Section Three

 

Starbuck, though, was having a lot of difficulty in knowing what it was he had to accept. He wanted to believe so badly that it was Apollo, he was scared it might be true….he was honestly coming to believe that his state of confusion and indecision was to be a permanent feature of his life.

He hesitated outside the anonymous looking door on the technical level for what seemed centars, trying to pluck up the courage to ring the bell. He didn't ever remember being so afraid, not at Cimtar, or Carillon, not when he was on trial for his life over the Ortega business. He'd often been scared, or exhilarated, hyped up: never had he felt this gut-churning fear that threatened to have him throwing up the beer. Three times he'd walked away a few metres, then had come back to stand, irresolute, outside the grey door again. A score of times he'd raised his hand to the bell, then let it fall.

At last, he took a deep sighing breath and watched in fascination as his finger pressed the bell. Almost instantly he wanted to run away before it could be answered.

"Yes?"

It was Apollo's voice, unmistakable, familiar.

"It's me, Apollo," he choked out.

There was a pause, and he knew that Apollo was as afraid of this meeting as he was.

"Please let me in, Apollo," he said, the knowledge giving him an unexpected courage.

The door slid aside and he stepped into the room, hiding the shaking of his hands by pushing them into the pockets of his flight jacket. A small single room, much smaller than the spacious command quarters that Apollo had rated as the Battlestar's Strike Captain, bare and featureless but for the narrow bunk along one wall and a box of books in the floor. Starbuck kept his eyes on them for a micron, recognising them. Books were rare. Most people preferred viewers, but Apollo, quixotic Apollo, had had a passion for old books and had collected the musty-smelling old things avidly. The frustrated historian in him, probably: the only way he expressed regret for the brilliant academic career he'd let go by because it was expected of him that he would follow his father into the military, that he would do his duty.

Apollo had retreated to the far end of the room, backed up protectively against the viewscreen. Behind him on the screen was a projection of the stars floating past the Galactica, in real time. He was looking expressionlessly at Starbuck, silent, wary.

They looked at each other for a long time before Apollo broke the silence. "You look thin," he said.

"You're not exactly overweight yourself." Starbuck thought that Apollo looked painfully thin. He was surprised to see Apollo out of uniform, in shirt and jeans. The civilian clothes did nothing to hide how much weight he'd lost.

"I've been dead," said Apollo dryly. "Apparently."

Starbuck just nodded. "Yes. It's been a bad few sectars for me. I almost lost it."

It looked like Apollo, even with the longer hair and the flash of silver on the temple as Apollo moved his head and the implant caught the light. And the quickly hidden expression of concern, that was Apollo too.

"I'm glad you didn't," said Apollo and smiled at him very slightly, tentatively, as if he was afraid of being rebuffed.

"Close," said Starbuck, his breathing steadying. This was difficult, trying to sound his normal self. "I didn't like it when you left me behind."

"Well, I'm back."

Starbuck nodded again. "I hope so, Apollo. I hope so."

Apollo sighed. "You too? Is there no-one on this ship believes I'm who I say I am?"

Starbuck thought about it. "Maybe not, Apollo," he said with painful honesty. "But I want it to be you so badly I can taste it."

Apollo looked at him sharply, then half grinned. "That sounds like my Starbuck, anyway. Are you coming in or are you going to stand beside the door all night?"

"It's a bit cramped," said Starbuck doubtfully, but he carefully skirted the box and sat down on the edge of the bunk. He had a momentary panic when Apollo shifted position slightly, suddenly terrified that Apollo would join him on the bunk, but all Apollo did was move round so he was facing Starbuck again, leaning up against the viewscreen.

"It's all I need," said Apollo. "And it's close for all the tests." There was the slightest hint of scorn in his voice.

"I heard. They start tomorrow then."

"Does everyone know?"

"Your Dad's been very good about telling me what's been going on.."

Apollo raised an eyebrow. "Mmn. You especially?"

Starbuck managed a grin. "Yeah. He knows. About us, I mean. He's been okay about it." He waited, but said Apollo nothing more, so he went on: "Tigh told us all officially, while the commander was breaking the bad news to Boomer. Tigh told us about that too."

"Bloody Council," said Apollo, then shrugged. "It's my job they're carving up anyway!" The anger and resentment escaped him for a moment.

"But you can't - " Starbuck broke off.

Apollo gave him a sour look, but the anger was back under control. "No. I can't expect to have my job back, Starbuck, and I don't. I'll just focus on being a good little lab rat for them. Try to stay alive."

"What are they going to do?"

Apollo looked away. "I don't know. We're still in K'h'n territory though."

"For about another three sectons, I think, then we're past their borders. Why? What difference does it make?"

"I've just had a preliminary meeting with Wilker and F'nch. As long as we're in their space, they want a piece of me too. Whatever the experiments are going to be, their scientists are in on it. They arrive tonight, apparently."

"The K'h'n have been pretty good, really." said Starbuck, lost for something to say in the face of Apollo's understandable, but impotent, resentment about what was to happen to him, what had happened to him.

"Really?" The cynicism in Apollo's voice was clear. "From what I could make out from Salik's story of the last few sectars, they let you punch a route through Enemy territory for them and they're busily getting back systems that they'd lost, but wouldn't have had a chance of regaining otherwise. Damn good of them." He paused. "Were our losses bad? Salik wouldn't say much, and that worried me. The commander hinted it'd been pretty bad too."

Starbuck frowned at this formal way of referring to Adama. He wondered what had happened between them: Adama would never say very much about his conversations with Apollo, such as they were. He wondered what they'd said to each other. He wondered what he and Apollo would say. He tried to concentrate on impersonal things.

"Not good. We lost over forty pilots before we started sending out the cadets and pulling the veterans in from the civilian ships. More since. We're down to less than two thirds strength on real pilots. We're rushing to fill the holes with the cadets. We graduated the last lot and have more in training. We never want to be so vulnerable again. The Enemy were hard, Apollo, and Boomer was good, really good. He tried hard to do what you would have done. He held it all together. God knows what Bojay'll be like."

"He's a good pilot, but -" Apollo pulled a little face, and Starbuck grinned agreement. "It's not fair about Boomer, though. I didn't think that the commander would have let that happen."

"The Council didn't cut your Dad a lot of slack. He's had a hell of a fight on his hands keeping them from ordering you terminated. I think poor Boomer was part of the price."

"Well, that should make me popular." said Apollo with a little grimace. "What's the word, Starbuck?"

"They're spooked. They've all seen a Mask and they know what the K'h'n told us, about what happened to the Masked pilots, so they know about the cybernetics. You know how most people feel about that kind of thing, Apollo. Scares the hell out of them, especially after what the Cylons did. And F'nch was quite clear that the Masked pilots were dead, so that spooks them too. And they're sore about Boomer."

Apollo sighed. "Not an encouraging list, Starbuck." He looked at the man who'd been his lover. "What about you? Are you spooked too?"

Starbuck shifted uncomfortably. He couldn't ever remember having to keep a distance between himself and Apollo before, but his sense of self-protection was too strong for him to relax completely. It made this conversation awkward, unreal, having to watch everything he was saying, and it worried him that they'd shifted from generalities to the personal.

"I don't know," said Starbuck honestly, after a moment, not wanting to answer but knowing he owed Apollo that much. "I'm a bit scared, I suppose. I want it to be you, I need it to be you, but I also need to be sure. Losing you almost killed me, Apollo. I couldn't face it again."

Apollo chewed thoughtfully on his bottom lip. "The trouble is, Starbuck, I don't know what to do to make everyone see it's me. It's been really weird, and …and disorientating. There's been no gap for me, you see, no four sectars away from you when I knew that we were apart, that things were going on without me. It's spooked me too, to wake up and find everything and everyone's changed. It's a bit like one of those nightmares you have when you're a kid, that everyone's wearing masks and they just look like your Mum and Dad, and underneath there's monsters waiting to get you as soon as it gets dark. Only they're saying I'm the one who's changed. But, I don't feel changed, Starbuck. I don't feel like a monster."

"Apollo -"

"But they think I am. Boxey had hysterics. As far as he's concerned, the nightmare's real and here's this thing that looks like his Dad, but is really a monster. That's hard, Starbuck. And it's hard when your family make it clear they'd rather you stayed dead -"

"I don't believe that, Apollo. Your Dad was heart-broken."

"So he told me," said Apollo dryly. "We had quite a conversation about how broken his heart was. Literally not as broken as mine, of course, wherever it is. It's apparently broken beyond repair: laser blasts tend to do that." He straightened up. "Oh, I don't doubt he was sorry I was dead, Starbuck. We could be a bit edgy at times, him and me. Sometimes it was hard to keep work and family things separate, and we've had a few fights. But I think he loved me once. What I do doubt is that he's glad to have me back. He made it clear that he isn't sure I'm me, and that I'm causing him major political embarrassment. A bit of a kick in the teeth, that, given that I've spent all of my life trying to make him proud of me. Failure's always painful."

Starbuck didn't know what to say that wouldn't make things worse. "I've seen a lot of him over the last couple of sectons, since you came back. He was shattered when they opened up that Ship and found you, and he's fought hard to make sure you get a chance. That wasn't easy, Apollo, when everyone's so ansty about cybernetics and knows that Enemy controlled you for a while. He's like me. He's scared to believe too much in case he loses you again."

"So he says," said Apollo. "Odd, I can believe you when you say that. He was a bit less convincing. Maybe that's because the last couple of yahrens, politics has come into everything he does, colours how he thinks, and I've come to look for the motives in everything he says and does, even in family things."

"He has massive responsibilities," Starbuck ventured.

"Oh, we had quite a conversation about duty, too. Look, I don't want to talk about it just now. He made me mad, and I'm feeling pretty sore about it all." Apollo gestured at the bed. "Can I come and sit down, Starbuck? I'm not that used to being on my feet and I'm getting tired."

"Sure," said Starbuck hastily, and shifted over to make more room.

Apollo didn't seem to notice Starbuck's nervousness at his physical closeness. Or chose to ignore it.

"So, what happens next?" Starbuck asked, breaking an uncomfortable silence.

Apollo shrugged. "I get to be experimented on. Not an enticing future. But the only one I have."

"Maybe once they know it's you -"

Apollo smiled. "Yeah. Exactly, Starbuck. Even if they decide it's really me I'm still full of cybernetics. Nothing will ever be the same again, will it?"

Starbuck shook his head, mutely. He knew what was coming next and he dreaded it. Sure enough, he was right.

"And us?" Apollo asked softly. "Nothing the same there either?"

"I don't know," said Starbuck, and he had to raise a hand to his eyes. "I don't know. I've been thinking and thinking, and I don't know. I need some time, Apollo. To get used to things."

Apollo looked hastily away. "So do I, I suppose. I mean, Salik's told me often enough what they did to me, but I need time to get used to that, to the feeling that this isn't entirely my body any more."

"I know," said Starbuck awkwardly. He tried to find the words to explain. "I love you very much, you know that. I always have. Only, it does spook me, Apollo. It would be stupid of me to lie to you about that. I'm trying to deal with it and I think I can, but I just need some time."

Apollo looked at the floor. "It's all right. I'm not going to making any claims on you for anything. I've already learned that I don't have any right to make claims on anyone at all. I just wanted to know where I stood with you." A pause, then with more pain in his voice than Starbuck could bear: "Still friends?"

"Gods, yes!" Starbuck didn't hesitate. "It's just that I can't -"

"Sure," said Apollo. "I know. I do understand, Starbuck."

Starbuck forced himself to put a hand on Apollo's arm. It was warm under his touch, living. "I'm still here, Apollo. Just let's take things slow, each day as she comes."

Apollo nodded. "So what now, tonight? Do you need to go just yet?"

"No." Starbuck looked around the depressing little room. "Have you eaten?"

"Don't eat much. I'm still missing the right flora and fauna, and food either makes me throw up or keeps me in the turboflush for centars with the runs. I'd rather not."

Starbuck grinned. He felt as though the worst was over. They'd met and talked and they both knew that the relationship they'd had was kind of on hold. His relief was almost palpable. But he wanted to get out of this claustrophobic room, to get some others around them, break up the intensity of the one-to-one.

"What about drink?"

"I haven't tried any recently. Does it need much digesting?"

"Not in my wide experience," said Starbuck ruefully. He'd downed an awful lot of ambrosa in the last few sectars. "The OC?"

"Don't you think that might be a bad idea?"

"Maybe," Starbuck spoke slowly, thoughtfully. "I've been talking to them, trying to make them understand. You'll have to face them sooner or later, you know - you don't want to spend the rest of you life in here, do you? Depressing. - but I don't know how they'll react. They're pretty spooked."

"They've had longer than me to get used to the idea," said Apollo dryly and was silent a centon. "I think I'd rather get all my bad news over in one day," he said at last. "Then I know what I'm dealing with."

"I hope they'll be okay. I've talked with them a lot."

"And you'll be there," Apollo gave him a quick smile. Perhaps he was banking on using Starbuck's popularity as a defence if he needed it. "Okay. You'll have to check with Core Command. I'm not supposed to go onto the troop decks without their say so, even with a tag."

"Tag?"

"So Reese can track me." Apollo pushed his sleeve back slightly, showed Starbuck the metallic bracelet on his right wrist.

Starbuck stared in indignation. "That's outrageous! What the hell do they expect you to do?"

"A spot of sabotage, presumably." Apollo shrugged off the humiliation "Do you want to call CC?"

Starbuck hmmphed a bit, indignantly, but put the call through. It was Tigh who granted him permission to escort Captain Apollo into the OC - As long as you realise this is escort duty, Lieutenant and don't let him out of your sight . That outraged Starbuck too. He'd always known that there was some tension between Apollo and Tigh, but such open distrust annoyed him.

"He's only doing his job," said Apollo, taking Tigh's attitude as the minor irritation it was. "Shall we go?"

"I suppose" said Starbuck, suddenly wondering how wise this was. If even Tigh couldn't hold in what he thought, God alone knew what the pilots might say or do. Oddly, he knew Apollo thought the same, but that for Apollo this was to be some kind of test. Or maybe an affirmation of something he already knew.

Their route to the OC took them through some of the ship's main corridors. Even at that time of day the corridors weren't entirely deserted, people moving to their watch stations, or leaving duty stations and heading for home and family. Starbuck grew increasingly uncomfortable. He didn't like the looks, whispers, the way people melted out of their way in front of them only to gather behind them, talking and pointing. The threatening atmosphere was almost touchable. Some of the whispers reached him and, furious, he looked sharply at Apollo, wondering if he'd heard.

Apollo shook his head. "Ignore it. I've already learned to. I don't think it'll get physical."

"It's so...so unfair!" Starbuck blurted out, turning to glower at the three or four crewmen who were gathered at the intersection they'd just crossed, staring after Apollo with unfriendly faces.

Apollo merely shrugged.

"Apollo, do you think this is a good idea?" said Starbuck suddenly doubtful that he could pull this off.

"No." Apollo paused at the OC door. "I think it's a crap idea. But I'd rather get it over with. Like you said, I can't avoid them for ever. This is a big ship, but it's not that big. Ready?"

"No," said Starbuck, then he managed a grin. "But let's do it anyway."

As ever, the OC was crowded. Apollo had always reckoned that if he needed to talk to all of his pilots at once, the best time and place was OC just after the Officer's Mess had served dinner. Virtually everyone would be there.. The only exceptions were the duty pilots in the ready rooms beside the launch bays.

And, as ever, the OC was noisy. Incredibly noisy as over a hundred men and women talked, argued, played cards, arranged dates with new loves, ended affairs with old ones. A hundred people, very few of whom were shy and retiring souls, could achieve and sustain an impressive volume.

All the more unusual, then, for the OC to fall into a deathly hush. But all it took was a few microns for them to realise who had come in with Starbuck, and the place went silent. As silent, thought Starbuck, wryly, as the proverbial grave. Beside him, he saw Apollo straighten his thin shoulders proudly. Apollo was most certainly one of the few shy and retiring souls in the OC, but he wasn't the son of the Commander for nothing.

Starbuck, very conscious of the stares and the silence, nodded at the bar steward and managed to achieve a near-normal tone of voice. "Two beers, Callan. That all right with you, Apollo?"

He tried not to notice the expression of fear and curiosity on the steward's face as the man stared at Apollo, at the silver implant on Apollo's right temple.

"Fine. If you're buying."

"My treat," said Starbuck and turned to his normal table. He felt a bit like an actor, trying to act out a normality for an audience which was hanging on his every word. The stage was too brightly lit, throwing everything into too stark a light, and he wasn't sure of their mood, not sure if there'd be plaudits or rotten fruit at the end of the performance.

It had been Apollo's usual table too. He might have been the ship's Strike Captain, head of all the squadrons, but Blue Squadron, the Commander's attack wing, had been under his personal command. The squadrons tended to sit together in the OC - nothing against the other squadrons, of course, but your immediate wingmates were the ones you flew with, fought beside, fought with sometimes, ate with, drank with, loved and hated the most. So Apollo's seat had always been between Starbuck and Boomer, his two closest friends, with the rest of Blue grouped around them.

There wasn't a seat there, now.

Starbuck waved Apollo into the only vacant seat, his own, beside Boomer, and pulled up a chair from the next table. Blue Squadron looked anguished, uncertain and Boomer glowered at Starbuck. Starbuck glowered right back.

Apollo took a cautious sip of the beer and grimaced. Starbuck let his glower at Boomer intensify.

Boomer took a deep breath. "Apollo." he said, in a greeting of sorts.

Starbuck noticed that Boomer was deliberately focusing on a point slightly to Apollo's left. So he didn't have to stare openly at Apollo and the implant? Whatever. At least he'd spoken.

Apollo put down his beer. "Boomer. I heard about the Council decision. I'm sorry. It's bloody unfair."

"Yeah, well. Can't be helped. Nothing the commander could do." The accusation in Boomer's voice was barely muted.

"No." Apollo agreed and took another sip of beer. "His hands were tied. I'm sorry, though, Boomer. He said you'd been good, and I guess it was pretty hard."

"Well, you were there," someone said behind him.

Drake. A lieutenant in Silver Spar Squadron, one of Cain's ex-pilots, and always the most vocal of the Juggernaut's supporters, the one most resentful of the less important place the ex-Pegasus people had on the Galactica.

Starbuck tensed to get to his feet, relaxing only when Apollo shook his head at him, very slightly.

"Was I?" said Apollo. "If you know that, then you know more than I do, Drake."

"Oh, I'm not saying that you were alive at the time," said Drake . "I'm not saying you're alive now either. Cyborgs aren't." He laughed.

"Piss off!" said Starbuck, savagely.

The rest of Blue looked away, looking at anyone other than Apollo. Drake laughed again, but didn't push it. He didn't need to push it. Starbuck watched Apollo's reaction. Apollo's eyes followed Drake to the Pegasus table, but Bojay avoided Apollo's gaze and Sheba – the Sheba who had once been lined up as the perfect bride – Sheba tossed her head and looked pointedly away from him.

Sick at heart, Starbuck turned back to the rest of Blue squadron, the people who'd flown with Apollo the longest, who had to know him the best. Not one of them would look at them, at him and Apollo. Not one.

No, Drake didn't need to push it, and Apollo had been right. This was a crap idea.

"And does Drake speak for all of you?" asked Apollo. "He didn't used to."

"Where were you, Apollo?" asked Jolly at last.

"I don't know. I don't remember." Apollo kept his tone even.

He dropped his hands below the level of the table. Starbuck hesitated for only the barest micron before reaching out to cover them with his own. Apollo's hands felt as they always had, the shape and fit and feel of them in his. Apollo's hands were warm and human. Apollo's hands were shaking with agitation.

Starbuck's hold tightened. His own hands shook with grief.

"Even with that?" Giles gestured at the implant.

"Especially with that," said Apollo.

They looked at each other again and one or two shrugged.

"If you say so," Giles said, doubtfully.

"I've never lied to you, Giles."

"Sure." Boomer said.

Apollo sighed and turned to Starbuck. "Well, we were right. I'll wait for you outside, Starbuck, and you can escort me back off the troop decks.."

"Apollo -"

"I'll be outside," said Apollo again, and was on his feet and out of the door before Starbuck could say anything else.

Starbuck glared around the table. "And what the hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

"What the hell are we doing?" Boomer shot back furiously "What the hell are you doing bringing him in here like that!"

"He's a member of this OC. He's the senior member of this OC. He's got every right!"

"He's a dead cyborg, Starbuck," Drake said from across the room. "He piloted one of those ships. How many of our pilots did he take out, do you think? How many of us did he kill?"

There was a murmur of agreement.

"And don't you think that's tearing him apart?" Starbuck snapped back. "He'll never know if he's responsible for any of our losses."

"Well, we'll just assume he is and act accordingly," said Drake, to more nods of agreement. "He's a zombie, a cyborg, and we don't want him in this OC. Agreed?"

The murmur was louder. Starbuck looked around at the unfriendly faces, at Sheba who'd once said that she loved Apollo but who was now shuddering artistically as she hung on Bojay's arm; at Boomer, too sore and angry at the Council's unfairness to see how unfair he was being himself; at Jolly, Greenbean, Giles... people who'd flown with Apollo for yahrens and who couldn't see him any more, just the cybernetics. A lot of the pilots were almost competing to see who could express the most revulsion.

Starbuck stood up, his face pale and set. He looked around, searching for the face he wanted.

"Ensign Dean?" Starbuck spoke loudly enough for the whole OC to fall silent.

"Lieutenant?" The young Ensign looked at him apprehensively. Starbuck had never spoken to him before. He didn't realise that Starbuck couldn't speak to him before, had found it impossible to forgive him for being alive when Apollo was dead.

"When you've finished having the vapours, perhaps you'd like to remind the OC how the captain ended up the way he did? Remind us why the Enemy was able to capture and mutilate him. Remind everyone that he put his Viper between you and five Black Ships, sacrificing himself to save your life, the way he'd have done for any of us. Your gratitude is spectacularly underwhelming."

Dean went scarlet with mortification and not a few of the pilots watching Starbuck, especially those at the Blue table, were suddenly shame-faced. Boomer wouldn't look at him. At the Silver Spar table, Sheba flushed pink.

"In fact, the whole lot of you have pretty short memories. That's Apollo, remember him? The one who got us through Cimtar, and Carillon, and Gamoray and a hundred other battles." No-one would meet the angry blue gaze. Starbuck turned on his heel "Well, remind me to wear steel plates between my shoulder blades. I don't think I've seen a finer display of disloyalty since Baltar."






They'd set up a special room for him, utilising the largest of the electronics laboratories and turning out of it all the experimental equipment that Wilker and his technicians had been working on, relegating them to one of the smaller rooms. This one had been swept clean, and new scanning and medical computers installed. Apart from the bank of scanners, its only other piece of equipment was a hospital bed, something that Apollo regarded thoughtfully when Wilker brought him in. He decided against asking why they thought they'd need the medical couch. He didn't think he'd like the answer.

It was a big room, but seemed smaller because of the number of people crowded into it. Apart from Wilker and Salik and their chosen assistants, there was a group of five K'h'n, clustered around F'nch in one corner, all talking animatedly to each other in the fluting birdsong they called language. Adama was there, with three Councillors: Joel, Piers and Lady Hilary - the Research Sub-committee appointed to oversee the tests and experiments and make final recommendations to the Council.

Apollo was irresistibly reminded of his social history Professor and the account she's once given of life in the Colonies in pre-technology days. She'd spent some time telling the class about the entertainment the people had derived from frightening themselves - a delicious, surreal, unreal kind of fright - at freakshows and sideshows. Birds with two heads, bearded ladies, conjoined twins: all had been paraded around for the people – normal people - to marvel at, to enjoy a genteel thrill, a little frisson of horror. Many a fairground owner had died rich. He felt very much like a freak in a side-show.

He wondered who'd be making the profit out him.

Adama nodded a greeting to him but said nothing, leaving it to Joel to explain the role of the Research Committee and the part the K'h'n would play. The alien scientists all watched him with interest, apparently astonished at the amount of sentience he was showing. Apollo saw that one or two were eagerly looking at the hand-held scanners that they were pointing at him and he watched them as thoughtfully as they watched him. He hoped they were enjoying the show.

Joel was droning on: "Ultimately, Captain, we hope that Doctor Wilker will be able to understand enough of the Mask to utilise its technology to add to our defences. But it will take sectons, maybe sectars, before we're anywhere near that stage. Today we just want to find out what you remember about being Masked."

"Nothing," said Apollo, then he asked abruptly: "Can I see it?"

"The Mask?" Joel was put off his stride for a moment, then looked at Wilker and nodded.

Wilker went over to a bench and opened a small black case. He lifted out the Mask carefully and brought it over to where Apollo was standing in the centre of the room. He held it from the top, fingers carefully gripping between the claws.

Apollo looked at it in silence, not attempting to touch it. It wasn't as big as he'd thought it might be, having imagined something that must have covered his face completely. This must have just sat over the implant with the curving claws enclosing his head in an open net.

"Is that mine?" he asked after a centon.

"It's the one you were wearing, yes," said Wilker, looking rather as if he expected Apollo to claim ownership and take the Mask away from him before he got the chance to play with it.

Apollo grinned at him, slightly mocking, guessing at what the scientist was thinking. He tried hard to remember wearing it, what it must have felt like. He had a vague feeling of recognition, a vague pull towards it. He'd expected more, some greater affinity, maybe centred on the implant in his head. But there was nothing tangible. And no memory of what it had been to be Masked was stirred into life by the sight of the Mask itself.

He turned back to Joel. "Thank you," he said politely. "I just had no idea what it looked like."

"I don't see what difference it makes," Wilker huffed slightly, carrying the precious Mask back to its protective case.

"I prefer to know, that's all," said Apollo mildly. "What now?"

"Now we want to try to find out what you might remember, Captain." Salik took over smoothly. "We're all aware that consciously there's nothing, but today we want to start probing a bit deeper, see if we can get at any unconscious memories."

"How?"

"Deep hypnosis. In consultation with the K'h'n scientists, we've come up with a cocktail of drugs that should put you into an hypnotic state, and anything that you subconsciously remember can be retrieved."

"Drugs?" Apollo frowned, not too keen on that. He'd never liked using even proscribed drugs, never liked the idea of not being in control.

"There's no danger. The drugs have been carefully chosen with your physiological peculiarities in mind."

Apollo grinned at Salik's euphemism, grimly amused, but obeyed the invitation to get onto the medical couch without further comment. Well at least he got to lie down while they played their little games.

Salik busied himself around the couch for a few centons, attaching Apollo to a number of monitors. He was followed by one of the K'h'n, who added their own equipment. None of the electrodes actually touched the implant. Apollo lay passively, deciding there was nothing he could do and he might as well just endure what had to be endured. He kept his eyes on his father, his glance sardonic and slightly mocking. Adama watched the monitors, the brainwave patterns that showed the Enemy peaks overlaying the human pattern beneath, trying to ignore his son's steady stare.

At last Salik indicated that he was ready. "All right, Apollo. I'll be giving you a mix of drugs. Essentially they'll put you into deep hypnosis, allow us to question you about what happened when you were captured and in the sectars following, and get past the barriers that the Enemy or the Mask have put round the memories and that prevent you from remembering when you're conscious. I'll put you in quite deep. I suspect the blocks are pretty strong, otherwise you wouldn't have such a huge memory gap. If necessary, I can put you in still deeper, but I'll reserve that until we need it. If we need it. Okay so far?"

Apollo smiled slightly. "Fine. Oh - you will be waking me up again?"

Salik gave him a sour smile. "Another mix of drugs will bring you out of it, Captain, don't worry. All right. Because you'll be in pretty deep, you won't be aware of what's going on around you. You'll be able to respond to direct questions, but that's all."

"And who'll be asking the questions?"

"Possibly all of us, but your father will start." Salik glanced at Adama. "It helps to start with a voice you trust."

"Define trust," said Apollo silkily, and watched his father turn a dull red.

Salik picked up a hypo. "I'll be monitoring this carefully. I'll pull you out if I think there are over-riding medical reasons for doing so. Ready?"

"As I ever will be." Apollo held out his left hand.

Salik pressed the hypo against his wrist. "This will knock you out. I'll inject the rest once you're under."

"How long?"

"No time at all," the medic said.

Apollo's eyes closed, and he breathed out, deep and even. It was a pleasant sensation, like being in a flotation tank.

"He's out." Salik said after a centon.

Apollo thought about protesting that he most certainly wasn't, but it took far much effort. He felt more hyposprays as they were pressed against his arm. He drifted slowly down, like something drifting in salty water. He let himself go. It wasn't painful.

"This stuff is pretty strong" said Salik . "But it'll be a few centons before it takes full effect and he's far enough under for the probe to start."

"I hope to God we're doing the right thing." His father. Sighing. His father always worried about the right thing. It was that religious upbringing of his.

"We need to find out as much information as possible, Adama, before the real work begins." Sire Piers, Apollo thought, speaking in the kind of tone an intelligent adult might use reasoning with a recalcitrant infant of limited understanding.

"And what happened to the purpose of these tests being to establish whether or not this is really my son?"

"That too, Adama. That too," said Piers

Apollo sighed. His eyes were like lead and he couldn't open them. Too much effort. He tried to move a hand, his foot. Nothing responded. He was aware he still had hands and feet, but they seemed to have been turned into the same leaded weights as his eyelids. He felt a mild alarm at the lack of control over his body, at a sudden paralysis that seemed bone deep, and wondered at the way his mind remained alert.

Odd.

"All right," said Salik, somewhere near his left ear.

The scraping sound came from that side too, something being dragged along the metal decking. Next came the sound of a heavy body half-collapsing into a chair, and the feel of a hand curving around his left wrist. Apollo had to concentrate to be sure that it was fingers that he could feel on his skin, pressing up against the pulse. That was Salik too, then. Despite the scanners and monitors, Salik was an old-fashioned doctor who still relied on the evidence from his own senses.

"Can he hear us?" someone asked, too quiet for him to work out who it was.

"I doubt it, until I put the extrophine into him."

Well, well, well. The good doctor was not as good as he thought he was, then.

Salik put on his lecturing tone: "Now, we've all seen the brain patterning on the monitor. It's an amalgam of human and Enemy characteristics.."

"Most unusually, the Enemy pattern is quite muted." A fluting voice, like birdsong, but Apollo thought he caught and undercurrent of menace. A bird of prey, then. F'nch? "M'nj' here is our foremost expert on this aspect. If you could project the monitor readout to the large screen.. thank you. M'nj'?."

A lighter, higher fluting voice. Female? "The unusual aspect is that the peaks at these frequencies - here and here - are usually much more strongly defined. These are at typical Enemy frequencies, almost like a signature: unmistakable. With the captain, the signature is much more muted than anything we've come across. Even in those Masked pilots who recovered a great deal of their former awareness and personalities - at a greater distance from Enemy space than we are here, I might add - we have never before recorded their own natural brain patterning underlying the Enemy signature as the captain's appears to do."

"Have you any theory about what that might mean?" Adama asked quietly.

Why does he trust them? thought Apollo. Why put so much reliance on them?

"Some preliminary ideas, only. I examined the fibre optic in the Black Ship. As the tech noted when she opened the Ship, it wasn't quite perfect. It is possible that as a consequence the Enemy conditioning was incomplete, and the captain has regained as much as he has because some part of him has always remained free, if perhaps in a kind of stasis when he was Masked. That might also explain his remarkably fast recovery."

Apollo considered that, and the way she spoke so casually of the other alien by her job title, as if that were what defined them in the hierarchy. Well, it did for humans, didn't it? – captain, colonel, commander. It was reasonable that other societies structured themselves in the same way.

"You've done this before, haven't you?" Definitely female. Siress Hilary, probably. The Aquarian accent was right. "What might we see as he's pushed back?"

"An increase in Enemy patterning and activity. The extent to which it increases will give us some indication of the depth of conditioning and the extent to which he provides a threat."

"In what way, a threat?" Joel this time, sounding terribly eager.

"The Enemy might re-establish control. There is something within the implant- " Someone touched his face, cool fingers tracing the line of the implant on Apollo's temple. "We have never been able to isolate it, but there is a linking mechanism here that the Enemy can key into. It is much stronger through the Mask, which may be some sort of enhancer, and the very fragility of the link without the Mask explains, we think, why it weakens over time and distance, enabling the Masked pilots to recover some memory and awareness the further they are taken from Enemy space and Enemy influence. In the captain's case, it seems that link may be damaged, defective; loosening his connexion with the Enemy to the point where he was able to take control his Black Ship, remove it from Enemy dominance, and bring it here. It would explain the ease with which he has recovered."

"That's hopeful," said Adama.

Define hope.

There was something – amusement? avidity? – in that fluting female voice. Of course, she was a bird of prey too, perhaps even more insidious and dangerous than F'nch. She'd be the one to watch. "Of course," said M'nj', "we shall need to repeat this and other tests several times to ensure consistency of results before we are sure."

"How's he doing?" asked Joel.

"Pulse slow, blood pressure dropping... he's well under." Salik gave his dry chuckle. "Don't worry. He'll talk when we want him to."

"Shall we start, then?"

A sharp little jab in the side of his neck, and Apollo started floating back up. His arms and legs were still like lead, his eyes too heavy to open, but everything else was sharpening.

Salik said, "If you're ready, Commander, I don't suggest you jump straight into what happened. You'll have to lead up to it. Start with something non-threatening. The main thing is to get him talking."

"Apollo," said Adama softly, and it was the first time that he'd called his son by name since Apollo had woken. "Apollo, do you hear me?"

Acutely aware of the momentousness of that acknowledgement, Apollo thought about not answering. There was another little jab in his neck.

"Try again," said Salik.

His father continued calling him. "Apollo, can you hear me?"

The physical lassitude remained, but the awareness sharpened. Apollo tried again to move a hand, a leg, but it was like everything ounce of energy that he'd normally put into the business of living was focused instead on a mind that started to race, to run ahead of itself. It took a lifetime to move his little finger and at the same time he was having to bite his lip to stop himself from responding..

Some sort of psychotic effect? he thought. Something designed to keep him physically inert, but get his mind working overtime? You can handle this, he told himself. They trained you to withstand interrogation techniques, remember? You can handle this. Slow everything down. Slow it down and you can handle it.

"Apollo?"

"Yes," he said, before he could stop himself.

One of those. Anti-inhibitor of some kind.

"Do you know where you are?"

Apollo made his mouth work more slowly to shape the words, trying to get some control over it all. "On the Galactica."

"Do you know who I am?"

"Dad."

Too fast! Too fast! And he isn't your father any more. Not any more. Now he's just the commander.

"Good, Apollo, good," said Adama. "You know that you've been away from us?"

"You said so. I don't remember."

"That's what we here to do, to remember. You'll have to trust me."

Something ran into his eye, seeping under the closed lid, making his eye sting. Sweat? He was very hot. He concentrated on that.

"You must trust me," said his father. His ex-father. The commander.

No I don't! No I bloody don't! I don't have to trust you at all and I won't! The words gabbled in his head. He forced himself to slow again, only letting the words past his teeth when he was sure his mouth would move into the shapes he wanted. "I don't know."

"You must try, Apollo. I only want to get at the truth. You used to care about the truth too. We all want the truth, Apollo. To see what you remember. Let's see. Do you remember your graduation from the Academy? What did I give you?"

"A Kobol medallion," said Apollo promptly. "I gave it to Boxey to look after for me."

"So you did. Just before you took out the Cylon gun on Mount Hekla on Arcta."

It had been cold there, very cold. Snow as high as you could reach. Higher. He didn't like the cold, and he'd hardly had enough feeling in his fingers to set all those charges.

"I know it was cold there, Apollo," said Adama, and Apollo clamped his mouth closed, afraid when he realised he'd said it all aloud. "Boxey still has your medallion, you know. Do you remember what Zac did after your graduation parade?"

Grog. Starbuck was distilling grog down in the science lab for the graduation party. Zac found it. He got drunk.

"He did indeed. Very drunk." Adama allowed amused tolerance to creep into his tone. "Well, he was only sixteen."

Fourteen. Zac was just fourteen. He threw up all over Thenie's new dress, the one she'd bought to make Starbuck notice her. She was livid. He noticed all right - for a little while, until Zac was dead at Cimtar and he noticed me instead. Fourteen. He was fourteen.

"Yes, you're right. Fourteen." Adama's voice was soothing. "Good. Your memory's still very good, Apollo. Now I want you to remember something else for me. It's important. Remember what happened when you went out on patrol with Janey and Dean. Tell me what happened when you met the strange ships."

He didn't want to remember the ships. He couldn't remember the ships. He couldn't remember the way the scanner was jumping all over the place. Four - no five ships. Where - ? Never seen anything so fast - geez! How the hell did they do that? They're attacking! Shit, shit, shit! They're too fast, too fast! Got to get the kids out of here. They don't stand a chance. Get back, get back home - warn them, warn Dad. I'll hold here. Run for it.

Got one! Got one of the bastards! Shit, they're fast. The kids are away, safe .... I'm not going to get out of this! I'll take another one of the bastards with me if I can. Fuck, that was close… Fuck! Hurts... Starbuck!

"What then, Apollo? What happened then?"

Nothing.

"Apollo!" Adama spoke loudly, trying to compel him to answer.

"The brain pattern's spiking on Enemy frequency," said M'nj' calmly. "That's within predicted parameters. We'll need frequency measurements."

Salik said softly, "We're close to something."

Apollo got his eyes open. He turned his head. Adama sat on his right side, holding his hand. Beyond him was the little group of aliens, the K'h'n, pushing in closer, talking to each other quietly, watching the monitors avidly.

"I'm going to put him in deeper," Salik said. "We're almost there." He reached for another hypo, pressed it against Apollo's left wrist. After a centon he said, "Try again."

This time it was Joel who came in. "Your Viper was hit, wasn't it, Captain?"

Nothing.

"Captain, when your Viper was hit, what happened?"

Still nothing. Always nothing.

"What happened then, Captain?" asked Joel. "When your ship was hit, and the Enemy took you, can you remember what happened then?"

Cold. So cold. Dark and cold, and we're moving fast and silent together.

"What was cold?" demanded Piers.

"Who's 'we'?" asked someone else.

Apollo closed his lips together and tightened them, obeying some instinct, the need to survive making him desperate, making him find somewhere to hide. Slowly, as he remembered the sudden flash of light and heat, tasted once again the blood in his mouth, hot and salty, he became increasingly aware of the small cold place deep inside him, something connected to the implant in his head, a coldness that waited and watched, that was now looking out through his unblinking eyes at the grey ceiling. A coldness left by something that had owned him once, and maybe waited for the opportunity to own him again. If he let it.

"The brain patterns - " fluted one of the K'h'n scientists through his translation unit. There was faint distaste in his voice. "Unmistakably Enemy signature frequencies."

He pressed his lips together more tightly. Fear. Sudden, terrible fear. They mustn't see the coldness, mustn't know it's there. He felt the implant grow steadily colder. Apollo looked at the cold space, forced himself to look. Nothing. Just coldness, emptiness where something had once been but wasn't there any more. But for a micron he'd felt drawn to it, remembered it, remembered the cold thing that had been there once. The thing that he wouldn't let back in again.

"Captain," said Joel

But Apollo was too busy to answer, smothering the cold place inside him, dampening it down, pushing it as far down as it would go, blanking out the attraction. He had no energy to spare to talk to Joel. The cold lessened until he could enclose it in his living flesh again, until he could hide it away.

For now.





"My God!" said Salik said. He pointed to the monitors. The brainwave patterns were changing, the spikes changing shape and frequency

"What does it mean?" demanded Adama.

"I don't know. The Enemy pattern's disappearing..." Salik broke off, watched, fascinated.

"Captain!" said Joel.

Nothing. Apollo seemed to be barely breathing. His wide-set green eyes stared up at the ceiling, but he gave no sign of awareness. He might have been as dead as when the Enemy laser bolt had torn open his Viper and the shrapnel had ripped into his chest, splattering bone and blood around the cockpit. Adama bowed his head. Apollo looked dead.

"Amazing," said M'nj' softly. "I have never seen this. Never."

Adama asked, suddenly hopeful, "Has the Enemy brain pattern disappeared?"

"Not completely," M'nj' said. "But it is has returned to its former state. How interesting." She looked down at Apollo in fascination. "As if he resisted it, erased it. How very interesting."

"Are we going to get anything else?" asked Lady Hilary.

Salik shrugged. "I don't know. You can try."

"From the beginning, then." Joel said. "Will you begin, Adama?"

Four times more they went through it, from the recitation of what Apollo had thought as he'd battled the Black Ships, almost word for word each time, to the whisper that remembered unbearable cold, but nothing else. No descriptions of the Enemy, no descriptions of their ships, no memories of what it had been like in the Mask, no memories of the sectars inside the Black Ship.

And each time the Enemy signature frequencies were weaker, and each time they were erased by something more human.

"Enough," said Adama at last, and Joel nodded permission to Salik to give Apollo the mix of drugs that would bring him out of the hypnotic state.

"I had hoped that we'd get more," complained Piers. "I thought, Doctor, that you were confident that you could break through into whatever memories are hidden away in there."

"We got them," said Adama. "I've just listened to him remember his death five times, Councillor. Five times! In worrying about how to deal with this.. this problem, we lost sight of the lonely and heroic death that got him there. He hasn't!"

No-one would look at him. Or at Apollo.

"There may be nothing more," Salik said, watching over his patient carefully. In anyone normal, he'd be checking pulse and heartbeat. With the freakshow, all he had to go on was the rate at which the double pump was working.

"It is our belief that the Masked are not aware, as you know, Councillor," F'nch said, after a centon. "Your computers here have no awareness: they merely process data. The Masked are similar, we think."

"His memories seem to stop at the point of death," another K'h'n said. "That is consistent with other Masked pilots we have recovered."

"I'm less and less convinced that he was dead at all," said Adama impatiently. "If he was, how could his memories and personality have survived?"

"We do not understand the Enemy technology," F'nch said. "Who can say?"

"A matter of conjecture for the priests and philosophers perhaps," said M'nj' with a dismissive authority that betrayed the fact that she outranked the Ambassador. "I am more concerned with the brain patterning. It seems clear to me that the Enemy conditioning was defective. I have no comparable data from any previous un-Masking: no other Masked pilot has resisted the Enemy signature patterning in this way."

"Does that mean he doesn't pose a threat to us? That there's no link with the Enemy?"

It was Hilary who asked. Adama had choked off the questions in his throat, determined not to appear to eager, as if he wanted to prejudice the Council's deliberations. But he looked at the Lady with gratitude.

"That is, perhaps, one explanation, but I do not have enough data to give you a definitive answer. We must repeat this test again, and there are many other tests I wish to carry out. Ah, he's waking."

Apollo moaned softly and moved, his hands curling and uncurling.

Apollo?" said Adama.

"Don't try to move," Salik said briskly as the green eyes focused on him. "You may have a bit of a headache."

"A bit?" Apollo put a shaking hand to his head, brushing against the electrodes.

Salik began unhooking him from the monitors. "It'll pass. Can you live with it? I'd rather not give you any more drugs if I can help it. You've enough narcotics floating around in your bloodstream for one day."

Apollo nodded, ran his tongue over dry lips. "I'm thirsty."

"Here." Salik lifted Apollo's head slightly, let him drink. "You'll feel better in a centon."

Apollo lay back on the pillow, watched the activity around him for a few centons, as Salik continued disconnecting him from the monitors. The K'h'n had gone into another excited huddle. Adama came closer to the bed.

"All right?"

"I'll live - sort of. In a rejuvenated corpse sort of way." Apollo looked at the disconsolate faces of the Council, the excitement of the K'h'n. "Did you get anything?"

"Nothing much," Adama conceded, ignoring the little jibes "There were some interesting changes to your brainwave patterns, but we'll take you through them in a few centons, when you're up to it. Do you remember anything more about what happened?"

Apollo blinked at him, and just for a micron something shifted deep inside those angry green eyes, gone too fast for Adama to recognise it.

"No," said Apollo. "Nothing at all."






"That wasn't too smart an idea, Bucko," said Boomer as they waited for the ground crews to get the patrol Vipers ready. "Last night. It wasn't too smart."

"Oh?" said Starbuck. His thoughts were not of Boomer or the coming patrol, but of the electronics lab. They had to have started by now, whatever they were doing.

"Look, I told you everyone felt antsy about Apollo - why bring him to the OC? You set yourselves up for that. It was stupid, and he ought to have known it."

"He did." said Starbuck. "He thought your reaction would be like that. He just wanted to be certain, I suppose. Now he knows that he was better off dead."

"Starbuck." Boomer let out his breath in a gusty little sigh.

"I don't want to talk about it, Boomer. You stick with Drake and his kind - I'll stick with Apollo."

"There's no point in being mad with us," said Boomer.

"Mad?" Starbuck turned his head and looked fully at Boomer for the first time. He was slightly surprised. He'd expected Boomer to know him better than that. "Mad? I'm not mad with you, Boom-boom."

"Great," said Boomer.

"No," said Starbuck again. "I'm not mad, with you or anyone." He started towards his Viper when Jenny signalled to him that it was ready, then stopped and looked back. "I'm just bloody ashamed of you."






Hypnotic regression was the very mildest that they did to him. The tests went on for sectons.

For the first three sectons after the programme started, Apollo was the shared property of both the Council and the K'h'n. M'nj' and her team of bio-technicians were there for the entire series of experiments. Sharing some of her findings with Wilker and Salik only when it pleased her, she and the other K'h'n seemed tireless, working on him for centars. Another team of K'h'n under N'thn's command - engineers this time - worked on the Black Ship itself in a locked hangar on Beta deck. Wilker was beside himself wondering which set of experiments he ought to oversee, running frantically backwards and forwards between the two, but eventually opted for joining in the experiments on Apollo, leaving his chief technician to glean what he could from N'thn's investigations.

The realisation that they were fast approaching the edge of their territory had M'nj' and the rest of the K'h'n agitated about the need to get as much data as possible. They redoubled their efforts, knowing that their time was limited. F'nch lobbied the Council for more time, more access, subtly reminding the humans about the help and support his people had given and stressing the unique value Apollo had to their scientists. It was such a little thing to have more access to him, such a small expression of gratitude for the logistical help the K'h'n had given, such a small thing to do to cement the friendship between them…. Adama had listened to that stony-faced, disturbed by the K'h'n's apparent perception of Apollo as little more than a laboratory animal, one that showed some interesting characteristics that they wanted to evaluate. But despite his protests, the Council sanctioned a twenty four centar regime. Effectively, the Council handed Apollo over to their alien allies, an asset to be exploited, with no restraints put upon the level or type of experiment. The Council Research Committee members left them to it, even Adama barred from the laboratory for a secton, with only Wilker and Salik present to try and evaluate what the K'h'n were learning.

The K'h'n had brought their own equipment and monitors with them, and for that last secton Apollo lived full time in the lab, enduring constant tests and experiments, some invasive and uncomfortable, many that left him shaking with pain and fatigue. The K'h'n either didn't recognise the stress and pain their experiments were causing or thought it irrelevant. They never said which. Salik wasn't much help: in his view there'd be no permanent damage, no necessity to intervene. Apollo merely endured it all grimly. He had no choice. But it did little to make him revise his scathing opinion of professional politicians, and did much to feed his anger and resentment against Adama. One more example of his family abandoning him. His treatment during the test was confirmation that no-one thought he was human any more. He knew damn well they wouldn't have given anyone else over to the K'h'n.

The tests seemed endless. The K'h'n worked on him in shifts and he got what little sleep he could catnapping between experiments. He relearned the old soldier's trick of catching a few centons sleep whenever and wherever possible, when the pain would let him. He was not sorry when M'nj' regretfully packed up her equipment and collected her data together. He had come to hate the tall, urbane aliens who gave him less consideration than they'd mete out to an animal. He could understand the Enemy's desire to dispose of them.






"This period of co-operation has been most advantageous for both our peoples, I think." F'nch approached Adama where the commander stood at the edge of the glittering crowd of Council members and K'h'n at the formal reception marking the latter's departure for their own space.

"I think so, too," agreed Adama, politely.

"We have had many contacts with other peoples in the course of our history. We are a trading people, with contacts across this star system. But few alliances have proved to be as enjoyable as this."

Adama's look was cool. "Or as mutually beneficial, perhaps," he said dryly, thinking of the pilots who had died. "We're grateful to have had your help to cross Enemy space. Your information and tactical advice was invaluable in helping us devise the right strategy for dealing with them."

"And we are grateful for your aid in recapturing some of the systems we had lost to the Enemy." F'nch said gracefully. "And I am delighted that our experience has been of help in recovering your son."

Adama looked away for a micron. "Thank you. It was much appreciated."

"It has been very distressing," F'nch said, moving in for the kill. "Particularly, I think, the uncertainty."

"Uncertainty?" Adama gave the alien a sharp look.

"About his real identity." F'nch said smoothly. "So difficult ever to be sure how clear the Masked are of Enemy influence, how much of the loved one remains. I do understand how painful that must be. Irrespective of your personal feelings on the matter, he had some importance to your people since he was once in a position of trust and command. He can never fill that role again, of course. No longer human …" the Ambassador allowed his voice to trail away. "Do you think he will ever be accepted?"

"I hope so," said Adama, eyeing the alien thoughtfully. Then the commander felt constrained to add. "If he's really Apollo."

"As I said, so much uncertainty. So sad. From everything I've been told, he was an exemplary young man."

Adama smiled slightly at this description. He had vivid memories of his son that didn't always support that particular epithet, especially if Starbuck and Pyramid had been involved. "Sometimes."

"One of your best pilots, a hero, so very young to have achieved command as he did. You must have been very proud of him."

"I was," agreed Adama. He hid the stab of pain for what he'd lost.

"So sad," F'nch said again. "He will never have much of a life here now."

"That remains to be seen," said Adama, knowing now what F'nch was angling for.

"Perhaps something could be done."

"I can't see any viable alternative to our present course of action." Adama was firm, but casual, not showing that he realised they were treading a little diplomatic dance. "We have much to learn from him, from the Mask."

"Ah." F'nch nodded. "Dr Wilker is making progress?"

"Dr Wilker is a very fine scientist with a brilliant mind. He has great hopes of being able to utilise Mask technology in our defence. The possibilities have the Council quite excited."

"Of that, I am certain. Excuse me, Commander. Lady M'nj' requires my presence."

"Of course. I hope to see you again before you leave. I've valued your friendship, F'nch"

"And I yours. We have always understood each other, I think." F'nch bowed gracefully.

"Yes. It gives me hope on our long journey, the possibility of meeting new friends on the way."

F'nch smiled and bowed again.






"Well?" M'nj' asked. "Will they give it to us?"

F'nch shook his head. "No. As I thought, they are too intent on learning what they can from it."

"You said that they did not trust it, even the father," said M'nj' fretfully. "We have learned a great deal from this one. I have to extract all the data from it. It is a prize we should not allow to slip away from us. Can we just take it?"

"And face their Vipers? I think they would fight. They recognise its value as well as we do, Lady. I would not advise force."

"They do not consider it one of them. Why should they fight?"

"To protect an asset. As we would."

M'nj' sighed. "Well, I will make do with the data we have collected. A pity. The presence of the human scientists prevented me from learning as much as I would have liked, forcing me to use gentler and less effective tests than I could employ if we owned it. We would have learned a great deal when we dissected it."

F'nch smiled. "I wonder what they will learn."

M'nj' merely laughed. Disdainfully.






Life after the K'h'n took on a peculiar kind of normality. Sleep, laboratory, watch Boxey from the shadows, see Starbuck for an centar or two. A weird existence, but better, Apollo supposed, than being dead.

He grew bolder about walking about those parts of the ship where he could roam freely and in the end, of course, they got used to him being back. After a few sectons he could walk the Galactica's corridors, and although people would swing out of his way to avoid him, they'd grown accustomed to him being there. People he'd known well, especially the pilots he'd once flown with and commanded, would scuttle past pretending that they hadn't seen him, but there was less hostility, only occasionally did he hear the whispers. Maybe because he hadn't done anything threatening, anything that might let the Enemy in at them, they'd grown calmer about him being there. Maybe because he'd concentrated on enduring the tests, keeping his head down, living quietly and unobtrusively, they'd realised how irrational they were being. Maybe. As Starbuck would say, no bets.

A few, a very few, let it make no difference. Starbuck, of course, was the constant in Apollo's life now, spending at least an centar or two each day with him, but Apollo wouldn't let Starbuck cut himself off from the other pilots entirely. Starbuck used the OC daily, as ever – he said that his relations with the other pilots was as amiable as ever, but Apollo suspected that he kept them at a little distance now. Challenged, Starbuck only shrugged and said he'd not yet forgiven them. And maybe, he added, I never will. It worried Apollo, that Starbuck could find himself as isolated and alone as Apollo was.

Apollo wouldn't go back to the OC again, although Starbuck, in a fine mood of defiance, asked him a few times. But he did let Starbuck take him occasionally to the Mess when most of the pilots would have gone, and they had a few quiet meals together - Apollo, as Salik put it in one of his regular reports to the Research Committee, having readjusted satisfactorily to solid food again - and the few pilots around ignored his presence. Once Boomer was in the Mess when he and Starbuck arrived, but like the others, he seemed to think Apollo was effectively invisible. Starbuck had huffed about that more than Apollo had. Apollo was only sorry.

Adama tried to be at the laboratory as much as possible during the tests. He had to be aware that his was a restraining presence on the two doctors, but whatever Adama was doing to reassure himself that this was - or wasn't - his son, wasn't apparent to Apollo. They didn't talk much about personal things. Apollo was too afraid, felt too insecure to push. He thought that just telling Adama over and over wouldn't have much effect: the commander had to accept Apollo for himself. But Adama seemed content to let things drift, to wait on the evidence, leave things to the scientists to resolve. He didn't seem to realise that this widened the breach between them. Apollo had been indescribably hurt by his father's initial reaction to his return from the dead. Adama's apparent and persistent reluctance to accept him made that even worse. Apollo knew that he'd changed in some ways, and not just physically, not just because of the implants: he found reserves of patience and endurance he'd never known he possessed, he developed a certain wry detachment about his situation that the old Apollo would never have had. But Adama seemed to be looking for something immutable, unwilling or unable to accept that what had happened to Apollo, as much when he came back as when he was with the Enemy, had inevitably changed him. And what change there was Adama appeared to view with deep suspicion, as evidence that this wasn't really Apollo. Sometimes Apollo thought that, for Adama, all that was left was an embarrassing and inconvenient biological relationship that he couldn't do anything about breaking. There wasn't much else.

Athena, though, mellowed a little over the sectons. Although she'd never actually admit it, he thought that she was ashamed of her over-reaction when Apollo had come to the school, even more ashamed of the things she'd said afterwards, and she allowed Starbuck to persuade her to join them occasionally. The first time, said Starbuck, she'd agreed as some kind of reparation. But at least she came, and if Apollo would never forget what she'd said, she was his best link to Boxey, and he counted the days between seeing her until she was there and could tell him how his son was doing, thinking, feeling. He missed Boxey more than he thought he could miss anything, except perhaps Starbuck.

One of few who didn't let things worry him too much was the grizzled old sergeant who ran the Galactica's gym and taught the warriors hand to hand combat. He'd forgotten far more about unarmed warfare than most people ever knew, and he guarded both his knowledge and his gymnasium jealously. But when Apollo asked if he could use the gym in the early hours, ship's time, when no-one else would be about, the sergeant didn't act as he usually would to such a request, as though he suspected the asker would be up to something nefarious. Instead he'd told the captain to strip, looking carefully at the scars and the chest implant when Apollo reluctantly complied. You always did heal fast , Kennedy had said, but I don't want much strain on those scars just yet. I'll sort you out a programme that will help build up some muscle and stamina - you're far too thin - and I'll come down here the first couple of nights to check that you aren't doing too much. We'll build up to a full work out over the next few sectars, but we'll take it slow. And I won't allow any crap if you'd rather come during the day when I'm here. Bloody fools . Apollo had grinned and shook his head. He slept badly and hoped that a workout at two in the morning would exhaust him enough to let him get at least a few centars sleep before the tests and medical examinations started again. But he also knew how uncomfortable he made people feel: he saw no value in antagonising them further. Kennedy had merely grunted at that and said no more, but he occasionally came down to the gym to keep the captain company, and the few people who'd complained to him about having to share facilities with the zombie either found their gym privileges revoked or the sergeant even more unforgiving than usual in hand-to-hand training. They learned to keep quiet.

And there was Wilker, of course. Despite Apollo's increasing dislike for the fussy little man, the scientist never displayed any fear or antagonism, the way so many others did. But then, Wilker had always been closer to electronics than he had been to people, and it may be that his admiration for the technological efficiency of the devices the Enemy had implanted overcame any other emotion. As for Salik, he tended to treat Apollo rather like a prize laboratory animal, something to be nurtured for the medical information that could be gleaned from him. He didn't display any fear of him either, although there was always an air of faint distaste about him, as if he didn't like having to interact with a dead man. But to both Wilker and Salik, Apollo was little more than the material they were using for experiments and tests.

With the K'h'n gone, Apollo had more time to think. Wilker was a committed scientist, but even he couldn't manage the K'h'n feat of a 24 centar regime. Apollo's life returned to a more bearable pattern. He had time to spend with Starbuck, trying to pick up the life they'd had together; time to use the gym and follow the programme Kennedy devised for him, gradually getting healthier and stronger; time, in agreement with Athena, to catch the occasional glimpse of his son, although he never approached Boxey, just watched from the shadows. He even had the time to get used to seeing his scarred body and the silver implants, able in the end to see the scars as familiar parts of him; and plenty of time in the long wakeful nights to try and decide whether they made any real difference to who he was.

The odd feeling he'd had of a cold place, a bond to the implant in his head, grew fainter and he became more adept at pushing it away, dampening it down, hiding it. He thought of controlling the place in terms of warming it up, making it too uncomfortable for the coldness to stay. But he spoke of it to no-one, not even to Starbuck.

He was too afraid for that.

 

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