Chapter Eight

Apollo had to smother a smile when they were finally alone. "Brothel," he snorted, rolling his eyes. "How the mighty are fallen. I can see the newscrystal headlines now. 'President's son snared in socialator's nest while wife of one secton arrested for treason'."

"Don't knock it." Starbuck grinned. "Might get you off - for insanity."

"Yeah. I can't see Charon finding me here - on purpose, anyway. How long have you known this lady? She sure seemed glad to see you...."

"My business, Captain." It was the Starbuck of this universe, and Apollo had to remind himself there were two radically different men in the familiar body, even though they often seemed to think the same, and come to the same conclusions. It was eerie to watch the two Starbucks become one person.

"Right. So how long are we welcome to stay here? It may be a few days before arrangements are finalized to sign the Armistice, and we have to keep an eye on Charon."

"I'll talk to Lyssa about your staying. Boomer can continue watching Charon - he seems to be doing quite well at it." Their friend had already slipped away. With all the security codes and clearances for Baltar's estate, cleverly extracted during their computer foray, and by carefully keeping ahead of the frequent code changes now ordered, Boomer easily entered and exited at will, and would keep them informed of Charon's movements.

Starbuck was eager to "talk" to the socialator, and his female friend looked willing to take advantage of a long-standing relationship. Apollo let the lieutenant follow her without comment.

Facing an afternoon of waiting, the captain aimlessly paced the room, and finally positioned himself at the wide picture window. It faced the broad arc of the bay, and after several centons of searching, he located the small rise on the slope where his childhood home nestled securely.

From that side of the bay to this. Look at everything I've done this past few sectons. I've conspired against my own mother and the government I was taught to trust in and obey; I've violated the privacy of one of our Councilors; I've gotten an accused traitor out of incarceration; I've broken numerous other laws to accomplish all this; and I've married a woman I don't know because she blackmailed me. All for the good of the Colonies. So much for honor and pride. What would Father think? And he'll know, soon enough, one way or the other.

I wonder if I could have done all this back home. How would I have reacted if I'd known in advance about my Colonies? This isn't home. It isn't my body, not really, so I act a little careless with it. And I know I won't have to spend the rest of my life here, so I've got more options available. This Apollo dies the moment I leave his body. Whatever happens to his world....

If violating the laws and betraying myself would've saved my home, would I have done it? How far could I have called it duty?

Troubled, he watched the shadows lengthen.

* * * * *

Somebody shook him. Apollo stirred and rolled instantly to his feet, automatically reaching for his weapon. "What...?"

Lyssa, the socialator, stepped back in alarm. "It's your friend Boomer. He called, and said tonight's the night, whatever that means."

The captain read shrewdness in her eyes as she casually handed him his clothes. Starbuck must not have told her everything. "What you don't know won't put you in prison. But don't worry, you'll be well rewarded if everything goes well."

"And if not?"

His expression was grim. "None of us may live to regret it."

* * * * *

Civilians thronged the streets of Caprica City, and fireworks lit the darkening skies. The elation was contagious. Strangers hugged one another and raised joyous toasts in every lounge, tavern, pub, and dive. High hopes and intimate dreams for the future were shared by mere acquaintances. Morals relaxed, as men and women laughed and drank and kissed with public abandon. Old friends wept for yahrens spent at war, and rejoiced that those yahrens were finally coming to an end. Former warriors and young cadets on leave shed silent tears for the passing of an age, then let go of grief to celebrate new lives.

Three warriors mingled with the half-crazed crowds in the garishly-lit streets. They figured, rightly, that no one would notice them on such a night. Apollo, Boomer, and Starbuck met at their chosen destination - the planet-based anti-spacecraft artillery computer base.

"Well, Boomer?" the captain asked when they were hidden in the shadows beyond the protected structure, out of sight of the excited mobs.

"Charon got a private message about a centar ago. He came out looking smug, and left the estate. That's when I called you. I'm not sure what route he took, but he has to be coming here. We'd better get moving if we want to intercept him."

Apollo's smile was grim. "I know just how. Akilles's got the high frontier covered, so our job's a little easier. Let's go." I've broken most other laws these last few days. Might as well go the rest of the way.

"How're we going to stop him?" Starbuck asked. "After all, a dead man, a recently-freed treason suspect, and another traitor with an outstanding warrant aren't likely to be believed."

"We're not going to stop him, exactly. We're just going to give him a lot of rope, and see what he does with it." Apollo had concocted this part of the plan.

Boomer, who'd almost been classified a youthful delinquent, led the way into the installation. Apollo followed, and Starbuck took up the rear.

* * * * *

The warriors saluted the man in black as he passed them. Charon, as aide to Count Baltar, the hero responsible for the Armistice, had clearance to enter the military installation at any time. The tall, lean civilian ignored the guards, but exchanged gracious formalities with the receptionist.

"Several new orders to be coded in, so our anti-spacecraft installations don't start firing on trade ships after the Armistice is signed. I have Council clearance. The President didn't want these keyed into our command computers until the treaty was a fact, as I'm sure you understand."

The receptionist passed him after a cursory examination of his credentials. The count's assistant was well-known at the computer command base.

Charon hummed under his breath as he paced the quiet, barely-manned duty station. Most of the personnel had been furloughed for the Armistice. That made his job considerably easier. Sabotage the proper computers, and leave before the damage was discovered. The attack would begin in a matter of centars.

By then, I intend to be far away from Caprica City, in a place of safety. After the battle, I rendezvous with Count Baltar and our allies. Then the Cylons wipe out final resistance in the Colonies, and the broken survivors are placed under Baltar's rule. It will be a new, harsh system, allied with and subservient to the Cylons, but I'll be one of the new dictator's counselors and aides. One of the Twelve Worlds will be placed under my direct control. Baltar promised me that.

Colonial defeat wasn't ultimately inevitable, but Charon agreed with his superior that it was better to reshape their world for their own benefit, even if that meant forcing a surrender and seeing the destruction of their miliary forces. Under Cylon protection, they wouldn't need a war machine, but need only continue to provide their conquerors' requirements.

The count would have his vengeance against the men who had hampered his advancement and kept him from the position he felt he deserved. Baltar had worked with the Cylons for yahrens, on Carillon and other worlds, trading information and resources in exchange for future power.

I don't care about Adama, Kain, or his other supposed enemies, or for seeing the military caste brought down. Greed, ambition, and revenge are Baltar's sole driving forces. I simply intend to benefit from them.

With the battlestar Pegasus assigned a distant duty under the direct supervision of the Quorum, where even the intractable Commander Kain will have to obey orders, and with the suspicious, troublesome Captain Apollo driven into hiding by the arrest warrant, I've drawn the teeth of any counter-plot against the Armistice or myself. I wonder if Baltar appreciates that. I'll have to bring it to his attention.

The only thing troubling me now is the location of the elusive Lt. Boomer. For all the Count's resources, I haven't been able to determine the man's whereabouts. Everything says the man is, indeed, quite dead; he shouldn't continue to appear out of nowhere and send computer messages. But short of exhuming a supposedly yahren-buried corpse, I can't confirm that this is part of some larger plot, perhaps concocted by Commander Adama himself, with the help of his devious children. It's disturbing to think Adama knew or guessed enough about Baltar's strategies to have made such preparations so far in advance. Boomer has the perfect cover, being legally "dead," but where has he been hidden for the intervening yahren?

Could Starbuck be involved in that conspiracy? After all, the Lieutenant almost immediately transferred to the Pegasus, where another of Adama's children is flight commander, and his oldest friend is in command. Could the supposed death of the Lieutenant's friend been a ploy to place him in a more valuable, less suspected position?

Charon's expression grew nasty. If Starbuck survives this night, he will pay for that bit of treachery. But there's nothing he, Apollo, or Boomer can do now. It's too late to stop the Armistice, or the attack which follows.

In a private cubicle, he eased himself into the chair and accessed the computer files that would open all Caprica to an attack from space. Several moments later, his world was defenseless.

A smile on his lips, he turned from the terminal - and froze in shock.

Capt. Apollo and Lt. Starbuck waited calmly, weapons holstered. Half a dozen security officers stood behind them, lasers at the ready. There seemed no way past that grim semi-circle.

"Major, I see you've taken these miscreants into custody. Commendable work. I'm sure it will prove an excellent addition to your record...." he brazened.

"I'm afraid, Sire, that your assumption isn't correct," the leader of the security staff responded with cold hostility.

The councilor's aide recognized he was caught, and tried a last ploy. Shaking with theatrically exaggerated rage, he pointed at Apollo. "Arrest him!" he roared to the guards. "He's wanted by the military for treason!"

The leader of the security men shook his head, speaking slowly. "I didn't believe it when the Captain came into my office, talking about treason as high as the Council. But now that I've seen it...."

Charon whirled and threw himself at the computer. Pulling the hand laser he carried as a matter of course, he fired point-blank. The civilian sneered in triumph as the terminal exploded; its screen went instantly black, and the lights flickered. "You've seen nothing, Major," he retorted. "And nothing can stop the commands I gave. I suggest, if you want to survive, that you get out of this installation at once-"

The major continued icily. "We took the precaution of observing your instructions, and countermanding the orders at once, with the Council codes Captain Apollo supplied. Caprica will be able to defend herself this night. And my efficient underlings are already sending word to the other Worlds and Colonies."

Before the traitor could carry out his next thought - killing Captain Apollo, the source of his trouble - the major fired, and he dropped to the floor, stunned.

Apollo picked up the small laser and handed it to one of the security men, then quietly passed along his own weapon as well.

The major stopped him. "Captain, I suggest you and the lieutenant report to the spacedrome at once. We have Vipers there, and we may need extra firepower this evening. I know how skilled you both are. I doubt the base would refuse your assistance."

"What about my arrest warrant?" Apollo asked, surprised. He'd fully expected to be taken into custody along with Charon, and was prepared for the consequences. Starbuck was restive beside him as he continued holding out the weapon that no one seemed ready to accept.

"If we all live, we can detain you later."

Understanding each other perfectly, the two men shook hands and parted, the captain and his friend heading for the spacedrome; the major and his men taking Charon into custody; all were prepared if their planet should need them.

* * * * *

The Pegasus was in a wide orbit of Kobol's sun. The vessels of the negotiating parties circled the mother planet, with the Cylon ships one hundred eighty degrees opposite the Colonial craft. On the planet's surface, in specially-built pavilions near the splendid ruins of old Eden, the one-time capital of the long-abandoned world, the opposing sides met and discussed their differences, and how to resolve them to their mutual satisfaction. When they finally reached agreeable resolutions to their thorny questions, they arranged for an elaborate ceremony to mark the official signing of the Armistice.

Commander Kain and his executive officer watched the long-range communications screens of the Pegasus as media personnel reported on every facet of the preparations for that ceremony. Their intense scrutiny was disturbed only by Major Akilles's report that all squadrons were at the ready. The Quorum had strictly forbidden any threatening action by the military vessel; the battlestar had been quietly readied for combat without passing along its status to the governing body, a direct breach of orders. If nothing happened, and the peace treaty was signed without violence, several officers would face military tribunal.

"Nice evening," Kain commented. His voice was filled with foreboding.

Media cameras continued their pan over the landscape and horizon of the ruined city. The skies were dark. No stars showed through the Void that surrounded the system, but every monument and tomb of Eden was brilliantly lit, and force-grown plants and shrubs with exotic flowers and multi-hued leaved decorated the pavilions and temporary shelters housing delegates, dignitaries, and other honored guests of both nations.

The flight officer joined the two men. "That must be the Cylon liner," he suggested, pointing out a sudden flash off some large object in the night sky. "We'll see the shuttle or fighters before long." His superiors accepted his observation without comment.

"Any time, now," Kain muttered. "They'll attack any time. Akilles, you get your people ready...."

The camera settled on a slim, beautiful woman holding a microphone, standing before the breathtaking view of a row of ancient columns. Once supports for a fantastic temple, they now seemed to reach in supplication to the heavens.

"This is Sirona, reporting to you on the progress of the Armistice ceremony, via satellite hook-up from Eden on Kobol itself, our most distant colony and earliest homeworld." Her voice ascended into the night like the soaring hopes of the Colonies. "As you can see, the Cylon ambassadors and signatories have not yet arrived, but they are expected momentarily. Our own dignitaries, and those delegates who will be signing the Armistice agreement on the Colonies' behalf, are already gathering at the pavilion just beyond this holy site. We may perhaps catch a glimpse of the Quorum of Twelve as it assembles. Under the leadership of President Ila, with the guiding hand of Councilor and Count Baltar, this august body has given us the opportunity to at last find peace, after a millennium of combat which has served only to drain both our great nations...."

A sound drew her attention, and Sirona looked up to study the skies before smiling into the camera. She gestured off-screen. "It seems the Cylon embassy is arriving even now. Can we have a picture of the ship heading for the landing site beyond the Field of Peace? Ah, thank you...."

Once again, the camera panned over the artificially lit landscape, focusing on the glaring lights of the enlarged spacedrome. Beyond its broad, empty acres, and the scattered hangars of the Quorum's shuttles, something bright danced in the sky. For a moment, the vessel seemed to be slowing for a landing.

Then more lights appeared above and beyond that ship. Fire speared from a multitude of spacecraft suddenly commanding the skies, and several landing circles of the spacedrome erupted into flame.

The newswoman gasped, but quickly recovered herself. "There seems to be some trouble at the spacedrome; several fires appear to have broken out, we don't know their source.... Oh, Lords of Kobol!"

Nearly two dozen Cylon Raiders were clearly visible as they swept low over the pavilions and out toward the cities, both the old ruins of Eden and the recently settled New Eden. Their strafing run continued, and tent roofs dissolved in sudden bursts of fury.

"No! They're firing on us!" Sirona exclaimed in horror. "This can't be! The peace treaty, the Armistice!"

The bridge of the Pegasus subsided into shock, prepared though they were for trouble at the time. The Cylons were actually taking the opportunity for peace - and using it as a strategy for a sneak attack.

"Akilles!" Kain snapped.

"Here!" responded a strained and shaken warrior. Despite the forewarning, it was really here, and it was terrible, and his own mother was in the midst of the disaster on the lonely world.

"Prepare to launch. We're taking the Pegasus in closer, but we'll be attacked before we get there-"

"Sir!" It was the communications monitor, his voice high with fear. "All channels from the planet showing red. They're panicking, alternately demanding and pleading for us to save them, and trying to contact the Cylons!"

"Get us there!"

"Sir! A second wave is showing now on the scanners, heading for Kobol.... And a third, coming in our direction...." The tech sounded faint. "There're so many...."

"Do your job, mister!" Kain snapped. "Let our fighters do theirs. Akilles, try to take the pressure off the spacedrome as much as possible when we get there. They have some Vipers, some defensive capabilities. Give them the chance to get off the ground. We'll need all the help we can get, I think...."

"Oh, no!" Sirona, prostrate on the ground and huddled in a small ditch, was still reporting as her cameraman bravely continued to film the disaster around them. "The pavilion of the Quorum! It's on fire! Has the President gotten out? Does anyone know if the President and the Council have been injured?"

Crowds began to flee, people screaming madly and running in all directions. Sirona tired to stop one man to question him; he nearly trampled her and kept going. A moment later, a new strafing run toppled an already tottering pillar; the wild-eyed man rushed under it as it fell and was crushed under stone and eons-old dust.

The newswoman sobbed uncontrollably. "This is terrible! The whole city's under attack! There are more Raiders in the sky! How could they do this to us? Has the President survived? Does anyone know what's going on? Where're our defenses? What happened to our defenses? We're doomed! My God, we're all doomed!"

More of the columns that had stood guard for millennia shattered and fell, their prayer for deliverance unheeded. The camera suddenly wheeled, briefly showing dark sky lit with red flame and the passing shadow of a Cylon Raider. Then it buried itself in the dirt, and the picture died.

"Are we in range?" the executive officer yelled.

"Yes!" the flight officer confirmed a few microns later.

"Launch fighters," Kain ordered with almost preternatural calm. His gaze was fixed on the empty screen, and something wild and fanatical gleamed from his eyes; a small, cold smile touched his mouth.

The officers and men saw that expression and were comforted; their commander was ready. They were prepared to fight; they need only carry out Kain's orders, let his special madness suffuse their souls, and they could not lose.

Whatever happened, they could not lose. They dared not lose.

* * * * *

Commander Adama waited impatiently for the distant news satellite hook-ups to begin displaying the Armistice proceedings. His wife was on that distant world. Although they'd had their disagreements over the yahrens, they loved each other dearly, and never interfered in one another's careers. This treaty would be the culmination of her hopes and dreams. The military man was prepared to step aside and welcome her triumph as though it were his own. In a sense, it was; the end of the war was his goal as well, although he'd chosen a different route toward fulfilling it.

"Sir?" His flight officer looked concerned.

"What is it, Omega?"

"The pictures from Kobol seem to have been cut off at the source. It appears something is interfering with their transmission."

Something pricked his conscience. "Identify the problem."

"It's not here, sir. It's at Kobol's end...."

He stared at the screen, his eyes widening. What was it Apollo said, about this being the perfect opportunity for an ambush, a deception? I didn't want to believe he could be right. My God, have we been so wrong, so very wrong?

"What word from the other battlestars and warships?" he snapped.

"No trouble, sir," the puzzled officer reported after several tense moments.

"Tell them to be alert, Omega. Warn them...."

"Father!" It was Athena.

"What is it, Lieutenant?"

"Patrol reports waves of ships closing on us. Warbook trying to identify."

"Squadron status!" he demanded at once, fear an icy fist within him.

"On alert, sir," Omega responded quickly. "A disciplinary problem, Captain Artemis reported."

"Patrol confirms!" Athena shrieked. "Cylon Raiders! Wave after wave, maybe a thousand of them!"

"Get our ships in the air! Warn all vessels in range. Contact our planets, if we're not already being jammed."

"Electronic jamming," his executive officer reported. "The rest of the fleet is coming to alert, but we can't communicate with our home planets."

"They're firing on our patrol," Athena called.

Adama saw the pallor on his daughter's face. It was more than the attack; she was a competent officer in a fight. It's Ares. His first patrol. My son, be careful. Ortega, take care of him. Come home safely, both of you....

"Squadrons launching!" the woman at core command called.

Our homeworlds. Are they under attack as well? Lords, we've got to warn them, get back to defend them.... We've been so blind, so blind, letting ourselves be led to destruction. Now we pay the price....

Too soon, the battle for survival was joined.

* * * * *

Starbuck caught Apollo's arm. "There!"

The captain followed his gesture. In the dark sky, he caught the tell-tale moving gleams of ships coming into atmosphere and swooping toward the city.

On the street around them, others were beginning to notice and point out the craft as well. A wave of uneasiness spread through the crowd.

"Come on, Starbuck!" Apollo raced off toward the spacedrome at top speed.

Starbuck sprinted after, hard-pressed to keep up.

One of the vessels took shape as a Raider. Murmurs of concern turned into cries of fear.

In a moment, there were fires in Caprica City.

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Enter Sheba's Galaxy