Baltar studied the incoming reports. Raiders from his task force had successfully attacked and destroyed another of the alien freighters. That raised the tally to five, with almost negligible losses. The group of three base stars and their fighters he'd been assigned was doing well in surprise attacks against almost completely unarmed ships.
"Ships of the Forebears," he muttered. "So the old Cylons, or some offshoot of them, still exist in the universe. I don't care about them; let the Cylons choose their own enemies. I don't even really care about that planet, Earth, or the fools on it who gave away their location, unless I can find a way to capture and rule the world. What concerns me is Adama, and his fleet. But I fear, old friend, that you've flown into something you can't handle, another war between humans and Cylons. If not for you, I'd let them fight, and scavenge the leavings. Two old enemies...."
Smiling with anticipation, he studied the star field visible from his quarters. He had sufficient force to take a planet. And he was far enough from the Cylon capital to establish a power base of his own. All he needed to do was encourage the enmity between the metallic Cylons and the flesh-and-green-blood descendants of their long-extinct creators – if it needed any encouragement. Surely they would welcome him as a savior, ending the Visitor menace to their planet – even if the cost was submission to the Cylon Alliance, or as much of the Alliance as he represented. Trapped between interstellar powers as they were, with little help to be gained from the refugee Colonials, they would have little choice....
Stringfellow Hawke and Dominic Santini studied the abandoned star fighter. It was long and lean, with three jutting stabilizer fins. The red-and-white craft was a work of art in its simplicity of design, and a sleek, devastating weapon of obvious technological advancement.
"This isn't Visitor," Santini commented in some awe.
"No. I wonder where the pilot went." The young man glanced around the dry, open expanse of land. It wasn't quite desert, but the small shrubs and fissures in the ground offered few places to hide. Whoever the occupant of the ship had been, he'd made himself scarce in a hurry after Airwolf's crew warned him down with laser fire.
"So wha'da we do, String? Call Science Frontiers, let 'em know we got some alien ship out here, and t'come fetch it?"
Hawke nodded. Instinct told him the pilot was watching them; he could almost feel the watchful, angry eyes.
"We better check out that other crash, too, I guess. She went down in the canyon north a' here. Better tell Archangel first, though. Mirella's quite a fly-lady. She might be able t'make sense outta this instrumentation – and she owes us the favor, anyway."
"I'll stay here, Dom, and watch things. Go out, take a look around...."
Starbuck watched as the strange craft shaped like a marine mammal lifted into the air and gained altitude. One of the two men, the younger and more physically capable-looking one, remained with his Viper, obviously ready for trouble. Starbuck doubted he could take the man on in a fair fight, and the sandy-haired man didn't look the type to be snuck up on, especially in this kind of open terrain. Even if his uniform did match the color of the sand, the warrior concluded. His only other option, then, was to look for Apollo's crash site, learn if there was any chance his friend survived, and do it before these curious fellows beat him to it.
He slunk away through the alien vegetation and rocks. He had his laser and a small pack, all he'd been able to grab and run with when the Earth craft hovered down to a landing. But he had his survival skills from Academy training and a lifetime of experience, and one hades of a lot of luck. Maybe it would be enough.
And maybe some of it had rubbed off on Apollo, for the yahrens they'd been friends and fought together. Stranded without transportation on an alien and potentially hostile world, maybe badly injured, if he'd somehow survived that crash – that'd be luck, right there! – he would need it.
Starbuck quickened his pace.
As security commander, Lydia felt compelled to check the progress of the search for Diana while Philip spoke with Julie Parrish and the other local leaders. The coming Cylons disturbed her, but her personal vendetta wasn't forgotten.
"Well, Commander Lydia," the dark-eyed, threatening human drawled. "So nice of you to visit us again. Been a while since you were our guest."
During the days of the Occupation, Diana had tried to brainwash this man into murdering Mike Donovan. To lure the Resistance leader into the open, a prisoner exchange had been arranged – then-captive Lydia, in exchange for Kyle Bates, a suspected member of the Resistance, and the son of Nathan Bates, the industrialist who'd controlled production of the Red Dust. The public attack was meant to discredit Julie Parrish's forces as well as demoralize the humans. Charles himself had overseen the operation. The plan had failed; Ham Tyler hadn't killed Donovan. Lydia suspected it was the Starchild's intervention that had foiled it. She herself took advantage of the following chaos and explosions to escape with Diana and Charles. Her rival had not been pleased; it was one more incident to fuel their mutual enmity. The Leader's emissary, however, had been content, and simply turned to another plan – marriage to Diana, which had resulted in his own death.
Lydia was actually mildly surprised that the grim Resistance fighter didn't open fire the second she stepped into the room. He certainly had reason to hate her; his past, and what they'd learned of him while he was in their custody, suggested that such violence and individual "initiative" would be in keeping with his character. He was a very dangerous man.
Of course, he would hate Diana more than me. She's his primary target, for the time being. She's the one who brainwashed him with images of his dead wife and child. She's the one responsible for so much devastation and death on their primitive planet. The humans have so much to learn about what wide-scale destruction really is....
She glanced at his companions as soon as she was certain the man wouldn't shoot her if she turned her back. "I recognize your friend, Chris Farber, from when I was your ... guest, and from the wanted posters. I don't recognize the others, but I assume, from their posture and appearance, that those four are the infamous Smith and his men?"
Colonel John Smith – called Hannibal, for reasons she'd never fathomed, having little knowledge or concern for Earth history or their peculiar choices of nicknames – and his company were dangerous men, long wanted by the Visitor security forces. They'd been part of the L.A. underground long before they became part of the Resistance. They were skilled at weapons, tactics, explosives, and escapes. They had been very expensive mercenaries for hire before the invasion, at which time their services were available to the Resistance for free. The audacity of their raids and rescues infuriated the Visitors; nearly every commander of every mother ship had suffered some losses from their seemingly reckless activities.
Diana had wanted them almost as much as she'd wanted Donovan and Parrish, but they'd been even more shadowy and elusive than those two, almost mythological, and always slipped away, even in the most impossible situations. Several times, Lydia had wondered if they were actually responsible for everything attributed to them, or if "the A-Team" was simply a cover name for some broad, globe-spanning organization of Resistance members.
"Those four" exchanged glances at her scrutiny. Then one of them, a slender man wearing an old flight jacket and a black Disney cap with large ears, stepped next to her, looked her up and down, and stated with theatrical conviction, "Many parts of the snake are edible!"
Still watching her, he backed away, producing a small white mouse from his pocket. He stared accusingly as he stroked the small creature. "Don't worry, Mickey. The Rodent Resistance is alive and well...."
The man rejoined his companions. The big, husky black man, decked in long chains of gold jewelry, looked ready to tear the thin man apart with his bare hands. The fourth man silently stepped away from between them, eyes rolling heavenward, but Smith prevented any further disturbance.
Lydia's eyes narrowed as she wondered how much of their apparent animosity was an act, and how much the truth. So these were Tyler's "contacts of his own," the ones he called on when he needed extra firepower.
Tyler was genuinely amused at the Visitor's expression. Smith's people often confused and confounded any of the enemy unlucky enough to encounter them.
Lydia's smile at the genial, silver-haired leader was small and tight. "Well, Smith, if you capture Diana, bring us her head and her heart. The rest is yours, if your friend is so eager to sample us."
"Cold-blooded, aren't you?" Hannibal replied with an easy grin.
"Of course," she responded evenly. "We're a reptilian species."
His smiled broadened, and he pulled out and lit a long, foul-smelling cigar. "I think the lady and I understand each other," he commented to his skeptical comrades. "Ever watch human movies, Security Commander Lydia? You and the Aquamaniac ought to get together...."
"He's on the jazz," the blond man muttered.
"You here for some reason, besides a personal interest in seeing Diana captured?" Tyler interrupted.
"Isn't that also your personal interest?" she countered. "But to answer your question, I'm accompanying Philip, as his security aide. Since it seems you have no further information on Diana and the Renegades, I'll not detain you any longer." Nor will I be an object of your amusement.
"Actually, we think we've got a general fix on one of their camps," Smith commented calmly.
"Tell me!" she demanded with sudden excitement. If she could be present for the kill....
"Not until after our expedition," the husky Farber interrupted. His hand stroked his weapon, a purely reflexive gesture in the presence of a possible foe.
She glared at the assembled humans, all obviously wary at her presence, but enjoying her current discomfiture.
Tyler spoke lazily. "We have to suspect there may be Renegades still functioning on your mother ships, as the Fifth Column did. We'll keep our activities to ourselves, for now."
Insulted, the Visitor officer retreated to fume in private.
Philip's discussion with Dr. Parrish and the local government officials was quick and to the point. "We need to meet with the leaders of your people, as many of them as possible, as soon as possible. A number of our specialists must be at the meeting."
"We don't have a large enough stock of extra antidote for a large group. Most of what we're currently producing is necessary for Fifth Columnists living among us," commented one of the scientists from Science Frontiers, a thin man with a reputation in computers. "And I'm not sure the citizens of New York would welcome a sudden influx of the new Redcoats."
"Could the meeting be held here in Los Angeles?" Philip asked, carefully ignoring the old insult carried in the reborn American slang.
"It would take a few days for representatives of the United Nations to arrive from New York," Julie said. "And transportation and communications haven't been totally re-established in some of the tropic belt countries. It could be two weeks, maybe more, before the meeting could be arranged." The old United Nations had become a new entity, a true advisory and adjudicating body, as it was meant to be, during the Visitor Occupation. Its home city of New York, safely within the temperate zone, was now without question the most important political center on the globe.
"If you could just tell us what the meeting's about, and what's so important...." the computer scientist piped up again.
"We may need to supply some kind of proof that this isn't a ploy to get our leaders in one place, then destroy our government with one shot," cut in another voice, from a sandy-haired man in the rear, dressed in white, who wore an eyepatch and carried a cane with pride, as though they were marks of honor – which they probably were, Philip thought, studying the stranger. He was obviously the one to convince.
"I will give you a handful of my officers, of your choosing. They will take their places as hostages – in New York. You supply them the antidote. If anything happens here, watch them die as you wish." It was a brutal promise, coupled with the unspoken warning that if anything happened to his officers, the world's leaders would be within his grasp in Los Angeles.
The stranger smiled slightly, then nodded. "It can be arranged."
"Excellent." Philip departed with as little ceremony as he'd arrived.
Julie Parrish found herself watching the newcomer with a frown. She didn't remember seeing him before, and was uneasy at how naturally he had usurped her position in the meeting.
He smiled at her. "You don't know me. I'm Archangel."
She started at a code name she remembered very well from the worse days of the invasion and Occupation, then smiled and returned the handshake he offered.
Diana was not happy. "This is the best you can do?" she demanded of her two subordinates, glaring at the scattered boxes of supplies and piles of equipment.
"It isn't easy, raiding human scientific bases with the people we have, when they're looking for us night and day!" James protested.
Lieutenant Douglas looked more properly chastised by her words.
She knew there was truth to what James said, but she also knew she would need access to more material and information if she were ever to get off this planet and regain her authority. Her enemies had ships, science laboratories, technicians, funds. All she had was a few half-trained warriors and what they could scrounge on a backward planet.
Science Frontiers, she thought hatefully. That place was mine, to use or destroy, until Philip came with his weak, pacifistic ideas, and convinced the Leader to take that half-breed for a consort. Peace! Between these animals and the People? I'll destroy them all, in time. The Leader must be dead by now, and the Houses in chaos. But I'm the widow of Charles, and that gives me leverage and power, the power I crave, if I can get off this rotten egg of a world!
Science Frontiers.... Julie Parrish is in charge there now....
An idea insidiously took hold. An attack might be expected, but what about a quiet infiltration? Her growing smile was predatory.
"What is it?" Her impatience showed; she disliked being disturbed. It was one of her lesser underlings, who'd been scouting the area around their concealed camp.
He gestured enthusiastically. The commanding Visitor turned to see two of her scouts supporting a dark-haired, semi-conscious human in sand-colored clothing. "We have a prisoner, Commander."
She glared. "I gave no orders to take prisoners. Why did you bring him here? You should have killed him in the desert. He may be a spy!"
"I don't think so, Commander. We saw his ship spiral in; we have the pieces. It's too advanced for this primitive planet."
Her eyes widened. "Are you suggesting this human is not of this world?"
"It's possible, Commander."
She studied the captive. He met her gaze unsteadily for several seconds before his eyes closed and he slumped again. Her prior thoughts returned to her, along with several exciting ideas about what she could do with this surprise gift the benevolent gods had bestowed upon her.
"Take him to a chamber, and bring medical supplies. I will tend his injuries myself." I know more of human physiology than any of these incompetents. And I need the resources of Science Frontiers now more than ever.
Her pleased expression settled on James and Douglas, who seemed uneasy at her attention. "I will speak to you after examining the human. You may have a mission for this evening."
When they returned to the mother ship, Lydia left Philip to check the most recent patrol reports, eager for the opportunity to reassert herself after the way the human Resistance fighters had treated her, and equally eager to prove herself so invaluable as to be excluded from the hostage arrangement. She returned in a hasty few moments, alarmed. "Philip, we're picking up unidentified ships in the Earth system. They don't match the Cylon vessels we've seen so far."
"They're alien! Completely strange to us." The beautiful security commander had been extremely attentive to her tasks since allowing the Renegades to escape the mother ship. Philip had no doubt she'd thoroughly checked out every detail of the vessels they'd spotted.
"They could have made some technological advances we're unfamiliar with – we don't have immediate access to their laboratories and factories," he suggested with a frown. "And as our usual contact with the Cylons is a death-duel, we may simply be unaware of such a development."
"I'm aware of those facts, Inspector," Lydia interrupted somewhat impatiently. "I examined the sentry reports myself. Whatever technology created those vessels, they're on an equal or slightly better level than the best Cylon ships we've seen. But the design is different – it's geared for a living occupant. And scans suggest they do indeed carry live beings!"
Philip's gaze held her like a charmed asp. "You believe they have a new ally for their war with us? Or has your devious brain prepared some other hypothesis to explain this? I find it unlikely the Cylons, who are so quick to destroy organic species, could have made allies instead of slaves of a living race."
She refused to squirm. "We think the creatures are human."
"Human? Impossible! The species has never been to space. They couldn't possibly have developed our level of technology out of nowhere. If they stole it from us, where did they hide it? And why didn't they use it during the war?" Secretly, he was shocked, and more than a little nervous. Did she have some information he should be aware of?
"Whatever it is, and it does read human, it didn't come from this system. Telemetry indicates the origin of the craft as somewhere beyond the ninth planet, and likely farther. The ships are small, likely scouts or fighters. We're trying to locate a base ship, but so far, we haven't had any luck."
Philip turned from her, thinking furiously. "If humans are coming from beyond this system, we may have made a terrible mistake in invading Earth. Cylons and humans together – star-faring, technological humans! – against us?"
"And we're still cut off from Homeworld."
"The Leader declared peace with the humans. We must make them see...."
"But the Leader may well be dead!" Lydia's expression was grimness marked by near-despair. Their handful of ships, cut off from reinforcements and supplies, perhaps soon to face battle with their deadly ancient enemies, might now also have to answer for their violence to brothers of the world they'd nearly crushed. If the Leader were still alive, with his half-human consort, they might have been able to contritely convince the newcomers of their intentions to ensure peace.
But with the Leader dead, and with Diana free and still making trouble, somewhere on Earth....
"Lydia, contact the commanders of the other mother ships. Tell them we meet here at Dusk-Time tomorrow, as on Homeworld. Tell them, on my word, not merely as the Leader's representative. For this time and place, as Raman, as Leader. They come to me. We must meet before the gathering of the humans."
Lydia drew her breath. Dusk-Time! The traditional hour of the hunt. And by naming himself as Leader, on his own word, Philip is calling nothing less than a council of war. But against whom? Raman is the hero, the archetypal warrior of our legends and mythology. The ancient hero perished in battle, sacrificed for the people. It implies the council might mean a death struggle, at all costs, and Philip is willing to pay whatever price is demanded.
And if the Leader somehow survives, or a new Leader is Invested on Homeworld, Philip will have to answer for such an action. If the Leader disapproves, the Inspector General could die the death of a traitor and a mutineer – if he survives whatever plot he contemplates.
Lydia was a warrior. She had been decorated by the Leader himself, not long before being assigned as security commander to Diana's forces here. Philip was her commander, and she had no reason or urge to commit treason against him. She obeyed.
Starbuck hiked across the dry, stony terrain for centars. He hadn't thought it would take long to reach Apollo's crash site, but he'd forgotten to allow his body time to adjust to the different gravity and atmosphere. He felt stronger here, so the gravity was obviously less – but the air was correspondingly thinner. It left him light-headed, and he tired quickly. He had to stop for frequent rest periods.
The sun was low before he reached the shallow canyon where his friend had gone down. Sliding intentionally down the steep slope, rocks skipping merrily alongside him, he was wearily pleased that he didn't tumble out of control or break any bones. What few first aid supplies he had could not be wasted on simple fractures or bruises; he had no idea how badly Apollo might be injured. Until he knew if the man was alive, he intended to hoard every drug and bandage.
In the shadows on the opposite side of the ravine, he found wreckage. The sheared, heat-stressed shards were scattered across scorched stones. Tylium had fueled the fires that glazed the sand to ceramic smoothness. Grief-stricken, the lieutenant knelt among the strewn litter in the sad half-light. Nothing could have survived.
After a time, he began to search more thoroughly through the littered pieces of Viper and heat-shattered stone. Surely there should be some evidence somewhere, some small bit of proof, that a human had met his death here....
It slowly filtered into his numbed mind that there was really very little debris on the canyon floor. It was almost as if the site had already been cleared....
"Lords of Kobol...." The thought sank in. Perhaps the crew of the vessel that had shot him down had already been here. Perhaps scientific teams had already arrived, and now possessed evidence that star-traveling humans had come to this world from somewhere else....
If they were already here, and if Apollo was alive then.... They may have him! He may be at a medical station! His spirits lifted magically, and he glanced around hopefully.
But maybe they took him for interrogation.... Worry speared his buoyant mood, deflating it almost instantly. Ever one to gamble on the odds, he forced himself to think optimistically. But at least he has a chance. If he's alive, I can always rescue him.
Distant lights unexpectedly flashed into view, and he heard the roar of some approaching engine. Diving for cover, Starbuck watched intently, wondering if the occupants of the planet were returning to examine the site once more, or if he was the one they now tracked.
After some moments, a small ground car approached rapidly, its front lights illuminating the trackless soil it crossed. The short, sleek, midnight-black, wheeled vehicle pulled to a halt near the scattered wreckage, its front beams reflecting from the fused sand and sharp metal debris.
A man in dark clothing clambered out and carefully stepped into view in front of the vehicle, carrying a lantern of some kind. He had dark, curly hair and a muscular build, and Starbuck could detect, even at a distance and in the growing dark, that this, like the young man he'd seen earlier in the day, was not somebody to be trifled with.
If this planet produces a lot of men like this, the warrior thought, impressed, they'd make great allies against the Cylons. But if the invaders of Earth are winning in spite of them, what good will either of us be to each other...?
"KITT?" the man said clearly into the night.
Starbuck started at the carefully modulated voice. He saw no one else.
"Set your scanners for maximum gain. I'm going to take a look around. Keep your eyes and ears open – pardon me, keep your computers humming."
"Michael, I may be 'just a computer', as you put it, but I am certainly aware of the necessity for caution under the circumstances. Might I recommend that you do likewise? Although your human eyes and ears will do a far less effective job of studying this site than my scanners will."
"Don't get smug, KITT." The man addressed as Michael moved away.
A vehicle. With a computer. I didn't realize the Earth people were that advanced. Starbuck grinned as an idea struck him. He began to work his way stealthily toward the black car.
In a few moments, he was close enough to study the vehicle more closely. A single reddish light flashed back and forth across the front; he shivered at the uncanny resemblance to a Cylon. One front door was open. Kneeling before it, he studied what he could see of the digital displays and flashing lights within. He concluded that he didn't know how to operate the vehicle, but he did recognize some of the labeled controls. The car was a product of advanced technology; it had a turbo-boost, among other things. With the computer KITT – if it was anything near as advanced as CORA on his Recon Viper – perhaps he wouldn't need to know much about manual controls. He could simply order it to obey, to take him to a nearby population center, or back to his own Viper, if it hadn't been hauled away.
"KITT?" a voice floated from the night.
"Yes, Michael?" the vehicle replied calmly.
"I think I found something here. Get your distance cameras to work, night lens, and get me a print-out on this...."
"Certainly." Was the vehicle miffed at the unnecessary reminder?
Starbuck squirmed closer, then reached toward the front seat. Nothing happened when his hand broke the plane of the entrance. He concluded it must be safe – or at least safe within reasonable odds. With one quick, limber glide, he was in the vehicle, flinging his pack into the back, still keeping his head low, out of Michael's sight.
"Michael?" the car began casually. The door suddenly slammed shut.
"I have a prisoner."
Michael's startled reply was drowned by Starbuck's outraged howl.
"KITT!" the prisoner yelped.
"Yes?" the car answered him quite sweetly.
"Get out of here! Move! I'm a human. I've given you an order."
"I'm sorry. I can't do that."
"Keep him there, KITT!"
"I'm doing that, Michael."
"I gave you an order!"
"Fortunately, Dr. Asimov's laws of robotics were not applied in my construction. I am allowed some discretion in carrying out human orders."
Was it Starbuck's imagination, or was the vehicle being smug? He banged at the wheel before him, then the digital displays beyond it. Nothing happened. He kicked the door. Still nothing.
Pulling his laser, he glared at the serenely untroubled upholstery and dashboard. "I don't know who Asimov is, but you listen to me! At least CORA...."
Fine mist struck him full in the face, and the weapon dropped from nerveless fingers as Starbuck realized the vehicle had outguessed him once again.
"Who's CORA?" the car inquired with interest.
The world dimmed, but he heard the window beside him slowly rolling down. His weapon vanished from sight, and he heard a far-off voice say, "Give him the antidote to the sleeping gas, KITT. We need to talk to this guy."
"Right away, Michael."
A whiff of another chemical mixture, and the world came back to the disgruntled warrior. A congenially smiling young man appeared in his sight, resting his arms on the open window.
"Well, hi, there," he said easily. "You certainly made it easy for KITT to capture you. I'm Michael Knight. This, incidentally, is KITT. But I think you've met. Slide over. Although KITT is quite capable of operating itself, I like to take the driver's seat in most situations."
Dumbfounded at the independent-minded computer's actions, Starbuck complied.
"Well, KITT," Michael commented, sliding easily into the seat the warrior vacated, "at least we found the guy who made those footprints...."
"No, we haven't, Michael."
"What do you mean?"
"I compared the prints you found with this man's boots. Not only is the tread wrong, but the size as well. Also, the weight differential suggests the tracks were made by Visitors."
Michael stole a glance at his sulking prisoner, chagrined at being outsmarted by the modified Trans-Am. "Oh. So our friend's one of them."
"Sorry to disappoint you again, Michael. He's human. Completely human."
"Then what's he doing here?"
"I don't know. Why don't you ask him?"
"Smart...." Michael's smile was strained. "All right. Okay, stranger. Who are you, and what are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere in what might be Renegade country?"
Starbuck glared back, tight-lipped.
"Oh, come on, fella. This is no country for an ordinary person to be walking around alone in." Michael took a good long look at the clothes he was wearing, and the pack he'd thrown into the back seat. After a moment, he touched a switch, then deposited the laser he'd confiscated into a small analyzer tray that opened for him. Waiting for KITT's report, he studied Starbuck more closely.
"No, I was wrong. You're no civilian. You look like you know how to handle yourself. And somehow, your equipment doesn't look like regulation camping gear, either. Who are you? A government agent? From the Firm? Are you a resistance fighter? Or maybe a collaborator with the Renegades?" Michael's voice was harsh.
"Unless your KITT carries a portable interrogation chamber along with everything else, you might as well forget it. I don't tell you anything." Starbuck regretted speaking almost immediately, but the words were said. He was angry, and feeling a little foolish at how easily he'd been captured – duped into thinking he could help himself to the dark-haired man's transportation. It was something to remember, if he escaped, that the vehicles on Earth could be as treacherous as the Cylons.
"Interrogation...?" His captor leaned back, perplexed.
"Michael!" the machine broke in, almost excitedly. "One of the footprints outside, Michael! It has a distinctive boot pattern, different from the rest!"
"It matches that of our guest."
"So he's been wandering around for a while."
"The size of the boot and the weight of the wearer are different."
"The size...?" Starbuck broke in excitedly. "A bootprint? He was walking? He's alive?"'
"What are you talking about?"
"Whoever made those prints was apparently being supported by others. They were moving around somewhat to the south of us. It appears there may have been a secondary crash site." KITT ignored Michael as did Starbuck.
"Hey, wait a minute...."
"Take me there," Starbuck ordered. "Of course, the ejection pod! Apollo would've used it. He could still be alive!"
"Apollo? Who's Apollo? Who're you, for that matter?" Michael broke in again, jabbing a finger at his captive's chest.
The warrior sucked in his breath, once again close-mouthed. The car's owner – driver? – seemed to consider for a moment.
"Well, Michael?" KITT inquired.
"If we go there, will you answer a few questions?" the man bartered.
Starbuck hesitated, then reluctantly nodded.
"Let's go, KITT."
Mirella examined the captured alien craft as it was being transported to the advanced laboratories of Science Frontiers. She kept quiet about her conclusions when the ship was delivered, knowing her first report should be to Archangel. The dark-skinned woman in white slipped quickly into the unmarked car her superior used for travel in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Her report was subdued and concise.
"Considering the way the craft seems to work, and the technology necessary to build such a thing, and adding Hawke's report...."
Her gaze was very sobering. "The Von Daniken people may be right."
Apollo felt something cool on his forehead. When he opened his eyes, he saw a lovely dark-haired woman smiling graciously down at him. Around them, he saw dark walls, carved from stone. He tried to sit up, but she firmly pushed him back and brought a beaker of some liquid to his lips.
"You'll be all right now, my dear. It's Diana. I'm your friend. I'm taking care of you. I'll always take care of you...."
There was something odd about the drink she gave him, a strange flavor that seemed to wreathe through his brain like smoke rings or swamp mist, making it difficult to think clearly, but he drank thirstily. As he faded off again, he thought he heard her speaking to someone.
"He'll recover now. Keep a close watch on him. He should sleep until we're ready for him. When we have the conversion chamber prepared, I'll...."
Julie Parrish was bone-weary. It had been another long day and evening at Science Frontiers, with the arrival of the strange craft. There was so much to be done, and so much of it seemed so often to rest on her shoulders, in spite of eager assistance from peers like Murray Bozinski and Callie Jones. When she was finally back in her own apartment, it was midnight.
A nice soak in a hot tub should help. Then I can go over tomorrow's work list – maybe I can call in some of the local universities. I know UCLA's graduate program was shut down during the Occupation, but there should be some grad students around with technical training. Maybe we can contact them, offer them a temporary job while the schools're getting back into functioning order again. Some engineers especially; they ought to be fascinated by that ship. Lord knows I can't make much of it, though it looks simple enough, if I just knew which button to push first. I don't have training in military hardware. I'm afraid that thing's dangerous, and I hate to think of the implications of its being here....
As she ran the water, she overheard something through the splashing sound. Warily alert, she padded quietly back into the living room. She saw nobody. Pulling the robe tighter about her, she tiptoed toward the kitchen.
Nothing. Relieved, she concluded she was hearing things, probably from being overtired, and leftover anxieties from the war years, of any unusual noise. Shaking her head, she turned back toward the bathroom.
She gasped. Four figures in red uniforms stood there. She recognized two of them – the broad-shouldered blond and the treacherous brunette.
"Hello, my dear Julie," Diana purred at her.
She opened her mouth to scream, but something came over her head, muffling her sounds. She fought frantically, but soothing darkness swiftly overwhelmed her.
Commander Adama studied the reports from his scouting parties. When the chime sounded, he looked up eagerly. Perhaps Apollo and Starbuck are reporting back at last? They're the only patrol still unaccounted for....
It was his executive officer; Tigh shook his head before he could ask.
Adama couldn't hide his disappointment. His friend knew the reason for it, and forgave him without being asked. "Sorry, Adama. No trace of our missing warriors yet. But you know those two – they always seem to defy the odds."
Adama gestured his words away. "I knew the risk when I sent them out, old friend. I will continue to hope, but I'll not hover over their memory while my duties lie forgotten. There's too much at stake. What is it you came to see me about?"
Tigh's expression became more worried. "Sir, our last returning patrol reports contact with alien vessels, spacecraft capable of interstellar travel."
The veteran commander frowned in concern.
"No skirmish, but Boomer believes they spotted him, too. Both patrols ran. From the evidence, they were trying to avoid us as much as we wanted to avoid them."
Adama frowned as he looked back at the computer-printed report on his desk. "That could be an important piece of news.... Any attempt at establishing communications?"
"None, Adama. Of course, we didn't exactly wave a friendly greeting, nor did they roll out the welcome mats."
"So we are mutually aware of each other's existence."
"That could be dangerous, Commander."
"I know, Tigh, I know. Order all squadrons to standby status. They know we're here. Now to see what they do with that knowledge...."
Lydia reported to Philip. "All mother ships have responded. There will be representatives here from each of them at Dusk-Time tomorrow."
"Excellent, Lydia. Continue to monitor all sky patrol reports. I want to know at once if either the Cylons or the star-faring humans enter the system."
"Yes, Inspector General."
"And check the list of volunteers for the New York hostages."
"Of course." Some have actually volunteered for that death duty? Probably former Fifth Columnists, with nothing to fear. The humans will protect them. What possesses Philip now?
She watched him walk away. During all the time he'd been aboard the mother ship, she'd never seen this side of him. She was a warrior, dedicated to the military for her entire existence. Philip had appeared as Inspector General, a bureaucrat whose concern for justice often made her impatient. But now he was behaving as a warrior, as she remembered his brother Martin had been, before contact with the humans led him to defy his superiors and turn his back on his own people.
But Martin believed in fairness, too. He was never a killing machine, but a thinking, realistic officer. If he had been in command, much of the violence of these past few years would never have happened. It was fate made him a traitor. Martin should have had his brother's wisdom.
And now Philip acts as a leader. Cut off from home, facing hostile foes both in this system and beyond it, with only the most tenuous of alliances with the humans on the planet, he prepares for war. He doesn't flee. He may even declare himself Leader, ask the rite of Investiture. He acts to protect these humans as well as our own people. He is willing to make whatever sacrifice is necessary, as a warrior must.
I think I've misjudged him, in many ways. I'm glad he survived Angela's attempt to kill him. How fortunate that my need to save my brother put us together....
She realized her crest was slowly rising, as though for mating display. Hastily brushing the hair of her wig smooth, she turned back to her duties. She was a warrior, and they faced war.
It was more than just the visions haunting him. Something flowed like fire in his veins, and the disembodied words he heard were hypnotic. Some small part of his mind protested, tried to remind him who he was, said he'd been drugged and was being lied to, but he listened. The words were vitally important; they meant something....
"I am Diana, your friend. I can give you your heart's desire, Apollo. I can take away every pain and fear. You need only ask it. Reach for me, Apollo. I am your friend, Diana. I want to help you. I'll never abandon you, like they did. Will you let me help you?"
For a moment he could concentrate on reality. She was on the other side of the glass, watching with that secretive smile. She waited for him to say ... what?
The nightmare whirled down on him again, a wild disarray of terror and destruction. The ruins of home on Caprica, all the shattered remains of the Destruction, the deaths of so many close to him. They gradually became unreal, the commander sending him to death, his friends abandoning him to the torturer, fires of destruction rising to claim him, the pain again of death and agony of soul.... The dark visions devoured him, fears he hadn't realized dwelt within his psyche, sensations of utter failure and loss of self. Images shifted faster than he could sort them, stopped making sense, became only a terrible blue of emotion in his head and heart until he couldn'tbearitanymore....
Apollo screamed, and screamed again, crouched and cringing and lost somewhere in his own deepest, most hidden nightmares. Layers of sanity were stripped away as blade-bright demons tore at his mind and body. Even the small, struggling sense of identity gave up speaking to him and fled until he scarcely knew who he was, knew only that the awful things facing him could be averted only if he had a friend, if someone cared enough to help him....
There was only one way out, one hope left, one friend who might hear him....
"Diana! Lords, help me, Diana...."
A hand appeared in the darkness, and a smiling, compassionate face. With his own right hand, he groped for that salvation, clinging as her arms were suddenly around him and the nightmares ended, even memory of their terror fading in the face of her protection. He knelt at her feet, sobbing in gratitude.
Above him, Diana smiled triumphantly.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy