IV

The Citadel of New Eden was all but complete; the Garden of the Ages and Worlds was in full, luxuriant growth and bloom. A royal reception was held to celebrate the dedication, the first such formal occasion in the grand central pyramid, on the night of the greater vernal equinox, and a planetary holiday declared for the same occasion.

As dusk fell over New Eden, the larger sun dipped below the horizon; the smaller sun continued to bestow its reddish light over the city, as it would for another centar before it too dropped from view and the stars came into their full brilliance.

The celebration was actually city-wide. Half of Caprica's population seemed to have come to the city for the dedication, which was, to them, as much a mark of pride and Caprican dominance of the Colonies as a symbol of unity for the twelve known worlds of humanity. Music blared everywhere; light glittered from every dwelling; the scent of fresh-blooming flowers spread through even the business districts, with their hard pacrete streets and cold stone structures. People thronged the streets in their finest garb, and far more alcohol flowed than was wise and more food eaten than would normally have been eaten in any other secton.

In the citadel itself, high in the pyramid rising above the city, nobility from all over the Colonies gathered in the reception room under the vaulted golden cap. Robes in rainbow hues and gems of every size glittered in the great hall, reflecting an aurora upon the faces and bodies of an equal variety of humans of every world, color, and creed.

Apollo and Elisheba reigned over that court, as fine and elegant as if they were Lord and Lady of Kobol itself. Standing before tamarwood thrones on a raised dais, they looked out across the chamber, watching the human dance as people moved through the reception line and joined groups that flowed and reformed on a regular basis. At one time or another, everyone present came before the Lord of Caprica and his lady to pay their proper respects.

For their part, Apollo and Elisheba had little choice but to play their public role and greet people, welcoming them to the dedication. The lord kept an eye on the crowd, picking out their dark-haired son Zakaryah where he moved among the population, being eyes and ears of his father. Young Lady Mirian, the heir, fairer-haired and complexioned like her mother, had her own receiving line, at the second cardinal point of the pyramid, opposite the lord's.

"Sire Solamon of Sagittara," intoned the official host in a stiffly formal voice as an old man hobbled up the steps with labored breath. Three aides waited respectfully behind him, along with a middle-aged woman whose features were so similar it was impossible to miss the relationship between her and the aged sire.

"Greetings, kinsman." Elisheba smiled and moved into a close embrace with the statesman.

He mumbled some response and nodded at Apollo, then moved off with an almost distracted air. The royal pair watched him go with some sadness.

"His mind wanders, these days," Elisheba murmured under her breath as Solamon's aides quickly moved forward for brief greetings, then rushed off after their nominal leader. Siress Tamada was now the true speaker for the Sagittaran delegation, but she continued to defer to Solamon as if he still spoke for that colony.

"He will be a terrible loss," Apollo commiserated. He knew Elisheba was fond of her once-wise, elderly kinsman. There was no time for any further words as the next woman moved up the steps.

"Siress Vivienna of Scorpio." The official host sounded suddenly more interested.

Both of them looked in time to see a head bowed formally in their direction. The woman's face was hidden from view for the moment; all they could see was the long coil of rich red hair ornamented with stars of silver, emerald, and amethyst. The low curtsey exposed deep cleavage in a gown as deep green as the gems. The gown was slit high on one side; when she walked it showed one slim leg nearly to her hip. Her arm on that side was also bare from the shoulder, where the sigil of Scorpio gleamed; the other shoulder and arm were covered with a gauzy fabric that flowed with her every move.

Siress Vivienna stood up, and Apollo's gaze met eyes as green as his own, with silver-tipped lashes for frames in an oval face accented with high, perfect cheeks. Her gaze dropped, and she smiled with a gentle modesty that was at odds with her daring attire.

"My lord, my lady," she said in a cultured voice.

"Siress...."

Then she moved away.

The lord watched her go, unable to summon words. After a moment he drew a deep breath and turned to Elisheba. She was watching him with raised eyebrows. He flushed; before he could say anything, the host spoke again.

"Sire Eller and Siress Korinne of Aquaria."

The reception continued.

* * * * *

"She is a beauty!" Nessus whistled, nudging Zakaryah's arm. He stared in rapt appreciation as the Scorpian siress crossed the pavilion with elegant steps, her red hair gleaming in the lights that reflected from the gilded ceiling.

Zakaryah chuckled. "You do like the exotic ones," he murmured back to his friend.

"Exotic? Try gorgeous."

"I suppose, but I've never been partial to redheads," the young lord responded with a shrug.

"Yes, you prefer 'em as blonde and slim as a riverfall tree," Nessus retorted in a jeering undertone. "But I'll take the full-bodied ones anyday."

"She's a Scorpian, from the First House," commented the third youth more critically, recognizing the family and planetary sigils in the gems in the young siress's hair and in the clasp at her shoulder.

"So?" Nessus said, stroking down his own black hair. "I wouldn't mind getting to know her more intimately - whether she's Scorpian, Caprican, or asteroid miner's daughter!"

Zakaryah shook his head, still amused at their comments. He was amazed the Scorpian siress was present; there had been harsh words in the Council over the past yahrens, and from what he'd heard, he hadn't expected any representatives of their First House to attend this gala. He certainly wouldn't have expected one of them to be seeking out his parents for formal greetings.

Nessus and Tremain continued to eye the woman with appreciation as she moved, then decided to see if she wanted company. Zakaryah couldn't quite bring himself to that; he knew it was unfair, and he'd probably regret it later, but somehow he knew he wouldn't feel comfortable with the Siress Vivienna. Something about her touched a wrong nerve in him.

* * * * *

The reception seemed a success. No brawls had broken out, and no quarrels had erupted into feuds. In fact, everyone actually seemed to have relaxed and to be having a good time, and to be impressed in exactly the manner he'd hoped for. Apollo let his eyes wander across the pavilion. From his vantage point, it was a swirl of color and muted sounds of enjoyment.

"My lord," said a cultured, instantly recognizable voice. Apollo glanced sideways almost eagerly; it was indeed the Siress Vivienna.

He nodded formally at her bowed head. "Siress."

She touched her hand to his in a formal fashion. "All things appear to be going well this evening," she remarked, scanning the crowds herself.

"They do indeed," he had to agree. The scent of her perfume reached him; it was as exotic as she was, touched with something that reminded him of a gentle spring rain blowing in across the bay. He cupped his fingers around hers, holding them for a micron longer than was proper for the occasion.

Perhaps distracted by this, her eyes seemed to focus on a spot in the crowd for a few moments.

"The plans of our forebears seem poised to be borne out tonight," she commented shortly.

His eyes had never really left her. "Indeed? In what fashion, Siress?" he asked.

She gestured across the chamber with her perfectly manicured hands; Apollo caught the flash of silver from her nails, then was caught in the flash of her smile. "Our ancestors came here with hope of new lives ... resources ... a future that Kobol no longer offered us. Now, standing here, I sense that we stand on the verge of the realization of those dreams...." Her voice faded.

"Ah," he replied, nodding. "You have an understanding of things that I don't often hear from the Houses, and, I must admit, I did not expect to hear from the Scorpians."

Vivienna glanced at him sideways. "We look to the future for our people as well as you, my Lord Apollo. Or do you think we're all short-sighted and unwilling to do what must be done?"

The words carried an edge, though the tone was teasing. He was intrigued, and became more so as they talked.

* * * * *

As the evening progressed, Zakaryah found himself increasingly isolated from the celebration, feeling more and more like he was some kind of shadow moving through the swirling crowds. It had nothing to do with their behavior toward him; he was the son of the lord, the next in line for lordship after the Lady Mirian. Now that he walked alone, some took the opportunity to fawn over him as they fawned over her, but no one ignored him unless he deliberately gestured them away. It was distasteful to him, their gaudy robes and ostentation, their excess of food and beverages, their loud voices and trivial conversations. The aftertaste in his senses was stale and almost bitter. He found himself unable to concentrate or enjoy himself, unable to shake the moodiness.

After a time, he came near Serapis, the ageless mystic who, he thought, looked no older then he did, though he knew the man was more than his father's age.

The fair-haired mystic was also sitting to one side, something troubled in his faraway eyes. The Gemon, at least, was wearing simple, elegant robes, and the plain insignia of the Retreats. His glance swept over the crowd again and again, as if looking for something or someone that he couldn't spot.

"Something disturbs you about the celebration?" Zakaryah asked with a facade of gaiety, taking a place at his side. "Everything seems to be going very well."

Serapis glanced at him fondly. "If it were going that well, you would be out among the dancers or entertaining the ladies," he shot back. "But you sense something too, or you wouldn't be standing apart, wondering what's troubling your soul."

Zakaryah couldn't stop the reflexive shiver. The Gemon mystic was right; he was always right. And it was frightening that someone could know him that well.

"So what is it that touches us both tonight, when we should be resting on the hem of our lord's robe and enjoying some well-earned pride in what's been accomplished in the last yahrens?" he asked with a lapse to his moodiness.

Serapis shook his head. "There are too many people here with too many motives to read easily," he admitted quietly. "I feel a deadly shadow slipping through the corners, waiting for the appropriate moment. But I can't find it, and I'm afraid I will be late to stop it." The last was said so low that Zakaryah had to lean closer to hear it, and may only have heard it in his thoughts.

Zakaryah scanned the brightly-lit chamber himself, trying to sense whatever it was that Serapis recognized, the unknown something that only made him uneasy. There was nothing concrete that he could detect. He glanced toward the nearest of the wide-open doors, wondering if maybe the thing they feared was still outside, wandering the grounds, or above them, still distant enough to be found and stopped....

Wandering the grounds. Above them. To be found and stopped....

"A human enemy," he breathed.

Serapis studied him hard, then slowly nodded. "You're right. That's what it is...." His glance jerked toward the far end of the pyramid hall, to the second tier, where Lord Apollo was speaking with the Scorpian woman, the red-tressed beauty who had caught everyone's eye - and maybe escaped everyone's notice.

Zakaryah followed the gaze, saw it too. He could see his mother, the Lady Elisheba, crossing the gallery, obviously intent on joining her husband, perhaps sensing danger too, but of the wrong kind, the lesser kind....

"The Scorpian!"

* * * * *

Elisheba had been starting to wonder where Apollo was. She felt vaguely disquieted without him by her side. After a few words with their daughter Mirian, she began to scan the crowds. It wasn't difficult to spot him; his strong and regal air always stood out, no matter where he was, who he was with. But tonight, he was with that red-headed Scorpian woman, walking together up on the second tier overlooking the inner pyramid, and Elisheba felt a flush of anger and something she had never experienced with regard to Apollo or his activities - jealousy.

She fought the admission for a centon, then acknowledged it. Siress Vivienna was beautiful, young, and of a wealthy, noble House; she had an air of mystery and a sideways glance-and-smile that could mean anything. What man wouldn't find her attractive, or want to spend time with her?

And she was no longer a young woman herself, she and Apollo had been married for decades, they had three children together, she had added a few pounds and there were liberal waves of silver in her hair, maybe she was starting to look old to him, or he was just becoming bored....

After acknowledging the jealousy, and trying to lay it aside as unreasonable, she decided with unexpected forcefulness that it was reasonable, and it was real, and she was going to join her husband before her imagination had him running away in the night with this Scorpian siren.

Elisheba saw Vivienna smile at her approach, and felt relief. The siress's reaction seemed normal, welcoming. Apollo turned to her with a smile as well, and perhaps a slight flush of guilt in his cheeks. The Lady of Caprica felt a little foolish; Vivienna's reaction said there was nothing to worry about, she had no amorous designs on another woman's husband, even if that husband was the Lord of the Colonies.

* * * * *

"My Lady," Apollo said with a start, moving fractionally away from the siress and extending his hand to his wife, who took it with proprietary speed.

"Welcome, Lady Elisheba," Vivienna chimed in, nodding slightly.

"We were discussing the history of the Center," Apollo added hastily, "how we developed the plan together over the yahrens, and what we hoped it would mean to our people." He glanced back at the siress, still holding Elisheba's fingers in his. "We were discussing the importance of the New Eden Center, and the symbol it will be."

"Among other things." Vivienna was very calm as she changed the subject. She stepped closer, took their clasped hands in hers. "It is a pity your father never understood the importance of symbols, and of martyrs."

"Martyrs?" Apollo was taken aback. "We're not looking to create martyrs-"

"But we are. With Lord Dispater, it was necessary to remove him before he became a threat to our plans."

"Plans?" The Lord and Lady of Caprica stared at their guest, puzzled.

"His death was no accident," she said softly. "Nor will yours be, nor will the destruction of this place be. And I will be the martyr for our people, the symbol of how far one must go to take freedom, and claim it for one's people. Here, where everyone will see and understand, when they have had time to consider it."

They were still uncomprehending.

"We killed your father, those yahrens ago. And now we will kill you. And by morning, we will have killed this place," she hissed in sudden fury, eyes blazing. She curled her fingers into claws, raked them across their hands, drawing blood.

The royal pair stared in bewilderment, not yet feeling pain. All the warnings they had been given, the lifetime of looking behind them, fell aside at the unexpected attack in the most unexpected place.

It took only a micron for the poison to flow to their hearts, and then to stop their beating.

* * * * *

Zakaryah saw his parents fall, and froze where he stood, hearing Serapis breathe a prayer behind him. The Scorpian woman turned to the railing and raised a hand, as if delivering a message, or a challenge. Then she spotted him, and stared for a moment. As if sensing that he knew, she whirled abruptly and ran, catching up her emerald skirts over her covered arm to free the long, trim legs that set a sprinter's pace.

"Serapis!"

"Too late for them, cousin.... Stop that woman. I'll warn Lady Mirian, and alert your forces. Your parents aren't the only targets tonight; save the rest, or everything is lost...."

Zakaryah raced after her.

Serapis knelt beside the fallen lord and lady. A touch to their throats confirmed they were already dead, probably had died before they fell. She must have dealt it through her fingernails, he determined, seeing the bloody scratches on each of their hands, still joined in death.

Such a quick poison....

And Apollo and Elisheba were gone. He had known that Apollo's symbol wouldn't be enough to hold the Colonies together; he had suspected that they would be the center of threats and plots; he had been afraid for them. But he had still hoped that somehow something would work out. He had hoped that his distant cousin had a deeper sense than he had, and prayed that Apollo really had found a way through the dark maze of shadows that was all the mystic could see for the children of Sagan.

And he felt a deep sorrow that would never fade.

Those below had become aware that something was wrong. There were shouts of concern, fear, anger. People were beginning to push, some to make their ways to the exits, some forcing a way nearer, to get the better view. Serapis felt revulsion for both groups, in the midst of his grief.

The screams began, and he realized that the other killers must be moving for their targets as well. He stood up, yelled over the side of the railing to one of the warrior captains who met his gaze in shock. "The lord and lady are dead! Scorpian assassins! Let no one leave until we have them! Protect Lady Miriam! Warn the Families!"

The warrior raised his communicator, and the military moved into action.

* * * * *

Zakaryah had almost grown up in the Great Pyramid, following its progress and growth with nearly as much interest as his parents. Now, he the advantage of knowing its layout intimately, knowing every short cut. He knew exactly which of the internal conduits he could squirm through, and which would likely permit the woman to pass but not him. He knew how far he could jump to cross from one catwalk to another in the interior, and which cables would bear his weight if he climbed. He figured out where Siress Vivienna must be going, if she hoped to get out of here alive, and knew how to get there first.

One of the thirteen gates was guarded by a Scorpian contingent. Zakaryah calculated, correctly as it turned out, that at least some of that guard were loyal to the First House, and would let the woman pass, even if they hadn't been part of whatever original plot had so abruptly taken his parents' lives.

He couldn't let her reach that gate, and disappear into the shadows of the garden around it. From there, there were too many places to hide, and too many ways to escape.

Guards, he thought. I'll need warriors to back me up....

He knew he couldn't really have heard the affirmative in his head. He also suspected it was foolish to try to stop the woman, unarmed, without assistance. But he couldn't let her go. Adrenalin kept him going when grief should have dropped him to his knees in pain.

He waited in the last passage before the circular patio that led to - and through - the gates.

The killer in siren's form appeared on the lift, glancing back above her, as if expecting attack from there. She'd ripped off the bottom of her glittering dress and discarded it, along with the one gauzy sleeve; what was left of her elegant gown was somewhat less than decent. Her bare arms and legs had a controlled, feline grace as she stepped off the lift.

"Siress Vivienna."

Her gaze jerked toward him. From the slow, almost predatory smile, she must have immediately realized he was alone, and without weapon.

"My young Sire Zakaryah...."

"I am a patriot. I am loyal to my world and my people."

"Do you think I'm not? Or that my parents weren't?"

"The Lords of Caprica are leeches, anachronisms that the Colonies no longer need," she spat back, moving toward him with easy grace and a knowing twitch to her cold smile. "You refused to grant our people the freedom to grow, to be all we can be. Therefore we chose to take that freedom. And since your House will not surrender without a fight, we will give you a fight, and show you that our blood is as good as yours!"

He could only shake his head. "You'll spill too much blood. And for what? You're not interested in freedom for your people - you're interested in power for your House-"

"At least our House is Scorpian! Our people will never have to worry where our loyalty is, or whose interests we'll protect!"

He felt weary; the need to grieve was overcoming the need for vengeance.

She was slowly moving closer to him. He saw her fingers twitching, and a warning went off in his head. That was how she'd killed his parents....

He stepped backward.

She halted, silvered eyebrows lifting sardonically in comprehension. "You know how I did it."

"Yes."

"Then you know you don't dare let me get close enough to touch you."

"I assume you'll try to kill me as you did my father. I don't intend to let you succeed."

Vivienna laughed, a sweet trill of amusement that sounded to Zakaryah like it echoed from the sealed pyramid of a madwoman.

"How many others have you killed?" He drew back another step, eyes narrowing.

"Personally?" She shook her head. "None. Believe it or not, I am not the brutal, subhuman creature you and yours would like to make me and mine out to be, so you can continue to ignore us and rationalize your domination. I did what I did because it was necessary. And I will continue to do what is necessary."

"Unless you're dead too."

She sighed. "Always possible. I accepted that likelihood. So have the others. Some of us have already died for our cause, when they were captured and unable to escape, or in the course of their missions. One of us died to make sure your grandfather never came back from his test flights."

She almost looked sad; if he hadn't known better, he would have thought the woman really cared.... Then his gorge rose in his throat. He recalled his father talking about Lord Dispater, and his interest in spacecraft, and how he'd died when something went wrong on his ship, out in space, something that had never really been explained.

"You have been killers for too long," he murmured softly.

Vivienna lunged forward, silver nails flashing as she went for his face.

Zakaryah dodged, throwing himself aside, rolling to come up well out of her reach.

"You can't stop me - you can only delay your own death!" she hissed, her face contorting with the first real rage he'd seen.

He felt calm again. "I suspect a delay is all I need." He somehow knew he only needed to keep her for a moment more, and Serapis would have had time to get their guards in position. They would have taken control of the gate, and would be moving through the Pyramid, searching for her, for them both. His sister Mirian would have been warned and moved to safety. A moment more, and she would have failed in at least part of her plan.

Her eyes widened in comprehension. Vivienna glanced past him to the entrance to the patio, and he almost saw her make the decision to rush past him, kill him if she could on the way, but get past him to her only chance of escape-

Two warriors appeared in that entrance, weapons drawn.

She drew in a hiss of breath. Her stance changed, from a woman poised to flee, to a proud creature captured but not broken. Her green eyes still flicked about for any chance of flight.

"Her fingernails are coated with some deadly poison," he interjected as the men moved forward. "Don't get too close for now - and cover her hands until someone can do an analysis of-"

She turned and bolted unexpectedly.

One of the warrior guards cursed.

Four more men appeared from the lift tube.

She drew up short, her hands coiled into claws, ready to fight. "You can't stop the inevitable, little lordling. Your world is doomed, we stand ready to attack, the word has already gone out!" she declaimed, the first panic in her voice.

The captain of the warriors handed him his own weapon, and glanced at the young sire questioningly.

If the attack was already underway, they had to get warning out to their bases and the loyal Colonies. There was no time to deal lightly with-

Vivienna whirled and ran for Zakaryah again, her hands raised to strike.

He had no choice. He fired.

She fell dead before him, her hair flying loose and spreading across his feet. Her deadly hands fell limp and wide, spread as though in supplication.

Zakaryah froze. He hadn't intended to kill, hadn't realized the weapon was on its highest setting. A fraction of a micron later, he realized he didn't care. She had killed his parents; she might be destroying his world; she was dead.

So be it.

The warriors around him weren't too perturbed either. One of them sidled close enough to nudge her hip with his boot, checking, in a rough way, to make sure she was really dead. She didn't respond.

"Shall we remove her body, Sire Zakaryah?" the warrior captain asked briskly.

He nodded. "Carefully. Those delicate hands are terminal - and for all we know, she may have equally deadly teeth and toenails! Bring word of anything you find to me, to Lady Mirian, or Serapis of Gemon." His heart lurched. Lady Mirian. "I'll be with the Lady of Caprica...."

* * * * *

The Scorpian warships came at dawn. Caprica was still in shock and turmoil, too early yet for mourning, and the other Colony worlds were in not much better condition, waiting as though with bated breaths, to see what happened next, how Caprica answered this threat. But Caprica didn't expect the lifetime-trained warriors and heavily-armed fightercraft. The outer satellite defenses, never really intended to hold against their own people, were shattered in moments. The moonbases were besieged, unable to rally a defense or get word off to the planetary bases. The Scorpian horde swept through, and on to the surface.

In Babelon, Apollo and Mirian were just leaving the Great Citadel of New Eden when streaks of silver appeared in the bloody-fingered sky. They stared in heartsick silence as the streaks resolved into ships, and the ships sent forth their lancing rays of destruction. Babelon erupted into flames, and the ships continued their strafing fire, destroying any attempt at resistance, any attempt to lessen the damage that was being done.

New Eden was obviously one of their targets as well. A dozen ships converged on the Center, laying down a fire that nothing could withstand. The gardens around it filled with smoke and fire; the gold apex melted, then exploding into fury, spewing molten drops of metal across the entire site. The main center collapsed in on itself in flame; the surrounded pyramids erupted.

"There were still thousands of people inside the Center and its gardens, ambassadors, nobles, members of almost every High Family in the Colonies...." Mirian murmured softly, shocked beyond any other expression of grief.

"By Kobol's star, it'll be two generations before the Families can regain what we're losing this moment...." Zakaryah breathed.

They watched as their city and their worlds' leaders were destroyed.

"Your parents were aware this day could come," Serapis finally forced out, watching the youthful pair in desperation. "Lady Marian, we must get you there, you must reform what's left of the government and the military, rally the people-"

"No."

"What?"

"I will not be the Lady of Caprica." Her voice was preternaturally calm as she stared across the burning city.

"But-"

"No." She raised a pale and delicate hand, determination in her tone and gesture. "I will not. I have never had the desire to be the leader, but I would have done my duty, in peacetime. Now I know my duty demands I step aside, and I will do so gladly, in favor of one with the will to endure the agony of what is coming. I don't have the strength for this." She glanced at Zakaryah. "You must be the Lord of Caprica. You have the strength of will to do what must be done."

"But-"

Marian smiled sadly, turned away from her brother and Serapis, and made her way back to the transport that would hopefully take them to safety. One of the guards followed her; the other remained with them.

Serapis stared after her. This was something else he had never foreseen, that she would so totally reject the lordship. And yet, she was right. He sighed. Her gifts would be missed as leader; but they would be put to better use.

He touched Zakaryah's shoulder. The young lord continued to stare at his burning capital, shaking his head, still apparently having difficulty comprehending what was happening.

"My lord, we must go."

"So many of us are dying. We have to stop this, we have to help them."

"We can't, not now. You have to rally the people, and the military, and counterattack, to save them. You can't do that from here, and you can't do it if you're dead. Vivienna wanted martyrs, and she was willing to be one. But your parents are martyrs enough, and your grandfather, now that we know what really happened to him. We can't afford to lose you too."

"Why did she kill them? Why so publicly, when everyone could see them fall, and knew she did it?" Zakaryah stared intently.

"Maybe she didn't realize that everyone would recognize the cause of their deaths," the guard ventured, formality almost forgotten in shock at what was happening and old familiarity with the young man who never expected to be lord.

He shook his head. "No. She knew. That's why she ran. She made her statement, her stand.... Then she ran...." Zakaryah was having trouble breathing.

"She felt she had to, to be the martyr symbol of ultimate resistance...." Serapis told him; he knew the Scorpians, especially some of the old High Families. Their history was full of fallen martyrs, heroes more in failure than success. And they valued their history, glorified their lost causes. "They're very big on symbols, some of these Scorpians...."

"Zurvan. What about our little brother?" He stared toward the hill where the family estate had been built; young Zurvan would have been there. Now it was on fire, one of the primary targets, along with the Center. They could hear screaming from where they were. The panic was spreading, along with the flames.

"If our people got to him in time, he is safe. If not, there is nothing you can do. Come."

The guard touched his shoulder, repeating the mystic's order. "Come, my lord. For our world's sake."

Numbly, the younger man let himself be led to safety.

* * * * *

Reports filtered in to their sea vessel as it hugged the bottom of the bay and moved out into the open sea. The reports were bitter to hear, agonizing in context. Cities were coming under attack, and there was little that anyone seemed capable of doing. There were reports of massive damage everywhere, of so many fires in both urban and rural areas that their local government branches were unable to deal with them, of thousands of casualties overloading their medical system. The military was mobilizing, and defenses were responding; in a few hours, they would be able to mount a reasonable counterattack and drive off the enemy. There was insufficient information to know if their space fleet had survived in enough strength to keep them away, now that they knew.

The other Colony worlds were responding, some throwing in with Caprica, some with Scorpio. Aquara and Sagittara had chosen another path, and almost instantly declared their independence of any of their sister worlds. All were, however, sending orders to their fleets and their bases, and multiple, confused attacks and counterattacks were underway on all worlds but one. Libra had declared itself neutral, and reported it would not become involved; it was doubtful, however, if they would really be able to stay out of the spreading war.

And in the meantime, Babelon was being destroyed, and the chaos spreading.

The family huddled together in the cramped seacraft.

There were several dozen people aboard, a few of them loyal servants of the House of Sagan, most ambassadors and dignitaries of friendly Colonies, rescued from the conflagration. They were all in shock; the Scorpian plot had somehow escaped everyone's notice and gone completely undetected and unexpected. No one had the energy or presence of mind to question it now, or even to ask why. They only stared blankly at nothing or cried softly.

Zurvan's eyes were solemn as the youth announced, "This is the beginning of a battle that will never end. Even when the last bomb is dropped and the last drop of our blood is shed, the arguments will continue, and there will always be an undercurrent of war among our people. It's as though we were born to fight forever...."

The elder siblings shuddered. Zurvan could sometimes see the future.

"We will be at the shelter in a few moments," Serapis said, joining them. "We'll be safe under water, below the sea bottom and hopefully below the range of any of their scanners - you know you're the next target, once they find out you survived. We'll wait there until the attack is blunted, and a proper defense raised. Then you will have to determine your next move," he finished, studying Zakaryah.

"My next move...."

"You will always have a place at Highpoint, as well," the mystic continued. "Your parents felt that could be necessary as well, and made the necessary arrangements for it. There is a way to reach Highpoint that only some of the mystics there are aware of. It will be at your disposal, for the good of the Colonies."

"Zurvan says the war will last forever."

A shudder ran through the other man. "Only if we choose to let it go on. And we may have help that your brother doesn't see - there are other forces in the universe, and some of them are beyond anything we can rationally know. I don't believe this war will be the end of humanity."

"How long does it have to go on before it doesn't matter anymore?"

"It won't be our end," Serapis repeated more strongly, then moved on through the cabin.

Zakaryah bowed his head, let it drop to his sister's shoulder. She claimed she didn't have the strength to handle what was happening, but she had strength enough to lend to him, to let him know he wasn't alone....

Not the end. Well, maybe. He had to hope for that, or the struggle would make no sense.

It had been too long a day, night and morning after. In spite of himself, he fell asleep.

* * * * *

Epilogue:

Omega held the datacrystal with tender care. Somehow, the old myth of the distant lord's monument brought special sadness tonight. The old lord had seen his worlds coming apart, and tried to bring them together with a monument to the past and future. If there was any truth to it, the structure had been the first destroyed in the civil war, and the last lord of the united Colonies had died with it.

His own people had hoped to see peace and the dawning of a new day; he remembered the Presidium, decked with flowers and banners, and Serina's last newscast. A monument to longed-for peace, shattered in Cylon fire. The image of that structure, equally burned into his memory forever that dreadful night, gave the history a horrifying reality and immediacy.

His mother had been the architect of that monument; she too had died, seeing her work come to ruin in betrayal. But this time there might again be a rebirth from the ruin, if they reached Earth. He wondered if they really had a chance.

He had to hope. There would come a time....


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