Lieutenant Starbuck of the battlestar Pegasus hesitated before the house where the man responsible for his vindication in the treason trial currently resided. Normally, he would have reported back for duty, but his base ship was gone. An officer had informed him they were escorting the Council ships to the negotiation site. Temporarily unassigned, he'd decided to take the captain up on his invitation. Taking a deep breath and hoping the offer was genuine, he hit the bell.
A chime rang somewhere within. A moment later, a man appeared at the door.
"You said to show up tonight," he began, hating the defensiveness that crept into his voice. Bowing and scraping always galled him, and so many of the warrior elite, secure in generations of military service and honors, expected such response from what they derogatorily called "uniformed civilians." The captain had often been that arrogant. Starbuck was intensely curious why he had changed his behavior, and not only helped him in some unexplained way to escape the false treason charges, but also seemed to offer genuine friendship.
Apollo smiled, gesturing past the door to the well-lit interior. "Come on in, Starbuck." He glanced about before closing the door behind them. "I see you were serious about coming. I'm glad...."
"You seemed serious with the invitation...."
In the next room, he saw two people talking. Both were familiar. He remembered Ostara vaguely; she'd shipped aboard just before his transfer. She paled at seeing him, and didn't seem to know how to answer his brief greeting. They'd never been more than nodding acquaintances, and he'd suspected antagonism on her part. He turned his attention to the other man, who stared intently at him.
"What...?" Those dark features were too familiar. His mind refused momentarily to accept what he knew was impossible. "Boomer?"
"Well, guess who remembered." The relieved grin was the past come to haunt him. His friend had died....
"Better sit down." Apollo guided him to a chair as he gaped at the ghost. The woman moved quickly to help, and their hands touched briefly.
Shock. (What/No!/I don't understand....)
Strange thoughts and memories flooded his mind, and Ostara reeled drunkenly away from him, suddenly chalk-white. The universe swirled, and he felt his feet slip out from under him, but someone broke his fall.
"Starbuck?" that someone said urgently. It was Apollo; he felt reassured, then just as suddenly repulsed that he should depend on that man for anything, from his life to support in a faint.
(Why? There's no reason to feel that way.) Ordinary statement of fact.
"What in Hades...?" he muttered weakly.
(Just listen, and feel. It'll be clear to you soon.)
He dropped limply to the chair when the captain released him, staring at the three in the room. He scarcely knew the woman. He recognized his old friend, whose death had driven him from his first assignment. The superior officer, who'd once considered him beneath notice, now suddenly was genuinely concerned.
The memories struck again, and the voice in his mind. In a flash of someone else's knowledge, he saw with crystal clarity what was going on, what was soon to happen to the Colonies, what he'd already done to stop it, and what he would continue to do.
(I know you.)
(Of course you do, we're the same person.)
(I was there, in your mind.)
(That's how I know you.)
(But the dreams....)
(What a muddle; sit and be still for a moment.)
(Can't be real....)
(Wish it weren't, but you and I...)
(We know better.)
His glance snapped to Ostara, whose expression had become lost. "So that's...." His voice died away as he fought for control.
"Apollo?" she asked in a small voice, looking toward her husband.
"I think he's gone home...."
His features became alarmed. "Starbuck?"
"More home than she was, anyway," he heard himself say. "I must've recognized the old me, and came home."
The two men exchanged glances. Boomer was on alert, ready to act if necessary; Apollo waved him to ease. "Lieutenant Starbuck of the battlestar Galactica?" he demanded with formal, guarded tones.
"Yeah, he's ... I'm here, too." He was amazed. In a single touch, another entity had come into his mind - himself, the one who had touched his mind from another reality, and tried to become part of him. He had driven off the strange self once, but not entirely. The wisps of thought from his other self had been what haunted his dreams. Now the other one was whole again. The familiar sense of self was there, but it was a self with alien memories and feelings, who was finding his own thoughts strange and intriguing. He waited quietly, trying to absorb and orient the new persona within, feeling the shadows fade.
He studied Apollo. "So you seemed different because you are different. And we're here because of an accident. And we're going to save the Colonies - whether they want to be saved or not," he finished wryly.
"That's about the size of it." The captain seemed oddly pleased.
Well, of course he's pleased. He can call me by my right name again, and talk to my face. And he can deal with that witch on different terms.... The reminder of Ostara brought his attention back. She was huddled on the couch, curling up against the arm as though it would shield her against the three of them.
It touched something in him. "It's all right," he said. "We'll do our job, the right way, this time. And now that Boomer's here, we can go home afterward. It'll all work out for the best." He wondered why he tried to reassure her.
Boomer and Starbuck went back to the hotel for the night; if any visitors dropped by the house on the hill, it wouldn't do for them to see a "dead" man walking around. That left Apollo and Ostara alone again.
"You seem quiet," Apollo commented as they prepared for bed. "You haven't had much to say all evening. I didn't think losing Starbuck would affect you this much."
She glanced at him, then quickly looked away. She still wore the long robe, and seemed disinclined to strip while he was awake and the lights were on. She covered even her toes as she arranged herself under a blanket. "There were things I didn't realize about this whole situation," she murmured.
"Like what?" He sat on the edge of the bed next to her, noting how she suddenly flinched away from him.
"Now that Boomer's here, you're going to go back, aren't you? Back to the reality you came from?"
"Yes," he answered carefully. "Is that what's disturbing you?"
"Well, Boomer's going back physically, I understand. And Starbuck's going back mentally, but since he's in his own body, that won't really affect anything. He's better off with our Starbuck than in my mind...."
"And?" he prompted, although he could see where she was leading.
"But ... your mind, Apollo. You were ... dead, here. When you go home, your body will die again, permanently. You won't exist here at all...."
"If I don't go back, my own body, back home, will die eventually. I don't belong here, Starrie. You know that. I'm doing what I can to help the Colonies here; we all are. We may have failed to turn the Destruction in our worlds, but we don't intend to fail here too. If we can save your Colonies, we'll have accomplished something."
"But why go back? You've been here so long already. Hasn't your body ... deteriorated so much that ... that you'd rather be here and healthy? You might never recover, in your world."
"I still have a duty there. My people need me more than ever," he told her gravely. "You should remember that from Starbuck's mind. There're not many of us left, and our refugees need all the protection we can give them, until we reach our destination. I don't want this to sound arrogant, but they need me, Starrie. My experience and skills are vital. And I want to see my son and family again."
"But the time...."
"Didn't you hear Boomer?" he reminded her patiently. "Time seems to be flowing differently here, or maybe the machine compensates. It's been two sectars here, but only a secton has passed in the world I knew. So I'll spend a few days in life center. I did that here; I can do it there. The Lords know I've spent time in a life pod before."
She hunched over, pulling her knees up to her chin, and stared emptily at the door. "Apollo...." she began miserably.
"What's bothering you?" he pressed gently. "If it's the other night, and the threat you made, you have nothing to worry about. I told you, that wasn't my usual style. I'm not that kind of animal." He swallowed hard and continued. "You don't have to be afraid of me. I'm not going to take it out on you in any way."
"It's not that. Apollo, I ... owe you an apology."
He tilted his head quizzically.
"I...." She bit her lip. "For making you marry me. I ... don't really know how to explain, what to say.... I never cared much for you, or Starbuck, and suddenly there you both.... I...." She buried her head for a moment, then took a deep breath and looked up at him. "It was a chance to change my life. Then his feelings sank into me. I started liking you, Captain, but it was his emotions, at first. I held on to the feelings for Ortega's sake. But now Starbuck's gone from my head, and I still like you. Maybe it's residual emotion. There were two people in me, fighting each other. I was torn, always wondering if I was thinking my thought or his. Maybe I wasn't really responsible for it, I see more clearly now, but...." She halted in confusion.
"Do you want this marriage annulled?" he asked carefully.
"No!" she burst out. "I want you to stay here! Oh, I'm so confused...."
He rocked back, breathing hard. "I can't do that. I told you.... You're not threatening me again, are you?"
"No." She shook her head vigorously; tears caught on her eyelashes. "Do you want our marriage annulled, or dissolved?"
"I doubt I'll be around long enough for it to come through. If you don't mind - and I really don't see why you would - we might as well carry through until then. You might as well get something out of this, for the trouble of having to carry Starbuck around in your head, maybe...."
He knew it was a little joke, but he didn't expect to see fresh tears.
"I don't want to see you die!" she whimpered. "What are you going to do? Just disappear? Drop dead on the street, or in your sleep? I never thought I'd listen to my husband coolly discuss his own demise...."
"That's what's bothering you? Starrie, don't worry. We'll think of something - you'll be fine. I'm sorry your Apollo won't be here, but he's been dead for two sectars already. I'm living on borrowed time, and while I regret his ended existence in this timestream, I have no wish to take his place here and leave my own place behind."
She tried to pull herself together. "Then give me a memory," she whispered huskily. "There's only you and me now, and you've got all the capstones, and you're going to leave me...."
She held out trembling hands, grief staining her face. He took her in his arms with a troubled expression, not sure if this was a good idea. Then she raised her mouth to his, and he gently kissed her. She wouldn't let him go, and after a few moments, he had no desire to pull away.
He stirred drowsily when she moved away from him, but slipped back into a deep sleep when she left the bed. It was centars before Apollo awoke again, to find himself alone.
There was a note in the kitchen: "Sorry I was so confused last night. I owe him an apology too. I've got to get my emotions sorted. Don't die before I see you again."
Sighing in exasperation, he wondered what she was doing this time. The previous few sectars had been a hectic series of shocks, as much for her as for him, with his arrival in a different reality, her blackmail and their marriage, Boomer's appearance, Starbuck's arrest and vindication, and her sudden loss of any connection to their alternate universe with his friend's removal to another body. He was glad, for Starbuck's sake, and a bit apprehensive for Ostara.
Gotta sort my feelings out, too. Enmity and suspicion are nothing to found a marriage on - even one to be of short duration. Like she said last night, we know this is gonna be short. Might as well try to make it good, or at least tolerable. Or does she mean to make it so good that I don't want to leave...? Lords, am I starting to like the situation?
He mused as he collected breakfast. Wonder if this is binding back home? Could make me a dual-universe bigamist if I marry again. Sheba's image suddenly appeared in his mind. I'm afraid I'll think of Akilles and Saba whenever I see her from here on out. Wonder what she's thinking now, and the rest of my family and friends. They can't know whether Boomer's been successful here.
A summons from the family communication console drew his attention. It was Artemis, from the Galactus.
"Sorry to disturb you during your wedding seclusion, cousin, but we picked up a little communication from the peace envoy - Baltar, to be precise, on Quorum channel, in code."
"To Charon, on Caprica. Apparently a response to Starbuck's vindication yesterday. Be careful. I'm afraid there seems to be a reference to you. I think you could be in a little trouble."
"Thanks for the warning. How'd you get it, anyway? And how'd you get a clear channel here?"
"Well, the bridge officer who intercepted and passed along the message is a good friend of Ares. Takes after you a bit, there. He sweetly persuaded her to tell him what the Council was doing. She told him. I'm on patrol, private channel, so I can't talk long. She'll erase this, incidentally, won't you, Rigel? Thanks, dear. Gotta go, Apollo. Remind me to tell you how many hearts you broke by getting sealed. Enjoy yourself!"
"Right," he muttered as her cheerful voice faded, then he shrugged philosophically. What can Charon and Baltar do? No evidence touching me, unless they manufacture some more, and if they suspect me, they have to suspect what I might know, and that would hurt them more than me.
He frowned, wondering if Charon would risk "removing" him as a source of trouble, or for spite. On the Galactica, Karibdis had been willing to kill him to escape; was he as homicidal here?
"So I'll be careful," he said out loud. "And I'll start with a visit to the city. Starbuck and Boomer should be warned, too, and they might have figured something else out overnight."
By the sixth day, Apollo was worried. Ostara hadn't come back to his parents' house. She obviously wasn't dead; he'd've been contacted if she turned up in a hospital or morgue. She was somewhere in the city, he presumed, trying to sort things out. He couldn't believe she'd flee off-world to escape a marriage she'd insisted on and now claimed she still wanted. Especially since the groom isn't going to be here long. I hope Boomer and Wilker got that equipment figured out right. I'd hate to die here and find out they made another mistake. "Oops, sorry, God - I'm not supposed to be here yet, could you send me back again. Either universe is fine."
He laughed at his own flippancy, but sobered quickly as he thought of Starrie again. Artemis had warned him of Baltar's message to Charon. It had been five days; had the traitors thought to strike at him through her?
No, they'd have contacted me somehow. What good is a hostage if you don't use her to apply leverage? If they killed her, her body would've surfaced somewhere - and I don't believe they'd risk me reporting suspicions to the local security forces.
I may have started this, by giving the right people the information they needed to protect us, but I couldn't stop it if I wanted to. As an individual, I don't matter anymore, so threatening me wouldn't help them. The others are ready, if this Armistice is a ruse. This time a false peace won't work.
Why do I still wonder if I've done the right thing?
He headed restlessly back to the house communication center.
"Newswoman Sirona here, reporting from the Star Kobol, orbiting Kobol at this very moment, as the delegates of the Cylon Alliance and the members of our own Quorum meet for final negotiations. A final agreement is expected at any time, and could be signed in a public ceremony as early as tomorrow evening. President Ila herself is expected to preside-"
He swatted at the console, swearing briefly.
Starbuck had spent two of the last five days as a guest on Baltar's estate, at the count's own request. It was a ploy, they all knew, a worried apology to keep the man quiet and within reach, but it gave the newly-aware lieutenant a chance to look around - Baltar would be amazed at the number of listening devices and computer taps now in the supposedly secure estate.
Boomer had another appointment with Charon, who showed little fear of the dead, and a strong concern for whatever kind of plot had sent the supposedly dead man against him. Boomer didn't think any connection was being made between them.
"And if we're right," he muttered grimly, "whatever role Charon plays in this bit of treason, it'll have to happen when the treaty's supposed to be signed. Lords, I hope everything's set. Akilles and Artemis are certain, and they've got their network of allies set, too, but they don't really know what we're up against - or maybe I'm so psychologically damaged by the loss in our universe that I can't believe we might actually survive here. The Cylons have won then, if they've broken me to thinking we have no chance. I've got to have faith...."
He hit the console switch again, sending Sirona's face into the oblivion her voice had faded into a moment before.
Better check in with my fellow conspirators. Maybe Starbuck can get a look around the estate again. If Baltar's men took Ostara, she might be there....
Ostara returned home a wiser woman. Five days alone - really alone, with no one in her head demanding equal time - had enabled her to put her thoughts in order for the first time since the accident, before she woke up as a stranger, and decided to marry a captain she scarcely knew and hardly liked. She was ready to contemplate the future, and discuss it with her husband. Whatever plots he had in mind, whatever was necessary to save her Colonies, she was ready to give him all the support she could.
His parents' house was empty. Wondering where he'd gone, assuming he was with his old friends, she calmly unpacked her small valise and began to change.
The annunciator chimed with arrogant urgency. Quickly fastening her uniform, she hurried to answer it.
She didn't recognize the tall, severe-faced man standing there, but she knew the uniforms of the three others accompanying him. They were city security.
"Lieutenant Ostara of the Galactus?" the tall man asked politely.
"Yes," she answered, puzzled. "And you're...?"
"Charon, aide to Count Baltar." She didn't like his smile; there was something sinister in it. "Is your husband, Captain Apollo, at home?"
"No, I'm afraid not. Can I help you...?"
Charon nodded at one of the security officers. The man stepped forward. "Siress, I have the misfortune to place you under arrest, and to inform you that your husband is also under warrant-"
"You've both been implicated in a conspiracy to commit treason. I'm sure you are aware of your rights. If you would please accompany us, we're taking you into custody. Any information you can supply as to Captain Apollo's whereabouts would be greatly appreciated and may assist your case...."
Ostara stared into the dark-haired man's fierce, gloating eyes. Baltar's lackey was quite pleased with himself. Her lips tightened in contempt. She considered calling Boomer for her single allotted communication, but decided against it; she couldn't risk contacting any of the conspirators.
"I have nothing to say to any of you," she stated flatly. "I will, of course, speak to a protector at the center. I presume you'll wish to search the house to confirm Apollo's absence; I will then set the full security system - it is, after all, the President's home, and cannot be left unguarded."
When Charon looked startled, she silently rejoiced. He'd obviously expected her to panic and betray Apollo. Holding her head proudly, she permitted the security men to manacle her wrists and check the house. She would show herself as dignified a wife to Apollo as any of the old aristocrats. Utterly ignoring Charon, who now looked worried, she followed the men to the skycar.
"You're late," Boomer commented. "Not like you, Apollo."
"Ran into some old friends," Apollo responded wryly. "I just wish I knew who they were. But they seemed to know me, so I had to talk for a few centons. Where's Starbuck? He's supposed to be here, too."
"His being late isn't unusual."
"True. Well, today's the day. I heard Sirona giving a report from Kobol."
"I heard it, too. She's certainly pleased about it." Boomer tried to be diplomatic. "Her ... antagonisms are well hidden."
"Yeah. Well, we had a little talk about that. I guess she's as excited as everyone else about an armistice...."
A little beep interrupted them. "Hotel's way of letting me know there's a message for me." Boomer excused himself. A small screen next to the desk lightened, then formed an image of Starbuck, a city street in the background. The captain joined his friend before it.
"So, letting us know you'll be late?" Boomer teased.
"Is Apollo there?" Starbuck sounded frantic.
"Here. What is it?" Apollo leaned forward so the other man could see him.
"Captain! They've arrested Ostara."
"I stopped by to see my protector - never mind why. I saw some security men bringing her in."
"Lords of Kobol!" Apollo swore. "I guess I'd better go find out why and get her out-"
"No!" Starbuck broke in. "That's the last thing you should do. The warrant lists you, too. You show up here, and they'll arrest you as well. Seems Charon brought a computer tampering charge against you both, and the suggestion that you might be involved in a conspiracy. All a farce, has to be, but it sounds like Baltar's people are hard at work...."
"Treason against the Council, and conspiracy to discredit the Armistice agreement?" he asked wearily.
"Something like that."
Apollo next comments were interspersed with numerous epithets for Baltar and Charon, along with certain other choice suggestions.
"You'd better get over here quick, then," Boomer cut in hastily to shorten the captain's outburst.
"Can't just yet." Starbuck glanced watchfully over his shoulder. "I think I'm being followed. Charon doesn't want to create a public furor by announcing they're looking for Apollo. His parents are too important, and Baltar won't risk antagonizing Madam President today. So they're searching quietly. I think they suspect I knew something...."
"That fits with something Artemis told me," the captain said. "I should have taken precautions...."
"Yeah. Well, Boomer, we've got to meet somewhere else. I'm afraid they'll close on that hotel pretty quick. I was registered there for a couple of days, you know."
A sly expression crossed the black man's face. "Starbuck," he began lazily, "you remember that time we sneaked out of the Academy, and went out for one wild secton to celebrate surviving our first yahren as cadets...?"
Fond memories surfaced on the other man's face. "Perfect! You go there. I'll meet you as soon as I shake these guys off my tail. I know just the place to lose 'em, too." He signed off and disappeared as the screen darkened.
"What secton?" Apollo demanded.
Boomer grabbed a few small items and packed them into the pockets of his civilian clothes. Taking the rest of his things, what few he'd brought with him or purchased in the past secton, would alert hotel security that they were leaving permanently. This way, someone might be delayed into watching the room and waiting for him to return.
"Uh, we never told you about that, did we?"
"No. Tell me now. Where are we going?"
"Well, we hadn't known each other long then. You know I was almost classified a delinquent when I was younger, and Starbuck was always game for just about anything..... Hades, Apollo, we knew you wouldn't approve, and from what we knew of you then, you might've told your father besides, or gotten us thrown out of the Academy...."
"Brothel, chancery, or chemical gallery?" he asked, resigned. They hadn't exactly corrupted him from his days of innocence, but they'd shown him some parts of his world that were quite a surprise to a naive cadet who had the misfortune to be Commander Adama's son.
"Combination - but no heavy prohibited chemicals. They'd have shown up in our Academy physicals. Now, let's go...."
Enter Sheba's Galaxy