Section Two

 

"Can I talk to you, sir?"

Adama looked up from the reports that he had been trying to read, vainly, for centars now. Starbuck stood by the door of his office, waiting for permission to come in.

"Of course." Adama put the reports down in relief, and gestured towards a chair.

"I wanted to talk to someone and you're the only one, really. You're the only one who was there." Starbuck sat down, nervous, uncomfortable.

Adama nodded and waited.

"There's a party in the OC tonight," said Starbuck abruptly after a brief silence. "They're celebrating getting out of the Enemy's territory. Of course, it's pretty subdued. It's a bit difficult to party with Apollo down there in Life Centre, and it's freaking them all out – "

"Boomer said things were difficult. It's understandable."

Starbuck shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose. It was hard enough when we first lost him, and now people don't know what to think. They keep asking me if he's alive or…or what. I don't know what to tell them, so I don't tell them anything much. Only that he's sedated and unconscious." Starbuck paused, then went on, "So they're all pretty freaked about it, not knowing what to think. And those news people at IFB have been around all the time, driving everyone nuts. Still, they're pleased to have got past the Enemy. I guess they deserve to celebrate that."

"Yes," said Adama.

"I'm not going to it. I'm not sure I've got anything to celebrate yet." Starbuck looked at him, and Adama was reminded forcibly of Boxey. There was the same uncomprehending pain. "It's just… it's just, I want to know what'll happen next."

"I don't know," said Adama honestly.

"You're his father. You're the commander," Starbuck protested. "You'll make the decisions."

"Maybe, Starbuck. But this is too important for me to take the decisions alone."

"The Council?"

Adama nodded. "Starbuck, I've spent the last secton and half fighting them. Their initial reaction was that I should just order Salik to give him an overdose and be done with it. A lot of them are still persuaded that's the best thing to do."

"Put him down, like a daggit!" said Starbuck scornfully.

"Yes." Adama looked down at his hands. "I thought about it," he confessed quietly. "It would have solved our problems, and his."

Starbuck stared at him. He sat silent for a centon, absorbing this. "Commander?" he sounded suddenly very shy. "Commander, I don't know what you thought about me and Apollo. Being together, I mean."

Adama sighed. "To be very honest with you, Starbuck, I can't say it pleased me very much. I didn't want to think about my son in such a relationship. I mean, intellectually I can accept single sex relationships. Emotionally, it's a bit different when it's your son. I didn't want to think about him and you… ." Adama broke off, then said in a gentler tone. "But I also saw how happy he was those last few sectars before he.. he disappeared. We both knew Apollo, Starbuck. He felt things too deeply. Zac's death, his mother, Serina... he felt that very much, and he was too ready to believe that somehow it was his fault, his responsibility that they died. There were times I wondered whether he would ever really recover. But those last few sectars, he was so content, so confident again, and I knew that it was because of you. So, I accepted it and said nothing. He was old enough to make his own choices, and if you were the one he chose, I could live with that as long as it made him happy."

Starbuck nodded. "It made me very happy too. I've loved him for a long time, sir. But I think that means I have some rights here."

"Yes," Adama acknowledged after a moment's thought. "I'll grant you that, Starbuck. I'll make no decisions without discussing it with you first. Is that you want?"

Starbuck nodded again. "Yes. Thank you." He stared at the wall behind Adama's desk for a moment. "I've been doing some patrols again, did you know? I knew nothing was going to happen with Apollo for a few days, and Boomer thought I'd be better off working. But you can still think inside a Viper. Best place I know for thinking. I've been thinking that there aren't too many options and none of them are too good."

"No," agreed Adama.

"Can I talk to you about them? See if I've got them straight in my head?" And at Adama's reluctant nod, Starbuck went on, "Well, say he never wakes up - our Apollo, I mean. That there's nothing left now the link to the Enemy's been severed and it is just a shell down there, with no reason, no hope of anything except a kind of mindlessness. That's one option. What will you do then?"

Adama looked away. He'd thought about that too. "I don't think that's very likely, given the level of brain activity Salik is recording. But if it did happen, he wouldn't want to live like that. I'd authorise euthanasia."

Starbuck winced but nodded. "Yes. He'd hate existing like that. But he might get part way back, like he'd been brain damaged in a battle or something. Something of our Apollo there but not everything. What then?"

"Then I'll do my best to care for him. Not here on the Galactica, but Salik's set up a long-term care centre on the Astoria for cases like that, under Doctor Lyre's management. If there's some awareness still there, some capacity for life, then I think I'd get him transferred there once all the excitement's died down."

"I'd want to do it," said Starbuck quickly. "Take care of him, I mean."

Adama smiled at him, humouring him. "Would you, Starbuck? A life-long commitment like that?"

"I'm not as shallow as most people think," said Starbuck, hurt. "I thought you knew me better than that."

"I do. I'm sorry." Adama was contrite. Starbuck was suffering enough, he knew, without anyone making it worse. "And although I didn't exactly approve of you and Apollo, I'm not so unfeeling or as ungrateful as that sounded. Irrespective of anything else, you've been a good friend to him all these yahrens. None better."

He held out his hand, and Starbuck took it.

"Thanks," said Starbuck gruffly. "That's why I can't give up just yet."

Adama nodded. "I know. But what if the link's still there when he wakes up, Starbuck? You've seen for yourself that the brainwaves aren't entirely human."

"The Council win?" said Starbuck.

"The Council win. If he isn't free of the Enemy, if there's nothing left of Apollo but a body inhabited by some alien intelligence, then I won't be able to hold off the Council." He sighed. "Well, it would be a resolution of sorts. And we wouldn't be killing Apollo. He's already dead."

"I don't want to think about that," said Starbuck, quickly. "And if it's Apollo? If he wakes up and it's Apollo?"

"Then I think our problems really start, don't you?" said Adama, serious and grave. "What will we do then?"

"I don't know."

Starbuck's eyes were wide with…what, Adama asked himself. Fear? Dread?

"Salik's reducing the level of sedation now. We'll let him come out of it tomorrow or the day after, while we still have F'nch's advice and help. I don't think you should be there, Starbuck, when he wakes. And I don't think you want to be there, do you?"

Starbuck shook his head. "No. Yes! I don't know. I don't know what I want. I'm scared he won't ever wake up, I'm scared he will. I'm scared that if he does, it won't be Apollo, and I'm absolutely bloody terrified that it will be Apollo and I won't know what to do." He looked helplessly at Adama. "I don't know. I can't bear to think of what they did to him. It's all right now, while he's asleep, and he doesn't know what's happened to him. I can touch him now." He looked almost apologetic now, as if confessing to a weakness, a small and petty crime: "I've been pretending. I know I'm pretending, but it helps. I pretend that it's like all those times I used to wake up in the middle of the night and watch him sleeping, wondering what he was dreaming about, hoping it was me, hoping he'd sense that I was watching him and he'd wake up and make love with me again. He did, sometimes, and it was heaven. That's what I think about. But now if he's awake - " Starbuck's voice trailed off. "That'll be different. I'm not sure I can keep pretending nothing's happened, that he hasn't got machines in his head and his chest, keeping him alive. Not if he's awake and he knows about it. It'll change everything. It'll change the way he thinks about himself, about me; the way everyone else thinks about him. I'm just scared. I'm really, really scared."

Adama nodded. "So am I, Starbuck. So am I."







Many times in the sectons after Apollo's death, Adama had tried to imagine what his son's last moments must have been like. Apollo had to have known what he was doing: by putting his Viper between the fleeing Cadets and the fast Black Ships, he must have known he was sacrificing himself. Adama, like Starbuck, thought that Apollo had seen it as some sort of reparation for Zac, that he was making amends to his young brother for, as he had always seen it, his failure to protect Zac at Cimtar.

Adama had wondered if Apollo had been afraid, if he'd had time to be afraid before the Enemy weapons had destroyed his ship, and had prayed devoutly, daily, that the end had come quickly and painlessly, a sudden destruction as the Viper exploded, giving Apollo no time to realise what had happened. Mostly he mourned the son he had adored, and grieved over Apollo's lonely death. There was something very terrible about dying alone, however bravely, with no-one to tell you how much you were loved and to wish you God-speed on the journey.

When they had made contact with the K'h'n, and learned what the Enemy did to ensure they had pilots enough for those deadly little ships, his thoughts of Apollo became tinged with nightmare. He had felt physically sick when he heard F'nch explain about the Masks, when the Ambassador had met the Council for the first time. He couldn't bear the thought of his Apollo being reanimated in such gruesome fashion, used as some sort of organic data processor to power an Enemy fighter. He began to pray that there had been nothing left of Apollo but radioactive dust.

And now the nightmare was reality. Now he had to look down at his son's mutilated body, and try, uselessly, not to think of the moment when alien hands had ripped out Apollo's heart. Try, uselessly, not to wonder if the heart was still and dead, full of congealing blood, or if the bloody mass in the alien hand had given one last despairing beat before being tossed negligently aside to be replaced with the artificial organ that now circulated Apollo's non-human blood. And try, uselessly, to pray to a God who was testing his faith too far, that Apollo was dead before it happened, had never felt the rip of the surgeon's knife.

But most of all he looked now at his son with a bewildering mix of pain and revulsion. Pain for all Apollo had been and Adama had lost; revulsion for what Apollo had seemingly become. Every human instinct, every memory of the thousand yahren war with the Cylons fed the disgust. And that Adama did resent: that Apollo's heroic death had been taken from him and this… this Thing had been returned to them instead.

Cyborg.

No longer human.

Dangerous.

Different.

The enemy.

The Enemy.

Human hatred of such things, such non-human things, ran very deep. The original Cylons were no more than machines now with a little organic remnant that was all that was left of a race that, like humanity, had lived and loved and died, but which was now encased in unfeeling metal bodies. Cyborgs. The original enemy.

Apollo was tainted twice over with hatred and prejudice, with fear and distrust.

He reached out to touch Apollo, then drew his hand back. This wasn't really his son, he told himself. This wasn't really Apollo. The trouble was that, apart from the silver implant, like a tattoo on his right temple, it looked like Apollo. Starbuck had insisted on shaving away the beard, adamant that Apollo would hate it. Now it looked so much like his old Apollo, sleeping, that it hurt even more.

Adama had thought, in the immediate sectons after Apollo's death, that he'd reached the limits for hurting. Now he realised that there were no limits.

Apollo honourably and nobly dead he had mourned and would have mourned for the rest of his life. But Apollo dead yet reanimated, turned and used, dishonourably and ignobly, by the Enemy; Apollo forced into some ghastly betrayal of everything he'd believed in and fought for and died for…that Adama didn't want to think about, didn't want to accept. There could be no happiness in getting his son back from the dead, not like this - if indeed, he had. He would almost rather that Apollo remained dead. Grief, even unrelenting and unassuaged, was better than this dull horror. He didn't want to think that it was really Apollo. It couldn't be. It was just a shell, with a semblance of life, reanimated, dishonoured, disgraced.

Adama sighed. He was glad that he'd been able to persuade Starbuck to stay away until after Apollo had woken and some assessment could be made about what it was they had to deal with. He was glad Starbuck wasn't there to complicate things right then. Things were complicated enough. What were they to do with this living cadaver? This cyborg? This thing ?

"He's definitely coming out of it," said Salik quietly from the other side of the narrow hospital bed. He was watching the monitors carefully. "There's increasing brain activity."

"Human or Enemy?"

"Mostly human," Salik acknowledged, "But with definite non-human characteristics. Some of the spikes are different, incomprehensible."

"Look, Salik, I need to know. Do I have Apollo, or just…just a reanimated corpse? Do the Enemy actually inhabit their Masked pilots, do you think, as F'nch suggested?"

"How can I tell?" asked Salik reasonably. "All I can tell you is that whatever we have here is no longer human, Adama. Whatever's left of Apollo, if anything, is mixed now and for ever with something very inhuman."

Adama sighed. "A cyborg," he said with sad resignation.

He tried again to touch Apollo, and again his hand hovered indecisively over the long black hair, repelled by the thought of what might be living inside his dead son's head, inside the implant growing through Apollo's brain. He took his hand away, unable to do it. This wasn't Apollo. This was just Apollo's body. Once again, he wished futilely that Apollo had been blown to atoms. That there'd been nothing for the Enemy to reanimate. That Apollo had remained cleanly, innocently dead.

"Yes." Salik's voice was carefully neutral, and Adama guessed that the doctor was as revolted as he was by the machines that kept Apollo breathing. Not living. Just breathing. Implants like this were a medical step too far. "The brain patterns suggest that something human remains. It may be that we've more than just a shell. But if that's the case, we have no way of knowing whether he's really free of Enemy control. Even F'nch said there was no way of telling."

"As you said to the Council, earlier," said Adama.

"They asked for my opinion," Salik said stiffly. After a moment he went on: "I don't know how much of Apollo's personality, his memories…all that made him Apollo may have survived."

"We shall have to see," said Adama. "I don't like the way the Council wants to handle this. It's inhumane"

"We have to be realistic," Salik answered. "It has to be a test. We need to monitor his reactions, assess how much is still human."

"I know why we're doing it this way, Doctor. I'm just not very happy about it."

"You agreed to this course of action," Salik reminded him.

Adama nodded. "I know. I had no choice. I've called in every favour I was owed just to keep him alive. But this will be hard. What we have to tell him is devastating."

"If there's anything human there to feel it."

"Well, that's the big question isn't it?" Adama watched the eyelids flutter again and for a micron the green eyes focused on him before blanking out and closing. The Thing that had been Apollo was definitely waking. "Please ask Ambassador F'nch to join us."

"The Ambassador's on his way."

Adama sighed heavily, looking down at Apollo. He watched the eyelids flicker again, the slight involuntary movements of the long thin body, then said in a savage tone as anger overcame him: "I wish to God that he was dead!"







Much. much later, when he could think about it, he remembered that coming up out of the cold darkness had been like swimming through treacle. The darkness was almost palpable, something to be tasted and felt, semi-solid, gelid and viscous; the effort it took to fight to the surface was enormous, almost too much for him. Time and time again he slipped back into the cold silence, time and time again he fought his way up for another try to gain the faint light that seemed always just out of reach.

A few times he managed to open heavy eyelids, pushing back the dark for a split micron. Often, then, there were voices, coming and going in the thick air. Once there was a face hanging over him, one he thought he ought to know, but even as he strained to catch at the memory, to stay at the surface, the chill dark dragged him down again. As he fell slowly back down into the unimaginable depths, he heard a very familiar voice, but a tone of savage anger that wasn't right, that he didn't associate with that voice. Something was wrong. He worried about that as he struggled once more with the heavy, impenetrable blackness.

How long it was before he finally fought free, he didn't know. He lay for a few centons looking up at the brightly lit ceiling, enjoying the light, too tired to do more than just lie there. The voices were back, close now, and he listened to them dreamily.

"Are those recorders working?" someone asked in the far distance.

"The link-up to the Council room's been confirmed," said another voice, just as distant.

"I don't think he can see me." This voice was much closer, was familiar, the one that had spoken before, only now it sounded apprehensive, not angry.

Apollo turned his head slowly to look at whoever had spoken. The voice belonged to the face that had hung over him aeons earlier, grave and pale, watching him intently. His eyes closed again, eyelids too heavy to stay open.

There was the faint sting of a hypodermic in his wrist.

"I've given him a stimulant," said another familiar voice. "That should do it."

A moment's silence.

"Can you hear me?" said the first voice, sounding louder as though the speaker was leaning over him.

He opened his eyes again, frowned in the effort to remember. He'd always known this face and voice.

"Dad?" he managed through dry lips.

"I'm here," said Adama, making no move to touch Apollo.

Apollo smiled faintly, relieved. Salik bustled up and for a few centons he worked on checking Apollo over, telling him to be quiet when he tried to speak. Apollo lay still and let him get on with it, gathering his strength, realising where he was, watching his father. Life Centre. He was safe. Home.

Salik gave him something to drink, something that eased the dryness of his mouth and throat, made him measurably more alert.

"How do you feel?" Adama asked when Salik nodded and stepped away, going back to his monitors.

"My head hurts," Apollo admitted. "What happened?"

"You've been injured," said Adama carefully. "Do you remember?"

Silence while Apollo thought about it, then with a sudden burst of excited energy: "Hostiles! They're out there - jumped us." A pause, frowning while he forced his still dazed mind to work through the remnants of the narcotics that had kept him sedated for so long. "Two cadets... sent them back to warn you - "

"They made it back. They warned us. You held back the Black Ships long enough for them to get back. You saved them. We were ready when the Black Ships came."

"Good." Apollo relaxed, his eyes closing again tiredly. He lay quietly for a centon, letting Salik fuss again, wanting to sleep, but his father called his name and he rallied again, forcing himself. "I didn't think you'd get to me in time," he said. "They were bloody fast."

"Is he awake enough for me to tell him?" Adama asked Salik.

"Tell me what?"

"He seems to be fully conscious," Salik said from where he sat watching a bank of monitors.

"I'm fine," said Apollo. He felt a sudden pang of misgiving. Something was badly wrong. He said again, more urgently this time, "Tell me what?"

Adama hesitated, then said something to wildly improbable, so insane that Apollo wondered if he was still really unconscious and dreaming. He remembered strange dreams - .

"We didn't get to you in time. It was quite a while before you got back."

Apollo frowned, as much at Adama's manner as at his words. He couldn't understand the distance that Adama was keeping. He looked around, saw F'nch for the first time and his eyes widened. The alien nodded at him gravely.

He turned his eyes back onto his father. "Back from where?"

Adama sat down beside the narrow hospital bed. "We haven't seen the people behind the Black Ships, no-one has, not even F'nch's people and they've been fighting them for centuries. They captured you."

Apollo stared. "But… but that's crazy! That can't be right! I'd remember.."

"What's the last thing you do remember?" asked Salik.

"We got jumped by five hostiles. They just opened up on us, no warning. I just had time to send Dean and…and.." he sought for the name.

"Janey," Adama supplied quietly.

"Yes. That's her name. Janey. We ran for it, but they were too fast. I sent the kids on ahead and tried to hold the hostiles back. Nothing more." He looked anxiously at his father. "What happened, Dad?"

"We aren't sure what exactly happened then, but we didn't get you back until just over a secton ago. We've been fighting our way past the Black Ships for more than three sectars. Almost two sectons ago one got through our defences and landed on the Beta deck. When we opened it up, you were piloting it."

Apollo's breath hitched in his throat. He just stared.

"F'nch had already told us that the Enemy used captives to power their ships - "

"No!" protested Apollo as it sunk in. He sat upright, ignoring the pain in his head. "No!. I wouldn't do that!" He put a thin hand on Adama's arm. "You know I wouldn't!"

Adama flinched at the touch, throwing Apollo's hand off. Apollo let his hand drop slowly away in hurt confusion. There was revulsion in Adama's expression, in the stiff way he held himself. He didn't want Apollo to touch him.

Apollo swallowed, licked suddenly dry lips. He felt very tired. "I don't understand," he said.

"I haven't said that it was deliberate," said Adama. He hitched his chair back, out of reach. "I don't think that you knew what had happened to you. F'nch assures us that Masked pilots never do."

Apollo leaned back on his pillow, his eyes never leaving his father's face, trying to understand why Adama was so distant, why Adama was looking at him as if he wasn't really his father at all.

"Masked?" he asked, tone dull now. That wasn't what troubled him. What he really wanted to know was why his father was rejecting him, not acknowledging him as his son. What had he done?

"Salik." Adama turned his head to the doctor. "Is he really strong enough to hear this? He's only just woken up."

Apollo lay and listened, too dazed to do much more. What had he done? All his life he'd tried to win his father's approval. Everything he'd done had been to make his father proud of him. What had he done to disappoint his father so badly, to make Adama turn away from him?

F'nch was watching him with interest. "Curious. I have never before seen or heard of one of the Masked with this much sentience. You are an interesting race, you humans. Very resilient."

"The Council's orders were that he was to be told everything, Commander," Salik said quietly. "You know why. I think he's strong enough."

"Very well," said Adama reluctantly and turned back to Apollo. "The Enemy use the bodies of their captives to power the Black Ships through a cybernetic link, the Mask. The K'h'n - F'nch's people - have recovered several Masked pilots and don't believe that they knew what was happening while they were Masked, had any awareness or individuality at all. That accounts for the memory loss."

Apollo tried to understand. He did. Really he did, but something in his head was buzzing and he felt so tired he could hardly speak. "Cybernetic?"

Adama nodded "A bio-technological device."

Apollo put a hand to his head. His headache was worse, pounding. His long fingers touched the silver implant on his right temple, and he frowned. "What -?"

"A cybernetic implant into your brain," Salik said, when Adama didn't speak. "That's how they attached the Mask."

"Oh," said Apollo, after a micron. "Oh." He started breathing a little faster, hyperventilating. He couldn't stop it.

"One of two implants," Salik added. "The other replaced your heart."

"Nooo!" it was a wail of despair as Apollo understood at last what they were saying.

Cyborg.

No longer human.

Dangerous.

Different.

The enemy.

"I'm afraid so," Salik said dispassionately.

"Dad?" All Apollo could manage was a frightened whisper, the voice of a child appealing to his father to chase away the monsters under the bed, to be there to protect him.

Adama shook his head, saying nothing.

Apollo stared at him. Afraid. Accusing. Abandoned.

"Most interesting," F'nch remarked. "I can understand that you remember nothing about being Masked, Captain Apollo. That is consistent with our experience of other recovered Masked pilots. But I am astonished that you remember so clearly who you are and what happened just before you were killed. That is most unusual. Our researchers will be very interested. The other Masked pilots took sectons to regain some of their old memories and personalities, and then made only a partial recovery."

Apollo looked at the alien. "Killed?" He touched the implant in his head again, his fingers trembling.

"F'nch!" said Adama. "That seems ever more unlikely, don't you think?"

The Ambassador shrugged. "I can speak only as we have found, Commander. You know that every Masked pilot we have recovered was dead."

"Killed?" said Apollo again, his voice rising. "What the fuck do you mean, killed?"

"Oh you were dead when they took you, Captain," the alien said calmly. "The Enemy harvest the battlefields for dead to Mask."

Apollo stared. He shook his head. No more. Please, no more.

"No," he said, but although he made his mouth move, even he couldn't hear the sound because of the screaming inside his head. "No. No."

The edges of everything dimmed, like looking at things underwater, the indistinct outlines blurring and changing as the current moves. The blurry things were moving, making noises, protesting. One of them caught at him, holding him down against the pillows. It wasn't his father: that blurred mass sat beside him still, immobile, so he pushed back against it, frightened that it might be the alien who wanted him to be dead, and there was a sharp little pain in the side of his neck and he couldn't stop it and the darkness was safe and quiet and he couldn't fight it any more.

As he slid away, an errant memory surfaced, of when he'd struggled awake a lifetime and more ago. He remembered his father's voice and the savage tone with which Adama had wished him dead.







"Good God, Adama, I don't know! You know why the Council wanted him told like that. Dazed, disorientated – it would be far less easy for him to dissemble, to hide whatever inhumanity there is in there. His reactions showed some human traits."

"I just want to know if it's Apollo, if there's anything of Apollo in there."

Salik shrugged, adjusted the sedative that had stopped Apollo's hysterical convulsions. "I watched him when you told him - widened pupils, the pallor, sweat on the brow and upper lip. Those were classic symptoms of shock."

"So that much remains human."

"He knew you, didn't he? Although, you couldn't bear him to touch you. What does that say to you, Adama? What are your instincts telling you?"

Adama shook his head. "I don't know."

Salik smiled slightly, scornfully. "Oh yes, you do."







Starbuck knew that he should have been more upbeat about it, more eager and hopeful. It was his lover he was waiting to hear about. He loved Apollo, he knew he did. He always had. Losing Apollo had almost killed him. It wasn't right that he should turn and look at Commander Adama with such dread and fear. Not right at all. It was as if he dreaded that getting Apollo back would kill him, too. That wasn't right either.

But that's what he felt.

"Well?" he asked, through a mouth that felt dry as ashes.

"Dad?" Unlike Starbuck, Athena's face didn't show what she was feeling. She sat very straight in her chair, holding herself, holding everything back, remote and buttoned up. She might look like her mother, but she was her father's daughter.

Adama walked slowly, purposefully to his desk. He sat down and rested his hands on the surface, looking at them intently, not looking at his daughter and Starbuck for a moment.

"Well, he's awake," he said. "He woke up a couple of centars ago."

"And?" Starbuck held himself very still and tense.

Adama looked at them at last and shook his head. "I don't really know, Starbuck. All I do know is that he's aware and that he's not wholly the Enemy. Either there's a lot of Apollo left there, or whatever is there is able to access his memories. F'nch says there's no telling which."

Starbuck sat down very suddenly, as if his knees buckled. He ached suddenly, like he'd just been kicked in the gut. Dazed, he tried to work out how he felt. Bloody terrified…

"We're relying an awful lot on what F'nch says," he said doubtfully after a centon. "What do you think?"

"He knew me," said Adama. "He remembered what happened up to his patrol coming across the Enemy. Then, he says, nothing. A blank."

"But was it him? Is it him?" asked Athena, sharp as glass.

"The brain patterns aren't human, sweetheart," her father said heavily. "Not completely. There's something there that isn't human."

"But mostly Apollo?" asked Starbuck. "Mostly Apollo with something else in there with him?"

"That's what we need to find out," said Adama. He sighed, rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "I don't know what we have. It could be sectars before we're sure, if we ever are. We're moving away from Enemy space, and you know that the K'h'n said that the further we go, the more chance of recovering a Masked pilot. It could be that it is Apollo, and we'll get more and more of him back as we get further away. Or maybe we'll never be sure that it's Apollo and not the Enemy. I really don't know."

Starbuck thought about that. "What will you do?"

Adama managed a tight smile. "I promised I'd consult you, didn't I? Well, I'll get him a chance, Starbuck. Somehow, I'll get him a chance to prove to us that he's really Apollo."

"I'll need some convincing," said Athena.

"We all will," said Adama. "And even if it is him. I don't know how easy it will be to accept him, to accept a cyborg walking around this ship, living with us, one of us."

Starbuck, feeling suddenly sick, put his head down onto his knees, burying his face in the palms of his hands.

"There's no simple answer, Starbuck," said Adama. "This is the option we both dreaded, I think. Well, we've got to deal with it."

"Did you tell him?" asked Athena.

"Yes," said Adama. "He knows what happened to him."

"God, poor Apollo. He must be so scared," said Starbuck, voice muffled in his hands. He straightened up.

He looked down at the hands lying palm up on his knees for a moment, thinking, trying to get his feelings sorted out. He'd been trying to do that for over ten days now, ever since the Black Ship had landed so unexpectedly on Beta deck. He didn't know whether to feel terror or delight, or both. If it was Apollo, his Apollo back, then maybe they'd have a second chance, the one he'd prayed for all those long sectars. But only, he said to himself, only if we can get past what they did to him. He tried to think what it would be like, to hold Apollo close to him and not feel a heart beat against his, knowing instead that a small mechanical pump of - what had Wilker said? - a pump of incredible efficiency was speeding equally artificial blood around the naked body lying next to his. It made him rather sick. He wondered what it made Apollo feel.

He'd tried to rationalise it. If Apollo had been maimed in battle, had lost an arm or a leg, an artificial limb wouldn't have made a bent cubit's worth of difference to Starbuck. He would have gone on loving Apollo if his lover had ended up blind, deaf, limbless and doubly incontinent. He knew that. So why not accept an artificial heart? Maybe, he thought hopefully, maybe all I need is a bit of time to get used to the idea.

And if it wasn't Apollo? If it was just the Enemy accessing Apollo's memories - how he hated that image, as if Apollo's brain was just a data processor to be utilised - well, Starbuck reckoned he couldn't hurt worse than he did already, that's all.

"Can I see him?" he asked then, making up his mind.

"I don't want to!" said Athena, shocked momentarily out of her reserve. Then as Starbuck looked at her wonderingly, she said firmly, "I'm not going to believe it's him. That way it won't hurt if it turns out it isn't."

"And if it turns out that it is?" asked Starbuck.

"I'll sort that out with him then."

Starbuck shrugged, slightly surprised that he'd once seriously thought of marrying her. He was still fond of her, but that reserve and the touch of selfishness might have been hard to live with. Too like her father. He thought that he'd got the better bet in her brother.

"Can I see him, please?" he said again.

"No, I'm sorry," said Adama. "The Council's forbidden all visitors."

"But you promised that I wouldn't be kept out of this! Apollo and me… you promised that I'd have a share in this. I've every right!"

"I know, and I'm sorry. It's not my decision, Starbuck. But I didn't fight this one. I need all the ammunition I have for the big battles." He looked down at his hands again. "For what it's worth, Starbuck, I want my son back as badly as you do. I just don't know if what we have down there in Life Centre is my son, or just something that looks and sounds like him, animated by one of the Enemy. Like Athena, I'm reserving judgement until we've got a better idea of what those Enemy brain patterns really mean. I have to, both for my own sanity and to protect Boxey. I have to gain time, time to let Salik come to an informed judgement. I'll need everything I can muster to achieve that. So I didn't protest against this decision. I'll tell him that you want to see him and as soon as we can arrange something, we will."

"You promised," said Starbuck, forlorn. Then he shrugged. "There's always a way in."

"Not past two of Reese's guards, there isn't. Leave it, Starbuck. We'll do no good by alienating the Council on this." Adama sighed. "Besides, it wouldn't be any use at the moment. He took the news very badly, and Salik's sedated him again. You wouldn't be able to talk to him anyway."

"I don't need to talk to him," said Starbuck. "I just need to touch him."







Apollo stood naked in front of the mirror in the small bathroom that led from his hospital room, forcing himself to take a good look at what he'd been left with. The body reflected in the glass was much thinner than when he last looked at it, wasted, as if he'd just come through a long illness, the chest criss-crossed with heavy scars. The scars were healed, already faded from the red flush of new scar tissue to a pale pink against his white skin. Salik said they'd soon fade to white, but would never disappear. The implant sat over his heart.

No. Not my heart. I don't have one anymore . Over the machine that's pumping fake blood around my body.

Salik was waiting outside with a uniform for him, and these scars his clothes would hide. But they wouldn't hide the implant in his head. His hair had grown considerably in the last few sectars, hanging long around his face, but even that couldn't hide the implant. He caught his hair back with one hand, turned his head so that the metal caught the light with a flash of silver. No, this he couldn't hide. This, everyone would see.

In the secton since he'd first woken from the long period of sedation, he'd swung from despair and denial to a furious anger. The first few days he'd been virtually catatonic from shock, curled up in the bed, staring at nothing, oblivious to every attempt by Salik and Adama to talk to him.

Since then he'd gradually begun to listen, to respond. His moods were unpredictable, switching from withdrawn silence to fury in microns, but they'd persisted. Apollo knew that they had recorded every conversation, analysed every word, to help them and the Council decide if he was really himself or not. He knew it was. He couldn't understand why they couldn't see that.

Oh of course Salik had taken him several times through the changes the Enemy had made to him, making sure that he understood the enormity of the difference. Salik called it counselling, to help him come to terms with what had happened, to understand. Apollo numbly acquiesced to whatever Salik said. He understood all right, not needing the doctor's dry, academic explanations. He understood that it had cost him everything he'd loved.

He'd seen the expression on his father's face and remembered how Adama had recoiled when Apollo had reached out to touch him. He remembered the feeling of abandonment, of betrayal. He and Adama had had their differences, the hardest being as they adjusted to working together, keeping the family relationship separate from the professional, but they'd always had a deep mutual affection. Maybe it wasn't often expressed - Adama wasn't very demonstrative - but he'd always been sure that his father loved him. Now he was no longer sure. When his father was there, Apollo watched him, saw the difficulty that Adama had in speaking to him and not betray his feelings, the distaste for a son who had been turned by the Enemy into this grotesque cyborg.

And most of all he remembered Adama's savagely expressed wish that he was dead.

He was conscious, too, of the continuing absence of the rest of his family and Starbuck. He had asked, and when Adama reiterated the Council's order as an excuse, he had understood. He understood as much from what Adama didn't say as what he did: that Athena wouldn't have come anyway, and no matter what, that Adama wouldn't allow him to see Boxey. His father's protectiveness there was unmistakable. He wondered most about Starbuck, why Starbuck had suddenly found some respect for the rules and regulations he'd always found some way to disregard before. He wondered if Starbuck ever actually tried to come and see him. But he wouldn't ask. He would never ask again.

Because he didn't need Salik to tell him what the changes to him meant. He knew. He looked at the cyborg reflected in the glass and knew exactly what it meant.

He had nothing, nobody, no past, no future. He was on his own.







"It's too big for me," Apollo complained as he got into the uniform Salik had brought him.

"You've lost a lot of weight. You need to eat more." Salik had put Apollo onto a high carbohydrate diet, but the captain ate very little. After all, as Salik reported to the Council, he hadn't eaten in almost four sectars: it would take time for that to return to normal.

"The dead don't eat, do they?" Apollo muttered. "Where's my medal ribbons?"

"Here. The commander said he wants them back after the Council have seen you."

Apollo's mouth twisted into a sour grimace. "Because he doesn't think I merit them? Because I'm not human?"

Salik's little lectures had included one on the changed brainwave patterns. Apollo had seen it, comparing it against the one taken at his last regular medical, grimly assessing the differences for himself, pushing his terror down somewhere deep inside and refusing to let it get him.

"I'm sure he doesn't think that," Salik said patiently.

"No. Because he's not sure that I'm really Apollo. What does he think, Salik? What's he told the Council, do you think? That the cyborg's a rejuvenated corpse, animated by some Enemy intelligence living in my head?"

"That sort of talk doesn't help."

"That depends on your point of view. Anger's a useful survival technique, isn't it?" Apollo pinned the row of bright medal ribbons to the left breast of his flight jacket, over the heart implant. The irony wasn't lost on him. He straightened thin shoulders. "I'm ready."

Two big, very big, security guards were waiting outside the private room that had been his haven - his prison - for the last secton. They both looked a shade uncomfortable when he appeared and shifted a noticeable distance away. Apollo frowned, wondering what that was about, but disdaining to ask. He followed Salik in silence, the two guards falling in behind him.

Getting from A to B anywhere in the Galactica took time. She was a big ship, and they had to go down several corridors and use a travel tube to get to the turbo lift they needed to reach the Council Chamber. Apollo, lost for a while in his own thoughts, barely noticed the looks he was getting from the people they passed: techs and gunners, mostly. It was only as they got into the empty travel tube that he heard it for the first time.

"Zombie!" somebody hissed from the corridor behind them and he froze.

He turned round slowly, wondering who it had been. Faces, several of which he knew; eyes that refused to meet his but slid away; expressions of anger, distrust, fear. Suddenly afraid, he kept his own expression impassive with an effort. So, everyone knew. He was to be hated not only for being a cyborg, but because they thought he was a rejuvenated corpse.

"Apollo," said Salik quietly.

"It looks as though my father's not the only one, then," said Apollo bitterly, and turned away, getting into the tube. He didn't speak again until they were in the turbo lift, when he gestured to the silent guards. "I thought they were here so I didn't run away. But I was wrong, wasn't I? Are they here to stop my old crew-mates tearing me apart?"

"They're partly here for your protection, yes," said Salik, with his usual detachment.

"Your concern overwhelms me."

Salik ignored that, led the way into the Council antechamber. Reese was waiting.

"Please wait here, Apollo," Salik said. "We'll call you in when the Council's ready."

He disappeared into the Chamber, and Apollo sat down on one of the chairs. This was the furthest he'd walked in a secton - no, in sectars if this crazy tale was right - and he was more tired than he was prepared to admit.

Reese grinned at him, obviously not sharing the unease his subordinates felt. "Well, if it isn't the zombie."

Apollo sighed inwardly, but he'd be damned if he'd let a rat like Reese get to him. "Shit, there is a Hell. Nearly four sectars dead and when I get back you're still here, still with the brain of retarded amoeba, and still not funny."

"Yeah? Well, I ain't dead, Captain Zombie, sir." He sniffed the air. "Yup, can smell it from here. Dead and rotting."

Apollo managed a smile. "Actually, Reese, I don't have any lysosomes anymore. Puzzles the hell out of Salik, but that means I won't ever rot. You will, of course, when that unlovely carcass of yours is finally spaced, but I won't. Neat, don't you think?"

The door opened before Reese could retort and Salik beckoned them in. Apollo got to his feet and walked into the Council chamber, aware that Reese was following him. Without even looking, he saw the big security chief take up position in front of the door. A chair had been set in front of the Council, and Salik waved him into it before going to join Wilker at one side of the room.

Apollo's gaze swept from one end of the table to the other, taking in each Council member. His father was there, of course; Anton, Tinia, Haleth… the few he'd considered as marginally human. Those few had trouble looking at him. Adama looked at him once, then looked away again, face showing nothing of what he was thinking or feeling. The rest, almost as inhuman as the tall alien who sat with Adama, watched him openly. He got to the seat, and, with a tiny mocking grin at his father, came to attention and saluted smartly. For some reason, that threw the entire Council, and he grinned to himself at their surprise and consternation, taking his time getting into the chair.

Anton was chairing this session of the Council. Apollo could understand that. Adama's position in the Presidency was always precarious, always at risk from the subversive plots and shifting alliances that constituted day-to-day politics in the overheated, overcrowded atmosphere of the Fleet. Adama couldn't be seen to be anything but impartial. There were too many vultures circling, watching for the weakness that would let them bring him down.

Still Anton was one of his father's political allies. That might mean something - or it might not. Depends, Apollo thought. Depends on what Dad… what the Commander's offered him.

Anton nodded a greeting to him. "Captain Apollo," he said gravely. "I had better begin by explaining why we've called you here today. This isn't a trial, or a court martial - merely a short hearing to tell you how we have decided to deal with you."

Apollo nodded, waited. Silent. Giving nothing away.

"I understand that Doctor Salik has explained to you what has happened over the last few sectars?"

Another nod. Apollo hid a grim smile. Of course Anton understood that. Apollo hadn't missed the monitors in his room; the Council had had a ringside seat. He hoped that they'd enjoyed the show.

"Then you won't be surprised when I say that we've been somewhat at a loss about what to do with you. I'm going to be frank, Apollo. Apart from the difficulty caused by the fact that you are functioning only because of various cybernetic implants and the natural human reaction to that, we need to be convinced that you are really who you seem to be, that there is no residual trace of the Enemy, that you are completely free of their control."

"Well, I know I'm me" Apollo kept his tone even and unemotional. For what that's worth. Oh, I know. It's worth nothing

"I think you'll understand the Council's need for some independent evaluation," Anton said dryly. He paused. "Apollo, the Council has not forgotten everything you've done to protect this Fleet and our people for the last two yahrens, nor indeed, everything you did in the yahrens before that in the war against the Cylons. That recognition is what has won you this hearing. To be blunt, there was a strong and vocal segment of this Council that pressed for the threat you may pose - and you may indeed pose the worst threat to this Fleet since the Great Destruction - that pressed for you to be terminated, to eliminate the risk."

Apollo's mouth twitched slightly at that, but he said nothing.

"Instead, we have decided that there will be a testing period, a time in which you will undergo a series of tests and examinations that will allow us to determine if you are indeed Captain Apollo, returned to us, or whether you are one of the Enemy, using the captain's body and memories. Doctors Salik and Wilker are devising a programme of medical and technical experiments to evaluate what the Enemy did to you and to understand better the Mask technology. In particular, Doctor Wilker will be looking for ways to utilise the Mask's technology on our defence. The K'h'n will help. You will co-operate with anything they ask of you."

Apollo glanced at his father. Adama had agreed to him being treated like some lab rat, a lump of experimental meat? Well, that spoke volumes about whether or not his father believed him to be alive, to be human. A once-dead cyborg - no consideration needed, no rights, nothing. He was beginning to understand where he stood with Adama.

"And if I refuse?"

"Then we will order your termination, Captain," said Anton smoothly. "We would have no alternative. It's our duty to protect our people."

Apollo looked back at him steadily, shrugged. "Then I don't have any choice."

"No," Anton agreed. "The tests will begin tomorrow. We envisage a preliminary examination period of two or three sectars. You will, of course, be watched and monitored throughout. But that isn't all, Apollo. There have to be some restrictions on your freedom. You aren't restored to active duty, to rank and honours. Not yet. That is something you will earn, regain as and when we're satisfied that you really are Apollo. You'll be assigned quarters in the technical area."

Handy for the lab Apollo thought sourly, but said nothing.

"You will not be allowed into the troop decks, the bridge and command deck or the flightdecks without an authorised escort, and any visit you make there must be cleared with Core Command first. And you will wear an electronic tag at all times, to allow Security to track you."

"I'm not a criminal!" snapped Apollo, anger getting the better of him for a moment.

"I'm not suggesting that you are. But we need to be certain. And it may be for your own protection. It's widely known about your…. your condition, and that you piloted an enemy fighter. You can expect some hostility."

"Yes. I expect I can," said Apollo, tired. The anger had faded again, the dull ache back in place.

Anton nodded and turned to Adama. "We have to settle one more item, Commander. The position of Strike Captain. It is currently being filled by Lieutenant Boomer, I think?"

Adama spoke for the first time. "Yes."

"He's done well, but in the Council's opinion, he is too close to Captain Apollo to be completely sound and reliable." There was a note of regret in Anton's tone. "We are opposed to him taking the position permanently. Councillor Regan has suggested Lieutenant Bojay as a likely alternative candidate. That has the support of the majority of the Council."

Apollo opened his mouth to make a hot protest, then saw the slight head shake Adama sent him. He subsided, seething.

"It that's the Council's will," said Adama.

"Then that's all, for the moment. Captain Apollo, please go with Security Chief Reese. He will arrange the tagging."

Apollo got slowly to his feet. For a moment he almost gave way to the scorn and anger he felt, then he got it under control, saluted once again with parade-ground precision.

Once outside he stood for a centon, glaring at nothing in particular, at everything.

"Over here, zombie," Reese said, beckoning him over to a desk. There was a small black case on it, and Reese took out a metal bracelet.

"Left handed, aren't you? Hold out your right hand then."

Apollo mutely obeyed, and Reese fastened the bracelet around his wrist, sealing it into place. He didn't seem to have any trouble touching the zombie. Not if it was to humiliate him, anyway.

"You can't break the seal and get it off, and it's waterproof and shock-proof." Reese checked the signal. "Fine. You can go now."

"Where?" Apollo was jolted out of his silence.

Reese shrugged. "Why the hell should I care where? Just get out of here."







There were quite a few children on the Galactica now. As well as the families of warriors and Galactica crew, as civilian techs were brought in to supplement the Galactica's own they had moved onto the Battlestar, bringing their families with them. And the children who lived permanently on the Battlestar were joined each day by a few dozen more from the nearer refugee ships, to attend the school, one of six in the Fleet, which had been established down on D deck.

Apollo didn't get too close. There was a group of parents waiting for school to finish, to collect their sons and daughters, and he didn't want to cause an incident. He'd had enough trouble getting down there. Without the protection of the security guards, the hostility from the people he passed was more overt. Nothing physically threatening, but people had been more obvious about their reaction to having a cyborg on board.

He'd gone past them all in stony silence, head high, but he was burning inside. All they saw was the cybernetic implant, and it seemed to him that they'd lapped up the rumours about his so-called death, sensationalising what had happened. Oh, he could acknowledge that their lives were grey enough, a constant battle for survival, and anything out of the ordinary added spice, but he didn't relish being the focus of their excited comment and speculation. Not one of them remembered who he was - who he'd been. It didn't auger well for the future. He was beginning to think that he'd definitely have been better off staying dead.

So he stayed back, hovering in the shadows, hoping just to catch a glimpse of his son. He didn't want to burst in on Boxey, not until he knew what the boy had been told, not until he was sure that Boxey was prepared for the meeting. No matter that there'd been no time gap for Apollo, Boxey hadn't had his father around for almost four sectars. He'd need time to readjust. Apollo's return would have to be handled carefully, he knew that. But he really did want to see his son for a moment. That's all. Just see him.

When the kids started pouring out of school he leaned against the corridor wall, half hidden in the shadow of a bulkhead, watching. He'd already seen Athena waiting in the crowd - she was on Boxey collection duty that day, then. Boxey came out last, by himself, waiting until the crowd of children milling around their parents had almost gone. He looked sulky and quiet, unhappy. Apollo thought he'd grown. Athena bent to hug him quickly. Boxey relaxed when he saw her, showed her something he'd been doing. Athena admired it extravagantly, and Apollo watched and listened, feeling excluded, an outsider.

If Athena hadn't turned her head when she did, no-one need ever have known he was there. But she did. She stared at him for a centon, as if not quite sure what she was seeing, then her face changed. She looked suddenly furious, and caught at Boxey's arm to pull him away.

"What's the matter?" demanded Boxey, turning to see what she was glaring at.

"Come on," she said sharply. "We're going right now!"

Boxey stared into his father's face, then his own twisted in sudden panic. "It's him! It's him! Don't let him get me!"

"Boxey -" despite his resolution to stay back, Apollo took a step towards them, every instinct pushing him to comfort his son, reassure him.

But Boxey yelled in fright, and Apollo stopped, shocked as he realised that he was what was frightening Boxey.

"You're not my Dad, you dead thing, you!" Boxey was yelling as Athena pulled him away. "You're not my Dad!"







"What the hell do you think you were doing?" Adama demanded furiously. "Who the hell said you could go anywhere near him?"

"He's my son!" Apollo protested. "I've every right to see him.."

"Wrong!" Adama snapped back. "You've got no rights at all! And until you can prove you are who you claim you are, you'll stay away from my grandson, do you understand? He's had a bad enough time without you sending him into hysterics."

"I didn't intend to get too close. It Athena hadn't had got all melodramatic, he'd never have known I was there. I just wanted to see him."

"I had every right to be melodramatic," said Athena icily from the other side of the room. "I've had four sectars of trying to deal with Boxey, getting him back to some sort of normality. You lurking about in dark corridors doesn't help."

Apollo took a deep breath, caught a hold of his temper. It wouldn't help to get into a slanging match. "Look, give me some credit. I know better than just to walk up to him. I just wanted to see him, to see he was okay."

"Just stay away," said Athena. "It's bad enough you coming back at all without you scaring him into screaming fits."

Her words fell into a sudden silence, and as she realised what she'd said, she coloured.

Apollo nodded. "Well, there we have it."

"I didn't mean it quite as it came out," said Athena, but she looked sulky. "I don't mean that I don't want you back. But it's so hard on Boxey. He was devastated when you -"

"When I died." said Apollo, still expressionless.

"When you disappeared." she said primly. "He was only just beginning to get back to normal when you came back. That devastated him too, and he's had a hell of a time at school. All the other kids have made it very hard for him."

Apollo smiled slightly. "Your Dad's a zombie," he said in a mocking tone.

"How did you…?"

"Some of their parents believe it too, if the things being called after me in the corridors are any proof." said Apollo. He looked at them steadily. "And you do, don't you, Thenie?. Well, I'm sorry that my return is inconveniencing you, but I'm here and I'm staying here. You'd better learn to live with it.

"But Boxey stays out of it for now," said Adama firmly. "I'm not taking any argument about this. My first consideration has to be to protect Boxey. I'm not going to let him think you're back, only to have the Salik and Wilker decide it's not you, and he has to lose you all over again. Until there's a ruling in your favour, I want you to stay clear of him. Then we can see about some sort of reunion, when we're sure."

Apollo shook his head. "Too late," he said moodily. "It'll be way too late by then. It's too late now. You've already taught him to be scared of me."

"That's unfair! Dad's done his best to explain everything to Boxey, to explain why we won't let you see him. He knows we have to be sure first"

"I bet. But since Da…the commander doesn't believe it's me, I doubt Boxey got an unbiased view." Apollo shook his head. "I really find this hard to take, you know. It's hard enough trying to accept what happened to me without my family throwing me to the wolves. When things go wrong, you expect the people you love, the people you thought loved you to be there for you, supporting you. It's a bit difficult when they're first in line to deliver the kicking."

"That's really unfair!" said Athena.

"Is it?" said Apollo sadly. He was silent for a few centons, then rubbed impatiently at his eyes. "God knows I only want the best for Boxey. A half-dead cyborg isn't much of a bet. Not even Starbuck would take any money on that one." Another pause. "I get the message, though. I'll stay away from Boxey and I'll stay away from you both too. No claims on you, no expectations of support or anything else. That way you can stay squeaky clean, untainted, keep on denying that I have anything to do with you. I thought that would be the way it was."

"Apollo…" said Athena.

"It doesn't matter." he said. "It doesn't matter. You've taken him away, and there's no going back. Just take good care of him."

Athena looked at her father for guidance and Adama shook his head at her.

"You'd better get back to Boxey," said Adama. "I want to talk to him alone."

There was another long, awkward silence when she'd gone.

"I know it's difficult. But it isn't quite as bleak as you're making out," said Adama after a few centons. "Despite what you think, we're trying to be very fair to you, to give you the chance to prove yourself and keep the Council off your back while you do it. I have to protect Boxey as much as I can, while we do that. And I have to protect myself, because God knows I daren't believe it's my Apollo and risk losing him again. Please listen to me. I want you to understand. It's important."

Apollo shrugged one thin shoulder, his gaze fixed on the floor.

Adama kept his tone even, reasonable. "When you went we were all devastated. We loved our Apollo very much."

Apollo actually laughed, that was so bloody funny. "That rings a touch hollow, if you don't mind me saying so."

"Well, it's true. Nothing that's happened since changes that. But you have to understand, we can't let ourselves believe yet that you're our Apollo. We're all scared that if you aren't, then we lose him all over again."

"And if I am your Apollo? What then?"

"Then we'll sort something out."

"You think?" Apollo looked at him for the first time since Athena left. "You think that even if I can adjust to being what I am now, win some sort of acceptance, that I'd be so grateful for the recognition that I'd forget all this? That I'd forget and forgive being abandoned and betrayed by the people I thought loved me?"

Adama sighed. "Now who's being melodramatic? How can you say we've abandoned you? Is keeping you alive a betrayal?"

"There's more than kind of betrayal. Do you think I don't see yours and Thenie's for what it is? Why do you doubt me so much? Is it the machines? Do they revolt you? What do you think they do for me?"

Adama kept a grip on his temper. "Not entirely them, although they're difficult to accept. I don't deny that you look like Apollo and sound like him, but there's too much of the Enemy still there for me to be certain. I've seen the brain scan patterns. So have you. We have to be sure."

"It's me," said Apollo dully.

"I hope so. I'd like my son back. Look, this is very difficult for me too. I'm pulled in two, between what I'd want to do for my son and what I have to do for the people."

"Oh?"

"This is the biggest threat to me since the Destruction. Everything we do over the next few sectons is going to be watched and analysed, and there are quite a few on the Council are going to be looking for anything they can to bring me down. I can't afford to be seen to favour you, I can't be seen to be anything other than impartial. In all conscience, I can't allow them to use you to gain control of this Fleet. That would be disastrous."

Apollo stared at him for a moment, stung out of the lethargy. "Have I got this right? I'm to be treated like a pariah because it's politically difficult for you? Well, that does put it all in perspective!"

Adama remained unmoved. "It's the old problem of balancing duty with the personal. It's my duty to put the people first. My Apollo would have known that."

"Oh don't worry," said Apollo acidly. "This Apollo knows it too. After all, when did you ever put your family before your duty to the people? God, you weren't even there when Zac and Athena were born. I suppose I ought to be grateful that you were there when I was, that your duty allowed you that much. No, I'm used to duty coming first. Never home for birthdays, never home for Yule, never there when we were sick, never there when you were wanted or needed, Mother taking it all herself. I never had a father. I only ever had a commander who came home occasionally and lectured me on my duty to the people. Shit, I even gave up any idea of doing what I wanted to do with my life to live to your ideas of duty!"

Adama's eyes were cold with anger. "That's enough! I have enough duty to my family to have spent the last two sectons battling to stop the Council spacing you. Do you have any idea what I've had to do to get that plan of Wilker's and Salik's accepted? Don't you realise how hard it's been to present the fact that you piloted a Black Ship against us, as some involuntary betrayal? Do you know how many pilots and civilians we lost in the attacks? Do you have the first idea of how many people in the Fleet want to hold you responsible for some of that?"

"So that's it. Don't you believe that I knew nothing of that?"

"Of course I believe it! If I didn't I wouldn't have spent every penny of political capital I had getting you this chance. I've even had to sacrifice poor Boomer, and it'll be sectars before I can regain enough to try and influence the Council to accept you. If you're Apollo."

"If! Always if! Why don't you trust me?"

"Earn it," said Adama harshly. "You have to earn it, prove you're who you seem to be."

"Earn it?" Apollo wondered if there was anything hurtful left for Adama to say. "By submitting to ‘experiments'? And just what will they be? Let me guess. Wilker's going to try to use the Mask, isn't he?"

"You'll do whatever they want, if you want to live."

"But this is the big question: do you want me to live? Or would you rather I'd stayed quietly dead? At least then I wasn't a political inconvenience!"

"I'd give anything to get my son back!" Adama shot back. "I just don't know you're him. And you have no idea how I feel! You've no idea how much I grieved. The most dreadful and horrible moment of my life was when we opened up that Black Ship and found you in it. Worse than the Destruction, worse than Ila and Zac. Knowing that my son had been mutilated, rejuvenated somehow, a Cyborg, used against us. Everything we humans have come to dread in our old enemy. It broke my heart!"

Apollo glared at him. "And there's the difference between us. Because now you don't believe that I have a heart to break."

Adama looked shocked.

"And that will always be there. I don't have a heart. I don't have a pulse. I should be dead. And in that broken heart of yours, you wish I still was. It was so much simpler, wasn't it? And I don't think that in that broken heart of yours, you want it to be me. I don't think you ever want to have to acknowledge a cyborg for a son." Apollo nodded, steadying his voice, getting it all straight. "So. There it is, all out in the open for us to look at. You don't have a son, you don't want a cyborg; and me, I only have a commander. Nothing new there, then."

"Apollo – "

"All right, Commander. I accept that I have to prove who I am, for the good of the people. To do my duty, as expected of a Caprican. To protect your political position so that the politicians don't turn you from your holy quest for Earth. I accept all that. I don't like it: it's not pleasant coming back from the dead and finding yourself so unwelcome, to find that your loving family are more concerned about the effect on them than having you back. But I accept that too."

Adama shook his head, said nothing.

"So, the bargain's agreed? You continue to expend your political capital in keeping me from being spaced and I agree to be a compliant piece of experimental meat for Salik and Wilker to play with."

"They could quite genuinely find things to help us, and you."

Apollo ignored that. "I'm not entitled to wear this uniform, for the moment. Did you get rid of all my things?"

"I've got your uniforms and medals, and your books. I kept them for Boxey. The rest I got rid of."

"I'd like my books. Some of them are very old friends and they're likely to be my only family, from now on. I'll get some civilian clothes from the Quartermaster. I think that's all, isn't it? There's no point in prolonging this."

"No," agreed Adama. "We'll talk again when we're both a bit calmer."

"Will we?" said Apollo with a slight smile, then he added with excruciating politeness: "Thank you for your time, Commander. I'll try not to trouble you again."

Apollo walked to the door. Then he paused and unpinned the row of medal ribbons from his jacket. He turned back and dropped them on the desk in front of Adama.

"Here. I think you wanted them back. I believe that they belonged to your dead son."







Starbuck took another pull on his beer, watching Boomer sadly. The whole of the OC was seething, and even Bojay and his squadron of ex-Pegasus flyers had the unusual good sense and sensitivity to keep their celebrations muted. Bojay had gone as far as commiserating with Boomer, but he was patently delighted at his own elevation.

"All the commander could say that as soon as he could he'd try and do something. At least he admits how bloody unfair it is." Boomer put back another ambrosa. He'd had quite a few already, and the people constantly stacked more up in front of him, wanting to show their support and anger.

"You did a damn good job," consoled Starbuck. "It's not you the Council's getting at, just the commander."

"He was quite open about it. He said under normal circumstances he'd tell then where to get off, trying to tell him how to run his ship. But he couldn't this time. He said he'd had to tread very carefully while they decided what to do with Apollo." Boomer slammed his empty glass down on the table. "And it probably isn't even really him, we all know that! It's so bloody unfair."

"I know he's had a bad time with the Council." said Starbuck carefully. "A lot of them just want Apollo dead."

"He already is," said Boomer flatly.

"We don't know that," Starbuck protested. "Boomer, if he was dead, if there wasn't anything left of him, if it was just the Enemy, then the commander wouldn't fight like this for him. It has to be him. It has to be."

Boomer swallowed another ambrosa, so angry that he couldn't even get drunk. "Look, Bucko, I know he was your best friend and I know you go back yahrens and I know how much he meant to you, old buddy. But can you honestly say you really think it's our old Apollo down there in Life Centre? You know what the K'h'n said. You saw him when they took him out of the Black Ship. Masked. Honestly, Bucko, what do you think?"

"I don't know," Starbuck admitted, the memory of that dreadful moment when they'd unMasked Apollo in his mind's eye. He'd seen it so often, waking and sleeping. He'd lost count of the times it had brought him, sweating, from his dreams. "I won't know until I can see him and talk to him."

"But you said that the commander thinks it's him."

"The commander told me that there's a lot of Apollo there." said Starbuck, choosing his words with care. Speculation about Apollo's condition was rife - most of it unfriendly, suspicious - and he didn't want to fuel it, even with an old friend like Boomer.. The talk in the OC had been on one thing and one thing only for almost three sectons now. He'd said this so many times over the last few days, trying to convince and reassure and, really, he needed reassurance himself. "I've told you. said Adama that he looks and sounds just like he always did."

"Not that he isn't desperate to prove that it's his son." Boomer sounded as unconvinced as ever.

"Have you ever known the commander lie to us?" asked Starbuck. "Or did you ever see him give Apollo any slack because he's his son? You know the commander's always been harder on him than if they weren't related. Harder than he's been on you."

"I suppose." grudged Boomer. "But even if it is him, we all know what they'll have done to him. You know what F'nch said. Cybernetics. He's probably more machine than man."

"He looks just the same," said Starbuck, a bit desperately. He'd said this so often, too, and if even Boomer still wasn't convinced, the cause could be lost. "All you can see is the mark on his forehead where the Mask was. Apart from that, he looks just the same."

"With no heart and a machine growing in his brain."

"He has a heart - " Starbuck began, but wasn't allowed to finish.

"It's just not the one he had when we saw him last. It's no good, Bucko. He can never be the same. It can't really be him." Boomer shook his head. "And what sort of life could he have here? He couldn't ever be trusted."

"Not much of one if people forget who he is and what he's done," said Starbuck miserably, trying to make a point. It seemed to him that the pilots had already forgotten the Apollo they'd known and set up this frightening cyborg bogeyman instead. And if Boomer really shared that and it wasn't just resentment at losing the captaincy, if he couldn't convince Boomer, what chance had he to convince the others?

"It's downright gruesome. Even if you get past the cybernetics, you have to wonder whether he's really alive."

Starbuck sighed and finished his beer. He knew how bad Boomer was feeling about being passed over like this, after all he'd done, and he was prepared to let go some of the things he might have otherwise argued about. Getting angry wouldn't help Apollo. He had to convince Boomer. If Boomer accepted Apollo, many of the other pilots would follow suit.

"At least they aren't putting him back on active service." Boomer reached for his next ambrosa "Gods, would you want to fly with him?"

"I've always been his wingmate," said Starbuck. "I'd fly with him."

"Yeah, maybe you would at that. I don't think anyone else would, Bucko."

"You used to fly with him. You used to have no trouble flying with him. You thought he was a great pilot."

"He was," Boomer admitted. "And a brilliant Strike Captain. I've done my best to do things the way he'd have wanted it. But that was before. Now everything's different. Why can't you see that?"

Starbuck looked thoughtfully into his glass. "I know it'll be different, especially from his point of view. He must feel awful."

Boomer shook his head at that. "We aren't too thrilled either, Starbuck"

"So you won't even give him a chance?" said Starbuck pleadingly. "That's not like you, Boom-boom. This is Apollo we're talking about!"

"It was Apollo, Starbuck. I think I'd want to be sure it still was before I got the flags out, and how can it still be him with no heart and that thing in his head?"

"He saved your life at Carillon, when he got that raider off your back," said Starbuck keeping his voice quiet and even with an effort. He was having trouble not losing his temper, but if he antagonised Boomer now, it would just make things worse for Apollo later. "Boomer, you and him go right back to day one at the Academy - "

"I know, Starbuck. I know."

"Do you? I remember all the things you said about him at his Farewell. You even cried. It was more than I could do."

"Starbuck – "

But Bojay jumped to his feet amid loud catcalls, draining a bottle of ambrosa, the Silver Spar people all laughing with him. Boomer scowled and looked away.







Gods, but Starbuck was bloody persistent.

"See, I can't think of a time Apollo ever let any one of us down. I'd like to think that we wouldn't let him down either."

"Starbuck, I know what you're saying. I understand it. But you've got to understand too that this is pretty hard for everyone."

"Harder for him," said Starbuck stubbornly. Well, I'm going to see him now. Please, just give him a chance."

"We'll see," said Boomer said, reluctant to let him go without showing some support, some understanding. But it was for Starbuck, not Apollo.

His reward was one of Starbuck's increasingly rare smiles. "Thanks. I'll see you later."

Boomer watched him go, and sighed as Jolly and Giles joined him.

"Another one." Giles said, handing Boomer a glass. "Where's Starbuck off to?"

"To see him," Boomer said, and he didn't need to say which 'him' he meant.

"Ouch," said Jolly. "He's coming close to losing it, Boomer."

"He and Apollo go way back," said Boomer . "I think Apollo's been the only family Starbuck ever had. It's hard for him to accept, that's all." He picked up the next glass, wishing to God he could get drunk. "He's going to have to, though. There is no way I want that dead thing anywhere near me."

 

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