Section Two

 

Boomer

Starbuck was hunched in his chair, pale faced and shaking. He barely realised that I was there I think, even when I touched him.

“We'd better go,” I said gently.

He looked up at me, still shocked and disbelieving. All of the pilots who'd been at the trial were shocked and disbelieving, but I knew that he felt especially bad. They'd used him to get at Apollo, and he was blaming himself.

“It's my fault, Boom-boom,” he choked out. “It's all my fault”

“No it's not,” Athena said automatically, and pushed back her hair with a hand that trembled visibly. “I'd better go and see Dad” she said in an uncertain voice. She looked at me, suddenly stricken. “And Boxey? Who's going to tell Boxey?”

“Not you,” I said, thinking that she was near to fainting. She'd definitely had enough. Adama would have to tell Boxey that his father had been found guilty. I was relieved when Jolly, his face still wet, pushed through the crowds towards us. “Take Athena out of here,” I said to him, and nodded significantly at the cameras and the excited IFB people who were trying to get Athena into shot. “I'll take care of Starbuck”

Jolly glanced at the camera and scowled. He beckoned Giles and Greenbean and Sheba to join him. “We'll get her out without those slimy toads getting close,” he promised.

Sheba had been crying too. She and Apollo were pretty close once, although I thought they'd been drifting apart for a while now. She sat down beside Athena and put an arm around her shoulders. “We don't believe this felgercarb, Thenie,” she said firmly, and hugged her. “Let's get out of here.”

She got Athena to her feet, and with Jolly and the others providing a very effective screen, guided her to the door. Athena didn't say a word, just stumbled out with Sheba's support. I hoped she'd be all right, but I couldn't leave Starbuck.

Starbuck hadn't noticed any of this. He sat very still in his chair, staring at his feet. He didn't notice Jolly's arrival, or Sheba, or that Athena had gone. He didn't see the scuffle when some of the other pilots saw off the IFB people who attempted to get close to him. A camera got ever so slightly damaged in that. He didn't notice that either. In the end, the Council Chamber cleared but for me and Starbuck sitting in our seats, and a small group of pilots clustered around the door making sure that the IFB people couldn't get back in. They knew how bad Starbuck felt and considerately looked the other way.

They didn't know what I knew, of course. Starbuck would feel terrible - any one would - at what had happened to his best friend. But Apollo was more than that to Starbuck. Apollo was the one Starbuck loved and longed for, but thought he'd never have. That made it even worse.

He was quiet for a long time, and when he looked up his eyes were wet. He rubbed them with his sleeve and sat back. “What're we going to do?” he asked miserably.

“Prove him innocent,” I said.

“How?” Starbuck's a tall, rangy kind of man but he looked small and defeated suddenly, like a whipped child. This had hit him very hard. It's like when you have a pain in your gut, and you curl round it protectively. That's what Starbuck was like, curling around his pain and hurt. I put an arm around him.

“Well, I suppose we start with Galen and the other two. You saw them on the Rising Star: we'll look for them there. We might be able to persuade them to tell us what's really going on.”

“We're confined to the Galactica,” he reminded me dully. The Council had ordered that immediately after Apollo's arrest, to contain any possible mutiny.

“We won't be for ever. And it's not like they've executed him - he'll be alive.”

“On the Barge,” Starbuck said with a break in his voice.

“But it means we have time to prove it. We'll get him out. We'll find Galen and the others and get them to talk, and we'll get him out.” If I kept saying it often enough, it might be true.

“Category One. What‘s it mean?”

“I don't know. I asked Giles - he said it wasn't used very much. He wasn't sure of the details, but he thought it was pretty tough. They designated Baltar as a Category One prisoner when Iblis handed him over to us.”

He was silent for a centon thinking about it. “Apollo will hate being locked up,” he said.

“It won't be for long. We'll find some way of getting him out.” I was beginning to sound desperate, even to myself. There's only so many times you can say the same thing and still sound as though it's true.

Starbuck nodded, then suddenly he was twisting in my grip to bury his head on my shoulder. “Oh God, Boom-boom. It's all my fault. It's all my fault.”

 

 

 

Apollo

By the time they allowed my father in to see me, I was a little less stunned than I'd been when Anton had pronounced sentence. I still couldn't really believe what had happened. How could they believe all that idiotic nonsense? And why the hell was Sire Jeth, whom I barely knew, setting me up like this?

Dad looked very grave. He often does when he's trying to hide what he really feels. Oddly enough it was a little thing he focused on first, but symbolic, I suppose. He walked in and put his arms around me.

“I wasn't expecting to see you in that already” he said. He gestured at the prison uniform.

“Why not? It's apparently all I'm entitled to wear now.” I looked down at the thin buff shirt and jeans. “Don't think much of the tailor, though. No sense of style.”

He tried to smile, held me closer. “You don't have much yourself,” he said, and I couldn't deny that. I've never been very comfortable out of uniform.

We sat down on the narrow bunk. He kept his arm around me comfortingly. “I've spoken to Boxey and explained to him as well as I can. You're not to worry about him, Apollo. He doesn't believe this any more than we do.”

“You'll look after him for me?” It was like being kicked in the gut, the thought of not seeing my son again. Serina would be mad at me. A fine job I was making of keeping my promise to her to look after him.

“You know we will. Athena's moving into your quarters to care for him. We thought it would be less disruptive for him, to stay at home. And besides..” he tried for an upbeat tone. “..that means you'll still have a home to come back to when we sort this mess out.”

Oh yeah. Whenever that would be.

“He'll have a hell of a time at school,” I said gloomily.

“He's not alone, Apollo. He knows it's not true. He knows you're not a traitor. We'll care for him and support him”

“What about you?” I asked. “What about the Presidency?”

Dad looked away. “I've stepped down,” he said quietly.

Another kick in the gut. “Oh hell,” I said and I sounded tired and defeated even to myself. “That's what all this was about, wasn't it? Why couldn't you have stuck it out? Why let them win?”

“It wasn't possible,” Dad said, still quiet. “Anton is stepping in temporarily. He doesn't believe this either, Apollo, and he's a good friend and ally. He won't call elections soon - he wants to give us the chance to prove your innocence.”

“And the Galactica?”

“I'm retaining command.”

“That's something, but.. oh Lords, I'm sorry,” I said. “I'm so sorry…”

Dad wasn't having any of that. “Don't be stupid, Apollo. This isn't your fault. They're just using you to get at me. Don't blame yourself…”

“If I hadn't been stupid enough to buy back Starbuck's laser, this wouldn't have happened.”

“Yes it would. I suspect the laser was a bonus - you'd still have been filmed handing over the money.” He managed a grin. “Starbuck's completely distraught about this, Apollo. He's blaming himself too.”

“Can I see him?”

Dad shook his head. “No. You're only allowed one visitor, and we don't have that much time, only a few centons. Do you want me to give him a message?”

“Only that it wasn't his fault. They set the pair of us up. He couldn't help that.” I looked down at my feet for a centon. “Assuming he hasn't been duped by someone else, do you know why Jeth did this?”

Dad frowned. “No. He's proved something of a dark horse on the Council. I've never been sure of his views, or his motivation. Like all of the Council he's a politician down to his fingertips, but he makes no real and lasting alliances. He's voted against me in small matters in the past but never shown any sign of hostility of this scale. He's even more of an opportunist than most politicians.”

I sighed, was silent for a centon. Then I thought of things I had to say to him. “Bojay.”

Dad looked at me, surprised. “Bojay? What about him?”

“You'd better appoint him as Strike Leader. He's got the most experience: he'll look after them. I'd give Boomer Blue Squadron, if I were you. He's the steadiest, and he's the only one who'll be able to keep Starbuck under control.”

“Don't worry about it.”

“I have to. That's my job - at least, it was.” I looked at him. “I didn't really take all of it in, but they've designated me a Category One prisoner, right?”

He nodded. “It's very rarely used these days.”

“The same as Baltar. That's not very encouraging, to be viewed in the same light as Baltar.”

“Don't think of it like that.”

“I've been remembering my legal classes from the Academy. If I'm right, the Barge has complete legal immunity for the way it treats Category One prisoners. That should be fun. Reese hates me.”

“It will be hard,” Dad agreed, and I could see how worried he was. He knew the Barge would be hell. It had a tough reputation.

“And Category One is solitary confinement. No contact, no rights of any kind. No visitors, no letters, no appeal. No longer considered human. If you can't get me out of there, I'll never see any of you again, ever.”

“We will get you out, Apollo,” he protested.

“Right,” I said gloomily, wondering how long I'd last out. I don't love very many people, but those do I love, I love very much. I couldn't imagine being locked up forever and never seeing them again: Dad, Athena, Boxey, Boomer - and Starbuck. I couldn't even begin to imagine not seeing Starbuck again. This time the kick in the gut had a knife's edge to it.

“We will, I promise.”

We were silent for a centon then I turned to him and held on to him very tight. I don't think I've ever felt so alone or so despairing. He had always been there, like a rock, for me to depend on. Soon I'd have nothing.

“I'm scared,” I said. “Oh Lords, but I'm scared"

“I know,” he said, stroking my hair comfortingly, as if I'd been Boxey. “I know. But I will get you out, Apollo. I promise. I promise I won't let you rot in there for something you haven't done.”

Reese was at the door. “Commander,” he said, and I winced at the changed form of address, no longer President Adama. “It's time.”

Dad nodded and held me very, very close for a centon. “Remember. We love you and we'll get you out.”

I hugged him back, managing not to cry in front of Reese. “I know. I know. I love you too. Tell them I love them and take care of Boxey for me.”

“Commander,” Reese said again, and with one more hug my father was gone and I was on my own.

Reese watched me for a centon, and I straightened up, determined he would never see how badly this had hit me. He grinned. “Time to go.” He held out a hand, manacles dangling in it. “And just look what I have for you.”

I got to my feet, fast. “You are not going to put those things on me!”

Reese smiled. “Oh, we're so glad you said that.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Aren't we, boys?”

 

 

 

Reese

We started in on him as soon as we got him to the Barge. You have to do that. You have to make sure they know from the beginning who's boss, that they had better do what they're told or they'll suffer for it. Some of them will suffer anyway, of course, whether they're nice compliant little prisoners or not. The ones I don't like, or like too much. I didn't like our former Strike Leader. Warriors and Security don't mix anyway, and he was a snotty little bastard, the great Commander's son, looking down on low life like us. He'd thwarted me more than once, made me look stupid, like the time I'd almost got his buddy on a murder charge over Ortega. That he had to pay for.

Of course we'd had that little run-in with him in the Galactica's brig, but that was just a taster. I couldn't really deal with him the way I wanted on Daddy's ship. But once he was on my ship - that was a different matter. So we got him off the shuttle and into his cell. He didn't enjoy that. The solitary confinement cells were on the far side of the main grid, and the cages were lined with the other Barge rats, there to see him pass through. I don't suppose he was used to the jeering, the catcalls and the obscene comments. He didn't say anything, looking straight ahead as he walked past and ignoring the noise as if it wasn't happening, which only made them worse, of course. I didn't stop it, although I could have. The sooner he faced up to reality, the better. The sooner he realised that he was no better than them, the easier he would be to handle.

He didn't think much of his cell, either. Unlike the grids, confinement cells have solid walls and doors. Well, there's no point in putting them in solitary, is there, if they can see out and the other rats can see in? What sort of special punishment would that be? And it means we can add a few extra refinements every time they annoy us; isolation and blackout, for example. A three metre cube, that's all Category One scum merit, and even that's too good for them. He'd looked at it in disbelief - as the Commander's son he'd had spacious living quarters, almost palatial. The solitary confinement cell probably wasn't as big as his bathroom - and when he'd turned to complain about the cupboard we were putting him into, I decked him.

After that I let Greg, my second, and the guard platoon give him a long over-due kicking. I sat on the built-in bunk and watched. It's not that I don't like kicking them myself - I do - but I get off watching Greg and the boys at work. I like watching the rats struggle and see the blood come, or see the pain and fright on their faces, and you have to be at a distance to see that. I was surprised at the way he tried to fight back. Impressive, really, even though he couldn't do much against four of them when he was still in restraints. It was really exciting, and I got as hard as Hades when he managed to get his hands around Greg's throat at one point. Not that Greg doesn't deserve throttling sometimes, but he is my second after all, and replacements are hell to train up. Still it was funny to see Greg's eyes bulging and see him turn purple. Greg got a bit panicked until the other guys pulled the bastard off and beat the shit out of him. That was fun for all of us. Except maybe Apollo.

I'd warned them not to hit his face too much. He's a pretty one, our former Strike Leader, with a long elegant body and neat little arse. I'd seen the body when he was playing Triad - the gear doesn't leave a lot to the imagination and I'd often jacked myself off watching the Triad games on IFB. And that face: all high cheekbones and stunning unusual green eyes. If anyone was going to bruise that pretty face, it was going to be me, and under very specific circumstances. So I watched to make sure that they were careful. They knew better than to cross me, but I suppose it was inevitable that he got a few cuts and bruises on the way. By the time they'd got him too dazed to resist any more, they'd forced him down on his knees, head hanging. I got off the bunk and pulled on his hair to bring his head up and looked critically into his face. I don't think he could see me. He was semi-conscious by then and couldn't have focused on anything.

“Not bad,” I conceded, tracing one discolouring bruise with my finger. It was the worst mark on his face, and I frowned slightly, but decided that this time I wouldn't make a fuss. They'd get plenty of practice in getting him ready for me. They'd get better at it. I glanced at the narrow bunk. “Get him onto there for me, then get out.”

Greg grinned, massaging his throat with one hand. “He's a tough bastard, Reese,” he said, half admiringly.

“Aren't they all?” I watched as they got him face down on the bunk and tied him down for me. I'd had the restraining rings put in specially in all the single cells. Just for convenience. It made it easier to get at any prisoner that I had a special interest in.

Greg gave me a knowing grin when I told him he was in command, and got everyone out. I locked the door behind them from the inside to make sure I wasn't disturbed and turned back to Apollo. It didn't take me long to get his pants down round his ankles and rip open his shirt - I'd rather have them naked, but I'm a pragmatist at heart really. I didn't have the time or energy to waste in stripping him, and I'd have to untie his legs. If he came to while I was in the middle of it, I'd have had to call Greg back to help get him back under restraint and I didn't want to do that. That wouldn't do my reputation any good at all. I knew there would be plenty of opportunity to have him naked once I'd broken him and trained him. Breaking and training would be fun in any event.

As I got out of my own clothes, I looked over my latest toy. I'd been right about how pretty he was. Unmarked. I'd heard he'd always been lucky and escaped major injury in battle. I bet he did, having the rest of the squadrons protecting Daddy's boy and making sure he won a medal or two in the process to prove how brave he is. I'd never been in battle but I had one hell of a boner. I wondered how brave he'd be about that. He was groaning now as he came to, and I climbed onto the bunk to straddle him. I didn't touch him yet, just sat across his legs, waiting for him to realise what was happening.

It didn't take long. I felt him stiffen, and then he was trying hard to move, yanking on the restraints.

“Waste of time,” I said.

He twisted his head to look at me, and the green eyes were blazing. “You bastard!” he choked out.

“Not very original,” I commented. “I'd have thought they'd teach you better than that at your expensive school. Can't you do better, Apollo?”

So he had a go. Actually, he surprised me once he was in full flood. I didn't think prissy little Commander's sons knew words like that, but it wasn't nice what he said. Especially about my mother. Of course, I couldn't allow that. I had to stop him saying those things, those bad things, so I hit him a few times across a mouth that would have to learn to be wicked in other ways, and gagged him with the remnants of his own shirt. That meant he had to listen to me while I told him what I was going to do to him. Was he furious at being so helpless, at being humiliated by me, at being fucked by me! It was funny; made me laugh. While I talked, while I told him about how I was going to ram that boner of mine right up his pretty little arse and fuck his insides into mush, I started touching him. Nothing much at first, just putting my hands on that pert arse and fondling it, rubbing it. He hated that, I could feel it.

I figured from his reactions that he probably hadn't ever done it with a man before. Well, he was in for one hell of an introduction to the art. That boner of mine was demanding release. He was in just the right position to provide it for me, butt up and inviting. I wriggled backwards a bit and then leaned forward, a hand on each side of him to support myself. I licked him, running my tongue right up over a buttock and up his back. He froze.

“Nice?” I asked him, licking the other buttock and again running my wet, wet tongue up to the back of his neck. He was shuddering. I didn't wait for any kind of muffled answer through the gag, but went back to licking him, getting him ready to service me. When I stuck my tongue up against his arse, he jumped and again flailed helplessly, pulling on the restraints. A real waste of time. I'd made sure of that. I licked him for a few centons, enjoying the taste of him. It wasn't often that I got blueblood arse like this one.

“I think you liked that,” I said, sitting back and putting my hands on his buttocks again, massaging, owning. “There's a lot better than that going up there, soon, Captain.”

I pressed a finger against his pucker, watching as it flexed and opened for me where I'd licked it wet and warm. I wasn't using lube this time - I might the next time, if he pleased me - but this one was going to be one he'd never forget. This had to set the pattern for the rest. He had to understand that I could do what I liked with him and he had to lie there and take it. The only lube was going to be my spit, and the look on his face when I told him that made me laugh out loud.

I sucked noisily on my finger, wanting to make sure he could guess what I was doing. He couldn't see much; tied as he was he couldn't twist his head round far enough to see. It was more fun to torment him this way. While I did that, I thought about how nice it would be when he sucked on me - and he would - and what it would feel like to come inside his pretty-boy's mouth. Then I pushed my finger up into him.

He tried again to get away, trying to buck me off and pull himself free. But I laid my other hand flat on the small of his back to remind him he was helpless and I could hold him down easily, and I finger-fucked him hard. Lord, but he was hot and tight and I told him so, and that I could hardly wait to get my prick in there. He was trying not to move or make any noise, trying not to give me the satisfaction. Now that's bad. Okay, it's fun fucking the Hades out of him, but having him squirm with pain and humiliation was the main point of it. He annoyed me about that a bit. So I got a second finger up there, and a third, feeling him stretch to accommodate them, and really thumped away at him for a few centons until despite himself he was moaning through the gag, and that neat little arse was moving with my fingers.

Now my fingers had found that soft, vulnerable, secret part a man has and I was giving it some attention. He was maybe feeling it for the first time, the sweet sensation that comes from having your prostate thoroughly handled. I remember when I was a kid, the first time I felt a man's fingers touching that magic spot, rubbing and stroking to get me hot for him, to open me up to take his prick, making me wet and willing. Well, Apollo was getting lubed up for me, even if he wasn't too willing. Yet.

I took my other hand off his back and started spitting into the palm, wetting my shaft. There was plenty of pre-come oozing out of the head, and that helped grease me up too. It was time to really teach this boy about life on the Barge.

I pulled out my fingers, twisting them to stretch him further for me, and pressed the end of my prick up against the softened anal ring. Whatever protest he was trying to make was drowned as I forced the head of my prick up into his body. I paused for a micron, wanting to be sure he knew what was coming, then rammed forward with all my strength.

He screamed through the gag and his back arched. Boy, did that sound good! Almost as good as his hot arse felt as it enclosed my prick for the first time.

“Oh God, you're hot and so tight.” My balls were pressed up against him, and his buttocks felt good tucked into my groin. I pulled back and rammed him again, right up to the balls. “You're so fucking tight! Do you like it, Apollo? Can you feel every inch?”

I pulled back and watched as my prick plunged into him again. A beautiful sight. Then I started riding him hard, pushing back up into that hot tight space, my prick sliding deep into his arse on every thrust, my balls banging against the taut buttocks. Apollo was biting on the gag hard, obviously determined not to make any noise, not to satisfy me by crying, or moaning, and he was trying not to move. Maybe he thought that if he didn't react, I'd think I was a lousy fucker or something. No chance. He was getting me annoyed about that. Treacherous little Barge rat had to be taught his place. And his place was arse up, ready to be fucked senseless by me anytime I wanted him.

As I continued pounding his arse, I reached round underneath him and grabbed hold of his prick and squeezed. He was hard as hell, just like I thought he would be, giving me something nice and meaty to hold onto while I hammered him. I started jacking him off, timing it so that each stroke matched the my rhythm, sliding my hand back on his prick as I plunged mine, swollen and hard, up into him, making him thrust back to meet me so I could get up higher, pounding against that magic spot. Our bodies slapped together, harder and tighter with every stroke. It started him going, as I thought it would, and he couldn't keep that pretty arse still any longer, no longer in control. I was in control. I was the one making him fuck with me even thought he didn't want to. I was the one hammering repeatedly on his prostate, until Apollo was gone and all that was left was the sensation of my prick ploughing into him.

I jacked him off harder, hurting him, making him push backwards to try and escape my hand and impale himself further on my prick as a result. Nowhere for him to go. Nowhere at all. Because he was nothing now, just something for me to come in whenever and however I wanted. Soon he'd be begging for it, willing to please me. I could make sure of that. I would really enjoy teaching him that. Gods, his body felt good moving under mine, writhing, his arse gripping and holding me hard and tight. He was loving it.

He was whimpering now. That'll teach him. That'll teach him to think I could fuck him and he could pretend nothing was happening. Now he knew I could make him come whether or not he wanted it. Now he knew that he belonged to me. Now he knew what life on the Barge meant. I was close to coming when I leaned forward and bit his shoulder, sinking my teeth in to pierce that smooth skin. The blood was hot and salty, and the convulsive heave he gave when he felt the pain made me come, and I was yelling as I exploded hot liquid deep up into him, feeling the wonderful, amazing sensation of my balls draining. Two fast thrusts and I was collapsing on him, still jacking him off, faster now. He came a micron later, spurting thick come juice all over my hands. I'd punish him for that later, but for now I pulled my hand away and licked it clean. He tasted nice.

He was sobbing for breath under me, as I coiled my legs around him, and wrapped my arms around his chest. I didn't want to pull out of him yet, so I stayed inside him, softening now, maybe, so that I didn't hurt him as much, but still filling him, still filling that space where no man had been before. Still owning him. I was going to keep my prick where it belonged, lodged firmly in the only part of him that mattered, and as soon as I could, I'd fuck him again. And again.

He was very still, breathing heavily, and I nibbled gently at his neck, licking away the blood from the bite.

“Welcome to the Barge, Apollo,” I said.

 

 

 

“What are you looking for?” Athena asked, watching Boxey scrabbling around under his bed.

Boxey stretched his arm as far as he could, hooking his fingers into the box. His father had pushed it almost to the wall when they'd put it away a few sectars before.

“This,” he said breathlessly and pulled the box towards him.

Athena bent down and helped him get the box out from under the bed. It was heavier than she expected, but between them they got it onto the top of the bed. She watched as Boxey sat down beside the box, groaning inwardly when she saw what it contained. Boxey's hand rubbed over the metal and orange-fur body, caressing the droid's head. Muffit 2. Oh boy. Just what she needed.

“It's a bit dusty,” she said.

Boxey looked affronted at her critical tone. “It's Muffy”

“I know”

“Daddy gave him to me.”

Boxey's voice was muffled. He'd suddenly pressed his face to the droid's synthetic orange fur to hide the fact he was crying. He didn't want to cry in front of Aunt Athena. He wouldn't cry at school either when the other kids teased him about being the jail-bait's son. He was too big to cry. He could only cry at night when Aunt Athena put out his bedroom light and he was alone. Then he cried.

“I know,” Athena said again, gently. She'd noticed how Apollo had become Daddy again. At a family dinner a few sectars before, her brother had been rueful about Boxey's declaration that he was getting too old to call his father such a babyish name and had reluctantly accepted the change to the shorter form that Boxey thought was more grown up. At around the same time, Boxey had deactivated Muffit, deciding he was too old for the droid daggit, too. Apollo had been decidedly less regretful about that. He'd held the dinner to celebrate.

Athena waited for a centon, giving Boxey time to recover himself. She knew he didn't want her to notice the tears. “What are you going to do with him?” she asked. “I thought you said you were too old for him now.”

Boxey looked up at her, his hand still resting on the furry head. His face was grubby where the tears had soaked up some of the dust from Muffy's fur. He didn't answer her directly, but pressed on the little switch behind Muffy's right ear. There was a slight whirring noise, and the droid's eyes lit up. Athena sighed.

“Get out of that box, you daggit!” Boxey ordered, and the droid, making an unrealistic barking noise, obeyed. It sat on the floor in front of Boxey. For a long time the little boy stared back at the metallic, vaguely daggit shaped head and then he said in a very quiet voice, “I miss my Daddy, Aunt Athena.”

Athena swallowed hard. She sat down beside her nephew and put her arms around him. “I know you do, Boxey. We all miss him.”

Boxey turned his head into her shoulder. “I want him,” he said “I really want him back.” He was very still for a centon, then pulled back to look at her. “Starbuck and Grandpa say they're going to prove Daddy didn't do it. When? When will he come home?”

Athena's eyes were as wet as Boxey's. “I don't know, sweetheart,” she said at last. “I don't know.”

 

 

 

According to the head of Council Security, Shadow was a very useful commodity. Strictly, of course, it was an illegal drug, proscribed because of its addictive qualities and the massive physiological damage it did to those who used it. Under normal circumstances, Reese would have arrested anyone he found using it or dealing in it. Not on the Barge. On the Barge, Shadow was something of a necessity.

Initially, the drug was derived from a plant growing on Gemina. A few enterprising members of the Otori sect amongst the Gemonese had found that chewing the seed pods had helped fill in those long vacant yahrens between sunstorms, when there wasn't much to do except look at the sand dunes while they waited for their priests to sanction sexual contact. The Otori were regarded as something of an aberration by the other Colonials, although some of the more thoughtful did wonder if God might be with the sect after all: despite the rarity of sexual contact, the Otori continued to thrive. Their fellow Gemonese thought them a load of fanatics with no sense of humour, the aversion to personal hygiene that always seemed the inevitable consequence of extreme religious fervour, and an inconsiderate tendency to overload maternity and obstetrics facilities every seven yahrens.

Perhaps in reaction to the Otori beliefs, the other Gemonese developed a different set of cultural values and were famous throughout the Colonies for their free and easy approach to sex. Their socialators were famous across the twelve systems. It gave the Otori something to condemn in the pulpits, at any rate, and the Otori elders took a dark satisfaction in knowing that while there were never a lot of converts to their sexual teachings, some of their pharmacological discoveries travelled well. Shadow was perhaps the most successful. It was certainly the most addictive. The Otori kept rigorous control over the production and sales apparatus, and banked the considerable profits. An Otori might be sexually frustrated, but he had plenty of money with which to find solace.

Only a few hits, and a Shadow user could be hooked, addicted for the rest of their (probably severely curtailed) life. The name was no marketing man's dream idea: it got its name from the shadow of death it cast. Shadow was, quite literally, a killer. The hit, taken intravenously, sent an addict on a high in which all their pain - physical, mental, emotional - was dulled, where the whole world became a better, more lovely place; where they were the centre of a world of pleasure and delight. That didn't last long, of course. Within an centar or two reality had an inconvenient habit of reasserting itself, and within an centar or two of that, more Shadow was needed to make life even marginally bearable.

Shadow soaked into every cell of the body, became necessary to it, but the body demanded increasing amounts of Shadow at decreasing time intervals to get the same pleasant effect. In the poorer areas of the Colonies, in the deprived neighbourhoods where there was poverty and little chance of escape, Shadow had been rife. Shadow made it all bearable. And if an addict had to find increasingly huge amounts of Shadow to keep going, what alternative was there? In some parts of the Colonies before the Destruction, the price of a few milligrams of Shadow could have bought anything anyone could imagine - and quite a few things they probably couldn't. And while the addicts had fed their habit and fulfilled their customers' more exotic sexual fantasies, their habit went to work destroying their major organs and setting them up for cellular collapse and a painful death.

Reese used Shadow extensively. Not on himself, of course. He wasn't that stupid. But it was much easier keeping the prisoners under control if all you had to do was make them miss a hit. Delay giving them the stuff for an centar or two and he had a screaming, broken-minded wreck begging for it, pleading for it. They'd do anything for a hit. Anything at all. And then he owned them, body and soul.

And he had a good supply. A few Otori had escaped the Destruction and had brought the chemical formula with them. Like all forward looking businesses, the Shadow factories had developed new scientific production techniques - the natural production of the drug depended on too many uncontrollable factors such as rainfall levels and sunshine to be completely reliable. A few die-hard traditionalists had stuck to the old ways of producing Shadow, but the big boys were more scientific. Shadow created in the test tube was just as potent, just as addictive as the stuff you got from boiling down seed pods. Some of these entrepreneurs had survived and brought their businesses with them. Reese encouraged them, needing a constant supply of the drug to keep the Barge under even minimal control.

On a more personal note, Reese was bored with trying to tame the former Captain Apollo using just brute force. The second night when he'd gone in for him Apollo had fought like a demon, had almost killed one of the guards sent in to pacify him and tie him down for Reese. They'd done it of course. Reese had sent in five of the guards, all big men. Not even a Colonial Warrior could fight off five of them, and Reese had enjoyed the Captain's unwilling body for another night of forced sex. And every night since.

After a couple of days the guards had put Apollo into leg shackles in an attempt to limit the damage when Reese sent them into his cell to get him ready. The restraints meant that he couldn't take more than a half step, but they still had to fight him down every time. They were pretty bored with the whole thing - after all, it wasn't as though Reese was prepared to share the Captain, and although they laughed and jeered and groped at Apollo once they had him down, that was as far as Reese allowed it to go. They could beat and humiliate Apollo as much as they liked, but only Reese got to fuck him.

Reese wasn't a caring, understanding manager. He enjoyed knowing that his staff were afraid of him. He knew that they wouldn't dare complain, that they'd continue fighting Apollo into restraints for him, and he wouldn't dream of changing tactics to suit their convenience. But he was, as noted, bored with only being able to have Apollo when the latter was tied down and helpless. If nothing else, it rather limited the possible sexual positions in which to enjoy the Captain, and Reese was finding it tedious to be constantly staring at the back of Apollo's head while he fucked him. He wanted Apollo to be willing and co-operative, to use hands and mouth to pleasure his owner before being fucked in whatever position Reese wanted. He'd not achieve that by having Apollo beaten and tied. But Shadow could do it.

He didn't waste much time. The first time he'd had Apollo with the Shadow had been only a couple of sectons into the Captain's sentence. He'd prepared an unusually high dose. He wanted Apollo addicted quickly and comprehensively. Besides, he knew that in the immediate aftermath of the hit, Apollo would get a huge sexual charge. The

greater the dosage, the more responsive Apollo would be.

Reese sent in the boys as usual, and when they'd fought Apollo down to the deck he'd come into the little cell, not waiting for Apollo to be tied. He'd relished telling Apollo what was to happen next, and the guards had held down Apollo's wildly struggling body as Reese got the first hypodermic into him. He'd got a tourniquet around Apollo's upper left arm despite the Captain's struggles, professionally tapped up a vein in the inside of Apollo's elbow and got in the needle, then carefully pulled back the plunger to draw some blood back into the syringe.

No! Apollo had protested, the first time he'd sounded panicked and desperate. He'd known that the Shadow would take away his ability to endure and resist. One of the guards had seen Reese nod, got an arm around Apollo's throat, choking him quiet.

Reese had just smiled into Apollo's bruised face, then simultaneously released the tourniquet and pressed home the plunger, shooting the mix of blood and drugs into Apollo's veins. Apollo gasped aloud, and almost at once the wide green eyes glazed over, unfocused. His struggles had ended abruptly, and Reese had sent the guards out at once, eager to start.

It had taken him only a centon or two to remove the shackles and strip his toy. Apollo was convulsing mildly, helpless as the Shadow hit his nervous system. Reese had grinned when he saw Apollo's enormous erection and had reached for it with both hands, enjoying the way that Apollo moaned softly and writhed as he was expertly masturbated. Reese had smiled into the glassy, unseeing green eyes, and kissed Apollo for the first time, possessively, owning, and he'd laughed when Apollo responded, tongue probing almost frantically into Reese's mouth. It was doubtful that Apollo really knew where he was and what he was doing. He was all Shadow. But that was what Reese wanted.

Apollo had made no protest, no struggle as Reese got him onto his back and lifted his legs, forcing them apart. He'd grunted softly as Reese pushed into him, pressing forward to meet him. Reese had pulled back only to thrust forward again harder, right in to the hilt. Apollo had moaned and, as Reese began to stroke, met each thrust with a powerful surge of his own. Reese was laughing, Apollo gasping with each drive forward, Apollo's hands reaching round to pull Reese in tighter and harder. Both men were moving frantically, bodies joined in a pounding rhythm. Then Reese was moving faster, yelling his pleasure as the sensitive head of his penis rubbed up and down inside the tight rectum, and the almost painful climax made him feel as if he were exploding. At the same moment, Apollo came, and Reese had felt the hot stickiness all over his hands.

Yeah, that had been pretty good, Reese had thought when he was finished and back in his office. Much more enjoyable. It had established the pattern. After that, Reese had ordered the guards in to inject Apollo every four centars, keeping to a very high dose of Shadow; at least once every day he'd follow as soon as Apollo was high and use the Captain any way he wanted, without restraints.

He expected to have his toy addicted within the secton. In fact, Apollo proved to be a little tougher than he expected, but only a little. Reese's estimate wasn't far out. It had taken eight days for Apollo to start injecting himself when they left the Shadow for him.

Only eight days for the Barge to destroy him.

 

 

 

Cassiopeia stuck with Starbuck for as long as she could. She tolerated his moods and depression, his sudden towering rages, the overwhelming grief and guilt. She was there when he wanted to talk, or cry, or when he wanted momentary forgetfulness in passion, often changing her plans and duty shifts at the drop of a hat to be with him when he needed her. She thought wryly that it was very much like her old life, her trained body being used to comfort and console, knowing that he wasn't really making love with her, with Cassie. She knew, although it took her a few sectons to admit it, that anyone would have done, as long as he could exhaust himself and sleep afterwards. She just happened to be conveniently to hand, a habit, useful because he didn't have to make any effort.

That hurt, badly, but she understood. Knowing how much help he needed, she even buried the hatchet with Athena, and agreed on a campaign of support and help. Not that she expected Athena to be as available as she was herself or in quite the same way - Athena had made it clear that she was over Starbuck - but she knew those two went back a long way. Starbuck needed someone to talk to who knew the full history of his friendship with Apollo and she couldn't provide that. Athena could. So Starbuck talked with Athena about things Cassie couldn't share, and slept with Cassie to get the physical relief and comfort that Athena wouldn't or couldn't provide.

Cassie told herself constantly that she did understand how he felt, that she had to be patient and loving because he needed her. It was like a bereavement for him, as if Apollo had died. It had shattered him. She did understand, really. And for the first few sectons after the trial, she was prepared to be patient, to wait until Starbuck came back from the hell he was trapped in, to try and help him out.

But he wore her out. They'd sat through a so-called date, with Starbuck in depressed silence for the entire meal, eating nothing, ignoring every attempt of Cassie's to distract him. At last, after several centons of silence Cassie had wiped away the tears that had been rolling silently down her face, kissed him gently on the cheek, promised him she'd always be there if he needed to talk, and walked away from him. What really galled her was that he barely noticed she'd gone. Not a word of protest, or even acknowledgement. She wondered if he'd known she was there at all.

“I do love him, you know that,” she said ruefully to Boomer in the OC, later the same evening. “It's just that the competition's too strong for me. I think I've finally won out over Athena and the other women he was romancing. And I was even beginning to feel more important than the gambling. He hasn't played Pyramid since the trial.”

“Not very surprising, is it?” Boomer pointed out.

“Oh I know. I know how guilty he feels. I know how he feels about Apollo. And that's the problem, isn't it? I know when I'm beaten. I can't win that battle. Women and cards I could maybe handle, but I could never win out over Apollo. I could never be more important to him than Apollo. No-one could, could they?”

Boomer shook his head. “No,” he said, simply, and gave her a sympathetic hug.

“At least you're honest about it.” Cassie sniffled up against Boomer's chest for a centon or two then pulled away and wiped her eyes. “Sorry. You must miss him too”

“A lot. A hell of a lot. And we feel so helpless, Cassie. So far we've had no luck at all in proving Apollo's innocence. Give Starbuck a chance, Cass. He's had a bad time today.” Boomer sighed heavily. “We caught up with Galen at last yesterday, and he went straight to the Councillor Jeth, claiming that we were harassing him. We've been forbidden to go to the Rising Star. That's hit him hard. Galen's our only hope of getting to whoever's behind all this. Give him a chance”

“I'd give him every chance in the universe, but he doesn't even notice.” Cassie felt her eyes sting with more tears and she blinked them back.

“It's especially bad today, Cassie. It's Apollo's birthday today. We'd hoped to have him free by now.”

Cassie sighed. “I know, but what good will it do? I'm not really helping him.” She was quiet for a centon, sipping the drink Boomer had bought her, then went on. ”I asked Starbuck, but he said you hadn't really heard anything of how Apollo's doing. I can't believe how savage the law is, that he can't even have visitors.”

Boomer nodded. “I know. Stunned me, too. I suppose that they've used Category One so seldom, no-one ever realised how harsh it is. The Commander told us the other day that he'd asked President Anton to enquire for him - he can't ask Reese himself now he's not President. Anton told him that all Reese says is that Apollo is “adjusting”, whatever that means.”

Cassie looked thoughtful. “Do you remember when we all went up to his Hand of God, to the celestial dome? Looking out at the millions of light yahrens of stars - he loved that. How's he adjusting to being locked up in solitary confinement, do you think?”

Before Boomer could respond, the door to the OC crashed open and Starbuck hurtled through. “Boom-boom! I've had an idea. Chameleon!”

Boomer gave Cassie an uneasy glance. She had gone white and had drawn herself up very straight, hoping, he was sure, that Starbuck's precipitate entrance meant that what she'd said had sunk in at last, and that he was desperate to make it up with her. At the lieutenant's outburst, she sighed and relaxed. She smiled slightly and sadly at Boomer, resigned to losing Starbuck.

“What do you mean?” Boomer asked.

“Well, who's going to stop a old man spending his days on the Rising Star asking a few harmless questions and keeping an eye on what's going on? He's a con man - he'll know who to talk to, how to do it. Let's talk to him. I'm sure he'll help.”

“I'm sure he will,” said Cassie, who knew what Starbuck didn't, and that the old conman would do anything for the son he feared to acknowledge.

Starbuck noticed her for the first time. “Oh hi, Cassie,” he said, casually breaking her heart. “You okay?” and without waiting for an answer: “Come on, Boomer. Let's go and find him.”

Boomer looked apologetically at Cassie as he was pulled away. But the medtech gave him a regretful smile and a shrug of her pretty shoulders. She held her head high, accepting her defeat with grace and humour. This was one battle she'd lost with honour.

 

How long since the last hit?” Reese asked, leaning against the doorway of the tiny cell.

“He's a couple of centars overdue,” Greg said. He glanced over to the Captain, who hadn't registered their presence. “He's stopped screaming, anyway”

Apollo was curled up into a ball on the narrow bunk, knees drawn up, body shaking uncontrollably. They couldn't see his face: it was buried in his arms. Reese watched him for a centon and smiled.

“Get a hit ready for him,” he said. “I'll call you when I want him to have it. When he's earned it.”

He stepped into the cell and Greg, grinning, closed the door behind him. Reese went over the bunk and sat down beside Apollo, reaching out to smooth the tumbled black hair. There was no need to worry about getting him tied down. There was no fight left in him now.

“Not good, huh?” Reese asked with spurious sympathy.

Apollo raised his head to stare at Reese, realising for the first time that he wasn't alone. His eyes were red. He said nothing, brushed the back of his hand across his eyes to try and hide the evidence of the tears of pain and distress.

Reese continued to smooth Apollo's hair. The Captain had nice hair, thick and black, and with a mind of its own, perpetually falling into the wide green eyes. It made him look sexy and appealing.

“I know it feels pretty bad right now, Apollo” Reese went on in the same falsely soothing, sympathetic tone. “And it's a pity, it really is. But you have to learn the penalty if you don't behave yourself. Your problem is that you're too stubborn for your own good.”

He leaned forward and kissed Apollo on the lips. Apollo didn't react, just stared at Reese with those wide, barely focusing eyes.

“From now on you have to earn your hits, Apollo. Nothing comes for free. Especially Shadow. And you need it now, don't you.”

Apollo nodded. “Please,” he said, voice a whisper. “Please..”

“Better. You're getting the idea. But you know what you really have to do to earn it, don't you, Apollo?” Reese gestured at Apollo's pants and smiled, knowing he'd won and he'd not even have to ask or order.

Apollo stared at him for a long centon, torn between hate and despair. Then with a little sigh of defeat he rolled onto his back, undid the prison jeans and allowed Reese to get his hand inside. The Security Chief was smiling now, knowing that Apollo had no more defiance left in him, that Apollo would do anything he wanted. He played with Apollo for a centon or two, leaning down to kiss him. Apollo was very passive, not seeking Reese but letting him do whatever he wanted. But despite himself he grew hard under Reese's hand, moaning softly as Reese's fingers stroked down the base of his prick and down between his legs.

“Good,” Reese said approvingly as Apollo parted his legs, to let Reese in without being told. He pulled Apollo's jeans down around his knees to get even better access, grinning when Apollo lifted his hips to let him and then kicked the jeans off altogether.

“Good,” he said again. “Now mine”, and the grin became positively triumphant when Apollo's hesitant fingers undid his pants and started caressing Reese's burgeoning erection. “Mmn - that's not bad. You can keep doing that. So, what are you going to do to earn your hit, Apollo? Use your mouth to suck me off, do you think? Use that tongue to lick and kiss me until I come into your throat? Beg me to fuck you any way I want and as hard as I want?”

Apollo nodded but didn't speak. He had no preferences. He didn't care. He'd do whatever Reese wanted if it meant he got a needle afterwards. His hands moved on Reese, matching the rhythm of Reese's stroking fingers. He gasped slightly and arched his back when a finger was pushed slowly up into him.

“Yes.” Reese was almost crooning now, watching Apollo's face as he finger-fucked him. “You know what you have to do. You'll do as you're told, now. You'll be a submissive, compliant bottom for me whenever I want to fuck you. Won't you?”

Apollo nodded. “Yes,” he said.

“So, what do you want right now, Apollo?” Reese got in a second finger, kept his other hand massaging and stroking Apollo's prick.

Apollo looked up into the cruelly smiling face. “Please..” he begged again, conscious only of the desperate need for Shadow and the sensation of Reese's hands on him.

“Please what?” Reese prompted.

Apollo closed his eyes for a centon, then looked pleadingly at Reese, knowing that he was defeated. He sat up, leaning forward to lick Reese's prick, taking it into his mouth, and licking at the pre-come oozing out the tip. After a few centons he pulled back, then looked up at Reese, trying to gauge if the Security Chief was enjoying his ministrations.

“Please put this where it belongs,” he said. “Please fuck me, Reese. Please fuck me hard.”

Reese smiled with satisfaction and took a great deal of pleasure in granting Apollo's request. After all, the Captain had begged so prettily.

 

 

Siress Blassie was extremely good company. She'd always loved dancing and parties when she was a girl, and now she'd reached what she liked to think of as a ripe maturity, she was grateful that she lived on the Rising Star, where there were so many charming men to keep her company and to share her passion for a good time. Her latest conquest was one such charming man, perhaps the most charming she'd met for a long time. True, there was some whisper that he'd had a brush with the authorities in the past, but she could only believe that it was some misunderstanding. After all, Chameleon danced divinely and always knew how to achieve the right mix of flattery and sincerity when he complimented her on how she looked. He made her feel as giddy as a schoolgirl sometimes. So charming. Such a gentleman.

Now he steered her back to their quiet table in the main lounge of the Rising Star, she a little breathless from the dancing, he as urbane as ever.

“You should have more nectar, my dear,” he said, signalling to the waiter. “The sparkle will match your eyes.”

Blassie laughed delightedly. Dear man, always finding something nice to say. She appreciated the speed at which the waiter responded to Chameleon's signal. A true gentleman always ensured that a lady's comfort came first. Chameleon tipped the staff handsomely to ensure that he - and she - got the very best of service. It made her feel rather fragile and cherished.

Chameleon glanced again at the table to their left, the one in the private booth that was half hidden by the greenery and only dimly lit. An interesting group of people there. He hoped that the tiny lens that they'd given him, hidden tonight in a rather large buttonhole, was able to get clear enough pictures. Dr Wilker had assured him that it would be able to record in even the dimmest light, and he half turned to point the buttonhole towards his quarry.

“Blassie,” he said after a few centons of inane conversation, watching the angry threesome at the nearby table. “Do you know who that gentleman is, with Councillor Jeth?”

Blassie peered short-sightedly towards the three men. “Uri, do you mean? Goodness, haven't you met Sire Uri? He's a charming man, although not as good a dancer as you are.”

“I think I know the name,” Chameleon said thoughtfully. He'd thought it was Uri - he had merely needed Blassie's confirmation. This was very hopeful. He'd heard a great deal about Uri's ambition. He refilled her glass and smiled at her encouragingly.

“He used to be on the Council, when we first escaped from those Cylon creatures.” Blassie frowned slightly. “I think there was some dreadful mix up at one of the planets we stopped at soon after we left.”

“Yes, I remember it,” said Chameleon, thinking that she'd had a few nectars too many of she could convert Uri's almost incredible folly at Carillon into some vague general mix-up.

“I don't know the ins and outs of it, but poor Uri felt honour-bound to resign from the Council. He told me he couldn't bear to see so much mismanagement and that the military mind could be so inflexible. He couldn't bear to be a party to it all. He's a dear.”

“And the third man?” Chameleon knew who the third man was. This was the man he'd been watching for sectons, charting all his contacts, trying to fathom what Galen's business interests really were. He watched with interest as the three men, clearly angry and arguing, leaned closer together to try and ensure that they weren't overheard. The tiny directional microphone hidden beside the camera lens should be able to pick up everything of interest, however, recording onto the little machine in his pocket. “Is he a friend of Sire Uri's?”

“I don't know” Blassie said, losing interest. She was looking a little put out. Chameleon hadn't said anything charming for several centons now.

Galen got up and walked away, his face thunderous. Uri sat back in his chair, said something sharply to Jeth. Chameleon turned his attention back to Blassie, wondering what Uri, Jeth and Galen were discussing so intently. For a few centons he talked the delicious nonsense to her that she loved, then on the pretext of having to make a business call - “Business! Oh dear, I just don't understand business,” she said - he'd excused himself for a few centons and walked away, smiling inwardly at the ludicrous effect of a full-lipped pout on her complacent, middle aged face. She was undoubtedly a very silly woman, but she had all the right social contacts.

In the private combooth, he put the call through quickly, getting through to the Galactica using the coded passwords he had memorised when Starbuck had first recruited him to the cause. Not that he'd needed much persuading. He remembered Captain Apollo well from his own run-in with the Borellian Nomen, when he'd finally realised that perhaps he hadn't lost everything on Umbra that day after all. He'd seen how close Apollo and Starbuck were and he would do anything to help Starbuck get back his best friend. He smiled as he waited, hoping that Starbuck - his little Gabriel - would be pleased with what he'd achieved, then sighed as he thought of the son he thought it best not to acknowledge. He was very proud of Gabriel, though, very proud. Perhaps one day he'd tell him the truth. One day….

Sire Anton nodded a grave greeting on the comscreen, listened to what he had to say with intelligent interest. “Jeth and Uri - that's very interesting. With Galen as well, that looks very interesting indeed. Please bring the film and tape across to the Galactica on the next shuttle, Chameleon. I'd like to see them as soon as possible.”

“I don't know how useful it will be,” Chameleon said. “They may not have been talking about anything to do with Apollo, of course. I certainly wouldn't talk about it in public if I were them”

Anton smiled. “But neither of us is blinded by our egos, Chameleon. I know Uri. He's more self-serving even than most politicians, and has a towering sense of his own importance. He looks on the Rising Star as his own fiefdom. I suspect he would never dream that anyone would dare to listen in to his business. We shall see. Until you get here then..”

Anton cut the connexion, and sat looking thoughtfully at the blank screen. Uri and Jeth - that was very suggestive, very hopeful. Anton smiled. If the tape proved to be useful, it was time to act. He had resources of his own - perhaps it was time to force the pace.

 

 

A lot of people thought that Sire Anton, the acting President, was just a harmless old fool, someone who'd hovered around the fringes of political power all his life and whose brain reflected the fact that he was only on the fringes. That was why the Council had been content to allow him to assume the temporary Presidency - a harmless old man playing at leader. But a lot of people would be wrong. Anton had preferred to work things from a distance, and he'd had enormous and unacknowledged - and therefore unaccountable - power and influence. He hid a keen intelligence and a quiet, unobtrusive ruthlessness behind the doddery-old-man image.

“And that, I think, concludes the official Council business for the day,” Anton said, looking genially around the long polished table in the Galactica's Council Chamber. More than one Council member looked up, alerted by their acting President's slight emphasis on the word ‘official'. “However, I do have another matter to lay before the Council. A small matter of a suspected murder.”

There was a buzz of interest, a lightening of faces that had gloomed over at the thought of another tedious item of business to discuss. Murder was seldom tedious, especially if politically motivated. Colonial politics in the good old days before the Destruction had often been a lively - and deadly - business.

“I am told that the body of a man was found late last night in suspicious circumstances in a cargo hold on the freighter Astoria. I mention this only because the man was recently the key witness in the trial of Strike Captain Apollo. It may be coincidence, of course, but the two may be connected.” Anton watched as Jeth started with surprise.

“Good Lord!” a Council member said. “You don't think that one of the warriors did this?”

“No,” Anton shook his head at that. “No, I think not. The warriors do not believe their Strike Leader was guilty - they're unlikely to have killed the man who could possibly prove it. However, it is entirely possible that those who employed him had him killed to prevent him from talking to the warriors - as I believe he had threatened to do.”

Councillor Jeth looked uncomfortable. He was aware that Anton was watching him and he straightened in his chair, looking back defiantly at the old politician.

“How can you know that?” Siress Tinia demanded

Anton smiled at her. “Dear lady, you know me. You know what a cautious soul I am. I wouldn't dream of making such a contentious statement without proof. Incontrovertible proof.”

Jeth stirred, his discomfort evidently increasing. He looked a little nervous, Anton thought, the usual polished politician's veneer showing signs of how thin it really was.

“What do you mean?” Sire Solon asked with interest. “You have proof of what?”

“Murder and conspiracy, Solon. Murder and conspiracy and, incidentally, the details of the plot to discredit Strike Captain Apollo and, through him, President Adama.” Anton sighed nostalgically. “Almost like old times,” he said, half to himself. He leaned forward and activated the desk communicator in front of him. “Please send in my guests,” he said when the Council Secretariat answered.

Adama and Chameleon came in together, an incongruous pair: the upright Commander and the man who'd bluffed and cheated his way through life. Anton was amused at the contrast.

“Adama,” he said with a courteous bow of the head. He glanced around at a Council which looked uncomfortable at the sight of their former President. “This other gentleman, known, I believe, as Chameleon, has been gathering some information on my behalf. I don't mind admitting to you all now that I have never for a centon believed that Captain Apollo is a traitor, and, in my own small way, I've been pleased to try and help secure his vindication and release. Chameleon has been our eyes and ears, and has gathered a great deal of very useful data. Two nights ago he saw Galen in the company of two men. I think we shall be able to prove that one or both of them ordered his murder.”

“He could be in the company of a hundred men and it proves nothing,” Jeth said quickly.

“True - but the film and taped evidence we have of that particular meeting shows that the three were not meeting on good terms. Galen was demanding more money, for services rendered and threatening to go to Commander Adama here with proof of his son's innocence. Two days later, Galen is dead. I don't think that the two events are entirely unrelated. Galen's two associates in this matter have sought protective custody and have given us some very useful information.” Anton smiled very sweetly, the innocent smile of an unworldly, harmless old man. “I think, Sire Jeth, that you had really better tell us all about the plans that you and Sire Uri had for getting him elected to the Presidency.”

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Jeth said automatically, white faced and avoiding Adama's cold gaze.

“I said I'd never proceed without proof. Incontrovertible proof” Anton reminded him gently, ignoring the startled gasps from the Council. “Chameleon, you saw Galen in the company of…?”

“A man identified to me as a Sire Uri, once a member of this Council, and Sire Jeth here. They were arguing fiercely.”

“Could you hear what it was about?” Tinia asked curiously.

“No, madam.” Chameleon turned to her and bowed respectfully. “They were in a private booth, too far away to hear anything at all.” Jeth relaxed visibly, only to freeze when the old conman continued: “However, I was provided with a very sophisticated directional microphone as well as a miniature camera. Both worked admirably.”

“Indeed,” Anton said. “The electronics people here on the Galactica are to be congratulated.”

He pressed a button and gestured to the large screens at the side of the room. Usually they showed images in real time of the stars drifting by. Now they showed the scene in the lounge of the Rising Star, showing an increasingly impatient Sire Uri chafing at the delay in the Council calling elections, a Galen initially polite and subservient, but growing increasingly belligerent as his demands for more money to cover his false testimony against Apollo were ignored and denied, and, unmistakably, Sire Jeth trying to mediate between the two. Galen left with the threat of exposure ringing in the ears of his employers. The Council watched in shocked silence.

“Now,” Anton said as the tape and film ended. “We have much to discuss, I'm sure. But first, I have here a release order for Captain Apollo which I intend to sign at once - with your agreement, of course” There was a loud murmur of assent from the Council, and Anton signed the order with a flourish.

Adama sighed inaudibly, looking down quickly so that the Council wouldn't see his relief and emotion. It had been more than three sectars. Three very long sectars.

“Second, arrest warrants for Sire Uri and Sire Jeth on charges of murder and conspiracy…”

“No!” Jeth protested faintly. He saw that Adama was smiling at him grimly and the Councillors seated near him were hurriedly shuffling their chairs as far away as they could reach. They'd already reached their own conclusions about his guilt and wanted no possible contamination to touch them.

“I'm afraid so,” Anton said gently, signing both with the same ostentatious flourish. “The Council will hear your side of the story now, Sire Jeth. If you are honest with us, it may go some way in mitigation. Last - Commander Adama..”

“Sir?” Adama stepped forward and took the precious paper that Anton handed him.

“The release order. Please go and get your son. Give him the Council's deepest apologies, and tell him that we have restored him to rank and honours, his name cleared unreservedly. We will devise some public restoration in the next day or so. When you return, perhaps we could discuss the timing for me setting down the burden of the Presidency and restoring it to you, where it rightfully belongs.” Anton stood up and with a murmur of apology to the Council accompanied Adama and Chameleon to the door.

The Council greeted the idea of Adama's return to the helm with a fair semblance of joyful anticipation that fooled neither side for a centon.

“Thank you, Anton,” Adama said sincerely. “We could never have done this without your help.” Starbuck and Boomer were waiting in the antechamber, both glowing with delight when they saw the paper in Adama's hand. He smiled at the pair of them mistily.

“My pleasure,” Anton said with a nod at the two warriors. “I suggest you leave now. Please give this to Reese: he's to proceed to the Rising Star and arrest Uri and take him to the Barge.” He handed over the arrest warrant for Sire Uri “I think I'd like to listen to Jeth's undoubtedly self-serving confessions before I call Uri over here, and the centars he spends in custody will do much to increase his anticipation. My best wishes to Apollo. I expect you'll give him quite a homecoming.”

Adama could say no more, just grasped the older man's hand painfully and hurried off with the two warriors at his heels. Starbuck gave Chameleon a brief wordless embrace as he passed him.

Chameleon smiled after them. “How lucky we were that Uri and Jeth had Galen killed,” he remarked as Anton turned to return to the Council Chamber.

Anton paused, looking through the open door to where Jeth was sitting in shocked, disbelieving silence, alone, a discernible space around him. Anton turned his head to look at Chameleon, one old conman to another and smiled serenely.

“Weren't we?” he agreed, walked into the Chamber and closed the door softly behind him.

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