Section Seven

 

"It’s so damned difficult to read," Solon complained, peering at the incised text.  Like Apollo, he’d been drawn to the text framed in the obelisk, aware that denoted its importance.  "What’s that word, Adama?"

"Aeketh, I think.  That means something like ‘profanity’, doesn’t it?"

Boomer and Trent watched them, bored, a carafe of the golden wine their only solace.  Khaeyr watched with respectful attention. 

"I had thought that only the Lords could read this text," she observed.

"It’s the language of Kobol," Adama said, turning to her.  "The planet where all humanity evolved."

She inclined her head gracefully.  "Indeed.  We are honoured by your presence."

Adama gave her a puzzled look.  He couldn’t quite understand the respect she was offering.  Boomer sighed and silently offered Trent more wine.  Trent held out his glass with alacrity.

"Profanity?" murmured Solon distractedly.  "Profanity?"

"I wish Apollo would get here.  He’s the historian in the family."  Adama was fretful.

The Book of the Word had been translated into Caprican and Standard millennia ago, and the knowledge of Kobolian, once wide-spread, had been confined to a few scholars.  Even the Kobolian sect, that guardian of all things religious in the Colonies, had slowly turned to using the common, modern languages.  Adama had a good knowledge of Kobolian as it was used in religious services, but beyond that, was decidedly rusty.  It was so very long since he had been a scholar toying with the idea of the priesthood, learning Kobolian to equip him for a religious life.  Apollo was better at it.  His son had studied the ancient languages for other reasons, but had been an apt pupil.  He needed Apollo to be certain of the exact meaning of some of these more obscure words.

"‘Desecration’ would be closer," Apollo said from the doorway.  He carried the Mask in his left hand, openly holding Starbuck’s hand with his right.  "Or ‘sacrilege’.  Aeketh domcidth Kobol Regas.  Desecration of the land of the Lords of Kobol."

"Apollo!"  Adama said thankfully.

"Thank you," Solon muttered and went back to his inscriptions.

"Hey Boss," Trent said.  .

"I guess the Great Romance is still on then," said Boomer quietly.

Khaeyr and all the other Dyss in the room bowed gracefully at Apollo – not at them, not at anyone else in the room.  That deep obeisance was for Apollo, even though without the Mask, he couldn’t see them.

Adama forgot the fascinating texts and the Dyss’ curious behaviour for a micron and hurried to join Apollo near the door.  "Are you all right?"

"Of course I am," said Apollo.  "Sorry I wasn’t here to meet you.  I was asleep when you landed."

"He’s fine." Starbuck gave Adama a significant look, one that tried to convey reassurance.  "Fine."

Adama frowned slightly, glancing uncomfortably at Solon, but the Councillor was at the other side of the chamber, absorbed by the text.  His thankfulness at seeing his son was swept aside by a perverse surge of anger.  How dare Apollo just sweep in there and offer variant readings on the inscribed text as though nothing was the matter!  How dare he!

"I’d like a word with Apollo, please, Starbuck," he said, and taking his son’s arm he guided him back out into the corridor before either of them could protest.

"Do you have any idea at all what you’ve put us through?" he demanded quietly, aware that Solon might still overhear.

Apollo’s expression didn’t change.  If he’d shown one iota of remorse, Adama might have been mollified, but all he said, tersely, was:  "I need to be here."

"You didn’t think just to tell us what you were doing?  To ask ..."   It was an effort to keep his voice down, but Adama did it.

"Why should I ask?"  Apollo shot back.  "You’d have said yes?  This is important."

"Last time I looked, you were still a commissioned officer," said Adama coldly.  "That puts you under military discipline, whether you like it or not.  Colonels do not go running off just because they think something’s important."

"Then maybe it’s time I stopped playing at soldiers," Apollo said, just as cold.  "We’ll see when I get back."

"Oh, you were coming back, were you?  How were we supposed to know that?"

"I told Starbuck I would.  He recorded our conversation for you.  Didn’t you listen?  Did you ever listen?"

Long ago Adama had fought a Council which wanted to execute Apollo out of hand, forcing them to give his son the chance to prove he was no threat, that even a Cyborg could be human.  Long ago he’d been torn between duty and family, between the demands of leading the remnants of humanity to some sort of safety and the demands of determining just what remnant of humanity was left in Apollo.  Long ago, he’d agonised about whether or not it was truly his son under the Mask, or something of the Enemy’s that was able to access Apollo’s memories.  Sometimes he still wasn’t sure.

The old fear was back.  Not just the fear that the Council would use this to out-manoeuvre him - and there were those on the Council who’d not balk at destroying Apollo to destroy him too - but the fear that he’d spent all these yahrens protecting the Enemy and his son was long dead.

"Apollo, can’t you see how this would look to the Council?  You get the Mask and the Ship and within days you’ve run off, deserted, heading back to somewhere where you think you came across one of the Enemy.  Every suspicion they had nine yahrens ago, every doubt… do you know what it took to keep you alive then?  What it took to give you the chance to prove to them that you were really human, that you weren’t a threat?  You’ve just thrown all that away!  For the Lords’ sake, Apollo!"







"I take it that you two stay out of these family discussions," Trent observed quietly to Boomer and Starbuck, lifting his glass and looking critically at the wine against the light.

"Oh yes," Boomer said fervently.  "Safest.  Especially when Thenie gets into them too.  That’s when the volume really ratchets up.  Those two are relatively civilised by comparison."

"Mmmn," Starbuck said in a distracted tone, staring through the open door, watching father and son anxiously.

Trent grinned and shook his head.  Starbuck would never change.  There was one centre to his universe and only one, and it appeared to be getting something of a dressing down from the President.

"And I take it that Apollo wasn’t exactly sent here by the Council after all."  he said.

"You knew it."  Boomer observed.

"That ship is one vast rumour mill," Trent agreed.  "Nice wine, this don’t you think?"

"Very," Boomer said.  "Do you think they have any more?  Watching the entertainment gets me thirsty."

"Please," Starbuck said with a sigh.  "Knock it off, you two."

"Better tell them that.  Our scholar’s getting interested."  Trent nodded towards Solon, who was staring at the doorway.

"Shit!" Starbuck muttered crossly.







"I do know how it must look, but I’ve just had all this out with Starbuck."  Apollo was very aware of what his father was thinking.  The Council’s doubts and threats had never hurt him as deeply as the doubts Adama had shown so plainly.  He had never forgotten - or truly forgiven.  Troy was right about that - and he felt almost that he and his father were caught in some time loop, doomed to argue over this old ground in perpetuity.  "I am not under the Enemy’s control.  I was not ordered to come here, I was invited.  I chose to come."

"But didn’t choose to tell us.  Apart from any considerations of duty and military protocol, Apollo - or, God help us, common sense - we’re your family.  Don’t we rate any kind of explanation?  Any consideration?"

"Can’t you two hold off the family arguments until we have less of an audience?"  Starbuck interrupted before Adama could get into full flow about the demands of duty and honour, and familial ties or Apollo could hark back nine yahrens and get cutting and sarcastic in response.  He nodded towards Khaeyr, who was watching them with concern and Solon, whose curiosity was more marked.  "Apollo shouldn’t have just taken off, and we all know it; and Apollo, you’ve got to understand that me and your Dad were half out of our minds with worry about you.  It would be nice if you both showed it."

"What?"

They spoke together.  They even sounded alike, and Apollo cast a glance of dislike at his father.

"That you’re sorry you worried us, Apollo; and you’re sorry, sir, that that you started straight in on him without asking him what this was all about." 

Adama looked slightly shame-faced.  "I was worried," he said, giving Solon another uneasy glance. 

"I wish you’d trust me," Apollo said irritably.

"Those were apologies then, were they?" Starbuck asked with interest.

Apollo sighed.  "All right.  I’m sorry I took off, but I couldn’t exactly see you agreeing to me coming back here to talk to Dyss, and it’s really important to me that I sort this out with him."

"Dyss is a person?"  Adama sounded more conciliatory.

"I think so.  The one the planet and people are named for.  The one who blinded me."

"And Masked you?"  Adama asked. 

"I don’t know," Apollo said.  "I think so.  I need to find out."

Adama sighed deeply and turned his son’s complaint back on him, just as Starbuck had done earlier.  "I wish you trusted me."

Apollo looked away. 

"I know," Adama said, and he sounded as weary as an old man, knowing that it would never be right between them.  "I know you haven’t forgiven or forgotten.  Is the Enemy coming, Apollo?"

"I don’t know."

"And the Galactica?  Tigh has her on alert anyway, but do I need to get word back to him?"

"They won’t hurt you."  Apollo smiled mirthlessly.  "I don’t think that they’re all that interested in you, to be frank.  It’s me they want."

"Why?"

"I don’t know.  That’s what I came to find out.  But I don’t think they’ll hurt me, either."

"How can you be sure of that?"  Adama touched the implant on Apollo’s temple with gentle fingers.  They’d hurt him so badly before.

Apollo thought of equally gentle fingers tracing the line of his mouth, the softest of kisses.  Not something to be mentioned in front of Starbuck.

"I just know," he said, impatient with the questions.  "But that’s all I know, until he gets here to tell me himself."

"And then what?"

"Lords, Dad, I don’t know!  I’m winging it on this one.  All I do know is that I want to meet him, to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing when he put this on me!"  Apollo waved the Mask in Adama’s face.  "And what the hell it all means, and what the hell I am now."

"I don’t know why I bother," Starbuck said disgustedly.  "I’ll just go back and watch with the rest of the audience, shall I?"

Father and son both glowered at him, then Adama said stiffly, "This isn’t the place to discuss this properly.  I accept what you say about there being no threat to us here or to the Galactica.  We’ll talk later."

"All right," Apollo said, equally as stiff.

Adama turned away and took a step, then hesitated and turned back.  "I really was worried about you, Appy," he said in a gentler tone, and gave his errant son an unexpected hug.

"Don’t call me Appy," Apollo said automatically, but without animosity.

"I’m your father.  I’ll call you whatever I like."  Adama let him go.  "You’ve the luck of the Devil, Apollo, that this Pyramid really has turned out to have Kobolian connexions.  That could just keep us both out of trouble."

"I don’t think it’s luck."

"Maybe not," Adama said, and walked back across the chamber to Solon.

"There’s times I’m glad I’m an orphan," said Starbuck.  "Families seem to be an emotionally draining invention."

"Not half," Apollo agreed, and sighed.  "I wish we could just sort it out, me and him.  Sometimes we come so close."

"Time you stopped sulking, then." suggested Starbuck.  "That might do it.  The man made a mistake, Apollo.  Either you can crucify him about it for the rest of your lives or you can move on.  Your play, love."

Apollo sighed again.  "You’re an uncomfortable sort of lover to have around."

"But?" Starbuck hinted.

"But the best."  Apollo acknowledged, pushing away the memory of those gentle fingers and the softest of kisses.  "The very best, Starbuck."







Sometimes I could just kick myself for letting him provoke me into an argument, or letting the old memories overwhelm me.  He tries, but it must be hard for him, never sure if what he has back is really his son, restored by some miracle of technology, or a reanimated cadaver inhabited by something alien and malevolent.

But then, sometimes I’m not sure myself.







"If your little family discussion is over, I could use Apollo’s help here," said Solon, carefully neutral.  "This stuff is really obscure."

Apollo seemed to look across to the Councillor, from the table where he was sitting with Starbuck and the others, sharing another bottle of the mellow wine.

"It does get a bit difficult in places, but I think I got most of it." 

"This bit?"  Solon said.  "Your father and have been worrying at it for the last five centons.  It seems to suggest that there was some sort of schism between the Lords of Kobol, some sort of philosophical discussion?"

Apollo touched Starbuck’s hand.  "I’ll need the Mask for this, okay?" 

"Okay," Starbuck said without enthusiasm. 

"Which bit?"  Apollo joined Adama and Solon.  "Oh yes.  That means war.  They went to war over their philosophical differences, Councillor, and tore Kobol apart in the process."

"Lords!" Solon breathed.  "That’s what I thought it said.  But the Book of the Word doesn’t say anything about it."

"The Book was written by one side."  Apollo said in the Mask’s harsh, rasping voice.  "And, like all histories, it’s a partial and prejudiced account."

"What exactly happened on Kobol?" Boomer asked.  "What does all this writing mean?"

"It was written after the Lords left Kobol," Apollo said.  "A lot of it is about their explorations across the universe, but this particular panel, the one engraved inside the obelisk, is an account of how close they came, in their arrogance, to destroying Kobol."

"You might as well tell us," Solon said, looking up from his notebook.  "It’ll be quicker."

"All right, but not a literal translation.  That archaic language ties our tongue in knots."  Apollo glanced back at the panel as if to refresh his memory.  "This says that God alone knows how many thousand yahrens ago - it’s not exactly clear -  the Lords of Kobol divided into two factions.  The philosophical difference you mentioned, Councillor."

"Which was?"  Adama asked eagerly.

Apollo touched the panel regretfully.  "Some of this is really obscure, Dad." 

Which was the truth, but not the whole truth.  Not obscure to the Mask, but he felt an odd reluctance to tell them everything.  Not until he was sure himself.

"And this philosophical difference turned to war?" Trent asked.

"Inevitably," said Apollo the cynic. 

"Who started it?" Starbuck looked up from his wine.

"Well, that’s the odd thing.  The writer puts the blame equally on both sides."

"Why odd?" said Trent.  "Sounds reasonable."

"History is rarely reasonable.  History is almost always prejudiced.  Anyway, whoever started it, between them, they devastated Kobol, turned it into a wasteland before they came together to negotiate a peace.  They’d all but destroyed humanity too - our ancestors, their descendants.  We were in danger of becoming extinct, and that was one of the more compelling reasons for them deciding to call a halt to the war.  This here - "  Apollo gestured to part of the text.  "This suggests that we were their servants, with most of us, the Twelve tribes, serving one faction, the more numerous of the two sides.  The other side obviously had something that counterbalanced the numbers.  They agreed that they would all leave Kobol - it was virtually uninhabitable by that stage - and they’d move us, the humans, to somewhere safer.  It’s the reason for the Exodus from Kobol, although the Book tends to skate over that with a bit of obscure allegory about illicit fruit eating."

"They took us to the Colonies," said Adama.

"And abandoned us there.  That was part of the agreement, that we’d be left to find our own way, not used as pawns by one side or the other.  Then they left in what I think translates as ‘Ships of Light’."

They stared at him in amazement, then Adama nodded.  "So we were right in our assumption that the Ship of Lights was Kobolian.  Amazing!"

"And wonderful," Solon agreed.  "Wonderful!  They were still protecting us.  After all these millennia!"

"That explains why they had the power to tackle Iblis I guess," said Starbuck.  

Apollo tilted his Masked head, remembering Iblis.  Apollo had died then, too.

"Who built this Pyramid?"  Trent asked.

"Dyss," Khaeyr said promptly.

Apollo shrugged.  He waved a hand at the other texts.  "This is some of their history since.  There seems to have been a lot of exploration."  He smiled at his father mockingly.  "Not a lot of time spent in spiritual contemplation."

"Right up your street then," said Adama dryly.  He looked at the text.  "I don’t see any mention of the Thirteenth tribe." 

"No.  There’s a mention of ‘our servants’, which might mean the Twelve tribes, or the Thirteenth, or all of them," Apollo agreed, ignoring his father’s comment on his lack of spirituality.  It was an old complaint.

"The other texts may be more explicit."  Adama looked round at the walls and sighed.  "It could take us yahrens to read everything here."

"And this is just the base.  There’ll be more chambers in the Pyramid itself."  Apollo smiled, still mocking and sardonic.  "Well, it’ll give you something else to worry over while we’re away."







We had to wait for some time. 

Dad and I didn’t have the talk he wanted.  Boomer headed back to the shuttle with Trent, to make sure that everything there was all right, taking supplies and reassurance back to the troopers.  Dad stayed behind, but he spent his time exploring the rooms in the Pyramid’s base with Solon, looking at the texts and looking for any references to Earth.  I didn’t think he’d find any.  I hadn’t.  Still it kept him too busy to talk to me.

That was okay.  He’d only want to tell me what he thought of me and that wasn’t usually terribly flattering.  I wasn’t that sure what I could say to Dad anyway that wouldn’t be going over all the old ground.  I didn’t know what would reassure him.

Starbuck stayed with me, sometimes talking, sometimes quiet.  Starbuck isn’t often quiet.  It’s just that I’d taken the Mask back off again, and not even Starbuck can talk when I’m kissing him.  We’d gone back into the inner room, alone.  Not to make love this time, just to hold each other so that Starbuck felt safer, while he came to accept that I was going away.

I was beginning to know what would reassure Starbuck.  He told me what worried him about the Mask, not the zombie Cyborg thing that bothered most people, but the fear that it would take me away from him, make me less and less human.  I’d always known that leaving for Dyss was a betrayal.  That made me realise just how much of a betrayal it had seemed to him.  And once again I was struck by just how smart my lover was.  Of all things, that was the most likely thing to happen, that I would grow more inhuman the more I wore the Mask.

And I was more honest with him, too, about the way I became we, but that it was still me underneath.  I assured him again and again that I hadn’t lied to him.  He did keep me human.

Well, mostly human.







"Time," said the Lady Khaeyr in her deep voice.  "Time."

She had gathered her human charges in the anteroom to the chamber where Apollo was with his companion, Starbuck, the room where he had read the texts and gained even more of her respect, if that was possible.  She had ordered food for them, and more of the wine, taking her responsibilities as host seriously, choosing the things that Apollo had seemed to like on his first visit.  She had to ensure that he was content and pleased.  That was the reason they were there, the Dyss.  To serve the Lords.

Trent and Boomer were back, reporting on the status of the shuttle to people who were either too bound up in each other or too bound up in the texts to care very much.  Apollo and Starbuck, both looking sleepy, had joined them at the meal, and had listened tolerantly as Adama and Solon rhapsodised about their finds.  Both the older men were keen to ascend into the Pyramid itself, but Khaeyr refused to let them until it was time.

Now, apparently, it was.  Dyss was here, to collect the new Lord and bring him to an understanding of Glory. 

Dyss was here.







Apollo put on the Mask again when Khaeyr spoke.  Almost the instant it connected, he looked sharply up at the ceiling, then smiled slightly to himself.  Whatever signal Khaeyr was getting, the Mask was assimilating too.

He was here, with all the answers or more questions, Apollo didn't know which.  But Dyss was here.

"Time?" asked Solon, looking rather bewildered.  "Time for what?"

"He’s here," said Apollo. 

"We can enter his house, now."  Khaeyr stood up, her black robes falling into graceful folds.  "Please, come with me."

"We’re going up into the Pyramid?" Adama looked anxiously at Apollo.

Apollo was reminded sharply of all the unresolved issues between them.  He had no idea what would happen when they got there except that it would be somehow irrevocable.  He glanced at Starbuck, but his lover was calm and resigned. 

Khaeyr nodded and led the way.  The other black Dyss fell into place behind them, escorting them up a central staircase leading to the core of the Pyramid.  Adama and Solon had stood wistfully at the foot of the stairs centars before, prevented from going further by the Dyss.  Now they were first after Khaeyr, almost treading on her heels in their eagerness.

The stairs went on for what seemed an endless time.

"Sheesh," complained Starbuck.  "Didn’t these people ever hear about turbolifts?"

"I thought you warriors were supposed to be fit," said Adama.  He sounded breathless.

"Only the young ones," said Apollo, and laughed at the disgusted look Starbuck threw him.

"We’re there," said Khaeyr.  She paused outside a door.  "We are not permitted… but you humans may go in."

"But will we come out again," said Trent softly, one hand on the laser at his belt. 

Apollo nodded his thanks to her, and pushed open the door.  They crowded in behind him.

"Well now," said Apollo. 

The room was vast, the ceiling so high as to be lost in shadow.  At their level, it was reasonably well lit, and as decorative and colourful as the pyramid on Kobol.  Every wall was covered with hieroglyphs, each lovingly incised and inlaid with coloured resin.  The sun-crowned obelisk was cut into the opposite wall, containing, Apollo thought, giving it only a quick glance, the same story of the near-destruction of Kobol.  The Mask confirmed this impression, unemotionally processing the data for him.

Apollo laughed suddenly.

"What’s so funny?"  asked Boomer.

"We thought that the decoration downstairs had been done in hieratic because they - whoever they are - hadn’t had time to draw the hieroglyphs.  We were wrong."  Apollo looked around, thinking just how much this told him about the personality who owned this Pyramid.  "The texts were in hieratic because we were in the servant’s quarters down there and they - whoever they are - wouldn’t want to waste hieroglyphics on servants."

"Mmn," Solon said in disapproval, but no-one doubted Apollo’s interpretation.

Starbuck pulled a face.  "Finding my natural social level, it seems."

"And the prize joke is that they can’t read them anyway.  Not even Khaeyr can read Kobolian."  Apollo shook his head in amusement, and went across to the incised obelisk.  "They might as well have let the servants have the pretty picture version."

"I thought our host was up here?" Trent said, uncomfortable.  His fingers closed around the grips of his hand laser.

"He’ll turn up." Apollo was indifferent, intent on exploring.  "These seem to be the same texts as downstairs, Dad, don’t you think?"

"I think so.  Easier to read, anyway."  Adama studied a panel.  "The discovery of a new people, the... the Falikhi, is it?"

"As good a pronunciation as any."  The voice was as rasping and harsh as Apollo’s own, their tiny earpieces translating his words into Standard.  "They themselves have seven ways of pronouncing their name, depending upon the sex of the speaker.  A strange people."

"Lords!" Adama started, spun around.

Tall as one of the Dyss, dressed in a close-fitting leather, all in black like the Dyss; but, unlike the Dyss, Masked.  Long brown hair, wound with coloured thread, framed a cold, unemotional face, the brown eyes wide and pupil-less.

He ignored them, focusing on Apollo.  "You came."

"As you see."

He glanced at the little group of humans, all gathering together for protection, silent and apprehensive.  "We weren’t expecting an entourage,"  he said, amused.

"We tried travelling light.  They were persistent."  Apollo came closer.

He nodded, and put his hands on Apollo’s shoulders.  "We’d hoped we’d left you with them long enough for you to jettison all that unnecessary baggage.  Are you ready?"

Apollo glanced over his shoulder at Starbuck for a centon.  Starbuck stared back gravely, then nodded.

"Yes.  We’re ready," Apollo said and allowed Dyss to pull him close.







Apollo leaned into the man's embrace, Mask touched Mask.

And they were gone.

"Apollo!" Starbuck yelled in dismayed surprise as the two vanished, the air rushing in to fill the sudden vacuum with a soft implosion.  Whatever he’d thought would happen, this was unexpected and unwelcome.

"Shit!" Trent roared, racing forward, laser drawn.

"Apollo!"  Adama stared uselessly at the empty space where his son had been.  "Apollo."

There was a centon of silence as they realised their helplessness, their inability to do anything. 

Solon broke it, in the end.  "This, Adama, is going to take some explaining to the Council.  I hope you and Anton are up to it."

Starbuck managed a faint grin.  "It’s all right.  He’ll be back.  He promised me he’d be back." 

Solon looked grim.  "And how many of the Enemy will he bring with him?"







"Shit!" we said, when everything settled down again. 

We couldn’t help it.  We’d never travelled that way before.  The Mask had explained it of course.  A matter-energy converter; a teleport system.  Wilker would sell his organs for this. 

Now there was a thought.  Maybe we could get to remove them. 

"It’s quite safe," said Dyss, amused, letting us go. 

We glanced down at ourself.  "We’re sure you’re right, but we’d just like to check everything’s still here."  The Mask did a quick scan.  Everything was all right.

"You look adequate."  He laughed.  "More than adequate."

"Very funny.  We’ve heard of these.  Some kind of teleport device?"

"Yes.  Of course, your humans are centuries away from developing one," said Dyss, and shrugged.  "Their technology is a little limited."

"A little.  Beats walking, anyway."

We took a good look around.  A ship.  We were on a ship.  We could feel the faint vibration of the engines in the decking beneath our feet.  A Ship of Light.  But not like the ones that the Apollo part of us had been on before, twice now.  They had been intensely bright, almost blinding, so brilliant that everything was incandescent, shadowless.  The lighting here was dimmer, the chamber we were in edged with dark shadows.  This felt more familiar and comforting.  This was a Ship of that strange, paradoxical, dark light.  A Dark Light Ship.

He laughed again, and we were mildly surprised at how easy he and we were with each other, as if we’d known each other yahrens.

Well, maybe we had, at that. 

His voice had stopped sounding harsh and distorted, although the claws of his Mask were still in place, touching mouth and throat.

"How did you do that?"

He raised an enquiring eyebrow.

"How did you turn off the voice distorter?"

"Ah.  This Mask is more sophisticated than yours, more advanced and complex, so that we can remove the distorter when we talk to each other, use it when talking to our servants.  Yours, my dear Apollo, is a servant’s Mask, capable of only a few basic functions."

Our Mask was basic; this level of power was basic?  That was interesting.

"We can remove the claws too."  As he spoke the claws over mouth and throat retracted into the body.  "Although we tend to leave them in place for aesthetic reasons.  The Mask looks unbalanced without them.  That’s a wonderful name, by the way.  We’ve adopted it ourselves.  We used to call them Helms, but Mask is so much more appropriate.  We have one like ours for you, in our quarters, where we can talk in comfort.  It’ll be more comfortable than the teleport chamber, at any rate."

He took our hand and held it as we walked out of the teleport chamber.  Long corridors curved away, silent and empty.  This was a big ship.

"The crew?"

"Well, there isn’t one really," he said, almost apologetic, his fingers gently caressing ours as we walked.  "There’s a few servants on board, of course, but we pilot this ship ourselves, or one of the others does, the same way you fly your Black Ship."

"Others?"

"Like us.  Not crew, precisely.  Explorers, scientists.  You’ll meet them later.  They’re being very discreet, giving us some time alone with you first."

Really?  And for what reason?  Just how ‘adequate’ did Dyss think we were?  We were very conscious of his hand in ours, the gentle pressure of his fingers and the way his thumb was caressing the back of our hand.  Very gentle, very intimate.  Very possessive.

"How many of you?"

"One hundred and two."  He paused outside a door and smiled at us, using his free hand to touch our cheek through the Mask.  "No.  One hundred and three now.  Here we are."

His quarters were about twice the size of ours on the Galactica.  Plain, undecorated walls and minimal furniture: a few couches scattered about, that was all.  There were doors to other rooms: this place was vast.  He drew us down beside him on one of the couches.

"Now, I’m all yours.  Where do we start?" 

As if he didn’t know why we were there.  We gestured to our Mask.  "An explanation for this would be nice, don’t you think?"

"Why we honoured you?"  he said, and smiled provocatively.

We hoped the look we gave him was as sour as we felt.  "An honour we’d have gladly forgone."

"You’ll change your mind about that.  Ask your questions, Apollo."

We nodded.  First though, there was something else.  We thought we knew who he was, what he was. 

"The texts on Dyss…" we were momentarily diverted.  "Do you call everything after yourself, by the way?"

He smiled.  "Dyss is merely the name they have for me there.  My name’s Stannor."

"Oh."

"More pleasing to the ear, don’t you think?"

We grinned.  We - I - should hate this man, for what he’d done, but we didn’t.  We liked him.

"Yes.  The texts about what happened on Kobol - they’re true?"

"Well, it’s our account of what happened.  Allowing for our natural prejudice, it’s accurate enough."

We nodded.  Interesting.  He was exactly who and what we’d suspected, what the Mask had told us.  That would cause our worthy religious leaders a little consternation.  And what was more important, the text had been balanced, objective.  It hadn’t blamed either faction for the damage to Kobol: it had blamed both.  A hint that Stannor himself would be objective and balanced?  Maybe too objective and balanced.  Difficult to win over, difficult to influence.

But we think we trusted him.  There was something about that balanced indifference that was oddly reassuring.

"And this?"  We touched our Mask.

He sighed.  "We interfere occasionally in the affairs of other races, Apollo.  Civilisations, by their very nature, rise and fall, and usually we let them.  We watch them, but we let them die and watch new civilisations take their place.  That’s the natural order of things.  But sometimes we do interfere, when it’s necessary, when things are happening too quickly, and threaten the balance elsewhere.  The K’h’n are too greedy and too quick.  They’re a disruption.  They have to be restrained.  Three times recently we’ve had to restrain them, set them back inside some decently limited boundaries."  He looked thoughtful.  "They’re persistent, though.  They’ll try again.  Next time we’ll have to bomb them back into the stone age."

We found we could view the potential suffering of the K’h’n with equanimity.  "That doesn’t explain this."

"Although there are other Ships, they’re far away and have other responsibilities.  We’re one hundred and two on this Ship.  That’s not a lot of the People.  Certainly not enough to risk them in direct conflict.  We had to recruit pilots for the fighters."

"Recruit?"  We – I -  choked on that one a bit.  "Harvesting battlefields for corpses to reanimate constitutes recruitment?"

He shrugged.  "It was necessary."

And that, apparently, was all the apology and explanation we were going to get. 

"Were we... was I dead?"

"We’re all dead," he said, and laughed.

We… I didn’t laugh.  I didn’t think it was funny.  I needed to know.

"Technically, yes," he said, when he saw how unamused I was.  "So far as we know, anyway.  We weren’t there ourselves all the time.  We left it to some trusted servants, friends, allies - the equivalent to the Dyss.  They were the ones who took you and Masked you, put you in a Ship."

So Apollo was dead.  We - I - had been dead for over nine yahrens now.  I’d always known it, but he’d just taken away any capacity for self-delusion.  It took us a few centons to get used to that, the Mask monitoring us and controlling our physical reaction, dealing with the shock.  Stannor waited patiently.

After a centon or two we realised that while what he’d said was unwelcome, we really weren’t very shocked by it, and we could go on.  "And the Mask is what, a data processor?"

"Very good.  Yes, a data processor, no more; although very powerful, even in the model you have."

"But we always feel there’s something else.  We mean, it’s not sentient exactly, but it still feels..."  We... I paused hunting for the right words.  "We... why we?"

"It’s a symbiosis, Apollo.  You’re adjusting to each other, assimilating each other, becoming one.  As we are."  He touched his own Mask gently.  "This has been ours for millennia.  We rarely unMask now, even to sleep."

"And the Ship?"

"An extension of the Mask, that’s all, to be used at will."

"Except that the Masked pilots don’t have any will of their own."

"They have ours to direct them.  What we did to the pilots, Apollo, could be seen as a compliment, you know.  We gave them - and you - the same artificial heart that we have, the same implant.  That’s what we meant by honouring you.  The difference is that their Masks are limited in power and scope, and are controlled by one like this."  He touched his Mask again.  "Unlike you, they never show any signs of sentience, unlike you they’ve never taken control of a Mask for themselves."

"Why?"

"Because they aren’t of human stock.  You are, and you gave our allies quite a lot of trouble as a consequence.  You never performed within the set parameters.  You fought the Mask all the time.  You displayed a disturbing amount of sentience.  Of course you did!  You were human once - as we were, once.  The original Masks were intended to enhance us, make us more than we were.  You were affected by the same technology, enhanced by it.  You confounded our allies, who had never come across anything like you."

"Good."

"We never like to think we give in too easily, do we?" Stannor said, understandingly, like a man humouring a child.  No doubt that’s what we seemed to him.  "They called us back, to deal with you ourselves.  We and the rest of the People here had quite a debate about it.  There hasn’t been a new member of the People for millennia.  Not since Kobol."

That startled us.  "No children?"

"None.  A sad, but acceptable, price to pay for our other advantages.  We’re all sterile.  You are too, you know."

We hadn’t known, but it wasn't an issue, not something that worried us.  We hadn't considered more children, not since the Apollo part of us had got together with Starbuck.  And he's the one who gets dewy-eyed over babies.

"And not for millennia?"

"We live a long time, a very long time."

"Immortal?"  We didn’t quite believe that.

"Nothing’s immortal.  We’re just very long lived, because, like you, we’re technically dead."  He laughed at us, at the paradox.  No doubt we looked as confused as we felt.  "And we’re a Cyborg, just like you.  Like us, you’ll live a long time - a very, very long time - and age only very slowly.  You’ve not aged since we Masked you, remember.  You’re home, Apollo, with your own kind."

"Maybe," we said.  "What did you debate about, when you came back to Enemy space and they showed you the pilot who wouldn’t lie down dead?"

"Whether or not to let you survive." He didn’t hesitate to say it.  It was a towering arrogance, we think, that made him so certain of himself and all he - and the People - did.  "It was so long since we ourselves had changed, we were unsure of what to do with you.  And too, Masking you was a technical breach of the terms of the peace treaty, when it was agreed that humanity would be left to find its own way.  In the end we decided to allow you to join us.  More than one of us pointed out that without the ability to breed, even we’d die out one day unless we replenished our stock."

"An uncomfortably agricultural point of view," we said dryly.

"We’re a pragmatic race, Apollo, as you’ll discover."

Pragmatic?  Maybe.  He was close-mouthed, at any rate; or rather he volunteered virtually nothing, waited for us to ask.  We wondered if it was some sort of test, and whether or not we were passing it.

"Why did you send us back?  If you’d just kept us, they’d just have thought that we… that Apollo was dead, they could have accepted it and gone on with their lives, adjusted.  And we... I wouldn’t have had to go through all that shit about being a Cyborg and a zombie.  As it is, we’ve had all these yahrens of not knowing what we were: alive or dead, human or Enemy.  Nothing was the same.  Not with Dad, or Troy…not even with Starbuck.  Not the same."

"Nothing can ever be the same, Apollo.  To be honest, their reaction doesn’t concern us.  But, actually, we didn’t send you back, not then.  I said that you showed a disturbing amount of sentience.  You were put back into your Ship to help handle an attack – we needed all the pilots we could muster – and you never came back.  That surprised us, but we think that seeing the Galactica again was the trigger for you to break the connexion with us.  We knew that you were not dead, truly dead, but we were uncertain about where you were.  It took us some time to find you again."

"On Dyss."

"Indeed.  When we caught up with you there, at long last, and found you unMasked, I had to arrange for you to get your Mask.  I did send you back from there, but not for anyone's benefit, but for your own.  Look at it from our point of view.  If we’d kept you, think how much baggage you’d still be carrying around with you: worrying about your family, your son, your lover, never quite able to give them up, letting the memory of them hold you back.  But now, you’ve had time to realise how very far past them you’ve grown, how very insignificant humans are in comparison.  Now you’re ready to join us properly."

He was totally detached about it.  It was the same voice that had said, with indifference, that Hannath and the others would die.  The voice that dismissed their deaths as irrelevant.  Because they were only human?  Because there were many humans and only a few of the People?  Was this detachment and indifference part of us now too?

"Are we?"  It was all we could think of to say. 

We didn’t know whether we were ready or not.  Ready for what?  Some sort of apotheosis, something that would strip out whatever was left of the old, human Apollo?  What would be left but a Masked cyborg?  Was that more or less than Apollo had been?  Not even the Mask knew the answers.

Or if it knew, it wasn't telling us.

"We think so."  Stannor smiled at me.  "Your yahrens with the humans must have convinced you that you no longer belong with them."

We didn’t say anything about that.  He might be right.  Sometimes we felt very inhuman, very… very cold.  But as cold as him?

Did we want that?  Did we even have a choice?

"So everything on Dyss was set up to contact us, to make us this offer."

"A convenient way of contacting you, you’ll agree.  All the Dyss had to do was ask for a military expert: who else would the humans send?"  He shrugged.  "And in truth, we used it as an opportunity to remind the Dyss that we are still here, and that their obligations to us still stand.  We haven’t been on Dyss for some centuries.  It’s pleasing to know that our allies have not forgotten us."

"And blinding us, that was necessary?  ‘There will be some suffering, but it is necessary’.  We remember you said that." 

"We’re blind too," he said gently, and both his hands closed on mine.  "All the People are.  Another of the prices we paid: gradually, in every one of us, the visual cortex atrophied.  We don’t need it.  The Masks see for us.  In your case, as I said we were surprised when the Dyss told us you were unMasked.  The K’h’n’s doing, we suspect.  We had to get you Masked again.  It seemed the only way."

"You could have just made the suggestion," we said acidly.  "That way maybe three people would still be alive."

"Perhaps."

"Stannor, you poisoned them along with us, and you knew that they couldn’t survive it.  Why not just offer us a new Mask?"

"We took what opportunity offered," he said, and there was a patience in his voice, as if explaining to a fractious child.  "This way was more certain.  After all, what does it matter?  Your sight would have gone anyway, in time.  We merely speeded up the inevitable."

"We didn’t mean just that.  What about them?"

He shrugged, and we remembered that he had been indifferent on Dyss too.  He just didn’t see that there was anything to consider.

"Why send the shuttle back?"  we asked after a centon.

"The Dyss are useful here.  We did not wish them embroiled in a war, and have to extract you from the middle of it, as might have happened if you had merely disappeared or the others not returned.  As it is, it was seen as a tragic accident.  Sad, but not a cause of conflict."

"And, like you said, you needed me to get my Mask."

"Of course.  We were uneasy about leaving a Mask with the humans: they are not as committed to us as they were, not like the Dyss, and we don’t trust them.  They aren’t ready for its technology, the way the Dyss aren’t ready.  Sending you back there meant you collected the Mask, and, perhaps even more importantly, it meant that you’ve come to us of your own accord.  That means a great deal to us, Apollo.  It proved you’re ready."

"We…I don’t like it." we said, but he didn’t care about that either.

"And it got you what you’ve always wanted.  You got your Mask back."

"Oddly enough, we… I was managing to live without it."

"Happily?"

"On the whole, yes."

He laughed and just shook his head, knowing that we were lying.  He hadn’t let go of our hands, and for a long time we were silent, thinking about what he’d said - how little he’d said, and none of it in justification - and looked at him.  He didn’t seem very much older than us, but he had to be countless yahrens old, if what he said was true.

And we thought it was.  We think we would have known if he’d lied to us.  He hadn’t lied.

He genuinely thought that we weren’t human enough to stay with them any longer.  After all, if what he said was right, we weren’t going to grow old, we’d live for a very long time, unchanging.  But at the same time, we’d changed so much that he thought we viewed them with the same indifference that he did.  Well, if we were honest, that was almost true.  Almost.

We didn’t think, though, that we’d reached his level of indifference, where we could mutilate and reanimate corpses and watch the deaths of people we’d poisoned to get at just one of them, and feel no remorse, no regret, no guilt.  He felt no guilt at all.  So cold and unconcerned.  What would move someone like him?

We were indifferent to most of the humans in the fleet, but we couldn’t kill them and we couldn’t stand by and watch them die.  So much of us was still human.  Maybe that cold detachment would come in time, but we weren’t so distanced yet that we couldn’t see that we still shared a lot with them, that we were still human.

Well, mostly human.

Still human enough to like some of them: Ford, Trent, Jolly, Giles and Greenbean.  Cassie, too, she was a friend.  We cared about them, what happened to them. 

Still human enough to care for others more deeply: Starbuck, of course, Troy, Thenie and Boomer and their children.  And Dad, despite everything.  And Starbuck. 

And Starbuck.

We’d promised him... no, Apollo had promised him that I’d go back, and I always keep my promises.  Dad had impressed that on me almost as soon as I could walk and talk: a Caprican always keeps his promises.  So I’d keep mine to Starbuck and go back.

But how long could we stay?  How long before all that leached away and something like Stannor was left?

"I promised I’d go back." Apollo said it.  Apollo said it. 

He nodded.  "Of course, if you wish it.  But not yet for a few days.  You need to understand us better, understand what your new life will be."

Confident.  He thought he had us.

Another silence.  We were still thinking about it, about our lack of reaction.  We felt no anger with him for what he’d done to us or to Hannath, no outrage, no contempt for the lack of feeling he showed.  We spent a few centons wondering about that, worrying about that.  Weren’t we still human enough for outrage?

"You aren’t angry."  It was a statement.

We looked up.  He was watching us, the brown eyes empty of expression, but the mouth had curved into a smile.  We wondered if our eyes were as blank as his, seeing how disconcerting it must look to others.  To Starbuck.

"What’s done is done." we said, and shrugged.  "We realised a long time ago that we just had to get on with it.  We did expect some sort of explanation, some justification, but we’re not mad with you for not giving us more."  We frowned.  "We don’t know why.  We should be."

"Because you are more like us than you realised.  You’ll understand when you get your new Mask and can access all the data banks."  He dropped our hands and got up, walking across to a low table and picking up a small ornate box.  When he brought it back, he put it onto our knees.

Another Mask.  Like the one he had, it was slightly smaller than the one we were wearing, that we were linked to, but otherwise looked the same.  The same matt blackness that, like our Ship, seemed to swallow up light.  The same round body and four arcing claws.

"It looks the same."

"Outwardly.  But this is infinitely more powerful.  Go on.  Put it on.  It’s yours."

We hesitated.  When we took off the Mask there would that moment of vulnerability, when we’d be at his mercy, helpless.  Of course, we were at his mercy anyway.  Helpless against the power and knowledge he had.  Only that would be opening up to a frightening extent.

"We don’t know.  We’re with this one."

"And you think it will be somehow disloyal to change?" 

Very astute.  This Mask was ours, had been ours through everything.  It would be disloyal to abandon it now.

He laughed  "The new one is keyed to you.  You won’t notice any difference in the symbiosis, Apollo.  It will feel like the old Mask, only much more powerful.  More fitting."

We still hesitated.

It all came down to trust.  Did we trust him enough to make ourselves vulnerable, just on his assurance that this new Mask was an improvement, that we would be better and stronger with it, that the Mask we were wearing now was somehow inferior and that we were above wearing such things, such servile things?

Trust?  Did we trust anyone?  Especially the one who’d changed us, created us? 

He waited, patient and silent.

We wondered, and thought, and then we took off the Mask.







"It fits the same way as the old one," Stannor said, smiling as Apollo raised the new Mask to his temple.  "We should warn you, though, that when you put on your new Mask it will need to grow into the implant.  It won’t hurt, but you’ll blow all your circuits for a few centons.  You’ll become one mass of sensory nerve endings.  Let it happen, Apollo.  Don’t fight it.  It could be fun.  A new experience."

"It had better be a good one."

"We strive to give satisfaction," Stannor murmured, admiring again the contrast between the thick black hair and the emerald green eyes.  He’d admired the combination nine yahrens before, enjoying the thin body before ordering it returned to its Ship for the coming battle.  He had not been pleased to lose Apollo to the Galactica through some mischance, not at all pleased.  But he wondered now if Apollo remembered those centars when he’d been possessed more completely than anything he’d ever experienced before or since.

He doubted it.  Apollo showed no sign of it.  Well, it would be enjoyable to remind him.

"Right," said Apollo.  He took a deep breath, held it, and put the Mask against his implant, letting go the catches to allow the Mask to attach itself.

Stannor watched, allowing his own Mask to mirror the sensations Apollo would be feeling.  A Mask was always cold, its greeting like a shard of ice, but the surge of power behind this one would be different.  There would be a questioning, like cold fingers reaching down into the implant, tracing the silver pattern on Apollo's skin, then jabbing ruthlessly down into his head...

"Uuhh..."

Apollo put his hands to the Mask, held it closer to his temple, welcoming the cold.

Stannor approved.  He quickly took the box from Apollo’s knees and put it onto the floor.  He held the body of the old Mask against his own briefly, deactivating it, and tossed it to one side.  It lay on the floor like a dead crawlon, the claws bent up around the body, discarded and forgotten. 

He looked at Apollo and smiled.  "Relax," he said in a crooning voice.  "Let it take you, ‘Pollo.  Let it take you wherever it wants to go."

"Uuhh…"

Stannor’s smile widened, and putting his hand on Apollo’s chest, he pushed him backwards.  He lay down beside him, taking the writhing body into his arms.  Apollo was breathing quickly now, every breath a whimper of confusion.

"Retract the claws, ‘Pollo," Stannor said.  "Retract them…"

Apollo stared at him blindly, unable to speak, unable to understand.

Stannor leaned down and laid his Mask against Apollo’s.  "We’ll show you."

Order in the chaos.  That’s what it is.  Order.  Control.  Command.  Like this.  You turn off the voice distorter like this, retract the mouth claw like this -

"Good," said Stannor.  "Now we can kiss you properly."

His tongue flickered between Apollo’s teeth, until Apollo’s mouth opened enough to let him in.  Apollo’s hands dropped from the Mask to reach for Stannor, pulling him in close, letting Stannor press him backward on the couch. 

Stannor could feel the straining muscles beneath the uniform, promising a body less emaciated than before, harder and more responsive, more consciously yielding.  He rolled over to lie on Apollo, holding him down with all his weight.  Apollo moaned again, and forgot everything in frantic craving, kissing back hard, his hands moving on Stannor’s back in widening circles, smoothing down the tight leather over Stannor’s buttocks.

Stannor’s mouth was hard on his, demanding, their tongues pushing and twisting against each other; Stannor’s hands swiftly and expertly peeling away the Galactican uniform.  Apollo lifted his hips when the insistent hands pulled at his pants.  He wriggled out of them.

He drew up his legs, parting them as widely as he could, Stannor still kissing him madly, as if they were a pair of adolescent lovers who couldn’t bear a micron’s physical separation. 

Stannor shifted, getting his hand onto Apollo’s hard cock, smoothing down its length to play lightly with his balls then touch that sensitive, secret place that ran down behind his balls and between his legs; the fingers of Stannor’s other hand pushing into him.  Stannor laughed, pleased.  Yahrens ago this one had pleased him, delighted him, when Apollo had had little volition of his own.  It was infinitely more pleasing to listen to the soft, excited moans as Stannor’s lips at last left Apollo's to move over his throat; Stannor taking the skin between the teeth, biting at him with little bites of painful pleasure. 

His hands moved round to reach for Stannor’s groin.

"No," Stannor said, softly.  "No.  Just feel, enjoy.  This time, just react."

Apollo’s hands fell away, obediently. 

Stannor smiled down at him, hands still working on him.  He ducked his head and started licking down Apollo’s throat, sweeping his tongue liberally over the implant over Apollo’s mechanical heart, searching for the dark nipple half hidden in the swirl of silver metal.  He caught at with his teeth, pulling at it, until he was certain he had to be hurting Apollo.  But all Apollo did was writhe and moan, putting his hands behind Stannor’s head and pulling him in closer.  Stannor laughed and turned his attention to the other nipple, keeping one hand stroking Apollo’s cock and balls with a harder, more demanding rhythm, matching the rhythm of his fingers thrusting into Apollo’s rectum.

He glanced at Apollo’s face, thinking how perfect it looked, all lined with the fire of his Mask.  Apollo had his head tilted back, eyes closed, mouth parted.  He was breathing fast and heavily, little sighing gasps on each intake of air.

Easing himself upward on the couch, he freed his own hard cock.

Apollo screamed as Stannor penetrated him.  He forced his thighs and buttocks forward, locking his legs around Stannor’s hips, his hands reaching round to cup Stannor’s buttocks, pulling him in tighter.

For a micron, Stannor held himself pressed up hard against Apollo’s opening, plunged in so far that they seemed fused, then slowly he drew back, looking down at the place where they were joined, pulling back until the tight anal ring caught at the flaring cockhead.  He waited for a micron, listening to Apollo’s wild breathing, then plunged in as hard and as far as he could.

Apollo screamed again, writhing on the hard cock that pierced through to his prostate, moving his hips as well as he could against the weight holding him down.  Stannor withdrew slowly again, until once again only the tight anal ring held him in a fiercely pleasurable hold.  He took first one of Apollo’s hands in his and held it pressed down onto the couch cushions behind Apollo’s head, then the other, so that Apollo couldn’t touch himself, had to concentrate on the cock that was surging into him. 

Carefully now, Stannor pushed forward slowly, lowering his head to meet Apollo’s mouth with another of those deep, profound kisses.  His Mask touched Apollo’s, a talon writhing over Apollo’s Mask to hold it.

Like this.  You fuse two Masks like this.

Long and drawn out, a low moan as Apollo allowed his Mask to be touched, as he reached out to Stannor’s Mask in the same way; talons locked together, Masks locked together as securely as bodies were locked together.

It was an explosion of that dark light.  Apollo was gone.  Stannor was gone.  Masks were gone.  In their place was boiling energy, a pleasure so intense that both of them were screaming even as they kissed, screaming into each other’s mouths as bodies and Masks melted into one inchoate sense of physical gratification. 

Like this.  This is how two Masked ones join. 

This is the only pleasure.  Nothing else in the universe touches this.

Nothing like this.







"It’s been days," said Troy, trying not to sound childish and fretful.  He looked down at his books, then pushed them angrily to one side.  "Days!  And not a word from him.  Do you think he’s all right?"

"I don’t know," Adama said distantly.

Troy pushed back his chair and got up, giving up any attempts to finish the essay his class had been set on the Piscean poets.  As if it mattered!  He slumped into a seat beside his grandfather.

"I’m glad you’re back, anyway.  Boomer said the Council was trouble and you needed to come back to sort them out."

Adama smiled faintly.  "Anton does a fair job of that for me.  But things are difficult.  They’re scared, Troy.  They’re scared that Apollo might be with the Enemy and they’re trying to work out how to reconcile the Enemy with a Kobolian pyramid.  Luckily the Council is divided between those who want to condemn your father out of hand, and those who are too interested in the Pyramid texts to have a thought for anything else.  At least, because of what he did, we have an awful lot of data that could be useful to us.  That’s kept us out of serious trouble and gives us a little room to manoeuvre."

"I heard you found starmaps."

Adama nodded.  "Yes.  None of them are marked with Earth, but they seem to map out this galaxy completely.  We know what we face on our journey for the next yahren or two, at least.  The Dyss were very generous in allowing us access."

"That’s good." Troy was quiet for a few centons.  "Do you think he’ll come back?"

"I don’t know."

"Starbuck thinks he will.  He says that Dad promised him that he’d come back and that Dad always keeps his promises."

Adama smiled.  "I expect that’s one area where Starbuck’s glad he never managed to corrupt your father."

"I guess.  It’s all that’s holding Starbuck together."  Troy thought about that.  "I don’t think I ever want to love anyone the way Starbuck loves Dad.  It’s too much.  Like he lost his legs or something."

"I know what you mean."

"He’s sort of helpless.  Just as well he has me to look after him, or he’d never remember to eat.  Between Dad a couple of sectons ago and now him, it feels like I’m bringing them up, not the other way round."  Troy sounded faintly resentful. 

Adama smiled at him.  "You’re not doing too bad a job of it."

Troy snorted.  "One missing, one virtually out of his head.  What do you think a rotten job would be?"

His grandfather sighed and said nothing.

"Do you think he’s with the Enemy?"  Troy asked after a centon.

"Yes.  The man who came for him was Masked."

"And the link to Kobol?"

"God knows, Troy.  I don’t.  I only suspect…"  Adama allowed his voice to trail away and he shook his head despondently. 

Troy looked at him doubtfully, wondering what he’d intended to say, but only for a centon.  It wasn’t long before he reverted to his original topic, the anxiety that gnawed at him.  "You know, I think Starbuck’s right and he’ll come back.  The only thing is, I don’t know what he’ll be when he comes back.  Do you?"

Adama shook his head.  "I don’t know, Troy.  I’ve never known."







"We’ll take you back there, if you want.  If you really must go."

We were lying in his bed on our back when he said it, legs wide apart with him lying between them.  The Masks had disengaged, and we were lying half-sleeping; legs and arms, our whole body, heavy with latent passion, barely sated.  He was kissing us gently, along the line of our jaw and down our throat.  We always liked that.  His thick, blunt-headed cock was still inside us, slippery with semen, twitching sometimes against that secret place in us that makes sex with another man such an astonishing pleasure, making us writhe and catch our breath. 

We had learned a great deal since we had left Dyss with him.  He had taught us how to use the Mask to access the databanks that stored the knowledge of thousands of worlds and thousands of yahrens.  We had learned about the People, and their passion for knowledge, the insatiable wanderlust that kept them always exploring the universe for new worlds and new knowledge.  And their passion for order and balance, a striving for perfection, that meant that despite what he had said to us when we first arrived, they seldom stood and watched as civilisations rose and fell, but intervened, one way and another, to prevent chaos.

We’d met the others who lived on this Ship with him.  They had welcomed us, men and women alike, with kisses and the intimate touching of hands.  It was clear that the sharing of bodies and Masks was as commonplace as shaking hands; it meant the sharing of intense physical pleasure, nothing more.  Monogamy wasn’t an option, then; but because Stannor was still absorbed by us, the kisses and the exploring hands went no further.  Not yet.  Not until Stannor’s attention wandered, we supposed.

We’d spent a great deal of time in bed.  It’s as well that the Masks didn’t need a physical connexion to the databases - he taught us how to use our Mask to interface with any computer, any system, any software, and take its secrets from it without the need for cables or switches - or we wouldn’t have had time for very much else other than sex.  He was a dominant lover, wanting us constantly, wanting to feel us open up and let him in.

He liked us best on our back like this, so that he could hold us down with his weight and still kiss us, and it was easier for the Masks to fuse so that we could share minds and sensations as well as bodies.  He liked to stay in us between fucking us, waiting until he was hard enough to take us again, spending the time in more gentle kisses until he was ready again.  He could fill us up so completely that, like now, we couldn’t hold it all, and we could feel the hot jism seeping out to wet our thighs, and he wouldn’t need to use more oil to lubricate the tight passage he created in us.

We enjoyed every centon of it.  There wasn't any element of compulsion: he took nothing that we weren’t willing to give.  Not since the first time we’d felt a man inside us, had our body so surprised us by its capacity for pleasure, intensified and magnified by the joining of the Masks.  It was indescribable, the way that two really did become one.  We couldn’t get enough of it.

He said it again, licking the salty sweat from our neck.  "If you must go."

It was a challenge.

"We promised," we said.

"You promised your lover.  What’s his name again?"

We smiled.  He knew it very well.

"Starbuck," we said, and thought of doing this hundreds of times before, only then the eyes we looked into were blue, not brown.  Eyes that loved us, not eyes that possessed us.  Starbuck.  We wondered what he was doing, if -

"We’ll take you,"  he said, interrupting the thought.

"You don’t need to."

"We’d like to."  He levered himself up on his elbows so he could look at us and he smiled.  "It’s about time they found out who and what you are.  It should be amusing, don’t you think, when they realise and start worrying about how they treated you."

"That doesn’t matter."  We meant it.  It was a long time ago, anyway.

"A whim, then.  We’d like to see humans again.  We haven’t seen humans for millennia."

"You’ve seen us," we pointed out.

He laughed again.  "But you aren’t human, ‘Pollo.  You haven’t been human since we Masked you.

"We didn’t get the chance to say anything, because he started kissing us again.  Not the little light kisses, but deep kisses where his tongue was deep in our mouth and stopping our breath.  His cock was hardening, twitching against our prostate and sending waves of heat through us.

No chance to argue, then.  And we aren’t sure that we would have argued anyway.

He was right.

We hadn’t been human for yahrens.







"All right?" asked Jolly, taking the seat beside Starbuck’s that Giles had vacated only a few centons before. 

Despite all his best efforts to hide it, Starbuck’s depression and anxiety over Apollo’s continued absence had to be obvious.  He'd noticed that all his friend had set up some sort of unofficial rota to keep him company and try and console him.  They did it well and subtly, although he hadn’t missed what they were trying to do.  Even if he said nothing about the way they tried to help, he appreciated and needed it.

Starbuck carefully closed the old book he’d been reading, grateful for the distraction.  "Fine," he said after a centon’s thought.  "I’m fine."

"Uh-huh.  Heard nothing yet?"

Gentle fingers smoothed the cover of the book.  "No." 

He looked away from Jolly’s gaze, staring around the crowded Alpha deck ready room.  The Galactica’s pilots were still on alert, and had been for days, ever since Apollo had left.  They were virtually living in the ready-room, only a few metres away from their ships and the launch tubes.  They weren’t enjoying it, despite the vids and card games that passed for amusement while they waited for they didn’t know what.  All they did know was that their commanding officer was missing.  What threat they were supposed to be guarding against was less clear.

"Not yet," he added after a micron or two.  "He’ll be back soon, I expect.  He promised me he’d be back."

"Then he’ll do it," Jolly said, trying to cheer him up.  "The Dyss will get fed up with him at some point and send him home."

Starbuck nodded.  The story that Apollo was still a guest of the Dyss was common currency.  It was almost true, too.  All you had to do was remove the definite article, and you had the whole truth.

Jolly and Giles had both been on escort duty when Apollo had taken his little side trip.  They knew that Apollo’s departure had been unauthorised, no matter what the Council announced five centars later.  But what they and the rest of Blue might think amongst themselves was kept strictly to themselves.  To the outside world, Blue presented a united front in support of their captain and their colonel.

"I never thought I see you sitting here reading.  Real, old-fashioned books too."  Jolly frowned.  "Actually, Bucko, I didn’t know you could read."

"It’s something to do."  Starbuck caressed the old book again.  "I’ve not been sleeping that much."  He wasn’t sleeping much at all.  The wide bed was very empty without Apollo in it.  "Well, I’m getting into books.  I’m reading a couple of them a day now."

"Good plot?  I like a story with a good plot, although I can never resist peeking at the back page to find out how it all turns out."

"Haven’t found a plot yet." said Starbuck, and turned the book so that Jolly could see the title page.

"A History of the Kobolian Peoples, volume eighteen," Jolly said in a wondering tone.

"Yeah.  Only another forty four to go."  Starbuck’s smile was fragile.  "I sneaked a look at the last page, too, Jolly, so I’m hoping Apollo gets back before I get that far."

"How’s it end?"

Starbuck’s smile faded.  "Same way they all end, Jolly.  In tears."







"What in Hades is that?"  Commander Tigh leapt up from the command chair to stare at the scanner screens.

"I... I don’t know," the scanner officer stammered, rapidly checking the console.  "It just appeared out of nowhere, sir!"

The immense ship that had just materialised out of hyperspace was possibly the most beautiful that Tigh had ever seen.  She was long and sleek, shaped like a bird of prey with a hooked prow that looked like a beak and curving wings that swept back towards the stern.  She was breathtakingly beautiful and breathtakingly deadly.  Her escort of Black Ships were like hawks, vicious and predatory, miniature versions of the great Ship they protected.

"Black Ships!"  Omega gasped, white with shock.

Tigh’s hand closed on the rail of the command dais, the knuckles whitening.

"The Enemy,"  he said, very softly, anguished and suddenly furious.  God damn Apollo for betraying them!  God damn the bastard!  He must have brought the Enemy right to them.  Then training and experience took over.  "Red alert!  Shields at maximum!"

"Red alert, sir," Omega confirmed as the Bridge lights changed and the klaxons sounded all over the ship.  "Shields up."

"Launch all fighters!  Battlestations!" 

Tigh was continuing to bark orders that no-one really needed.  Most of the bridge crew had served there from the beginning of this long voyage.  Most of them had clear memories of those sectars crossing Enemy space, beating back countless attacks.  They were already hurrying to put his orders into effect, almost before he had time to shout them.

"First wave of Vipers launched, sir."  Omega said.  "Taking up defensive position in front of us.  Second wave in the tubes."

"It wasn't on the screens," the scanner officer was muttering to himself, almost in hysterics.  "It wasn’t.  It just came at us.  It wasn’t..."

"Shut him up," Tigh growled, focusing on the screen.  The ship and her escorts just sat there, waiting and ominous, making no move, hostile or otherwise.

Omega dropped a hand on the scanner officer’s shoulder and the man fell quiet.  He looked up at the screen, pale faced, his mouth moving but no sound coming out.

"They’re not attacking."  Omega listened intently to the comms traffic in his head set.  "Comms have warned the Fleet, sir.  There’s some panic out there."

"There’s some panic in here too," said Tigh.  But he was puzzled.  "Sensors?"

The sensor officer jumped, startled, and brought his gaze down to the console.  He flicked a few switches, the practised, routine movements bringing him back to some kind of normality. "Nothing, sir.  All our sensors are bouncing back.  They’re shielding and we can’t get through."

"Second wave launched, sir," Omega reported quietly.  "Red and Silver Spar squadrons in the tubes."

"Hold them there," Tigh ordered.  "Laser batteries?"

"Armed and reporting readiness, sir."  Omega came closer.  "Why isn’t she attacking?"

"Don’t question miracles.  Try and raise her."

"Sir!"  The Comms officer turned from her console before Omega could pass on the order.  "Sir, they’re hailing us."

Tigh and Omega looked at each other and Tigh let out his breath in a long, slow, whoosh.

"Patch it up to the main screens, Lieutenant," he ordered.

"Yes sir.  Sir!  It’s Colonel Apollo, sir!"

"I know who it is," Tigh said grimly.  "Patch it through."

 

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