"Kyle stowed away!"
The Resistance leaders and their Visitor friends stared after the departing shuttle, realizing that Kyle Bates would not, after all, permit the half-human woman he loved to leave him. After all they'd seen and experienced of the Leader in the past few weeks, after the vision of his brightly shining form, and the literal possession of the Starchild, the young man still meant to win Elizabeth back, vand convince her to remain on Earth.
"I do not believe the Leader will harm him," Philip ventured. "Elizabeth would not permit it."
"If she still remembers her humanity, after that ... what did you call it, psychic commune? She went to that shuttle with the look of a woman going to her lover!" Donovan commented.
"As I am sure she is," the Visitor officer agreed. "But if I am not mistaken, she has loved Kyle as well, and the Leader will sense that, and accept it."
"I don't know too many men who would trust an old flame around!" Julie murmured, with an oblique glance at Mike Donovan.
"The Leader is not a man; he is more than simply a male of our species. More than that, I cannot explain. It is a part of our racial memory, our existence as a species, our very being. I doubt you could understand it totally," Philip stated with quiet conviction.
"Try us!" Donovan demanded.
"Mike!" Julie interrupted. "The middle of a Visitor Mother Ship is no place to be questioning motives and actions." Her smile eased the words. "You've trusted Philip before; trust him now. This is supposed to be a seal of peace between us. He says the Leader will understand. Maybe Kyle will come to see and accept Elizabeth's decision, and come back to us."
"What if he doesn't?"
There was no answer to the troubling question as the humans turned to Philip and his aide, Security Commander Lydia. It was the female alien who spoke.
"The Leader came for Elizabeth. He knew her soul before he arrived; she is truly one of us as well as one of you. The Leader thus knows that Kyle loves her, and must be willing to accept that as part of her indeed, it may enrich their own union. But it is her past. Kyle is no threat to what the Starchild and the Leader will share. It is simply another proof that we have many things in common, that both our species are capable of love and compassion." Her lips curved coldly, and something fiercely elated touched her eyes. "If you will excuse me, I must see to the prisoners."
The female in the form of a slender blonde moved away. Diana and James had been thorns under her belly for a long time, but it had taken this long to prove their treason against the planet and the Leader to whom she devoted her being.
"If you wish to return to the surface," Philip began, "there is a shuttle ready, with one of our former Fifth Columnists to pilot you."
"Yes, thank you, Philip. We have a lot of rebuilding to do...." Julie said. "Let's go, Mike."
As they walked, the man commented in an undertone, "I trust Philip as I trusted Martin, but the Leader certainly didn't seem very compassionate when they first landed and invaded, destroying or brainwashing half our population and using the other half of us for food!"
"I'm worried about Kyle, too. But there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about it now. Wait and see what happens...."
Diana's glare was like that of a captured cobra, while Lydia's smile suggested a python gloating over its helpless prey before swallowing it whole.
"Well, Diana, darling," the jailer announced, "it seems you have finally lost!"
"It's not over yet, Lydia, dear. You shall see, you and Philip both."
Her captor's eyes flicked casually over the gray prison tunic and confinement belt the other woman wore. "I already see, Diana, darling. Let me know if you'd like a scorpion. I'd be happy to oblige you, for old time's sake." With a smirk, she turned and walked out.
Diana hissed. For a moment, her reptilian tongue flicked from her human-shaped mouth. The false eyes couldn't hide the angry, hate-filled gleam of the slitted irises below. "When the Leader dies, soon, soon," she whispered, "I'll tear out your living heart and feast on it, Lydia. And that traitor Philip's, too. I will drain this planet, and leave it an empty, sloughed skin!"
A moment later, another Visitor in human-skin entered.
"Well, what do you want?" Diana demanded of the unfamiliar figure.
"Commander," the man said deferentially, "I am Lieutenant Douglas. I've served on this ship for almost a year, though I'm sure you don't remember me. My work has never been of the type to come to your notice...."
"So?" she hissed. "Why are you here?"
He looked around before coming conspiratorially closer. "There are those of us who do not wish peace with the humans. Some of us feel we have spent too much to give up this world now. We have lost friends and siblings to these humans. We wish to see them properly humbled, and you, Commander, in your proper place as conqueror of this world."
She stepped nearer to the cell entrance, a smile growing on her face. "And you came here to tell me that?" she asked softly. "I'm grateful for your loyalty, but...."
Before she could tell him to do something concrete, the young officer spoke again, urgently, "Commander, we have a shuttle ready. If you wish to escape, we have a place prepared on this planet, a den. The Fifth Columnists are not the only ones to keep secrets. When we saw what might happen, heard that the Leader approached.... We can leave now, while things are still uncertain, before the Mother Ships fall back from this world in its gesture of good faith...."
"Now I remember you. You're in communications."
"Lead me, Douglas. And believe me, your loyalty will receive the reward it deserves," she assured him fervently. Her smile was a promise as well. The young Visitor was tall and strong, handsome even in his human disguise. She'd noticed him before, but the blond James had come to her attention before she could act on her inclinations. James, however, was becoming tiresome, his ambitions too great. Perhaps her paramour needed some gentle encouragement to try harder to please her....
"So, with Kyle gone, you get to set up Science Frontiers again." Donovan shook his head. "Quite a job."
"Well," Julie smiled, "I won't exactly be doing it alone. Steve Maitland is coming down to help, and there are others, like Murray and Callie...."
Donovan couldn't help stiffening. He'd forgotten the old flame, the scientist they'd helped rescue from the Mother Ship, after sabotaging another of Diana's vile experiments on humans.
The woman looked apologetic. "We need him, Mike. This is where a lot of the technological exchanges will be going on. He knows their equipment, and the theories their science works on. He's probably the most experienced man we've got left after the Visitor purges."
"And you still love him, and promised you'd be together again when the war was over."
She looked down. "I think so, Mike. I hope you and I can still be friends."
He seemed sorry, but nodded. "I hope so, too, Julie. Gotta get back to Tyler and Chris pretty soon. We got a lot of cleaning up to do in L.A., and some friendly Visitors to get settled in. That alien embassy is finally going to be what it was intended to be!"
She laughed. "That's good to hear, Mike. Give 'em all my best wishes, will you?"
Willie suddenly scurried in the door. "Julie! It is Philip on the communication scream! He says it is very impertinent!"
The humans tried valiantly to conceal their laughter. After so long, the friendly Visitor still had difficulty with their language.
"That's screen, Willie. And I'm sure it's important." Julie leaned over her desk and raised the telescreen another gift of Visitor technology. "I'm here, Philip. What is it?"
"Julie! Is Michael Donovan still there?" He sounded worried.
"I'm here, Philip. What's going on?" He moved into view behind the petite blonde.
"It's Diana! She's escaped!"
"What? How? I thought she was under guard!"
"She was; Lydia saw to that. We found her two guards and her gone. Her lieutenant as well, and a handful of other prisoners." His voice turned grimmer. "There are other personnel missing from this ship and the other six. We're afraid they may be on your planet, hiding somewhere, preparing for an attack of some kind."
"Why?" Julie interrupted. "Your Leader said there was peace!"
Philip took a deep breath. "Not all of us want peace, you know that. Those missing may be part of that group, who would still rather humble and destroy your people than welcome you as friends and allies."
"What do you want us to do?"
"We're going to try and locate our missing people. Don't alarm your population they're already skittish enough of us but get some people out looking for them. That ... Ham Tyler, is it? ... would probably be a good man for the job."
"He'd be a very good man for the job. I'll get right on it. See you later, Julie, Philip. Keep me informed of anything...." Again the guerrilla fighter with his back to the wall, Donovan hurried out the door.
Philip signed off a moment later, leaving Julie staring at the empty screen for several moments. Diana's loose, on the surface. She planted her left hand on the desk in front of her, and studied it for a long time. She shuddered as she tested its ability to pick up a pen and write her name; the influence of Diana's mind control machine wasn't completely gone, even after so long. She threw the pen away violently and clenched a fist. "I won't let you get to me, Diana. I won't!"
It had been a long eight sectars for the Colonial fleet of refugees. Finally, they reached their objective System Sol, and its third planet, the world the human inhabitants called Terra, Earth. Leaving the civilian ships orbiting within the presumed safety of an asteroid belt in one of the nearer systems, the battlestar Galactica moved to an orbit around the farthest planet of the system to plot its next move.
In the briefing chamber, Commander Adama convened a meeting of his flight leaders and senior officers.
"This system hardly has the look of a war zone," one of the warriors commented, studying the scan reports. They hadn't yet risked patrols through the quadrant, other than necessary trips in the vicinity of their ship.
"Could they have already lost, and be occupied?" Captain Apollo asked solemnly.
"They'd be enemy ships around then, military guards and supply vessels," Tigh stated, frowning. "And from the message we received, Earth wasn't up to the technology of the invaders. What could account for this ... lack of activity?"
"They lost, and nothing's left," muttered Boomer.
"Perhaps a lull in the fighting? They may have a truce, or made peace...." the captain suggested.
"The transmissions we're currently receiving, along with more recent long-range scans, seem to indicate a truce," Adama stated. "But we don't know the situation on Earth after their conflict. I had hoped we would be able to determine the planet's condition without giving away our existence and our own tenuous position. But it seems we must make contact on our own initiative, and perhaps ally weakness to weakness, in hope of finding new strength."
He directed his attention to Apollo. "Captain, prepare a patrol roster. Use your best pilots. You know the orders concerning first contact with a new and potentially dangerous species. Follow them. I have no qualms about trusting your discretion, but considering the circumstances, our own security must be maintained. Report to me for a final briefing when you've selected your personnel."
"So that's Earth. Looks nice from out here."
"Yeah. Wonder how it is down there," Apollo responded to Starbuck's comment.
The patrols had gathered beyond the third planet's single moon, preparatory to making their sweeps. A dozen Colonial Vipers, containing the finest warriors from Red and Blue squadrons of the Galactica, had flown into the system, maintaining radio silence. They now shared final comments and awaited last-micron instructions before their possibly hazardous survey of Sol Three Terra.
They had no idea what might be awaiting them on the lovely blue-and-white planet. The enemy might have obliterated the human inhabitants, and either abandoned the world or occupied it themselves; or the natives might be reduced to a primitive struggle for survival, with no interest in their star-faring brothers, and no ability to help them. The people and the world itself might be poisonous, or antagonistic to them, after six millennia of genetic drift, divergent cultures, and warfare.
They accepted the risk. After so long, they had to hope. It was all they had left.
"Lots of garbage up here," Boomer commented.
"Yeah. Doesn't look like combat debris, though." Apollo did his best to be optimistic, although the trash orbiting the world and its moon disturbed him as much as it did his friends. Communications satellites, spent fuel pods and thrusters, some industrial cast-offs.... Hardly the stuff of a determined space colonization effort more like the results of a curiosity since turned elsewhere. Maybe the Earthmen don't care what happens in space? Or maybe the alien attack prematurely aborted their attempts to leave the surface of their planet?
There was only one way to find out.
"Okay, everybody. You remember the briefing. Quick fly-overs. Landing only in isolated areas if it seems safe. Watch your scanners for other craft or anti-aircraft artillery. And whatever happens, we conduct ourselves as warriors. We can't lead potential enemies back to the Galactica. If we're captured, we do our best to keep silent under interrogation, in whatever form it assumes or find a way out, if we can. Let's go."
"Philip!" the blonde female called across the bridge of the mother ship.
"What is it, Lydia? Word on Diana from the operatives we left on Earth?"
"No, sir. Word from our more distant skyfighter patrols. Debris from another wrecked freighter was picked up on scanners."
Her superior frowned. "That makes five in the past two weeks, Earth time."
"Yes, sir. But this time, we know how it happened. Our patrol checked it out, and were attacked themselves. There are a large number of warships, big ones, between us and Homeworld. We've been cut off from supply lines and avenues of retreat."
He instantly moved nearer, wondering how a face mask could manage to convey the urgent sense of panic on his cool and not-entirely-trusted officer. Their alliance against Diana was a fragile thing, and Lydia's devotion to him might end at any time.
"Philip, they're Cylon!"
He instinctively curled his shoulders into a protective position and hissed angrily. "Cylons! Here? How? So near Earth? Are they certain?"
"Yes! There's no possibility of mistaken identification. A group of them were taken from a fighter before our people had to retreat. The Cylons have found us here!"
The ancient enemy! Their own creation, that had once turned on its masters and nearly destroyed them, warrior race though they were.... Did they now besiege Homeworld and the other colonies of their species?
Philip turned away. We thought we'd escaped them, all those millennia ago, when our subspecies claimed Homeworld and made it our own. The Cylons were so far away, fighting another war. We thought we were free to grow strong, to return when we were ready to try again to destroy what we had unleashed. But now, they come for us instead!
"We must warn Earth. Bring me a report of everything our sentries learned."
"Sir!" She added another ominous note. "That route it's the one the Leader took."
"Raman! And we have no way of knowing whether he got through before they came!" He invoked the most revered warrior hero of their history as the searing possibility of civil war burned behind his eyes like the midday sun of Homeworld. The Leader had only just taken a consort there were no offspring, no named heirs to take his place. Charles had been of the house of Raman, the most likely one to succeed in this case, but he was dead as well, leaving only a widow ... Diana. No offspring known, but there was still time, if she and Charles....
He hadn't realized he'd been thinking aloud until Lydia interrupted him, appalled. "Diana can't possibly become the Leader! She'd never survive Investiture! You're of one of the Houses, not as royal as Raman, but...."
Lydia touched his arm desperately, a human gesture. If Diana became the Leader, she herself would face a messy execution for her past opposition and her entire family would likely be exiled or assassinated as well.
"My family is irrelevant, Lydia. As is Diana. We are both cut off from any decision as to the succession. We must act to safeguard ourselves and the innocent humans on Earth...."
"Why concern ourselves with them?" she demanded, astonished. "With the Leader dead and the Cylons once more against us, our first responsibility is to reach Homeworld!"
"The Leader wishes a truce between us."
"But he may well be dead! And Homeworld...."
"These humans are fierce fighters. I am sure I need not remind you of that, after the time you have spent here. Imagine them as allies against the Cylons. With our technology, and their sprit, they might well make the difference in our war. Especially if our people face a civil war as well as interstellar conflict...." The beginnings of a plan filtered into his mind, and he knew it was a necessary step.
"What are you considering, Philip," his security commander asked, seeing the look in his eyes.
"Lydia, prepare a skyfighter. We must go back to the planet, speak to Julie Parrish and the other scientists and world leaders."
"Yes, sir. Shall we bring our mother ships back into orbit around Earth?"
He considered. "Not yet. If the Cylons are not yet aware of Earth's existence, they could become our ... trump card, I believe the humans would say." His aide nodded and went to carry out his orders.
Philip considered his position. Seven mother ships. Perhaps not all of them loyal to him and his plan, if the Leader were dead and Homeworld in chaos. A good-sized fighting force, against a primitive planet like the one they'd withdrawn from, but was it sufficient to take on a Cylon fleet if they attacked in strength? Sufficient to hold a planet long enough for its less technically advanced, mammalian inhabitants to rally to their own defense? It was possible he couldn't defend Earth even if the other commanders supported him wholeheartedly.
Cylons. An ancient nightmare. The enemy they'd fought for so long, all those millennia ago. A soulless metal race they skirmished with even now, although never on this side of Homeworld, only on distant colonies in other quadrants. The foe they'd planned to assault in force only when they had the strength of their distant ancestors, who'd designed the monsters, thinking they could use them to conquer a galaxy, and more....
"We were fools, then," he whispered. "But what brought them here, to this place, in this time? They have come to destroy us again...."
"Ready for a test flight, Dom?" The rugged blond man looked less than debonair, with his face and coveralls spotted liberally with machine oil and grease.
"Ah, the Lady's ready for anything we throw at her! The blueprints Archangel sent us from Science Frontiers were a real treasure, String, ya know that? Those little bits of Visitor technology on our Airwolf's gonna make a real difference if it comes to a fight."
"Probably will, if that information about renegade Visitors is right." Hawke was a veteran of numerous battles and skirmishes, both in the air and on the ground, in both the war against the aliens and an earlier war against his fellow humans on another continent. He seemed blasι about battle, but had long ago learned to shield his emotions from everyone, even his best friend of many years.
Dominic Santini knew that, and he grinned, undismayed by Hawke's taciturn growl. "Forget it, String. Let's take her up for a spin, okay?"
Hawke finally smiled faintly, and shrugged. "Sure, why not? What else did we come out here for? Something besides routine maintenance could be fun."
"Okay! I'll call Caitlin, tell her we'll be a bit later than planned...."
Apollo and Starbuck swept over the dry southwestern portion of the smaller northern continent. There were large population centers along the coastal areas, and they wanted to stay some distance away from both those and the military installations they detected farther north and east.
The captain studied his scanners carefully, while the lieutenant was more fascinated by their surroundings and what was in front of him. Suddenly, he saw something. "What...? Starbuck, check your scanners."
"I don't see anything," Starbuck replied after a quick but thorough check.
"Yeah. Neither did I, on the scanners. But something's coming up on us awfully fast.... What in hades is that?"
The something flashed by their Vipers in a black-and-white blur. Their monitors picked up an odd whine, but otherwise, the object didn't show on their scanners.
Starbuck was clearly intrigued; since the thing hadn't fired on them, it seemed safe to speculate. "Looked like one of their marine animals, Apollo, but I didn't think their ... killer whales? ... could fly!"
"No," the other pilot replied slowly, frowning. "They've got what they call flying fish, but they really just glide over the water, and nothing marine should be out here in this desert!"
The unknown flashed by them again, seemingly as puzzled as they were, then banked away once more.
In the ship reminiscent of a flying killer whale, two humans spoke to each other when their attempt at communication with the two strange craft failed.
"Doesn't look Visitor what've you got back there?"
Dom was puzzled. "I dunno.... It doesn't respond to our recognition signal. They obviously didn't pick us up on radar they didn't react until we were within visual range."
"It's not ours," Hawke stated flatly.
"No," Dom agreed grimly. "Archangel would've warned us if we had anything like that. And anything that isn't a friendly...."
"...Doesn't belong in our skies. Combat mode, Dom."
The other man chuckled, despite the situation, as he started hitting switches and buttons. "You got it, String. Quite a test flight, eh?"
Hawke didn't dignify that with an answer. "Turbos."
Apollo was astonished a moment later to find himself fired upon by a very lethal-looking burst of laser fire one of many gifts of alien machinery to the humans.
"Starbuck! Get out of here!" he yelped. "They're armed and dangerous!"
"I'm hit...." The Viper suddenly spun away from him.
Before Starbuck could follow, the alien craft was on his tail, and he had to take evasive action the only way he knew how up. The aircraft followed for a time, then faltered at a certain altitude and banked away. The lieutenant saw his chance, and grimly dove back toward the surface, searching for his friend. He didn't even think to send a warning to his squadronmates, scattered around the planet in similar survey grids.
As he skimmed the surface, looking for evidence of a Viper and calling on all channels, he suddenly saw a burst of flame flare up from the floor of a canyon below. In shock, he realized what it must be.
Their shuttle had strayed from its path long before, never entering the dark zone that was the first part of the star-route to Homeworld. The enemy presence had been noted by the Visitor pilots, who took appropriate actions to avoid the Cylons, but the Leader and his dreamy-eyed consort paid no attention as the days passed. They were totally absorbed in each other. The single human, the stowaway Kyle Bates, paced between the Leader's partitioned-off section and the pilots' cubicle. None of them had much time for him.
Weary after two weeks in the cramped quarters, he threw himself one day into a seat opposite the smiling, rapt Elizabeth Maxwell, the fair Starchild who'd given herself to the Leader to make peace, and who now seemed more distant and alien to him with every passing hour.
"Damn it, Elizabeth, at least talk to me!" he cried unhappily. "You haven't had two words for me the whole trip!"
The eyes that focused on him weren't hers; they were the Leader's again. "Kyle," the Starchild said sympathetically in a very masculine voice, "I understand your emotions, but please permit us ours at this time. We have much yet to learn of each other...."
The voice faded, and the man slammed his first against the wall in frustration. "I want to talk to Elizabeth!" he raged.
Unknown to the occupants, the shuttle had drifted near the danger zone, that mysterious dark region between Earth and Homeworld, the interstellar anomaly which would trigger the explosives the treacherous Diana had set. A timer began to tick.
The woman suddenly stiffened. "A danger!" she called, although the voice was still that of the Leader. "My people, Kyle.... Elizabeth, we must...."
An explosion ripped through space, and a sudden fireball lit the darkness.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy