Quiet excitement filled the home of Commander Adama and President Ila. Their son, Captain Apollo, was home. The elite, duty-conscious siress even passed on a formal reception to plan a small family welcoming dinner for the young warrior. Wandering the empty house, Apollo wondered if she'd stay after the meal was over. His mother hadn't been home even one evening since he'd been discharged from the hospital, and while it gave him more time to read history and catch up on things he ought to know if this universe really existed, he urgently wanted to talk with her about the status of the treaty negotiations. There were things he knew he had to point out to her.
I'm vain enough to think I know more about this world than she does, who's lived with her fingers on its pulse for yahrens. What if I'm mistaken? Do I have the right to let my paranoia keep these people fighting an unnecessary war?
Apollo climbed the stairs to the sleeping chambers, examining everything with thoughtful eyes. It was a large house, bigger than his own parents' home had been, built to accommodate two more people, and with more guest quarters. It was spacious and airy, with plants scattered liberally throughout, to ease the spirits of warriors used to the cramped, sterile conditions of space travel. He liked it; the place could quickly become comfortable. It had been a long time since he'd lived at his own parents' home, back on his own Caprica.
In his room, he fingered the uniform laid out for him. The feel was different, although the cut and style were similar to what he'd known. I'll have to wear it tomorrow night, at the dinner, whether I feel comfortable in another man's clothes or not. It's expected of me. And duty ruled him as it does me....
"Here, Artemis!" he called out the door.
His cousin, also a captain in the military, skipped merrily up the circular staircase elegantly occupying one corner of the family recreation room, leading to the personal quarters. She carried a small valise.
"Moving in?" he asked with raised eyebrows.
"Hey, I live here, remember? And I'm not the only one! Athena and Ares will be here too, for the rest of the Galactus's refitting time. As the Commander says, what's the use of being in charge if you can't give your children leave when you're in port?"
He privately doubted his father would say any such thing; it showed.
"Okay, so you're skeptical, and he didn't say it in so many words. What he did say was that you shouldn't have to be alone in this house until the doctors clear you for ship duty again. With Aunt Ila so busy, and the rest of us on the ship, and Akilles due to ship out with the Pegasus in a secton or so, Uncle Adama's worried about you."
"I'll accept that." He's also worried I might be emotionally unstable. There're too many things I don't know yet. Having my family around might help.
"Good. I'll dump my stuff and come bother you."
"All right," he acquiesced, smiling. He liked Artemis, and regretted more and more that the woman he saw had died so young in his own timestream. They'd been of an age, and had spent many fun centars together when they were children....
"What are you thinking?" She was already back, standing in the doorway with avid interest in her black eyes.
He smiled, and decided to be honest. "Remembering, and hoping things are as I seem to see them."
"Tell me." She sprawled across his bed, wrinkling the uniform spread out there without seeming to notice. Dark curly hair spilled over her shoulders and back as she smiled encouragingly. Apollo wondered if she was as used to sharing his confidences as she seemed to be. If he could really talk to her....
"A summer we spent at a lake in the mountains, with your parents...." he began tentatively, reminiscing.
Her face lit up. "The yahren we both turned seven! That's real! Go on."
"Uh...." He suddenly blushed. They weren't seven any more.
She giggled easily. "And we went swimming together, without even wearing any clothes! And we swore we'd grow up and get married and have a battlestar of our own, you the commander and me your executive officer, and we'd defeat the Cylons and raise a squadron of kids of our own...." She laughed uproariously. He couldn't help chortling, too; the memory was so vivid, and what came after.
"And then Dad caught us, and neither one of us sat down for two days, while Athena sat there looking so virtuous! None of us knew why what we'd done was so wrong. And we both caught colds, too, from being in that icy water at sunrise. Mom was sure it was pneumonia, and what was she going to say to your parents...?" Her dramatic outcry made him laugh harder.
They sobered up after a moment.
"That was a wonderful summer," Apollo murmured.
"Yeah." She turned thoughtful. "But now we're grown up, and fighting Cylons isn't a game, and neither are thoughts of love and marriage."
"No." He was suddenly uncomfortable again.
"Umm.... Akilles is bringing Saba to the family dinner tomorrow."
"Oh? I didn't know...." His brother and Sheba ... Saba?
"They've been seeing each other for a while now. Personally," she added, brightening up, "I think Akilles is just trying to protect himself against the day Kain decides his little girl is experienced enough to be flight commander of the Pegasus, and he's out a job."
"He may have to come back to the Galactus."
"Hah! By then, one of us will no longer be just a squadron leader - probably you, you're more serious about it than me - and Commander Adama won't dump one child to make room for another."
That was something else he had to remember. In this universe, he hadn't yet been made flight commander. He and Artemis were flight leaders for Blue and Green Squadrons, respectively. It made for some friendly rivalry, and a lot of competition between their strike teams.
Artemis became more serious. "I meant to ask you, Apollo, speaking of bringing someone to dinner.... Is there someone you'd like to have here for our first meal as a united family again? I talked to the Commander before we shuttled down, and he said it's all right...."
What was she angling for? That med tech certainly hadn't talked to her...? Inspiration struck. "Actually, yeah. If I could have a friend or two, I wouldn't mind if Ortega were invited."
Her eyes lit up again. She wanted him there, he realized, but couldn't ask him herself! Thoughts of love and marriage.... I'll have to remember that. Do they already have some clandestine relationship, or is there some reason they can't-
"I'll call him," she agreed quickly. "Anyone else?"
"Well...." Now for his pitch. "Actually, it would be nice if his cousin came, too. Do you remember Ostara? Green-eyed blonde, about your height, pretty? She's in Blue Squadron, recently assigned from a ground base. She was still at the hospital when I was released...."
She was hiding laughter. "I see. Of course. There should be no problem. She's logged back aboard the Galactus. Couldn't stand the doctors at the hospital, I hear. I'll tell Ortega to pass along the invitation."
"So, tell me, how long have you and she...?"
"What? Oh, no, it's nothing like that...!" he found himself immediately protesting. "It's just...." He was stumped. How could he explain wanting the presence of someone he apparently barely knew without giving away what had happened?
She smiled wryly. "Okay, kinsman, I understand. I won't pester you about it. But Uncle may ask about her!"
"Warning heeded. I'll have an explanation ready. Who else will be there?"
"No one I know of, unless Commander Kain decides after all to accept the invitation Uncle gave him, or Aunt brings some important diplomat or other because 'he simply can't be offended,' or there's some business that 'has to be tended to.' Oh, I'm sorry. I know you don't like it when I talk like that about political-"
"In this case, I agree with you. I'd rather not have too many strangers at the dinner." Especially not if I want to talk to Mother at some point.
Ostara studied the Blue Squadron female pilots' billet. She'd been there before, in her past experience, but only as a visitor, not as an occupant. This could be very interesting....
"Hey, Starrie! Ortega wants to see you outside!"
She blinked, then recognized the woman talking to her. Of course, he can't come barging in here. There aren't a lot of pilots who haven't taken leave, but it wouldn't be proper for him - a mere lieutenant, not even our flight leader! - to act like he had the run of the ship. So I have to go out there. And to think, I once dreamed of being able to walk freely around here when the pilots were showering and dressing....
"What is it, Ortega?"
"I have an invitation to dinner at Commander Adama's residence tomorrow evening."
"What's unusual about that? You've been there before."
"I know. You're invited, too."
She felt a flush of relief that Apollo had found a way to contact her.
He saw the smile, and was puzzled. "Uh, Starrie, what's up?"
"What do you mean?"
"You and Apollo.... You wanted to see him in the hospital. And he's given you an invitation to a private family gathering. What happened?"
She had a vague recollection that she and the captain hadn't been close, emphasized by his not recognizing her the first time they met in the hospital, but what was Ortega concerned about?
"Starrie, if I recall, you have in the past referred to the Captain as 'wearing arrogance like a second skin,' and being very thick-skinned! You don't like Apollo; you never liked him, not when we were friends at the Academy, not when we were assigned to the same ship, and not when you joined us on that ship. You even went out of your way to avoid him! What's going on?"
Something sparked angrily in her. She was puzzled by it, but had to answer her cousin before seeking it out. She shrugged. "He seems like a different man these days. I think I'm seeing him with new eyes." Both statements were true in every sense, and she giggled wickedly inside, knowing Ortega couldn't possibly understand.
"Well, I'm glad you're starting to see what kind of man Apollo really is."
"Oh, I've got a good idea," she assured him happily.
"Great. We can catch the supply shuttle when it leaves tomorrow. That'll get us there in plenty of time."
"Right. See you then, if not sooner."
"Right." Ortega moved away, obviously perplexed but pleased.
As Ostara turned back to quarters, something exploded in her head. Her sense of identity and recollections of Starbuck swirled and suddenly shattered into component pieces. Memory went blank, then throbbed agonizingly back into wholeness.
(No! What...?) Appalled. Shock of realization.
A strange awareness in her eyes, Ostara glanced quickly at her cousin, still moving off down the metal corridor. A slight, predatory smile accented calculating green eyes.
"New, indeed," she murmured to herself as she moved back toward her bunk to sort through her thoughts.
There were two other guests for dinner - Sire Uri, a leader of the Caprican Renaissance and a probable future member of the Quorum, and Councilor Adar, a prominent member of the Pacifist Party and one of Ila's usual partisans. When Commander Kain arrived as well, there was enough of Colonial authority present to keep the younger warriors silent for most of the meal, listening to the polite and varied arguments that passed as conversation. Sire Uri frequently moderated between the two battlestar commanders and the two Council representatives, although hostility was non-existent - they had all been friends too long to let their political differences interfere with their affection for one another, and each recognized the others' real dedication to what was best for the Colonies.
Apollo, however, grew restive after a few centars. He was familiar with the issues under discussion, and thought them utterly irrelevant, considering the gravity of the supposed Cylon peace offer. The leaders present seemed to make an effort to avoid that particular topic.
The captain finally brought it up himself after the meal, when he had an opportunity to talk to one of the visitors in a conversation nook of the recreation room.
"Sire Uri," he asked, "what's your stance on Baltar's peace initiative?" Uri wasn't on the Council, but his word carried great weight with many civilians; the captain wanted to learn what opinions were held by the rest of the ruling class.
"Apollo!" his mother interrupted reprovingly. "You know it's not proper to discuss Council business in this manner." Her fashionably long skirt swished as she closed on them.
He glanced at her in surprise. "Don't I have as much right to be curious about it as ... as anybody who listens to Sirona's newscasts?"
"Yes," she responded primly, "but speculating on the matter and pumping one of the negotiators are two different things."
"Sire Uri's one of the negotiators?" he demanded in astonishment. They had the attention of everyone in the spacious room.
Ila and Adar exchanged glances. "That is, of course, a state secret, son," the woman said slowly. "All of you, if that knowledge were to leave this room, it could be used by those seeking to sabotage the treaty." The seriousness of her words wasn't lost on anyone. "And it would be construed as a treasonous action, which would be punished to the full extent of the law, no matter who was involved." Her words were quietly meaningful.
"Mother, are you suggesting I'm capable of treason?" Apollo asked softly.
"I wouldn't do that. This wasn't meant to get out yet," she sighed. "I'm sorry, Adama, I couldn't tell even you...." Her husband had joined her as soon as the discussion became common.
The commander's tight jaw betrayed hurt anger that she hadn't shared the knowledge with him, but he nodded briefly. "I understand." There were times their duties came between them, but neither tried to deny the other his need to follow his own destiny and desire.
"I don't know you can even consider the matter!" Apollo exploded. "After a thousand yahrens of seeing what they do to us, how they fight, and hearing from their own mouths their determination to wipe us out...."
"Apollo," Adar broke in reasonably, "times change. Beings change. The Cylons want this armistice. They want peace."
"That is a difficult thing to believe," Adama murmured.
"Adama! Listen, Apollo, you are a warrior. I know the way you think, the way you've been trained to react to the thought of Cylons. You have a peculiar kind of eternal innocence, son. You're always the hero, defending the helpless against a terrible enemy. It's very special to see, and I'm proud of you for it. But it's an illusion. Your patriotism was needed before this peace was suggested-"
"You're suggesting I'm a fool!" He was angry, and he saw by the stiffening of the other warriors present that they didn't like what she was saying, either. Only his father seemed resigned to it, as if this were an old conflict.
"Not at all," Ila quickly soothed. "But a warrior's task is to impose or defend the ideology of his government, whatever definition is provided. That's what your oath is for. But you've fallen into a line of thinking that doesn't allow for change. Now, when an end to war is at hand, you have to grow up, to become aware of something more...."
"They're out to destroy us utterly, and you talk of awareness? They've killed warriors, civilians, even children, without mercy! They destroy cities and farms and shipping without compassion or consideration, while we fight a war for survival...." His snap to military posture was calculated.
"As our ideology defines it. I know we've suffered greatly at their hands, but we've kept our honor throughout. Suspicion and vindictiveness now could ruin our chance for peace, for ending that destruction of civilians and cities and farms and shipping. Our very lack of vengefulness, of not having destroyed their shipping and civilians in the past, and not demanding a brutal recompense for that destruction...." She ignored his snort of derision. "...Now makes it possible for us to accept this, and make the conciliatory gestures that will lead to a lasting peace...."
"We have to make the gesture?" This world's gone crazy! "I think you're the innocent, Mother, precisely because we've been here to keep the Cylons away. You're a blind innocent, and I wish to the Lords you could stay that way, but I've faced them in battle, seen what they've done to so many of my friends-"
She slapped him. He ducked back in shock as gasps of surprised horror came from several of the others.
"You will not speak to your mother, or to your President, in such fashion again, Apollo," she seethed in cold, clipped tones. Then she simply turned and walked away from him.
Adama caught his arm. "I'll talk to her, Apollo. Let her get over her temper. You almost died from combat wounds you received fighting them; you're still not completely recovered. I'm sure that'll occur to her. But don't ever raise your voice that way again." Adama followed his wife.
The others stared at him. He couldn't take it, aware that his unexpectedly harsh and impulsive words may have made it impossible to talk to the woman he most had to convince to be careful.
"My apologies, " he said in the awkward silence. "I didn't mean to disrupt the party. I must be tired. Please excuse me."
He went to the stairs. Ares was there, watching with blinking, uncomprehending eyes. "I'm most sorry for you, little brother," he whispered as he passed. This young, eager warrior could be the first to pay the price for the Cylon treachery, as Zac had been.
"There're other things for warriors to do," the youth fumbled. "I guess I was just looking forward to blooding myself in battle...."
He shuddered. "Pray you don't have to, Ares."
He climbed the stairs and retreated to his room, wondering how he could have botched things so badly on his first try. In the security of his private chamber, hopelessness swept over him. He would fail. It was doomed to happen again, and all he could do was lose his temper and scream like a child throwing a tantrum.
Ila had as much as said there were people against the treaty, people who might take drastic measures to prevent its passage. Being labeled a traitor was abhorrent to him. But maybe if he had more information....
It was Ostara, watching anxiously from the doorway. She had an extra chalice of ambrosa in her hand, and for a moment he wished she were just what she seemed - a beautiful woman, not the physical abode of the mind of his best friend from another time and place.
"Come in, Starrie. That for me? I could use a drink about now...."
She nudged the door with her foot and crossed over to the small couch, handing him the simple pewter chalice.
"You said some good things down there."
"But they didn't hear them! They train us to defend them, then patronizingly tell us we don't know what we're talking about when we try to warn them of the danger...."
"Easy, Apollo, I'm not your enemy. You're talking like you've accepted the mindset and the ideology. We're supposed to be saving this world, not falling into its trap. Here, drink up!"
He took a sip of the potent liquor. "So why didn't I make a better impression on the one person I had to impress?" he demanded wryly.
"I think she'll remember what you said, even if she doesn't like the implications to their precious treaty. And the others heard it too."
"So I've made enemies of Adar and Uri as well. Great. They both think I'm some kind of warmonger who can't face the loss of status and prestige and reason for existence being a warrior gives me."
She smiled. "I don't think so. Sire Adar's irate, of course, but uneasy. And Sire Uri's a good man here, by all accounts. I think he's more aware of the risks than you're giving him credit for. And they all know you've never been a bloodthirsty fiend fanatically waving a laser at anything that moves!" She sat beside him and crossed her legs gracefully. The slit skirt suddenly revealed a lot of thigh.
Apollo felt uneasy. Something was wrong, but he wasn't sure what, or whether it was in himself or his companion. Her words, her actions? He ruefully decided Starbuck must be adjusting to being Ostara, and was starting to take advantage of the situation, as he took every advantage in being male at home. "Starrie...."
He was puzzled, but didn't know what to say. To cover it, he took another drink, then rose to pace the room. "Uh, why aren't you down there with the others? You didn't have to come up here."
She laughed shortly. "Who'd miss me? This isn't my kind of crowd. Saba, Athena, and Artemis are talking in one corner, discussing politics and military life and people I don't know. I've never been close to any of them - at least, not close enough for this kind of girl talk," she amended. "The others are still arguing about your sanity and general health. Quietly, of course. They never noticed me slip away."
"I'm glad you came. Starbuck, have we got a chance?"
"Call me Starrie. This isn't the Galactica; no point in raising questions." She stared down into her own chalice. "You've got to convince your mother, or someone in a position to do something, that the Cylons mean to destroy us with a false peace initiative, as they did the ... our ... Colonies. But I'm beginning to think the only chance lies in taking some constructive action, beyond talking."
Her choice of words was unusual, but Apollo was preoccupied. "If I fail, we lose twice. I can't see that again, the deaths of those I love and the destruction of everything I knew...."
"And if the Colonies fall, whatever we try?" she asked softly.
He closed his eyes and breathed a heartfelt sigh. "I'm not sure I want to survive it again, Starrie," he told her with painful honesty. "But I think I have to, if I can, to fight as long as there's life in me - my life or this body's. I wish we could go home again...."
It was hard to talk to this woman as if she were the friend he knew, much easier to pretend he was telling it to a different person, a new friend. Their basis for close friendship was shifting rapidly. If hormones or whatever were affecting his old friend's behavior, maybe a new person was coming into being, after all. And if they were doomed to spend the rest of their lives here, he'd have to learn to deal with Ostara as he/she was. Starbuck would have the more difficult time of it.
"An alien timestream," the woman murmured in a faraway voice. "I never believed in alternate realities, never thought it could be real...."
He laughed sourly. "Believe it. We're living it. I'd much rather this were just a dream, but I'm afraid we're all that stand between these people and a second-"
There was a noise in the hall, and a muffled curse. Apollo and Ostara froze.
The door was pushed open, and Akilles, flight commander of the Pegasus, stepped into view. "You heard my stumble, I gather. So I may as well come in for the rest of the conversation. You really ought to be sure your doors are closed when you discuss such things," he stated calmly.
"Such things?" Apollo tried to brazen it through. Ostara watched apprehensively, not saying a word as she tried unsuccessfully to blend into the furniture.
"Timestreams, alternate realities and dimensions. I gathered that much from what I overheard."
Apollo paled, and bit his lip. "Then you think I'm crazy."
The other man took a deep breath, watching him closely. "Not necessarily. I've talked to Dr. Ravashol on the subject. He had a theory, but discarded it as unworkable. I know the doctors claimed Apollo was dead. Then suddenly your mind was functioning again, and you were very much alive. It did seem ... unusual, to be the recipients of a miracle."
"What do you want from me?" He felt like a cornered animal. How could he tell this man who he was, the circumstances of his being here, without...? He glanced at Ostara; she shook her head negligibly, and he felt encouraged. There was nothing to connect her with the event; all he had to do was leave Starbuck out of his explanations.
"Everything you know. You're so against the Cylon treaty because it didn't work in your universe. I want to know why. I have my own doubts, you see, and so does my Commander. And there're others as well. If you can't do anything, give us the ammunition to forestall what you fear."
Apollo was relieved for the moment, but still uncertain.
Akilles made himself at home. "So tell me," he began conversationally. "What happened when the treaty was signed?"
It made sense. His smile at Ostara was hopeful. Allies! They needed allies. And a Commander like Kain, who's as stubborn and independent here as at home, is just the man. And he's got friends, the kind who can intervene constructively. Maybe there's hope yet. I'll have to see what else I can do....
Ostara let him do the talking as he began to explain the history of the downfall of the Twelve Colonies, and the theories and accusations made after the fact. Akilles nodded throughout. When he was done, the major thought briefly.
"It makes sense. It explains the need for a scapegoat. And Starbuck is that scapegoat. I believe you, and I think Kain will, too." His expression turned grimmer. "It seems we have a conspiracy. And the best way to deal with it may be a counter-conspiracy."
"You say Starbuck is the scapegoat? But how...?"
"There've been rumors for over a sectar of a plot to discredit the treaty. They took him into custody this afternoon, on evidence from Baltar, his patron. But if Baltar's the real traitor...."
Apollo cursed quietly. "Baltar again. We've got to find a way to show the Council the truth. And we've got to help Starbuck, too. He wouldn't-"
"We'll find a way to prove Baltar's treason to the Quorum," Akilles assured him. "And we'll do what we can for Starbuck. He's a good warrior, just a little hot-headed, with a weakness for wine, women, and wagering."
Apollo had to agree. Those were, indeed, Starbuck's weaknesses. He glanced apologetically at Ostara, wondering how she was taking the other man's passionless assessment. The body housing Starbuck's mind seemed quite far away.
"A conspiracy. And we could all hang together, in success as well as failure," Ostara commented to herself, unaware of his scrutiny. She smiled. She knew what she wanted out of this treason. And she would get it. Akilles would help, though he didn't know it yet. She chewed her lip to hide her glee. Starbuck was irrelevant.
Starbuck stared around the enclosed cell. Everything was suddenly wrong and confusing, both in his life and in his own head. He forced himself to sit on the low, plain bunk and relax.
He tried to think.
His arrest was unexpected, the charges shocking. He'd done nothing deserving imprisonment or death. He was no traitor, and he'd never associated with terrorists. He was a warrior, for Sagan's sake!
His foreboding increased. If Count Baltar had really abandoned him, who could he look to for help? He was doomed.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy