Chapter IX


The computer core chambers were seldom guarded. True, a sentry stalked by the outer doors at regular intervals, but only rarely did a Cylon actually walk in and check things over, unless the asteroid base was under direct planetary attack or there was a question of sabotage. Neither was the case now. Besides, any Cylon wishing access to the small complex had only to provide the proper security code, its own designation number, and the purpose for the usage. Without such a combination of codes, no entrance would be permitted.

None of that would have made any difference.

The silver-toned Centurion strode down the corridor in a normal fashion, apparently on its way to carry out some order. Before the hatch to the computer chambers, it halted and glanced about, the heavy head moving soundlessly.

Then it touched the entry plate. A reddish aura formed over the hand, and a spark flared to engulf the plate. There was a sound of something within sizzling, then silence.

The hatch opened without requesting any codes.

The Cylon entered and moved directly to the innermost chamber, where the great memory banks could be accessed. History banks had first priority, to be followed by military and scientific situation, then information on peoples conquered or destroyed, and current foes. The machine took position before the first panel, and gave the code for a complete presentation of data.

Within the Cylon's altered body, information began recording into a system far more intricate and advanced than anything Cylon or Colonial had yet devised.

* * * * *

The flight commander stood stiffly before him, flanked by several of the remaining captains and ranking warriors of the Galactica. Io, naturally, was right beside her husband. Sheba, Jolly, and Bojay, from Blue Squadron, stood at ease in a group. Red Squadron's Blackjack, as usual, sat as far from the senior officers as he could, slouching in the couch under the window port without having asked permission. Haals from Yellow Squadron and Sirius from Green stood together, murmuring uneasily. They all knew why they'd been gathered.

Commander Adama glanced over the lot of them, then took another look at Capt. Nestor's list of recommendations. Off balance from what had happened, the man was uncertain of his wisdom to select a new flight commander for Blue Squadron, and had asked Adama to make that fateful choice. There was one candidate from each of the other squadrons on the list, and three from Blue.

Resigned, he studied them again.

Haals, quietly experienced, probably the most deserving of the group, who had left Blue Squadron at the Destruction, and didn't seem particularly eager to return under the circumstances – and probably would be happier continuing to work with specialty missions. Sirius, small and wiry, young for a captain; he really didn't have much command experience. Blackjack, tall and muscular with that devil-may-care exterior; he'd turned down promotion at least once before, and he slunk deeper into the cushion at Adama's eyes upon him. Sheba, competent daughter of the "living legend," about whom he would normally have no qualms, except she now claimed to be sensing ghosts. Jolly, formerly of easy-going temperament and absolute loyalty to his friends, who now seemed to be picking fights on a regular basis. Thank the Lords that Bojay was still steady – and since the man had served under Adama previously, as well as over most of the past yahren, he knew something of his abilities.

That made the choice easy – he could give Blue Squadron one of their own as a new leader, which would hopefully make yet another transition a little easier.

"Thank you for your recommendations, Nestor," he said quietly. "I believe Bojay will fill the post quite well."

The others filed out, with varying degrees of relief, except for Sheba, who was still preoccupied, leaving Adama with Blue Squadron's new flight leader.

"Thank you, Commander," Bojay told him.

He glanced up at the young man. "These aren't the easiest conditions, Captain Bojay," he said. "Good luck. I fear you'll need it to pull these people back in order."

"I can do it, sir. I won't let you down."

Adama almost found a smile as the man saluted smartly and left. Cain's influence told well on Bojay. He'd always been proud of his own capabilities, but something told him Bojay was now fully as capable as he'd always believed himself to be. And Lords knew they needed that now.

* * * * *

Apollo stared at the wall, feeling restless. He was off for the day, and lacking anywhere to go, had come to Electra's chambers. He knew her private entry code, and used it without announcing himself, only to find her gone. So he sat and waited, feeling the prickling sensation grow in his skull. He wished he knew what was really bugging him.

It wasn't Starbuck, not really – although he hadn't seen much of the man since that dreadful triad game, which he regretted more every time he thought of it. He couldn't explain his aggressiveness in the game, nor the instinct that warned him off every time he considered talking to the lieutenant. Either Starbuck would deck him or feel obliged to accept his comments, and he knew, somehow, that his friend wasn't ready to let this drop. And until he knew what he wanted to say, what point would there be to bringing it up?

He couldn't sit. Rising, he began to pace the room, stopping for no more than a moment or two every few centons to study something on the wall, the shelves, or Electra's desk. There were several personal diary crystals stacked next to the reader on her desk; Apollo picked them up. The last such crystals he'd seen were the ones Serina had recorded before her death. His expression became more distant and thoughtful. He had thought of his dear wife without the old surge of grief. Maybe he was finally beginning to get over her death.

The door swished open, and the tall blonde beauty entered, every movement as easy as ever, as unconsciously alluring as always. He smiled in welcome; he could worship at the shrine of her beauty, he thought.

She pulled up short at seeing him standing there. "Apollo!" Her voice was glad, until she noted what lay in his hands, then her smile faded to something guarded.

He very carefully set the crystals back in place. "Hello, Electra. I just stopped by because...." She kept staring at the crystals; Apollo thought she looked wary. "I was bored, I guess, wanted to see you." Still she was silent. "I found them sitting on your desk. I didn't listen to them, if it bothers you, Electra. I wouldn't intrude on your privacy like that without your permission."

She shook herself. "Of course not. What did you say you wanted?" The woman moved closer, a faint smile returning the curve to her lips, coupled with something in her gem-dark eyes.

It suddenly became crystal clear, and Apollo knew exactly what he wanted. He seized her hand, still meeting her eyes.

"Electra, come with me."

She was taken aback at the intensity in his voice. "What? Where?"

"Everywhere. Forever. Come with me. Be with me."

Her jaw slackened; she blinked. "Are you serious?"

"Yes."

"That ... sounds like a sealing proposal!"

Apollo stared past her for a moment. Yes, that was exactly what it sounded like. And he realized that was exactly what he meant. He laughed, feeling quite content. "It is a sealing proposal. Marry me, Electra."

She was speechless.

"I know, this is sudden," he agreed after a moment. He kissed her fingers lightly. "And maybe the place and time aren't what you'd expect, but it's right. I know that much. And I want you with me, always, as my wife. Seal with me."

"I...." Her glazed expression fixed on the fingers caught in his hand, somehow panicked.

He touched her lips before she could say any more. The wave passed through him. He understood what she had to be feeling, and knew she might need some time to think about it. That was a good idea; there was no need to rush what would be so perfect when it came.

"I just want every moment we have left...."

For Serina, that had been true. Those moments had been too few, before she had been taken from him. With this woman, there would be many moments. They would be together for the rest of their lives. He wasn't afraid to wait.

"Just think about it," he whispered. "I want us to be forever. I'll ask you again, if you want, in the right kind of romantic setting, if we can find one here, on this ship. But I mean what I say, and the offer will always be open. Whenever you're ready, I'll be here. And I'll want you."

He released her hand, and drew a deep breath. "And now it looks like you want some time to consider, so I'll leave. Good bye, Electra."

Apollo walked out with a smile, leaving the woman still stunned and unable to think. As he strolled the corridor away from her quarters, it didn't occur to him that the word "love" hadn't been in his thoughts or his words even once in the proposal.

* * * * *

Starbuck hesitated outside his squadron leader's door. He wasn't really sure what he wanted to do about it, but he knew he had to talk to somebody. And Orestes was the best choice. Well, second-best, but he couldn't nail Apollo down long enough to discuss anything these days, and besides, he still wasn't always comfortable sharing some feelings with the captain. Especially since Apollo and his recent behavior were the topics he wanted to talk about. And since he was beginning to have a few ideas about what was causing it.

He hit the annunciator.

A micron later, a distracted voice from the speaker inset called, "Enter."

Starbuck walked in to find Orestes sitting at his desk console, staring at the far wall with a vaguely puzzled expression in his deep blue eyes.

"Yes, Starbuck, what is it?" he asked, blinking as he brought his thoughts home.

"You look busy."

"No, just been thinking – I think. Didn't realize how time was passing, I've been a million light-yahrens away, I guess." He took a deep breath. "So, what can I do for you? Or are you just looking for a drinking buddy and an excuse to hit the officers' club?" he finished flippantly, leaning back.

"No...."

The blond captain studied him for a moment, then offered a guess. "It's Apollo, isn't it – and that triad match?"

"Uh, yeah." Starbuck felt distinctly uncomfortable. This was not one of those times when it made things easier to face someone who was so like you he could almost read your mind. He was betraying Apollo, in some way, and having his brother know it didn't help.

"Want me to talk to him?" Orestes offered after a few awkward moments. "Won't salvage the match, but...."

Starbuck swallowed hard. He'd let his guard down this far, just coming here.... "If you want to, and you think it would do any good...."

"Hey, I'm his squadron leader. He had to listen to me." Orestes grinned. "Don't worry about it, Starbuck. What's a brother for, if you can't talk to him when your wingmate's being a pain in the astrum? And if he won't listen to me, we can still launch the big one."

"The big one?"

"Yeah. Electra. Believe me, our sister is more than capable of taking on him or anybody else, when her squadrons are at stake."

"Even though they're–"

"Lovers?" Orestes's grin broadened into something of a leer. "Half the ship knows it, so don't worry about betraying that. And so much the better. What man in his right mind would risk losing her?"

Starbuck had to laugh with him at that, then continued. "But Orestes, what if...."

"What if what?" he prompted.

"I've been seeing Twyla once in a while, you know her, the med tech...."

"Yeah, the little one who set a speed record for outrunning a fireball at Gamoray – and for shredding male egos faster than any other woman I've ever met." Orestes smiled fondly. Good medic, but what a tongue! He didn't think she and Starbuck would be close for long.

"She's mentioned a few things about some ... emotional problems some of the crew have been having."

"I've seen some of the records. That talk on morale last secton, they made us flight leaders sit down in medical first, so we'd know why."

"Yeah. Well, what if Apollo.... I mean, what if he...."

Orestes stared at the deck, disturbed. He hadn't actually considered the possibility that Captain Apollo might be having emotional difficulties of some kind, maybe just in adjusting to the new ship. He'd seemed fine at first, and Electra would surely have noticed and mentioned if....

"Could Apollo be walking a little on the wrong side of the line?" Starbuck didn't know if he wanted that to be the case or not.

Orestes looked up. "I'll talk to him." He rose.

"Now?" Starbuck was startled.

"What better time?" He knew inside that it was absolutely essential he speak to Apollo immediately. There was too much at stake, for the survival of them all. And maybe he would stop at life center afterward and get something for the headache he felt coming on.

* * * * *

Commander Cain knew it was trouble. Dr. Helena never came to the bridge. Never. He could not recall her having been on the bridge once in the entire time she'd served aboard his ship, which was over eight yahrens now, since long before the battle at Molecay. She sent her best med techs and Dr. Rafael if there were battle injuries or sudden illness. If she had something to discuss with him, she came to his quarters or called him to life center. Her philosophy, she claimed. If there was something wrong, she belonged in life center, not cavorting all over the ship. If there was nothing wrong, why bother hanging around the bridge? Surprise showed in several crewmen's faces; some of them had probably never met the chief medical officer, but they did know she was a stranger to the bridge.

Helena moved up the steps with a determined look on her coolly set face.

Col. Kenji, currently on the watch, saw that look and glanced at Cain. The commander nodded, and the Delphian officer moved out of hearing.

"Is there a problem, doctor?" Cain asked.

"Commander, I'd like to call a meeting of the senior staff to discuss the direction of our future," she said very quietly.

Cain stared, his jaw tightening. His steely eyes narrowed slightly. "On what grounds?"

"Medical."

"Another morale discussion?"

She didn't back down, although she kept her voice low. "I'm not calling for a mutiny – I know better than to think I'd get away with calling you unfit for command." Cain grunted affirmation. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to let the crew of this ship go to Hades without putting up a fight. I'd like to present our current situation and my future projections to our department heads. Maybe you'll take their opinions more seriously than you seem to be taking your chief medical officer's and your executive officer's."

"I do take your opinion seriously, Helena. I'm considering the situation and our options," he admitted unwillingly.

"Considering...? What's it going to take to convince you we've got a problem?" she demanded. Her voice rose fractionally, which spoke volumes about her frustration.

"I'm aware of the problem!" he shot back. He caught Kenji's eyes on him, and noticed Tolan was trying desperately not to hear. Helena continued to stare at him.

Cain took a moment to calm himself. "All right, Helena. We'll meet in the briefing room at fifteen hundred. Tolan, inform Colonel Kleopatra and Major Electra. Other department heads to be present as able. Satisfied, doctor?" he asked without waiting to hear the flight officer's murmured obedience.

She drew a deep breath and released it, nodding. "Thank you, Cain. If you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

The doctor moved away with as little fanfare as she'd arrived, but looking noticeably more relaxed through the shoulders.

Cain leaned on the railing, watching her go. Then he spent the next few centons staring at the forward ports, thinking, one finger tapping on his swagger stick.

* * * * *

Capt. Orestes caught up with Capt. Apollo in a corridor in Beta section, deck Gamma. Apollo couldn't have told what had prompted him to wander through the senior command officers' billets. Nor could Orestes have explained how he had known to find Apollo there.

"Apollo?"

The man turned at the call, then smiled genially. "Yes?"

Orestes studied him. The other captain appeared to be in perfect health, physically and emotionally. But there was that triad match to be explained, and a little nagging something in his own mind wanted an answer to a few other things....

"I, uh, wanted to talk to you."

"Oh? Anything special?" The smile widened expectantly.

"About that triad game, and the way you've been acting recently. My brother–"

"Hey, I might be your brother too," Apollo interrupted with a silly grin.

"What?" Orestes asked, nonplused. Chameleon hadn't been that busy....

"I asked Electra to seal with me."

He stared for a moment. "What did she say?" he finally asked.

"She's thinking about it."

"Why should she accept you when she's turned down every other man who's asked her?"

Apollo frowned. He hadn't considered that she might refuse him; it made no sense for her to say no. "Because none of them were me."

Orestes had to laugh; it seemed to help that oncoming headache. The slight throb in his skull lessened for a moment.

"And because I need her." Apollo closed his eyes and frowned in sudden pain, hunching his shoulders as if against a physical blow to his skull.

Orestes didn't notice. The ache in his own head doubled and doubled again in the space of as many heartbeats, searing through his synapses. He nearly collapsed.

In only a micron, it had passed. The two men stared at each other with clear, empty eyes, then nodded in agreement. Very purposefully, they strode down the corridor together.

* * * * *

So Bojay was to be the flight leader, Sheba mused. Sitting in the celestial chamber, she could think in peace. Maybe it was for the best. Her father would never have accepted it, maybe would even have protested to his commander at being "passed over."

Sheba sighed heavily. She still hadn't forgiven her father for leaving her the way he had. Maybe that resentment was why she could so calmly accept something that would have driven the great Cain into a fury. Getting back at daddy....

Sheba turned off every piece of illumination she could. Only a few console lights blinked steadily, but she ignored them. All was darkness around her; spotted with a multitude of distant stars. The shadowed woman stared into that darkness, choosing not to see the dim metallic gray of the battlestar against the darkness. She could almost feel at one with space; it was as vast and empty as her heart had felt since ... since his death.

Even Sol couldn't fill that emptiness. However much she tried to pretend Apollo no longer mattered, his death made it all too clear just how much he still meant to her. Nothing would come of her and Sol, she realized that quite clearly; Apollo's memory would always stand in the way.

She hoped her former lover didn't mind her being in the celestial observation dome. She could still feel that eerie sense of presence, and shivered. Closing her eyes, she tried to ignore it. The feeling was almost tangible today ... painfully tangible....

Her eyes opened. They were blank. Her motions were strangely zombie-like as she left the celestial observation dome.

* * * * *

A staff meeting with Cain and Helena. Kleopatra felt a sudden upswing of mood. The doctor must finally have gotten through to the commander. She must have convinced him they should go back to the fleet. The colonel never thought she would feel so good about talking Cain out of any chosen course of action.

Strike that. It was convincing Cain to return to the fleet that was the important thing. For the crew's sake, and for the fleet's sake as well.

Smiling and humming under her breath, Kleopatra headed out the door. Her first destination was life center, to learn from Helena just what had happened. Then she had to find Electra, and cover the current squadron status. On to Cain, for a few private words before the briefing–

Kleopatra almost ran into the two men blocking her door. Apollo and Orestes. She glanced up at them. "Is there something I can do for you, Captains?"

Their expressions were empty, far too vacant for men whose faces were usually alive with emotions and intelligence. The laser pistols in their hands gave her pause; her heart abruptly sank. Something was very wrong.

"Officers?"

"Come with us, Colonel, and no one will be hurt." Apollo's voice was subdued and flat.

"Would you please explain yourselves, officers?"

"There is no time or need for explanations. Come with us, and no one will be hurt," Apollo repeated, with scarcely a change in his inflection.

Orestes reached for her arm.

"Pol!" she cried, desperately hoping to reach through whatever-this-was to past sanity in at least one of them.

Something flickered behind the blank stare, but then it was gone. Neither warrior said anything more, but Orestes held her arm in a tight grip as he pulled her down the corridor.

There was no one else in sight. Kleopatra considered resisting. But these were trained warriors, younger and larger than she was, and there were two of them. There was also no guarantee that they would encounter any other crewmen, or that anyone they met would be able to help her. These two might even mean their implied threat to injure their fellow warriors if she failed to acquiesce to their demand. She went along peaceably.

* * * * *

Hurry, hurry, must hurry. Time to leave, time to gather the herd. Find the mate and go....

The overwhelming need for haste pulled Sheba farther from the dome. She was almost running by the time she reached the landing bay, the command still echoing in her skull.

Hurry, hurry....

"Hey, Sheba! What's the rush?" Blackjack caught her arm; he wasn't used to being pushed aside by people as if he didn't exist. And Sheba moved like there were demons on her tail. Maybe a few in her head, too, he thought, when he caught a look at her face. "Hey, you don't want me to think the Legend's daughter went over the edge like everybody else in your squadron, do you?"

She stared through him, her reality far away, then slowly drew her laser. He wasn't here; this one would do as well, for the need of the moment.

"Sheba!" he yelped.

"You're coming with me," she murmured.

"Huh?"

Another figure pelted around the corner of the corridor and collided with Sheba and Blackjack, sending all three of them crashing to the deck. Somehow Nestor wound up at the bottom of the heap. The woman's weapon flew out of her hand, bounced off the wall, and spun merrily down the corridor about a dozen yards. Sheba crawled after it, but the husky Blackjack tackled her and held her tight, ignoring her kicks and attempts to claw him.

"Sorry, lady.... Nestor, what in Hades happened to her?"

The flight commander pulled himself free, panting. "One of the techs saw her, called me.... Said she looked like Boomer when he grabbed the Colonel and left.... What was she saying?"

"That I was going with her. I've had eager women before, but none of 'em ever had to pull a laser to get me to go with 'em."

"Stow your ego and hang on to her. I'm calling life center." He grabbed the nearest telecom to contact security and medical.

Sheba suddenly sighed deeply and sagged in the pilot's arms.

"What...?"

Nestor knelt beside them, checking her pulse and eyes. Blackjack didn't dare loosen his grip.

"Seems unconscious," Nestor said briefly. "What in blazes is going on aboard this ship?"


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