"Lament for the Lords"

In the beginning:

The Great Devastation was finally over.

Twelve tribes of Kobol, who had somehow succeeded in leaving one world and settling on twelve other worlds, had proved unable to maintain any kind of unity in their new homes. Greed, fear, growing resentment, and splintering cultures had led them into a terrible war. Their space fleets had joined battle above their worlds, and then brought the war to the face of the planets, proving their destructive capability. City after city was bombed into submission; spaceports were utterly vaporized; smaller outposts and moon bases were completely destroyed. Each attack renewed the outrage of the planets, and the great fleets would turn on each other again.

Finally, after half a century of war, the fleets had destroyed each other completely, and rendered each other's home planets sufficiently devoid of population and technology to make further attempts to return to space doomed efforts. The Colonists were now planet-bound, confined to their wounded worlds, where they would remain for over a millennia.

But at least the bitter war was over. For some, that was enough of a relief. They could begin again. But for others, the lost battles and ruined potentials were cause for hatred. Since the other tribes couldn't be reached to vent their rage upon, it had to be directed elsewhere.

* * * * *

Minos was just a little bit mad. Like many of his fellow citizens, he was angry that his world, Caprica, had lost the war. Although the entirety of humanity had also lost, it seemed the ultimate shame to him that his world must suffer the degradation with them. Caprica had led the others, was the planet where the lord of the mother world dwelled, until the Great War. Then, she had been sucked into the vortex of insanity with them. And when the war was over, she was as ruined as they, the great world that should have kept the others strong, free, and sane.

But she had not. She had failed.

In that insanity, over that half a century, Minos had lost his family. His parents had died early, in one of the bombing missions over the capital city. His brother had died, too, still a child. His two sisters had perished later; one, a medical student, had been trying to save her patients when a hospital was strafed; the other had let anger lead her into the military, and she'd died somewhere in the emptiness of dark space.

His wife had died halfway through the war, carrying their second child, unable to flee to safety. His small daughter had nearly reached adulthood, a beautiful, sensitive child who would wake at night and scream for fear of the bombs and fires; she had run out into the night once, and never returned. He'd searched for sectars, and found no trace of her.

He was only middle-aged, but he looked and felt very old, old beyond his time. Minos had seen too much in his sixty-two yahrens, all of it violent. What he had seen and felt had made him mad. What he learned to endure had made him cunning. Where he had chosen to rest the blame had given his rage a target.

The Lord of Kobol should have known, he thought. Great Zakaryah, tenth Lord of Caprica in direct line from Sagan of old Kobol, should have known. He should have been able to prevent the war, or to keep Caprica out of it. But he hadn't.

To Minos, it didn't matter that Zakaryah had tried against all odds to restore peace among the Colonies; that the young lord had grown old fighting a war he hadn't begun; that the house of Sagan had lost many of its own in the struggle.

All Minos knew was that his family was dead, and his planet was in ruins, and Zakaryah was still alive and Lord Sagan of Caprica.

* * * * *

More ruins. Zakaryah stared bleakly at what had once been a center of commerce and government, a few decades ago, a lifetime ago. Now, it was overgrown with vegetation. At least the growth covered the scars from the old bombs and the fires. Nothing could overgrow the terrible screams and horror of that night. He'd been there, a young man, he and his sister learning their duties at their father's side. His father had died when the false peace delegation came, really an assassination team. They had botched the job, leaving the children alive. Zakaryah had seen to their capture and punishment.

But then had come the starships, attacking Babelon, the capital city, hoping to force an immediate surrender.

His numb gaze returned to what had once been an estate fit for the rulers of the Twelve Worlds. Perhaps they had been too much the rulers, or perhaps not enough, at the end....

It didn't matter. The war was past.

When the last of their star armada was destroyed, the Capricans had waited in terrified expectation of the next attack. The didn't know if any allies survived to come to their aid, or how many enemies would come to destroy them. To their amazement, the feared attack never came. Perhaps their enemies were engaged elsewhere, or no longer considered Caprica worth the time.

Only now, after yahrens, had they reached the conclusion that the other worlds were so depleted themselves from the war as to make further attacks impossible. The humans had nearly destroyed themselves, and not one of their worlds remained with the strength to stand triumphant over the prostrated ruins of its fellows.

The Capricans, overcoming their fears, had at last decided to try and rebuild, and salvage what was left of their civilization and culture. From a secret undersea fortress, Zakaryah had returned to his citadel. Time could heal the city, but nothing could heal the scars he carried in his mind and heart.

The Tenth Lord of Caprica wasn't a tall man; he stood at medium height, slenderly built. He had the dark hair, now silver-streaked, and the forest green eyes of many of the Sagans. Belying his slim build, he could be a most commanding presence when he raised his deep voice in heated anger, or dropped it in cold rage. His eyes could pierce a man to his soul. He carried the additional burden of occasional flares of precognition, the gift and curse of his family, along with a strong sense of empathy.

The empathy and slightness of build had come from his mother, who was Sagittaran. His parents had settled for a marriage of convenience, back when diplomats still thought the growing crisis between planets and factions could be defused with aristocratic unions and fancy words. Apollo and Elisheba had been happy, much to their mutual surprise. Of their three children, two still lived. Mirian had retired to one of the Retreats. Zakaryah, the second eldest, had become Lord Sagan of Caprica at Apollo's brutal murder.

"I don't even remember when this was a city," said a wondering voice at his side. Ammon was his younger son, and hadn't even been born when Babelon was abandoned, over forty yahrens before. Now, he was a grown man, with a wife and children of his own. All those yahrens, spent growing up in hiding and caution, governing a world from Sanctuary, the hidden bunker under the sea, safe from space attack. The world was a wide place to a young man used to heavy walls all around, and dark chilly waters a kilometer deep. Ammon had left the fortress only a score of times in his life.

Zakaryah sighed, placing a hand on his son's shoulder. "This was such a beautiful place, then. The loveliest city in all the Twelve Worlds. Now there's nothing left for you."

"There is still the future," his son reminded him. "That's why we came here, to rebuild and create the future. We've only truly lost this insane war if we let it destroy our spirit." Ammon had his mother's blue eyes, and wisdom unexpected in one so young. Zakaryah suspected he was psychically gifted in some way.

He nodded in response, and found a smile. "You're correct, as usual. As I lose my senses, you seem to gain more." He sighed, feeling very much his hundred and two yahrens.

"You're not old, Father," Ammon insisted quietly.

"I feel old," the lord replied thickly. "all that has happened in my life has been crisis and war, stretching on for yahren after yahren. A war is never an easy thing to live through, when it totally destroys everything you value and want to save...."

The young man was silent, staring across the overgrown gardens to the ruins of city buildings, now gentle green and gray as mosses and ivies covered their bleak starkness. It would take so much work....

"Maybe we would be better building somewhere else?" he suggested tentatively.

"You haven't the ties to this place that I have," Zakaryah responded. "Maybe it's better that way. You can build your capital wherever you wish, a new city for a new generation and a new way. But for me, there must be something here, something to remind people of our past, a place where I can be buried."

Ammon drew a quiet gasp. "Not for a long time, Father!" he insisted strongly.

He shrugged. "When the time comes."

The Lord of Caprica and his son rode on sturdy mountain equines. Vegetation to feed them was plentiful; fuel for mechanical transports was not, as most of the synthesizers and refineries were either in ruins or using antiquated, worn out equipment that often broke down. Replacement parts were difficult to procure. It was a small display of economy for their people, and evidence that the lords intended to share their people's burdens.

Ammon shivered in the cool morning breeze as they cantered along the shattered pacrete street, but not from any weather's chill. "The people don't seem pleased to see us," he stated in an undertone.

Zakaryah looked up from his grim reverie. "The few civilians who stayed in Babelon don't want a lord again, Ammon. They could be difficult. Perhaps we should have brought a few companions after all."

They rode on in silence, trying to ignore the dark looks cast on them from the few onlookers. Only a handful of those men and women raised hands in greeting or dropped bows of obeisance to their nominal lord. Sagan's rule hadn't been felt here for over thirty yahrens, and was not entirely welcome back. Most of the people eked out their living from the ruins, the river flowing through them, or the surrounding agricultural lands. They had come to be independent and belligerent when faced with any stranger - and to them, Zakaryah and Ammon were strangers.

* * * * *

Minos watched them pass. "See their fine beasts and clothes?" he muttered to his companions as the men watched from the security of an alley. "Highpoint treats them well, while we are left to survive or die as we can. They ran when the bombs came. What right do they have to claim governance here? Where were they when we were destroyed? Why didn't they do something to protect us?"

The others scowled their agreement.

"If we'd stayed on Kobol, there would've never been a war," one of the others grumbled. "We'd still be the ruling tribe, and we'd be powerful."

"They say Kobol was ruined, worn out, that humans couldn't live there any more," a third hazarded. "What good would staying there have done?"

"The lords would still rule, if we survived," Minos agreed. "We came here for a reason, a new chance for our people. And look what happened. The high-and-mighty lords brought us to ruin instead of salvation." His tone was as vicious as the fist he pounded into the broken stone of the alley's pavement. "We don't need them. We don't need any of them or their fancy ways and laws. And we don't need those traitorous other Colonies either."

There was an ominous undertone in the murmurs of agreement from his fellows.

* * * * *

The palace of the Sagans had been destroyed by a direct hit in the first attack of the Devastation. The lord and his family were living in a villa beyond the old city's boundaries, with the owner's gracious permission. Around the modest group of dwellings had grown a small clustered town since then, survivors of Babelon's destruction. The elderly owner had been of minor aristocratic stock; he now held his small territory as a feudal lord, and Zakaryah knew it was a critical advantage to have the man as a supporter and ally now. So they remained as guests, he, three of his children, and his grandchildren. His wife and their youngest son were at Highpoint under Mirian's sponsorship. It was safer, and they were still in mourning. One of the numerous plagues that now were difficult to combat had taken kinsmen of his other daughter-in-law and his wife that winter. It had been an unnecessary reminder of the aging, weary lord's mortality.

But now it was spring, and being back in the pleasant country of the river plain surrounding Babelon made his feel more alive, though seeing the ruins told him he would never be young again.

Ammon's dark-eyed wife was in the atrium when the two men returned from their survey of the city, tending to the Edenflower shrubs that grew clustered around the central fountain of the open-air chamber while waiting for them. Beruth was devoted to her husband and their twin sons. Of Cancerian extraction, her refugee ambassador parents had left her as the lord's ward for her own protection. She and Ammon had grown up together, and it had seemed only natural when they fell in love and married.

"Welcome home!" she called.

Ammon smiled as he dismounted to join his wife; a servant led away the beast. Two small boys ran out of one of the buildings, and the family moved away.

Zakaryah watched them for a moment, then sighed and crossed the paving-stones to the hall set aside for his own use. His wife had been beautiful and loving once, too, but disillusionment and fear had worn her down until she turned away from her husband more often than not. He wasn't bitter - he couldn't blame her - nor did he envy his son his happiness. He merely grieved for that relationship as another casualty of war.

Neftys was bent over the table there, studying documents. She looked up when he entered. "Hello, Father!" she called warmly.

His spirits lifted at her smiling greeting. "And what minor problems are you solving for me today, Neftys?" he asked her gaily. "A new source of fuel from water, or the secret of immortality?"

While her oldest brother had been taught to govern, in preparation for the lordship, this quiet but clever daughter had prepared to become the power behind him. Indeed, her dedication and ability to puzzle through the most confusing situation was invaluable to him as well. She had the intellect and quick-wittedness to deal with problems in ways other people could not, and she was willing to sit quietly in the shadows and work for what was best for their people. Zakaryah trusted her judgment; he knew that Horus, the next lord, also respected his sister's ability. A wise and loyal counselor was something any lord could make good use of.

The young woman laughed, shaking her head. "Merely studying the reports from the family vault, Father. It survived intact, after all these yahrens. I think we ought to have copies of all this made and sent to the Retreats." She gestured across the tabletop, strewn with yellowing papers and aging tapes. "Some of the family history is valuable, I think, and we may be able to learn where we went wrong before the Devastation by examining the diplomatic records."

"Indeed. Well, see to it, then. You may be the only one I can trust to have it done properly," he told her wryly. Few people were concerned with the events prior to the Devastation, which now was ancient and best-forgotten history to many.

She nodded obedience. "Of course. I'll prepare a pouch for the Retreat right away. I won't send it until Horus is back from his inspection tour of the delta factories so we can include that information as well. If you think of anything else you want to send back to Highpoint...."

Such as a letter or tape to your mother, my wife? "I'll let you know before the courier leaves. When is Horus due back?"

"Not for a centar; he checked in a little while ago. There was something he wanted to look into."

Trust Neftys to keep tabs on the family endeavors. In the busy days they spent, she was the cord binding their efforts into a concerted whole. "I want to see him when he returns, before dinner if possible."

He studied the daughter he was so proud of for a moment more. Her beauty might win a strong and influential husband as well. She was very fair-skinned, with jet-black hair and light blue eyes - her mother's daughter in coloring, with his high cheekbones, narrow pointed chin, and slim build. Trying to rebuild Caprica, it might take many such marriages of necessity, over several generations, to win back all the splintered territories, now ruled over by men like their host, who'd developed a taste for authority, and expected rewards for their assistance.

Zakaryah had faith in her ability to choose a useful husband. She knew her responsibility, always had. She was level-headed enough to be pragmatic about her emotions, and not let them interfere with her duty. It was a duty the Sagans had accepted for generations. Their purpose was to serve the people.

* * * * *

His eyes gleamed in the dim moonlight that was the room's only illumination. The gathered malcontents agreed with him completely. Minos knew he could accomplish little on his own, but with the help of others that the lords had wronged, there would be just retribution. Let the high and mighty incompetents learn what it meant to suffer!

"The other Colonies are free of the yoke of the lords!" he continued, to the group's fanatical applause. "We should be no different! And we shall take away the means of their power, so they never regain it! We'll become what we were before, what humans were meant to be!"

In his personal quest for arguably-deserved revenge, he'd been accepted as a leader by these men and women, who were as eager as he to see the Sagans fall. But it was he who'd given them the means, who showed them the way. He was a prophet of bitter vengeance, and it had become almost enough in itself. When the plan was carried out, he would be complete again; then, there would be rest for his parents, his brother, his sisters, his wife, and his children. He himself would have peace in his new role.

Once he had thought that death would be the natural successor to his vengeance; now he knew he had a higher purpose. He would live. The lords would pay. The people would be free.

* * * * *

"I don't like the tone of things, Father," Neftys told him seriously. "Something's happening in the city. I wish you wouldn't go out without some sort of guard...."

Zakaryah looked at her closely. "So you've already arranged a spy network, have you? Well, I'm sure you'll receive adequate warning if some real trouble is brewing."

"There hasn't been time! And I'm afraid it might be serious already! Please, reconsider.... Wait a few days - an anniversary of mourning, whatever excuse you like. It'll give us time to determine the true feelings of the people."

The lord frowned at his daughter, seeing the questioning gaze Beruth cast on him. She would be concerned for her husband and children, and would undoubtedly have something to say if she believed he were acting foolhardily. That was assuredly the reason Neftys brought up the issue in her presence.

He doubted he could fight both women. His daughter would be unswayed by any argument if she believed there was danger, and Beruth was quite adept at bullying him if she thought it needful.

"Who can argue with a woman?" he declared self-mockingly. "Perhaps I must confine myself here today. I'm sure you've prepared plenty for me to do - or perhaps this is simply your ploy to ensure my assistance at your chores?" he teased Neftys. She wouldn't be fooled; but it would put Beruth's mind more at ease if he treated this lightly. "But what of Horus? Hasn't he already left for another of those interminable inspections? Who will warn him of the danger?"

Neftys smiled as they stepped away, leaving the young mother to guard the children as they played in the fountain at the center of the villa. Beruth had to warn them to be careful of the shrubs; the Edenflower required careful cultivation to grow on Caprica, and was only rarely found in the wild; if these plants were broken off or damaged, it would be difficult to replace them.

"I've sent a man after Horus," Neftys quietly told her father when they were out of hearing.

Zakaryah blinked at her. "You're serious! This isn't some minor rebellion of a handful...."

She shook her head. "It sounds like a coordinated effort, planned and directed by a small group. It ... disturbs me greatly. I'm worried, Father. I think we ought to send Beruth and the children back to Highpoint or Sanctuary."

"And you as well."

"No! You need me, you've always said that. One of the other landholders near here is sending a shipment of spring amaranth to Highpoint in a day or two, as soon as it's threshed. They can travel with the harvesters; no one will think anything of it. But if there's trouble...."

"You want to be in the middle of it." He studied her gravely. Suddenly his pleasant mood and optimism of the past few days were overshadowed by the brooding fears he'd first felt upon viewing the ruins of Babelon. "Very commendable, but not exactly the kind of intelligent decision I've come to expect from you."

"Father...."

"Where's Ammon?" he interrupted.

"In the fields around the villa, assisting Lord Tammus with harvest supervision. The spring crops are ready...." She watched her father minutely.

"Fine. I'll join them. Send word if you hear more - and I promise to stay safely out of Babelon today." His steps were decidedly slower as he left the fountained courtyard.

* * * * *

Phoebus had grown up near the city, but his parents had always been partisans of the Sagans. One of his uncles had, in fact, assisted the family in its flight to Sanctuary. When the lord returned, the youth had been quick to volunteer to their service. Familiar with the city's physical layout and emo-tional currents, Siress Neftys had soon found a use for him as she assessed the situation in Babelon.

He had been loyal to her alone from the moment he found her blue eyes resting on him, and heard her say, "You're a man I can trust." He served her eagerly, swayed by her slightest frown as if under an enchantment. He gloried in satisfying any whim, fancying himself the heroic protagonist of some old story, who would one day rescue his lady from great danger and she would realize he was her one true love. In the meantime, mundane errands would keep him near her, let him hear her fluid voice, and see the woman he was truly willing to die for.

Phoebus had been sent to inform the Siress's brother, Lord Horus, successor to Zakaryah as Lord of Caprica, that there might be danger for him at the fishery, and that he should return to the villa.

There were crowds gathered in the streets near the mouth of the river where the fishery was located and the fishing boats docked. The youth noted their grim temper, and hurried his steps, thinking with misgiving that the lord should never have gone into the city that day. He himself had warned the siress that a man named Minos was fomenting unrest, spreading and encouraging anger directed at Zakaryah. He'd learned there was a plot - he lived in the city, and was somewhat trusted and accepted by the inhabitants. Neftys believed his word, but had he learned it soon enough to prevent trouble?

The ominous crowd became a mob, and he had trouble shouldering his way through it. Hearing the violent threats many of them muttered, his concern turned to fear. The fishery was in sight, but if he reached it, what could he do? If Horus hadn't already realized the feverish temper of this crowd, and left the long piers....

Phoebus was packed in. He stood in the midst of several hundred men and women, too silent and orderly for the action to be spontaneous. He was carried along as they moved en masse to the wharf.

Let the lord have seen, he prayed. Let him have taken one of the fishing boats and gone!

He couldn't give any warning. He couldn't obey his lady. He thought frantically of getting out of this mob, moving around and ahead of it, but he couldn't push through their ranks.

Horus was of an old and proud blood. Phoebus caught a glimpse of him standing tall on the wharf, facing the crowd calmly, with none of the arrogance one might expect of a lord in his stance. The yahrens of exile had schooled him to face men on their own level.

An older man stepped out of the crowd. Phoebus knew it was Minos, who was rumored to lead the conspirators. He faced the youthful Sagan for but a moment before turning from the steady gaze. The messenger saw anger on his face that he couldn't endure the eye-to-eye confrontation.

Then Minos lifted his fist, jeering at Horus, and the mob surged forward with a bestial howl.

The lord moved one step back, with startled, honest fear in his brilliant eyes for that micron. Then he held his ground, knowing there was no escape from the mob. He went down beneath their rage.

It didn't take long. Fists, gathered stones and clubs, and suddenly produced bladed weapons wielded by so many quickly though painfully ended a life, leaving noble blood on many hands.

Phoebus finally got free of them, face ashen. He'd seen. He'd heard what Minos said, satisfaction in every fanatically uttered word: "This is first blood! Now we claim the rest! This is not Kobol; there will be no lords on Caprica! Our slavery ends today!"

He was appalled, but there was nothing he could do here. He must warn the siress, and the rest of them. He held his tears and nausea until he was clear of the now-milling crowd. Then he fled for the villa.

* * * * *

Zakaryah stared in heart-struck horror at the young blond man who'd gasped out the story. "Horus is dead?" he asked faintly. The foreboding of the day now had a name: violent death.

Phoebus nodded mutely, still breathless from his race to outrun the coming mob.

"And he says they are coming here now, to kill us as well," Neftys added steadily. "They want no lord in Babelon. Father, we have to leave, right now."

The older man turned away, shaking. They killed my son! I saw my father murdered, and now they have killed my son.... The darkness grew closer, smothering his heart.

"My lord...." the messenger breathed.

"No. No, I will not go."

"Father...." Neftys's voice turned pleading.

"No!" His tone was firmer. "I will stay here. I will face the madman who's stirred this up. Let the murderers face me...." One last resolve, one last act to avenge his son and leave his name for the ages.

"They'll kill you too, lord!" Phoebus protested.

"Let them try!" he declared grimly. "See if they have the courage to treat their lord as they've treated his son. See if they can stand up to me as they did a young man...."

"But...."

"Neftys, go. Get Beruth and the children, and Ammon, and go to Highpoint, now. Tell the household staff and farmhands to vanish until this is settled. Tammus, too." The face he turned back to his daughter and her sworn agent glittered with cold tears.

The young woman gestured at Phoebus, sending him to carry out the lord's commands. She herself remained in the austere records chamber.

"You, too, Neftys." His voice was a whip. "Go! Leave here!"

"If you expected to win, you'd keep us here, you'd let us back you when that mob arrives," she declared. "But you don't believe it'll do any good. Leave with us! They're drinking and rioting all over the city, scared to death and building their courage and out of control with what they've done! You know what a mob like that can do, incited as they are! Father!"

"They killed my son. I'll not risk any more of you."

She stared at him for a long moment, then bowed her head in acceptance of his decree. "I love you, Father," she told him quietly. "I'll miss you. Shall I take any message to Mother?"

He shook his head wordlessly. She'd long since ceased to care for his words and actions.

She slowly walked out of the room.

They killed my son. Why?

He'd felt age hanging heavily on him; this doubled the yahrens, made him ancient with grief. He had no heart to live longer, to have more burdens heaped on his head, more recriminations for the war, more duties to carry out, more fears and losses to endure. He had no expectation of living, nor did he want to; he only wanted to see the man who'd taken his son's life in so brutal a manner, and curse him forever as he himself passed into the Beyond.

He gritted his teeth as rage and sorrow battled. He must prepare himself, choose a weapon. If he had the chance, the murderer would precede him into death....

* * * * *

Ammon rushed into the transport garage. A handful of people turned fearfully at his entrance, then one of the women threw herself into his arms, weeping fitfully. The two children locked themselves around his legs.

"You're safe!" Beruth sobbed. "Thank God!"

His expression rested questioningly on his sister as he held his wife tighter.

"Horus is dead," she answered. "The conspirators have turned the people into a mob seeking our blood. We're running."

"Again. Like we did when the war started," he stated bitterly.

"We aren't welcome here, and we have a right to live!"

"Don't argue!" Beruth interjected tearfully, clutching her husband's sleeve. "We've got to leave! We've got to get the children to safety, and ourselves! The transport is waiting...."

"Where's Father?"

"He's ... not coming," Neftys answered in a low voice.

"What?"

"He thinks he has to face Horus's killers."

"No!"

"I tried to talk him out of it! But he won't come, you know how stubborn he can be...." Ammon managed to disengage himself from the clinging arms of his family. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I have to find him, talk to him...."

"Ammon!" his wife shrieked; he paid her no attention, but ran for the doors. She made as if to follow him.

"No, Beruth!" Neftys caught her arm. "Look at your sons. They need you. If we can't talk sense to our men, we have to protect our children. Get on the transport."

"Ammon...." Her tears started running fresh. The twins, only four yahrens old, wailed in confused anxiety, echoing their mother's pain. "Come, children...."

"We're ready!" Phoebus called anxiously. Her messenger was also a good pilot, one of the few in the city; she'd trained him herself. There was little fuel available in the ruined city, but Neftys felt quite justified in using what they had to escape.

"We'll wait at the loading dock by the south amaranth field!" she instructed him as they loaded. "If he convinces Father to come, or realizes there's nothing he can do here, he'll know he can find us there. And we'll be able to see if the mob comes to fire the field or attack us."

"As you wish, Siress Neftys."

She gave him a small, watery smile, thankful for the evidence of one man's loyalty.

* * * * *

Zakaryah waited before the fountain in the courtyard, grim determination on his regal features, his slight body quivering with suppressed agitation as he waited for his murderers' arrival.

His family was sent safely away. The villa, too, was silent; it had emptied rapidly when a panic-stricken servant reported a noisy rabble was approaching. No doubt the magnificent structures would be looted as a requisite part of the overthrow of power.

But the man, Minos, would pay for that exchange of authority. He would not live to claim the right to rule after his rightful lord's death. Zakaryah carried an old weapon in the hands so casually hidden beneath his robes. He waited eagerly now, to avenge himself and his son.

"Father!"

"Ammon!" His son was disheveled, standing panting in the open archway to the inner hall - he had to have come through the stable. "I thought you were away with Beruth and the others."

"And leave you alone? Everyone else has run away!"

"And you will too!" The old man's voice lashed at him. "Isn't Horus's death enough? And mine? I forbid you to stain these stones with your blood! Go!"

There were shouts outside; the mob had reached the villa's outer walls, and no doubt wondered that the gate stood open for them. Both men looked toward the source of those ominous cries.

"Do you hear?" Zakaryah hissed. "They've arrived! Go! Make your capital where you will, as I said the last time we rode! This is my last command to you. This is one con-frontation from which you can learn nothing."

"Why do you have to make a martyr of yourself?" the young man cried. "How can I run from this? Would you, at my age? No! You avenged your lord's death, but you order me to be a coward and run!"

"I avenged my father's murder, as I must now avenge my son's." His father was calmer, ready and almost eager for what was coming. "I leave you no choice. Go. Survive. There is nothing greater you can do for our memories. You can't serve your people from the grave - if this rabble even grants us tombs to lie in."

"But you can?" Ammon rejoined.

Zakaryah ignored him, moving steadily forward toward the gate, where the first few figures of the crowd now appeared. Those men yelled at their fellows, pointing at him. None seemed willing to enter where the old man waited with so fierce an expression on his face.

Ammon gasped and drew back into the shadows, his face burning with shame as he realized he had no stomach to die. His suddenly-old father smiled grimly.

A sturdy man with weathered skin stepped through the gate. "Lord Zakaryah!" he mocked.

"And you are Minos, the conspirator, the coward who comes with hundreds of blind madmen at your back to kill the ones who have devoted their lives to you and our world." The lord's voice held every nuance of insult and derision possible.

The other man's face contorted in rage at being once again insufficient to his intended victim.

"Yes, I am Minos!" he grated through clenched teeth. "And here is your son's seal!" With that he threw a golden medallion to roll across the smooth stones and clank at Zakaryah's feet. The ancient seal of the Lords was crusted with blood; a piece of broken chain still hung from it, evidence that it had been roughly torn from a dying man's throat.

"I know what you did to my son," he replied softly, almost gently. "We were told, though I need only look with my mind's eye to see his murder on your head, his innocent blood on your hands. And here is what I do to you in his name."

The weapon, fashioned to resemble and function as an old-style projectile gun, was brought into view, pointed at the leader of the crowd. The heavy old piece had suited Zakaryah's mood when he chose it. He took grim satisfaction in his enemy's slack jaw and suddenly pale cheeks.

Then he fired. It shot true. Half of Minos' chest disappeared in a gory mess. The man staggered back a step, surprised disbelief on a face now stained with his own blood. The rabble drew away in shock, staring.

Minos fell, twitched for a moment, then was still.

The surging crowd faced the rock-still man for long centons. Then a woman threw the first chunk of concrete.

* * * * *

Ammon plunged through the tall, dried stalks of the thick amaranth crop. Clutched in his hand were the seals of his father and brother, grabbed in the general melee as the mob ran riot through the villa.

He hadn't been recognized as he escaped from their midst; they'd been too concerned with their search for more victims and spoils to carry off, and his face was not well-known. Once he'd taken the large medallions, his brother's easily snatched up from the paving-stones, having to fight a man for his father's, he'd run back through the stable and into the fields.

He suspected Neftys would wait for him as long as possible, and Beruth, given a choice, would wait even longer. There was a landing strip and garage at the harvest dock. Maybe he could reach it before the human animals behind him torched the fields.

He tripped and stumbled headlong, tangling himself in the golden grain stalks. The tears could not be stopped; he could barely see. He couldn't find the energy or reason to continue.

Beruth. Two small boys, his children.

He pulled free of the clinging vegetation and staggered back to his feet. Behind him, he heard yells.

* * * * *

"It's on fire!"

Neftys glanced in the direction Phoebus pointed. It was the villa; orange fire lapped about its roofs, and dark smoke drifted skyward.

"Let it burn," she said softly. "It may be the only funeral pyre the lord receives, the only memorial to his name. Those monsters won't give him a pyramid...."

There was a rustle in the grain. The woman whirled, her weapon pointed. The pilot leaned on his controls, readying to lift the transport into the air. Behind them, the other woman screamed, clutching her children close.

Ammon staggered into view, scratched and dirty from running through the amaranth, bits of brownish leaves clinging in his dark hair, spots of moisture staining his clothes with the sweet smell of harvest-ready grain.

"They've started fires!" Neftys yelled at him. "Get aboard!"

She caught his arm and hauled him in. One look at his haggard, red-rimmed eyes told her all she needed to know. She turned back to the pilot.

Beruth pulled her husband's head into her lap, crying over the bruises on his face and fists, marks of the fight and his escape. He spared her a grateful glance before dropping his face, hiding his emotions. The boys huddled closer to their father's side, eyes wide and uncomprehending as their mother tended his injuries.

So Father is dead too. Did I expect any different? She felt exhaustion creeping in. But we're alive. And we'll escape.

"Let's go," she ordered Phoebus. The handsome blond man nodded and concentrated on his controls.

As they rose into the air, she saw something else. "The city's on fire, too!" she called harshly.

Ammon and Beruth's gaze followed her pointing finger. It was true. There were fires in Babelon. The riot had gotten out of hand, with its leader dead as well, and was now a mad spree of violence and looting.

"Good!" Ammon muttered thickly. "Let it burn!"

He opened his swollen fingers, and two gold seals rolled free into the bottom of the transport.

Neftys bent to pick them up. Both were bloodied; one was dented. How did he save these? she wondered. Father! Brother!

She gave in to her grief and began to cry, leaning against the young pilot. They were safely on course; he put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Beneath them, the city burned from the river to the hills, as it hadn't burned since the first attacks of the war, a second cleansing by fire of something vile.

* * * * *

Without a leader, the fledgling revolution flickered and quickly died in its own violence. Zakaryah and his son rested in dishonor, unburied, but with a city itself as their death offering. Babelon was in ruins anew, and this time her population fled as her lord's children had fled, carrying the tale to the entire world. A new city was eventually built nearby that would one day become the capital of their world, and it was called Caprica City.

The exiles fled to Highpoint, which quietly hid them. The elders of the Retreats kept their records and their counsel, though they knew the line well, and could later boast that they kept the kinship records of the Sagans to the very Destruction, even after the family no longer knew its own heritage. Members of that clan would serve Caprica and the Colonies for over five millennia under the name and rank of Ammon's wife, a less-noble and less endangered family. The patriarchs and rightful lords claimed only the modest title of Squires of Valerium.

* * * * *

Epilogue:

Athena let the book drop, and mused over the history she'd just read.

It was tragic that the rule of the old royal family had ended in such circumstances, in war and assassination and exile, but there was no way they could have held the Colonies together any longer. And considering the type of government she'd grown up under, with its elected representatives and the Intercolonial Quorum, she found it hard to imagine living under an absolute monarchy - especially one that claimed divine sanction, as the Sagans were supposed to have done. It was hard enough, at times, living under the civilian rule of the Council of Twelve, on those occasions when they chose to exert real authority.

The Colonies respected those old rulers, and even swore by them, but Athena doubted there were many people who would actually want to go back and live under their absolute political and religious dominance.

The story of their final downfall was darker than the one she was teaching Boxey in that history class, and the one she remembered from her own girlhood, but murder and treachery to such degrees were nothing to give impressionable children, even children who'd survived what the children in the Fleet had lived through.

It was possible there was some truth to the story that the surviving Sagans had taken the name of Valerium when it was no longer safe to admit to being children of the Lords.

Athena remembered her brother telling how Commander Adama had used the title "Lord of Valerium" when passing himself off as a simple agricultural squire on the planet Sectar. Their father certainly knew their history if anyone in the Fleet did, but she wondered if it meant anything more....


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