Section Four

 

My father was waiting outside the Council room when Tigh and I got there. 

Tigh had left the Council meeting to come and get me: he said that they’d been debating the proposal to let me have the Mask back when he’d come out for me.  He didn’t know which way they’d jump.  They’d listened to Salik and Wilker, but Tigh thought they seemed evenly divided. Dad had stayed out of the debate altogether. 

Somehow that didn’t surprise me.  He was always careful not to display any family feeling in public, to seem to favour me.  That didn’t always work to my advantage, either.

"Apollo."  He took my hand and drew me away from Tigh.

"Excuse me," Tigh said and moved away, giving us some space.

"They’ve agreed, Apollo.  Not happily, but Wilker’s news that you’ve agreed to use the Black Ship swung the vote."  He paused, waiting, but I wasn’t too sure about how I was feeling so I said nothing.  "That surprised me.  I never realised that you knew how to operate the ship.  That wasn’t the impression you gave when you came back."

"I don’t think I could, then.  It’s sort of grown on me since."

"I see."  He didn’t sound very convinced.  "What happened when you told Starbuck?  How did he take it?"

It took an effort for me to say it.  "He left last night."

"Left?"  Dad sounded shocked.

"Walked out on me."  I was glad that I couldn’t see his face.  That helped me hide behind the barriers I’d built up over the yahrens.  "He’s not exactly pleased."

"Oh Lords," he said, and sighed.  "I’m sorry, Apollo."

"So am I."  I said it before I could stop myself, and I had to pull back behind the barriers fast, before I crumbled.  I remember how dazed I’d felt when I first came back, how hurt and raw everything was, so that the slightest word or action, every unfriendly stare or jibe had been ludicrously magnified into something bigger and more potent.  I’d felt so exposed and vulnerable then.  Like I felt now.

Dad drew me over to one side.  "How serious is this, Apollo?"

"He said he’d be back for his things today, so I guess he means it."

"Oh Lords," he said again, and I knew that he felt helpless, and didn’t know what to say to me.  He was silent for a centon, and I wondered if he was looking at me with pity, and what he could read in my face.  "He loves you very much, Apollo."

"Too much."

"I don’t think that’s possible," he said, seriously.  Then as if he thought that was our problem: "Do you?"

I thought about it.  It had been a glib little jibe, just something to say.  "No, not really."

"And, you know, he’s the kind who, when he does give, gives everything.  And he doesn’t give lightly, Apollo.  He’s never had enough to do that."

"I know.  I know what you’re trying to say.  That he’s never had very much, that the only stability he’s ever had has been through me.  I know that.  I know that when he was a kid he was never in one place for more than a few sectars, moved from one foster home to another and never being able to call anything his own.  I do know that, Dad.  I do know how insecure that makes him and how much he needs me to need him, to give him a purpose and reason.  But there’s a difference between me needing him the way I do, and the way he wants, the total dependency he wants.  I can’t do that.  It’s smothering me to death."

"Does he know?"

"What?"

"Does he know that you do need him?"

"I thought he did," I said.  But maybe I was wrong.  Maybe I could have said more, reassured him more, and then he’d have been able to let go a bit easier.  Maybe.  A miserable word, ‘maybe’.

"You probably need to tell him that," Dad said, tone neutral.  "I thought that he was being over-protective, but I could understand it.  After all, you don’t spend nearly two sectons holding someone and trying to bring them out of a coma if you don’t care about them.  He got a bad fright."

"I do understand that -"

"And, of course, he came close to a complete breakdown when the Enemy had you, and we thought that you were dead.  He’s not as tough as he might appear on the surface."

"I know -"

"But I’m not going to interfere in this.  You’re both almost forty.  Old enough to sort your own lives out without any help from me.  How’s Troy taking this?"

Oh but the old man was being about as subtle as a Cylon baseship.  That’s right, Dad.  Don’t interfere.  Don’t try and make me feel guilty about hurting Starbuck, or upsetting my son.  I don’t need any help in feeling guilty, thank you.

"He's upset, too."

I thought back to breakfast, when Troy had called in from Dillon’s to find me alone.  I’d stayed up all night in case Starbuck came back.  But he didn’t.  Instead Troy had to be told and he’d been even less subtle than my father.  Oh great.  So now I’m from a broken home.  Thanks a lot, Dad. and he’d stormed out and left me alone.  He loves Starbuck too. 

"He blames me as well," I added.

"I’m not blaming you.  I understand how difficult it must be when Starbuck’s determined not to let you do anything, to do everything for you."

"He would even follow me to the ‘flush to make sure I didn’t fall over or anything," I said, knowing that I sounded sullen and childish.

He ignored it.  "I just think that your method of dealing with it is as over the top as his protectiveness.  I don’t want you Masked any more than he does.  You’re each as bad as the other and I’m not going to get involved."  He sounded fed up and switched subjects on me.  "The Council wants to talk to you.  Now."

His abrupt withdrawal threw me for a micron.  It had been a little comforting to talk about Starbuck, to try and get straight in my head the jumbled thoughts I’d had all night, but if he didn’t want to talk to me about it, I couldn’t make him.  I wouldn’t try.  I was too proud to insist, to say to hell with being almost forty, I could use some fatherly support and comfort, the kind you were never there to give me when I was a kid even when it was about nothing more important than a scraped knee or a fight at school.  Try it now, Dad; enjoy the novelty. 

But what’s the use?  He always shied away from anything really emotional.  He hadn’t known what to say to me the day before at lunch in his quarters when I almost lost it, and I knew how awkward he’d felt.  And it was odd, too, how good he was at diagnosing Starbuck’s emotional needs, but not mine.  Or maybe he just didn’t know what to do with mine.  Maybe they scared him, came too close.  How can I tell?  So it was once more back to the formal relations of President and Colonel, and push away the one that should really matter.

"Fine," I said, as cool and as withdrawn as he was, and let him take me in.  Tigh joined us at the door, and when my father walked back to the Council table, he was the one to get me into my usual seat."

Colonel Apollo, it’s delightful to have you back again and to see you’re making such an excellent recovery."

Old Sire Anton.  Charming, urbane, and maybe even meaning it.  We’d always got on well.  I remembered what I’d said to Hannath about him, what a wily old political genius he was, and for a micron all I could remember was how she’d laughed, the sympathy between us when we’d talked, sometimes for centars, sitting and drinking that yellow wine after Del and Micas had gone to bed, and the way she’d looked to me for comfort when they’d poisoned us.  I hadn’t thought about her so much since I’d got out of the Life Centre.  Another thing to feel guilty about.

I said something polite and grateful in return, acknowledged that I was very well, thank you, sir, and eager to return to being useful.

"Ah yes.  We’ll come on to that.  As usual, Colonel Apollo, when the Council has been debating something to do with you, your father has very properly stood back from it.  And also as usual, that means I’ll chair the Council meeting for the duration of this discussion.  We want to discuss two things with you, both difficult.  We’ll take the easier of the two first."  The old man’s voice was smooth as silk.  Listening to him you wouldn’t guess he was as old or as frail as he was.  That voice was his greatest asset and it hadn’t ever failed him.  "Your father has, I know, spoken to you about Dyss and reported to us that your memories are hazy.  Unsurprising, of course.  But we wondered if things were clearer, if you remembered more as you’ve regained health and strength."

I hesitated a micron. 

"I haven’t remembered anything more,"  I said.  Strictly truthful.  I just hadn’t told them everything I did remember.  "I remember returning to our quarters after dinner.  I’ve no memory of boarding the shuttle."

"Ah well.  No more than I expected." 

Was there a hint of amused knowledge in that voice?  A hint that he realised that I knew more than I’d said but he was colluding with my silence?  It wasn't possible.  It was another symptom of a guilty conscience, I suppose, and mine was assuming mammoth proportions.  So much to be guilty about: Starbuck, Troy, Hannath.  Starbuck. 

And Starbuck. 

And Starbuck. 

I wondered if he’d really not come back.  The Mask was a cold substitute, but it might be all I had.

"And now your request to have the Mask returned to you."  There was a short silence.  I’m sure they were all looking at me, weighing it all up.  "We’ve agreed to that, Colonel.  Not without some very anguished discussion.  But in the end, we’ve agreed."

"Thank you."  I wasn’t feeling disposed to be fulsome.  I leave that to the politicians.

"We understand perfectly your reasons for wanting the Mask, Apollo.  In the circumstances I’d do the same.  But have you considered that you will be provoking a return of the reaction you faced when you came back?"

I nodded.  Oh yes, I knew that it might all start up again, the fear and enmity, the hostility.  "I handled it then.  I can handle it now."

Anton was quiet for a moment.  I could almost feel those deceptively mild eyes looking at me, measuring me, probing me.  I wondered if he found me wanting.

"The Council is very reluctant to lose you, Apollo.  We don’t want to lose your expertise and your experience: we need officers like you.  God knows we need more like you.  So we have agreed that you can have the Mask back and return to duty.  But we reserve the right to reverse that decision if you wearing the Mask adversely affects morale or discipline."

I nodded.  "That’s fair."

"And we’ve listened to what Doctor Wilker and Doctor Salik have had to say about resuming some of the tests they were conducting when you first came back.  Before we sanction that, I want your assurance that you know what you’re consenting to."

"I know.  And it’s acceptable."

"Doctor Wilker said that you have offered some insights into the Black Ship."  Anton paused, and then came the sting. "I would be interested in knowing how you will do that."

"It’s my Ship.  I know it better than anyone else can."

"A ship you haven’t seen for over eight yahrens?"  Polite scepticism.

"It’s like the Mask and this."  I touched the implant.  I didn’t tell him that it was a Ship that I hadn’t seen since only yesterday afternoon.  "It all belongs together."

Another measuring silence from Anton, slight stirrings from the other members of the Council who couldn’t hide themselves as much as Anton could.  Or I could.

"We’ll see,"  Anton said, at last  "The research sub-committee has been reconstituted, Colonel, to oversee the tests.  Of course, this time we recognise that you won’t be available full time for the experimental programme, and it will have to be fitted around your duties, but we will ask you to agree to giving up some of your time to it."

Well, it wasn't as though I was going to have a life outside work these days.  Not with Starbuck gone.  I nodded agreement.

"Good.  Dr Wilker has the Mask now and is expecting you in his laboratory in a centar.  You’ll be returning to duty… when?"

"Tomorrow?" I asked Tigh.

"If Doctor Cassiopeia agrees," he said.  "I’ll be glad to get you back."

"I’ll be glad to be back,"  I said, and wondered if I meant it. 

The price was a little higher than I’d expected.  Far more than I wanted to pay.  I wondered if it was going to be worth it.






"I’ll come and get you in about forty centons," said Adama.

Apollo nodded.  "Thanks," he said briefly, and turned away. 

Adama looked at him sadly, wishing he could overcome the gulf that seemed to be widening between them.  Since his return, Apollo had become adept at hiding what he thought and felt, but Starbuck’s reaction had rocked him.  Adama didn’t know how to reach him.  He never had, really.  He had always loved his son very much, been intensely proud of him, but he’d been away so much when Apollo was a child and growing up, that he’d never really learned to show it.  He’d hoped Apollo knew without being told, but sometimes he wondered if that was true, if Apollo needed to be told.  The same way, he reflected, watching his son’s slow, careful progress to the tiny kitchen, that Starbuck needed to be told.

On impulse, Adama hurried after him and caught his arm.

"Apollo."

His son turned, and Adama pulled him into a rough embrace, one hand automatically smoothing the long black hair comfortingly.  Taken by surprise, Apollo stood very still and rigid for a micron, then relaxed, allowing his father to hold him, briefly resting his head on his father’s shoulder.

"It’ll work out," said Adama, awkwardly.

"I didn’t think he’d leave me."  Apollo’s voice was thick with pained disbelief.

"It’ll work out," Adama said again, with more conviction.  He thought that all it would take would be for Starbuck to see how much Apollo was feeling to bring him back.  If Apollo let him see.

Apollo sighed, then pulled back, trying to get back behind his barriers again.  "What was that for?"

Adama smiled.  "I thought that you needed a little comforting."

"I guess I’m not used to it," Apollo said, and his father grimaced at the tone of surprise.

"I’m not good at saying it, Apollo, but I do love you very much, you know.  I always hoped you realised it without being told, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to show you now and again."  He paused, wondering if he should say anything more, then took the plunge.  "Pretty much like you and Starbuck, I’d say.  Sometimes we’re too alike, you and me."

Apollo said nothing, but he nodded.  Maybe.  Maybe he should try and tell Starbuck.  Maybe.  That miserable little word again.

"I’d better go, and you’d better get something to eat."  Adama gave him one more hug and started for the door.  It was no use belabouring the point with Apollo: his son was a stubborn sort of soul.  Far better to let him reflect on Adama’s words and find his own way.

"I’m not hungry," Apollo said, and it was true that he’d eaten nothing since Starbuck had gone the night before.

Adama frowned at that.  Apollo’s usual reaction to stress was to stop eating.  It could take quite some effort to get him started again if it went on too long, and he resolved to keep an eye on him.

"I’ll see you in half a centar," he said.  "And then you will eat."






Apollo waited until the door, closed then made for the main bedroom.  He wanted to get into uniform, underline everything he’d done by getting out of the civilian clothes that symbolised the blind, helpless Apollo and don the uniform that had increasingly defined him and the value his society had put on him.  Adama may not have seen too much of his son while Apollo was growing up, but he’d definitely succeeded in instilling his own ethic of duty and service.  Half of Apollo’s problem with learning to cope with his blindness had been an uneasy sense of guilt that he was failing in his duty to serve and protect his people.  Even at its worst on his return, when the people he’d sworn to protect with his life had rejected and isolated him, he’d never seriously thought that he should give up what he’d been all his adult life, a soldier and a warrior, with all a warrior’s pride in his unswerving loyalty.

The uniform was a little too large for him.  He’d lost a lot of weight when he’d been ill, and was slow to regain it.  He tightened the belt a notch over the dark blue tunic, and closed the closet door.  He hesitated for a centon, then opened Starbuck’s wardrobe, reaching out with a hand to touch something of his lover, seeking some reassurance that it was just Starbuck in a huff, that he’d be back.

Nothing. 

The jolt of pain was almost physical.  Starbuck must have waited until Apollo had gone to the Council, then cleared out all of his things.

Apollo closed the door with exaggerated care, his hands shaking.  His knees were shaking too and he groped his way to the bed, sitting down on it suddenly as his legs gave way. 

He sat there for a long time, fifteen, twenty centons, staring into the darkness.  He felt curiously numb, like someone had anaesthetised him and he was a long distance away from the creature sitting blindly on the wide bed wishing it had never, ever, come back from the dead.






The only time I ever felt this bad was when I’d stood in front of a mirror for the first time and looked at what the Enemy had left me with.  I’d looked over everything: the huge scars on my chest and abdomen from where the shrapnel had ripped into me, the implant over the artificial heart they’d given me when they’d torn out the old one, the implant on my forehead.  Then I’d been trying to work out what I had left, what I could find that made it worth while to go on.

Now I thought about what Starbuck had left me with.  I never really thought he’d go.  I never thought he’d leave me like this.

Almost nine yahrens before, Starbuck had been the one thing I’d had left, the one person who made it worth my while to fight to get something back, to endure the taunts and the humiliation until they all recognised it was still me and accepted me back.  He’d even persuaded me not to be resentful about having to fight for what was mine by right: a place in the human race. 

He had been the one I depended on, needed.  I thought he knew that.  I thought he knew what I found so hard to say, that I’d shown him what I couldn’t tell him.

Well, I was wrong.  And this time if I looked in the mirror and I could see, there’d be nothing.  Nothing but the cyborg.

And like nine yahrens ago, I knew what I had now.

Nothing and nobody.






"It’s been a long time," Salik said, watching the monitors.

"Mmn," Apollo said.

Salik nodded at Wilker.  "As I said to Cassie, you’ve made a remarkable recovery.  You should have died."

Apollo grinned without humour.  "Maybe I can’t die twice."

"Maybe not," Salik said, with clinical detachment.  "Well, apart from the blindness, you’ve made a full recovery.  You’re still underweight, but otherwise fit.  I think we can go on."

"Good." 

He could hear the faint clinking sounds as Wilker undid the fastenings of the case and lifted out the Mask.

"Ready?"  asked Wilker.

"Ready," said Apollo, tense.

The Mask touched his temple, surged into his brain.

The stab of recognition was like a shard of ice.  He caught his breath and stiffened, lost for a centon in the now familiar blackness, the sounds in Wilker’s laboratory cut off as abruptly as if someone had thrown a switch.  He gave himself up to it, enraptured by the Mask’s cold intimacy, its strangely passionless but deeply fervent welcome.  It swept over him, enclosing him in silence and a darkness that was the negation of light, holding him apart and disconnected from the physical world around him; separate, special.

It was like... like song, just like song.  Passionless, beautiful... painfully beautiful, exquisite like the anthems sung in church, high and piercing.

The Mask had missed him as much as he’d missed it.  It sang to him.

Eyes closed, he allowed his head to tilt backwards while he listened in that profound, dark silence to the Mask’s greeting, shared with it the sense of perfect symbiosis, of a synthesis of two things into one thing greater than either. 

Together.  At last.

"...right?" Adama’s voice came suddenly as the Mask kicked in.

"What?"  Apollo’s voice was harsh and distorted, echoing strangely. 

"Are you all right?" repeated Adama anxiously.  He put his hand on Apollo’s shoulder, for reassurance.  It looked like he was determined not to repeat his mistake of nine yahrens before.  He wouldn’t abandon Apollo this time.

Apollo opened his eyes.  The Mask was seeing for him, feeding back precise information direct into his brain.  He could see again, everything as clear as crystal, edged with a brilliant blue light.  The world, as seen through the Mask, could be an incredibly, indescribably beautiful place.  Even Wilker’s dusty untidy little laboratory.

He turned his head.  He could see himself in the silvered side of some piece of equipment.  The body of the Mask sat on his temple, black and forbidding.  Two claws half-hid his face, one curving across his eyes – eyes that the Mask told him were a vivid green, pupils reduced to pinpricks.  The Mask told him the exact diameter, to the nearest nanometre.  The second claw curved down the left side of his face to almost, but not quite touch the corner of his mouth.  Two other claws arced around to enclose his head.

He didn’t look very human.  How had the litany gone, the one from nine yahrens before, the one that had sung through people's thoughts when they looked at him, that would sing again when they saw him again?

Cyborg. 

No longer human. 

Dangerous. 

Different. 

The enemy. 

The Enemy.

Well, perhaps.  Perhaps this would cost him even more than it had already.  But somehow there was a reason for this, something connected to Dyss.

Salik said something and he turned his head again to look at them, distracted.  The two doctors watched him avidly, their excitement obvious.  He stared at them for a micron, then turned to his father.  Adama’s face was familiar and strange, all at the same time.  Every line in it was a familiar as Apollo’s own, but edged with blue and with an unforgiving clarity that threw up every small blemish, every sign of age accentuated.  But unmistakably Adama.

"You look worried," Apollo said now.  "Don’t look so worried."

"You can see?"

Apollo was serious, unsmiling.  This had been what he wanted, but he hadn’t wanted to sacrifice everything to get it.  Something inside him, an aching need he’d had for so long inside that cold empty little space, was silenced at last, but a new and more pressing one had taken its place.  The thought of that empty closet cut like a knife, the thought that Starbuck had carefully avoided him, didn’t even want to talk to him.  Like Adama, he wasn’t certain of whether or not this was worth everything it had cost him.

When he spoke, the harsh distorted voice was flat and unemotional, another barrier for him to hide behind. 

"Yes, I can see."






Even our - my -quarters had taken on a tinge of glamour, the Mask making everything more clean and focused.  It was like looking through a prism of clear, precision-cut glass: everything given a hint a magic, a touch of fantasy, washed over with that bright, unclouded light, edged with blue.

Pretty, but empty.

He wasn’t here, and my gut was twisting.

Dad had told me to eat, and I’d thought I might as well, revelling for a few centons in being able to see enough to cook, to even find my way about the kitchen.  But when I looked at the stuff on my plate, I couldn’t eat it.  I wasn't hungry, and Troy was right.  I was a lousy cook.  Starbuck had been the genius in the kitchen, not me.  I ended up tipping the food into the waste, without even tasting it.  Even my tea, all I could face, wasn’t comforting.  It tasted acrid.

I went through into the bedroom.  Starbuck had always been untidy, despite my best efforts to reform him.  But when I couldn’t see, he’d turned overnight into the neatest, tidiest man on the Galactica.  He knew he couldn’t leave things lying around because I’d trip and fall over them.  Everything had to be in its place or my world was too unstable to get around in.

It was very unstable now. 

He’d cleaned things out pretty thoroughly.  It was almost as if he’d never been there.  The only thing I found was his old blue shirt in the laundry.  Either he’d forgotten it, or thought it wasn't worth taking with him.

I took off the Mask and when the centon of black silence passed, I put it carefully into its case, and went and lay down on the bed.  I’d not slept, hoping he’d come back, and it had been a tiring day.  Troy wasn't due back from school for a centar or two - if he came back at all, given how mad he was with me -  and I could take the time to try and get some rest.

I had the blue shirt with me.

He’d looked good in it.  And although it wasn’t warm with him, the way it had been so many times when I’d taken it off him, slipping it over his shoulders to kiss his neck and throat, it still smelled of him.

It looked like it was all I had left.






From where he stood on the dais in the Bridge, Commander Tigh could look over his empire with pardonable pride.  He’d inherited a tight ship from Adama, and he’d been careful to make sure that it stayed that way

Being assigned to the Bridge was always something of a two edged sword.  There was the advantage of seeing what was going on, an overview, as it were, of how that huge battlestar was run, the closeness to the Commander, able to watch him or her in action.  But that also meant that the Bridge crew had always been the ones under the Commander’s eye, exposed.  It was harder to hide.

Normally, though, there was little to hide.  The Bridge crew, all forty of them, moved and worked with quiet, practised efficiency, covering the helm and navigation consoles, communications, weapons, sensor array…all working professionally, competently, focused on the job.

Except today he could feel their nervousness.

He’d never been such a martinet that he expected them to work in silence, never lifting their eyes from their consoles.  They were people, not automata, after all.  The Bridge normally worked in a low murmur of conversation, muted laughter at shared amusement.  They worked better for it.

Today, though, they were quiet.  He stood on the dais, watching them as they stared at their consoles, or looked up to glance uneasily at the chronometer on the wall or exchange nervous looks with their neighbour.

Three centons to go.

He was nervous himself, he thought, remembering the confident tone with which he’d made his ship-wide announcement the day before, after the Council meeting had ended.  Now he looked at his apprehensive Bridge crew and wondered if they were ready for it.  He had kept his tone casual in that announcement when telling the crew that Apollo would be Masked, but even as he’d said it, he’d seen the shocked faces of the Bridge personnel turn to him.  Even Omega had been shocked, surprised into an unusual display of emotion.  Disappointed, too, Tigh thought.  He’d been acting Executive Officer in Apollo’s absence and doing it well too.  He wasn’t Apollo, but he wasn’t bad either.  Even after Tigh had given Omega the praise the man deserved for a job well done, and discussed with him how he’d work with Apollo, he’d been concerned that Omega’s resentment would be communicated to the rest of the crew.

Two centons.

He’d agreed with Cassie that Apollo was to come back on light duties to begin with, working a reduced number of centars each day for a few sectons until Cassie was assured that it wouldn’t affect his recovery.  She had looked sour about the whole thing.  Not about Apollo getting back to duty - she knew how much the frustration and boredom were affecting him - but at the Council’s request that she be involved in Salik’s and Wilker’s work with Apollo and the Mask.  She had vivid memories of the damage it had done Apollo before, she’d told Tigh tartly, remembering him exhausted, almost blinded with headaches.  She’d make sure that it didn’t happen again.  And that, Tigh had said, was why she’d been co-opted, that was what everyone wanted.  Except, maybe, Salik and Wilker.  She’d understood, and they’d smiled at each other, sharing the conspiracy.

One centon.

He knew Apollo.  He knew that there was an urge for some kind of perfection in that young man, that manifested itself in any number of ways.  One of them was punctuality.  If Apollo said that he’d be somewhere at ten, he’d be there as the chronometer struck, not a micron before or after.  Tigh wondered if Apollo hid around corners until the right micron, just so that he could appear on the dot.  It wouldn’t surprise him.

Ten am.

Right on cue, the lift doors to the Bridge swooshed open, with the slightest hiss of air from the mechanism, and Apollo stepped onto the Bridge for the first time in over two sectars.

The Mask was in place, the curved arms coiled around his head.  He ignored the startled looks he was getting, walking quietly and confidently to the dais.  He mounted the three steps to take his place at Tigh’s right hand, as if he’d never been away, as if nothing had ever happened.  He turned his head, and Tigh looked into eyes with pupils so contracted that they looked like emerald green discs.

"Good morning, sir," said Apollo.

He'd forgotten about that distorted voice, but nothing in his tone hinted at his consternation.  "Good morning, Colonel.  Glad to have you back."

Apollo smiled slightly beneath the black claw that lightly touched his lips. 

"Thank you, Commander.  I’m glad to be back."






"I can’t stay long," Boomer said, leaning back in his chair in the OC and accepting the beer that Giles handed him. "I want to get back the Thenie and the kids.  Everyone okay?"

Boomer had decided that he had no time for subtlety.  He really didn’t want to spend centars in the OC cautiously testing the water, assessing their reaction to having Apollo back.  He just wanted to reassure himself that there were no major problems and get back to his family before Zac and Meriel had to be put to bed and he missed out on what was the best part of his day.  Athena had brought little Appy home that day, and the bare half centar he’d spent with his new son had been far too little.

"Fine," Greenbean said cheerfully, but then little ever rattled Greenbean.

The others nodded.  Only Starbuck sat morose and quiet, nursing his drink and drawing his misery around him like a security blanket.  Boomer saw, with some anxiety, that as early in the evening as it was, Starbuck was drinking ambrosa, not beer.

"No problems?"

None of them pretended to misunderstand what he was getting at.

"A few of them are a bit antsy, but reasonably okay about it,"  Jolly said. "After all, none of them have seen him yet.  He’s stuck to the Bridge so far."

"He’ll be at the briefing meeting tomorrow, Omega told me." said Boomer, taking a long pull at his beer.  "He’s on duty all morning then working with Wilker in the afternoon."

"And there’s a turn up for the books," Giles observed, a sidelong glance at Starbuck.  "I never expected him to be willing to do that."

"He’d do anything to get the Mask back," Starbuck muttered, half to himself.

"I’d do a lot myself," said Boomer thoughtfully, "- if I was blind and it was something that gave me the chance to see again."

"A lot of people have said that," agreed Giles.

"The Mask, though!"  And there was no mistaking the loathing in Starbuck’s voice.

"And a lot of people have said that, too," Jolly acknowledged.

Boomer nodded.  He looked across to where Drake was talking excitedly with a group of young cadets.  The cadets were looking apprehensive, some nodding as they listened to the lieutenant.

"And Drake’s stirring it," he noted. 

He caught Bojay’s eye and nodded his head towards Drake’s table.  Bojay looked across then back at Boomer, then raised his glass.  After a quick word with his wife, he got up and joined Drake, quickly and unobtrusively scattering the cadets.  He sat down beside the lieutenant and started talking to him, quietly and seriously.  Drake looked annoyed.  Boomer turned back to his friends, satisfied. 

"Drake always stirs it," said Cree, looking up from his drink.  "He has half the cadets jumping at shadows.  He’s telling them all sorts of crap.  The sort of crap he used to give Apollo when he first came back."

"Bojay will take care of it," said Boomer.

Tigh had spoke to both Bojay and Boomer the day before, before he’d made his announcement, and made it plain he expected them to control their Flights.  Time was when Bojay had tacitly encouraged Drake by his silence, but relations between him and Apollo had eased significantly over the yahrens.  They’d never be friends, but they could work together.  Bojay hadn’t hesitated in agreeing to support Tigh, and, implicitly, Apollo.

"There still might be trouble, Boomer," warned Greenbean, unaccustomedly serious.  "We’re used to Apollo.  But those kids have been raised to hate cyborgs.  We mightn’t have seen the Cylons since Apollo got that baseship, but that doesn’t stop people being afraid and stupid."

"And how do you all feel about handling it?"

They looked thoughtful, perhaps a touch uncomfortable, then Jolly said slowly,  "I’m not denying it’s a bit spooky, Boomer.  We all saw him that day he got the baseship, and he does look weird with it.  But we had all this out then.  He’s still Apollo."

"Without that Mask he’d never had got me and Regan back, yahrens ago when we were lost and out of scanner range," said Giles.  "It’s always been Apollo underneath, if you see what I mean, and we forgot that once.  I owe him.  I won't forget again. "

"But he wasn't wearing it all the time," persisted Boomer.

"I can live with him wearing it, if it helps him see again," said Giles.

Boomer hid a sigh of relief.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  Then he saw the cadets gathered at a table, talking to each other, looking anxious.  "Well, I’m going home.  Keep and eye on things for me, okay?"

"You got it," Jolly agreed, with a glance at the cadets.

"Starbuck?" Boomer asked.  He knew what most of their friends didn’t yet, that Starbuck had taken some singles quarters as far away from Apollo as he could get.

Starbuck look up, and scowled.  He downed his drink and stood up to leave, pushing past Jolly and Giles to get away.

"Leave me out of it,"  he said harshly.  "I want nothing to do with it."






"Want to talk about it?"  asked Boomer. 

Starbuck had flatly refused to let Boomer into his quarters the night before, not even answering the rings on the doorbell.  In the end Boomer had given up and returned to his family.

Starbuck squinted against the light.  He’d spent most of the evening downing the better part of a bottle of ambrosa, and he was definitely feeling the worse for wear.  One of the disadvantages of growing older, he thought, suddenly resentful about spending - no wasting - his youth with that selfish bastard who’d just taken from him and never given anything back in return.

He looked unenthusiastically at his plate.  Boomer had marched him out of his new, cramped quarters where there was nothing at all of Apollo, and insisted on having breakfast with him.  He didn’t really want to eat, not after all that ambrosa. 

Boomer’s question took a centon to sink in. 

"No, thanks,"  he said gruffly.  He didn’t want to talk about anything.

"Shame, because I’m going to.  I guess I was just surprised that you’d walk out on Apollo like that.  Have you seen him?  Talked to him?"

"I haven’t seen him since he went behind my back to get that thing back without even bothering to tell me that‘s what he was doing," Starbuck shot back.  "And no, I haven’t talked to him.  What’s to talk about?"

"Why’d he do that?" asked Boomer. 

"Because I don’t matter to him," snapped Starbuck. "Obviously."

"Really?"  Boomer appeared to consider that.  "What would you have said?"

"When?"

"If he’d talked to you about it first, before he got the Council’s agreement."

"What the hell do you think, Boomer?  I’d have stopped him, of course."  Starbuck jabbed savagely at his eggs.

"Well, there you have it."  Boomer met Starbuck’s glowering look.  "Seems to me that Apollo knew he’d have a row on his hands with you.  I guess he thought it might as well as be about something concrete, rather than just a suggestion."

Starbuck grunted something unintelligible.

"And what gives you the right to stop him, Bucko?"  Boomer went on.

Starbuck stared, the food falling back onto his plate from a fork suspended in mid air half way to his mouth.

"Expecting gratitude for sticking with him when no-one else would?  Gratitude for holding him all the time he was unconscious?"  Boomer shook his head.  "An awfully corrosive emotion, gratitude.  I hate feeling grateful.  It makes me resentful."

"I don’t want him to be grateful," Starbuck said.

"What then?"

"I love him, for fracks sake!  You know that!  You know what I want from him."

"I love Athena, but I doubt I’d ever try to own her, tell her what to do.  Especially," said Boomer thoughtfully, "- especially if it was something that important.  Problem with those two is the way they were brought up.  Little Apollo’s only four days old and she’s already wondering when she’ll get back to work, because all her life she’s been brought up to think that service and duty are important."

"I know that! I’ve known them for longer than you have."

"Yeah," said Boomer, with significance.  "So when in all those yahrens did you realise that Apollo was just longing to give up everything to sit at home on his butt all day doing nothing?"

"There’s other things he could do!" Starbuck was finding it harder to keep his voice down, and more than one of the other officers in the Mess was turning to look at them.

Boomer nodded.  "I’m not disagreeing with you on that one, old buddy.  Thing is, they’re things he doesn’t want to do.  He’s a warrior, Starbuck."

"And just whose side are you on?"

"I’m not taking sides," protested Boomer.  "I want to live to see my kids grow up, thank you very much.  I’m merely trying to point out to you that walking out on someone you love and not even talking to him about it is a pretty stupid thing to do."

"What’s the point of talking to him?  It’s not like he cares!  If he’d cared, he’d have known what it would do to me.  He’d have known.  Shit, Boomer, what does he think it does to me, the thought of him wearing that thing?  You never saw him when they took him out of the Black Ship.  I did.  I’ll never forget that."

"Well, I suppose that accounts for it," said Boomer.  "Not caring, I mean.  Personally, I’m with you about him not telling you, I suppose.  I can see why he did it, but he was well out of order there."

"Damn right," Starbuck agreed morosely, uncomforted by this evidence of Boomer’s impartiality.

"But I did try to warn you that you were too protective and possessive, Bucko.  You were smothering him, you know."

"But I wanted to take care of him!  I love him!" protested Starbuck.

"Reducing him to some sort of dependent with no life of his own?"  Boomer raised an eyebrow.  "Very satisfying for you, but I don’t suppose he liked it much.  Apollo always preferred to do things for himself."

"It wasn't like that!"

"It looked like it from where I was standing.  I’m not saying you weren’t sorry that he lost his sight, Bucko, but boy, did it make you feel needed!"

Stung, Starbuck opened his mouth to protest, then closed it again.  "Is that what he thinks?" he asked after a centon.

"Apollo?  I don’t know.  He won’t talk about it either."  Boomer finished his coffee.  "Only for someone who doesn’t care, he’s taking it awfully hard.  Adama brought him around to see the kids last night.  He looked dreadful."

"He could try and talk to me," Starbuck pointed out, trying to work out what he felt about that assertion.

"He could, I suppose.  But then, he wasn’t the one who left."  Boomer left that to sink in, and added gently,  "And he thinks you don’t want to hear him."

Starbuck looked up, and Boomer grinned.  "Off we go, Starbuck.  Briefing meeting in five centons."






The usual morning briefing took place at nine, in the Commander’s conference room, just to one side of the Bridge.  All the senior officers were there.  At one time it had been only Adama, Tigh, Apollo, and the two senior Captains, but with the changes Apollo had introduced just before he’d gone to Dyss, every squadron Captain was present.  The room was sometimes full to bursting.

Starbuck sat very quiet between Sheba and Kyle, facing the three captains in Bojay’s Flight on the other side of the big table.  Boomer and Bojay were in a corner, deep in talk.  Omega and the senior Bridge personnel were clustered around the base of the table, apparently absorbed in a technical discussion.  Starbuck caught part of it, heard words like "sub-spatial anomalies" and "singularities" and promptly switched off, absorbed in his own chaotic thoughts, thinking over what Boomer had said.

It wasn't fair, Starbuck concluded, mentally reviewing his conversation with Boomer.  Just because Apollo was blind, Boomer had assumed that he couldn’t be in the wrong, that anything was worth getting back his sight.  But Starbuck couldn’t get rid of one memory that had haunted him for yahrens.  Salik’s voice, saying that no, there was no pulse, that what they were about to take out of the Black Ship was a reanimated cadaver; the two techs struggling to lift Apollo out of the gel and for a micron as they’d got him out, he’d been held up between them as they’d freed the airline.  Starbuck had stared in a kind of numb horror at the sight of his lover, the emaciated, naked body terribly scarred, dripping with the slimy, clear gel; the wide, staring unseeing eyes; the Mask, black, brooding, malevolent, coiled around his head.

It just wasn't even remotely likely that Apollo could think that Starbuck had ever forgotten that.  He couldn’t possibly believe that Starbuck had forgotten the next few sectars when they’d only had each other against the hostility and bitter rejection of everyone else on the ship and in the fleet, most of whom thought of Apollo only as a zombie cyborg that should be put down like a sick daggit.  Starbuck hadn’t forgotten the nights wondering if the hostility would spill over into violence, starting up at every noise, thinking it could be a mob of mindless thugs determined to get rid of the threat they thought Apollo might pose.

Apollo might have decided that it was worth risking all that brewing up again, but Starbuck wasn’t convinced he could live through it again.  And not even to be told!  To be about tenth on the list of people Apollo bothered to tell.  Starbuck burned with anger at that.  And then to have Boomer tell him he was too possessive!  Possessive!  Was it possessive to expect that the man you’d loved more than half your life, that you’d shared your life with, couldn’t at least mention what he had in mind?

"Commander on deck!" 

Starbuck struggled to his feet, looking determinedly straight ahead as he came to attention.

"At ease," Tigh reached his seat at the head of the table.  "Sit down, everyone."

Starbuck obeyed, stared down at the table top as if fascinated by the wood, his eyes tracing the pattern of the grain, darker brown against the golden polish.  He knew that Apollo was there, that everyone else was staring at the colonel more or less openly, but he refused to raise his eyes.  There was something very comforting about just staring at the pattern and letting your mind drift, not thinking, just being.

"Colonel Apollo wasn’t able to be with us at yesterday’s briefing, but I’m sure you’ll all join me in welcoming him back today," Tigh said in a voice that quite clearly signalled that he wouldn’t tolerate any dissent from that statement.

There was a murmur of agreement, and beside Starbuck, Sheba spoke up.  "We’re all delighted you’re back, Apollo," she said. 

"Thank you.  I’m pleased to be back."

The rasping, distorted voice made Starbuck jump.  He’d forgotten about that.  He looked up despite his resolution not to, looking straight into Apollo’s eyes.  Apollo was watching him.

For a micron he stared back, conscious of the Mask, the claw that curved across the blind eyes allowing Apollo to see.  Apollo’s face under the Mask was expressionless.  He might have been looking at anything, anyone.  There was nothing to suggest that he was looking with anything other than indifference at the lover who’d walked out on him three days before.

For that micron Starbuck looked back at him.  Then, quite deliberately, he looked away.






I thought about it for a long time.

My first idea, after Starbuck had left me, had been to get the Mask, collect the Ship and go and find out what all this had been about.  But I couldn’t get at the Ship unnoticed yet.  I’d only been wearing the Mask for a couple of days, and everywhere I went people stared at me, watched me.  Word had got out beyond the Galactica, as I’d expected it would, and there was even a camera crew from IFB following me about every time I left the Bridge.

In the circumstances, it was impossible to sneak down to the hangar on beta deck and open up the Ship.  Not with half the crew and IFB watching me.  Notoriety had distinct drawbacks.

There was little overt hostility this time, though, even on the IFB programmes.  It was like me wearing the Mask was a natural progression from what had happened before.  They were curious, and I’m not denying that I made them nervous, but they didn’t seem to hate me the way they had before.

That was something, I suppose.

Except… Starbuck.  I’d been stupid, taken him for granted, and now he was gone.  I wondered if that pathetic attempt to manipulate him, the little power play with the book, had sickened him beyond endurance.  He’d given me so much, and I was asking for more, too much this time.  And I just hadn’t been straight with him.

Well, there was nothing to hold me now.

So on to plan B.  As much as we longed to be with the Ship, the Mask and me, we had to wait.  Wilker and Salik were still checking over their results from yahrens ago, still preoccupied with the Mask.  It might be a little while before they got to the Ship.  We’d just have to wait.

Well, we were used to waiting.

But once I had the Ship, there was nothing to hold me.  Troy was growing up fast.  He was already making his own life, spending as much time away from me as with me.  He hadn’t forgiven me for Starbuck, yet, either, and what time we were together was full of accusatory silences. 

And if Starbuck didn’t want me any more…

It had taken everything I had to go into the morning briefing with Tigh, knowing that he’d be there.  I hadn’t seen him at all since he’d left.  Shit, I hadn’t seen him since the moment on the flightdeck when he’d helped me load the shuttle for Dyss.  The thought of seeing him through the Mask scared me.

It wasn’t the same, looking at him through the Mask.  Nothing was the same through the Mask.   Most things looked more beautiful; purer, somehow, in that clear light, but always different than seeing through my own eyes.  I’d never see him again as he once appeared to me.  I was looking at a new image of Starbuck, one that I’d have to get accustomed to.  It was like seeing him for the first time.

God, but he was beautiful.  I’d tried so hard to keep an image of him in my head, when I was blind, trying to remember how the thick blond hair had fallen constantly over those intense blue eyes.  I’d drowned in those eyes every time I looked into them. 

I’d been a little afraid that the Mask would be unkind to him, that clear light showing up every sign of age, every blemish.  But he was beautiful.  Beautiful enough to make the breath catch in my throat.  More beautiful than he’d been before…...but oh, I wished I could see him properly, without the Mask.  I wished I had my old Starbuck back.

He’d stared down at the table top, refusing to look at me.  I knew why.  He never knew, maybe, how often he’d talked in his sleep about the time they’d taken me out of the Black Ship.  I knew it haunted him.  I knew it had hurt him, what I’d done.

He looked up just once.  Those blue eyes just flicked over me for a micron, and he turned away, so that all I could see was the fall of hair and the line of his jaw as he turned back to staring at the table.

He wouldn’t even look at me.

I’d thought about little else all day.  When Salik and Wilker had finished with me I’d gone back to those empty, too-big quarters, still thinking.  I was a bit surprised to find Troy at home, although we didn’t say very much.  He disappeared into his own room after a centon or two.  He didn’t quite shout at me what he’d shouted nine yahrens before, but he might as well have done.

Even if he now believed that I was his Dad, the dead thing that I was, he didn’t seem too enamoured of the idea.

I’d lost Starbuck, and I was in a fair way to losing my son as well.

I thought about that for a while, weighing up what it was I wanted.

Then I called Starbuck.

But he wasn't in his new quarters, wasn’t answering his link.  When I got through to the OC, to Callan, the head steward, I had to hang on for a few centons before Callan told me that Starbuck wasn’t there.  He’d gone to the Rising Star, apparently, for a night out with a group of friends and a big Pyramid game.

So there we were.  He was re-discovering the freedom he’d given up when we’d got together, it seems.  Well, I suppose I had to be glad that he wasn’t grieving too much.  Presumably he thought he’d made the right decision, to leave.  He was still young enough to find someone else.  I couldn’t blame him for going looking.

The communicator buzzed at me.  There was nothing else to do but close it down, pick up the Mask from the table top where I'd put it when I came in, and head for the bedroom, out of the way where no-one would bother me.

"Dad?" 

I jumped slightly.  I hadn't realised Troy was there.  "It’s all right," I said.  "I’m tired now.  I’ll talk to you later."

"You haven’t eaten."  He sounded anxious now.  "I’ll get us something."

"It’s all right," I said again.  "I’m not hungry.  Goodnight."

I closed the door behind me gently, and groped my way to the bed.  The case the Mask lived in was on the floor beside it, and I put it away carefully.  I didn’t bother getting undressed, just lay on the bed, holding the old blue shirt. 

It still smelled of him.

This was my own fault.  I should have talked to Starbuck first, tried to persuade him that I needed him as much as I needed a life of my own.  Maybe if I’d been able to persuade him that I did indeed need him, he’d have come round, accepted it.

That miserable little word again.  Maybe.  I had to stop using it.

If I thought about things in terms Starbuck would recognise, well I’d been dealt quite a few bad hands over the yahrens.  Now the only good one had been taken away.  Time to bow out and toss in the cards.

Troy was almost grown up.  He wasn’t the little boy missing his daggit any more.  He was very important to me, but he didn’t need me in the same way, growing more independent, growing away from me.  I wouldn’t change that: it was only right and natural.  But it meant that he would find his own way.  He’d never be alone.  he had plenty of people to care for him and love him.  My father would, I know, and Thenie.  And Starbuck, too.  Whatever I’d done, I didn’t think Starbuck would take it out on Troy.

I’d take the Mask, and I’d take the Black Ship and I’d go.  To Dyss, first, to find the one the black Dyss had feared and respected so much, to find out why it was so necessary that, to quote him, the Masked one, there will be some suffering.  I knew where I’d find him.  I think he’d answer the question.

After that who knew?  Not here, anyway.

If Starbuck didn’t want me, couldn’t even bear to look at me, couldn’t wait to resume his old carefree life, then there was nothing to hold me here. 

Nothing at all.






"I hope you don’t mind if I join you all today?"  Sire Anton needed to get around with a cane, these days, and he leaned heavily on President Adama’s arm as they came out of the turbolift onto Beta deck.  Apollo could hear the light tapping of the cane on the decking.  "This is too exciting to miss, and at my advanced age I’ve all too few excitements left."

"Uuh?"  Wilker was fitting monitors to Apollo’s temple.  "Oh.  Oh yeah.  No problem.  Signal coming through, Sal?"

"Perfectly," said Doctor Salik.

Apollos smiled when he heard Anton's dulcet comment.  "And who is it that we consider no longer human?  I take it that all’s going well?  No bad reactions?"

"Things seem very quiet," said Adama.  His hand touched Apollo's face for a micron.  "Hello, son."

Apollo nodded a greeting back.  In the now very familiar darkness without the Mask, he could work out where his father was only by sound.

"Good," said Anton, then added with his usual perception,  "I suppose that for most people, Apollo has always been Masked.  The Mask and all that implies has always been there between him and them.  The only difference now, is that it’s visible."

Apollo turned his face towards the old man, and gave him a respectful nod.  Very astute.  He thought back to his conversations with Hannath.  She would have appreciated the old man’s insight, admiring the unclouded mind behind the frail exterior as much as Apollo did.

Salik came forward, Cassie beside him.  "No headaches?" he asked Apollo perfunctorily.

Apollo shook his head.  "No.  They only come when you attach us to human technology we weren’t designed for."

He heard his father sigh.  Really, it was time Adama learned when he was being deliberately provocative.

"You look tired," said Cassie.  She tilted his head back by the chin.  "And you’re losing weight."

"Nothing to do with the Mask.  There are other reasons."

She knew of course.  Everyone knew that he and Starbuck had spilt up a secton before.  It had even made IFB’s news broadcasts.

"We’re ready, then," said Wilker.  "Mask, Apollo."

The Mask was on Apollo’s lap.  He’d had to take it off while they attached the monitors, and it was with some relief that he lifted it up.  His sensitive fingers found the sensor pads on the Mask’s body, and as it swung into place, he released them to allow the electrostatic charge to attach it to the implant.

The moment of dark silence passed, the moment of vulnerability when even the humans could damage them.  Then they were reunited again.

"Ready,"  he said.

Anton frowned.  "Does it always distort your voice like that?  Can’t you do anything about it?"

"We don’t know how to switch off various bits of the Mask," Wilker said absently, scuttling across to look at the monitor screens.  "Oh, nice.  Well, shall we see what you can really do with the Ship?"

The deck, commented Anton, was unusually quiet and deserted. 

"They’re using just Alpha for the next few centars," Adama explained to the old man as they all walked across to the hangar – Joel and Piers and Lady Hilary were there too, all excited as children on a school outing.  "It’ll get a bit crowded, but it’s not a problem as long as there’s no emergency."

Wilker reached the lock first, and started hunting in his pockets for the slip of paper on which he’d written the code.

Apollo grinned.  "I’ll do it," he said and keyed in the code without hesitation.

"How do you know that, Apollo?" Adama asked quietly.

Apollo turned his Masked head round for a micron to look at him, and Apollo smiled a secret, self satisfied smile.  "We’ve known for yahrens."

The doors slid back.  Apollo was first through the door, the Mask compensating instantly for the darkness of the hangar.  He could see the Ship with absolute clarity, every clear, clean line.  This wasn’t a moment to be hurried, but one to be savoured.  He walked towards the Ship, feeling the tension in him rise.  The Mask was questioning, longing, urging him on.  He reached out and touched the Ship’s side, and as ever something leapt forward to greet him.  To greet both of them.

"We’re here," he said softly, longing satisfied at last.  He pressed up as close to the Ship as he could get, resting the Mask against the matt black metal of its hull. "We’re here."

Someone got the lights, the hangar suddenly brilliantly lit.  The light fell onto the Ship, seemed to be swallowed up by its blackness.  The Mask compensated instantly.

"Apollo!" exclaimed his father.  "Apollo!"

"We’re here."  Apollo smiled as he listened.  None of them could hear it, that high remote song that was sharp as a shard of crystal.

"Colonel?" said Wilker, sounding suspicious.

Apollo sighed and stepped back.  He kept one hand on the Ship, possessive, caressing.

"I’d better show you how to open it up," said Wilker, and his scepticism about what Apollo could do with the Ship was obvious.  He beckoned forward techs pushing wheeled platforms.  "There’s a catch just up here - "

Apollo grinned.  "The emergency access?  Why should we need that?"  He looked up at the Ship.  "Open," he said gently.

There was a slight rushing of air, and the black canopy rose instantly, silently, hinged at the back.  A little cold air rolled out, the water in it vaporising as it met the warmer air of the hangar, looking like thin steam.

"My God!" gasped Wilker.  "How did you do that?"

Apollo shrugged.  "It’s my ship."

"Oh, Apollo," said his father.

Wilker gestured towards the nearest platform, but Apollo didn't need it, even though the cockpit was a good fifteen feet above his head.  He raised his hand and touched the ship’s side.  A double line of tiny doors slid aside, foot and handholds to the canopy.  He climbed rapidly, ignoring their gasps, their demands that he wait. 

By the time that Wilker had the platforms in place, and they’d all scrambled up the steps, Sire Anton included, Apollo was sitting cross-legged on the cockpit floor.  The cockpit was empty, devoid of instrumentation.  There was nothing but a fibre optic cable that snaked its way across the floor to a point in the blank cockpit wall at the back.  He had the cable in his hands, waiting.

"It feels odd, empty," he said as Wilker’s head appeared above the edge.  "What happened to the gel?"

"There’s a little left in the archives, I think," Salik said breathlessly from the other platform.  "It was pretty inert stuff."

"Not entirely."  Apollo sighed and looked at the cable.  "Do you want it fired up?"

"Can you do it, Apollo?" Adama asked.

Apollo could almost see the thoughts in his father's head.  Adama was looking at the alien that had once been his son, that had once been human and wondering if there was anything human left.

Apollo wondered that himself, sometimes.

"Of course."

"The K’h’n thought that the control cable was damaged," Wilker said as Apollo raised the cable.

"And what did the K’h’n know?" Apollo said scornfully, and fitted the socket of the cable into the receptor on the top of the Mask’s body.

He drew in a sharp breath, his head tipping backwards.  He closed his eyes. 

It was a kind of fusion, as if physical barriers melted away, mingling everything together.  Apollo, the Mask and the Ship, all melted and fused into one thing greater than the sum of its constituent parts.

There was no Apollo, no Mask, no Ship.

There was us.






We know that these little people have something pressed up against our sides.  We can feel it, feel the wrongness of the alien metal pressed up against us, the wrongness of alien hands gripping the edge of our canopy. 

We don’t like it. 

We’re not afraid - what can they do to harm us? - but we don’t like the wrongness, the contact with these little people.  We need to leave soon, to join him where he waits for us, where he waits to welcome us. 

We’re in a small confined space here, only a few metres bigger than we are, close to the outer hull.  We consider that for a micron.  The sensors say that the hull’s a titanium alloy.  It wouldn’t withstand a sustained burst from the torpedoes.  But we’re facing the wrong way.  The engines power up as we think about it, and we start to turn, but they’re screaming with fright and yelling at us, hitting us with their fists, and although they can’t hurt us, we could hurt them and some there were once close to us.  Still are close to us.  So we let the power die away again, lower ourselves back onto the deck.

Not yet.

Soon, but not yet. 

We can wait.  We’ve waited for a long time already.  We’re used to waiting.

They’re making a lot of noise, the little people, but we don’t take any notice of them yet.  We need to be sure that everything is all right, that we’re sound and whole.  We look into the connexions, testing them.  Sensors, on line.  Navigation, on line.  Databanks, on line.  Engines, on line.  Weapons, on line.  Power optimum. 

We’re ready.

We’re one again.  We’ll disconnect now, separate again, but we’re not afraid any more.  We’re still one.  We’ll always be one.

Soon, then.






" - the hell you’re doing!" screamed Wilker, clinging onto the edge of the platform. 

Apollo looked up at them, momentarily disorientated.  He noted their fear, the terror in their eyes, the Mask measuring pupil dilation.  Odd, the one who seemed least afraid was old Sire Anton.  Perhaps he was too old to be frightened of death, would even welcome it when it came.

"You did ask us to power up," he pointed out, and carefully laid the cable on the cockpit floor at his feet.  He stood up and stretched, remembering the feeling of his own body melting into that of the Ship, of being the Ship, of being more than the Ship. 

"You scared us," Adama said, quietly reproachful.  He was pale and sweating. 

"That's probably why we were sent back, to scare you," said Apollo, and catching hold of the top of the canopy, he pulled himself out to join his father on the platform.  Seeing the look on Adama’s face he was more careful to try and allay concern and suspicion, more careful about how he spoke of himself.  "Sorry.  I’m out of practice.  I need to do some work on the controls."

"What controls?"  Wilker was hanging head down into the cockpit, trying to see what Apollo had been doing.  He pulled himself out again.  "What controls?"

Apollo tapped the Mask.  "In here."

"So that’s what it is," Anton said, and nodded.  "I see."

"Do you?"  Apollo said, amused. 

"How did you do it?" Wilker demanded.  "What was it like?"

"What was it like?" Apollo ignored the first question.  He looked along the Ship’s lines, at its swept-back raptor’s wings.  "Well, we remembered something."

"What?"

Even without Starbuck, Apollo was at that moment totally, brilliantly happy.  He smiled, thinking that they were such poor things that couldn't share what he knew.  He tried to find a way of explaining but even as he spoke, he knew he was merely enigmatic.  Truthful, but enigmatic.

"We remembered that we have wings."

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