Akilles stared at him, aghast. "What?"
Apollo squirmed. "Ostara insists I marry her, or she's going to tell everything," he responded flatly, wonderingly fleetingly if Zac had felt this way when answering to his older brother.
Artemis stared heavenward as the major groaned and threw himself to a couch in the family recreation room. "But why in Sagan's name did you tell her about it? Whatever possessed you...?"
"It seemed the thing to do at the time!" he retorted defensively. I can't explain she was actually Starbuck for a while. He doesn't care for Starbuck, anyway. He's just helping him for my sake, and on an off-chance that Starbuck can be convinced to help us convict Baltar.
"Maybe someone else could talk to her?" Artemis asked more gently, glancing between the men.
Akilles ignored her. "How much does she really know about you, the plan?"
"Too much. Everything."
"Including what's at stake? How can she be willing to risk the safety and survival of the entire Colonies on this?"
Apollo stared at his hands, wishing this interrogation wasn't taking place. "She ... seems to have decided I'm worth it ... or at least, what she can gain by being sealed to me is worth it." The other man grumbled in disgust. "I've considered telling her it was all a big mistake, a mental problem I had for a few days. I don't think she'd buy it - she knows you believe me - and a psychiatric review board would lock me up for it. Besides, she still knows what we're trying to do, and that could conceivably get us all executed for treason if we push the issue, which wouldn't help the Colonies at all."
It was hard to meet Akilles' grim expression. "Then I guess you'll have to marry her, won't you? I assume you haven't talked to Father about this yet?"
"No. I was hoping there'd be a way out." How can I marry a woman I don't even know? And one with Starbuck's consciousness occasionally floating to the surface? That'd be like.... His mind shied away from completing a thought he found both morally objectionable and personally repugnant. I can't make a commitment to any woman here, even if I loved her, until I know what happens next, if our plan succeeds, if the Colonies survive. And then I have to try and find a way home. I can't give up and stay here forever without trying....
"Since there doesn't seem to be a way around it, of course you have my blessings in this mismatch - and my support if Father doesn't like it. I have very little choice, either, since the woman presumably knows my part as well, and we can't risk our credibility now."
Apollo shook his head unhappily at his brother's sarcasm.
Akilles sighed. "I have to get back to the Pegasus. We'll be pulling escort duty for the Star Kobol and the peace delegation in a few days-"
"So soon?" Apollo asked softly.
"Yes. And Mother's going with it, along with a gaggle of newscasters and petty diplomats to record it all and analyze every word of the treaty discussions. We'll reach Kobol in a secton or so - the talks are being held there for symbolic purposes, though our destination is another classified secret - unless you tell Ostara and she passes it along to the wrong people."
Damn it, Akilles, I'm not stupid! This wasn't my doing. But you wouldn't believe the truth if I told you. Or maybe you would; that might be worse.
"We'll have to pull back then, of course. No warships in the treaty zone." Akilles mimicked some pompous bureautician's order.
"Don't go too far back," Apollo pleaded.
"We don't intend to. Kain's got some ideas of his own for that mission. And we plan to be ready if the Cylons pick that moment to attack us."
He directed his attention to Artemis. "And the Galactus will be on the alert, too. A disciplinary action, I believe?"
She nodded, with a sly grin. "It seems our warriors are anticipating peace, and some have been celebrating too hard, too soon. Some friends on the Solarius and Atlantus will have things ready there. Maybe other ships too, by then."
"And ground bases?"
"Likewise," she answered briefly. "How soon does Ostara want this wedding?"
"As soon as possible. Once the treaty business is over, she doesn't have much of a hold on me, and she knows it. I suspect she'll want things settled before the Armistice."
"Makes sense. Okay, little brother. Better talk to the Commander this evening. Things'll start happening pretty fast, from here on out."
"I know." He hesitated a moment. "Would you check on Starbuck again before going back on active duty?"
The older man looked exasperated. "I think we've already done enough for that ungrateful.... He doesn't seem to care whether he lives or dies, Apollo. Why are you so concerned about him? You never bothered much when he was on- Oh, I forgot. He must've been more important in your ... previous life."
"A ... little." They don't know about Starbuck, and I'm certainly not going to tell them the whole truth now.
"I'll get you another pass," Akilles sighed. "After that, it's up to you."
"Thanks, big brother."
Apollo watched Akilles stride out of the room. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Artemis, who'd been mostly silent so far. "Well? You got any words on my incredible stupidity, as Akilles put it?"
An anxious smile played unwillingly across her face. "Well, I'm not happy about you being blackmailed into marrying her. I'd rather see you with someone you love.... Uh ... you were spending time together before she delivered her ultimatum. You must've enjoyed her company. Do you think it could work out, somehow?"
Starbuck's in there, too. We'd probably get along in most circumstances, but this.... She's got no right to ask this of me, and no right to expect that he could.... Damn! And she is a lovely woman. I told myself I was being "objective" when I commented on that - just teasing Starbuck, right? Now, I feel like.... Well, I've got a few requests of my own she'll have to listen to, if this is going to be a real sealing. She knows about Serina too, and that doesn't make any difference to her, that I still care for someone else. Shouldn't let it matter to me, either, that she's alive here. This Sirona is a different woman; she'd never care for me.
"We'll work something out, I'm sure," he told her stiffly.
Her smile wavered, then grew. "I wish you all the best, cousin. I want this to work for you. You may not be the kid I grew up with, but you're still special, and you deserve happiness in your life. Especially if you have to live your life in someone else's body, in a world strange to you."
"Not completely strange, thankfully, and at least I know the body." She knows she doesn't exist any more in the world I left behind, but she accepts it, and me, without reserve. I'm glad there are a few people here I can depend on. Like Ortega. That's the one you're interested in, isn't it? Once Ostara's part of the family, maybe something can come of you two. "Artemis, I wish you the best, too. I've got a few ... ideas about you ... and Ortega."
She blushed, but looked grateful.
"You're doing what?"
"Apollo and I are getting married - soon," Ostara repeated, trying to keep up her smile in the face of her cousin's dismay.
"I just find it ... hard to believe, on such short notice.... I didn't think you two even liked each other, until a few days ago."
"And because we haven't always gotten along, we've no right to change our feelings now?" She shrugged carefully. "Sometimes, when you suddenly see a person's true character, it doesn't take long for something to develop...."
"Have you talked to Commander Adama yet?"
"No. Why are you so upset?" Ostara couldn't understand his reaction to the news. Somewhere inside, she "heard" a smirk, and realized her guest was enjoying her discomfort.
"Starrie, the Commander got me into the Academy, and you, too. He's helped us both along for yahrens, been someone we could turn to. If he doesn't approve of this - and he very well might not - well ... how can you even...? Starrie, don't do anything he'd disapprove of. We can't antagonize him, even if we were ungrateful enough to-"
"I'm doing this for you, too, Ortega!" she snapped, tired of his nervous objections. "Don't you deserve a change to make captain before you're a hundred yahrens old? You could command a starship, maybe even a battlestar! But you have to have the right connections, you have to be part of the warrior elite. With Apollo and his family to call on, you'll have that. And our children won't have to sit on an Academy waiting list for five to ten yahrens before even being considered for admission. Maybe you and Artemis can even-"
"You're doing this for me?" His handsome blond features twisted in dismay. "Starrie, don't! You and Apollo.... Well, you're two of the people I care most about in this universe. I want you both to be happy. This ... union for the sake of career advancement.... You can't sacrifice yourself, and I won't let you sacrifice him. How could you?"
"Damn it, Ortega!" She stamped her foot, listening in growing rage to that gleeful voice inside her.
She whirled away from him. "Cousin, I'm doing this for the best of all concerned." Even you, Starbuck, whether you believe it or not. Stop laughing at me. You knew this would happen.... "Apollo needs someone to take care of him. It might as well be me. And you can certainly use the career boost. You know he'll be pleased to call you kinsman, and Artemis-"
"But do you care for him? Does he care for you? In any way? I have to know. If this is as cold as it sounds, I can't support it...."
She closed her eyes and clenched her fists, then reached deliberately for the part of her mind that she'd entirely shut out for almost a secton. From Starbuck's memories and feelings, she carefully extracted one bit of knowledge: his friendship with Apollo, and the certainty that he would - and almost had, on several occasions - give his life for him. She made that emotion part of herself.
Ostara opened her eyes again, sighing deeply. "Ortega, I care for him. And I could easily learn to care more. He's changed since his injuries. I believe he is coming to feel something for me, and will come to feel more," she told him in all sincerity. "Give us your blessings, please, cousin?"
Ortega finally smiled, then embraced her. "I wish you both the best, Starrie. And I'll stand by you both at your sealing, and after until ... 'til Hades shines with Kobol's light!"
She laughed and hugged him back.
Apollo was alone in the neat dwelling that could comfortably house seven. The President, his mother, was on the Star Kobol, preparing for the voyage and peace talks. His father, siblings, and cousin were aboard their assigned ships. Left with his thoughts, he considered how to live the rest of his life in this alternate reality. Roaming the empty floors, staring out at the planned gardens and paths, he wondered how it would be, sealed to a woman he scarcely knew, because he had no choice, getting acquainted with a world so slightly different....
Assuming they somehow survived the Cylons.
Commander Adama came home that evening, interrupting the young warrior's solitary supper. Apollo quickly finished eating and put his dishes away. Their conversation turned from general matters as they adjourned to the solarium overlooking the capital. Through the huge windows, with the lights turned off, they had the fantastic view Ila had designed the room for.
"You look well," the older man observed as they sat down on a bench. From there, the two men could see the lights of Caprica City blazing like a sickle around the darkness of the bay; when the moons rose, the bay would gleam like a grain field at harvest season.
"I'm feeling pretty well," Apollo replied carefully. He had to choose his words with special caution tonight. There was no way to avoid telling his father that he would be married in a few days, but he had no intention of revealing the true reason for the hasty sealing.
"Well enough to return to the Galactus? I talked to the doctors today. They feel there would be no difficulty reinstating your commission and returning you to active duty in time for the Armistice."
He grimaced. "Uh ... Father, if I could, I'd like to have an extended leave now, if you're willing to allow it." He swallowed, seeing his father's questioning eyes. "With the Armistice coming in a secton or so, there should be no difficulty about it - no combat expected...." It wasn't easy to lie to this man - he'd never been able to lie to his father.
"If you wish, son, I can do that...." Adama sounded disappointed.
"Uh ... I've got a reason for my request." He forced a smile, hoping his anxiety wasn't showing. "I hope you'll give Lt. Ostara leave as well. You see ... we'd like to be married in a few days...."
"What?" Adama was stunned.
Apollo rushed ahead before doubts and objections could come to the other man's mind. "It just ... seemed to come together for us, since we were both in the hospital.... And we'd like to make a special gesture, sort of a symbol of hope for the end of the war, if you understand what I mean ... getting married now.... A new life, for all of us...."
The commander searched his face, then finally smiled slightly. "Your mother would be very pleased to hear you say that, Apollo. To know you accept peace as a new way...."
"Yes." He looked down, swallowing. There were times he forgot Ila still existed in this universe; she'd been gone so long in his. "Well, Ostara convinced me to try a new life. We ... plan to face it together."
"Apollo," Adama began hesitantly, "I know what this will mean to your mother. She would hate to miss your sealing. Could you move the date up, have the ceremony before she leaves for the conference? I know that only gives you two days, but it would mean so much to her - this silence between you has been hard on her as well, it would be a gesture of reconciliation for you both. And I would be only too happy to perform the ceremony for you, to start you on your way...."
His first impulse was a horror-stricken "no!" Then he reconsidered. He had to get married anyway, and to make peace with his mother now.... It would also give him more time later, if he had to act quickly.
"If Ostara's willing...." And I'm sure she will be.
"She's not exactly what I expected for you, son," Adama cautioned, "although she is a warrior, and from a good family. But I'm sure your mother will be pleased at your choice. If we're to learn the ways of peace, we have to get over our elitist attitudes. Ila will be glad to hear you're looking forward."
"What about you, Father?"
"Your happiness is what's important to me, Apollo. And I must admit, I did notice how she slipped away after you at the party, and that neither of you returned for several centars. I didn't expect you both to be this serious."
"You'll miss Mother while she's gone, won't you?" He was glad to change the subject. Their discussion was getting uncomfortably personal.
Adama nodded. "I always missed her when I was away on a duty tour, when you all were younger. Then she became active in politics again, and she was the one who was always gone. Now, we scarcely see each other, it seems. But we'll be together soon, and we've still got many yahrens ahead to spend with each other."
They sat silently, enjoying the calm, beautiful night.
There are things I'd forgotten about you and Mother. But I see them now, all the clearer for knowing. Lords of Kobol, how can it be with me and Ostara? How am I ever going to adjust?
Three of their five days were gone. Wilker thought he'd made a breakthrough in his study of the delicate alien machinery, and quickly shared it with his comrades. Lt. Boomer scanned his theories, then stared hard at the scientist.
"So what it means," he said finally, "is that this device really is a transportation system - and the inventors somehow found a way to skip between dimensions as well as locations, either physically or psychically."
"Precisely." The doctor looked pleased as he set down his computron.
"And what happened is that Apollo and Starbuck, or their minds or spirits, anyway, were somehow sent away into one of those alternate dimensions."
He sat back and blew a gusty sigh. "That's hard to believe."
"But it does explain why their bodies are still alive, and with such low brain wave readings. Don't you agree, Dr. Paye?"
The medical specialist, who'd had a boring few days, nodded skeptically. "It seems a logical deduction, but whether this machine actually works the way you postulate...."
"Oh, but it does. I'd stake my life on it."
"It's not your life that's being staked," Boomer reminded him. "It's Apollo and Starbuck who are at risk. And me."
"Absolutely. You said yourself, right here...." He jabbed at the computations and diagrams on the table before them. "That the physical can be transmitted as well as the mental. And those little disks seem to be the recall buttons. Someone has to go where they've gone, with the recall device, and signal you to bring us all back."
"But, Lieutenant, with this alien machinery-"
"It's the only way," Boomer interrupted. "We need you here to continue studying the equipment, to make sure it works when I find them. It may take a warrior to survive wherever they are, if their minds still survive somehow. When they're found, someone has to prepare their bodies here to receive their minds back. You're the best one to handle the technical aspects of all that. I'm best prepared to face a possibly hostile world; humans may not be able to live there at all. You've pinpointed the ... location, for lack of a better word, where they were sent to, but you don't know anything about the place."
The scientist looked displeased. "I've done the best I can under the circumstances, with the need for haste-"
"I'm not questioning that. But you do your job, and I'll do mine."
"And you won't let anyone else go looking for them?"
The warrior looked grim. "It could be a one-way trip."
"It won't be!" The scientist glared back. "The scientific possibilities-"
"We could inquire of Commander Adama-"
"All right!" Wilker snapped. "Get ready, then. We don't have a lot of time, and as you said, we don't know how long the search may take."
Three days after Ostara delivered her ultimatum to Apollo, two days after he spoke to Akilles and Adama, the young couple was quietly married in the captain's family home. It was a small party - the parents and siblings of the groom, his cousin Artemis, his brother's new fiancÚ Saba and her father, the bride's parents and cousin Ortega, and a handful of close friends who could respond to the invitation on a day's notice. Commander Adama performed the ceremony, while Ortega and Artemis stood up as official witnesses.
After a quiet dinner, the group dispersed. Cmdr. Kain, Maj. Akilles, and Lt. Saba returned to the Pegasus, while President Ila headed back to the Star Kobol; the peace envoy would be leaving in a few centars. Cmdr. Adama, Lt. Athena, Lt. Ortega, and Sgt. Ares left for the Galactus. Their friends, mostly warriors and a few bureauticians, departed with them.
When Ostara's parents excused themselves at the same time, the couple was left to spend their first night in his parents' home. After the Armistice was signed, they could have a real sealing trip, her mother joked proudly, obviously pleased and a bit awed at the caliber of the company.
After several uncomfortable moments, the woman disappeared, murmuring something about changing from the uncomfortably tight sealing gown. The groom elected to remain in his dress uniform. He listened to her nervous steps for a moment, then drifted toward the liquor cellar, thoughtfully left unlocked for the occasion. He chose a bottle of old ambrosa, returned to the family room, and poured himself a tall drink.
She returned after a short time. "Apollo."
"Ostara," he acknowledged with a grave nod. It was difficult to ignore the low-cut, simple while satin shift, but he turned his head.
"I still answer to Starrie," she suggested hopefully.
"I'll try to remember," he responded briefly. "Would you like a drink?"
"As long as you're having one...."
He emptied the chalice in one long gulp, then refilled it, pouring one for her as well. She tasted it appreciatively.
"Should be. It's nearly four hundred yahrens old. I understand my great-grandfather purchased it on his own sealing day."
"You're being awfully formal." She touched his arm. "You could at least put aside that cape; it's got to be warm...."
"What do you expect from this marriage, Ostara?" He held the cup between like a barrier. There had been no time to talk in the hectic few days since her announcement and this moment. He had no idea how far she intended to carry the public farce of peace and romance having swept them off their feet.
She looked down. "The same as every woman expects. A husband." Her voice dropped huskily on her last words, and she studied him through lowered eyelids.
He ignored the seductive glance and inviting half-smile. "I see. Well, you have one." He took another drink.
"Look, Starrie. You're a beautiful woman, I admit that. But we barely know each other. And I can't forget that Starbuck's in your mind somewhere, too, participating in your life. I can't be expected.... I'd feel.... It'd be unnatural, for me...." He sat down heavily, delivering his words with difficulty. "Do you understand that? You know what Starbuck meant ... means to me, and in what ways.... This...."
"I see your dilemma," she finally admitted. "But I already told you, I control my own mind. I can block him out completely. It's just you and me, Apollo. And I think we might even come to enjoy ... our life...." She sat down, leaning toward him, hands running familiarly under his cape, tugging at his shirt.
He caught her wrists almost cruelly. "Can you guarantee it?" he demanded bluntly. To even think of Starbuck being aware of how she was dressed, how she was acting, what she seemed to want - was this supposed to make up for the circumstances? His friend would feel humiliated, angry, ashamed.
"You are my husband. I am your wife. It's our wedding night. I have a certain right-"
"What about my rights? And his?"
She stared rebelliously. "I don't understand. I told you-"
"Stop it, Ostara!" he interrupted, then took a deep breath. "Just give me time. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow." He needed time to adjust to more than just being married.
She went to the ambrosa bottle, poured herself a second glass, and pushed another refill at him. Then she went to turn down the lights.
He laughed mirthlessly. "Get me drunk and take advantage of me? Maybe I should've expected that. You're not taking any chances, or leaving any loopholes for this farce to be declared null and void."
"No tricks, Apollo. Just you and me. And the future. Maybe children-"
He nearly choked in shock.
She smiled defiantly at that, as though she'd found another weak spot, and continued cajoling him. "I know how you feel about children, Apollo. I know about Boxey. But there could be children here, when this crisis is over. I could be a very good mother. Think of the future."
Starbuck, a mother? Lords of Kobol.... He tried to move away from her.
She caught his hand. Something in her expression wasn't right.
"No. Not tonight!"
"Apollo...." she whispered, entreating softly.
The ambrosa was hitting him too fast. She knelt before him, staring intently into his eyes. He studied her in return, then silently held out his chalice. She tipped the bottle again.
"Can you swear...?" The low-cut gown gaped. His resolve weakened.
"I already have." Her lips were inviting, full and quivering. "I prepared for tonight. He's not here. I knew what you'd want. I understand. Or do you find me so hateful for what I've done that you won't even touch me?" She stroked his cheek, her eyes wide and luminous in the dim light.
"Damn!" he groaned, then firmly pushed aside their chalices. He pulled the bottle from her grasp and set it beside the cups. She reached for him, hands eagerly exploring his body. He quickly found the clasp of her gown, pulling it open without preamble. But when she tired to tug away his shirt, he stopped her. In this, at least, he thought drunkenly, he would be in command. See if she wanted what she said she did.... Stifling her momentary protest with his own mouth, he dragged her to the floor with him. Any awkwardness was swiftly dispensed with.
It was late dusk. Boomer, clad in civilian garb and with a wallet full of assorted currencies, appeared in the shadows of the square before the Military Administration Building. He studied the too-familiar surroundings in shock before stepping into the light.
"Caprica City," he breathed. "This isn't possible...."
The task suddenly became easier, and infinitely harder. He recognized the terrain, which was always an advantage. But finding two lost minds in a world where everything was familiar might be impossible. Just how similar was this mirror image to what he remembered? And how had it come to be so?
He heard human laughter. Studying the people passing by, listening to the language they spoke, he could almost believe this really was what it appeared to be. But can that be possible?
Boomer reached for the reassuring recall disk under his shirt, made into a small pendant he could wear at all times. Somewhat comforted, he wandered to a nearby news vending machine. The print was readable. Everything about the place said home.
Another dimension. A place like home, but not home. I never believed in this sort of thing. Where do I begin to search? How do I contact them if I think I've found them?
The currency he possessed was quickly accepted, and he purchased a handful of newscrystals to study, their listed dates leaving him cold and jittery.
After the Destruction, as we know it. The date is right for when I left. At least I haven't sidestepped time.
Then, noting the darkening skies and rising moons, he headed for a good, quiet hotel he remembered from before the Destruction, one with public access to certain historical archives. He had a lot of learn, and not much time, but there was nothing he could do in the middle of the night.
Striding down the street, he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a man for whom he had nothing but contempt, a man who had betrayed his world, killed a fellow warrior, nearly allowed a friend to be sent to the gridbarge for that crime, and almost murdered the flight commander of the Galactica. The man stared back in ashen-faced shock, mouthing syllables the lieutenant recognized as his name.
The small crowd swirled between them, and Boomer drifted into the shadows of an alley. He wondered what role Karibdis played on this world. Grimly, he decided that if there was time, he would find out.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy