The beam of white light swept undetected through the star system, heading with direct purpose to the third world, and a certain location in the foothills of a mountain in the northern continent of the western hemisphere. Near a quiet, hidden ranchhouse, it struck ground, glowing like some eerie celestial flame for a single fraction of a second before it faded. Four beings stood outlined in the light like bipedal stars for a second more before being revealed.
Two of the males stared at each other, blinking as they breathed alien air; then they collapsed, choking. The female's triumphant smile turned horror-stricken as she saw her pilots die in agonies of Red Dust poisoning.
"No! Oh, my people, I forgot.... This place is above the frost line...." Her mind rejected everything and she, too, fell.
The third man – human, from his lack of reaction to the toxin in the air and soil around them – called her name in questioning bewilderment. She made no response. He stumbled toward her, but lost consciousness before he reached the side of his beloved Elizabeth.
Diane smiled benignly at the blonde woman seated before her. "Well, Juliet, you look well. Are you prepared to return to your duties at Science Frontiers?"
"Of course, Commander Diana." The woman in the white lab smock returned the smile. "You desire certain personnel placed in key locations, with security observation of others. I presume status of current research and access to specialized experimental equipment are also among your primary concerns for the present?"
"You read my mind, dear Juliet."
"I won't let you down, Commander."
"I trust not."
After Juliet left, the dark-wigged reptilian commander snacked on goldfish – an expensive delicacy, in the desert – while waiting for her second appointment of the early dawn.
James arrived a few moments later. "We have secured the objective," he told her with a somewhat presuming smile. "The human community of San Carlos is in our hands. We've taken sufficient hostages to assure cooperation of the inhabitants. We can begin transfer at your command."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Begin transferring our supplies and personnel. I prefer to be closer to a center of civilization, assuming the place is indeed secure. The conversion process must begin as soon as possible. I prefer to rely on personal loyalty, not merely obedience by coercion. Humans can be treacherous. You may go." She dismissed him without further comment; he looked displeased, but accepted the implied censure with only a small growl as he saluted and left the sparsely-decorated command chamber.
Diana glanced around. "At least this place is dry as Homeworld, with vegetation and animal life similar enough to make me almost homesick."
She fished another shimmering, flopping creature from the bowl. She delicately halved the fish with her teeth before swallowing, enjoying the extra burst of flavor. Her next expected guest would be in response to a special request, to further strengthen the conversion-chamber loyalty grafted on the human Captain Apollo, her most recent toy. She'd barely begun to delve into his memories before this one came to the fore. There was time to mine his wealth of knowledge about the culture and technology of the space-faring humans; first, she must ensure his unwavering devotion to her.
The Visitor officer reported to her superior as soon as her skin, mask, and wig were ready, and she was dressed for her role. The commander offered her a goldfish before studying her from every angle, and finally smiled in satisfaction. "You look exquisite. If his memories are correct – and it really doesn't matter, since you will be as he remembers her – he will be unable to help loving you."
"Yes, Commander," her underling replied submissively.
"I promised him his heart's desire. You are it. Henceforth, your name is Serina, and you love Apollo as your life."
"If I must." She sounded as if the prospect disturbed her.
"You will do it, Serina," Diana repeated, gently tugging a long lock of wavy brunette hair. The woman suddenly seemed to find the small swimming treats distasteful. "Come. It's time you were reunited with your dearly beloved husband."
Over the rim of the sleeping planet, Lydia saw the rising of Sol, their sun. It was a new day for the humans of the Los Angeles area. She'd become accustomed to their sequence of time during the extended campaign. Even now her body responded as though the mother ship still hovered above that city.
This morning she waited for news of the attack on Diana and the Renegades. Soon, Ham Tyler should be reporting success or failure in ferreting out the former commander's hidden base.
She studied the star system again, as revealed from their distant orbit. The star, called Sol; the planet, Earth, sometimes called Terra; its single moon, Luna. Beyond Earth, she knew there were two more planets, small useless bodies of rock in space. Not presently in view, but of a more promising nature, was the next planet out, a body the humans referred to as Mars, after some old deity of war, she recalled. "At least in that, the humans show promise. They recognize battle's place in the cosmos," she mused.
Her thoughts turned then to the makes of war – the Leader she'd once met, who'd decorated her personally, and won her undying loyalty since before her Academy days. Dead, by enemy treachery. Philip, current leader of the fleet in this sector. He prepared them for war with the Cylons, and considered action with the human newcomers, perhaps even truce. He had worked with humans before, it seemed, and found them trustworthy and competent allies. It was conceivable he could one day become Leader himself, if he survived this, and Investiture in its time.
She served him as she had served the previous Leader, with utter devotion. Perhaps.... There had been a festive gathering before the truce, when the Leader's own battle plan had been attempted. She'd found Philip quite ... intriguing, and had spent a good deal of time with him, until the plans were discovered to be tampered with.
She compared him to Charles, the devastatingly handsome Prince of Raman who'd so briefly been her lover, before marrying Diana, and falling victim to poison. Diana would have succeeded in executing her, then, but for Philip's last-second intervention.
Charles had found her amusing, and used her because she was there. She saw it, now. As he'd planned to use Diana, for his own pleasure and benefit. Her lips thinned. A pity they hadn't had more time to plot against each other. The Heir to Raman had been too arrogantly certain of success. The scientist-commander would have shown him the error of such thoughts before long....
But Charles is dead. Diana is disgraced and running for her life. The Leader is gone, with Elizabeth. Philip is still here, in control of the situation with the humans, and preparing for battle.
She was his second-in-command. Perhaps she could be more. Ambition began to rise in her soul once again. She would remain at his side. After a moment, she decided to accompany Philip to his meeting herself, rather than delegate the task to an underling. It would mean visiting Earth again, and placing herself in target range of certain enemies, but it might also give her the pleasure of viewing Diana's body, and showing her dedication to her current commander.
She contacted her brother, a young officer on the mother ship, and one of the few she truly trusted. "Nigel, prepare a skyfighter for the Inspector General's flight to Earth. I'll be accompanying him. You'll be our pilot for the day."
Hannibal checked his watch one more time. The sun just tinted the horizon a brilliant orange, with deep purple banding the lightening sky. Dawn. The time of day when the lizards were most likely to be caught napping, so to speak.
"Go." He gave the whispered order over a small walkie-talkie, and moved out among the rocks, staying low to avoid Diana's sentries.
There was no reason to be concerned. A moment later, he came across a gutted alien. Farber's work. His own team was neater. Only Tyler's band of mercenaries took delight in so treating the Visitor dead.
"Thorough, aren't they?" Templeton Peck, moving beside his colonel, was grim. Something in his nature abhorred bloodthirstiness; he preferred to con his way into and out of trouble. With great frequency. Often for high stakes. But his loyalty to the Team was complete, and he was as competent a soldier as his buddies. Since the Visitors made it impossible for him to make a living as he chose, he continued to use his many skills for the Resistance.
"Yeah." Hannibal bit off the end of a cigar, but left the wicked-smelling stogy unlit. He wouldn't risk giving away their position in the clear and increasing morning light, either with stench or fire. "But it does save us the bother of dealing with prisoners. Let's move, Face."
The two former Special Forces officers left the torn, green-spattered body where it lay. A moment later, they heard a yell just ahead of them. Tyler. Two minutes before the agreed-upon signal to open fire. They ran to join the battle.
The Visitor troopers they fought had been in the process of loading boxes of equipment on a purloined semi-trailer when they were attacked. The sounds of laser fire and ricocheting shots quickly brought more of the enemy from the cavern in the side of the rocky mountain. The humans had the advantage of surprise, and quickly decimated their enemy's numbers, until the Visitors retrenched. Then it became a steady slugging match. They couldn't afford to close in for hand-to-hand combat with the Visitors – the aliens were physically stronger – so small groups of combatants broke off, and wild laser fire continued to strike unexpectedly.
Having infiltrated the cavern past the defenders, Face paused in a niche between boxes to reload the exhausted laser cartridge. When the blond ex-soldier stepped out again, he found himself face-to-face with a dark-haired stranger in a brown outfit unlike anything he'd ever seen before. He realized at once that the man was human – a stray shot had grazed his left arm, and the wound bled profusely, in bright red. He immediately decided the man must be one of Tyler's recent Resistance recruits, and grabbed his other arm, pulling the stranger down from lines of fire.
"Here! Hide behind the boxes – we'll have the place mopped up in a few minutes, and we can get some medical help for your arm...."
Hatred glared from the man's green eyes as he studied the mercenary. "You!" he hissed in rage. "You left me!"
"What?" Face stared. "Hey, put that gun down...."
"I'm going to kill you, Starbuck, if it's the last thing I do...."
"...Starbuck...?" The strange weapon pointed unerringly at his chest as the man's mouth moved in a snarl of abhorrence. He knew he wouldn't have a second chance. He kicked. The weapon flew from the man's right hand as he yelped in pain.
When the stranger launched himself at his throat, he'd had enough. This was either a collaborator, or one of Diana's subverted pets. After a moment's struggle, he got in a careful chop to the kidney, which dropped the man gasping to the dirt floor. He brought the hilt of the laser down on his head, and the stranger was out cold.
"We'll pick you up later," Face muttered, rubbing his bruised neck.
Leaving the man unconscious between the boxes, he leapt back into the fray, just in time to dive into a small knot of Visitor soldiers, sending them rolling like bowling pins, then laying into them with his weapon. A moment later, B.A. and Murdock joined him. The trio was slowly forced back toward the mouth of the cave, until several of Tyler's men arrived as reinforcements.
Suddenly, it was over. Those of the aliens who were still on their feet retreated, leaving the cavern in Resistance hands.
"Too easy," Hannibal muttered as he surveyed the damaged hide-out. "Whatever they were protecting, they got it safely out of here." He'd spent part of the combat on his own, scouting the inner rooms of the cave system, looking for Diana. He hadn't found her; the elusive enemy had slipped away again, although her escape had cost her a great deal of equipment, and many brave men.
Ham Tyler looked the most angered at the news, and had to double-check for himself to accept that she was gone. His personal vendetta escalated with every encounter.
"She ain't the only one got away," B.A. growled. The big black man had searched the bodies of the amazingly-few dead, and studied the numerous living prisoners, looking for Lieutenant James, Diana's most trusted aide. The alien had a trail of blood that included close friends of his, and the aggressive former sergeant had every intention of matching his strength against the Visitor – and winning.
Face suddenly snapped his fingers, and ran to check the man he'd encountered in the battle. "Gone," he reported to the colonel when he explained the meeting. "And he acted like he knew me, and hated me for some reason."
"You ever date his sister?" Hannibal cracked. "Well, whoever he is, he's not here now. Good thing Tyler didn't see him first."
Ham Tyler overheard those last words, and grimaced as Smith grinned at him and finally lit his cigar. "If he's working for them, he's not one of us any more. I won't cry at his funeral."
"Let's find out who he is before we bury him, okay? Maybe we can help him," Face interrupted. He felt intensely curious about the stranger. Who was he? Why had the man seemed to recognize him? And why had his instant reaction been hatred and a drawn weapon?
Tyler shrugged. "If you get to him first, fine. He'd better stay out of my way. I'm calling Gooder. He couldn't come with us, but he'll want to know the results of our little hunting trip."
"That guy's a psycho!" Murdock breathed as Tyler walked briskly away. "And I should know. I met every kind of craziness in the VA Hospital."
"He's a special case," Hannibal replied cheerfully, blowing a generous puff of smoke.
Face coughed and waved at the small cloud. "Hannibal, I don't know how you can smoke those things...."
"We're still working on the alien craft, but no conclusions yet, or any idea how the thing works," the blonde scientist reported to the men in her office. The former journalist, Mike Donovan, and the enigmatic government supervisor known to her only as "Archangel," nodded thoughtfully.
"I don't think we'll need that extra help from UCLA, however. This could be security clearance material, and we don't want just anybody having access to it – I'm considering limiting the number of personnel here who work on it."
"I can see that," Archangel conceded, tapping his fingers on his cane – more an affectation than a necessity.
"I'm not sure I care for all this government security," Donovan stated with a frown.
Juliet shook her head. "Sorry, Mike. Wish I could tell you both more, but...." Her voice trailed away, and she meaningfully waved her report. The meaning was obvious – she had work to do, and they were keeping her from it.
"All right," the tall, sandy-haired man with the patch over his left eye announced. "We'll call it top secret for now, Dr. Parrish. I'll send you a couple of assistants from one of our other installations – orders, Doctor, no objections, please. Science Frontiers isn't exactly a government contractor, and my superiors want a little more input into some of your work, especially material of this nature, an alien ship of unknown technology. You know I have confidence in your ability...."
The woman nodded neutrally, but her hooded eyes suggested otherwise, that she was disturbed at this unexpected assistance.
The two men quickly left Science Frontiers.
Donovan had little to say to Archangel – he wasn't comfortable around his type of government employee; too many recollections from his days as a journalist, when part of his job had been exposing what men like this did. And then, dressed in blue jeans and a flannel shirt as he was, the white suit the other man wore was just a little ... intimidating, even as the man's attitude daunted him. He left Archangel alone, although he privately wondered about him, and what the cane and eyepatch signified about his past. And he wondered, too, why Julie seemed so cool and distant this morning. Steve Maitland, an old and very dear friend, was due at SF; had they quarreled already?
Both men turned at the hesitant call. When they saw it was Willie, one of the Visitor fifth columnists, and a friend of Donovan's, Archangel nodded and left them to speak.
"What is it, Willie?" Mike asked as the tall man walked away with his careful limp.
"You have spoken to Julie?"
"Yeah, just left her. Why?"
"Did she seem distinct ... uh, distant to you? She has been very much ... a loon this morning, and has not spoken to many people."
Donovan started. "A loon...? Oh, aloof! Yes, that's exactly how she seemed. Anything going on, that you know about, that could account for a change in her behavior?"
The alien shook his head. "But I will watch her, if you wish. If something is wrong, perhaps we can help her."
"You do that, Willie."
For his part, Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III, code name "Archangel," was unconcerned with Michael Donovan or Juliet Parrish's personal life and feelings, except where they related to national security – or human security, where the alien reptiles were concerned. Outside of Science Frontiers, he had a waiting limousine. He slid easily into the back seat. An elegant black woman dressed in a white business jacket and skirt, with matching white blouse and shoes, waited for him.
"She's hiding something, Mirella," he told her. "But I convinced her to let us send in some specialists from one of our contractors. By this afternoon, Dr. Mirella Lincoln began work at Humanidyne as of three years ago, specializing in engineering design. Stetmeyer will handle the paperwork; I'm sure Dr. Hayes won't protest too much – he knows who pays for those ... unusual experiments of his. Tomorrow, you'll be on loan to Science Frontiers."
She nodded efficiently. "Of course, Michael."
"Parrish won't tell me anything about that alien ship. Find out what's happening there – and what reasons she may have to cover up information about the aliens. Be careful. Something strange is happening at Science Frontiers."
"I'm sure I can handle the situation."
"If I thought you couldn't, I wouldn't assign you. Incidentally, I think we'll send Caitlin O'Shaughnessy in with you, as a technician. Hawke and Dominic are still flying reconnaissance for the Resistance people looking for Diana, and they may be too well known for this type of work. Caitlin's got a good background; she could be helpful."
The ejection site had been completely cleared away, leaving few traces of man or machine. Only KITT's superior senses had found the location at all. Michael Knight observed his prisoner's reaction to the empty patch of sand, and his dejected mood afterward, and decided Starbuck couldn't be one of the bad guys after all. He let the man brood for the long drive back to Los Angeles, then contacted Devon when they were in sight of the city.
Devon Miles, the head of FLAG, the Foundation for Law And Government, was an urbane gentleman with a great many responsibilities. FLAG sometimes operated slightly beyond the pall of government knowledge, although supposedly always with the sanction of the proper authorities. Their secrecy and freedom of movement had proved invaluable during the heyday of the Resistance, when the head of Knight Industries coordinated with various other shadowy figures, arranging support for groups behind the scenes, providing arms and ammunition, rescuing civilians, insuring some freedom of knowledge throughout the occupied portions of the planet, and encouraging cooperation between free zones of every ideology.
One of their weapons had been Michael Knight, and the experimental vehicle he drove, the Knight Industries Two Thousand, KITT, for short. A man who legally didn't exist, who'd once been a cop under a totally different name and face, he had the help of a scientific genius, Dr. Bonnie Barstow, and an expert mechanic, Reginald Cornelius II, and the financial backing of Knight Industries, in a war against crime, until the arrival of the Visitors made them the core of a Resistance organizing squad.
"Take him to the Embassy, Michael."
"Sure that's wise, Devon?" A sideways glance told him Starbuck wasn't at all fazed by KITT's communications capability. He wondered what kind of equipment the man was used to.
"Philip's in Los Angeles for the day. He'll want to see your prisoner. And he's in a better position to judge ... certain matters."
"Why do I get the feeling there's something you're not telling me, Devon?"
The face on the screen raised an eyebrow. "We have some new information, Michael. The Visitors may well know your guest. If you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to."
That was all he could get from Devon – which wasn't unusual, these days. Something important was going on, but the information from his superior did nothing for Knight's curiosity.
Starbuck still seemed uncooperative, but much more curious about his surroundings, as they drove into Los Angeles. Michael delivered the strange lieutenant into human security hands at the Visitor Embassy, then left for his own rendezvous with the black semi-trailer, emblazoned with a chess knight on its side, where Bonnie and R.C.3 waited.
Hannibal shrugged at Lydia's sharp question. "So it seems. And it looks like they've got a new hide-out ready – they were moving out. Don't know what plans that lady's got, but...."
"You needn't worry, Commander," Tyler added laconically. "We'll find her."
The man standing behind him nodded emphatically. Their certainty was little consolation to the furious Visitor officer. She wanted to see Diana dead, not hear how they'd get her "next time."
"Lydia," Philip began quietly, "I'll finish the debriefing. Perhaps you'll want to check on our other ... guest."
Lydia was astonished at the man pacing the room. He was studying it as if he expected it to be an incarceration chamber. It didn't look like a prison cell, although one could never tell how certain decor would affect members of another species. The room had been planned to be attractive to humans. The flowers on the table almost gave it a homey feel, and the holo-picture landscape he focused on, although of an arid, empty region, to his human eyes, might be considered esthetically pleasing to this world's occupants.
But his appearance struck her more, as she gazed at him. He was the image of one of Hannibal's men – Templeton Peck, the Face, one of those who'd let her former commander escape. She controlled her reaction to that thought.
"That is a depiction of Homeworld," she announced, entering the chamber. He whirled to face the slim blonde woman in a red uniform with gold trim. "I'm Security Commander Lydia, of the Los Angeles Mother Ship, currently serving under Inspector General Philip," she continued with an odd smile. "And you are...?"
He studied her thoroughly. She could almost read his mind, despite the difficulties of deciphering human facial expression. This was one of the invaders of Earth, the terrible lizard species that was decimating the planet? This was a lovely, competent woman with a self-assurance that would make her stand out in a crowd, the kind of woman that had always appealed to the warrior, even before his troubles with Athena and Cassiopeia. He couldn't know that at the moment her mood was dangerous.
"You don't look like a lizard," he told her bluntly.
"Indeed?" she inquired with politely raised eyebrows. "And how ought a lizard to look?"
"For one thing, where's the tail? And the green and purple scales?" The closest thing to a lizard race he knew were the old Cylons, the ones who'd created the enemy that destroyed the Colonies, and sent his people on their lonely, desperate journey.
Lydia was amused. "The tail. Ah, yes. We lost that a long time ago. A minor mutation in the evolutionary branch that produced our subspecies. After a time, tails came to be considered almost ... unaesthetic, and since we no longer needed them, the trait slowly disappeared – bred out, as it were, almost as an ugliness. Only a few of our race are still born with tails, and we usually remove them in infancy, since they no longer serve any useful purpose, with our bipedal posture...."
He watched her oddly as she explained the scientific theory, eyeing her hair, face, and form with an irritating thoroughness. The look was abundantly clear to her – a male appraising a female. She found it annoying, and chose to respond with an insolently similar study.
He leaned confidingly closer to her. "It's hard to believe anyone as lovely as you could actually be...."
"...Green and ugly? I know how your people view our species."
He touched her cheek, running his fingers along her jaw. She let something warm creep into her smile, and stroked his hand. Her eyes dropped for a second, giving an impression of sudden shyness, and incidentally hiding an angry glitter.
"I've met a lot of women in this galaxy. Believe me, you aren't ugly...." His voice was subtly deeper.
Inside, she laughed at his presumptuousness. Compared to some of the males she'd met, such as Charles.... The man seemed devious as well as intrigued, but scarcely deadly, and obviously unused to the court politics she was familiar with. This could well be the opening gambit in an escape plan, in which she was to play the role of enraptured confederate. She allowed herself to seem to respond to his warm smile.
"Doesn't feel like scales, either," Starbuck mused. "Your skin is soft...."
"There's a reason for that," she whispered as he leaned closer. Her grip on his fingers tightened perceptibly.
With her free arm, she pulled him closer. Their lips touched. With the slight pressure, she let her mouth open to his.
A second later, Starbuck tried to pull back in shock. She held him with alien strength for a moment, forcing him to accept the full implications of the forked tongue exploring his throat.
She continued to smile sweetly as he gagged, backpedaling and nearly falling in his haste to get out of her reach. Hand clasped over his mouth, he stared at her in pale shock.
Her tongue flicked out briefly. "Body suits," she informed him. "Of course, what you propose might prove an interesting experiment. You might even be to my taste." She paused a moment as the thought sank in, enjoying his expression of loathing and horror. "However, you don't seem to have the stomach for it. But you are turning a most attractive shade of green....."
Before she could further bait the Colonial warrior, the door opened again, admitting Philip and a handful of other men.
Starbuck blinked in near-recognition at the Visitor's resemblance to an acquaintance of yahrens before, then started in open-mouthed shock at one of the armed men following him.
The men got their first good looks at Lieutenant Starbuck.
"I'll be damned...." Templeton Peck, a/k/a Face, stared at the young warrior whose features were his own. The uniform sank in. His thoughts suddenly clicked. "You're Starbuck!"
"What?" Philip stared from one to the other of them. "Incredible...."
"How do you know who I...?" Starbuck mouthed faintly. "You...."
"That's it! He thought I was you! But how...."
Neither of them could find anything else to say; they simply stared at each other. No one else had anything to say, either.
"That's the same uniform the man who tried to kill you was wearing?" Hannibal asked conversationally after a moment.
"Uniform.... Apollo! You found Apollo!" Starbuck realized.
"Dark-haired guy, light green eyes, about your height?" Starbuck shot back.
"Yes! Where is he? Is he all right?"
"I don't know. And why do you care?" Face demanded, perplexed.
"He's my friend! Of course I care if he's all right! When your people shot him down...." Starbuck was getting angry.
"Your friend tried to kill me."
"Yeah. Called me Starbuck – your name? I thought so – and first tried to shoot me, then settled for strangulation. After the battle, he was gone." Face recovered his equilibrium.
"But...." Starbuck had faced too many shocks in the past five centons. He sat down heavily on the floor.
"In Diana's nest?" Lydia inquired with deadly politeness.
Face nodded, unable to take his eyes off the visibly bewildered man who looked enough like him to be his twin.
"Then he belongs to her," she stated with finality.
"What...? What does that mean?" Starbuck demanded, forcing himself back to his feet, reaching for her arm. Touching Lydia, he suddenly remembered what she was, and stepped back with a shudder.
The older, gray-haired man known as Colonel Hannibal Smith, answered. "That she-snake's raised brain-washing to new depths. He's had an 'attitude adjustment'."
James spirited both his lover and the human captive safely out of the battle. Diana was displeased – and secretly disturbed – that her nest had been discovered, but at least an escape route had been planned. Her first orders to Douglas upon reaching San Carlos were to prepare several such escapes. If the Resistance found them once, they could do it again. And next time, they might be accompanied by troopers of the Visitors, if Philip had his way.
Science Frontiers was still secure. Taking a handful of scientific personnel, and leaving one of her lieutenants in charge of the occupied community, Diana returned to Los Angeles. Among the crowds of humans, it would be both more difficult, and easier, to find her. At Science Frontiers, however, she was certain she could accomplish more than in isolated San Carlos. With Captain Apollo's willing cooperation, Juliet and Serina, both scientists, under Diana's supervision, began their experiments – both on the Colonial ship, and on the Colonial.
Serina, primarily an engineer, concentrated on the ship. Juliet had to put up the required front to the rest of the staff, and deal with occasional visitors. James and Douglas were put to work supervising the installation of certain pieces of equipment in the sub-basements of the sprawling institution; since few people used those areas, or were even aware of their existence, the Visitors could use them as an excellent hide-out. Leaving security to her mutually wary lieutenants, Diana was able to concentrate on her prime interests, genetics, and the reason for a Colonial presence on Earth.
Her first scan of the Colonial captain's chromosome structure excited her. Certain it was familiar, she cross-checked it with another from her personal files, then called her two associates at once.
Juliet, the Visitor disguised as Julie Parrish, joined her instantly. It took the alien masquerading as Serina a bit longer; Apollo had required a few moments of time from the woman he believed to be his wife, somehow rescued by Diana and restored to him.
"What is it, Diana?" she asked, disgruntled.
"Serina, dearest. Is Apollo happy?" Diana was too charming, too happy. The other woman was instantly on guard. Loyal as she was, as much as she believed Diana was her ticket to power and glory, she had her own reservations about their current course of action.
"I'm doing my best to ensure his contentment," she responded warily.
"You will soon do more," her leader purred. "And you will secure for yourself a noble place in both my affections, and our history, forever."
"Commander?" She glanced at Juliet, who was intently studying the comparative charts of human genes.
"Captain Apollo has something in common with another former ... guest of ours. He and Robin Maxwell have the same special genetic attributes."
It sank in slowly. "What particular attributes?"
"A certain ... complementary nature to ours. With a little help, that enabled Robin Maxwell to bear Brian's child, the one she called Elizabeth, the Starchild." She lifted Serina's chin. "We can use that. You, my dear, will bear the second Starchild, the key to our success. With the abilities of another Starchild, and what such a one could mean to our people...."
A look of cold revulsion crossed the other woman's face. "Diana," she enunciated precisely, "I follow you because we must fight these human vermin, not accommodate them like the weakling Philip would do. You plan to make use of this human Apollo's knowledge, and I am willing to assist in that. But I stand with you to kill humans, not breed with them! I will not hatch a child of human siring! I will not! How could you ask me to...." She shuddered in horror and disgust. "It is enough that I must let him touch me. I will not accept his child."
"Serina. We need his child," Diana insisted with quiet persuasiveness.
"Then you carry it!"
Diana studied her. Truthfully, she had considered that option. It would ensure she would have control of the child, if it were her own, but she was unwilling to risk the long months of pregnancy, which would leave her vulnerable to capture during the later stages. Too, if she were by some chance to have the opportunity for Investiture, she couldn't risk the weakness incubating an egg would cause during the test and ceremony. If she became Leader on her own, the child would also become unnecessary.
"Serina, think what this could mean to you...."
"No! I despise these humans! I will not!"
Diana's face hardened. "You limit your usefulness to me, Serina...."
"If that is the price, I prefer to be called by my own name," the Visitor engineer stated clearly, her fingers gripping the arms of her chair.
Diana glared furiously. The woman's usefulness lay only as far as her willingness. Her technical skills were valuable, but the suddenly revealed potential of the captive human overshadowed them. Still, even if Serina was unprepared to bear a hybrid child, she was useful in keeping Apollo content. Her strong race-hatred was merely an annoyance, and with the image-lens, any willing female would suffice to carry his child.
Too, a child would bind Apollo to her even more; a strong streak of fidelity and familial closeness had showed up in his psychological examination.
Arrogance and hatred toward the humans were no more than Diana felt, but she didn't let it blind her to the possibilities shown by the existence of Elizabeth Maxwell, the Starchild, and the plans she'd once had for that young woman.
"Very well." She capitulated, for the moment. But she would not forget, and Serina would pay for her stubbornness. "You will continue to play his wife, for now. Juliet, check our ranks for young, healthy lower officers of good family and impeccable loyalty. I want his child!" Someone controllable, and expendable, if necessary. The thought remained unspoken, but all three women understood it clearly.
Philip handed his security commander the list of hostages to be given into human hands during the meeting in Los Angeles. The score of officers would be ferried from California to the dangerous city of New York on the following day. They would remain as guests or prisoners for a period of over two weeks, at the least. "I don't believe you've yet had opportunity to study the list."
"I can't believe we actually have volunteers for this mission," Lydia commented as she perused the computer sheet. Then she suddenly gasped. "No!"
She met her superior's unblinking eyes.
"He volunteered, the same as the rest."
"No, he couldn't have...."
"You may ask him yourself, if you don't believe me."
"No ... I believe you...." Nigel volunteered! But you accepted him ... and you, Philip, know more than any but Diana, what I would do to protect my brother! Damn you, Philip!
"Still no word from the missing pilots?" Adama inquired quietly.
The flight officer shook his head.
The commander turned away. It had been days. There was little hope left in his heart.
In a moment, Colonel Tigh was beside him. "Commander, we could send out a search party...."
"And risk more lives? No, Tigh, I won't order any of our people...."
"You won't have to order anyone. We've had eleven volunteers from Blue Squadron alone."
"And what purpose would be served by sending more men there? We don't know where to begin a search, and they might be captives, or dead...."
"But we would know where to begin. One of our patrols, Boomer and Sheba, picked up a brief distress signal from Starbuck's Viper. One of our people is alive, at least, and on the surface of the planet. We could begin with that. And we have no guarantee these people are enemies. It's been a full day since the encounter with the alien craft, and no attack has materialized...."
"Nor have any communication attempts," the commander pointed out. "These strangers could still be interrogating their prisoners." It hurt to think of his son possibly enduring torture, but it would be no easier to send other personnel to face the same risk.
His executive continued. "Adama, a small team could be sent with the capacity to serve as ambassadors, to contact leaders of the planet. We'll have to meet with them at some point anyway, if we wish to make an alliance," he reminded his old friend. "We might as well make the attempt now, when lives could be saved by a show of friendliness. I know we can't send a civilian into possible combat situations, but a superior officer...."
"Captain Apollo was of sufficient rank to make such a contact, and he is one of the missing."
"But his orders were to maintain silence about who we are, where we come from, why we're here. A special envoy...."
"And who," Adama interrupted with foreboding, "did you have in mind for this envoy?"
"You know quite well I mean myself. I'm volunteering to go to the surface, to try to contact the leaders of Earth and the leaders of the aliens occupying this planet."
"How long has it been since you've had such a mission? You don't have the training, the experience...."
"Which of us do? Adama, we must try. There's too much at stake for any other course of action."
Much as he hated to risk another life, especially that of his dearest surviving friend, Adama knew Tigh was right. "Who are our volunteers?"
The colonel handed him a computer list. He scanned it briefly. "Boomer, Sheba, Jolly, and Greenbean," he decided with a heavy heart. "And you'll need a shuttle pilot. Tigh, be very careful. If it were anything less at stake, I wouldn't risk...."
"If it were anything less at stake, you wouldn't have to. If the risk were any greater, you'd go yourself. I won't let you down, old friend."
"Don't let humanity down, Tigh. We're expendable. That world ... isn't."
He turned to meet his daughter's determined expression.
"I'm volunteering to pilot the shuttle."
"Athena...." both men protested at once.
"I have some of Mother's diplomatic ability, Father; you've always told me that. I'm a good pilot, and I've served as Colonel Tigh's aide before. I'm the best possible choice."
She was as stubborn as her father, with her mother's persuasiveness. There was no way around her arguments.
The young blonde woman shivered in the mountain chill of the early evening. The sleeveless gown of pink satin and froth did little to protect her from the elements, yet she disdained the weather, reacting to something within herself that transcended mere climate. Her eyes burned with sapphire flames and her hands moved spasmodically as she stared sightlessly down the overgrown incline. A light green veining covered her bare arms, and her skin peeled as if from a bad sunburn. Her complexion was strangely pallid, as if some odd light was trying to gleam through her human skin, but could only discolor it.
"Elizabeth?" It was Kyle, who'd taken care of her over the past few days, after burying the bodies of her dead pilots. She hadn't spoken since regaining consciousness, and she scarcely seemed to know where or who she was.
"Elizabeth? Are you cold?" Touching her arm, he was the one who shuddered away at its cold, alien feel. "I brought you a blanket." She made no response as he draped the brightly-patterned quilt over her shoulders. After a moment, he spoke again. "I've got some food ready. Come in if you're hungry. You haven't eaten all day."
Again, she made no response. After a moment, he walked slowly back to the old ranchhouse that had belonged to her human grandfather.
There was anguish in the gaze she sent after him, but she still didn't speak. After a moment, the blue blaze in her eyes began to spread, until her entire body radiated an urgent shadowy blue. She seemed frightened as she studied her own hands.
Then she looked to the sky, and slowly turned until she faced southwest – and the distant city of Los Angeles. Some homing instinct said there was the help she needed.
"Willie?" she whispered, speaking for the first time in a week. "Come to me. Help me. I don't understand what's happening to me."
In the depths of his mind, a call struggled to the surface. Willie stared at nothing. The voice was familiar. He'd heard it before, when a lost child turned to him for comfort, for some small touch of home when she was the hybrid creature, viewed with fear and fascination by her mother's people; and when her grandfather died, and she mourned that she couldn't save him; and every time she'd felt alone, uncertain, or afraid; and when she contemplated the future predicted for her by a dying mystic scientist of her father's distant people, little known to her except through him.
"I hear you, Elizabeth!" he whispered. An alien tear appeared from somewhere, and ran down his face. "I hear you. You are alive...."
Waiting was an agony for Julie Parrish. At any moment, she expected Diana or James to appear at the door to her cell, to turn off the energy field, and drag her to a conversion chamber. She remembered the process from before. The thought of enduring that experience again was almost too much. Only a deep core of strength, a resolve not to let Diana win, kept her going as the hours passed. She thought over every avenue the aliens had used in trying to break her, every psychological trick and quirk of her own mind they had thrown at her. Though it might do her little good when the machine was on, and the Visitor peered into every dark recess of her soul, she tried to plan protective thoughts, reminders that it was all a fake. Maybe it would give her the anchor she needed to cling to, a barrier between herself and the illusions, an edge.
The image of herself had been a shock, when the alien "Juliet" appeared in front of her. But she understood. While she was a prisoner, Diana intended to keep Science Frontiers running as usual, for her own reasons. It would allow the vicious alien to extract a long-due revenge against her. It meant no one would realize she was gone, or think to look for her. Diana could take vengeance at leisure. Julie wondered bleakly how long she could hold out.
"Greetings, Julie Parrish." Diana herself entered the chamber, flanked by two men – one in the red uniform of a Visitor, the other in a brown outfit that looked like a uniform, neither of whom she recognized. Julie rose defensively, trying to adopt a defiant attitude. The other woman simply smiled.
"My, my, aren't we ready for anything."
"We try to be." She matched Diana's expression, knowing the Visitor detested not being in control, whatever the situation, and hoping to goad her into some action she could exploit.
"Dear Julie," Diana sighed dramatically. "How you misread me. But I'll not hold you responsible for it. I've brought you a visitor, a man I know you'll want to talk to." She gestured at the darker of her companions, the one in brown pants and tunic.
Her glance darted to him, then back at her enemy.
The brunette laughed lightly. "He's one of your people, Julie – or should I say, you are of one race, though he is not of your world. But his ... attitude is different from yours. Perhaps he can explain to you the advantages of cooperating with me, where I have failed. Apollo, this is Julie Parrish, an Earth scientist who insists on construing herself my enemy, when I am so willing to welcome her as a friend and ally. You must tell her anything she wishes to know, about yourself, and where you come from, and what follows you. She has to know what she's up against. Dear Julie, this is Captain Apollo, a Colonial Warrior who truly understands the situation, and what we face in this new conflict. I'm sure you'll find him as fascinating as I do. Douglas, let's leave them to their discussion."
Diana and her guard left. Julie wondered for a moment what Diana had planned, what this man would do to her, and pressed herself against the wall. The man made no overt moves against her, simply crossed the energy barrier that held her and took a seat. She noted how carefully he moved his arm, and wondered if he had some injury. If she got a chance to run, a solid blow on that arm might slow him down. She carefully sat down beside him.
His smile was warm. "Hello, Julie. Diana tells me you two have had your differences in the past."
"And you've had an attitude adjustment! How can you trust that witch? How can you work with her? Who are you, anyway? What was she talking about?"
"I'm Captain Apollo, from the battlestar Galactica. I'm the pilot of a ship very like the one you're investigating upstairs." There was a humorous expression in his very attractive green eyes. "We were checking out your planet prior to making contact with whoever's in charge. It's very important to us that Earth be a unified entity, with what she now faces. We, of course, are very eager to help you all we can – our people know what's at stake."
"You're ... not from Earth?"
Julie realized what a coup Diana had pulled, capturing the pilot of the ship. She had a dreadful fear what the enemy scientist would do with the knowledge this man must be supplying her. Remembering what she herself had gone through in the conversion process, she felt a deep sympathy for him.
"My God," she whispered. "I knew what she was trying to do to me. I could fight it. You couldn't have had any idea what you were up against. You never had a chance. You're hers, now. And I don't think there's anything I can do for you, and maybe nothing for me...."
"Diana's not a wicked woman," Apollo told her evenly. She could see he was truly concerned for her, and mourned the more. Diana would use his emotions against him, and manipulate him against his own people, if he were truly....
"I ... see." She looked away, and knew she had to play Diana's game, too. "If I could believe that...."
"How can I prove it to you?" he asked.
She wondered what he had been told, what he was willing to do to serve his new mistress. "Are you supposed to convince me to ... listen to you, because you represent new information, knowledge I've never had access to before? About your people, and cosmic conditions?" Fleetingly, she wondered if this man's people were the enemies of the Visitors, the ones they'd risked so much to contact, but discarded the idea. If it were only humans the Visitors were up against, their approach to Earth would have been different, total destruction, rather than open-handed, deceitful friendliness.
"She feels you'll understand the value of cooperating, if you realize our situation, and accept that we have to work together, to survive...."
She didn't understand what he was talking about. If this was a trick, it was a deep one, worthy of the witch's deep guile. If it was real....
"Okay, Apollo," she said with a deep breath. "Tell me about yourself. And what new information you've given Diana...."
Quietly, he began to speak. "First, you have to hear about the Cylons...."
It made sense. He was telling the truth, not mouthing Diana's lies. The tale of destruction and treachery was awful, terrifying, bleak.... As she listened, Julie began to cry, thinking what she and Mike Donovan had unwittingly brought to their planet.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy