"The Gardens of Babelon"

In the beginning:

Twelve tribes of Kobol settled the Twelve Worlds. As the populations grew and spread across their worlds, their cultures and beliefs diverged. Under the overlordship of Caprica, they prospered, but their ways of life changed to fit the worlds they occupied. The time came when the other Colonies realized how different they had become, and began to see themselves as separate entities; they began to question rule from another world.

The Lords of Caprica, heirs of the Lords of Kobol, were caught in their own world's needs, and scarcely noticed the murmurings at first. The lords eventually realized that something had to change, and tried to adapt or stem the tide.

I

Apollo, Lord of Caprica, studied the architectural drawings on the table before him. Vulcan, the architectural liaison, stepped back respectfully.

The plan showed a magnificent, many-tiered structure in the center of an elegant, sprawling garden paradise of parks, ponds, flower beds, hedges, and groves. Buildings strewn as if haphazardly through the gardens were of the same motif, but smaller and less ornate; as a whole, the main structure and its many outbuildings, spread over several square miles, would be a capital worthy of any lord. The idea had been his; he'd called in specialists in history and architecture to craft his ideas into a workable reality.

The men and women who had designed the structures from his dream assured him it was a replica of buildings that had stood in Eden, the old capital city of Kobol; they would be built of materials brought from each of the Twelve Colonies and their myriad scattered outworlds, the smaller colonies and space settlements that looked back to the main system. Pyramid-shaped pavilions surrounded the greater pyramids that would be the government buildings and monuments. Tall columns and carved stelae would dot the grassy sections. Plants from every Colony and even from old Kobol would grow in profusion, each in their carefully tended section of the garden.

It was his dream, a dream that might keep the Twelve Colonies and their own spreading offspring from tearing themselves apart. Seeing a reminder of old Kobol at the heart of their government might keep them together a few yahrens more. Every ancient-looking building focused on the greatest pyramid in the middle of that garden; that structure, in turn, aimed starward, oriented true on the ancient Void that hovered between old Kobol and the Colonies. It would be a grand reminder of whence they had come, a challenge to the separatists who claimed the individual colony worlds should go their own ways.

That had always been Apollo's hope, though his father, the previous Lord of Caprica, had been impatient with his oldest child's interests in history and architecture, and would never have cared for their anachronistic, worldbound grandeur. Dispater had preferred starships and engineering, when he had the time. Apollo hoped an appeal to the past would buy his people time, at the least.

"It won't work, my lord," a soft voice murmured in his ear.

The young lord jumped in shock. "I left orders not to be disturbed!"

Serapis smiled dreamily, his eyes half-closed. "And your servants will tell you they've followed those orders."

"So how did you come here?" Alone in his quiet alcove, he hadn't been expecting company - nor did he relish the idea that someone could sneak up on him so completely unnoted. The family had enemies; he was not too much of a dreamer to be unaware of that!

"Never mind, I'm not sure I want to know." He waved the architect out. "Sit down, cousin, and tell me why you're here."

The "cousin" was purely an honorific; the two descendants of Lord Sagan were generations and worlds removed from each other.

Apollo was the Lord of Caprica, the ninth of his line, descendant of Sagan and the House of Kobol, and ruler of the twelve tribes and the worlds they had claimed and settled over the past four centuries. He was a dark-haired, green-eyed man of even build and distinctive features, athletic when he had time to be. He was considered handsome, although he would have deprecated the fact by stating another fact that people usually proclaimed their leaders attractive, for less then altruistic motives.

Serapis was a mystic, born and raised in a simple religious community on Gemon, trained by some of the most Gifted individuals in the Colonies, already with a reputation for wisdom and diplomacy. He was fair-haired and more slender than Apollo, with finer features and blue eyes that almost, but not quite, uptilted at the corners. He was part of the heritage of the Highpoint mystics, who now had communities throughout the Colonies, and had earned a name as Keepers of Kobol - among those who knew of them. The order sought no publicity.

With Apollo's interest in the past, and his family's old ties to the order, it was only natural that he looked to the mystics for guidance and information.

Serapis settled into a chair opposite Apollo with the self-assured ease of someone who owned the place, without consideration of the superior rank of his companion. The lord still stood, eyebrows raised.

Nettled, Apollo asked, "But what do you mean, it won't work? You don't even know what I'm considering!"

Serapis closed his eyes briefly, the smile turning sad. "You want to build a monument to the power of the old lords, and hope the Colonies will gather around that monument and make it a shrine to unity, and cease our arguments and fall into compliant harmony with the will of the heirs of the Lords of Kobol."

Apollo crossed his arms and frowned.

"But we have come too far over the yahrens to surrender our independence and be made docile by the raising of one palace in a garden on a world not our own. Our people have learned to relish freedom in all things."

The lord shook his head. "I can hear the Gemonese in you. The only belief your people have in common is a refusal to accept anything that won't let you hate everybody else!"

Serapis cocked his blond head to the side, ignoring what might have been an attempt at humor. "Apollo," he said seriously, "if old Eden itself were transported here across the stars, and the Nine rose from their pyramids to stand at its gates, it would not be enough to hold our Worlds together past starset."

"Do you suggest I let our planets splinter as if we were all alien to each other, instead of blood kin and children of one world? Serapis, you're a pessimist, tainted by what you do. You of all people-"

The Gemon laughed, breaking the somber mood. "I, of all people, who has spent his life trying to arbitrate between a hundred sects in a thousand quarrels. Yes, I suppose I should be the last person to comment on symbols of unity. So tell me, how will your gardens grow?"

Apollo grinned finally, and gestured at the blueprints spread across the table, his expression becoming eager, like an artist ready to display his work and proud of it. He and his mystic cousin were actually very close, and it was Serapis he had instinctively felt would most understand what he wished to accomplish - even if he disagreed with its chances for success.

"I've already ordered the garden layout to be planted; it may be yahrens before it's ready for the monuments. But take a look, I'd like to hear your opinions on what I've been considering. And there are a few other things...."

* * * * *

The time with Serapis always went too fast. Before Apollo realized it, the afternoon was half-spent, and his distant cousin was bowing his way out of the lord's presence. The mystic managed to disappear as thoroughly and easily as he had appeared, all but vanishing between one micron and the next, an image of white robes, then emptiness where he had been. Apollo had to wonder if anyone else in the palace would even know that Serapis had been there.

The Lord of Caprica remained alone in the alcove, still enjoying the image of his dream, quietly proud of what he would create, lost in visions of the unity it would bring his people.

This time, he heard the approach of the newcomer. Not that Councilor Lokie could have been missed by anyone - the man was large and walked with a ponderous, deliberate gait, and wore such flashy, colorful robes that no one could fail to see him.

Usually, he walked accompanied by two or three aides. Today, he was alone.

"My lord Apollo," Lokie began.

"Councilor," the young lord replied neutrally, though inside he groaned. Lokie had been a good, honored friend of his father's, and came from a High Family with wealth and connections to several of the greater Families on the other Colony worlds. Apollo privately thought Lokie had lost his wisdom with his hair, which was now thin and silvered, but he still had a great deal of influence. The young man tried to look and sound as though he were engrossed in his blueprints, and too busy to be disturbed, but the councilor wasn't put off.

"My lord," he repeated, "there is a matter of extreme urgency which must be discussed. I have attempted to raise it in Council, only to have it put aside with one excuse after another...."

Apollo sighed. So that was it again. Lokie was pushing for him to be sealed. And undoubtedly he had some girl lined up from one of the related Families.

"You feel it is time for me to marry," he interrupted, resignation heavy in his voice.

"My lord, you are already forty-five yahrens old! How long can you put off your duty?" The councilor lowered himself into the chair in which Serapis had sat with much more ease. "Your father, Lord Dispater, already walks in Kobol's light. While it is easy for a man of your yahrens to ignore his mortality, it must be for men of my age, who have carried out their responsibilities to our people, to remind you of your duty to the children of Kobol."

Apollo groaned inwardly. Lokie was obviously winding up for a long and patriotic speech.

"And therefore I must marry and sire children of my own," he interjected when the councilor paused either for breath or for dramatic effect. "Thus to carry on the line of Kobol - which I am sure my two sisters and half a hundred assorted kinsmen are very capable of, should the need arise. But I'm sure you have found at least one eligible woman in the Colonies who is of good Family, good health, and proper political connections to suit the purpose?" he finished with heavy sarcasm.

A flash of anger crossed Lokie's face, but he set it aside and responded civilly, "My lord, I am pleased to know you have considered the matter. Yes, I - with the help of others for whom the safety and happiness of our people is paramount - am considering a young woman who would not only make a fine wife and Lady of Kobol, but who would bring many assets of her own-"

"Who is she?"

"Elisheba of the Third House of Sagittara."

Apollo thought quickly. Try as he might, no image came to mind. Lokie responded to the young man's blank look with a very slight smile.

"She is a very charming young woman, a cousin of Ambassador Solamon, and something of a beauty, if I may say so myself," he preened as if the girl were his personal creation.

Maybe she is, Apollo thought. He brought up his hand before Lokie could go into more detail.

"Councilor, I recognize that your concerns are for the good of the Colonies and for the future of the House of Kobol. But I must remind you, as Lord of Caprica I must be more concerned with all our people than with my own selfish desire to see my descendants ruling twelve worlds," he said, trying to sound determined but conciliatory and noble at the same time. Inside, he was pleased to be able to use the same arguments against Lokie that the councilor was using against him.

Lokie frowned.

"After all," he continued carelessly, "there are other matters of greater impact than any man's mere marriage."

"Such as building a new capital center?" Lokie's eyes rested on the blueprints. Apollo's interest was well known to his councilors.

"Yes," he replied honestly. "Our people need a symbol of unity. And this will be it, a capital to last for a millennium. That has to matter more than who one man seals to at one point in time-"

"Unless that point in time is critical," Lokie said bluntly. He slid forward and raised himself out of the chair. "As it is now."

The intensity in the councilor's voice made him listen.

"My agents have uncovered pieces of a plot, my lord."

Apollo met his gaze with equal intensity. "'Pieces' of a plot?" he repeated carefully.

Lokie nodded abruptly.

"What kind of plot?"

"A conspiracy that could destroy the Colonies and set the tribes at each other's throats. If what I have learned is true, and I have no reason to believe it is not, at least one of the Colony worlds is within a decade of declaring its independence of Caprica and withdrawing from the Hall."

Apollo was taken aback. "How? When? Who's behind this?" he snapped.

"I don't know who's behind it. Nor do I know when, or how. But the evidence is that at least one of the Families of Sagittara is involved, and also that of Scorpia."

The lord drew a deep breath. "The rest of the tribes would never allow it!"

"I believe they would."

"What?"

"I believe they would sit back and watch to see what Caprica did. And if you couldn't hold Sagittara and Scorpio, the others would be gone in another decade. You would begin as Lord of the Twelve Colonies, but end with Caprica alone, if she survives, for your children to rule."

"If she ... survives?" Apollo repeated, stunned.

Lokie nodded his head vigorously. "I would not be surprised if, after the first attempt to hold the breakaway worlds, another tribe chose to try to claim the Seal for themselves. We would have to fight to hold Sagittara and Scorpio; it we let them go, we would have no way to hold the others. The struggle would weaken us, have no doubts on that, no matter how much assistance any of the other worlds provided. It would leave us vulnerable, easy prey for another battle. Which would no doubt be provided."

Apollo stared down at his blueprints. "What you predict is a civil war that could destroy humanity." There was no response. None was needed. He looked up again. "But you believe that if I marry this Sagittaran girl, it will somehow allay this plot, and stop a war?"

"I believe it will. A Sagittaran lady, of the Third House, will tie the population of that world to us with great enthusiasm. It will keep the First and Second Families off-guard. It will give us a valuable ally - as you recall, Solamon is of that House."

There were too many things to consider. Apollo grasped at every straw, couldn't put any of them into words, until: "But why haven't you brought this up at Council? Why now, to me alone?"

"There are Sagittarans on the Council, my lord. Accuse their government and Families of treason?" Lokie replied in an odd tone. "Why warn your enemies? And I tell you now because I know of it now."

Apollo didn't realize he'd begun to pace. "Where is your proof?"

"I have copies of transmissions we intercepted," the older man came back mercilessly.

"A decade seems a long time to plot treason...."

"Not if you must rally one population and undermine another, and gather arms and ships and supplies to fight a war against your brothers - all subtly, so one detects your hand."

"But we don't know who's really behind it...."

"Not that I can prove - yet. But I will. And they will be dealt with. And in the meantime, you must act to pull their teeth. Even if it means a sacrifice on the marital altar."

Apollo clenched his teeth.

"But I assure you, once you have seen her, you will not consider it so great a sacrifice."

* * * * *

Apollo stared at the girl he had all but agreed to marry. Elisheba of Sagittara was all that Lokie had said she was, and more. She was petite, fine-figured, small-boned, and as delicate as an Edenflower. She wore the formal robes of Council with grace and ease; they flowed with her every movement. Her hair was blonde shading into moonlight-silver, with streaks like moonbeams, from what he could see in her upswept hairstyle. An emerald-studded silver arrow in a green enameled bow gleamed in that hair, a visible mark of her Family and obvious identifying mark; no one else was wearing Sagittara's sigil tonight. Her face was perfectly composed and devoid of expression. She lifted her chin slightly when she realized he was staring at her; he finally met her eyes. They were as green as the Southern Sea at twilight, a lighter shade than his own, but just as cold as that sea, as well as determined and veiled and very intriguing.

Apollo suddenly had the distinct feeling, staring into her eyes, that she was as much blown by the winds of politics and threats of war as he now seemed to be. He was sure Lokie had cued the girl in on their respective roles. Did Solamon of Sagittara know the purpose of these well-planned festivities? He must....

Her mouth seemed very set, he noted now, and there was something in her eyes that said defiance had been worn down with much effort, and was still difficult to reconcile and conceal.

He realized she no more wanted to seal to him than he desired to seal to her.

A symbol would not save them, Serapis had said. Yet, he mused, this marriage, if it came about, would be little more than a symbol. Lokie swore it could make the difference. Unite two houses, two worlds, two tribes. Make right, wrongs that were centuries old. Hold the people together and try to keep them united until they had some greater, more tangible reason to stay as one. The lords weren't enough. The capital wouldn't be.

So what could?

Councilor Lokie made the unnecessary introductions, then moved off to just out of earshot, somehow managing to take others with him and drawing more into his loud conversation. The hall, filled as it was with diplomats, councilors, and nobles, seemed to have to force itself to gaiety. All the same, there was much attention on the lord and the siress.

"Siress Elisheba," he said, bowing his head slightly.

She dropped in a deep, elegant bow. "My lord Apollo." Stiff as an ice sculpture, her face was empty of emotion now, as though she'd controlled whatever her feelings were. He was disappointed.

"You know why we have been made to meet, I presume?" He would give her the dignity of honesty.

She inclined her head. "Yes, my lord."

"And you are amenable to this?"

"The stakes have been explained to me, my lord. I would not care to see my world destroyed, or our people at war with each other."

He nodded, managed to force a smile. All the formalities to make this look less like a plot of Caprica's, less a political necessity.... "Then perhaps, Siress, we should begin with a dance, very publicly. We will speak several times over the evening, always as privately as we can arrange."

"But visibly," she added, and laughed, loudly enough to be heard by others. Apollo wondered how she managed to put on such a smile, and stare at him so attentively, especially after the first bleakness.

"But visibly," he repeated, trying to smile as though they'd shared a humorous thought. "We should leave this gathering before it ends, together, also with witnesses. To be followed by a quiet but known envoy to your parents. All evidence of our personal wishes being firmly in favor of a match." There were plenty of witnesses to their continued speech. The music swelled; he held out a hand to lead her onto the floor. "Shall we?"

"Actually, my lord, I would prefer not to dance," she declined. "I have heard, however, that we have an interest in common, in a love of history. Is it true that you are planning a new capital center, inspired by old Eden?"

"It is." He wondered if he should be flattered and grateful, or humiliated that she might be condescending to him. Was she pretending an interest for his sake? If they really shared that interest, but no others, would it be enough?

"I would like to see it, if I may, my lord," she said, her voice halting just a little, as if she suddenly felt awkward or concerned that her interest would be unwelcome.

"Certainly, Siress ... or shall we use our given names?"

She appeared undecided for a micron. "I ... would prefer not to until we are more comfortable with one another."

He nodded and held out his hand. She placed delicate fingers in his grasp, and the two of them walked toward the archway and out of the public hall. Both were very aware of the eyes watching, some speculative, some satisfied, some smoldering and suspicious. For those eternal moments, Apollo fervently wished for less formality, for less rigid roles and for fewer political necessities.

He heard Elisheba sigh, and wondered if she felt the same as he did.

"If you would prefer that this not be...." he began under his breath, just loud enough for her to hear. They were out of sight and hearing of the hall, but there were always eyes and ears, and sometimes similar mechanical devices, in the home of the lords.

"I know what's at stake, for more than us," she returned, equally quietly.

"Not so much for you," Apollo told her. "I have no choice, I'm afraid. I have to make a proper marriage for the good of the Colonies. You do not have to be the bride."

"The Councilor and my father have explained why I am the first, best choice for bride, my lord. And I suspect that by having left together, we have already sealed ourselves to our fate. For either of us to decline now would be ... unexplainable."

He was quiet for a few moments as they walked. There were discrete footsteps hurrying behind them, undoubtedly a servant or guard trying to catch up to them and still be undetected.

"We will of course arrange a mutually agreeable accommodation," he offered. "Once the formalities are complete, and ... and there is ... an heir."

He thought she winced. "Are you that dissatisfied and eager to be rid of me already?" she asked softly.

Apollo blinked in astonishment and stared at her. "I don't know you enough to know what I might feel.... I was trying to be considerate of you.... What were you told?" he demanded.

She looked at him inquiringly. "I was told you had decided it was time to do what was required for our people, but the implication was strong that you didn't want to marry, that it was only political, and that my family connections were what mattered...."

"That ... may be true, at this point, but you sound as though you think I have some reason to personally dislike you...."

She blinked, and her face turned thoughtful. He discovered her eyes could be the color of spring growth as well as the twilight green of the Southern Sea. Color flared up and through her cheeks. "It is known that Sagittara and Caprica have their differences. I ... I believed that you disliked the prospect of marrying me specifically, but perhaps I ... only assumed.... No one said any such thing...."

The footsteps behind them had stopped. Apollo glanced back, then took Elisheba's hand again and resumed his pace. "It seems I may have assumed the same, that you would find this distasteful, especially when you said you knew the stakes."

She sighed heavily in relief, and smiled. "Then at least we are not starting with negative feelings. Maybe we won't be hiring assassins for our anniversaries after all!"

Apollo was shocked at first at the flippant remark, but the lighter tone she used was so much sweeter than the tension he now knew she'd been under, that he found himself laughing. "Well, I'm happy to hear that!"

"Lord Apollo," she continued more seriously, "can we promise each other honesty, and fairness in our treatment of each other, and our feelings?"

He nodded solemnly. "I will promise the attempt."

"And I," Elisheba responded.

They nodded affirmation of their promise and continued down the hall.

Apollo felt more hopeful already. "Tell me, Siress Elisheba, do you really have an interest in history, or was that merely so we would appear to have something in common to explain our meeting?"

"Oh, my interest is real!" she assured him. "When I heard what you planned, I was eager to see it. At least it told me you weren't...." She flushed.

"It told you I wasn't what?" he demanded.

"It impressed me. It told me you weren't ... like your father, with no ties or concerns for our past except where it could be used to justify himself." Her face was still red, and she seemed braced for anger. "Being with you, I can see you are not like him...."

Apollo was shocked to hear it stated that way, but it was true. His father had no interest in history; he had ruled the Colonies with a heavy but distracted hand, preferring to use his time and energy in the design and flying of spaceships. That had been the death of him, in a ship that had failed in space; Apollo suspected his father would have chosen no other way to die.

"He never understood my interests," Apollo deliberately shifted the focus. "Neither do my sisters. It will be a pleasant change having someone here who understands and shares my feelings. This way...."

II

Apollo, son of Dispater and Materna, Lord and Lady of Caprica, heir of Kobol, married the Siress Elisheba of the Third House of Sagittara, daughter of Sire and Siress Candar of that House, and made her Lady of Caprica. Those who disapproved of the sealing kept their silence.

Actual construction on the great citadel began on the day after the young couple's sealing. There was no time for a wedding trip; as ruling Lord of Caprica, Apollo couldn't spare the time. Instead, the royal pair presided over the groundbreaking ceremonies, which were broadcast with sufficient pomp throughout every world in the Colonies.

They looked wonderful together. Apollo was tall and dark, with the clear green eyes and prominent features of the Sagans; he moved among his people with the unselfconscious ease of someone familiar with the milieu and very comfortable with his role. Elisheba was small, slender, and blonde, and moved with the grace of a dancer, even if she felt uncomfortable among dancing crowds. They seemed to complement each other's strengths and weaknesses.

And as they adjusted to each other and their lives together, it appeared they complemented each other emotionally and personally as well. Always, they remembered their purpose was to ensure the well-being of their people. They fulfilled their responsibilities and carried out their required roles impeccably.

They had been sealed only a little more than a yahren when their daughter Mirian was born. Zakaryah followed five yahrens later. Their youngest, Zurvan, came fifteen yahrens after that, a personal gift to each other that they allowed themselves because of the delight they'd taken in their older children.

All that time, construction continued on the citadel of Babelon, the successor to Eden. The great pyramid in the center of the complex neared completion, its gold-capped apex reaching loftily to the stars. Cornerstones were laid for the smaller outbuildings, each oriented on the greater one reclining in their midst. Pacrete walkways meandered among the structures and garden plots - no transports would be allowed to disturb the spell with noise. Trees and rare plants that had first been sprouted and tended in special greenhouses were carefully transplanted in their planned locations in the gardens. Publicly, the leaders of the Colonies lauded the "capstone of glory" that would signify unity for millennia to come.

Behind the public view, five of the Sagittaran conspirators and two from Scorpio were located and quietly taken into custody. All seven committed suicide before they could be tried for treason, and none betrayed any other conspirators. However, that seemed to remove the head of the conspiracy, for as closely as Lokie and his agents listened, nothing more was heard of attempts to instigate war between the Colonies.

Thirty yahrens passed.

III

Apollo stared out through the window of the higher tower of the lord's residence. From there, he could see the gleaming golden cap of the New Eden Center. At this time of day, from here, with both suns still low in the sky, the pyramid cast a shadow over half the city. But from his own height, Apollo could see where the high point eclipsed the larger sun, like a spear into the sky with flame dancing around the lance. It was a sight that always filled him with pride and joy, a good reason to wake early and come here, to enjoy the view and the fresh morning breezes from off the sea.

Bare footsteps crossed the carpet behind him; idly, he noted Elisheba's approach. She was still as sleep-touched as he was, this early in the morning. She slipped her hand into his and stood beside him.

He glanced at his wife. Thirty yahrens they had been together, the same thirty yahrens that marked the time from the groundbreaking to the current point of construction.

She yawned, and rested her head on his shoulder. He let go of her fingers and slid his arm around her waist, pulling her closer in front of him. She leaned back against his chest, sighing with contentment.

They stood there for about five centons more, then the edges of the larger sun cleared the peak, and brilliant light and color flooded the city. Apollo and Elisheba had to turn away from the blinding glory.

"How many mornings have we watched the sunrise?" she wondered as they returned to their sleeping chamber to shower and dress for the day.

They were alone together; it had become part of their personal ritual, yahrens before, to spend that centar with each other. Often, it would be the only part of the day they truly had to themselves; during the day there were meetings and audiences; the evenings were often filled with formal events and gatherings. Many times, there were also events on other worlds that would take one or the other of them off-planet for as much as a sectar at a time.

The discrete knock came when Apollo was brushing out her long, wet blonde hair, now with just the one narrow streak of silver at her left temple. Elisheba's family grayed early, but elegantly; her kinsman Solamon had iron-gray hair now, but his face was almost as unlined as a teenager's.

They ignored it at first. The house staff knew they were not to be disturbed. If it were important, there were certain procedures to be followed - knocking on the royal couple's door at this time of morning was not part of it.

It came again.

Elisheba swiveled her chair. "Who is it?" she called, though her husband shook his head and tried to wave it off.

The door opened, and a man glided in.

"Cousin!" she exclaimed in surprise, grabbing her robe - though, thinking about it later, she realized she should have known that only Serapis or an assassin would have entered without waiting for permission. And an assassin would never have knocked.

Serapis glanced at them, then moved to one of the cushioned chairs, embroidered with a single blue-and-white, multi-petaled Edenflower. He sat and faced them somberly.

"What is it?" Apollo asked. He was still only half-dressed, still with damp hair from his own shower.

Serapis stared at the floor for several uneasy centons, then met Apollo's eyes. "It was not in time."

"What? What was not in time?"

He flicked a glance at the high, narrow window.

"The New Eden Center?" Apollo asked, brow furrowed.

Serapis nodded.

Old memories came back quickly. The Lord of Caprica remembered that the mystic had always felt the government center was insufficient for its hoped-for purpose. But what would bring the man into their private bedchamber, at this time of day...?

"Serapis, what have you learned?" he asked.

"There are rumors on Gemon," he said with soft distinction. "Rumors of scorn, and anger, and preparations for war."

Apollo thought for a moment. "There are always rumors of that sort on Gemon. Gemon hasn't agreed with itself since before the Migration! There has to be something more! What is it?"

Serapis shook his head, troubled.

The next knock on the door was thunderous, echoing.

The lord and lady both jumped.

"What is it?" Apollo yelled. When he looked back at Serapis, it was to see only an empty chair.

"My lord, Sire Lokie wishes to speak with you," returned a hesitant voice. "I have explained that you do not wish to be disturbed at this time of morning, but I fear he is not dissuaded, and insists on seeing you...."

Apollo sighed in exasperation and turned to his wife. She nodded fatalistically.

"We'll have no peace today, it seems. You might as well see him."

"Very well." More loudly, he said, "In a moment, show him in."

The woman slipped through the door to her sitting room. The man picked up a robe of his own and pulled it over his trousers and bare chest, then seated himself in the chair the Gemonese mystic had so quickly vacated.

The door opened, and an elderly, balding man tottered in, leaning on the shoulder of an strong-armed aide. Lokie still affected colorful robes, but now they looked garish; he could no longer carry them off as he had when he was a few decades or a century younger. With only wisps of hair on top, he looked more ancient than his years.

The aide guided the old man to another chair, then stepped back and remained silent, arms crossed before his chest.

Apollo contemplated Lokie. He hadn't seen his former councilor since his retirement, over fifteen yahrens previously. He wondered what had brought the man here, now. Sire Lokie's stature would have gained him an audience at any other time, but at this time of day....

"What is it, Sire?" he asked.

Lokie jerked, and Apollo would have sworn the old sire had been dozing off.

"Lord Apollo?" The voice was almost as strong as he remembered.

"Yes?" He wondered if Lokie's mind was beginning to wander. The councilor's eyes looked as sharp and glittering as ever - but troubled, and he seemed unable to start talking.

After a moment that lasted a centar, when Apollo had begun to feel impatient, Lokie spoke. "My lord, there is something amiss."

"Yes?" He waited, giving the elderly councilor the benefit of his yahrens. "What is it? As I recall, the last time you found something amiss, I found a lady - I hope it is not something similar this time, as I am still quite happy with the one I have!" he finished on a lighter note.

Lokie worked his lips a few microns. "My lord, it is, regrettably, similar. But not so easily remedied, I fear. There are rumors of trouble on Scorpio."

Apollo glanced quickly at the councilor's aide.

"Damoclees is trusted with my life," Lokie caught and interpreted the look, but fell back into silence.

"What kind of trouble?" Apollo prompted as the silence lengthened. "More plans for dissolution of the Colonies?" There were always rumors; if not for Serapis's words only a moment before, he wouldn't have been much concerned with another rumor.

"I ... do not know for certain." The old man leaned forward. "My lord Apollo, my people are listening to every tale, talking to everyone who might know, spreading currency where it may do some good. But ... they are learning nothing."

He felt relieved. "You are concerned because they are learning nothing? Your agents are some of the best - you find every plot almost before it's thought of. If you and your people are finding nothing, wouldn't that tell you there is nothing to be found? Maybe you can find no evidence of a plot because there is no plot."

Lokie shook his head stubbornly. "They are finding nothing. No one has heard the rumors - but the rumors are there. People look sideways - and people vanish. Some of my people have disappeared." He closed his lips tightly for a moment. "If there were nothing to hide, there would be no reason for that. I have ... fear, deep in my heart, that this ... this may be worse than what happened before."

Apollo leaned back to think, somberly considering the implications. "You suspect there is some serious plot underway, and that those of your people who have learned anything, have been killed?"

Lokie nodded, his chin dropping to his chest. "They were good people," he mumbled.

"You believe it may be similar to the planned rebellion three decades ago, because it also comes from Scorpio?"

"Similar, yes."

"What do you suggest I do?" Apollo asked carefully.

Lokie looked up sharply, as though his attention had come from somewhere far. "Be careful. Something feels different this time, I don't know why. Be careful."

The councilor reached out a hand; his aide helped him out of the chair, and the pair moved to the door with no more words.

Apollo let them go. Frowning, he remained where he sat, mulling over what the sire had said, trying to make connections when he really had no information to work with. He would have to speak to Serapis. The Gemon always knew something. Sometimes he wouldn't say all he knew, and sometimes he spoke in what might as well have been riddles, but he always knew something....

Elisheba came out of the sitting room, her arms wrapped around herself. She glanced out the window, then moved to kneel beside him, taking one of his hands in hers. "When Lokie and Serapis both speak of trouble, I worry. Apollo, I think we have to do something."

"Our people will focus on Scorpio too. If there's something there to find, we'll find it."

"No, not just that, that's what we've always done...."

"What more can we do?" he asked helplessly. "I can't make people want to be united! I can't force them to feel devoted to our home world, to our government! What can I do?"

"I think we must be ready for the worst."

"No!" He rose from the chair, pulling away from her, and stalked to the window. "I won't concede the battle already lost! Our people survived and escaped from Kobol. We settled these worlds, made them our homes, unchallenged by anyone else! We've had peace and prosperity here for five centuries! It can't end in civil war, the Colonies can't fall into ruin that way." He turned abruptly and stared out across the city. The first sounds of construction carried to him on the wind. He considered the violent destruction of all that he was building. "We can't end that way...."

"We won't."

Apollo and Elisheba both jumped at Serapis's reappearance from behind the tapestries.

"This is a time of crisis," the mystic said softly, "and it will not pass easily. But it will pass. And we will survive. As we have survived before, and as we will survive again." The last was said with gritted-teeth intensity. He glanced at the lady and continued, "All the same, I think certain ... preparations would be a very good idea."


Part 2 of this story

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