is he?" Apollo asked.

Starbuck nodded his head towards the room to his left. "In there. It's done, Apollo."

Apollo sat up carefully, trying not to wake Boxey. "Already?"

"He wanted it over before you or Athena were awake." Starbuck helped disentangle Boxey, his hands gentle on the child. "He thought you were both upset enough." Starbuck paused, ducking his head to look into Apollo's eyes. "He said to tell you that he loved you and trusted you to see it all through, and he said to say that he wished he'd had the chance to tell you that himself. He's all right, Apollo."

Apollo closed his eyes for a micron, thinking about it. Then he slid out from under the covers, letting Starbuck settle Boxey back again. The child murmured crossly, but didn't wake. He glanced sideways at Athena. She was in black, severe and thin, crossing her arms over her chest and holding herself upright and restrained to hold back the fears and misgivings. Her eyes, when they met his, were wide and darker than normal, the blue irises shrinking against the enormous pupils.

"He's really all right?"

"Salik says so." Starbuck gestured towards the tiny fresher. "All yours. There's not much time."

He didn't say anything. He was steady enough on his feet, the effects of the stun slept off, apart from the dull headache behind his eyes and that wasn't so bad. At least he'd stopped shaking. He paused beside Athena as he passed her, only to touch her cheek. She nodded at him, silent. Trent was at her other side, his good hand on her shoulder. She reached up to cover it with her own, and reached for his artificial hand with her other hand. Apollo managed a smile for her, and carried on his way.

Starbuck followed him to the door of the fresher. "You've slept for centars, but I guess you needed it. Not even Boxey could wake you. He got fretful and frightened and refused point blank to stay with Athena next door. He's almost as noisy as you are when he doesn't get his own way, so we let him back in here so he could get into bed with you. He settled down then. More comfortable than I was, I can tell you. Those chairs break your back."

"Uh-huh," said Apollo, ducking under the jet for a few microns.

"Reese came by about midnight. That was a bit tense." Starbuck was waiting when Apollo came out and headed for the dryer, his blue eyes anxious. "He's not much of a cop, but he knows what he was supposed to do. Maybe he read it in a book somewhere. Anyway, Anton handled him. He had to stare Reese down in the end. I see what you mean about that old man being a bit scary. I don't think I'd like to go up against him and he has to be eighty yahrens older than me." Starbuck paused, and waited, then went on when he didn't get an answer, "Reese went off in the end. He had to get back to guarding the rest of the Council, but he wasn't very happy at being brushed off."

Apollo leaned back against the wall of the dryer, the warm air comforting him. His ribs bit at him when he stretched, and he explored the bruise with one hand, letting both the warmth and Starbuck's voice wash over him.

"So far, though, the story's holding. Reese is mad, but he and the rest of Security are under orders to say nothing about what happened. Boomer says that the troops were all stunned, but everyone believed what they were being told. For now, anyway."

Nothing serious, nothing broken. Just sore. As his hand dropped, the hawk flashed in the light, startling him for a micron. He'd almost forgotten it, but how do you forget the irrevocable things that you do, the decisions of such deep significance that everything else pales beside them? He held out both arms and turned them, letting the light catch on the curved beaks, and those curiously high crowns.

It hadn't hurt as much as he'd expected. That had been no more than Seti's warped sense of humour. If he'd been Aegyptan all his life and this had been done on his fifteenth birthday, all his younger self would have had would have been a mild sedative, a tranquilliser to calm the nerves. The device itself had numbed both arms with freezing cold before inserting the hawks. He had really felt very little as it happened, a sharp stinging and then the cold flowed in. The pain had come a few centons later, when the numbness wore off, and by then he was in an anteroom of the ceremonial, away from the hundreds of green eyes that had watched him become one of them, and Kha had been ready enough with something then to kill the pain. A couple of days of almost absolute helplessness and, he wouldn't ever deny, some considerable pain and discomfort, and he was marked for ever as an Aegyptan Clanlord.

It had been some sort of ritual test, a test of his courage and endurance, something to demonstrate to the clans his willingness to sacrifice self to duty and honour in their protection. There was no intention for him to suffer more than was strictly necessary. Well, maybe it had been necessary. It was certainly irrevocable.

Irrevocable, but not, he hoped, irreconcilable.

"I went and got your dress blacks. Boomer'll be back in a centon, too. He went to get more stuff from the Chapel. Tigh and Anton are next door, and Omega came down about twenty centons ago. He said that you'd asked him to be a pall bearer. He doesn't know, though, does he, Apollo?"

Apollo stepped out into the main part of the fresher. He laid a couple of fingers over Starbuck's lips.

"It's okay," he said, quietly. "You don't have to worry."

Starbuck's eyes said otherwise, but the lips under his fingers curved into a smile, meant to comfort him. When he dropped his hand, Apollo brushed that smiling mouth with his own. Starbuck was warm and vital and alive, and loved him, and Starbuck's arms came up to hold him for a micron. He hoped that was irrevocable, too.

He got silently into the dress blacks that Starbuck had brought from his quarters while he slept. Boomer was there when he came back into the main room, the lieutenant's dark face already daubed with ash and it was thick in his tightly curled black hair. Apollo let Boomer apply a new coating of ash to his face and hair.

"What about Boxey?" asked Athena, subdued.

Apollo glanced over to his son, still sleeping with the innocence and abandon of childhood. The child had kicked the covers free as usual. Something in his chest contracted slightly. Thank God Serina had left him Boxey. Thank God.

"I'd rather he stayed here. He's too young for this."

"I talked with Lyre," said Starbuck. "She's going to stay here until it's all over then join me and Boomer on the shuttle. She'll look after him."

Apollo looked at him.

"I didn't want you to worry about it, Apollo," said Starbuck, simply. "I can't do much, but – " He shrugged.

"Thanks," said Apollo, and put his heart into it. He turned as Boomer tapped him on the cheek to remind him that his face wasn't finished.

"I've done Tigh and Omega." Boomer concentrated for a micron on smearing the ash along Apollo's cheek bones. "You've only got five of us, Apollo."

"Do Trent as well." Apollo let Boomer apply the ash to his still-damp hair. "If he's willing."

"I'd be honoured," said Trent. "Are you sure?"

Apollo smiled very slightly at Athena. "Family."

It won him a faint blush from Trent and a grateful hug from Athena that had all the tenacity of one of Boxey's more clinging efforts. Apollo squeezed gently, and let her go, letting Boomer disfigure her pretty face with the mourning ash. The last time they'd looked like this it had been Serina's coffin that they'd followed into the Chapel. Starbuck and Boomer had helped him carry that one, too, and he was suddenly almost overwhelmed by gratitude that he still had them, when so much else had gone in smoke and flames. His hand groped for Starbuck's, and he didn't care who saw, holding it while Boomer finished his task of anointing them all. He reached for Athena with the other hand.

Acer was outside in the corridor, the honour guard of troopers and pilots at a discreet distance. The big sergeant nodded, silent and respectful, opening the door of the room where Anton, Tigh and Omega waited.

Another sharp constriction of the chest when he saw what they were standing beside. Someone, probably the quiet and subdued soldiers gathered outside, had already put the coffin on a hoversled. The lid was closed. Athena made a slight sound when his grip on her hand threatened to crush her fingers, but she tightened her own grip on him fiercely when he attempted to let her go, guilty at having hurt her.

Salik was there, his hand taking the one that Starbuck released, his voice murmuring in Apollo's ear, his words meant for Apollo alone. Apollo nodded, only half listening to the words of reassurance, finding it hard to take his eyes off the gleaming metal capsule.

Anton came to embrace him. "Everything's ready," said the old man, calm and steadying. "We've announced that we'll arrange a full Farewell for a few day's time, but that today's committal will be very short."

"Thank you," said Apollo.

"And the Council will be in the Chapel. I've let it be known that I persuaded you to allow it. Please don't do any more than glare at them in public, but feel free to glare all you want."

Apollo managed a faint grin, knowing that Anton was hoping for it. He shook hands with Omega and with Tigh, each of them, both the knowing and the unknowing, muted and restrained. He stepped back out of the way with Athena as Acer led the honour guard in to escort the coffin. The big sergeant gave him an odd glance, measuring, and he remembered that Acer, at least, knew that things couldn't quite be as they appeared. Acer, face settling into a respectful mask, nodded at him slightly. It was reassuring.

He held Athena's hand all the way, at the head of the mournful little procession. They followed the coffin to the Chapel in complete silence. Even if only those aware of the conspiracy had been there, there was nothing anyone wanted to say. With an escort honour guard present, there wasn't anything that could be said.

The Chapel was on the topmost deck, above but well aft of the bridge where Adama had spent so many yahrens of his life. It was a place of rare ornateness in this utilitarian ship, richly decorated in the Kobolian style, with huge screens along one wall that did duty as windows, allowing the worshippers to see the glory of God's heavens sail slowly by in real time.

And, more prosaically from Apollo's point of view, it had its own drop mechanism, a short vacuum tube that allowed immediate committal of a body to space. It meant that he only had to carry the coffin the once, getting it into the Chapel and into place. It meant he only had to touch it once, although something in him shrank even from that.

Outside the Chapel, Apollo let go of Athena's hand and stepped up to the coffin, beside Tigh.

"Steady," said Tigh, face greyed by ash. "Just take it steady, Apollo. You're doing fine."

Apollo said nothing. He wasn't fine at all.

It took centon or two and the help of a couple of the escorting troopers to get the coffin settled on their shoulders, each with one arm under it and braced on his partner's shoulder, the other hand up beside their faces to hold the coffin steady. Tigh partnered Apollo, with Starbuck and Boomer just behind them. Trent and Omega had worked out between them which side Trent had to be on to balance out his missing left hand.

It was heavy. Adama was a big man, as tall as Apollo but built on altogether bigger lines; not fleshy, but solid and well made. Apollo hadn't realised how much that would weigh on him, when Adama was inert and unmoving and helpless. The thing was bloody heavy.

Apollo concentrated on the slow even steps he had to take to match his stride to everyone else's and match Tigh's soft barely-heard count, to make sure that the casket had a serene and even ride into the Chapel to the bier. He concentrated on keeping his breathing slow and steady, keeping his eyes on the few metres ahead of him so that he could see little of the faces sliding by, pale blurs turned towards him as they progressed slowly past. He was barely conscious of them. He was more conscious of Tigh's breathing, the feel of the older man's hand on his right shoulder, the feel of Tigh's shoulder under his fingers, the cool metal beside his face.

Amazingly, since they hadn't practiced it, they got the coffin into place on the track leading to the launch tube with dignity and decorum - grace, even – with no more than Tigh's quiet, almost subliminal instructions. Apollo, Tigh's hand still on his shoulder, stepped back to the chancel steps. Tigh's hand squeezed and was gone. He and Omega, one each side of the coffin, pressed the release catches and let the lid slide aside. They saluted smartly, then made their way with the other pall bearers to the first pew where Anton waited.

Apollo dropped to his knees. An instant later, Athena joined him on the steps, sinking to her knees beside him. He reached for her hand, not caring if this wasn't strictly according to the ritual, and held it throughout the entire service. Otherwise he kept his back rigidly straight and his eyes on the casket in front of him.

The service seemed interminable, although some walled off part of himself knew that the chaplain was keeping it mercifully short. As with Serina's funeral over a yahren ago now, there were no eulogies: they would come at the later Farewell. Instead they were keeping to the simplicity of the Morning Light service, the usual prayers of thanksgiving for the new day replaced by the sonorous and glorious prayers for the soul of the beloved dead. He listened carefully to the prayers, and to the music. Beside him, he could hear the faint melodic sound of Athena joining in the hymns, but although he loved music, he had no voice for it, preferring to listen. Athena's voice, low and rich, reminded him of Ila's.

No. Of Nefert-ila-Nefertuamon's. That's how he would think of her from now on. His mother was irrevocable, too, in her full identity and couldn't be denied any longer.

It still seemed to take half a lifetime before the chaplain, standing before them with his hands resting lightly on Apollo's and Athena's bowed heads, pronounced the benediction. And then the long, long wait, while the Chapel slowly emptied, the sound of suppressed coughs, and footsteps shuffling past him as the congregation filed slowly past the coffin to pay their last respects, and eventually, silence.

"Would you like me to stay, Apollo?" asked the chaplain, at last.

Apollo looked up, surprised. The Chapel was empty, but for them. Even the IFB cameras were gone. He frowned, trying to remember if they'd actually been there, and had some vague memory of passing by them, registering them out of the corner of one eye as he concentrated on the weight pressing down on his shoulder.

"No," he said, after a moment, adding, politely, "Thank you."

"Thank you," echoed Athena, dabbing at her eyes. They were red, and Apollo realised the poor girl had probably cried her way through the entire ceremony.

The chaplain nodded, and blessed them, without ostentation and with some sincerity. Apollo appreciated that, aware that sometimes he was too impatient, too cynical about the Kobolian church in which he'd been raised. He helped Athena to her feet, and they watched the chaplain leave, the man closing the outer door softly behind him. For a centon they were quiet, holding hands like children.

"All right?"

"No," she said. Her hand was trembling in his. "I don't like it, Appy."

He gave her a hug. "It'll be all right. I promise." He checked around, and took the small transponder from his pocket, that Kha-nes-akhat had sent him through Mene. He switched it on, and turned in a slow circle. If there was any watching or listening device in the Chapel, it was now most effectively jammed.

"I hope that works," said Athena.

"I was assured it would." Apollo's smile was brief and frosty. "I had the very best of technical advice, after all."

He stepped up onto the dais and looked into the coffin for the first time. Adama looked dead. He looked very dead, and it took a micron for the memory of Salik's quiet voice to calm Apollo. The drugs slow respiration and heartbeat down to almost nothing, Apollo , the doctor had said, speaking low and quiet in his ear as he'd stared, mesmerised, at the coffin. Imperceptible without a scanner. But he is still breathing, and he's fit and strong. He'll be fine .

The bag was hidden beside Adama's feet, where no-one would notice it, wrapped in a fold of the white shroud. It was the work of a micron to empty it, scattering the contents in the casket. Apollo fixed the mask over Adama's face, his hands shaking again, sliding the breathing apparatus into the coffin beside him.

"This is so dangerous," fretted Athena.

"Salik said that, given how slow respiration is, there's enough here for about eight centars, although I hope to God Starbuck and Boomer pick him up much sooner." He checked again that the mask was in place. "Give me a hand, Thenie."

With Athena's help, he tucked several heat packs around Adama's still body. Despite all their planning, it might be a few centars before Adama could be retrieved, and the worst danger now was that he would die of hypothermia before they could get to him. At least he wouldn't run out of oxygen, Apollo pointed out, trying to comfort and reassure himself as much as comfort and reassure Athena. The valve system in the breathing apparatus would ensure that there was no build up of carbon dioxide inside the coffin. Given the slow respiration rate, there wasn't much danger of Adama being suffocated.

The bag also held a tracer and monitor. He tucked the tracer into the coffin, putting it over his father's heart, and activated it, checking on the little monitor that it was working. Without that, Starbuck would never be able to retrieve Adama.

"Fine," he said, keeping his voice level. "All working."

"I don't like this." Athena was shaking. "It could all go so wrong."

"It's the best way. Let's get it over with." Apollo closed the coffin lid, sealed it carefully to ensure it was airtight. "Ready?"

"Of course not!" Athena muttered

Apollo took her hand in his. With his free hand, he pressed the button on the console before him and the coffin slid out of sight into the vacuum tube. A centon later and they felt the dull vibration as the coffin was shot out of the tube into space.

"Well," said Apollo. "That's that."

 

 

 

"I hope to God we can find it soon," muttered Starbuck, from the controls of Galactica's smallest shuttle, the commander's personal craft. For some reason, Apollo had insisted on them taking this particular ship. It had a significance that Starbuck took as a hopeful sign.

"The sensor's not showing anything yet," said Boomer.

Lyre looked up from the back of the shuttle, where she was checking over the medical equipment for about the fiftieth time. "Are we on the right trajectory?"

"We'd better be." Starbuck was grim. "The consequences for the commander will be a tad unfortunate if we're not."

Beside him, Boomer kept his eyes fixed on the monitors. He widened the scope of the scanners to try and pick up the transmitter in the commander's coffin.

"Got it," he said, after a few microns. "Five degrees to port, eight declension degrees."

Three centons later, and Boomer angled the long steel coffin on board the shuttle using the external grapplers while Starbuck concentrated on the flying. It was a delicate manoeuvre. If the shuttle collided with the coffin, the shuttle was highly unlikely to suffer any serious damage, but the thinner walled coffin would crack open like an egg. In Starbuck's laconic phraseology, the consequences of that were likely to be very unfortunate for the commander. But Starbuck wasn't the best pilot in the fleet for nothing. He kept the shuttle rock steady. Boomer deposited the coffin in the outer bay, and closed the airtight doors.

"Two centons to normal pressure," he called out, and Starbuck put the shuttle onto automatic pilot.

He and Boomer wasted no time in getting into the bay and getting the coffin open. The commander was waxy-white and still. Lyre removed the oxygen mask, and checked him over.

"It'll be a few centars yet before he comes out of sedation," she said. "That was bloody strong stuff."

"But he's okay?" Starbuck asked.

"Heart and respiration still very slow, but that's the effect of the fendrazine and the cold. Some signs of mild frostbite and hypothermia, but nothing serious. He'll be fine."

"Good." Boomer started rooting around in a storage locker. "There should be some blankets and heat packs in here somewhere. He's pretty cold."

"I'll tell Apollo," said Starbuck, and sent the pre-arranged wordless signal that confirmed that they'd successfully made the pick-up. Then he went back aft to help Boomer get Adama out of the coffin.

"I don't quite know what I feel about all this," said Boomer, as they made the commander as comfortable as possible across the shuttle's passenger seats. Adama barely seemed to be breathing and Boomer had to look really closely to see the faint, slow rise and fall of the older man's chest.

"Or me," Starbuck confessed. "I'm worried about Apollo. He's taking a helluva risk."

Boomer sighed. "Trust you. One-track mind, that's your trouble. There really only is one sun in the universe for you, isn't there?"

Starbuck grinned sheepishly.

Boomer sighed again, but it was a sigh of acceptance and amusement. He touched Starbuck's arm and nodded towards the aft bay. They went back to the coffin, resealed it and ejected it out of the airlock.

Ten centons later, they watched as the elegant, graceful Aegyptan ship filled their view screens. They landed the shuttle in the Usermaatre's bay, and Boomer had the door open almost as soon as the shuttle came to a stop: they had all seen the five black dressed Aegyptans waiting on the flightdeck.

"How are you, Seti?" asked Lyre as soon as the Aegyptans filed onto the shuttle.

"Very well," said the lead Aegyptan, silver mask a Hawkhead to match the one Apollo had worn. "As I don't doubt my next check-up will show. What did you use on Adama?"

"Fendrazine. It slows heart rate and respiration to almost nothing."

"You're staying until he recovers consciousness?"

She nodded, and Seti gestured to the other Aegyptans. They lifted Adama carefully and carried him off the shuttle.

"You had better leave now," said Seti to Starbuck and Boomer. "We'll transport Lyre to the Alcestis as soon as she can leave Adama, and she can get back to the Galactica from there. And tell Sekhet not to worry. We'll take care of things here. We'll have Adama back on the Galactica within twenty four centars."

Starbuck nodded. "I'll let Apollo know. He's pretty keyed up about all of this."

"Sekhet knows he can trust me, Starbuck."

Starbuck sighed. "But can Apollo?"

 

 

 

 

The Council was in a trap of its own making. Refusing to admit to the real cause of Adama's death and too scared to go anywhere without the escort to protect them, they couldn't leave the Galactica until they'd worked out how to deal with the threat that Seti offered. Although this wasn't a formal Council meeting, they were gathered in the Council room, trying to find some way of propitiating the Aegyptans. It wasn't three centars since Adama's body had been committed to space.

Joel approached him in his corner, voice very low. "You haven't answered my call."

The older man shrugged. "It's very inconvenient, the ship being locked down tight like this and every member of the Council under armed guard. I'm not happy about using the communications system. It can be monitored."

"I know. I don't know when we'll be able to call our friends outside. But I was careful when I called you. I made it clear it was about discussing this meeting, and I doubt I was the only Council member doing that."

He ignored that, for the moment, considering. "And, as you know, I've not had very much opportunity to contact you. I have been somewhat preoccupied."

Joel shrugged, alight with triumph, but he seemingly wasn't deaf to the cautionary note about monitoring. "I thought you'd want to discuss things."

"Did you?"

Joel shook his head. "Well, I suppose I've always known where I come in your list of priorities." But it was said lightly, with none of the usual suppressed bitterness.

The older man raised an eyebrow, surprised that even the excitement and elation had been enough to soothe that old sore. He chose his words carefully. If he'd been in charge, he'd have made sure that every conversation was monitored and he wasn't taking chances. "My priorities were to ensure that, in these circumstances, we have a smooth and legitimised transfer of power."

"Were?"

"Circumstances change. They have changed. We adapt to them or we fail."

"The circumstances are that Commander Adama is dead." Joel smiled. "But I really don't care about anything you have to say. I've made some decisions, you see, while you were too preoccupied to call me. That's what I wanted to tell you. I've decided that I don't need you. I never have needed you. I never will need you."

"Indeed."

"You bet, indeed. I've never had you, so why should I need what I've never known?"

"This is a bad time for this kind of idiocy."

"And I don't have time for you. Adama's dead, and I'll be president this time tomorrow. If I were you, I'd start worrying about your own position. It's none too secure at the moment." Joel's voice was poison soft.

He remembered saying something like that to his son a few sectons ago, when the boy had been more than ordinarily annoying. "Indeed," he said again, knowing it would provoke Joel.

It did. Joel flushed, but he kept his voice low and his expression pleasant. They could have been talking about anything inconsequential. "I'd say we were finished, but what was there to finish? There was never anything there to start with."

"You're quite right. There wasn't." The old man smiled. "So that's why you're talking to me, is it? Openly?"

"In the circumstances and in the interests of that smooth transfer of power you mentioned, I'm expected to canvass everyone on the Council for votes. Even those that neither I nor anyone else expects to support me."

"Yes. Well, it makes my decision easier. You're a fool, Joel, just like your mother."

"Am I? And what does that make you?"

"The one who'll survive this."

He nodded, and smiled and walked away towards others on the Council who were more of his generation. He was conscious of some faint feeling - disappointment, perhaps, but then he'd never had much faith in this bastard son of his. Joel was far too like his mother, whose physical charms had far outweighed the intellectual. He should have curbed his inexplicable wish to involve himself in the affair when he'd first seen signs of it and Joel's part in it. He put it down to long suppressed ambitions of his own being suddenly rekindled into life.

This whole situation with the Aegyptans was an unexpected setback for Joel, and it was typical of the boy that he'd gloss over it, not even mentioning it in the short conversation that they'd just had. Typical short sightedness. He really hadn't done the world of politics an injustice by refraining from giving Joel the easy route to power that his son had expected of him. Not at all. He'd done it a considerable favour.

Joining his peers, he was greeted with anxious expressions and muttered, almost despairing demands to be told what they should do. He shook his head, sadly.

There was no easy way to do this. The only effective way was simple. You got every last Aegyptan off this ship and every other human ship, at gunpoint if necessary, and you put them onto the Usermaatre and then you turned your Viper squadrons loose on it for target practice. There'd be no Aegyptans to worry about, after that. Of course, you had to come out of hiding to do it, and it would be irrevocable, but there wouldn't be any jackal or hawk headed assassin waiting for you some day.

If Joel hadn't proved to be such a frail and insecure reed, he may have considered it. May. It was unlikely, though. It went against the grain to be so obvious. He smiled as he realised that no moral consideration would have moved him, only thoughts of his own safety and his own survival.

"I think our only chance of averting a complete change of government will be to find whoever did this and bring them to book," he said. "I'm open to suggestions."

As he had said a few centons earlier, Joel's weakness made his decision easier. He'd had a long and interesting life in politics, not the least because of a highly developed sense of self preservation and an almost supernatural political adroitness, coupled with the good sense to hide his considerable abilities under endless bushels. He wasn't about to change now. The possibility for change had passed.

Every instinct told him that the breach with Joel made the position they were in almost irretrievable. The only possibility was retreat and concealment, tactics that had brought him that long and interesting life. Joel was the only one who knew of his involvement, he was sure. Joel hadn't been one to boast of his parental connexions, particularly since he would have also had to confess to more than forty-five yahrens of parental indifference, and he was too proud for that. No, Joel wouldn't have said anything.

While his fellow council members jabbered at him, he mentally reviewed his and Joel's conversation. It had been a slip to mention Joel's mother, but otherwise he thought that anyone listening would have difficulty in constructing anything particularly damning out of it. Suggestive, yes; far more than he was comfortable with. But while he did think that the communications system was being monitored, he seriously doubted that anyone had the Council room under surveillance.

But with Joel out of the way and his own connexion with him kept secret, he would be safe. Joel and Piers and the others were pawns in the game, and it was time that he lost them in play and ensured the position that would again put him on the winning side.

High time.

 

 

 

 

The deck of the Windjammer was quiet, almost deserted. Apart from the Aegyptan shuttle that had just brought him here, there was little traffic coming and going amongst the ships of the fleet, and only essential crew were on the flightdeck, gathered over to one side and talking quietly. They had ignored the shuttle, letting the resident Aegyptans handle its arrival. They barely glanced at Sekhet and his escort of five, used now to having Aegyptans on board and disregarding them.

"It's affected people hard," said Kha-nes-akhat, looking at the quiet group of humans. He had piloted the shuttle across from the Galactica. He said that he was keen to be in at the end, but Sekhet thought it was more likely that he was the Aegyptan equivalent of Acer – not as big, but probably as dangerous, and tasked by Seti with keeping his son out of danger. He was unmistakeably in command of the four big men who were gathered protectively around them.

"It's been like this since the announcement yesterday. They're in shock, I think, and the rumours are growing. The Council's announcement was vague enough for them to start wondering." Mene had come to meet them. She put her hand on Sekhet's arm. "Are you all right?"

"Fine. I'm fine."

Even with the mask hiding her face, he knew that she was watching him anxiously. "All right," she said. "Seti called me a few centons ago. He said to tell you that everything's going well with Adama."

"He's awake?"

"No, not fully, and won't be for some centars. But he is coming out of sedation and Lyre's confident that everything is fine."

"Good," said Sekhet, after a centon. He walked with her across the deck. He found her comfortable and comforting, and he'd have liked to take her arm, tucking her hand under his, but it wasn't the Aegyptan way.

"Seti will bring him back to the Galactica personally, tomorrow," she said.

"Probably desperate to get rid of him."

It surprised a crack of laughter out of Kha, walking on Sekhet's other side. "I'd give a great deal to be present, but invisible, on the Usermaatre for the next eighteen centars," he said. "Your tef was assuming a martyred air when I left him, and practicing being very polite. I could hear his teeth grinding."

Sekhet laughed, despite himself. "As long as they're both polite, and they don't kill each other, I don't care if they grind their martyred teeth down to the bone."

"And as long as you don't expect them to emerge from this unexpected intimacy as bosom friends," said Mene.

"I'll be happy with an armed neutrality," said Sekhet. "And what happened to the famed respect for your lords, eh?"

"We're very respectful," protested Mene. The timing of her pause was perfect. "When he's here."

"And what about me?"

"Oh, we're being very respectful to you. Hadn't you noticed?" She laughed, and unusually, slipped her hand under his arm, only for an instant and only to squeeze once in comfort or shared amusement, he didn't know which. He wondered if she'd added mind reading to her other admirable qualities. "I take it that you didn't have any trouble getting to our deck?"

"None. Thenie has Boxey for the rest of the day, and everyone thinks we're holed up in my quarters. All I had to do was sneak out – no one will disturb us during the ritual anyway – and use the emergency ladders to get down there."

"All fourteen flights?"

"It keeps me fit," he said. "Besides, I had gravity on my side all the way down. The way back up will be far more painful. Where's Uri?"

"In his quarters here. We started some work on the systems on his level last secton, just in case we needed to do this, so we shouldn't cause too much consternation appearing in that corridor. Three of my people are already there, keeping watch as unobtrusively as possible."

"And Maxim?"

"Aboard, but I'm not certain of his whereabouts. I doubt we can take both, Sekhet."

"Then we concentrate on taking Uri, he's the most important. Even if Maxim suspects something when Uri disappears, there's not much he can do about it. He won't be able to get word to anyone on the Galactica. Tigh's locking the ship down until this is all over."

"I'm leaving several people here who will take Maxim as soon as the opportunity arises," said Kha. "They'll find a way. It will all be over soon, Sekhet."

Sekhet only smiled, behind the mask. It was only just beginning, in his view. After this, there'd be no more hiding, and then it would all begin, the social re-engineering that Seti expected of him.

"How do we play this?" Mene asked. "You know him better than we do."

"He's a coward, at heart. We scare him."

"Oh good," said Mene, and laughed.

The corridors beyond the flightdeck were quiet, very few people about. Even so, the Aegyptans around him pressed closer, the protective instincts almost bred into them. It was both reassuring and stifling. It might be bred into them, but it had been nurtured out of him, the ready acceptance of veneration that Seti showed. He wasn't comfortable with it yet.

"Here," said Mene.

A Sebek hurried up to them from an open corridor access panel a few metres away, where he or she had been working with two others. Male, Sekhet decided. He didn't walk like a woman.

"He's inside," said the Sebek in Aegyptan. "He's been in there for the last couple of centars, alone. No one's been near."

"Thank you." Sekhet glanced at his escort, and nodded. Apart from the Aegyptans the corridor was empty. He pressed a firm thumb on the door chime.

"Who is it?" Uri's voice was slightly distorted by the comms system.

"Maxim," said Sekhet, activating the voice distorter in his helmet and hoping that it would be enough to fool the ex-councillor inside.

It was. The door slid open, and before Uri's mouth could even open in astonishment, Sekhet was through the door, and his fist connected hard with Uri's solar plexus. The breath whooshed out of the older man, and Uri bent double, clutching his gut and whooping.

Sekhet let his escort pass him. A couple of them picked up Uri as effortlessly as if he'd been a child, while the other two swiftly rearranged the room to suit them. By the time that Uri, hanging between his two captors, had recovered enough of his breath to look about him, Sekhet was ensconced in the most comfortable chair, with Mene and Kha on each side and just behind him, the usual place of favoured advisers. The remaining two escort, both Re-Harakhte, had closed and interdicted the door. The two men holding Uri pulled him into position to face Sekhet. One of the remaining two handed a tiny laser to Kha, jerking his head towards Uri.

Uri was chalk white, his face sheened with sweat and pain. He had both hands clutching at his stomach, the two guards holding him by each elbow, and his breathing, although better, was something between a gasp and a retch. His eyes were wide with surprise and pain, and apprehension.

"Even when you recover your breath, please do not attempt to speak until the Horus Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit gives his permission," said Mene. "I apologise for the inconvenience and the physical discomfort you evidently are feeling, but I have to warn you that any attempt to escape or raise the alarm, and that slight discomfort will become infinitely worse."

Uri stared, the sweat beading on his forehead and upper lip.

"We have a death to discuss with you," said Kha.

"We require of you only the names of your principals. Give us that, and you will be unharmed." Mene took up the duet. She glanced at Sekhet, who nodded. "The Horus Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit gives you permission to speak."

Uri said nothing, moistening his full lips with the tip of his tongue. His gaze slid around the room. It can't have been reassuring. The small stateroom was full to overflowing with masked Aegyptans.

"I would advise frankness," said Kha. He paused, then said, "And some speed, Sire Uri. Lord Sekhet is young, and, as you've experienced for yourself, can be a little impatient."

Sekhet smiled to himself beneath the Hawkhead. He was supposed to have let his escort in first to secure the room and Uri, and he didn't think that the ingrained respectfulness would prevent Kha from taking him to task later for endangering himself for not waiting, particularly since it was clear that Uri had been armed.

"And you should understand that our devotion to our Clanlords is absolute," said Mene. "Should his impatience with you grow, our duty would require us to do anything we can to restore him to equanimity. We would have to be more persuasive. We would be forced to be direct."

"That would be unpleasant," said Kha.

Uri was silent, frowning, trembling in the guards' hold.

"Sire Uri," said Mene, in gentle invitation that was more bloodcurdling than a threat.

"I – I - "

"Well," said Mene. "It's a start."

"Perhaps I should make our position clear," said Kha. "The commander's death was announced yesterday, as you know."

Uri swallowed. "You assassinated him!"

Kha said, "Our operative was shot down by several warriors. I'll give you a centon to consider what that means, and to think about the revenge we will seek."

Uri's mouth fell open. "What? Is that what this is about?"

"In part," said Mene. "In part, Sire Uri. We will do anything, anything at all to get the information we want." She sighed softly. "You understand that we always revenge our dead and revenge any insult to our Clanlords. Your chances of not being included in any punishment we mete out depend solely upon your co-operation now."

"You contracted us under the terms of the Accord," said Kha in an encouraging tone.

"You, and your hirelings." Mene glanced over to Kha. "The Piscean, Maxim, will name you as his immediate employer. That will be interesting information for Captain Apollo, should we choose to give it to him. Very interesting information."

Uri's eyes bulged slightly, and his face was an unhealthy mottled red. "The Utrechian Accord guarantees secrecy!"

"True. But we've broken it," said Kha.

"Broken it?" faltered Uri, uncertainly. "What do you mean, broken it?"

Mene shrugged delicately. "The usual dictionary definition applies, Sire Uri."

He stared at them, the mottled redness darkening, and then draining away, leaving him as unhealthily pallid, a sheen of sweat on his face.

"Let me set out the facts to you," said Kha. "You first attempted to make contact with us through Lieutenant Chelas, yes?"

Uri swallowed hard, his eyes darting from Mene to Kha, before resting apprehensively on Sekhet.

"Lord Sekhet requires an answer, Uri."

Uri nodded, slowly, licked his full lips. "In accordance with old agreements between Aegyptans and the Council," he said, hoarsely. "Under a legal treaty."

"Thank you," said Kha. "Later, when we signalled our interest, three people met the Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten and his son, Lord Sekhet, on the Historia Stirpium to put your proposition to us, one of whom was your Piscean associate, Maxim. He was the one who was the real leader of the delegation. You agree with this analysis, so far?"

Uri licked his lips again.

"And the proposition was the assassination of President Adama."

Uri looked away.

"Sire Uri," said Mene, with that same dreadful gentleness.

"Yes," snapped Uri, goaded. "In line with the Accord!"

"An Accord that is now broken," Kha reminded him.

Uri choked.

"If he won't tell us who his principal is, then we may be forced to believe that he is the one we seek," added Mene, thoughtfully.

Uri's mouth worked soundlessly for a micron before he could get the words out. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Foolish," said Mene. "Very foolish. Listen to me, Uri. You are implicated in an assassination that will tear this fleet apart if it becomes known. How long do you think you'll live when it does?"

Uri's small eyes in their rolls of fat were frightened, but still calculating. "Nothing you say now can be used against me. No Aegyptan has ever given evidence in a human court. No court of law will admit your evidence. There are people who will ensure that it never comes to trial."

"Ah, by that you're assuming that we will convey this information to Captain Apollo and he will see you stand trial." said Mene. "You shouldn't make assumptions."

"There won't be any trial! Who'd take the word of a Gyp!"

Kha laughed softly. "You're quite right, Sire Uri, so consider the consequences of that."

Uri stared from one to the other, mouth working helplessly again.

Kha spelt it out for him. "Our methods are, necessarily, a little more direct."

"You're threatening me!" The bluster was unconvincing.

"Yes," agreed Mene.

Kha took up the next verse of the little duet. "At your behest, an assassination was planned. So far, nothing unusual. But the Council Chamber, Uri, was flooded with warriors and, as I say, the assassin shot down."

"That makes us very suspicious," said Mene. "As you'll appreciate."

"It's a very grave mistake to make an Aegyptan suspicious. We are not interested in your human laws. We won't sue you for breach of contract. We merely terminate those we find untrustworthy. We're interested only in establishing whom we should punish."

Mene said, "You're caught, Uri. You're caught with your hands red. You tried to manipulate us, and you've failed. Who are your principals?"

Uri shook his head.

"Foolish. You may think that they can protect you from a court of human law, Uri. Can they protect you here, and now?"

Kha said, again, relentless, "You approached us to assassinate Adama," he said.

Uri nodded sullenly. "Under the terms of the Accord! It was perfectly legal."

"From a certain point of view. Lord Sekhet is, I think, getting very tired of waiting for you to decide to talk. Please tell me who contracted with you to bring us into this. Once you've told me, then this will all be over without the unpleasantness." Kha paused, and waited, just for a micron or two. "You really don't want him to have to ask Mene to be direct. You really don't."

"You'd just kill me?" Uri said, in disbelief.

"Did you hesitate about killing the commander?"

Uri shook his head, the trembling worse.

Sekhet turned his head to catch Mene's amused gaze. "You may begin, Anubis. I won't wait any longer."

"Oh good," said Mene, betraying a terrible eagerness.

Kha nodded at the two Aegyptans holding Uri, and simultaneously they moved in fast, pulling Uri's arms behind him with a jerk and pulling him upwards, forcing him, since he was several inches shorted than them, to stand up on his toes. A little trick, but one that induced a feeling of insecurity and danger. Uri gasped, his face slackening with fear. Mene took a step forward.

That was all it took.

"Joel! It was Joel, and Piers. They asked me to contact you. They made me do it."

"Joel," said Kha. "And Piers."

"Yes," said Uri, eagerly, pushing back against his captors to try and put some space between him and Mene. "Yes. I had nothing else to do with it. Joel wanted Adama out of the way so he can take power."

Kha took a small device from his pocket. A nod had one of the other Aegyptans pulling forward a small table. Kha placed the recorder on it.

"Begin," he said. "And be sure not to leave anything out."

Uri looked from him to Mene, and to Sekhet, sitting still and silent again. He swallowed visibly, and then, his voice trembling, he began. It was several centars before he finished.

Kha turned to Sekhet and bowed. "Enough?"

Sekhet nodded.

"Enough to ensure he stands trial," agreed Mene. "And these others with him."

"There won't be a trial." Uri's face was running with sweat. Sekhet noticed it was running down the man's neck now, and the collar of his tunic was darkening with it. "They won't allow a trial."

"You're still labouring under the delusion that your principals will be in power and able to protect you," said Mene. "But before the Council can appoint a new President, it had better be certain that there is a vacancy to be filled."

"And are you so sure of that?" asked Kha. "The Accord is broken. The conditions under which you, through Lieutenant Chelas and the Piscean, Maxim, sought our intervention are changed – were changed, in fact, before any of your people met our Clanlords. You should understand that we have never truly been working with you."

Uri frowned. "One of you people killed Adama!"

"Ah, well," said Kha. "It's amazing how realistic an effect you can get with a bag of red-coloured chemicals."

Uri's mouth dropped in dismay. "Adama's dead. He has to be dead. The entire Council said so - "

"Thankfully, the commander enjoys the very best of health," said Kha. "And now, I hope, is enjoying the hospitality of the Usermaatre as our honoured guest."

Uri's mouth worked helplessly. "But you agreed! You agreed to help us by killing Adama! You promised!"

"We lied," said Mene.

Uri shook his head, as if trying to clear it. "Because of what Apollo did? You said that made no difference."

"We lied about that, too," said Mene.

"Why?" It was little more than a whisper.

Sekhet raised a hand. Neither Mene or Kha would speak now until he gave permission. "You were under a misapprehension, Uri. You never knew who you were treating with." He took off the Hawkhead.

Uri's jaw dropped, his dismay comical. "Uuuhh," he said, mouth slack with shock, face blanched. His eyes were so wide that the irises had shrunk to a thin line circling the huge pupils. His mouth opened and closed, trying to get air into lungs that had had the breath shocked out of them for the second time.

Apollo smiled. "You can hide a multitude of sins underneath an Aegyptan mask," he said.

 

 

 

 

"Joel," said Apollo, terse with lack of breath. The long climb up the emergency ladders from the Aegyptan deck had been taxing.

"Uri talked?" Starbuck had been waiting for him on the other side of the escape hatch when Apollo had cautiously opened it. He let Apollo go with a little shake, after hugging him so tightly that his ribs were creaking under the strain.

"Uri babbled. I let Mene and Kha loose on him with a lot of suggestive discussion about punishment. Mene terrified him, I think. He was so eager to avoid any unpleasantness that he was almost incoherent. Kha had to tell him to slow down a couple of times, the recorder could barely cope with it. He got his reward, later."

Starbuck blinked. "What did you do to him? We need him to spike Joel's guns, don't we?"

Apollo stared, then grinned. "Starbuck, my Aegyptan ruthlessness goes so far as to frighten the old villain, but I wouldn't have let them hurt him." He paused. "Well, not fatally, anyway. Mene was quite disappointed with me, I think. No, all I meant was that, after he'd finished telling us the tale, we let him know that he'd been fooled from the beginning by revealing that I'm also Sekhet and that Dad's still alive. He was incredibly pissed off about that."

"Oh. Good." Starbuck looked embarrassed. "Sorry."

Apollo glanced down the corridor to where Boomer was standing. The dark lieutenant waved, but didn't come any closer. "What are you two doing here?"

"We're on guard," said Starbuck. "Protecting your privacy, or something. And we wanted to tell you that everything was okay with your Dad."

"I know. Seti sent me a message."

Starbuck nodded. "Where's Uri now?"

"We brought him back here wrapped up in a black cloak and a spare mask. He's locked away down on the Aegyptan deck with Kha standing over him, making vaguely threatening noises. Uri's so scared, I swear he soiled himself, several times over. He does it every time someone mentions Mene's name." Apollo paused by the door of his quarters. "He'll talk when we take him in front of the Council."

"Good," said Starbuck, "Though I guess that you lied to me about there not being any spies on this ship."

"Spies?"

"You're acting like one. You're the one wandering off in disguise to do dashing and daring things, leaving me here watching the baby I feel like the archetypal little woman staying at home keeping hearth and home for the returning hero."

Apollo grinned. "Given how often you get to go on top, I'd say that there's not much for you to worry about in that department." He gestured for Boomer to join them. "I've got Uri," he said when Boomer got there. "Joel's behind it all, and Piers."

"Really? Going by what he said in Life Centre, Anton didn't seem to think they had it in them," said Boomer.

"Anton was wrong. Uri's spilled dates and times and all his contacts' names, the lot. Joel's dead meat, and I'm going to enjoy smashing Piers' face in for that dig he got at me yesterday." Apollo looked at the pair of them. "And why are you really here?"

"Tigh kept the Alpha deck clear for you to land, so you probably missed it," said Starbuck. "But when we got back a couple of centars ago, the OC was wild with rumours. The Council statement left too many questions in people's minds. A lot of people are asking what kind of 'sudden attack' carried off the commander, and a lot of people, the same lot of people, love a good conspiracy theory. I guess that Reese or one of his people talked, and the rumour's going the rounds that the commander was killed, and that there's a huge cover up going on. As you'll imagine, they aren't pleased."

"Shit."

"You got it. We could be neck deep in it before this ends."

"Reese was supposed to keep his people quiet! Shit! This could ruin everything."

"Yeah," said Boomer. "And, as you'll have guessed, Apollo, there's people who are starting to put the Aegyptans in the frame. Partly because, like Starbuck here, they love a good tabloid story, and partly because I think someone in Reese's outfit did talk. Tigh cleared Alpha to make sure you wouldn't have any trouble getting in. He's doing his best to keep it contained."

"And Trent's people are everywhere, helping Security," chimed in Starbuck. "Tigh knows that if they lose it, people could go looking to get their revenge on any and every Aegyptan that they find."

"Bojay's down there keeping a lid on things at the moment," said Boomer "He's doing some very fast talking, but it could get really nasty. How long before we can move, Apollo? I don't know how long we can keep them under control."

"Damn," said Apollo, staring at the door of his quarters. "And I've boxed myself into a corner here. There's nothing I can do to help hold it down until tomorrow."

"Yeah," Boomer said.

"Where's Anton?"

"With the Council," answered Starbuck. "Not a formal meeting, but a panic get together to try and decide how to protect themselves. They're worried, Anton said, and he's gone to make sure that they don't do something stupid like order genocide, or something."

"Damn," said Apollo again. "He might be able to hold some of the rumours back." He glanced at Boomer. "To answer your question, Boomer, we can't move before tomorrow. We have to get the commander back on board first, and he won't be fit before then. And we'll need a full Council meeting for me to bounce Uri at them, and Maxim if we've managed to pick him up in time."

"Well, we'll try and hold it," said Starbuck, doubtfully.

"I'd better get out of sight. I don't think we need protection up here, but if it's to be done, get Trent to send Acer and his troop up here." Apollo grinned mirthlessly at Starbuck. "I don't think he'll let anything happen to me."

"I'm sure of it. I'm not so sure I can trust him not to swoon at your feet in adoration."

"Well, you can trust me. He's not my type. I want you two, and Trent, down there to help Bojay keep things quiet. You've got to scotch those rumours and keep 'em scotched. The last thing I want is to be caught in war between humans and Aegyptans. My life's confusing enough as it is."

"Who'd win?" asked Boomer.

"We would," said Apollo.

"Uh-huh." Starbuck gave him a curious look. "Which we?"

 

 

 

Whatever talking Boomer and Starbuck and the others had done, and it must have been some very fast talking indeed, it was enough to keep the warriors in their quarters overnight. There'd been no riot and he hadn't been pulled out of ritual seclusion, although, as he waited on Beta deck for the Usermaatre's shuttle to arrive, Apollo was aware of the tension. It was like a contagion in the air. He could almost smell it.

He hadn't been to the troop decks yet. It was barely fifteen centons into the new duty period, and he'd contented himself with a quick trip to the bridge to touch base with his allies there. Tigh had been tired but indomitable. He'd held the bridge all night, with Omega, monitoring all communications and blocking most.

The one external communication Tigh had allowed was the three centon conversation that Apollo had had with Adama and Seti at around midnight. Both had been strained and unnaturally polite, deferring to each other when it came to speaking to him. He'd wished he'd been close enough to bang their heads together for the disruption the pair of them had brought to his life, the shocking mess they'd made of muddying the genetic waters. He'd been noticeably less polite than either of them, and he'd been mordantly amused to see that their outrage at his bad manners had momentarily united them. Not very much, and not for very long, but it was a start.

He'd only wanted to see for himself that Adama was recovered, and to reassure Athena and Boxey, so they'd kept the contact very short. He'd closed down the link when the two on the Usermaatre had started a chillingly polite conversation with each other about whether Adama would join Seti for supper or not.

Maybe they'll poison each other and save me the trouble , he'd said morosely to Athena.

She'd laughed, relieved to see that Adama was well and fully recovered. Don't be daft. They're falling over each other to be civil. They're both desperate to be in your good books. Don't you feel flattered ?

Well, no, he didn't. What he felt was something indescribable, but a growing impatience with his fathers and the monumental cock-up they'd made, came to about seventy percent of it.

He said nothing of his doubly unfilial reaction to Tigh, who'd wanted some reassurance about Adama himself, and quickly turned the discussion back to the tense situation on the Galactica. The ship, said Tigh, was like a powder keg primed to go off. All it needed was someone tossing matches.

It was entirely possible that the match was on its way in on an approach vector, right now.

Kha-nes-akhat and Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon were both waiting for him when he came onto the deck, Acer following him like a faithful shadow. The two Aegyptans glanced from him to Acer.

Then Kha shrugged. "We've got Maxim," he said. "He was brought in this morning. The information he gave us tallies with that of Uri, although it's less comprehensive. It's likely Uri didn't tell him everything."

"Things got very tense last night," said Kam-Ahtes. "The humans are hearing rumours about our involvement. There's trouble brewing."

Acer stirred behind Apollo, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

"There's been trouble brewing for sectars." Apollo turned his head to glance briefly at Acer. "Uri's been the one brewing it."

"Yes," said Kha. "He's been busy."

Apollo grinned slightly. "Not busy enough. We'll talk about it later. You know what to do. I'll get back out of the way." Apollo retreated to an unobtrusive part of the deck, Acer trailing along behind him.

"You needn't worry about me, Boss," the sergeant said. "I'm big, but I'm not stupid. You're working with those Gyps on something to do with the commander, right?"

"Right," said Apollo, watching for the shuttle that would bring both his fathers to the Galactica. Providing his bad luck was holding, that is, and he hadn't had the good fortune for them to have poisoned each other over supper.

"You're pretty close to them," said Acer. He grinned when Apollo turned to look at him, and shrugged. "None of my business, sir. All that I wanted to say was that I'm in."

"Why?"

Acer shrugged again. "I'd have been dead on Selos if you hadn't got us off that rock. I like to pay my debts. And you're not bad. You aren't Infantry, but you're all right. You'll be even better when I finish your training."

Apollo grinned. "And when will that be?"

"The day you deck me." Acer grinned back. He was taller than Apollo and had to be twice his bulk. "Yeah. It'll never happen."

"Not in this lifetime, I guess." Apollo turned back to watching for the shuttle. "Thanks," he said.

"Any time, Boss." Acer put one hand on his laser. "Things were a bit tense, last night. The lieutenant had people everywhere, watching for flashpoints."

"I know."

"Uh-huh." Acer waited a centon then asked, "Why are we here, sir? And I'd say that it's not the time to take that as a philosophical question about the meaning of life."

"Waiting for a shuttle."

"One of ours, or Aegyptan?"

"Right at this centon, Acer, there's no difference."

"Mmn," said Acer. Then, quietly, "Here she is."

"I see it." Apollo tensed, as the Aegyptan shuttle ghosted into the bay on minimal power.

He watched in silence as the doors opened and the ramp came down. Seti was unmistakable, walking with a kind of inherent arrogance that betrayed his rank to anyone willing to look and see and understand. It had to be Adama behind him, wearing a Re-Harakhte helmet – Seti's old one, maybe? Apollo wondered about the symbolism of that. It was his mother's clan, and that was fitting, and it was something that Seti had discarded and outgrown. He shook his head impatiently. Like Acer had said, this was no time to be philosophical. Symbolism could wait.

An escort of six, mixed clans, clustered before and after them. Kha and Kam-Ahtes went to meet them, both bowing respectfully. Apollo sighed and relaxed, relieved, in a way that was faintly amusing, that they hadn't killed each other after all.

"Boss!" said Acer, sharply.

There had to be fifteen or sixteen of them, coming through the doors at the back of the bay and marching silently towards the Aegyptan shuttle. Apollo would have preferred shouts and yelling and threats, that would have been less menacing somehow than this determined, silent, grim advance. Most of them were warriors, pilots, with half a dozen techs and other support staff along for the ride. And the warriors, of course, were armed.

"Shit!" said Apollo, and started running.

He knew that the Aegyptan guards wouldn't let the crowd anywhere near Seti and that they'd go down fighting. They were already drawing weapons, and Kha and Kam-Ahtes after one glance behind them, were closing in fast to bundle Seti – and, incidentally, Adama – back towards the relative safety of the shuttle. Other Aegyptans from a group working on a Viper at the far end of the deck were turning, and some of them, quick to see the threat to Seti, were starting towards the crowd. If he wasn't fast enough, there'd be bloodshed.

"Get their attention!" he gasped out to Acer.

Acer hadn't been a top sergeant for so long without learning the value of loudly shouted orders. They could get through when little else did.

"Tenshun!" Acer had the bellow of a bull, and not even running alongside Apollo affected the timbre and volume. It was incredibly impressive, almost loud enough to shake the Vipers down from their overhead racks. "Captain on deck! Tenshun!"

It was enough to slow the crowd. The warriors, at least, reacted, almost on automatic, slowing up and looking around. More than one of them looked shocked and almost comically horrified: he was obviously the last person they'd expected to see. He heard some of the smothered curses, the startled gasps.

"Again!" snapped Apollo, slowing to a more decorous fast walk.

"Captain on deck!" roared Acer. "Tenshun! On the bounce!"

It may have been an Infantry term that the pilots in the group weren't used to, but they got the general idea. Apollo hoped that the sight of their captain bearing down on them like an avenging fury was having some effect as well. He couldn't say what effect he was having on the techs and non-military staff in the crowd, but even though he was specifically in command of the warriors, his position as next in command after Tigh meant that they, too, had to take his orders. They just weren't as used to it and not as disciplined.

But it seemed to work. They straggled to a standstill, still a few yards away from the waiting Aegyptans. Apollo came to a halt, putting himself between his two peoples, Acer standing beside him. He took a micron to catch his breath, using the time to look the crowd over. Well, well, well. Lieutenant Chelas had incautiously put her head above the parapet and he'd take the greatest pleasure in chopping it right off.

He did a fast headcount. Seventeen, with ten of them warriors; ten warriors who were going to regret crossing their captain. Very few of the crowd, would meet his gaze, most of them shifty and trying very hard to avoid being noticed. Those whose faces he could see looked disconcerted, unsure. Good. He could use that too.

He pitched his voice just loud enough to reach everyone in the silent crowd, but not shouting, hoping to keep them off balance by the very reasonableness of his tone. "I don't think that the duties of any of you should bring you onto this deck right now. Not when it's been closed to all but essential personnel."

No one answered. The few faces that risked looking at him wore expressions that were chagrined and disappointed. They were annoyed at being thwarted, shuffling their feet uneasily, but Apollo's unexpected appearance had taken the wind completely out of their sails.

Out of the corner of his eye, Apollo noted the slowing approach of the other Aegyptans, coming up on his right. He raised his right hand, palm out, and turned it towards them. He was gratified to see the small group stop and wait.

He looked at Chelas. "You seem to be the most senior person present, Flight Commander," he said. "Perhaps you'd care to explain."

She mumbled something.

"You'll need to speak up," he said.

The look she gave him flashed hatred. "We heard that the Gyp ship was coming in," she said.

"Oh?" Apollo raised his left wrist, bringing the comlink to mouth level. "Apollo to bridge."

"Tigh," said that worthy, instantly.

"Security code 10, Colonel. Beta deck."

Tigh didn't waste time asking why. "On their way."

Apollo let his hand fall back to hook in his belt, conveniently close to his laser and looked them all over. "It's very nice of you to give our Aegyptan allies a welcome, but it's not exactly standard procedure, now is it? Your explanation, Lieutenant, for this extraordinary display of courtesy?"

She muttered something and shook her head.

A man safely at the back of the crowd, one of the techs who he didn't know, shouted at him. "For fuck's sake! They murdered the commander!"

Nods and muttered agreement, and a visible increase in courage now someone had dared speak up. One or two of the techs carried heavy wenches and tools, and hefted them ostentatiously. Just as ostentatiously, Acer took a half step forward, squaring his huge shoulders. Apollo let him, knowing he wouldn't do anything without an order, unless they were directly threatened.

"And if that was true," he said, "do you think that I wouldn't know?"

That stopped them. More people looked up, puzzled, looking at him intently, trying to work out what that meant.

"I was there," a woman shouted. Apollo recognised her. She wasn't in uniform, but she was one of Reese's people, a security guard, one of those on duty outside the Council hall. "I saw it! They shot that murdering Gyp bastard down!"

"You were mistaken," said Apollo.

"I was there," she shouted at him. "I was bloody well there! They're lying about it, covering it up!"

Apollo gestured to his face with his right hand, the one not resting near the laser butt. Athena had renewed the mourning ash before he'd left his quarters that morning, and between that and the flight jacket that Starbuck had shredded, he had to be the epitome of a grieving Kobolian. "Do you think they could lie about it to me?"

Silence. More shuffling feet, more indecision. They didn't know what to make of it.

"If the commander was here, he'd be as ashamed and humiliated by your behaviour, as I am." Apollo kept his voice level, cold as Adama could be when the commander was angry about something, keeping far away from his own normal hot-tempered reaction. He had to keep reminding them whose son he was if he was to get them under control. He used his cold tone like a lash to humiliate them. "He would be mortified to think that anyone he commanded was stupid enough to listen to that kind of felger, and that you'd attempt to do something as unbelievably, monumentally stupid as start a civil war."

Feet shuffled, indistinct protests sounded that were half-choked off at source.

He stared around at them. He knew all of the warriors, had flown or fought with every one of them. Only Chelas counted as senior, most of them were young and still, despite the yahren or more since Cimtar, impressionable and easily influenced, especially by someone they'd see as being in authority over them, the way Chelas was. They reminded him painfully of Zac. Indeed, Ensign Jaime had been in the same intake as Zac, one of his brother's friends. He was the same age as Zac would have been, if Apollo hadn't had to leave Zac behind. Young. Terribly young. If you're lucky, you can grow out of it and you shouldn't be punished too hard for being young and stupid. No, he'd punish them in his own way, that meant people like Jaime learned and grew out of it. Chelas, though, was a different matter altogether.

"Ensign Jaime."

"Sir?" said Jaime in a small, oh-fuck-he's-seen-me kind of voice.

"Hand your laser to Sergeant Acer, and take my compliments to the Deckmaster and ask her to join me here. On the double."

Jaime hesitated over releasing his weapon. "Sir?"

"Don't add mutiny and insubordination to the stupidity, Ensign," said Apollo. "Or you'll really be in trouble. Do it now."

"Yes, sir." The boy's voice was thin with mortification, face red and flushed. Jaime stepped forward and handed over his laser and jog-trotted away. Apollo didn't turn to watch him leave. Instead he spoke to the Aegyptans behind him, not breaking eye contact with the crowd.

"Lord Seti?"

"Captain."

"I assume that your escort is armed?"

"Drawn and ready and at your disposal."

"Thank you. If they have to shoot, I know I'm in the middle here, but I'd be grateful if they'd endeavour to miss me and the sergeant."

Seti was amused. "They will extend to you exactly the same protection that they give me, I assure you."

"Thank you. I'm certain of it. Oh, and given it takes me a yahren to train the replacements, please could they use stun? I can assure you that it's just as effective."

"Of course," said Seti.

Apollo nodded at the crowd. "And that's it, ladies and gentlemen. Our Aegyptan friends here are armed and ready, and none of you have a weapon drawn. One by one, starting with Lieutenant Chelas, you'll come up here and lay your weapon at Acer's feet. Try to use it, and if the Aegyptans miss hitting you – which I doubt anyway – then Acer will tear your arms off."

"You're siding with those things!" said a tech, in disbelief.

"No," said Apollo. "I'm just not siding with you." He waited to let them absorb that, then looked Chelas in the face. "Chelas. Your laser."

She glared at him, her face white with fury and baffled malice, and he wondered if it was just chagrin at being caught out by him now, or if he'd done something to earn her enmity. But much as she resented it, she obeyed him. Her laser clattered to the deck in front of Acer and she walked sullenly back to the crowd. One by one the warriors followed her, none of them meeting their captain's eyes.

The Beta Deckmaster appeared at Apollo's other side, Ensign Jaime trailing his way back to the crowd, head hanging and avoiding catching Apollo's eye again.

"Captain?"

"Just a centon, Maire, and I'll be with you." Apollo kept his attention on the gradually disarming warriors, hopeful that by the time the security detail got to him he'd have this under control. When the lasers were augmented with a few wrenches and crowbars, and he was satisfied that the crowd was harmless, he turned to the patiently waiting Beta Deckmaster.

"Maire, you were telling me the other day that you desperately needed to get this deck cleaned from top to bottom."

"I did. I said that I thought it needed steam cleaning."

"I can't spare the steam," said Apollo. "But I can spare you these volunteers who will scrub this deck for you by hand, including the grease pits in the Viper maintenance area. When I come back to inspect it, if every surface isn't polished and gleaming like new, then they'll do it again and again, until I'm satisfied. And I should warn you, I've got very high standards."

"I'm aware of it, Captain," said Maire, straight faced.

"Two centar stints, with a ten centon break at the end of each stint. And when I'm content with the finish on this deck, we'll transfer them over to Alpha. I'm sure that the Alpha Deckmaster shares your concerns about cleanliness and won't want to be outdone."

There were groans and protests, and Apollo raised his voice, just as Reese and a dozen security people raced in.

"The alternative is one secton in the brig, with loss of rank and pay and privileges, and a permanent notation on their service records. I'll allow our eager welcoming detail here to make their own decisions on which they choose."

The protests died away into muttering, as Reese came forward. He glanced at the pile of weapons and the angry crowd.

"Still need me?"

"I think we're okay, but I could still use your people's help. I know all the warriors, but not the civilians. You'll need their names and designations, and log that I've assigned them to deck clearance duty in lieu of the brig." Apollo never thought he'd be glad to see Reese, but he was glad then. "I'd appreciate it if you could spare some security people to watch over them."

"Done," said Reese. "Sire Anton said yesterday that I was to give you anything you wanted." He stared past Apollo to the Aegyptans, and his expression hardened. "I don't approve, but he's in charge."

"At least one of them's yours," said Apollo.

Reese snorted. "And about a dozen of them are yours." He beckoned to his sergeant. "Herd 'em out of here, Castor. Where'd you want them, Deckmaster?"

"Over here," said Maire, and led the way. She grinned cheerfully at Apollo as she crossed the deck in front of him. "Thanks, Captain."

"Any time." He watched as the mutely resentful would-be mob were herded away, then raised his voice. "Not you, Lieutenant Chelas."

She turned, and stamped back, perilously close, he thought, to losing it.

"Who told you that the shuttle was coming in?" he asked.

She was silent, her face expressionless.

"Okay," said Apollo equably. "You're busted. Seven days, and then I'll be laying charges before a full court martial. At the very least, you'll be done for conduct unbecoming, and it'll be one helluva long time before you command more than a clean up detail on this ship. Would you please get the lieutenant to the brig, Reese?"

"Done." Reese turned from the glare he'd been giving the Aegyptans. "I don't like armed Gyps walking about this ship, Captain."

"I'll deal with that." Apollo nodded. "Lord Seti, I think it's all over and that it would be prudent if you got to the Aegyptan deck as soon as possible."

"I quite agree," said Seti.

"Me too," said Reese. He gave Apollo an odd look, one with a great deal of contempt in it. "All talk, was it?"

"Talk?"

"At the Council. It sure as hell looks like it. I'm sure that the Gyps know exactly who they can get personal with."

Apollo looked him in the eyes. "And I'm sure that I know what I'm doing, and I don't have to explain myself to you. Sire Anton gave you your orders, Reese. I suggest you follow them."

Reese snorted, and with a jerk of the head at a silently fuming Chelas, he stalked off across the deck, taking the lieutenant with him. She threw one more glare over her shoulder at Apollo, but didn't put up any resistance. Apollo noted, though, that Reese didn't leave, and that although he handed Chelas over to Sergeant Castor and saw her go, Reese himself wasn't going anywhere until he was certain that whatever situation there was, was under control.

Seti walked past Apollo. "Ter nebt, Sekhet," he said as he passed, his escort very close and protective.

Apollo nodded acknowledgment. "Sa-veckt, tef."

Very quiet, Adama echoed Seti. It was the merest breath of sound as he passed. "Well done, Apollo."

Apollo bent his head to hide the pleasure. "Thank you, Dad," he said, just as quiet and just as repetitive.

He and Acer watched them go. He put out a hand and caught at Kha's sleeve as the Aegyptan made to follow Seti.

"So that's it," said Acer, unmoved. Then, "I gotta watch you and crowds, Boss. Do you always butt in like that?"

"It's getting to be a habit," said Apollo. "I get excited, or something. Kha, I need you here. Tell that shuttle pilot to stay there until I give him leave to go. I want Athena and Boxey somewhere safe. Is Mene on the Usermaatre?"

Kha nodded. "She is in command there while Lord Seti is here. We were concerned that the rumours could spread. Lord Seti has pulled the contingents off the Windjammer and the Stirp until things are less tense."

"Good. I want Athena and Boxey over there, where it's safe. Ask Mene to look after them. I want them off this ship until it's all over."

"Of course, Sekhet." Kha bowed slightly, and went into the shuttle.

Apollo turned and looked at Acer. "All right?"

"They take your orders."

Apollo chose his words carefully. "They obey their Clanlords."

Acer absorbed that, raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "No one's perfect. What do you want me to do, Boss?"

"Go and get Athena and my son. They're in my quarters, still."

"I'm on my way." Acer glanced over to the remaining Aegyptans, the ones who'd been working on the Viper. "I don't like leaving you, but I guess they'll take care of any trouble. Ten centons, Boss, tops."

"Thanks."

Apollo watched him go. He put in a fast call to Athena, warning her that Acer was on his way and that she and Boxey were going on a little vacation. He cut off her protests and questions ruthlessly and called Tigh to report. He knew his colonel and he'd had enough of facing angry people for the morning.

"I watched it on the monitors from the bridge office," Tigh said, as soon as the comlink was opened. "What have you done with them?"

"They're doing a spot of domestic work," said Apollo, suddenly feeling as tired as death. "Except Chelas. She's on her way to the brig. It was time someone jerked her chain, and she annoyed the hell out of me. Listen, Colonel, we've got another spy in the camp somewhere. They knew that Seti's shuttle was coming in. Someone's had to have told them from either up there with you or from Maire's office. Can you trace it? It probably went to Chelas."

"The only people who knew up here were Omega and me. I know it wasn't me and I'm pretty damned sure about him, too. But we'll check the comms traffic out of Maire's office. Problem is, it was probably word of mouth."

"I know," said Apollo, wearily.

"Is everything all right with the – er - shipment that the Aegyptans brought back?"

"I think so," said Apollo. He grinned. "At least this time he wasn't trying to second guess me on crowd control techniques."

"He learned his lesson the last time," said Tigh.

"Humph," said Apollo, unconvinced.

"I don't like what happened though. I don't like that our warriors can be used against us."

"Me neither. I'm sending Athena and Boxey off ship, until this is over. I want my son somewhere safe."

"The Usermaatre? Good idea. It may not be long, Apollo. Sire Anton just called to tell me that the Council convenes at ten. We're both to be there."

"Right." A lump of lead formed somewhere immediately below Apollo's ribs. "We'll be ready. I'll set everything up with Kha-nes-akhat. He'll be our link through to the package that you mentioned."

"Good. Carry on then. Oh, and Apollo, well done."

"Thanks," said Apollo, then a thought struck him and he swore furiously. "Shit! I'm about ten pilots down. It's going to take ages to re-jig the flying rosters!"

"Delegate it. It's why you have someone under you to boss around. Why else do you think I keep you on staff?"

Apollo sighed. "It's nice to be useful."

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