Section Eight

 

Our father was waiting on Alpha deck for us, along with a few dozen armed security guards.

Stannor had wanted us to teleport directly to the Galactica’s bridge.  To his mind, that was more fitting.  The Black Ships were piloted by servants, and we should not demean ourselves.

We persuaded him that was not a good idea.  Tigh had been grim enough when we had formally asked permission to come aboard.  We thought that to suddenly materialise by his side would probably bring on an apoplexy.  He could be tiresome, but we still had some respect for him.  Too much for that.

Stannor had laughed and acquiesced, and offered us a pilot to take us across.  But we knew what piloted the Black Ships - we had done that ourselves once.  The humans knew too, and we did not want more difficulty with them than strictly necessary, even to demonstrate our difference now.  Their fear and repugnance would be enough to deal with, without that.  We preferred our own Ship, that Ford had adapted for us to use.  Its ghost had been exorcised.

Besides, we loved flying.

This time when the Ship came to a stop on the deck, there was nothing to disconnect.  Our Mask no longer needed to be physically connected to the Ship, and all we had to do was open it up and drop to the deck.

He was waiting, as we said.  He was pale and stern-looking, wearing his Presidential face.  Our father was not visible, hidden.  We were dressed as one of the People, and he looked even grimmer at that.

"Colonel Apollo."

Ominous, the use of the title.  We nodded, looking at the ring of guards that had formed around the Ship.  Reese was only a few feet away, watching us.  The Mask measured the dilation of his pupils, watched the pinprick beads of sweat form on his upper lip.  He was very afraid.

Good.  We disliked Reese.  We liked it that he was afraid of us.

"Are we under arrest then?" we asked, amused, trying not to smile. 

"Not yet.  A precautionary measure until we were sure it was you, and that you were alone."

He understood nothing of the Mask.  We were never alone.

"We told you on Dyss that you were in no danger.  They’re really have no interest in you.  It’s us they want."

"You’ll appreciate our nervousness, though," he said dryly.  "Our experience of the Enemy was not a happy one."

"Unnecessary," we said, and turned as a Viper came in to land behind us. 

Starbuck. 

We had known who was escorting us in as soon as we approached the Galactica: the little victory roll may have had something to do with it.  We’d asked Core Command to allow him to land as soon as we had, and Tigh, unwilling, we thought, to antagonise us, had agreed.  But that would be another black sin to be put against our account.  No doubt, if he got the opportunity, he’d like to lock us in the brig for the next thirty yahrens. 

Now we had to decide what to do about Starbuck.  He would not be pleased about the way we had spent the last ten days and nights.  Particularly the nights.

He looked thin and worn.  Outwardly he tried to be the old Starbuck, and we watched as he joked with his ground crew, trying to pretend that this was a normal return from a  normal patrol.  He was trying to be the casual, insouciant, devil-may-care Starbuck he’d always been.

It was well done, and it may even have fooled the humans.  But we saw the quick look he sent us, the anxiety in his eyes.  He had believed us and trusted in us, but we knew it had been hard for him.  If Solon had made public what had happened on Dyss, he’d have had a bad time indeed, particularly with those pilots who had survived - just - the encounters with the Enemy.  Stannor had said, sectons ago on Dyss, that there would be some suffering.  We hadn’t realised immediately that he hadn’t just meant us.  Seeing Starbuck, we saw how he had suffered and was still suffering.

We met him in the centre of the flightdeck.  For a centon there was silence.  He didn’t seem to know what to do, what would be welcome or allowed.  We moved first, putting our arms around him and holding him close.  He was very tense, then he relaxed against us.  We could feel him trembling.

He smiled at us when we let him go a little and he could move back a step.  "Looks good, Apollo.  If I’d known you were into black leather, I’d have bought you some yahrens ago.  Strictly for recreational use, of course, at play-time."

We turned off the voice distorter and were very careful about how we spoke to him.  "After ten days my uniform was getting a little high.  They lent me this.  Not bad, huh?"

"Very sexy.  If they drum you out of the military, you could earn your living with that very easily.  ‘Course, I’d be the only customer allowed."

"Or wanted," we said, and wouldn’t think of Stannor, what we had done with Stannor.

He looked puzzled.  "You sound normal."

"Oh - a new Mask.  This one’s a bit more sophisticated, that’s all, and I’ve no need to use the distorter with you."

He nodded.  He had both hands on our shoulders, allowing us to hold him around the waist.  He looked at us for a long time, and we could see the hollows in his cheeks, the shadows underneath the eyes.  The guards and our father watched us closely, but we ignored all of them.

"I missed you," he said.  "I’m glad you’re back, Apollo."

"I promised you that I’d be back.  Although I think I’m in deep trouble."

"Tigh’s been baying for your blood, I think.  I’ll come and comfort you through the prison bars.  Maybe they’ll allow us conjugal visits."  He grinned at us, happy that we were back.  No.  Happy that Apollo was back.  Taking what happiness he could before the suffering started again.

"Bad?"

"So-so.  The Council’s kept a lid on it, and Boomer and Trent have kept quiet.  We’ve been on alert, but no-one knew where you were or who you were with.  Until you made your grand entrance, anyway."

"It had to come out sometime,"  we said, and shrugged.  "There’s no danger, Starbuck.  They aren’t a threat."  But because they were very dangerous, honesty compelled us to add:  "At least, not today, not now."

"That’s something, if it’s not today."  He tried for lightness.  The old Starbuck had never worried about tomorrow, anyway.  "They done something to your hair, too?  You look like the guy who came for you at the Pyramid."

Clever, astute Starbuck.  He knew what he was seeing.  He knew he was looking at one of the Enemy. 

"It suits you."  He fingered one of the sections wrapped with green silk.  "Matches those lovely eyes."

He batted his eyelids at us seductively, and we laughed.

"I have to go," we said.

He nodded, suddenly sad.  "I know, Apollo.  I think I’ve always known."  Then before we could say anything: "But for now I’d better let you go to the Council.  I guess they want a word with you."

"Several rambling speeches worth, if they’re up to their usual standard."

He shrugged and nodded, then touched our face beneath the Mask.  "I’ll see you later, beautiful.  Then you can tell me what you’ve been up to."

It was a gallant effort.  He knew, as we did, that there may not be a later.  We let him go, touching his face as he’d touched ours.  He was very beautiful.  We turned away and he watched us go back to our father.  When we got there and turned back to look at him, he lifted a hand in farewell and sauntered off.

"He has a lot of courage," Dad remarked, seeing, as we did, the indiscriminate nature of suffering.

We nodded.  "We know.  He may need it.  The Council?"

"Waiting."  He signalled Reese as we walked towards the turbolift, and the Security Chief fell in behind us.  Once in the lift, with Reese standing respectfully at one side, he added: "This will be difficult, Apollo."

"Yes," we said. 

"Your appearance may not help," he said dryly.

We thought about how we looked.  "We are dressed appropriately," we said after a micron.

He made a funny noise, that sounded like a snort.

"Troy?"  we asked.

"Worried about you, but fine."

"Good," we said.  Then we asked:  "How much trouble are we in?"

"We?  We aren’t.  You, though, can start with deserting your post and treason, and work your way up from there."

"Treason?"  We smiled at him.  "Well that depends, doesn’t it, on which side you’re on in the first place."

Beside us, Reese tensed, his hand straying to the laser on his belt, to rest there, ready.  Dad glanced at him quickly then at us, but we think he decided that Reese was like a piece of furniture, that he wouldn’t understand the conversation.

"That’s the question, isn’t it, Apollo?"  Dad said sadly.  "And one the Council will want answering.  How honest are you prepared to be?"

"As honest as we need to be."

He nodded, then said after a micron’s silence,  "I read the Desecration text, Apollo.  It took me some time to work my way through it, but I ran it through the computers here to be sure.  I read the parts you left out when you translated it for me and Solon."

"We needed to be certain."

"And are you?"

"Yes."

"Then this will be very difficult."

We nodded.  "Have you told anyone?"

"Anton, of course.  I’ll need his help to control this.  I think Solon knows too.  He’s been working on the texts and he’s been very quiet for the last few days, very thoughtful.  He’s spent a lot of his time in Chapel.  He asked me if I’d deciphered it, but wouldn’t discuss it when I said yes.  How are you going to deal with this, Apollo?"

"We don’t know yet.  We’ll see."

"I’d give it some thought if I were you.  This will be very hard for people to accept, to adjust to."

We smiled at that.  "Won’t it just!  Given how much you’ve demonised the Enemy - and us - the reaction will be interesting."  We paused, and smiled again.  "And as Stannor said, amusing."







"Well, my boy.  You have a habit of springing surprises on us."  Sire Anton smiled gently at Apollo, his geniality in stark contrast to the other eleven, hostile, suspicious faces on the Council.  "Take a seat."

Not Apollo’s usual seat at the end of the table, beside Tigh.  They’d set a chair for him in front of the Council table, opposite the President’s chair.  Apollo smiled slightly, remembering the summons nine yahrens ago when they had magnanimously allowed him to live.  Then, he’d disconcerted them by coming to them in uniform, reminding them forcibly of who and what he was.  Now he intended the same effect, signalling again who and what he was.

Then he’d been slightly gauche, a shy, reserved man, unsure of himself, devastated by what had happened.  Well, shy men can grow in confidence when they learn who and what they are, and he walked to the chair with conscious grace and an understated, but unmistakable, arrogance.

Tigh leaned forward in his chair, ignoring Council protocol.   "I need to know their intentions, Colonel,"  he said in a hard voice, giving Apollo a hard look.

"Intentions?"  Apollo smiled.  "Well, they don’t have any, sir."

"What the hell do you mean?"

"What we say.  They’re not here to attack you - the Fleet would have been ashes a centar ago if that was the case."

That was inarguable.  After the first few centons of contact, agreeing with Tigh a holding position, the huge Dark Light Ship and its escorts had sat silent and menacing on the edge of the Fleet, matching it for speed, ignoring the Viper patrols and showing no sign of hostility.  It was as if the Enemy had forgotten they were there.

"Then why are they here?" Sire Piers demanded.

"We had to get home somehow," Apollo pointed out.  "We made a promise.  They brought us here so we could keep it."

"We?"  Councillor Thom repeated, confused.

Anton stirred.  "It amuses the colonel to speak of himself in the plural when he’s wearing the Mask," he said, apparently dismissing this as a little more than an odd character quirk.

"Not quite.  It’s merely more accurate.  We’re a bit more than the colonel when we’re Masked."  Apollo touched the Mask with gentle fingers.

Adama sighed and gave his son an impatient look.  He was an honest man, but he wished devoutly that Apollo was less open.  Less provocative.

"When this is over, I’m going to make damned sure that we take that away from you again," Councillor Joel said harshly.

Apollo smiled.  "We don’t think so," he said pleasantly.

"Can we get our priorities right, here?" Solon demanded.  "Colonel, we need to know if you’re here as their emissary, and what it is they want."

"Emissary?"  Apollo considered that.  "We suppose that’s one way of putting it.  And as for what they want - they want us, Councillor.  They really have no interest at all in you or the Fleet."

"They’re the Enemy!"  one of the Councillors yelled at him, red faced with anger.

"Well," said Apollo judiciously as the mutters and fervent agreement died away.  "That depends on your point of view, don’t you think?  To them, the K’h’n were the enemy, and humans the K’h’n’s pawns.  You really should consider both sides of the argument before you decide who the villains are."

"They attacked us!"  the Lady Hilary reminded him, tone forceful.

"Well, actually, they  - or rather, their allies - attacked us.  Me.  Of course, they thought that we were K’h’n, and, as it happens, they were protecting their borders from K’h’n assault.  We heard only the K’h’n’s side of the story, don’t forget, and the K’h’n had every reason to get you on side.  After all, the agreement was that you would spearhead their invasion for them."

There was a silence. 

"But they’d invaded K’h’n space!"  Tinia protested.  "We were helping to get that back."

"So the K’h’n claimed."  Apollo shrugged.  "As we said, you should consider all points of view."

"You’re saying that the K’h’n were the aggressors?"  Joel struggled with it.  "And that we were tricked into helping them?"

Apollo inclined his head gracefully.

"Then the Enemy, they consider us as enemies?  As aggressors?"

"They don’t consider you at all," said Apollo.  "They were concerned only to maintain the balance, and ensure that the Harathi had the resources they needed to contain the K’h’n."

"Harathi?"  Adama asked, speaking for the first time.  "Resources?" 

"Their allies in that galaxy, as the Dyss are in this."

"But I don’t understand," someone said, plaintive.

Solon leaned forward.  He looked haggard and drawn.  "Even if we accept that - and I agree that we only had one side of the story, Apollo - and accept that they saw all their attacks on us as defensive - you can’t excuse what they did to you.  To you personally."

"We’ve learned to live with it," Apollo said dryly. 

He watched the Councillor thoughtfully.  Solon had the reputation of being a religious man.  The Desecration text had shocked him, as it had shocked Adama, perhaps even to the point of making him question his faith.

"It was morally indefensible,"  Solon said, tone dull. 

Apollo shrugged.  "We were dead.  We’re not now."

They stared at him, obviously astonished that he would say it, and say it with indifference.  He could almost see the thoughts racking up in their heads.  It wasn't humanly possible to be that detached about the people who'd mutilated you, just not humanly possible.  Ergo, he wasn't human.  He smiled.

"I think that’s probably as much of a revolution in our thinking as you’ll manage, Apollo," Anton said dryly, looking around at faces that were confused or disbelieving.

"It’s of no consequence.  The K’h’n have been contained.  It will a little while before they disturb us again."

"If they aren’t here about the war with the K’h’n, then why are they here?"  Hilary asked.  "Here in this galaxy, I mean."

"Why not here?  They go where they want."  Apollo shrugged, getting a little bored.  "But, in reality, Councillor, they came to collect us.  Me."

"Why?"  Anton leaned forward, looking at the younger man keenly.

"Because we belong with them."  Apollo touched the Mask.  "We’re one of them, now."

Silence while they stared at him, then nods and looks of triumph, unfriendly looks at Adama and Anton.  Probably more than one Councillor was anticipating Adama’s removal at last from a Presidency they considered he’d usurped so unfairly twelve yahrens before.

"I thought so," crowed Joel.  "I thought so.  We should have had you put down when you came back."

"That might have excited their interest."  Apollo was unmoved.  "You might have regretted it."

"Regret it more than letting you live?  A dead Cyborg!  We should have done it then."

Apollo said nothing. 

"But the fact is that we didn’t," Anton said, giving Joel a cold look.  "We took a calculated risk that the colonel would benefit us rather than otherwise.  So far, he’s done nothing to make me reconsider that."

"Oh no?" jeered Piers.  "He just led the Enemy right to us!  Or didn’t you notice?"

"But they have not attacked us," retorted Anton.  "And show no signs of doing so.  Do they, Commander?"

"No," said Tigh, slowly.  "No, they don’t.  They’re maintaining the agreed speed and distance, and that’s all."

"They’re waiting," said Apollo.

"Before you jump to conclusions about the colonel’s loyalty, I’d remind you all of his yahrens of service, both before and after the Enemy," said Anton.  "We’ve never had real cause to doubt him.  And above all, he’s been instrumental in getting us access to the Pyramid on Dyss.  The value of the data there is incalculable."  A few reluctant nods and shrugs, and Anton turned to Apollo.  "I would like to know what the connexion is between the Pyramid and the Enemy, Apollo.  That intrigues me."

"They built it."

"I can’t believe that!" Piers snapped.

"I saw the Enemy there," said Solon, reluctant but honest.  He was looking down at the notebook in front of him, the book he’d had on Dyss.  "The Dyss revere that site.  It’s a part of their religion.  They believe the Enemy built the Pyramids."

"They’re mistaken!"  someone else said.  "They have to be mistaken.  The Enemy can’t have anything to do with Kobol.  They aren’t human!"

Solon shook his head.  "The one who came for Apollo was speaking Kobolian and looked pretty human to me."  He looked fully at Apollo.  "After you left, Colonel, we transported the entire Council there to see for themselves."

"Yes," Apollo said.  He had given the Dyss the permission they’d sought for this unprecedented invasion.  It had been his first act as one of the People.

"They’ve all seen the Pyramid, all seen the texts.  They know that the Pyramid is Kobolian.  They know that the texts are genuine.  All of the texts."

Apollo looked back at him, nodded his understanding.  Solon knew.

"But we don’t know that the Enemy had anything at all to do with it," Tinia pointed out.  "They could have appropriated the Pyramids later."

Solon just shook his head.

"Commander Tigh, you had some preliminary discussions with the Enemy ship, after Colonel Apollo opened communications.  What language did they use?"  Anton looked at Apollo steadily.

"Kobolian,"  Tigh said without hesitation.  "And computer analysis suggests an early form."

A grumbling, unconvinced silence this time.

"There is proof," Apollo said.  He turned to his father.  "What have you told them about the Desecration text?"

"The outline."

"And a very pretty story it is too," Piers said crossly.  "I’m sure that it explains quite nicely why we had to leave Kobol, but I don’t see how relevant it is."

"They went to war, the Lords of Kobol amongst themselves," said Adama.  "One faction thought that active intervention was occasionally needed in the universe, to impose on it some order and balance.  Effectively they wanted to export their own ideas of civilisation, of order.  The other faction were adamantly opposed to intervention, wanted to remain still and quiet, contemplative.  They were more spiritual, unworldly.  The first faction were fascinated by technology and advancement.  They couldn’t be more unlike."

"We know that," Tinia said.  "We’ve all seen the text, Adama."

"We were the servants of the Lords of Kobol - everyone, I think, accepts that."  Adama looked around.  Apollo, amused, counted the nods of agreement.  "The text is quite clear that all the servants were taken to places of safety.  The Twelve tribes to the Colonies, the Thirteenth tribe to Earth.  That’s borne out by the Book of the Word."

"Yes," someone sighed. 

Apollo had some sympathy.  His father's fixation on finding Earth could get wearisome.

"The text - as Sire Solon will agree - is clear that the Twelve tribes served one faction, the quiet, non-interventionists.  It seems clear that the Thirteenth tribe, our brothers, served the other side.  That makes sense of our separation from them."

"Logical," Siress Damaris agreed, speaking for the first time.

"And the other side, and their servants, used advanced technology."  Adama looked fixedly at the Mask sitting on his son’s temple.  "The Mask is very advanced, technologically."

"Lords!" a councillor said, and they all stared. 

"You mean that they’re members of the Thirteenth tribe?"  Piers said, but he looked thoughtful, rather than indignantly cynical.  "But - my God!  The Thirteenth tribe!  Is that it, Adama?  Is that Earth?"

"No.  Not if the information that the Ship of Lights gave us is accurate."

"It’s not Earth," said Apollo quietly.

"Is it possible?" someone asked, dazed.  "The Thirteenth tribe?"

"But do they know the way to Earth?" persisted Joel.  "Even if Dyss is not Earth, do they know the way?"

"Yes,"  Apollo said.

"Good God!"  Piers stared into space.  "I can barely believe it.  But it all makes sense.  If you’re right, Solon, and the Enemy you saw on Dyss looks human and speaks Kobolian... the Thirteenth tribe!  Good God!"

"They aren’t human," said Apollo.

"Changed, maybe, by the technology?" suggested Damaris.

"Very changed,"  Apollo agreed.  "They were a little bit human once, but they’re not human any more.  And they’re not the Thirteenth tribe."

"Then what?"  a Councillor asked, puzzled.

Anton stirred slightly, and Apollo could see how beautifully this old man and Adama had manipulated the discussion so far.  Time bring this to some sort of conclusion, then.

"Then who are they, Apollo?  The Book of the Word is quite clear.  On Kobol, apart from the Lords themselves, there were the thirteen tribes of humans who served them.  Who are the Enemy if not the Thirteenth tribe?  Another tribe, a fourteenth tribe, we’ve never heard of before?"

"No."

"Do you know the answer, Colonel?" Joel demanded, and at Apollo’s nod, said testily: "Well tell us, man.  Who are they?"

Apollo smiled at them, the smile growing broader as the realisation hit them, as they stiffened, murmured their astonishment and disbelief, faces paling with shock. 

And sudden terror.

"They can’t be!"  Piers almost wailed.

"Ah, but they are," Apollo said gently.  "They are the Lords of Kobol."







"But you saw him, didn’t you?" Troy demanded eagerly.  "Down on Alpha deck?"

"Briefly."  Starbuck stirred slightly, forcing himself to stop staring dully at the living room wall, concentrating on the boy.

"Did he look okay?"

"Oh, fine, fine.  He looked fine...  Black leather suits him."

"Black leather?" 

Troy looked puzzled and Starbuck smiled sadly.  "Never mind, Troy.  I’ll explain about black leather when you grow up.  He looked just fine."

"I am grown up and you two are perverts."  Troy scowled, then asked more quietly.  "Was it… was it Dad, really?  Could you tell?"

"He seemed just the same," said Starbuck. 

"That’s good, isn’t it Starbuck?  I mean, it’s really Dad?""

Starbuck shrugged and smiled.

"Now all we have to worry about is the Enemy and the Council.  Why are they here, Starbuck?"

"God knows."

"Everyone’s running around screaming.  But if Dad’s been with them, then they must be all right, don’t you think?  Maybe it was all a mistake, before, and it’s really all okay." 

Starbuck wondered how ripping out someone’s heart could be construed as a mistake. 

"Why aren’t you pleased?" demanded Troy.  "He came back to you."

"Did he?"

"Of course he did.  He loves you, Starbuck."

Starbuck sighed.  "He’s never said it, Troy.  Not once in nine yahrens.  He’s never said he loves me."

"He does, though.  He never says much to me either, but I know.  Instead he says things like he should have drowned me as a puppy, but I know what he means.  And he came back, didn’t he?  Just like he promised he would."

"I guess there’s no arguing with that.  Your Dad always keeps his promises."

"Then what’s eating at you?" 

Starbuck looked away from the boy’s eager, uncomprehending face.

"Starbuck?"

Starbuck sighed again.  "He never promised he’d stay."







We sat quiet and listened to the Council, and their shouted protests, their outrage, their affronted disbelief.  We sat quiet in the eye of the storm and let them rage, watching angry, red faces, shouting mouths, scowls of hate and fury when they looked at us.  We weren’t quite as amused as Stannor expected.  Part of us was sorry, too.

Solon, Anton and our father were silent too.  Anton and Dad were as composed, as contained as we were.  Solon’s face was anguished as he looked back at us.  He didn’t want to believe it either, but he knew it was true.  He had seen the proof.

Solon was the one to put a stop to it.  When he stood up and shouted for quiet, they listened - eventually.  He was respected by all the factions on the Council, for his intelligence and principles.  He was, in fact, a most unusual politician.

When they were quiet he talked to them, his tone dull and heavy.  He told them that the Desecration text, when fully decoded, told more about the Lords of Kobol.  "Adama’s told you that one part of the Lords were fascinated by technology.  The text describes them."

He looked at us.

"Go on, Solon," Anton said quietly.  "They have to know."

Solon looked down at his notebook.  "The text describes, in unmistakable detail, those Lords who tore out their own hearts and replaced them with tarnish-less metal, who drained their own blood and replaced it with ichor, who blinded their own eyes and saw instead through the Helms worn on their foreheads.  The Lords who died, but who were not dead."

We whispered the litany.  The litany that defined us, that said who we were, that once had been used to try and contain us.  Now it just defined us.

Cyborgs. 

No longer human. 

Dangerous. 

Different. 

The enemy. 

The Enemy.

The Lords of Kobol.

There was a short silence while they stared from him to us, then the storm broke out again.  They really got very excited about it all, more than one getting to his or her feet to shriek denunciations at Solon, and at us.  Anton and our father looked at each other but didn’t do anything to stop it.  They left that to Solon, and things calmed down only when Solon got up again and picked up the great copy of the Book of the Word that lay always in the centre of the Council table, and slammed it down heavily.  Then a hushed, angry silence fell.

Solon sat down again, shaking his head.  The other Councillors, one or two looking self conscious, resumed their seats.

"Sweet God," Piers said, ashen.  He stared at our Mask, wide-eyed.  "Dear Lord!"

We resisted the temptation to respond to his plea.  We were not in the business of answering the prayers of one such as him.

"It’s nonsense!  You’ve misread it," said Joel harshly.

"I assure you I have not," snapped Solon  "I transcribed both the hieratic and the hieroglyphic texts, and ran both through translation programmes in the Galactica’s central computers.  Several times, Joel, because like you I didn’t want to believe it.  I’ll provide you with the full texts.  You can see it for yourself."

"What do the priests say?" Councillor Thom demanded.  He was one of the quieter one, and had been sitting with his face hidden in his hands.  His voice was muffled.

"I showed the transcriptions to the High Priest two days ago.  He’s been in prayer ever since."  Solon’s irony wasn't lost on them.  "He agrees with the implication of this, but, like you, doesn’t want to believe it."

Thom said nothing, buried his face deeper.  His shoulders were shaking.

"But they can’t be!  Those dead things can’t be!"  Tinia said, tearfully  "The text must be a forgery!"

"You’ve seen the texts for yourself," Solon pointed out.

"That doesn’t mean that they’re genuine.  They could have been carved there by the Enemy, or the Dyss, to deceive us."

Ingenious, the lengths humans will go to, to avoid acknowledging an unwelcome truth.  There was a lot of relieved nodding of heads at Tinia’s suggestion.  Solon, though, was more than equal to it.

"Apart from not being able to think of a reason why the Enemy should bother to do that, I had Doctor Wilker date the Pyramid and the texts, objectively and scientifically."  Solon’s hand caressed the edge of his notebook.  We don’t think that he knew he was doing it.  He was just seeking comfort in old, familiar, normal things.  "The Pyramid is over ten thousand yahrens old.  The inscribed texts were cut into the stone during building.  You can’t seriously be suggesting that the Enemy or the Dyss knew ten thousand yahrens ago that we would be coming this way, knew that Colonel Apollo would have been altered in the way he has been, and prepared this to... to do what?  For what reason?"  He shook his head.  "No, Tinia, the text is quite genuine, and the Enemy are who Colonel Apollo says they are."

Well, Wilker had his uses after all.  We wondered what the good doctor would think of Solon’s deductions.

"I can’t believe it," Piers said firmly, but he was watching us uneasily.  "At a stretch I’m willing to believe that they’re the Thirteenth tribe, altered by the Lords, perhaps, the same way that the colonel has been altered.  But that’s all!"  He folded his arms on his chest and glowered at us.

"The text is clear that that the servants of the Lords of Kobol were all taken to places of safety: the Twelve tribes to the Colonies, the Thirteenth to Earth.  That is in absolute accordance with the Book of the Word," said Solon.

"You’re suggesting that the Book of the Word lies to us about the fate of the thirteen tribes?  That the Thirteenth tribe wasn’t taken to Earth?"  Our father spoke quietly, but they listened.  "The Pyramid texts show that the Book hasn’t told us everything about the Exodus from Kobol, but not that anything in there is untrue." 

"Yes, but…" Piers spluttered slightly, and fell silent, chewing on his lower lip.

"But Solon said that the Enemy he saw on Dyss was human,"  Siress Damaris reminded them.

"The Book tells us that we were of common stock with the Lords, of the same kind, although they were far above us." Solon spoke without looking up.  He was looking at the ornate cover of the Book that lay on the table in front of him where he’d thrown it.  "They had outstripped us, evolved beyond us.  Perhaps, like older brothers.  But the Book’s clear that we looked like them, that the image was the same."

"Yes," she acknowledged, dispiritedly.  "I remember."

"Colonel Apollo?"  Anton spoke quietly.  "Do you have anything to add to our discussion?"

This had been an interesting debate.  We doubted that what we had to say would improve it.

"One thing, maybe, that might help you understand better.  We should make it clearer what they are now.  They were the Lords of Kobol, but they seem to have moved beyond that now.  They call themselves the People.  They don’t think of themselves as Kobol’s Lords any more.  It doesn’t have the same religious or spiritual or emotional significance for them as it has for you.  We don’t think that it ever did.  To them, Kobol is merely the place where they started."

"Dear God," Thom groaned, his head back in his hands. 

He was - had been? - a leading Kobolian.  Disillusionment was very painful.  We looked at our father, at his strained expression.  He, too, was a leading Kobolian, and he, too, found disillusionment painful.  We were sorry about that, but truth is always better than a lie.  That’s a basic tenet of the Kobolian faith.

We said, "They’ve never thought of going back.  They’ve never, really, given the Thirteen Tribes much thought, if any, since the Exodus.  They aren’t the Lords of Kobol anymore.  They aren’t the Enemy.  They just are."

Joel glared at us.  "I can’t believe any of this.  It’s ludicrous!"

"It’s true," we said.

"Well even if it is, even if they are who you claim they are, they’re still our Enemies!" he snapped back at us.  "They went to war with our Lords, remember!  The ones we served."

"A philosophical dispute," we said, smiling slightly.

"A pretty devastating one," Dad said, dryly.

We didn’t disagree.  So devastating, its effects were still being felt aeons later. 

"It grew heated, but it has been settled.  Lord Stannor, the leader of the People here, told us that we gave our brothers their Ships of Light, and all the Lords left Kobol for ever.  We meet occasionally: there’s no conflict.  They went their way.  We went ours.  Since then the People have roamed the universe, exploring it."

"The Ship of Lights!  Now I can believe that they’re the Lords of Kobol!"  Piers cut in. 

"Why?" we asked, interested.

"Because they’re good!"

"We don’t think that the People would claim to be good," we said, amused.  "They might claim to act out of necessity, to act dispassionately and with detachment.  That has more rationality to it."

"Morally neutral," Anton said, nodding.

"Morality is at best a relative concept," we pointed out.

"Not for the Ship of Lights," Piers snapped.  "They acted for good.  They protected us against Iblis!"

"Yes," we said.  "A clear breach of the Treaty that forbids the Lords to intervene on behalf of their servants.  Understandable in the circumstances.  Even they could see the imbalance Iblis caused."

"You benefited personally from that intervention, as I recall," Dad reminded us.

We laughed.  "We seem to have a habit of needing resurrection.  It amused Stannor.  He claims that his decision to resurrect us nine yahrens ago at least restored the balance."

"This balance - what is it, exactly?  The cause of this philosophical disagreement?" Solon asked quietly.  "Intervention versus... what?... a passive acceptance?"

"If you like.  The People see an order, a balance that must be maintained and intervene when it’s threatened the way the K’h’n threatened it.  The others, the Lords of the Ship of Lights, would have allowed the K’h’n free rein on the basis that in time, thousands of yahrens perhaps, the balance will be restored and the K’h’n eaten in their turn."  We smiled at them.  "The People, though, dislike disorder.  It is an imperfection."

More silence, more shaking of heads while they thought about it.

"I was thinking," Anton said slowly.  "I was thinking that it accounts for so much of our history.  Our fear of cyborgs, irrational because it’s so deep-rooted, primeval almost.  It wasn’t because of the Cylons after all.  We’ve always feared cyborgs because of some race memory of the war on Kobol, when our Lords and betters fought over our heads.  And if we hadn’t been infected with the fear then, would we have gone to war with the Cylons at all?  Would we have found a way to avoid that, and avoid the Destruction?"

We had always admired that old man.  He had a dispassionate detachment that the People would recognise.

"They didn’t intervene then, did they?"  Piers demanded of us.  "They didn’t come and prevent the Destruction.  They didn’t protect us, the way the Ship of Lights did."

"The balance was not threatened," we said.

"Thank you, Colonel," Piers said savagely.  "That puts it all into perspective!"

We shrugged.  "And there was no Ship of Lights at Cimtar."

"The question now is what we’re going to do."  Our father spoke heavily, almost sadly.  He was watching us.  "What do they want, Apollo?"

"Us."

"And that’s it?  Nothing else?  They’re just sitting out there waiting for you to join them?"

We nodded.  "That’s what it was all about.  Going to Dyss, the poison to blind us and get us reMasked, the Pyramid.  So that we would go with them."

"Because you’re a Lord of Kobol!"  Joel sneered.

We laughed at that.  "Of course not!  We’re not a Lord.  We’re Apollo.  We’re one of the People."

"There’s a difference?" our father asked quietly.

We nodded.  "A big difference.  A difference that has no religious connotations whatsoever."

Joel straightened up in his chair.  "We have got to keep a lid on this… on this ridiculous nonsense,"  he said urgently.  "Until he goes - and the sooner the better - we keep quiet about this… this theory."

"We don’t think that’s wise," we said.  "We will not go immediately.  They will wait as long as we wish, but there’s so much panic and misunderstanding in the Fleet… all it would take would be one captain to make a threatening move, one pilot, and they wouldn’t hesitate to defend themselves.  If you thought you had difficulty defending yourselves against the little Black Ships, you have no idea of the impossibility of defending yourself against Stannor’s Dark Light Ship."

"You said that they weren’t a threat," Tigh looked up and spoke for the first time in a long while. 

"They will react.  They won’t initiate hostilities."

"They won’t do anything with you aboard this ship," Joel said confidently.

"They could teleport us off in milli-microns," we said.  "They’re locked onto our Mask.  They won’t allow you to damage us."

Solon nodded.  "Irrespective of that, this is too important for the Council not to take some sort of public stand.  We had better discuss what that should be and make some sort of announcement to keep things calm.  This is something so fundamental to our religion, our society, we need to decide what can and should be said."

"I agree,"  Anton said, and squared his frail old shoulders in anticipation of a lively debate.  The discussion that would follow was the breath of life to him.

"Dear God, what can we say?"  Thom mourned.  "What can we do?"

"Stand on our own two feet at last, perhaps," Anton said and nodded at us.

We nodded back and stood up.  "We’ll leave you to talk about it then."

"Will you go, Apollo?"  It was our father who asked, his voice very quiet.  He was looking at us as if he was very sorry about something.

We paused and looked at him.  He was getting old, and his responsibilities were beginning to weigh on him.  He’d lost a great deal over the yahrens, as we all had.  We’d just taken his religion from him and he was frightened that now we were going too. 

"We don’t know, Dad," we said.  "We haven’t decided."







"Dad!"  Troy hurled himself across the living room to catch hold of his father.  "Dad, where the hell have you been?  We’ve been worried sick."

Apollo smiled as he submitted to an embrace that should have left him breathless.

"Are you old enough to swear?" he asked.

"I don’t see why not.  I seem to be old enough for you to run off and leave me," Troy pointed out.  He had half turned to look at Starbuck, who was still sitting quietly on the sofa, withdrawn and quiet.

"I know.  I’m sorry,"  Apollo said, contrite.

"I wish you’d stop doing it," Troy said with another hug, and stepped back to give his father a closer look.  "Mmn,  I see what Starbuck means about the black leather.  Personally, I don’t think you should be allowed out in it.  It’s indecent."

"Where is Starbuck?"  Apollo asked.  The Mask was fastened securely to his belt.  The blind green eyes looked around blankly.

"I’m here, Apollo."  Starbuck got up, going to his lover slowly.  "I’m here."

Apollo smiled and held out his hand.

"I know," Troy said hopefully.  "Go away, Troy.  Go and stay with Dillon, Troy.  Pretend you’re deaf, Troy, and you don’t know what they get up to in that bedroom."

"I can’t stay," Apollo said, dashing both his son’s hopes and Starbuck’s...

"I know," said Starbuck.  He had Apollo’s hand in both of his and he kissed it gently.

"Why?"  Troy asked.  "What’s up, Dad?  What do the Enemy want?"

"They want your Dad, Troy," Starbuck said calmly enough.  He held Apollo close for a centon.

"What for?"  Troy said, quiet and subdued.

"Because I’m one of them."  Apollo said it as gently as he could.

Troy choked, but said nothing.  Starbuck just nodded. 

"Somehow I thought this would happen one day," he said.  He tried to smile.  "You look different.  I thought that on the flight deck.  And I don’t just mean the pretty hair style.  You look more… more confident, maybe."

"I never knew what I was before," Apollo said.  "Now I do."

"Not scared anymore, huh?"  Starbuck caressed Apollo’s face lovingly.

Apollo shook his head.  "No.  Not any more." 

"Scared of what?" Troy asked soberly.

"Of what I might be," Apollo said.  "But now I know why they did it, what they’ve made me into, what I will be.  That helps.  It helps me accept it."

Starbuck sighed slightly.  "They’re from Kobol, aren’t they, Apollo?"

"Yes."

"Kobol?" Troy said, wonderingly.

"Pretty important too, I’d guess."  Starbuck attempted a another faint smile, no more successful this time than he had been the last.  "Do we start calling you Lord Apollo?"

"God, no!  I don’t deny I’d enjoy seeing the expression on Salik’s face, or Wilker’s or a few others if they had to say it, but, no, Starbuck, I’m not a Lord of Kobol."

"Just as well."  Starbuck made the effort.  "You’ve enough vanity as it is"

"It’s not me who hogs the mirror every morning," Apollo reminded him, and held him, before pulling free gently.  "The Council are considering what to tell the Fleet about the Enemy, and me.  I’m better out of the way for a while why they do that.  I’m going back over to their Ship for now."

"Will you be back?" Starbuck asked, still in that calm voice.

"Tomorrow.  Stannor - the leader of the People there - has decided that he’d like to see humans again and will visit the Council tomorrow.  He’s a little curious to see how you’ve turned out."

"Then I’ll see you tomorrow."  Starbuck straightened up, released Apollo’s hand.  "I’m due back in the Ready Room, anyway, Apollo.  We’re still on alert, and... well, I’d better get down there."

"Starbuck... ."

"It’s all right, Apollo.  I’ve had a bit of time to get used to it."  Starbuck left quickly, without kissing Apollo goodbye.

Apollo sighed.

"He isn’t due anywhere," Troy said from the other side of the room.  "They stood Blue down.  He just wanted to get away, so you could leave without a scene.  That’s what you want, isn’t it?"

"I don’t know what I want," Apollo said, mostly to himself. 

Troy shot him an impatient look.  "Are you going with them?"

"Maybe.  I’m very comfortable with them."

"Are they really the Lords?"

"Yes.  Well, they were once."

"And you’re comfortable with them?"  Troy sounded accusing.

"They’re my own kind."

"And we aren’t." 

It wasn't a question and Apollo didn’t bother answering.

"I hate Kobol." Troy said after a centon.  "I used to like going to the Chapel with Grandpa, but not any more.  It killed my mother and now it’s taking you away from us.  Besides, it doesn’t mean much if the Lords of Kobol are the kind of thing that goes around ripping people’s hearts out."

He didn’t just mean his father’s.

"It’s hard to explain."

"Don’t try."  Troy rubbed impatiently at his eyes with the back of his hand.  "He’s breaking his heart over you, Dad.  Why don’t you see that?  I just spent ages telling him everything would be all right and that you do care about us."

"Troy... ."

"But you don’t,"  Troy said, seeing things with all the unforgiving black and white clarity of extreme youth.  "You don’t care about him and you don’t care about me.  I suppose it all boils down to you not having a heart to break."

Apollo sighed, and lifted up the Mask, putting it into place.

"No,"  he said.  "We don’t."








Stannor met us in the teleport chamber.

"Bored with piloting your Ship?" he asked after he’d kissed us.

"It will still be there tomorrow," we said. 

He held our hand as we walked back to his quarters.  We were still sharing them with him.  The sex was still astounding, every time.

As soon as we got in the door, he slid his hands inside the leather suit, running his fingers over our stomach, down to where our cock was already hardening. 

"Missed us?" we said, surprised.

"A little," he said and laughed. 

Stannor slid the suit from our shoulders, kissing us, then bent to take us into his mouth.  It felt amazing, our back arching as he sucked us.  We laced our fingers behind his head, holding him there. 

We were naked within centons, then we started on Stannor.  Stannor’s body was lightly gold - like Starbuck’s we thought, although we didn’t allow the thought to stay - unblemished but for the silver implant over his heart, smooth but for a faint triangular patch of golden brown hairs on his chest linked by a line of hair down over the flat stomach to the bush of hair between his legs.  His cock was big and hung loosely, just beginning to twitch and harden.  He liked being looked at.  He liked being admired.  He stroked himself and smiled at us.

It was a big bed.  It needed to be.  Stannor was very energetic, and he provoked an energy in us that astonished us.  For centons there was a lot of energy expended.  We liked Stannor’s taste, the lightly spicy taste that we got from kissing and licking him.  He liked being kissed and licked even more than he liked being looked at.

After a few centons, Stannor turned us onto our face.  His hand was moving on our back, down the little ridges of the spine to tease the sensitive skin in the cleft between our buttocks. 

We gasped when a long finger wormed its way into us, making us wrench and twist at the sudden fire of penetration, his other hand still working in long smooth curves over our back and thighs. 

Now his hands on our buttocks were more forceful, less gentle.  He pulled our buttocks apart, exposing us.  He took his fingers away, but before we could complain at the loss, Stannor’s tongue was there, hot and wet, licking us softer still.  He was kneeling behind us, his knees pressed against the inside of our thighs, forcing our legs apart.  Then his tongue was gone, too, and he felt enormous as he pushed slowly into us.  We could smell the faint perfume of the oil he used.

We turned our head sideways, breathing slow and even to contain the pain and the pleasure.  He leaned his head down to lick and kiss our face and his Mask touched ours, and there was that shock of dark energy that had both of us screaming.  Our Mask grasped his, claws entwined.  His hands held our hips, and we lunged down and up, impaling ourselves on Stannor’s huge cock.

It lasted forever, this joining.  Forever.

We knew only heat and fire.  The heat and fire inside us as Stannor hammered us, the heat and fire Stannor felt, everything channelled and intensified through the joined Masks until the whole world was pain and passion and unbearable waves of pleasure.  Everything was heat and light and darkness, until we were both screaming when the boiling pressure exploded, and we both came in an endless, draining flood of heat and energy that left us exhausted, breathless, sated.

Later he slept, still inside us, holding us closely.  His weight was heavy on us, his breath was warm against our face, his lips still pressed against our cheek.

We didn’t sleep.  We had a decision to make, two conflicting claims to decide upon.

Starbuck loved us.  Stannor wanted us. 

Sex with Stannor, with Masks joined, was something indescribable.  Nothing we’d ever had touched it, nothing left us so shaken, stunned, sated.  It was a physical connexion without par, beyond comparison.  But it didn’t touch us beyond the physical.  There was no emotional bond.  How could there be?  But it was a joining with one of our own kind, with one of the People.  For the first time in yahrens, we felt we belonged.

Sex with Starbuck, loving with Starbuck was different.  Without a Mask there was less intensity.  But there was, perhaps, more humanity.  Certainly with Starbuck we were making love, not just having sex.  But he was not one of the People, and if we belonged at all with humans it was because of him, because of the humanity he preserved in us.

If we stayed, Starbuck would die one day, and our humanity would go with him.  We risked being trapped with the humans, with nothing to keep us human.  We would be lost. 

It was all finely balanced, two principles opposing each other, every question, every option, a manifestation of one principle or the other.  We lay there all night asking ourselves whether we should stay or go, whether we wanted love or Masked sex, .  whether we wanted Starbuck or Stannor, who we wanted to stay with.  But they all, even the last one, came down to the one key decision that we had to make.

Human?  Or not?

It was dawn before we decided.







"What time will they get here, Adama?"

Joel spoke with unusual quiet and respect, and Adama gave him a sharp, distrustful look.

"I don’t know.  We had better just be ready."

Joel nodded.  "Do you know what they want?  What they want to discuss with us?"

"No.  I think that they’ll dictate the agenda.  After all…." Adama allowed his voice to trail away.

"After all, as Apollo pointed out yesterday, they hold all the aces," Joel agreed.  "I can barely believe that they’ve shown so little interest in us.  As if Apollo really is all they want."

"He seems to be," said Adama.

"You’re right, of course."  Joel turned away to talk quietly with Piers and Solon.

Adama frowned after him.  "He’s not normally that polite.  What’s he up to?"

Anton laughed gently.  "Nothing.  He hasn’t recovered his equanimity yet, that’s all.  Yesterday, Adama, he was confident in the benevolent protection of the Lords of Kobol. The Lords turn out to be utterly indifferent to us and, from what Apollo said, probably couldn’t even remember the way back to Kobol if we asked them.  Yesterday, your son was a crushing political liability, a cyborg, a proven traitor and the means to topple you.  Now he’s a god, and you’ll be President until the day you die, unassailable.  Poor Joel has to get used to the sudden reversal of his fortunes, that’s all."

"Please!"  Adama said, protesting.

"Make the most of it," said Anton.  "Enjoy it.  I am."

"Apollo is not a god!"

"Of course not.  None of the Lords of Kobol are.  If I’ve understood correctly, the immensely powerful beings we’ve always seen as interceding between us and God are either introspective hermits or cold-hearted, meddling techs."  Anton pursed his lips thoughtfully.  "Of course, I was never very religious myself, so my equanimity is quite undamaged by the revelation."

"Please," Adama said again, remembering the anguished discussions with the Kobolian priests the previous evening.

"The good thing is, of course, that we’ll gradually come to accept this, you know, Adama.  The Lords of Kobol will revert to what they ought always to have been - figures from our past, great figures, no doubt, powerful and awesome, but no more god-like than we are - and we’ll realise that humanity is more than capable of talking directly to its God.  We’ve grown up, Adama, and it’s not before time.  We owe Apollo a vote of thanks for that."

"But not deification."

Anton laughed.  "I don’t think he’d want it.  That young man has his head screwed on in entirely the right way, if I’m not mistaken.  He’s revelling in rubbing our noses in it, of course, but who wouldn’t in his position?"

"He’ll go with them."

"You think so?"  Anton said.  He looked thoughtful.  "I can see the attraction, of course.  He will be entirely accepted by them, as one of them.  They want him: something he long ago stopped expecting from the humans who rejected and denied him.  Yes, quite an attraction."

Adama just shook his head, too tired to argue.  He hadn’t slept the night before.  After the long and anguished Council discussions had ended and the first hesitant announcements made, he and the family - Athena, Boomer, Troy and Starbuck - had sat together all night, sometimes talking, trying to understand, sometimes completely silent.  They’d watched the repeated, excited broadcasts on IFB reporting on the Council announcements about the Pyramid on Dyss and the identity of the Enemy, and the stunned reaction of the Fleet.  First interesting programme they’ve ever transmitted, Starbuck had said at one point.  It was about the only thing he’d said all night.

Adama sighed.  Starbuck would bear some watching.  It wasn't as though Apollo was dead - Starbuck would know that, somewhere, his Apollo (his Apollo no longer?) was alive and well - but still it was killing Starbuck as surely as Apollo’s presumed death once had.  It would be worse, to be deliberately forsaken this time, with no implacable Death to blame.

"Ah!" Anton said, jumping slightly.

Adama looked up quickly as the Council reacted with muffled squeaks and gasps.  Apollo and Stannor had materialised silently at a spot directly in front of the Council table.

In the stunned silence that followed, Stannor looked around with interest, noting the Kobolian decoration.  He smiled at Apollo, taking no notice at all of the Council members scrambling into their seats.

"You were right about us not being forgotten, ‘Pollo."

Apollo nodded.  He glanced at Adama.  "Stannor, this is the Council of the Twelve, representing each of the Twelve tribes who populated the Colonies."  Then to the Council: "The Lord Stannor of Kobol."

Kobolian Lord and Council stared at each other.

"Mmn,"  Stannor said at last, the voice distorter in place, the Mask translating Kobolian into Standard.  "We haven’t seen humans for a very long time.  You seem very much as we remember you."

Apollo smiled.  He was still looking at his father.  "And that was not necessarily a compliment."

"No," said Stannor, serenely.  "An observation."

Reese, looking scared, and a couple of other security guards were struggling with chairs, to get them into place.

"We won’t be here long,"  Apollo said to him.  "We won’t need them."  He turned back to Stannor.  "This is our father, Stannor, President Adama."

Stannor nodded.  " ‘Pollo has told us of your intention to seek out our servants on Earth, where we left them long ago."

Adama licked suddenly dry lips and nodded.  "After the Destruction, it seemed a logical haven."

"Ah yes.  ‘Pollo told us of that, also."  Stannor glanced around.  "Your ships are slow.  It will take you a long time to get there."

"You don’t object, sir?" Piers asked.

"Object?  Why?  We long ago gave up any claim on them - and you."

"Have you had no contact with them, Lord Stannor?"  Solon sounded faintly surprised.

"None." 

"But you know the way to Earth?" 

"It will be in the databanks somewhere." 

"We downloaded it into our Mask," said Apollo, quietly.  "We’ll give the data to Tigh."

"Thank you."  Adama said, crushed with sudden grief.  It was like talking to a stranger.  To one of the cold-hearted techs that Anton thought them.

"We are interested in your ship, Adama.  We wish to look at it."

"You’re welcome," said Adama with a glance at Tigh, who shrugged resignedly.  They couldn’t stop the Enemy from doing whatever they wanted.

Stannor inclined his head.  "Then we will go."

Apollo nodded, and held out a hand for Stannor to take.

"That’s it?"  someone murmured in disbelief.  "That’s all?"

This was all to their meeting with the semi-mythical beings who had moulded human history, who’d been almost as Gods to them?  A casual comment on their appearance and a vague offer of travel directions?

Stannor looked at the Council for a centon, as if slightly surprised at their shock.  "We have no interest in more.  We will take Apollo and go back to our studies.  You will continue to Earth." 

He took Apollo’s hand and turned for the door.  Apollo glanced over his shoulder, his eyes meeting Adama’s.  He smiled slightly. 

Adama looked back steadily, wishing he’d been able to heal the breach with his son, wishing he’d been able to find the words.  The words he found now were not comforting.

"Goodbye, Apollo," he said heavily.







"You do realise that they’ve been all over my ship for the last two centars?"  Tigh said, keeping his voice down but making sure that the President was under no illusions what the commander felt about it.  "They’ve been in engineering, Isometrics, Life Centre - everywhere.  I even found Stannor looking round my Bridge!"

"I’m surprised that he’s managed to maintain the interest for so long," Adama said.  He was still in his seat at the Council table, only Anton near him until Tigh had returned, unwilling to move, unable to find the energy to move, ignoring the little groups of Councillors talking around the edges of the room.  "I didn’t think that we rated so much attention."

"Maybe he’s looking for something," said Anton.

"He won’t find it on my Bridge," said Tigh stonily.  He grinned reluctantly.  "Funniest thing was they paid a visit to Wilker.  I wish I’d been there to see it, Adama.  Wilker’s still shaking, apparently.  Lords, but…"  he broke off and grimaced.

"Yes.  We’ll have to find some new ways of expressing our astonishment."  Anton was as equable as ever.

Adama looked up.    "And our grief," he said.







"We’ll go and give them the navigational data," said Apollo.  "Try not to scare them all into convulsions while we’re gone."

"Like the Wilker human?"

They grinned at each other, then Stannor nodded.  "We shall meet you in the Kobolian chapel in fifteen centons, then." 

He had not objected when Apollo had proposed he leave Stannor for a few centons to re-visit the Bridge.  He released Apollo’s hand and watched him leave the flightdeck, then walked casually across to look at a Viper.  He was oblivious to the human pilots and ground crew scuttling out of his way, studying the small ship for a centon whilst allowing his Mask to connect into the Galactica’s main computers. 

He scanned the data quickly, looking for internal communications information, sifting through the unique signatures carried by each crewman’s comlink.  Somewhere on this deck… he turned slowly, scanning it, identified the comlink he wanted. 

More humans falling back out of his way as he stalked back across the deck.  He barely noticed them, conscious only vaguely of their fear.  It didn’t touch him. 

"Starbuck?"  he said, coming to a group of pilots that had backed up against a bulkhead as if for some protection when they’d realised the Enemy was coming towards them.

"Shit," Starbuck muttered, swallowing hard.

"We will speak with you."  The Masked head swung round to look at Boomer, and Bojay, Jolly.  "These are not needed."

"Er… ." Boomer said helplessly.

Stannor said nothing, waited.

"You’d better go," said Starbuck quietly. 

"If you’re sure," said Boomer, doubtful, and moved away a few metres, out of earshot but ready to get back in a hurry if Starbuck needed him.  The other pilots went with him, silent and anxious.

"You know that we left him here since we Masked him to allow him to realise the difference between what he was and what he is now," said Stannor.  "Our intention was that he would be ready to go with us, take his rightful place with us.  We’ll be leaving soon." 

"I’m not stopping him," Starbuck said.  "If he wants to go with you, I’d never stop him."

"You’re human.  You’ll grow old and die.  He won’t."

"I’m not stopping him," Starbuck repeated doggedly. 

"There’s a reluctance, because of you."  Stannor looked at him, seeing the tired blue eyes, the fine lines around them, the bluish-black shadows that betrayed Starbuck’s distress.  "But we satisfy him in ways you can’t begin to imagine.  Remember that when he comes to say goodbye."

Starbuck caught his breath and looked away for a centon.  Then he nodded his understanding.

"It will be his choice," he said steadily

"Yes," said Stannor and turned away.  "It will."






Boomer watched the tall Enemy walk away towards the turbo lift and rushed back to Starbuck.

"Bucko, are you okay?  What the hell did he want?"

Starbuck’s gut was hurting.  He wanted nothing more at that moment than to curl up over it protectively, hold the pain and anguish in.  Apollo hadn’t even looked at him when he'd come on to the deck, he hadn't even looked -

"The bastard came to take everything," he said slowly, looking up to watch Stannor’s arrogant progress across the deck.  "He’s taking Apollo away, but he wants to take everything else as well."

"I don’t know what you mean."

Starbuck smiled at Boomer vaguely.  He needed to be alone.  There was too much going on here, too many people.  He needed to get away.  He turned to head for the turbolifts at the other end of the flightdeck, thinking of the Dome far above his head.  He could think there.

"Starbuck!  Starbuck, I don’t know what you mean."

Starbuck wouldn’t tell even Boomer of that last betrayal. 

"It’s okay, Boomer.  I do."







We gave the data to Tigh on the Bridge, looking around that very familiar place.  Tigh was gruff and cool, angry with us for what he saw as desertion and then invasion, but was more impressed when we downloaded the data.  Depressed, as well, when he saw how far the Fleet had to go to reach Earth, but relieved and satisfied with the data we gave him.  He was all right, Tigh.  We hadn’t always seen eye to eye, but we respected him.  We’d respected each other, and he tried to say something of that when we left.

The Bridge crew watched us with even more curiosity than before.  We’d had the Mask monitor IFB while we’d spent the night considering what we would do.  Some of the programmes had been wonderfully, ironically funny.  They all knew what we were now.

One or two murmured goodbyes to us, and looked regretful.  We think, though, that they were relieved when we went to look for Stannor, in the Chapel.  He was looking at the regalia and decorations, a group of ashen-faced priests at the back of the room.  I could see the High Priest among them, his expression one of half fear, half reverence; a man who was seeing a dream embodied before him and realising, as men often do, that a dream should remain just that, an unfulfilled vision, an unquenched longing.  A disillusioned man, now, like our father and Thom.  Well.  There was nothing we could do about that.  It was time the humans learned to let the past go.

Stannor turned to us, amused.  "Do they actually worship us, ‘Pollo?"

"Not quite, but close.  You have – had - enormous religious significance.  They thought that you were something infinitely greater than they are…"

"True."

"… and their protectors, intermediaries between them and God." 

I trailed a hand across the ornate, embroidered altar cloth.  We had been Sealed in this place.  We’d been standing here when we’d seen the star in the void that surrounded Kobol.  Serina and Dad had been so excited at the sight.  All we remember is that even as we said our vows and saw the star, we had ached for Starbuck, who we thought was dead.  If we think back, there seem to be a lot of times when one or other of us was thought to be dead.  Only we - Apollo - seemed to have achieved it.  Twice.

"Well, our visit should have disabused them of that notion," he said, and laughed.

"We expect so," we agreed.

He came close, took our hands in his and kissed us, in front of the altar where we had held Serina’s hand, and made our vows and kissed her. 

"Time to go?"  he said.

He tasted of spice again.  We liked that taste.

We smiled at him.  He was very beautiful and sex with him was amazing.  He had created us, honouring us with the same technology that had created him.  He had taught us who and what we are and that we should be proud of it.   He had shown us what we would be one day, and that there was no escaping it.  He was one of our own kind.  He had welcomed us to our own People, making us one of them, making us belong.  He wanted us.

He knew the answer.







"You know, Apollo," said Starbuck.  "This was always one of the best places for coming and thinking about you when you were gone."

Starbuck looked around the silent Celestial Dome.  He’d opened the metal canopy and had sat for a centar or more, looking at the millions of stars through the thin, clear tylinium dome.  He was so dazed with grief that everything was dulled and heavy.  He knew it and was vaguely grateful.  He was dreading the moment when the Enemy Ship left and took his life with it.  He knew that the dull heaviness would become a sharp, biting, irretrievable loss. 

But at the same time he couldn’t tear himself away.  He had to sit in the Dome, watching as the Enemy Ship faded into hyperspace and Apollo went, for ever this time.  He could live with Apollo’s infidelity, he knew that, even though it hurt only a little less than thinking Apollo was dead, but he couldn’t live with him going.  Never with him going.

In the near distance he could see the Enemy Ship with its escort of Black Ships and he sighed, wondering if Apollo was already on board.

"It’s a pretty enough ship, I guess," he said after studying it for a centon or two.  "And I guess they were bound to get you in the end.  Still they can’t take you away from the Dome.  You’ll always be here, and I’ll come now and again to talk to you.  He can’t take that away from me."

"You’ll get put away, talking to yourself," said Apollo, from behind him.

Starbuck almost fell out the console’s chair.  He looked wildly at Apollo, standing below the dais where he was sitting, then at the hatch in the floor.  He hadn’t heard a thing, and the noise from the thruster chamber should have been stupendous.

Apollo removed the Mask and laid it carefully on the dais.  "They teleported me in,"  he explained into Starbuck’s astonished silence.  "It’s faster, and it meant I didn’t have to come across that walkway.  I’m still having nightmares about that.  It had to be one of the most stupid things I ever did."

"Yeah - and there’s been a few."  Starbuck found his voice.  "I wasn’t expecting to see you, Apollo."

"Really?  You thought I’d not come?  You don’t think much of me, then."

"Just the entire world," Starbuck said, and smiled, looking at his entire world and loving it completely.  "I was thinking of you, up here."

Apollo smiled back.  "So I should hope, given where we are."  He walked carefully to the front of the Dome, to stand in front of the clear tylinium, seeming to look out the Enemy Ship.  "Remember?"

"You expect me to forget?"  Starbuck jumped down from the dais and went to join him, wanting to be near him one last time.  "We’d just come back to the Galactica after destroying the Cylon baseship using Baltar’s own raider to do it."

"Sneaking aboard and sabotaging the baseship’s sensor systems," said Apollo.  "And then I lost that transponder!  I thought it was all up and our own Vipers would shoot us out of the sky."

"Except that this hero knows how to waggle his wings."  Despite everything, Starbuck was grinning.  They’d been so young and foolish then.

"As well as other things," Apollo murmured.

"Keep it clean!" said Starbuck disapprovingly  "This is a story of heroism and derring-do.  And parties.  It was one hell of a party when we got back."

"Except I left it early after telling Sheba I’d never love her the way she wanted."

Starbuck nodded, suddenly sobered.  The gladness he’d felt at Apollo’s appearance was fading back into the dull despair.  "And I followed you... ."

"And I stood here and told you it wasn’t Serina.  And you were behind me, and put your hands on my shoulders.  Yes.  Just like that.  And I leaned back, like this."

"And then I put my arms around you, and you turned round - " 

Apollo twisted in Starbuck’s arms to face him.  "You too?"  he asked, just as he had ten yahrens before.

"Always." Starbuck said, then more doubtfully: "I think I said that.  It’s true anyway.  And then you kissed me, Apollo.  For the very first time."

"Like this," Apollo said, and kissed him. 

"Apollo - " Starbuck said uncertainly, when they broke apart.  That had been as wonderful as the first kiss, as wonderful and as frightening.

"You didn’t say anything, Starbuck.  As I remember it we just fell onto the floor and had the wildest sex."

Starbuck looked doubtfully at the floor and made a firm decision against falling.  "We were younger then and I didn’t bruise this easy."

Apollo laughed.  He got down onto his knees, tugging at Starbuck’s hands until Starbuck joined him.

"We’ll do it in easy stages, then, as befits our age and frailty."  He kissed Starbuck again, and it was with some surprise, several centons later, that Starbuck found himself lying full length on the floor, still kissing and Apollo was shrugging out of the tight-fitting leather, keeping his mouth firmly on Starbuck’s. 

"Apollo?"  Starbuck murmured into Apollo’s mouth.

"Don’t think.  Don’t talk.  Just love me, Starbuck."

Apollo’s hands tugged at his clothes, sliding into them to caress him. 

"I don’t know," Starbuck said, thinking of Stannor.

"I do," Apollo said.  "Trust me, Starbuck."

Starbuck pulled back and looked at him.  Then he deliberately pushed all thoughts of Stannor away.  Apollo was all that mattered.  Apollo was all that had ever mattered.

For the last time, then, he thought.  Something to cherish and remember.

For a few centons they concentrated on exploration, as if it were the first time.  Then, Starbuck remembered, there had been a leisurely undressing, the slow explorations of each other’s bodies, a lot of kissing, touching and licking, murmured words of love and passion and delight.  The feel of Apollo’s hands was like the first time, the distinctive taste of Apollo’s cock was like the first time, Apollo’s moan of delighted pleasure was like the first time. 

Starbuck forgot everything except that this was what he was made for.  If ever he’d had a religion, loving Apollo was it.

And like the first time, he had no lube and had to make do with a good deal of spit.  And just like the first time, Apollo laughed and said it didn’t matter, and all he had to do was take it slow.  And like the first time, Apollo was so hot and tight when Starbuck pushed up into him, that he almost came from shocked surprise that anything could feel so wonderful.  Afterwards, he held Apollo close, his face buried in the long black hair.

"Starbuck."

"Yeah?"  He swallowed hard, tried to sound normal.

"You’re wetting my hair.  I’ll catch my death of cold if you’re not careful."

Starbuck stared, then smiled slightly.  "Bastard," he said, lovingly.

"Am not.  Don’t cry, Starbuck."

"Sorry.  Was that my goodbye, Apollo?"

"Why?"  Apollo asked.  "Going somewhere?"

Starbuck raised himself up on one elbow for a micron, staring down at him, then in sudden, half-disbelieving comprehension, turned his head to look out of the clear Dome.

It had gone.  The Enemy Ship, all the Black Ships, had gone.  There was nothing but stars, millions on millions of stars.

"But I thought… ." Starbuck said, then stopped, the breath catching in his throat as a wave of such intense happiness swept over him that it frightened him.

"You thought that I was going with them?"  Apollo shook his head.  "They left ten centons ago, while we were otherwise occupied."

"I thought they wanted you to go with them." 

"Yeah, they do.  But I told you that they didn’t control me, Starbuck.  The decision’s mine to make."  Apollo shrugged.  "They want me.  They want me a lot.  But I’m not free to go with them.  Starbuck, I’ve thought about this really carefully.  I can’t stay here forever, I know that.  I don’t really belong here any more, and one day I’ll have to go.  But I can’t leave as long as you’re here.  When you leave me, then I’ll be free.  There’ll be nothing to hold me here, without you."

"Oh," said Starbuck, knowing exactly what Apollo meant.  He didn’t like thinking of his own death, so said hastily, "They’ll wait?"

"They’re not pleased about it, but, yeah, they’ll wait until I can go to them.  They understand that I have to stay, that I’ll stay as long as you want me.  I decided that I wanted to be human, Starbuck, as long as you’re here to keep me that way."

Starbuck nodded, and sat up, letting Apollo go.  "Okay," he said, but he didn’t sound sure, questions crowding him, questions he didn’t want to ask.  And Stannor?  And what about Stannor?  We satisfy him in ways you can’t begin to imagine.

Apollo grinned.  "That’s all?  Okay?"

"I can’t think of anything else to say," Starbuck said, a little wildly.  "Apollo, I’ve never been lost for words before."

"We Lords of Kobol are known for our miracles," Apollo said solemnly.

"Don’t, Apollo.  Don’t joke about it." 

Apollo sobered immediately, and sat up, reaching out a hand for Starbuck.  "I’m not," he assured his lover.  "Really I’m not.  I’m just trying to make you laugh, Starbuck.  I’ve put you through hell the last few sectars, and I don’t deserve that you should forgive me, but I need it.  I’m sorry, Starbuck.  I’m so sorry."

"You’re still here." Starbuck dismissed thoughts of Stannor, and put his arms around Apollo again.  The bastard had lost, after all.  Apollo had stayed.  "Dear God, you’re still here!  As long as I want you?"

"Absolutely."

"But I’ll get old, Apollo.  You won’t, will you?"

"Well, no," Apollo admitted.  "But we’ll find compensations, Starbuck.  Everyone will secretly admire you, knowing that you have to be something damned special to keep your handsome lover as devoted as I’m going to be."

"Yeah.  Great compensation that’ll be for grey hair and wrinkles."   

"We’ll dye my hair grey and paint on wrinkles, to match yours.  I’ll give you fair warning though, I won’t go bald for anything.  Not even you."

"Some lover you are!"  Starbuck jeered.  He put one hand to the top of his head.  "I’m not going bald, am I, Apollo?" he asked anxiously.

Apollo kissed the abundant hair.  "Not in the least, Starbuck."

"You won’t miss them?"

"No." 

"You seemed very comfortable with them."

"They wanted me, Starbuck.  That’s very beguiling, very reassuring."

"I want you, Apollo.  I’ve always wanted you."

"I know.  But apart from you, I haven’t felt too secure here since I came back, not like I belonged.  It hit hard, that everyone else treated me like a leper.  I’ve changed, Starbuck, and I’ve felt such a stranger, sometimes.  The People didn’t think of me like that.  I was one of them, welcomed by them, wanted by them.  I wasn’t a stranger with them.  It went to my head, a bit."

"I can understand that, I suppose," Starbuck said, uncertain, and once again had to banish the thought of what Stannor had said.  "You said it answered your questions, stopped you being scared."

"About who and what I am?  Yeah.  Not all the Lords of Kobol stuff, Starbuck.  That doesn’t really matter, especially to them: they’ve moved way past that.  But at least I know now what it was all about, and what it will mean for me one day.  To be honest, that’s still a bit scary, but in a different way.  I used to be scared because I didn’t know what I was, whether I was the dead monster everyone thought I was.  Now I’m a bit scared about what I’ll become one day.  I think when you leave me, Starbuck and I do go, I won’t stay human for very long.  I wasn't lying back in the Pyramid when I said that was what you did for me.  I’ve changed, but not as much as they have.  Not yet, anyway.  You’re the one to keep me from getting that cold.  You’re what keeps me human."

"We all have our uses."  Starbuck thought again about Stannor and the cold, detached, inhuman arrogance, and was quietly thankful that he wouldn’t ever see Apollo like that.  That he could keep Apollo from being like that.  Maybe only for a while, but that was something.  That was a victory in his private war against the Enemy who had taken Apollo from him.  That was the great victory.

"I’ll think up a few more for you," Apollo promised.  "Mostly to do with being horizontal."

"Look forward to it."  Starbuck kissed him again, then said, still anxious, "What’s everyone going to think, Apollo?  It’s all still sinking in, I think, but they’re going to realise what you are.  It’s going to make life a bit difficult.  No-one knew what the hell to do when you left Stannor on the flightdeck."

Apollo frowned.  "I didn’t see you there.  Were you on the flightdeck?"

"I was there.  Hiding behind Boomer, mostly."

"Oh.  Sorry.  I was a bit preoccupied with working out how I was going to tell him I wasn’t going with him.  I just wanted to get away from him for a few centons to think about it."

"Apollo, this is serious.  Stannor scared the shit out of everyone.  No-one knew whether to run for it, stand their ground and fight, or kneel and genuflect.  This could get nasty.  I mean, they were angry and afraid when you came back the first time, because they didn’t know what you were.  Now they’re going to be angry and afraid because they do."

Apollo nodded.  "I know.  But they’ll adjust eventually.  I dare say that it’ll keep the priests and theologians busy for a few centuries, worrying about my exact status and how this affects what they do in church, but I don’t think that most people will care once the sensation dies down."

"Well, I hope not."  Starbuck said, doubtful, wondering about Apollo’s unaccountable confidence.

"Starbuck, most of them were already doubting.  Most of them think that if the Lords were there to protect them, then why did the Cylons win?  All this does is confirm what most of them have known for the last twelve yahrens: humanity’s on its own, and it’s up to humans to decide their own destiny.  If some of them are hostile, then that’s not very different to what we have now.  I’ve lived with that hostility since I came back.  And really, Starbuck, I don’t care about them.  I only care what you think, and what you can live with.  If people do point and stare, we can always take a leaf out of Stannor’s book.  I don’t suppose he noticed what any of you were doing - running, fighting or genuflecting."

"You mean, just ignore it all?"

"Well, I could get to like the genuflecting."  Apollo sounded deadly serious.

Starbuck choked slightly on that one.  "You arrogant bastard!"

Apollo grinned.  "You know, Starbuck, I might be a touch arrogant on occasion…"

"A touch!  You call that a touch?"

"But I don’t come close to them.  Not a word of apology for what they did.  Not one."

"Would you change it though?"  Starbuck asked astutely.

Apollo paused.  Starbuck wondered what he was thinking about, weighing up Starbuck and the Galactica against a long, long life, eventually doing what he loved best, exploring new worlds. 

"Yes.  To grow old with you, I’d change it.  But we can’t, Starbuck.  This is the best we can do."

"Okay," Starbuck said again, appreciating the little pause before Apollo had answered.  If it had come back too glib, then he might have had more difficulty believing it.  He framed Apollo’s face in his hands and sat and looked at him for a few centons.  "I love you, Apollo, and I want you for ever.  I warn you that if that’s what it takes to keep you with me -"

"And keep me human.  I meant that."

" - and keep you human, then I intend to live forever."

"Suits me."  Apollo looked suddenly shy and unsure of himself.  "Starbuck.  Starbuck, I know we can’t get Sealed, but would you like a civil ceremony where we could take some sort of public vows to be together for ever?"

Starbuck stared, shocked.  "Are you asking me to marry you?"

"As close as we can get."

"Okay,"  Starbuck said, yet again, shocked and delighted now in equal measure.  He was feeling more than slightly dizzy.  He’d gone through so many conflicting emotions in the last half centar that his head was spinning.  He thought of a potential drawback.  "Only -"

"Only what?"

"The only gay wedding I ever went to, the guys quoted some really, really bad poetry at each other, and everyone cried buckets with trying not to laugh.  No poetry."

"Everyone’s a critic,"  Apollo said with a shrug.

"No poetry.  Promise me no poetry, and you’re on."

"But there’s some really lovely love poems, Starbuck.  Honest.  I’m sure I can find a couple you’d like."

"Apollo!"

Apollo sighed his defeat.  "Okay.  No poetry.  Anything you want, Starbuck."

"Only you.  You’re all I want,"  Starbuck said, and it was quite a long time before he had the breath to say anything else.  A long time of kisses and caresses, and those murmured words of love and pleasure he’d thought he’d lost.

They’d been lying very quietly for some time, Starbuck drifting in a haze, half dazed with happiness, when Apollo spoke again.

"There’s something I should tell you, Starbuck," he said.

Stannor.  Starbuck knew it, came back to mundane reality with a bump.

"Don’t.  There’s no need," he said quickly.

Apollo looked towards him, puzzled.

"He told me himself, earlier, on the flightdeck."

"He did what?"

"He was trying to make sure that you went with him, I guess."

"Oh.  I’m sorry, Starbuck."

"Don’t, Apollo.  I don’t want to talk about it, and I don’t want to know.  It doesn’t matter."  Starbuck was lying.  It did matter, but in the scale of things, it didn’t matter compared to knowing that, in the end, Apollo had decided to stay.  With him.  Not Stannor.  Him.  He’d won, Stannor had lost.  His victory.

"You know what we just did together?"

"Making love?" Starbuck said, slightly puzzled.

"Yeah.  With him it wasn't that.  It was mostly the Masks, and wholly just sex.  Love didn’t come into it.  I’m truly sorry, Starbuck."

"It doesn’t matter," Starbuck said with more conviction this time.  "All that matters is that you’re here with me."  A slight pause.  "Always?" 

Apollo smiled wanly.  "I promise." 

He shivered slightly, and Starbuck, diverted, started scolding, tugging the leather suit back over his lover’s shoulders.  He’d forgotten how poorly Apollo adjusted to heat or cold, and the Dome was chilly.  Apollo let him fuss for a few centons.

Starbuck looked regretful once they were both back in their clothes.  "I suppose now we’re dressed, we’d better go back.  Troy’s breaking his heart down there somewhere and your Dad’s like an old man.  It’s cruel to leave them thinking you’ve gone."

"I’ve a few bridges to mend there,"  Apollo said wryly.  "I’d like to make things better with Dad.  And Troy - I’ll have to work on getting him to forgive me.  I forgot how young he is, really.  I need to remind him that I do care about him."

"Because you had to remind yourself?"

There was the faintest flush on the high cheekbones.  "Close, Starbuck.  I certainly gave him enough cause to think I’m a heartless bastard - literally.  He asked me what I was going to do when I was most in turmoil about what I wanted, when I didn’t know if I was human or of the People.  Before I decided I could be both, for a little while."

"Can you?  Be both?  Really?"

"I’m going to try," Apollo said.  "With your help."

Starbuck smiled.  "Okay.  Tell Troy that.  He’s smart, smarter than either of us.  He’ll understand.  You can make it all right with him."

"I hope so."

"Troy and your Dad will be okay: they both love you and they’ll both be out of their heads because you’ve stayed.  I’m not so sure about the Commander, though.  He never loved you that much and I can’t see how you’re going to get out of one of his little disciplinary talks.  You’re deep in the shit there, Apollo.  If he has you cashiered for desertion, I might have to come and comfort you through the prison bars after all."

"And I might have to earn my living in other ways."  Apollo smoothed the leather down provocatively.

"Apollo, I hate to say this, but that leather looks ridiculous.  Sexy, indecent, a complete come-on - but ridiculous.  Like you’re playing at socialating."

"I don’t mind playing at it with you."  Apollo signalled an unmistakable invitation, then added wryly:  "But I do mind having to get back across that walkway."

"I’ll get you back safely."  Starbuck smiled at him mistily.  "Looks like I’ll always get you back."

It was a question, really, and Apollo hastened to answer it.  "Always and forever," he promised and kissed him again.

It was a few centons before Starbuck got up reluctantly and pulled Apollo up after him. "We’d better go."

Apollo turned his head, seeming to look at the Mask on the dais.  He held out his hand and the Mask leapt up to coil its claws around his arm.  He slid it off and hooked the Mask into his belt with one claw. 

"Shit," Starbuck breathed, taking a startled step backwards.

"It’s a little more responsive than the old one." 

Starbuck swallowed hard.  "I remember that you said it was a bit fancier."

"It was a gift."

Starbuck couldn’t help himself.  "From Stannor," he said with a centon’s bitterness.  He wondered sadly if Stannor really had satisfied Apollo better than he could; if, despite what he’d said, Apollo had preferred sex with Stannor to love with Starbuck.

"Yes," Apollo said, and waited. 

Starbuck sighed silently, then remembered who it was Apollo had stayed with, and said in a lighter tone, aiming to reassure both Apollo and himself: "Can you teach it tricks?  Get it to chase sticks and bring your slippers?"

"I think you’d need a daggit for that.  You’ll have to reactivate Muffit."

Starbuck shuddered.  "If I ever think about that seriously, you have my full permission to ask for euthanasia on my behalf."

Apollo grinned.  "That’s why, Starbuck.  That’s why I stay with you.  You make me forget everything and make me laugh."

Half bent to raise the hatch, Starbuck paused and straightened slowly.  "Why did you stay, Apollo?"  he asked, serious.  "Really."

Apollo reached out as unerringly as if he could see Starbuck, long fingers caressing his lover’s cheek.

"You know why."

"I need to hear you say it.  You’ve never said it, not since you came back.  Nine yahrens, and you’ve never told me.  Say it, Apollo.  Tell me why."

Apollo looked thoughtful, nodded.  "I’m not going to lie to you, Starbuck.  I thought very hard about this.  I was very tempted to go with them, to stop being a stranger, to belong.  But I couldn’t.  In the end, I knew I couldn’t go.  Actually, I think that I knew all along I couldn’t go.  I couldn’t leave you, not ever.  I stayed because I belong here, with you.  I stayed because I belong to you."

He leaned forward and kissed Starbuck.  When he stepped back he had both hands holding Starbuck’s face, and was smiling into Starbuck’s eyes as if he could see him, could watch the effect of what he was saying.

"I stayed because I love you."

 

~end~

Previous Chapter