Chapter Nine


The Cylon attack on the Colonies was vicious and all-out, against both military and civilian vessels and installations. Most vessels were in port, preparing for the Armistice; those in space were obliterated by the hundreds. The craft in the spacedromes were under the protection of surface anti-spacecraft installations, but the Cylon Raiders slipped under those scanners to inflict damage on even the capital cities of the Twelve Worlds. Not all the computer sabotage was detected before the attack, and the damage in those areas was worse; the surprise attack destroyed cities, industrial installations, and agricultural compounds.

From the ground, Viper defensive squadrons swarmed up to meet the foe as soon as stations were alerted to the attack. Military academies on all the Colonies earned special recognition; the courage and skill of the young cadets were a tribute to their teachers, and each of the academies had its own special tale of heroism to tell. They fought over their cities and schools, knowing the enemy was destroying their homes, and if they died, their own wreckage would be a cascade of fire and shrapnel upon the very people they were trying to protect.

The more distant planets suffered most. Less well defended, their calls for assistance went unheard, and most were swept away in the first few centars. Their mother worlds had no strength to spare for them; they were caught in their own desperate struggle to drive back the attackers. The few out-system colonies that survived found themselves isolated and forgotten; they were on their own, and in the coming yahrens, some found they liked the feeling. On those worlds where space-worthy vessels remained, many people fled, abandoning their settlements. Some survived to reach home and demand an accounting, and be appalled at the depths of the disaster; others fled outward and were never heard from again.

The military fleet was devastated by the unexpected attack. Those vessels loosely assembled beyond the Twelve Worlds in preparation for a military scale-back after the Armistice weren't taken as completely by surprise as the Cylons as anticipated. The small group of conspirators had seen to that. But the sudden onslaught by superior forces damaged them severely. Several battlestars lost over half their contingent of fighters, although only the Columbus was destroyed. The rest limped home from their rendezvous point to lend what aide they could to the embattled worlds. More warriors died over the human-held planets, and a second battlestar was too badly damaged to repair; but somehow, they held, and turned the tide.

The Cylon attack lasted five days, as wave after wave of Raiders swept over the Twelve Worlds. The enemy threw everything it had into the fray when it became evident that the attack was not a complete surprise, that the humans were fighting back - and somehow managing to survive.

When the fighting was finally over, Cylon strength in that part of space was broken. It would take yahrens for their refineries and factories to rebuild the strength they'd squandered in one sustained, unrelenting attack.

The Colonials, unfortunately, were in no position to take advantage of what they'd gained simply by staying alive. Their losses were appalling. Nearly all their ships needed massive repairs and replacement personnel. Farms and factories were obliterated; orbiting laboratories and technical development centers had vanished; cities were in ruins. The economy would take yahrens to restore. Thousands of warriors had died, and tens of thousands of civilians, a tremendous cost in manpower, skill, and knowledge. Property could be replaced; the loss of valuable lives was devastating. Every facet of life in the Colonies would have to be re-evaluated, and priorities for rebuilding assigned.

Surviving leaders looked over the situation, and considered how much worse it might have been, but for a few small quirks of fate. They remained unaware of the plot that had given them their chance to survive. They were simply grateful.

* * * * *

Apollo was more than exhausted. He thought he'd never been so tired in his entire life, not even at the first Destruction and evacuation, or during the flight to Carillon. The only thing that buoyed his spirits and kept him going was the knowledge that his efforts hadn't been in vain. In this universe, at least, his home would continue to exist.

He'd spent almost five days in a Viper, refueling and rearming every centar or so to face a new wave of the endless stream of Cylons. Starbuck fought beside him all the way, and lived through it, too. Where Boomer had gone, and what he did during that time, they didn't know. Hopefully, he, too, was still alive somewhere in the battered city.

Tired and sore as he was, the captain couldn't rest while people still huddled in the ruins and needed help. A few centars of sleep, a shot of stimulants, and he was moving again.

The air-raid shelter was full of women and children, civilians who'd spent five days and nights of pure terror when they'd expected joy. Bombs near the shelter had shaken down the roof of the exit; trapped, they had no way of knowing what was happening above them until a rescue party broke through from the surface. Apollo's presence among the rescuers created a stir; they knew, then, that some of their warriors survived, and they still had some protection.

"Are we going to die?" A hollow-eyed woman clinging to a child seized his jacket, clutching it like a talisman against evil. "What happened? What happened to our peace? Where's our fleet? Where are the warriors?"

He took her hands gently. Others clustered around him, reaching for him, listening to his words. "The peace was a lie," he told them. "They attacked us instead. They hurt us, but we fought back. The battle is over. We're alive. We beat them off. And now we're going to rebuild, get our lives going again. We're hurt, but we're going to live. We're going to be all right."

The woman, fallen on her knees before him, burst into noisy tears, prompting the small child to wail as well. He picked up the youngster and held it for a moment until the piteous cries lessened.

The child was hungry. Food supplies were scarce during the attack, usually stored some place other than where they were needed, but that was being remedied.

"Better give the baby something to eat," he suggested kindly, taking the woman's hand again. She took the child, and both wandered toward the food station being set up at one end of the huge underground chamber.

Apollo heard some of the whispers as he moved among the civilians. If it were up to them, he'd be made a deity that very centon. He'd been the first to enter after the last rubble was cleared from the entrance to the shelter; his unexpected arrival, when many had given up hope, reduced them to tears.

So different from Caprica, after our Destruction. The first civilians to see me there were ready to tear me apart with their bare hands, or string me up in the nearest burnt tree. Here, I'm a symbol of survival, and hope. They believe I saved them. I represent everything my parents are, or were, as military and political leaders. With them maybe gone, these people are looking to me to show them a way....

I didn't do this for the glory; I did it for them. My heart aches for what we're lost, but it could have been so much worse. Oh, Caprica....

Another small hand tugged at his clothes. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes and looked down at the small boy. "Troy?"

"Is my mother coming back?" he asked simply.

"I don't know. Your mother was on Kobol. It may take a long time to come back from there." There had been no word from Kobol, or from the Pegasus, since the attack began. Apollo dreaded the silence. His Sirena had died there.

The boy looked close to tears, but held back his sniffles. "Mother wanted peace, but the Cylons didn't."

The captain knew no way to be tactful. "No, Troy, they didn't."

"When I grow up, I'm going to be a warrior." The young boy began to cry. "And I'm gonna make them pay for Mother, and for being bad and telling lies! I'm gonna be a warrior, like you!"

He held the boy close, wondering if he were going to cry, too. A moment later, he gestured a child caretaker to take the boy over to get some food. Still watching Boxey, he didn't realize for a moment that Starbuck had reached his side.

"Starbuck? If Sirona doesn't come back.... Well, see that he's taken care of. For me. I couldn't bear thinking that he was alone...."

"I'll tell your father, and the others. He'll be all right."

"Thanks...." Apollo's voice was husky with weariness, shock, and suppressed emotions, and his thoughts were fierce as he stared at the traumatized survivors around him. Thank the Lords, this time I could do something. They're still alive, because I came here. And I won't quit. I won't leave until I know there's nothing more I can do....

* * * * *

As a warrior, Ostara was released from detention and sent to the nearest spacedrome during the first few centars of the bombardment, when it became obvious that the Colonies faced an all-out attack, not merely some skirmish with pirates or renegades. She, too, spent the better part of five days fighting, and kept going with snatched naps and chemical assistance.

After two days with the rescue forces, she was sure she was going to drop where she stood. She decided she might as well turn herself back in to the authorities; the warrant still stood, although it might be sectars before any legal action could be taken.

The detention center, however, was in ruins; it had been strafed once too often. The man in authority at a make-shift prison for looters and other petty criminals taking advantage of the destruction told her charges against both her and Apollo had been dropped; Charon, when taken into custody, had been raving, and a tribunal determinator judiciously decided he was demented and dismissed the charges against them without comment.

Imprisoned during the bombardment, Charon had refused to leave the center when the rest of the occupants were evacuated, insisting the Cylons wouldn't kill him.. He was assumed dead. It would be days before there would be time to search the ashes.

Ostara decided to go home. She laughed when she realized it was Apollo's family estate she was thinking of. Surprisingly, the place still stood, untouched by the destruction in the valley around the bay. From the windows in the solarium, she found she had all too clear a view of the ruins. She tinted the windows so the view was obscured. It made the attack seem like a bad dream; with a little effort, she could almost believe it hadn't happened, at least within the walls and gates of this one house.

She got several good nights' sleep, spending her days working to clear away rubble in the city and help the survivors. There were parts of the planet that were almost untouched; those areas sent what aid they could spare. Food and clothing had to be distributed, and temporary shelters set up, and some refugees helped to reach family and friends elsewhere on the planet who could take them in. During that time, she was aware she could be called back to the spacedrome at any time. It was possible, though not thought likely, that the Cylons would attempt another attack when the Colonials' attention was diverted.

There were soon guests in the house - a score of children from a vanished orphanage, and several caretakers. Ostara didn't think Apollo or his family would mind. They firmly believed in children as the future of their world, and the children had to have a home.

Boomer slipped in and out several times. His hotel was rubble, and the children had no way of knowing who he was, so it was deemed safe for him to spend time there. The lieutenant could have returned to his own universe at any time - he still had the recall pendant - but he, like the others, was too caught up in the grief and pain around them, and had to stay those extra days to do what he could. The way time seemed to flow variably between their realities, it should make only a centar's difference.

It was almost a secton before Apollo and Starbuck returned, the lieutenant towing his socialator friend, who'd also been displaced. Lyssa quickly vanished when several children ran through the room.

Apollo wearily dropped into a chair. Two sectons without real rest were revealed by fatigue circles under his haunted eyes, the ragged beginnings of a thick, dark beard, the slouched posture, and the hopelessly creased uniform.

Starbuck looked little better, and quickly dismissed himself to follow his friend, and perhaps clean up and rest. He astutely observed this would leave husband and wife alone again after too many days, and the one from Apollo's universe suspected it would be wise for them to talk.

"Hardly a torrid declaration of love for your long-lost wife," Ostara commented with a small smile. They hadn't spoken since long before she was arrested; she hadn't even been sure he was still alive.

Her husband studied her for a moment, his expression unchanging. Then he slowly rose, grabbed her around the waist, and bent her backward, leaning over her. "Hello," he said simply.

He allowed the woman to drop carefully to the couch behind her, then slumped next to her with a sigh. "There's so much to do, Starrie. Where do we begin, when so many of our people need so much?"

"Begin at the beginning," she replied philosophically. "And do what you can before you have to leave. Or have you decided to stay?"

He shook his head. "I can't. Seeing everything that's happened here, I know I have to go back, now more than ever." He stared blankly at the far wall for a few moments. "I suppose I should ask how you've been, but I really don't have the energy."

"I understand. Charges were dropped, against both of us. It seems our primary accuser, Baltar's aide Charon, went crazy before he died. He kept insisting he'd seen a dead man, and the man was trying to blackmail him. Some plot of Adama's, I think he was calling it, that we were part of."

Apollo couldn't resist a smile. "Wonderful. Anything else? Did Boomer make it?" If he's gone, I'm stuck here anyway, and Starbuck too.

"Boomer's fine, been around a lot. He helped with the defense at the Academy, figuring the cadets there wouldn't know him. One of the instructors recognized him, though. Strange rumors going around now. Between Charon and the Academy, he's started a new legend."

"Oh?" He yawned.

Ostara spoke with hushed reverence. "They're saying the ghosts of dead warriors rose to defend the Colonies from this disaster. The cadets stand up prouder and whisper about the tradition they carry on. They say the spirits of our dead won't let us fall, that those who died in our defense will always watch over us, and some day their own ghosts will walk the corridors of our academies and warships with them. Boomer's part of our mythology. It could be a dangerous precedent-"

"Hey," he interrupted tiredly, "next time, you save yourselves. We won't be here...."

She decided it was a feeble attempt at a joke, and chuckled at him. "I doubt we'll make the same mistake twice, not where the Cylons are involved."

"Any word from the Galactus? Or the Pegasus?"

She shook her head wordlessly. He groaned in response, but said no more. After a moment, his head dropped to her shoulder. She realized he'd fallen asleep sitting up, and eased herself out from under him, carefully resting his head on the arm of the couch. It was warm enough; he didn't need a covering. She turned out the lamps and let night flood the room, although at that moment Apollo would have slept through anything, even a full-scale alert.

She watched him for a moment, seeing the way shadows crept over the planes of his face and body. Something very gentle and thoughtful filled her eyes. When noisy children ran through a nearby hall, she quickly shushed them, then closed the door so he could sleep undisturbed.

* * * * *

The next day, Boomer was back again. He'd done what he could to help. Things were settling down, and the authorities were reasserting their power and beginning to put society back in order.

"There're already enough questions about you, Boomer," Apollo told him. He looked much better after some sleep, a shave, and a change of clothes. "Can't have them getting too close to our origin; it might mess things up beyond fixing. You might as well go back, and tell them to get ready for us."

"Be careful, Apollo, Starbuck." He pulled out the pendant, a small star-shaped device with an odd gleam to it. "See you in a little while, our time. Who knows how long, here?"

"Shouldn't be more than a few days, Boomer. Don't mess us up now, here?"

"Right." The three men solemnly shook hands, then Boomer stepped aside. A moment with the pendant, and he suddenly faded from view.

"So it's begun," Starbuck said fatalistically. "In some unknown time soon, you'll be gone, and this guy, too. I'll have my body to myself, again."

"I hope it hasn't been too uncomfortable." Apollo had almost forgotten; this world's Starbuck had let his friend have the ascendancy for several days. Perhaps it was kinder for his own feelings, but he had to remember that the other man's body would still breathe and live when his own had ceased to do so.

"Awh...." He waved. "All things considered, it's been worth it. I ... sorta like having 'company' I can depend on." More cheerfully, he went out of the room, a spring in his step.

Apollo was left alone with his wife. "Well, no comments?"

Her expression was almost sad. "What is there to say? In a few days, you'll be gone."

* * * * *

Artemis was the first of the family to return. She was almost pathetically grateful to see that the house still stood, but was surprised at the children playing on the lawn. A moment's consideration excused them. Refugees were entitled to whatever help they could give, especially orphaned children.

Ostara met her at the door, eager for information about the battle they'd missed. Apollo joined her as soon as he heard Artemis was there.

The dark-haired woman took a deep breath, drinking in their appearance, glad they were all right.

"The family?" Apollo demanded quietly. He looked ready for the worst.

"Uncle Adama's all right, and Athena. They were on the bridge. It took a hit, and some serious damage; a few injuries, but no personnel loss. Ares came through with flying colors; fifteen kills, I think. Real good for first blood, even in a five-day battle."

He was visibly relieved. She understood why; he'd told her how her young cousin had died in another reality.

Artemis turned a compassionate expression on Ostara. "But Ortega...." Her own tears began to spill. "The fourth day, a desperation run, I think. His laser generators were out, he couldn't shoot, they were strafing the bay again.... Rammed the monsters, took out two of them.... Ortega's dead. Lords, I loved him...." Her hands stretched pleadingly to the other woman.

Apollo turned away, letting himself sag against the wall. Ortega had been the best friend of this universe's Apollo. He owed the man some kind thoughts, some memories. And his loss meant Starrie would be even more alone when he ... left.

The women consoled each other. After a moment, he rejoined them, sharing their grief.

At least half his family had survived. The question now was Kobol, and the Pegasus. His brother was on that ship, under Kain's command. They were all that stood to defend his mother, and her fellow diplomats and bureaucrats. Had anything of their colony on the ancient mother world survived?

* * * * *

Every screen in the home communications center displayed information. Apollo had no qualms about using his mother's security channels and his father's military codes as well as the civilian lines of communication. Despite their many duties, there always seemed to be someone monitoring those screens, watching and hoping.

Starbuck was there when the first confused hints came through on the military band. Excited, he called the others. Apollo and Ostara reached the chamber almost at once. Artemis had returned to the Galactus, but the newly-weds were still on extended leave, at Adama's orders.

There was nothing they could do with the battlestar in spacedock, undergoing repairs, and it seemed important to the old man that the young couple have some time to themselves. That they spent it working in the city and at the Academy was irrelevant; Adama was fanatically insistent that they be in Caprica City as a symbol to their people. It was vital to him as well that they occupy the family home, and spend their nights there. They accepted his judgment; when the ship was repaired, and replacement Vipers manufactured for her, they would receive new orders.

Apollo, at least, doubted he would live to see those orders, and quietly hoped he'd have the opportunity to see this Commander Adama again before his necessary death.

The image on the console screen was from a distant satellite that had somehow escaped destruction. It was the Pegasus, returning to the Colonies.

"My God...."

Apollo almost repeated Starbuck's appalled whisper.

The Pegasus had been badly damaged. Battle-scarred from yahrens of patrol and combat before Kobol, the ship now looked almost derelict. The left landing bay pod had been discarded - intentionally cut off, from the appearances. Lopsided, she continually had to correct her drifting course to keep her gyros stabilized. Pitted and scored by laser fire, with several gaping holes that showed where chambers had exploded into space, she still flew with all the arrogance and pride Kain and his crew could give her. She had done her duty, and it well.

The stars behind her gradually began to take more distinct form, and they realized that other ships accompanied the battlestar, trudging faithfully behind like little birds waddling along behind their mother. Kobol had apparently been abandoned, but it was heartening that so many had made the journey.

"We should know soon if the Quorum made it," Starbuck said quietly. He was hopeful; Kain had been his commander, and would likely be so again soon.

The captain nodded without response. We'll know if Mother's alive, or if the Cylons destroyed our government. That'd be another disaster. Our local bodies are running things as smoothly as they can, but we need the Interplanetary Quorum functioning to get us back on our feet as a nation. If we have political chaos as well....

Ostara was watching the secondary monitors. "It's Commander Kain!" she called. "He made it, anyway, though he looks a little the worse for wear...."

Attention shifted to that screen. There was Kain, looking worn and tense but still very much in command, calling for a planetary hook-up through the satellite. Temporary communications had been jerry-rigged since the attack, and after a time, a local station reported it was ready. A few moments more, and the signal was transmitted to other satellites as well, giving Kain access to whichever parts of the Colonies still had video power.

Kain gestured, and the bridge camera switched its focus. Apollo caught a brief glimpse of Akilles before it settled on another familiar figure.

"Mother!"

President Ila had been injured. Her arm was in a sling, and bandages covered part of her face and neck, under her dark, high-collared dress. Apollo detected that she was wearing a wig, too, and wondered if she'd been caught in a fire.

But the well-known face was fiercely determined and strong. When she spoke, her voice held a firm quality of power and new-found recognition.

"People of the Colonies," she began, "it is so good to see home again, and to know that you have survived, in spite of our atrocious mishandling of this situation, and the Cylon treachery...."

She continued, taking full responsibility for the debacle, promising her people that they would rebuild, assuring them of hope. Her fluid voice held passionate intensity when she spoke of how the Cylons had destroyed the ancient monuments of Kobol, and burned the newly-built cities and farms. Gravely, she related the heroics of civilians and warriors who fought back and died for their people. She gave them a tale of glory, as she told how the fighters of the Pegasus had come to their rescue, and how that ship had beaten back the enemy long enough for a complete evacuation of all known survivors. Her voice filled with pain as she told how news had come of the attack on their home worlds, and of how they had reacted to that horrible information.

The journey back was another tale of heroics and fear; Cylons watched and threatened them all the way. Cmdr. Kain had taken necessary detours, and his crew had fought with all the skill and ferocious courage for which they were known. All credit for their survival was unstintingly laid at his door, rebounding to the credit of all the warriors in the Colonies.

Finally, with a heavy heart, she again laid the blame on herself as both guilty accessory to the catastrophe by believing in the Cylon treaty, and as martyr for the humans, accepting all responsibility for what had happened, and begging her people's forgiveness for her folly. She pledged to spend herself on their behalf, to devote herself to rebuilding, not to abandon them now, in their time of greatest need. She assured them they would find the greatness they were capable of, under the leadership of far-seeing men and woman from all the Colonies. They had the resources and potential, she reminded them; all they needed to do was use them. They would prove to the Cylons and the rest of the universe that humans were there to stay, and could never be swept from existence at an enemy's whim.

Reiterating her promise to stay on as president until a new Council could be elected and some semblance of normalcy restored, she signed off.

Apollo shook himself. His mother had spoken for over two centars; she was obviously hoarse and her emotions were evident. There were tears in his eyes; if she weren't re-elected to the Council, it would be the next big Caprican mistake. But it was unlikely that those presently in power would be returned to the Quorum. Someone would have to be held responsible, and the citizens would want scapegoats.

The most obvious choice was missing, dead in the flames of Kobol or fled to his Cylon allies. Either way, the treacherous Baltar was beyond their reach, but not their hatred. He could never return to the worlds he had thought to rule. The damage his treason had done wold never be forgotten, nor were the Cylons likely to forgive the failure of their plan. Perhaps it was best to hope he had perished, although Apollo would dearly love to see him pay for at least some of his crimes.

"She offers hope," Ostara murmured. Somehow, it seemed quite natural to let his arm rest around her shoulders, and to feel her arms automatically circle his waist.

Ila offered hope. Apollo knew that was something their people needed very much at that moment. He smiled, feeling much renewed.


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