Apollo rubbed his eyes. He'd spent nearly two days examining newscrystals, and finally felt reasonably up-to-date on the universe around him. He'd asked the doctors not to allow visitors for those two days, and they'd respected his wishes, although his family had been concerned about his decisions. Fortunately, they all had things to do, and his refusal to see father, mother, and siblings had forced them back to their duties.
He leaned against the pillow, earning a concerned look from Demetra, the med who ran errands, fetched crystals, and generally kept an eye on his health. He waved her off before she could plump his cushions again. She kept glancing at him watchfully from behind her panels. He smiled, but quickly stifled his amusement, lest she feel compelled to spend a centar lecturing him on the perils of a sick man over-exerting himself. It was bad enough having to endure her over-solicitous attitude during physical therapy; he hadn't realized how quickly muscle tone and coordination could be lost.
But I've figured her out. She's read too many romances about sick warriors falling in love with their med techs, and she's already fantasizing about our wedding! I can't let her get too close, the way she keeps trying to draw me out. Maybe the doctors'll let me out of here soon. There's nothing physically wrong with me. I can politely say "thank you" and "good bye" and that'll be that.
Is it this place, or am I just hallucinating what I want to be true? Lords....
The Colonies still existed. The Cylons hadn't wiped out everything he knew and loved and devoted his life to defending. Ila was more than just alive; she was the President of the Quorum, the greatest political honor in the Colonies. The political interests and connections of the mother he remembered might very well have taken her there, if circumstances had been a little different. Adama was still a commander, but the ship was the Galactus, not the Galactica. Zac's name was Ares, and he'd just been commissioned a warrior. Cain was Kain, Sheba was Saba; they were both still on the Pegasus.
So is Akilles as Flight Commander. A brother I never had, an older brother. Did I want someone to confide in that badly, somewhere in the quirks of my psyche? Maybe I wanted to be more like Zac, have someone else lead the way and set the roles to imitate. Maybe I wanted to depend on an older brother, somebody who'd be there when my father wasn't. My parents were married long enough to have had an older son in the universe I remember....
And Artemis is still alive. Lords, she's been dead for yahrens! She was barely more than a child when they took that trip.... Father was really close to his brother; I remember how it hurt him when they died. Me, too. Maybe that's why I was so protective of Zac while he was growing up and when he became a warrior. By keeping an eye on him, I was protecting my parents, and myself. Ares. I have to remember to call him Ares.
And then there's my friends. Boomer's dead - and Starbuck is or was a suspect, and he transferred to the Pegasus because of it. Ortega's my closest friend, my wingman, and my triad partner. Lords, that's hard to reconcile with how we got along before he was murdered! I wonder how we got to be friends. Maybe in this dream I met Ortega first, or Starbuck pulled some odd prank on me at the wrong time. They could be different men....
There's nothing in the newscrystals about those treason charges Starbuck may be facing. I wonder if it's top secret, something Father let slip...? Maybe the name's all that's the same. It could be another Starbuck. My friend's not the only man to ever use that name-
Now I know something's wrong here. He was with me on that planet; he should be here too, if there's any reality to this. Maybe I should be glad of the proof that I'm imagining it all. I have to talk to him somehow, even if Mother disapproves - and it's obvious she doesn't like him. If he's part of this, too.... But I could easily imagine him as part of some weird fantasy, so that wouldn't mean anything. Damn! Am I insane?
I wonder if Mother's reaction to Starbuck is based on something else I've learned? The Colonial structure here is a lot more stratified than I remember it being at home. Looks like the military, high political, old wealth, and upper merchant castes all move fairly freely, with everyone else just getting by somewhere below.... How much of that existed at home? I never thought to look or care, I just assumed.... Maybe that was a mistake.
Starbuck never knew his family. If he belonged to one of the upper classes, I'm sure there'd have been more concern for finding his kin.
His own family could be another reason for Demetra's obvious interest in him. Apollo had learned early that girls considered him good-looking and eligible, but the med tech could be looking for a connection to the upper class.
Get back to the basics, Captain. If I'm not crazy or hallucinating....
These Colonies are at war with the Cylons, too, and there's a pacifist movement here like there was at home before the treaty. People get tired of war, and a thousand yahrens is a very long time.... We made the mistake of trusting the Cylons, thinking they wanted peace as much as we did, that they were as tired of wasted resources and futile battles as we were. Maybe they'd have found that weakness anyway....
With a more melancholy expression, he slipped another crystal into the reader.
"Newswoman Sirona here, reporting from the capital...."
Apollo gasped audibly, heartbeat suddenly doubling. He'd never considered, in his confusion, that she might be here too. "Serina!"
But she calls herself Sirona. That fits with the universe. Subtle changes, mostly, slightly different names, people I wasn't close to before who now seem to be my friends. I try not to think too much about the ones from home who are dead here, or the complete strangers.
Serina. I'd have her here and alive, if there was any way, in a dream or dementia. It doesn't prove anything.
"And it's rumored that a peace initiative has been extended from the Cylons, through Count Baltar, to the Council of Twelve. President Ila is said to be studying it, and making arrangements for a face-to-face meeting with the Cylons. This answers the prayers of many of us in the Colonies, that we might finally see peace in our lifetime. We must all take heart from this promising development, and encourage the President to examine this option, rather than continuing a senseless, tragic struggle into a second millennium...."
He devoured her image as she spoke, memories flooding through his mind as a lump rose in his throat. She was here, alive. Apollo knew he had to see her, the woman who'd once been his wife, in another reality....
But she talks like one of the pacifists! Serina was never one of those.... Or was she? She once said that pasts didn't matter, they weren't important. Was she unwilling to tell a warrior lover...? He wished he remembered more, wished he'd paid attention to her newscasts before the Destruction, to the critical analyses she occasionally made afterward. He'd just absorbed the facts, and drawn his own conclusions from them. But here she was, discussing the ramifications of peace at this time, with all the flair and persuasiveness he remembered her to be capable of....
The Destruction! A peace initiative from the Cylons, through Baltar!
"History repeats itself," he quoted faintly, cradling the crystal protectively. "Baltar exists here as well. He'll betray us again. It will happen here, too." Unless I can stop it. I've got to do something. I can't let the Colonies fall again, not even in a nightmare.
Ostara stared vacantly past the medics, refusing to answer their questions or participate in their "therapy." Let them examine their patient without her cooperation! She had no interest in maintaining the body she occupied. She just wanted to get out and wake up from what must be a horrid nightmare - and nothing more than a nightmare!
The doctor was exasperated. "All right, woman! We can't force you to come back to reality."
The robe-clad woman hugged her arms tighter, holding back the bitter retort that came so readily to her lips.
"But if you won't help us help you, you'll be confined to this bed when the Captain's recovered and winning the Colonial triad championship!" He whirled angrily on his heel, prepared to make a furious exit.
The Captain? "Wait!"
He glanced back. "What?" he demanded with as much rudeness as she'd shown him over the past two days.
It took a moment to swallow her pride. Hah! What pride, Starbuck? "What Captain were you referring to?"
"Captain Apollo, of course, the son of President Ila and Commander Adama. He was injured in the same battle as you, been here as long. He woke a little sooner than you, but he's tending to his therapy. He'll be walking and out of here in a few days...."
Apollo! "I have to talk to him!" she demanded instantly, pulling herself up to a sitting position.
The doctor's gaze turned calculating. "Why?"
"Why not?" she returned.
His laughter was incredulous. "Someone with his stature and background, you don't just demand to see. You wait 'til he wants to see you. You've got no kinship or debt claim."
The frightening truth that this wasn't home struck deep again, yet, somehow, what he said seemed familiar and proper. "Could you tell him I'd like to see him, if he has the time?" she asked more carefully, trying frantically to interject the same coy note of pleading she remembered some women using on her when she'd still been herself, and a male of the species. She was surprised at how easily the role came to her.
She saw the physician warming to her. "Well, I'll see what I can do, but you've got to do a few things for me, too."
She managed a laugh, throwing up her arms as if in surrender. "All right, I'll do my exercises every day and answer your questions and let you stick your needles in me!" She thought hard. "Like a good little girl," she added. It wasn't quite what he was looking for, she saw, but thought grimly that it was all he would get. It might not be the body she remembered, but she wasn't soiling it by catering to this lech's far-too-obvious desires.
He couldn't insist on anything more without risking being reported for propositioning a patient. Sourly, he said, "I'll see what I can do."
Then he left. She knew he'd never mention it to Apollo, if he even had the chance to see the man, and decided she'd have to find a way to see him herself, if she could find a way through the power structure so prominent here.
Lords of Kobol, even if it's him, and he's the man I know, how will he know me? I'm not meany more. What do I say, "Hi, remember me, I used to be a man you knew?" There has to be a way I can let him know who I really am....
I've got to understand more about this place. Maybe they'll let me view the newscrystals. But if that doctor thinks....
She suddenly giggled. Perplexed, Ostara wondered why she'd done so.
It was several more days before Apollo felt sufficiently comfortable with himself to risk seeing people again. He wasn't quite sure if he should try to live by what this society said he should be, or if he should act as he chose, assuming that, as this was his dream, anything he did would be considered acceptable. He decided to try a combination of the two, on the assumption that anything he did out of the ordinary would be attributed to his recent coma. He could gauge his success by the reactions of his family and friends.
His mother's primary response continued to be gratitude that he was still alive. He was disturbed, however, by her references that he might now survive to see the end of the war.
That meant she was seriously considering the Cylon proposal. He tried to caution her not to be too over-anxious; it was dangerous to deal with Cylons as though they were honorable beings. She smiled fondly but dismissed his concerns. "Of course. You're a warrior; you were trained to look at the enemy as impersonal and untrustworthy. Otherwise, you'd be a less effective fighting force."
There might be some truth to her comment, but in this case, he knew he was right. He knew what would happen to the Colonies if they accepted the Cylon offer as genuine - genocide, the end of the humans. The Twelve Worlds might have colonies of their own, and might still be in contact with them; even Kobol - he marveled at that - had been resettled, which suggested these Colonials were doing better at their war than his people had. But he could not believe the Cylons could be so different in this universe that they could actually be seeking peaceful co-existence with their avowed enemies.
He sighed, for a moment uncertain.
He looked up to see Ortega in the doorway, a slim blonde woman with him. Relaxing the automatic reserve he projected every time he saw the man, Apollo managed a smile. It was getting easier; this Ortega was less of a greedy, competitive, vile-tempered egotist than the man he remembered.
"Hi, Ortega. I thought you were heading back to the Galactus."
The handsome, green-eyed blond smiled, pulling the young woman close with an arm around her shoulders. "Stopped long enough to visit Ostara. Do you remember my cousin? I know she wasn't on the ship long, and you can't know everybody by sight, but she was assigned to the squadrons. She was hurt in the same battle you were."
Apollo inspected the girl. He searched his memories, but her pretty face drew a blank. He shrugged apologetically. "Sorry, Ortega. But come on in, both of you. Maybe I'll remember...."
She seemed disappointed, and he hesitated, assailed by sudden doubt. Was there some reason he ought to know her? She was certainly attractive. Surely this wasn't some important or intimate relationship...?
"Starrie wanted to know how you were doing, but the doctors weren't telling her anything. So, when we went for her prescribed daily walk, she asked me if we could stop in. Hope it's no bother...."
"None, none!" He gestured graciously. "Sit down."
"Uh, I can't stay," Ortega said. "Due back at four bells. We just stopped for a centon."
"I'd like to stay a few moments, if that's all right with Apollo," Ostara interrupted. "I don't get many visitors, and it would be nice to talk to someone for a while."
The anxiety in her eyes hit him hard. She had something she wanted to say. Apollo nodded encouragingly. "Stay, of course. I like to be accessible to my people at all times," he insisted, mentally crossing his fingers that it wasn't untrue.
His guests laughed, then Ortega left. The captain wondered why his friend seemed relieved that he permitted this kinswoman to remain.
He waited politely while Ostara sat next to the bed. Her steps were awkward, as if she were unused to walking, after sectons in a hospital bed. She glanced around for a moment, and he was glad Demetra was taking a break.
"Umm...." She pursed her lips. "You look well for a dead man."
Unconventional beginning to a conversation.... "It seems the doctors made a mistake in their diagnosis. They said I was dead. I must've come back to spite them."
"I can understand that," she replied darkly.
He wondered what she was thinking. "How about you?"
"Not dead. The equipment short wasn't serious; they always expected me to come back after a reasonable interval." She was still ill-at-ease. "How's your memory after the last secton?" She leaned forward intently.
"Uh...." This conversation was progressing strangely. "Returning, I guess."
She sat back again. "I wondered. You didn't seem to recognize me."
"I'm afraid I still don't remember seeing you before you walked in the door just now," he told her honestly.
Her hands clenched into fists as she drew herself up. "Maybe I can jar a few recollections." She swallowed. "I'm thinking of the time we were on Arcta...." Her stare was intent.
He frowned, thinking hard. "I've never been to Dr. Ravashol's installation," he said cautiously. "How can I remember-?"
"Are you sure? We fought the Cylons to free the Thetas, and save our Fleet."
"Sagan's Pyramid!" That never happened in this universe. The only person who could know about that is- "Starbuck?" he whispered in shock, staring at the definitely female beauty. Unless.... What if this was a trick of some kind? Could his own dreams ensnare him? But he was trapped just being here....
She released a thick sigh, and he saw her shake. "You remember. You were there with me, in the other world. I may be crazy, but at least I remember."
"You're Starbuck?" He couldn't assimilate the idea.
She nodded. "Yes."
"How...?" He tried to pull his jaw off the floor. "You're...."
"Female," the woman acknowledged flatly. "And I have no idea how."
"And I thought I was mixed up, waking up here, with things the way they are. But you're here, too, so it can't be a dream.... Unless some weird quirk in me made you ... Ostara, and.... I must be hallucinating. I wish the doctors would do something to wake me up."
"Well, I certainly wouldn't imagine myself as a woman!" Ostara flared defensively, defying something within that was laughing at the situation. "In any circumstances! So if it's not your mind trip, it must be real, which is even harder to accept."
"Lords of Kobol," Apollo swore, accenting every word. "That alien equipment! Remember? We were helping Wilker...."
"And there was a whine, and the world went away," Ostara finished. "And I woke up in this!" She gestured unhappily at her body.
Apollo gave her a frank once-over. "Could have been worse."
She colored angrily.
"Sorry. So, we're here; we both remember being from somewhere else; I'm in a body I remember, but you're somewhere completely strange."
"It was a transportation device...." Ostara stated slowly. "But all it seems to have transported is our minds. But why am I...?
"I think our injuries might explain it." Apollo explained his thought. "I was legally dead, as these people define it. Your natural body was ... unavailable, so your mind was shunted to the first open...."
"What do you mean, unavailable?" she demanded, frowning. "I'm not already dead ... or something?"
"No. You're still alive, on the Pegasus. But the mind wasn't receptive, and couldn't accommodate you, so you had to find somewhere else. This seems to be some sort of ... alternate universe, maybe? Our world, with another timestream, in another dimension? What could those aliens have meant, creating a device that could do this? Maybe that's what brought their final war, they stepped on the wrong toes in another dimension."
They studied each other for a moment; then the woman laughed. "Interesting hypothesis. I wonder what's really happening to me. This has to be some crazy nightmare - I'll wake up and laugh about it any time now."
"I am not going to spend the rest of my life like this!" Her voice rose fractionally, both angry and horrified.
"What's wrong with being a woman?"
"I don't see you begging to be one!"
"I wasn't given the choice. But I think there's something more important to consider. If this is a real place, and we're really here, the bodies we left behind are probably ... dead, on that planet. We may have to live here. And these Colonies are about to sign a peace treaty with the Cylons."
Ostara froze, gasping audibly. "They can't! They mustn't!"
"I know," Apollo agreed grimly. "It may be up to us to stop them, or we'll see the end of our civilization a second time."
"Lords!" She shuddered, face more drawn and pale then her injuries and agitated mental state could account for.
A humming sound came from the corridor, a low, off-key singing.
"Demetra! Damn her timing!"
"My nurse and constant companion, who's starting to become an irritant. She's sure to send you away.... Listen, can you have visitors?"
"Yes, if the doctor allows them. He's been rather selective, I understand, for reasons of his own. If he thinks I'm picking up on any of his passes...." She shivered violently. "But if I read him right, he won't say no to you."
Apollo winced. Nobody here seemed to say no to him. "I'll be by later...."
"What's this?" Demetra called rudely from the doorway. "Are you cleared to be here, young lady? The Captain doesn't want guests-"
"She's from the Galactus, a fellow patient here. I asked Ortega to bring her by," Apollo interposed. "She was just leaving."
The med tech harrumphed suspiciously as she walked to her station, but Apollo leaned over to talk privately to his visitor one moment longer. Demetra's glare remained jealously on his female visitor.
"Umm ... what shall I call you? I can't call you Starbuck - I'll tell you more about what your counterpart's doing later. Can you answer to Ostara?"
"Somehow 'Starrie' seems appropriate. Ortega calls me that. It's close enough to my real name that I recognize it without being startled."
"Starrie. Okay. Our first duty is to save the Colonies from a big mistake. Then we'll worry about finding a way back - if there is one. But if we're stuck here, don't worry. We'll work it out somehow. And if you have to spend the rest of your life as a woman ... well, it could be worse!" The apologetic comment was meant to be encouraging.
She accepted it, grimacing in disgust before walking away. Oddly enough, she found his last statement comforting as she continued back to her room. Occasional bits of recognition surfaced at odd times, and she was shocked to find herself pleased that Apollo obviously thought her attractive. What kind of perverse notions were starting to filter into her consciousness...?
Demetra approached possessively as soon as Ostara was out the door. "I talked to your doctor, Captain. They feel you can go home tomorrow, if you wish, as long as you keep up your physical therapy and report for daily check-ups until you've completely recovered. I believe they've got faith in your father's ability to keep you in line," she finished flippantly.
He was nonplused at the unexpected statement. "Oh!"
"I thought you'd be pleased...."
But I doubt you are! I haven't professed undying love yet.... Or maybe you expect me to come sweep you off your feet when I'm fully back on mine? It was an unkind thought, but he was nettled at her reaction to Starbuck's ... Starrie's presence. Good Lord, that's worse than remembering to call Zac "Ares"! We'll have to be careful. Someone could get the wrong idea if we spend too much time together. Or could we use that to our benefit...?
Demetra still watched him. He forced a pleased smile. "I'm thrilled to be going home, Demetra. Could you contact my family for me? I'd like to make the arrangements...."
"I could do that. I could arrange for home nursing, too, if it seems likely you'll need a companion for a while...."
No! I've got too much to do for you to be following me!
"I'll talk to my family. In the meantime, could you check the condition and prognosis of Lieutenant Ostara, please? And find out if there're any other crewmen from the Galactus here, too, if you could," he added hastily. Irritate her now, and she could be an obstacle in communicating with Starbuck ... Starrie.
Starbuck. Starrie. If this is a dream, I think I've cracked. Maybe I'll ask Salik about therapy when I get back. If I get back.... Unless this is real. I have to live like it's real.
We have to be careful. Can't afford any mistakes on this one. I've got to talk to Ortega again. Never thought I'd say that without a reprimand in mind. Depending on his friendship to get me through is so foreign to me that I have to laugh. I wonder what our Ortega would say, if he had any way of knowing. Probably smirk! Shouldn't think of him, I guess. It might prejudice what I do here and now, and I can't blame past enmity on this warrior.
This Starbuck! Lords, I've got to contact him! If Ortega's as he seems, could Starbuck actually...?
He shied from the thought. He couldn't possibly imagine his friend as a negligent killer, and even less as a traitor.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy