The streets of Caprica City were bustling on the warm summer morning. An aura of excitement colored everything. Rumors of the pending Armistice added zest to every conversation. The bright future seemed the sole concern of those traveling the broad boulevards.
Two warriors strolled those wide avenues, their knowledge alienating them from the hopeful atmosphere. One studied sights he normally took for granted, and wondered if the city had a future. The other drank in every view, noise, and smell, as his heart cried for the dead place he would never see again, the city he'd once called home.
The people they passed knew them. Similarity of features and physiques proclaimed the men's kinship; their uniforms and bearing announced their warrior status. But even in civilian clothing, they would have been recognized. The President of the Quorum, the Commander of the Galactus, and their family appeared in the media often enough to receive instant recognition.
Some of the bystanders gave them respectful nods and stepped aside for them, expecting from their preoccupied expressions that they were on important and perhaps somber business.
Dark stares from a few reminded the warriors that their caste wasn't admired in every quarter. Some smoldering civilians expected peace to finally break the military hold on Colonial society that had evolved over the past millennium. They let their feelings be known. Akilles ignored them; Apollo couldn't help noticing.
"It's good to see it all again," the captain said under his breath, trying to concentrate on the city's beauty. "But it hurts, too, all the memories it evokes. How did we let it happen...?"
"But you won't let it happen again," Akilles reminded him. "Which is why we're going to visit Starbuck at the Incarceration Center. I'm sure he knows Baltar set him up. All we have to do is persuade him to tell us everything he knows. It may be helpful in convincing the Council to ask a few questions about our esteemed Count."
I have my own reasons for wanting to see Starbuck. I need to know what he's like here, if he could possibly be responsible for Boomer's death. Is there a chance he's really the traitor they accuse him of being?
Apollo had the sudden feeling they were being followed. He glanced around, but saw nothing suspicious.
"What is it?" his brother demanded, seeing the look.
Apollo shrugged. "Don't know. An odd feeling that someone might be following us, but I don't see anybody. Better keep our voices down, though. After the things Mother almost accused me of that dinner, I suppose she could have someone tailing me, just to make sure I don't do anything ... rash." He couldn't help the bitterness in his voice. "She hasn't spoken to me since then. And Father just keeps saying to give her time...."
"She's got a lot on her mind," Akilles responded diplomatically. "It's a terrible responsibility she's got. She knew it when she was offered the position of President, after she was elected to the Council. She discussed it with us, so we'd know what we were all facing, how much of her life would become public domain. Maybe if you had some memory of that, you'd understand what she's going through."
The younger man flushed. "I guess I'm ... single-minded, too. She's not quite the same woman Mother was in my reality, but I guess yahrens of being a diplomat and political activist could have made her the same."
"Was your mother as disappointed as ours that we all became warriors, that none of us wanted to enter public service as she did?"
"I'm ... not sure. Maybe. I never thought about it...."
They reached the magnificent public square before the Military Administration Building. The twin obelisks fronting the edifice proclaimed the history of the warriors as defenders of Caprica and as bold explorers. Trees, shrubs, and flowers occupied small plots of ground between the tall monuments, forming a living, natural contrast to the architectural splendor of man's creations.
"I'll go in. You might want to wait here, enjoy the scenery or something."
"You aren't sure I can handle delays?" Apollo demanded wryly. Wouldn't surprise me if Akilles believes that - I haven't shown the sweetest temper or patience since coming here. And from what I've heard of my original, he didn't have the best disposition, either. And both his brothers had hinted, Akilles carefully and Ares with some enthusiasm, that he had a reputation - off-duty, of course - for being able to enjoy himself. On duty, he was the same reserved, unapproachable superior officer he was reputed to be on the Galactica. Maybe having Akilles here took the pressure off me when I was growing up, so I didn't have to be quite so ... restrained. There wasn't quite as much expected of me; I had more freedom. Starbuck and Boomer always told me I didn't know how to relax, that I could never stop being an officer.
Akilles grinned, an appealing expression that erased some of the grimness from his face. "Let's just say that, as the oldest and as heir to one Hades of a lot of power, they'll pay some attention to my request. And as Starbuck's former flight commander, I'll have more reason to want to see him than you would. When I've got permission, we can both go to the Incarceration Center." That maximum security prison was a heavily guarded orbiting station that required a special permit from MilAd to enter.
"I'll wander around."
Akilles disappeared through the broad double doors. After a few centons of staring around the square, Apollo found his way to a bench and sat down to wait.
People moved around him, occupied with their own business. If he tried, Apollo could almost imagine this was his world, that the Destruction had never happened, but was only a bad dream. Sinking into that fantasy, he realized belatedly, was dangerous; it could make him complacent, lead him to take the Cylon menace too lightly.
A brightly colored ball, a child's toy, bounced off the grass at his feet and up into his lap. He caught it automatically, then stared down at the small boy who chased the toy. The brown hair and innocent eyes stabbed him, bringing back painful memories.
"Boxey...." He still cradled the ball as he'd caught it.
"Can I have my ball, mister?"
"My son's name is Troy."
He started at the familiar voice. She stood there, next to his bench.
"Yes." She favored him with a smile.
"The Caprican image of beauty," he continued, rising from his seat.
She laughed a little. "Some say that, yes. Thank you for the compliment. And you're Captain Apollo, son of Ila, President of the Quorum of Twelve, and Commander Adama of the Galactus. Go ahead and play, Troy, but don't wander far. Do you mind if I join you, Captain?"
He saw a camera monitor duck behind one of the obelisks; another moved alongside one of the larger shrubs. Glancing back at the woman, he detected a small microphone in the folds of her collar. "If it's an interview you want, Sirona, you should know I've already turned down Zara's request."
She smiled and sat down. "I heard. I was hoping to get a few candid remarks from you, off the record, for a story I'm doing about general warrior reaction to the treaty."
"With two cameramen standing by, and a recorder in your pocket?" He looked unconvinced. But when she stood again, he caught her arm. "What kind of questions did you have in mind? Just be honest about your purpose." He couldn't bear to have her leave without hearing her voice for a little while longer. And seeing Boxey - Troy? - play nearby with his living daggit was a joy.
She sighed in consternation. "I told them to stay.... Never mind. I see you've figured me out. Are you willing to talk to me on camera...?" She seemed surprised.
"Maybe. It'll depend on the questions." He smiled his most engaging and eager smile. She ignored it, but sat down again.
"All right, Captain. Let's begin with your primary objections to the Cylon peace initiative. Why are you against peace?"
He blinked. "What?"
"Is it fear of becoming obsolete?" she pressed. "We've lived through a millennium of constant turmoil, a period during which warriors have come to dominate and even control many aspects of our society. Do you think the military caste will lose its high standing if it's no longer essential to the survival of our worlds?"
"What? I...." He gaped. "I'm not against peace! I just want a true and lasting peace, not some strategic ruse-"
"Strategic ruse? Hardly a flattering term for the first opportunity for a cessation of hostilities in a millennium, Captain. I would think a man who's risked his life, become a hero many times over, would be glad that the time has come when he no longer need take such risks."
"If I believed the time had come. But having faced the Cylons in battle, knowing the way they think-"
"And being Cylons, they are incapable of changing their minds? Of realizing the futility of a war which drains the best of both our peoples without gain to either?"
"The best of us? Yes, they take the best of us. But all we're getting of them are machines - programmed killing machines. And being programmed, they can hardly 'change their minds,' as you put it."
"But they are not all programmed killed machines. And even an intelligent computer can reach conclusions about wasted effort and diminished returns. Machines can be reprogrammed! Have you perhaps come to need the risk, the danger?" She continued to bait him.
"Need the risk? Do you think I'm crazy? A ... a psychotic of some kind?"
"Is it some kind of ... stimulant you need to feel alive? You spend so much of your life concentrating on destruction. Wouldn't trying to be creative, turning to life-affirming pursuits, satisfy your yearnings? Surely you've seen enough of your companions in emotional and physical difficulty to realize the danger?"
Her confiding attitude almost drew a response from him. "Are you here to ask valid questions, or to attack my integrity and my profession?" he demanded bluntly, pulling himself together. "Is this an interview or an interrogation?"
Her wide mouth thinned momentarily, and her eyes went cold. She reached into her pocket, and he heard a small snap. "All right, Captain. Off the record. I don't like you or what you do. I believe most warriors are totally detached from the mainstream of society, and have a warped sense of which values are worth maintaining in a civilized culture. As a matter of fact, I detest you personally, and the tradition you represent. But your mother is the President, which makes what you say a matter of public interest-"
"Which I am sick and tired of being reminded of!"
"And with rumors of an effort to sabotage the treaty, your well-known opposition to it makes you the point of much interest in particular places. I would like to get your views, present them to my audience-"
"As an example of warrior irrationality and resistance to change?" He studied her flush of anger. "Your pacifist views are interfering with your objectivity in this case. For your records, then. After a thousand yahrens of war, I long for peace as much as anyone, warrior or civilian. But I have seen the enemy, fought them face-to-face, nearly sacrificed my life many times to protect this society. What I urge is caution. Make certain of what we are being offered before we commit ourselves irrevocably. That strikes me as entirely reasonable and rational. This interview is terminated."
He spied Akilles coming out of the building, looking for him. Giving a clipped nod to the woman, he went to join his brother.
"You got snared?"
"Yes," Apollo snapped, bringing his attention back to present reality. And she used Boxey ... Troy to ambush me!
"How was it?"
"Unsatisfactory for all concerned. She talked like she knew Mother and I had argued about this."
"She probably does."
Akilles looked a bit sheepish. "We thought it necessary...."
"We? You and who else? You told the whole system about our quarrel?"
"I talked to Artemis. She's in on this, too, but she doesn't know everything yet. I thought you should see her first, for the rest of the story. And there are some others. But anyway, we let the word get out, very selectively and from odd sources, that you and Mother were in opposition."
"Why?" he almost shouted. Why draw attention to me? I don't need-
Akilles drew a deep breath, speaking carefully. "Apollo, if something goes wrong with this plot of ours, or somebody finds out too much, we can't leave any chance that Mother could be connected with it. The President of the Council simply cannot be involved in anything wearing the color of treason."
Apollo stared, appalled. "Is our father thus 'protected' as well?"
"If we fail, we fail alone. We're not taking our parents or the younger ones down with us, or anyone else. Artemis is a silent partner. What she does, no one will attribute to this. I think Kain's probably untouchable - whatever he does works out right, so we don't have to worry about him. But I'm sure you see...." His glance was appealing, asking forgiveness as well as understanding.
Apollo nodded, resigned. His brother was right. There was a lot at risk. And it'll give me a chance - and a reason - not to be home or in Mother's presence too often. I'll have more freedom of movement, and everybody'll think it's because we argued. "I hope it doesn't adversely affect what we have to do," he said. "But why bring Artemis into this?"
"She knows you too well; she'd figure out something was wrong. And besides, if it comes to it, she's a liaison to the Galactus, and to ... certain others." He frowned. "You know what a chance we're taking. We need every advantage we can get. It seemed ... a necessary risk. Now, let's go see Starbuck."
Ostara sat on her bunk, staring intently at the wall lockers, a half-smile fixed on her lips. The blank expression betrayed none of the panic in the woman's mind.
(What's happening? I don't understand!)
(You don't have to understand.) The calm assurance made him/her wary. (Just keep in mind that it's my body you're running around in, and we'll get along fine.)
(I don't remember things! Am I ... are we blacking out?)
(No. There are times I shut you out.)
(Lords of Kobol, why? How?)
(It's my mind.) Smug. (I have access to your memories and feelings, and I can control them. I can control you.)
(I intend to benefit from your "visit" here. And there's nothing you can do, except what I allow. Even when you're aware, I command.)
(And what do you intend?)
(I'll stop you if it's wrong.)
There was no response from the prisoner in her mind, but she read his frantic attempts to reassert control over her body. She ignored it. Content and confident, Ostara leaned back, still smiling. She was welcome in Commander Adama's home now. Perhaps this evening was the time to begin her plan. Her contentment grew. When it was done, she'd never have to worry about anything again. It would all be taken care of.
The guards led him in, pushed him into a chair with a kind of unconscious brutality, and backed away. The fair-haired man on the other side of the visitation screen ignored the treatment and remained aloof, cool, appearing to ignore his surroundings and treatment, as if the manacles at his wrists and ankles were merely an inconvenience, the prison uniform simply a matter of different taste, and the guards a necessary but ignorable distraction.
"Well, two of Adama's golden crown. And to what do I owe this pleasure?"
Startled, Apollo glanced at his brother. The bitterness and anger in Starbuck's voice were unfamiliar and unexpected.
"Golden crown," Akilles muttered out of the side of his mouth. "You, me, Artemis, Athena, and Ares. We're expected to have great destinies ahead of us, militarily and otherwise."
As they sat down opposite the wary lieutenant, Akilles glanced at the burly guards and gestured them out of the room. The three warriors were left to speak privately. Starbuck sat on the edge of his seat, looking ready to bolt at any micron. Akilles and Apollo leaned forward, trying to keep their voices low without looking conspiratorial.
"What do you want?" Starbuck demanded suspiciously. The captain heard unhappiness under the attempted arrogance, and noticed his other-world friend had tried to cover a bruise on his temple with facial cosmetics.
The visitors exchanged glances.
"We'd like to talk about the evidence against you...." the major began.
"Can't help you there. I don't even know why I'm being held."
"Irrelevant. We know why, and we'd like to ask you about it."
"Why?" He didn't unwind at all.
"I studied the law codes at the Academy," Apollo told him - which was equally true in this universe as in his own. "If you answer some questions, we may be able to help you."
His expression changed to disbelief. "Why would you want to help me? Captain, you never liked me, and I don't recall my flight commander jumping to my defense when I was on the Pegasus."
Akilles cleared his throat in exasperation. "Lieutenant," he stated through gritted teeth, "the evidence against you has a suggestion of tampering to it. It may be entirely manufactured. Can you think of anyone who would want to see you out of the way or accused of treason?"
"You have to ask?" The cold eyes were almost mocking as he threw previous enmity in their faces.
Apollo bristled, but his brother caught his arm and held him in place. "This is a hardly a proper way to speak to your superior officers, Lieutenant."
The man snorted. "If convicted of treason, the sentence is termination. These bastards here seem to think I'm already good as dead, the way they treat me. What worse could you do to me?"
Akilles smiled grimly. "I could get you off, haul you back to the Pegasus, and refuse your request for a transfer. Then your ass is mine, and mister, you'll learn what trouble really means. There won't be a lousy duty on the ship that you won't pull ten times over. A rather appealing thought, actually. I might have to get you off just for the pleasure of making you pay for it."
Starbuck blinked, considering. "All right, Major," he said evenly. "You get me off, and my ass is yours. I won't complain if I draw long patrol for a sectar straight and latrine duty for a secton after that. But you still haven't said how you're going to get me off. And I'm afraid there's nothing I can tell you. Like I said, I've got no idea what evidence they have against me, or where it came from. Even my protector hasn't had much to say about it. So you're wasting your time here."
Akilles nodded. "Then we'll continue our own investigation, and speak with you again later."
Apollo was astonished when his brother pulled him to his feet, called to a guard, and led him toward the door. He glanced back to see the lieutenant studying the mesh screen, wrists manacled before him. There was a little more hope in those familiar features, but not much.
"You heard him; he doesn't know anything yet. And I'm not about to rant and accuse Baltar of treason to the man most likely to warn him. The Count got him into the Academy, after all. We'll talk to him again later, when he begins to wonder who manufactured the evidence, and why his mentor isn't rushing to defend him. For now, there're other sources to check."
"But this front he's projecting - that's not Starbuck!"
"It's the way he's always been."
"Impossible!" But it was very possible. Given this society's circumstances, his Starbuck could easily have become such an embittered, isolated man. "Couldn't we-"
"Not here!" He heard something of his own tone of command, and his father's, and had to be content for the moment.
Apollo slumped dejectedly on a couch in the family room. Akilles had returned to the Pegasus and every other member of the clan seemed to be on duty. Even Ortega was busy, speaking to a class of first-yahren cadets at the Academy. So he was home alone, with nothing to do but brood and mope over the encounters with Starbuck and Serina ... Sirona.
She's married, to one of the younger leaders of the pacifist group. And her son Boxey or Troy would never run up and ask to ride in my ship. I don't know what I could have been thinking when I saw her. I knew she had a different life here.
And Starbuck's different too. So distant, embittered. This universe has been cruel to him, I'm afraid. Is that what happens to orphans or those without connections somewhere? This place is harsher than home. The military and upper classes seem to work together on a lot of things. The pacifists are rebels, I guess, thinking peace will change the status quo in their favor. Somehow, I doubt there's much chance of that-
The door chime rang cheerfully. He jumped and ran to answer it.
"Starrie! Come on in. I didn't think you were able to get off today." He smiled and gestured back into the room he'd just vacated. "Sit down. We've got to talk." That gown's in excellent taste. Blue-green suits her; the previous Ostara must have had exquisite notions of color and cut. I can't imagine Starbuck taking much of an interest in shopping-
"We certainly do."
He was puzzled by the nervousness in her voice. The hand he held was cool and sweaty; her face was flushed, and her pulse seemed to be unusually fast. Had someone discovered who she really was, and what was going on?
"Something happen?" he asked.
She took a deep breath. "No, but something will soon."
She faced him. "You're going to marry me."
The defiant words didn't register. "What?" he asked again. "Starbuck, that's a warped joke! What are you talking about?"
"You're going to marry me."
"Because if you don't, I'm going to tell everyone the crazy tale you've been telling me about being from another universe, and trying to prevent the Cylon peace treaty from being enacted."
"The crazy tale?"
"That's what I'll say."
"Starbuck!" he faltered.
She smiled. "He's here."
"But...." Apollo was stunned, with no idea how to react.
"Your mind was empty; you were dead. There was no competition when you moved into that body. My mind, however, was only ... temporarily out of action. I'm back in charge again. Starbuck's memories are part of me, Captain, a small, locked-away, separate part of me. I know what he knows. And I can use it against you. There's nothing you or he can do about it. The price for my silence and my assistance in your scheme ... is marriage. I will be your wife. You will be my husband." Her eyes were cold.
"I don't understand."
"How many times must I repeat it?" She sounded irritated. "We are going to be married. You will, of course, get your father's blessings."
"Why? How can you...."
"It will benefit me to be sealed to you. And it will certainly benefit you to have me on your side. I'm sure we can work out an accommodation. After all, it's not as if your affections were engaged anywhere else. I know Serina was your wife there, but Sirona's married to someone else, here, and she doesn't even like you. So you might as well marry me."
Belatedly, he recalled the med tech at the hospital, who'd been so eager to entice him. Was he really that prized a catch? Akilles, why didn't you warn me about this? Lords, what'll I do now?
He tried to think fast.
"And don't try to bluff through it. Starbuck knows you too well. So I know you, too. I know you're not a wagerer. I know what you won't risk."
He stared numbly and swallowed hard. "Give me time to think about it."
"A day. There isn't really that much to think about. And the Colonies may not have much time, if you and your friend remember correctly."
"Ostara!" he pleaded. "Knowing the danger to your people, how can you make this kind of demand? You don't know what you could be getting into!"
"I'll risk it."
He thought frantically. "I could be a brute of a husband, or a scoundrel, or unfaithful. Starbuck doesn't know everything about me, about how Serina and I worked out our marriage - he was gone that whole time. There could be awful secrets...."
"Like I said, I'll risk it. You're not the same man our Captain was. From Starbuck's mind, I think I could live with you, at least long enough to get what I want - the proper standing in a caste that will survive and be even more important after the Cylons attack again. We'll come to an arrangement, if we discover we can't live with each other."
"You mean, if you decide you can't live with me. I doubt I'll have much say in the matter."
"What about Starbuck's mind?" he asked heavily.
"We'll discuss him tomorrow, when we make our wedding plans."
Nothing he could suggest could convince her to change her mind. When Ostara left, she still sounded determined that he marry her.
Alone with his thoughts again, Apollo searched desperately for a way out, trying to imagine what made a woman like Ostara act as she did. What could he say to convince her to change her mind? And what would happen to the mind of his friend, trapped at the mercy of such a woman?
He groaned aloud. His personal situation was suddenly much more complicated than he'd ever anticipated.
Starbuck couldn't sleep. He lay awake and stared at the ceiling above him, feeling as cold and blank as the hard gray metal.
The Count won't help me.
They'll convict me. They'll call me a traitor and execute me.
No. Major Akilles and Captain Apollo have no reason to help me. I don't know why they came to see me. There's no reason for them to come here, no reason at all. I won't count on them. Why would they help me? They've made it obvious often enough what they think of me. They never cared before.
It's just mind games. They want to get my hopes up, or trip me up and get me to confess to things I didn't do. Mind games.
And he's back in my dreams again.
He trusts them, but he's afraid, too. He can't be me. I'm not....
But if he....
You're the worst of the games, you know that? Who are you? Why are you taunting me this way? Don't I have enough troubles without going schizo, too? I won't plead insanity as a defense against crimes I didn't commit. Go away! Leave me alone....
But, Lords of Kobol, not too alone. I've been alone so many times.
Will they help me? I didn't do anything wrong. I'm innocent.
His thoughts ran in wild circles, fastening first on Baltar, with hope, then on Akilles and Apollo, with doubt, finally on nobody, in utter despair, afraid of trusting even himself.
If not for the guards constantly monitoring the high-security cells, Starbuck might have broken down and cried, but he wouldn't give them the satisfaction. They might not be like the elite warriors, thinking a dozen generations of heroes' blood in their veins made them better than he was, but they could still scorn a prisoner with no family or social standing. They had no reason to be considerate of an inmate, especially one who might be condemned and ordered killed in a few days. The Incarceration Asteroid was for the worst criminals in the system, for men and women accused or convicted of the most heinous crimes; the inmates here usually left after death, of old age or after the carrying-out of termination warrants.
Shame, dishonor, insanity, termination....
And all alone.
He wouldn't give the guards another reason to look down on him. He wouldn't give them another weapon with which to wound him. He clenched his fists under the blanket, and kept the bitter tears inside.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy