It was Dusk-Time. In the full warrior regalia of another time and a world far away, the guards waited to escort the representatives of the other mother ships to the Hunt gathering. The seven ships commanders, or their representatives, would serve as the Hunters. Philip, now serving as Fleet Commander, would designate the prey and oversee the Hunt. An ancient ritual would be enacted, a ritual of blood and war.
In black hunting leathers, tanned and cut from the hides of creatures alien to the human world, Lydia waited. She would serve as weapon-bearer and speaker for the Hunter-warrior, Philip's role. The brief loinguard, halter, and tall boots might bare human-style femininity to any who cared to look, but they also showed the body of a warrior, a descendant of hunters and conquerors. Her face and bared skin were painted in silver and black, the Hunt-colors and designs of the family and tribe of the man she served. Each of the representatives would be clad in family colors, and painted according to the tradition of his/her tribe. Her weapons were likewise traditional – the ceremonial spear of Raman, a translucent lance last used for the near-sacrifice of her brother at the Feast of Raman; and a sharp short sword at her waist, used for the carving the prey in the old Hunts on Homeworld. Throwing daggers in her boots and a garroting wire wrapped around her leather belt completed her armaments.
Within his own chambers, Philip waited for the arrival of the representatives. Then, it would be part of Lydia's duty to lead him to them. Until that moment, he prepared alone, while a specially chosen group of priests, properly garbed, performed the appropriate chants in the gathering hall and spread certain ritual objects in their proper places.
Lydia had never participated in a Dusk-Time Hunt. It was a sacred ceremony of tremendous significance, in which it was an honor to join. Certain parts of it were close secrets of the priests and warrior caste of her people. Other parts were performed in public, as in the seasonal celebrations of Homeworld, or whenever the People were at war, as they had been for many, many years. The Hunt could have many purposes, but all of them were ritually important, especially the ones preceding war and succession.
She was aware of the honor bestowed on her by her participation, although she wondered if Philip trusted her loyalty only because of Nigel's role as a hostage. She waited, preparing silently for what she was certain would be an act of war and a declaration of Investiture.
It was logical. If Philip were Invested as Leader, he could truly offer the humans alliance, and Homeworld and all the colonies of the Sirians would accept it.
A tall, mahogany-curled woman attired in simple black with a black-and-silver, geometrically patterned tabard approached, alone, as custom demanded for the Hunt. She was unarmed, but the small silver chains at her ankles and the studded gauntlet she affected made her seem very dangerous. The image was real; Michelle, First Officer of the Toronto Mother Ship, was like a cobra sleeping in the sun. She had to be. The Toronto Mother Ship served as the science base for the Visitor forces in the system. It was also the private battlefield of its officers and the playground of the ruthless, hedonistic Commander Damian. To be anything less than deadly was to have already lost.
Lydia took an aggressive stance in the woman's path, laying the spear before her, its point directed at the other officer.
"Who approaches?" Lydia demanded formally.
"I am Michelle. I stand for the Leader's force of the Toronto Mother Ship. I have come to join the Hunt, to prove my loyalty and offer my life at my Leader's command," she answered. It was the required response, even though the Toronto Mother Ship, as a science base, had not actively participated in the invasion of Earth.
"On whose authority do you dare make such offer?"
"On the authority of Philip, as Raman, as the Leader."
"Then join him. Good Hunting, Michelle." Lydia raised the lance and stood aside, permitting the officer to pass.
Over the next half hour, five more representatives arrived, repeating the ritual of passage – Katherine, of the London Mother Ship, in black and deep blue, with a beaded, similarly-colored band holding back the red hair of her wig, a female as tightly wound to spring as a coil of steel; Francois, of the Paris Mother Ship, proudly displaying a myriad of gold braid and medals of honor on his uniform, one who loved the display of power as much as its use; Dona del Rey, of the Rio de Janeiro Mother Ship, in close black and glittering green, bejeweled with gold leaves, reminders that her clan came from one of the few regions on Homeworld that was still swampy; Kheper, of the Cairo Mother Ship, in the basic red uniform, liberally trimmed with black and gold ankhs, scarabs, and udjats, symbols of a glorious human heritage that fascinated him; and Bruce, of the Sydney Mother Ship, affecting a khaki brown outfit, complete with bush hat and the jaunty, laid-back air and accent of Australia, which disguised the fact that his clan produced the fiercest warriors of Homeworld. Each was passed into the inner chamber where the priests prepared them for the Hunt. All wore the humanskin they'd become accustomed to during the years of war with the inhabitants of Earth. Their nominally uniform clothing betrayed a new individualism, and a sense of identity with this mammal-dominated world and its people that would have disturbed the war-councilors of Homeworld.
A gong sounded from within. All arrangements were complete; the representatives were armed and in position around the center stone; her own security team was at guard. It was time to fetch Philip to the Hunt. Still carrying the ceremonial weapons, Lydia marched to his quarters.
"Inspect General Philip, the Hunt is prepared. Will you lead us?"
"I will." The Inspector General was ready, in human guise, as his officers were. She presumed he wore the kilt and leather harness expected of the Hunt-leader under the floor-length cape – but his face was bare of paint, and she saw he carried no personal weapons of any kind.
"I am not the Leader; I have no claim to that regalia. I only seek to lead the Hunt and speak during Dusk-Time, for now. Take me there, Lydia." His voice was firm, but distant. He'd obviously prepared for the meeting in the proper fashion, if he hadn't dressed for it.
Puzzled, she led the way back to the ceremonial chamber through the empty halls; as tradition called for, their passage was marked by no one.
The security commander couldn't help but wonder if Philip planned to call for Investiture during the meeting, with that ceremony to occur before he dared make a call for war. It was a risky proposition; if a Leader was Invested on Homewold in the meantime, it could mean a death duel between two pretenders or civil war between their followers, in the absence of a named heir by the former Leader. The Cylon attack had very likely made such an action necessary. Lydia wondered briefly if there would be civil war, and how thoroughly the Cylon enemy would pick the leavings of it. A death duel would make a war unnecessary, but many could die following conflicting orders before the duel took place. The enemy would give them little time.
The hidden gong and drums resumed a measured, primitive cadence as she paced into the room, Philip following with equally measured steps. Each of the Hunters took his or her place as they passed to the head of the carved-rock table. Sand from Homeworld crunched at his step; the lights slowly dimmed to match the sun's red gleam at dusk on the world they nostalgically recalled; the temperature in the room likewise had been raised to that of Homeworld's tropic zones, where their race was concentrated, and where the Leader normally resided.
A final double-timed beat, and the background instruments fell silent. The priests waiting behind the inspector general began the ritual invocation, calling upon the gods and the ancient warrior-spirits to hear and find favor with their Hunt, and send the prey blindly against the weapons of the People; then they began the call for blessings upon the Leader.
At that point, Philip gestured and halted them. "The Leader is not here, not yet. Hold his blessings until I have spoken."
The priests, their purple-cowled robes covering only the scales they'd been born clothed with, hissed at the unexpected and almost profane disturbance. The chief of them stepped forward and took his place among the representatives. A heavily-nailed hand pushed back the cowl, and reptilian-pointed teeth, unmasked by any human disguise, gleamed as he drew back his lips.
"If ritual is not observed," the priest began, "how is the Hunt to be blessed and consummated?"
Philip was silent for a moment, choosing his words. Lydia stepped unobtrusively closer. The priest was the one who'd mated Charles and Diana, and might still be of uncertain loyalty. If he were to curse Philip, she was ready to aid him, and perhaps draw the curse from his head. She was almost certain, now, that he would call for Investiture; they needed the presence of a strong Leader, and he was best qualified to fill that role, even if uncertainty made that choice a grave risk.
"We all know of the presence of the Cylons," Philip began quietly. "We have fought them for long seasons, and the Hunt against them has been called on Homeworld many times. This Hunt is not for that.
"We called, at first, for a Hunt against the humans, although we were not really at war with their species; we thought of them and treated them as animals – useful but of limited intelligence, and certainly not equals. The Leader changed that, calling for truce between our peoples. So we do not call a Hunt against the Earth humans.
"The humans from beyond this system.... We know nothing of them, where they have come from, what purpose they follow, how they will view us. The Earth humans do not know of them. I do not believe, however, that these humans mean to come with war against their own kind. I do not believe they are leagued with the Cylons against us. They have given us no cause to fight against them; indeed, if they are friends of the humans of Earth, the Leader's truce will extend to them as well. We have no cause, therefore we do not Hunt them."
He had their attention. Several nods showed that they agreed with what he said, and followed his line of thought, but he saw confusion, too. If there was no Hunt to be declared, why were they here? Even Lydia seemed surprised, but her attitude was still that of loyalty. She would accept his word.
Decisively, Philip threw off his cape. Beneath, he wore the kilt of a Hunt-Leader – but not the harness, or the expected painted designs. Instead, his bare chest was colored with the moebius strip of infinity. It was the mark of Pretanama, the mark of peace.
They reacted with consternation or blank surprise. He couldn't fault them; he'd summoned them to Dusk-Time, as to a Hunt. Instead, he now flaunted the sign of Pretanama. He raised his hands; the mark was repeated on his palms, now visible in the reddish light.
"The Leader proposed truce between our peoples. I propose more. Let us call for peace, for alliance, for oneness, for ... brotherhood, as the humans would say. Let us offer them Pretanama, and let us accept it in our hearts for them...."
Audible hisses of shock greeted his urgent words. Pretanama was ancient, a word symbolizing a concept deep in their racial memory, a feeling too intense for any other word, a part of who and what they were, part of their very soul. That he could even suggest sharing that part of themselves with the humans....
Pretanama was more than peace. It meant a unity greater than mere alliance, more than the human term "brotherhood," so easily bandied about. To most of them, the very thought of sharing that with humans was blasphemous, tantamount to baring their soul, losing part of themselves to aliens who couldn't possibly understand. To Philip, it was perhaps best exemplified in the existence of Elizabeth Maxwell, the Starchild. She was the best and only proof he could offer that Pretanama could work with the humans.
Michelle began carefully, "What you suggest...."
"No! Don't judge now, but hear me out...." Very intensely, he continued. "The enemy we face will be satisfied with nothing less than our total annihilation. We know the Cylons; I've no need to expound on their hatred. We created them; they have made us what we are today. We do not need enemies in the humans as well. Some, like Diana, would fan a fire that could destroy us by making them our foes, by treating them as less than ourselves, as unworthy of possessing the stars. The presence of the strange humans from beyond the system proves that their kind already possess the stars, perhaps that they have already met the Cylons as well. We know the humans can fight; we have faced them for years. Do we really have the flippancy, the absolute arrogance, to brush them aside? Do we have the military might to face them both...."
"But why call Pretanama?" interrupted Kheper. The dark-skinned representative of the Cairo Mother Ship was distressed. "The Leader called truce before his death; we are at peace with the humans...."
"We have a truce," Philip clarified. "We have yet no peace. We have no alliance. We may have to account for our behavior on this world to the strangers. And we are now a minority, with no line of supply or reinforcement from our own people. If the humans reject us, cast us out, we will be dashed against the Cylons to perish alone. Do you believe we can face a Cylon armada, our seven mother ships?"
They averted their eyes from his glare, knowing the truth.
He softened his voice. "How seldom among the stars have we encountered a race such as theirs? They are worthy to stand beside us. Are we worthy to stand beside them?"
"But their world's not even united!" objected the London Hunter. Katherine seemed to find their disunity ... distasteful. "Until we came they were in danger of destroying themselves in a nuclear holocaust! They fought about everything, divided their planet into arbitrary 'states'...."
"And yet they united, all creeds and colors and ideologies, to fight us!" he returned. "And now their star brothers have come. Can we risk not extending a hand to them?"
"But ... Pretanama? Must it be so?"
Philip studied each of his Hunters in turn, all disguised as the creature they had expected to prey upon, all wearing ritualized garments stained with otherness from an alien world. "You came expecting a Hunt and perhaps an Investiture. This is what I offer instead. Pretanama, and a warrior who will lead you while he can. If Homeworld calls I will risk my life to become your Leader. While we are cut off, I will not call myself Leader and raise rebellion here or on our world. I will continue to lead you, if you will obey my orders. I will not ignite our people in civil war. We face a grave danger in the arrival of the Cylons, but a graver one in warring among ourselves.
"What will you have? The choice is yours. I will not make you rebels – but there must be peace between us and the humans. Go back to your ships. Speak to your commanders and crews. Tomorrow, send your answers. I will wait."
Resolutely, the inspector general turned to leave, to face a stunned Lydia. He would have stepped past her, but she recovered herself and took the position the ritual would have demanded of her if he had been the Leader of a called Hunt.
Spear at the ready, she preceded him to the door. The guards fell in step behind them, leaving the mother ship representatives and the priests to discuss their decisions.
In the dark, chill atmosphere of a Cylon base ship, Commander Baltar waited impatiently for word from Cylon and the Imperious Leader. It had perhaps been a mistake not to simply prepare his own battle plans and attack, and present the machines' ruler with a fait accompli, but he distrusted Lucifer and several of the gold centurions newly placed in the fleet. Any of them could contact the Cylon seats of power, and having his orders countermanded would destroy whatever chance he might have. So he waited, and plotted alone in his quarters.
After what seemed an endless wait, word came. The surviving Colonials were dangerous, a needle in the side of the Alliance, but no longer any real threat to Cylon dominion; their brothers on Earth were primitive, to be conquered when there was time – they would prove no real danger, and it would be ... satisfying to subjugate the remnants of a race that had produced the likes of Cain and Adama to bedevil them. The real enemy was the lizard race which now called itself the Visitors, the Sirians, the forebears, the ones who'd once created them. Baltar took pleasure in knowing the Imperious Leader had a weak spot for them, an obsession with their destruction, even more so than for the humans.
His orders were to disrupt and harry shipping at every opportunity, as he had been doing, and to encourage rebellion on outpost worlds – which, he considered wolfishly, was what Earth was, now. They'd fought the Forebears for many millennia, longer than they'd even known of the humans. Now, they had some idea of the concentrations of strength. With the humans defeated, the Cylons could finally take on the Sirians in a death struggle.
Baltar knew what he would do. He had once thought to make Gamoray his seat of power. With Sirians and Cylons at each other's throats in full fury, he concluded Earth would do quite as well. He would finally rule as he was destined to rule. And when the struggle was over, he would be there, perhaps to gather the scattered reins of command....
Julie Parrish's expression was haggard as she faced Diana.
"Do you understand, Julie?" The Visitor seemed uncommonly gentle.
"I have to choose the lesser of two evils," the blonde replied quietly. "The Cylons will destroy humanity entirely, if they get the chance. You'll do the same."
She fastened a defiant expression on her enemy. "But I've fought you before. I know you can be beaten. So yes, I'll help you against the Cylons. And then I'll destroy you, too."
I think not, Julie. Outwardly, she smiled. "We must work together, for the survival of both our species. I'm sure you understand that I can't put you in any position of trust?"
Julie nodded dumbly. She needed a weapon, a plan. This was the beginning. And Diana knows it, too. You've underestimated me before, witch. Apollo's the key, and I'll use him against you.
A score of Visitor officers clustered in the bay. They were silent, as if the dangers of their situation had just become apparent to them that morning. In a very few minutes, the shuttle would launch. Once in Los Angeles, they would be handed over to United Nations forces and escorted to New York. In the next few days, human delegates would be arriving in Los Angeles from every nation-state on the planet. There would be a meeting of Visitors and humans, to discuss the Cylons and a bit of Sirian history. They would also discuss the human captive, the man brought into the city the night before, the stranger to Earth.
And if anything went wrong with the meeting, if any of the human delegates met with disaster or some treachery, they were the sacrifice. They humans would likely kill them in retaliation. Even males and females who had been with the fifth Column, who knew and trusted some of the native Earth people, were worried. As simple a thing as placebos substituted for the Red Dust antidote tablets, and they would die in agony. One human's need for vengeance could destroy them.
And if anything happened to them, would Philip act?
Lydia watched the boarding with anguish and rage in her soul. She and Philip were the only others in the bay – he, to offer support to his officers; she, to attend to security.
"Do you doubt my loyalty so much?" she hissed at the inspector general.
"He volunteered, as did the rest."
"You had more volunteers to be hostage than the humans demanded. Why did you choose Nigel as one of them?"
"A lesson, perhaps, in trust." He seemed preoccupied.
She stiffened. "Do they know he is my brother? There are humans who would fight each other for the chance to kill him, to strike at me."
"They do not know."
"He is young and idealistic. He hasn't been a warrior long enough to learn to protect himself, and he has little experience with the humans."
"He survived our academy. That is no little thing, Lydia, as I'm sure I need not remind you."
"What if Diana chooses to sabotage your meeting? She must know of it; this entire planet knows of it! And it could destroy any trust or chance of peace between our peoples."
"I leave their protection in your hands, Lydia. I trust you will make certain Diana cannot strike at our guests. And now, I have responsibilities."
She watched him cross the bay, mingled admiration and fury in her heart. So easily he had done it! For Nigel's sake, she would never betray Philip now, if she'd ever considered it before. Whatever it took, she would protect the humans at their meeting, and capture Diana, if she could.
And Nigel was now out of Diana's reach. She had feared that her former commander would strike at her through her brother, as the witch had done before. There were still Renegades on the mother ships, she knew, and any of them could have killed a young officer and disappeared. Perhaps Philip was more canny than she'd guessed.
A lesson in trust, indeed.
Morning broke over the distant mountain range. Willie shivered in the chill air, but kept on his way, some instinct unerringly pulling him forward. Elizabeth needed him. Somehow, she had survived, and she needed him.
At last a ranchhouse came into view. He could tell, even from here, that this was where the call had originated. As he ran the last few hundred yards, a young man, haggard of expression, walked slowly from the woods on the other side of the clearing.
"Kyle!" the Visitor called, breathless.
The human looked up; an expression of happiness dispelled the grief. "Willie! Thank God someone's here! You found me. But the air, the Red Dust...."
Willie happily waved an aspirin bottle at him. "I have a supply of the antidote capsules. Elizabeth told me to be prepared, so I took them from Science Frontiers. There was no time to ask Julie...."
"Elizabeth told you.... But how could she? She's been here this past week.... Unless...."
"She reached my mind." He shivered again, despite the heavy coat. "What happened, Kyle? What happened to the Leader and the shuttle? You were returning to Homeworld...."
Kyle Bates looked away. "We exploded," he said simply. "I don't know how we got here – if it was the Leader's doing, or Elizabeth's. But the Leader is gone, and the pilots died as soon as they breathed the air. I've been taking care of Elizabeth, but she's been sick, I think, disoriented, and she's been flashing blue, and refusing to eat.... And Willie, this morning she was gone! She ran off in the night. I've been searching for her, but I can't find her. Can you still feel her mind? Help me find her, Willie.
"I love Elizabeth. I've got to find her. Help me, Willie...."
The Visitor had never felt so out of place and so helpless as on that green and verdant mountainside, trying to comfort the human sobbing for his missing love. And he had no idea where the Starchild might be. If she had indeed brought them safely back to Earth from an exploding shuttle, there was no telling where she might be now, and what she might be capable of doing....
Starbuck's eyes were glued in fascination to the video screen. It was something the Terrans called "television," and it was an odd mixture of primitive technology and futuristic programming. Dramas whose basic plots seemed to be love and hate; short programs whose situations were more ridiculous than comedic; information periods, referred to as "news".... Most of the media presentations were broken up with something called "commercials," whose purpose was trying to sell products of dubious value through the efforts of perky homemakers, frenetic salesman, and occasional narration and animation. He recognized the sales pitches from pre-Destruction media on Caprica; some things never changed.
"Lady," he finally announced to the beaming, glassy-eyed beauty on the screen, "either your husband doesn't care about wax build-up on your kitchen floor, or he's incredibly stupid. Either way, you're wasting your time. Me, I can think of better things for you and a man to be doing."
The kitchen scene faded, to be replaced by a movie advertisement. A bruised man draped in the red, white, and blue banner of his nation faced a larger man in black, red, and gold as music rose to a crescendo. "He met Apollo Creed; he crushed Clubber Lang; he dropped Ivan Drago. But now the Italian Stallion faces the toughest challenge of his life. With all humanity at stake, can he vanquish the Visitor Juggernaut? See it now, in Rocky V."
That advertisement was replaced by another for something called the "Star Wars Trilogy," showing at the same group of screens; Starbuck was intrigued, but the mention of the name "Apollo" had reminded him that his friend was still in captivity, and had likely been brainwashed as well. His mood spoiled, he turned off the television set and paced to the window.
From the Visitor Embassy where he was nominally a guest, Los Angeles looked like a beautiful, peaceful city. He knew it was an illusion. Much of the city was being rebuilt from the ruins of war, and media reports showed many cities across the planet were in a similar state. The humans had suffered greatly from the Visitor occupation.
It was Philip, who'd left abruptly the afternoon before, and returned quietly this morning. The warrior cocked his head questioningly. His initial antagonism toward the alien hadn't abated; he couldn't trust him.
"There are some matters we have to discuss."
"I have nothing to add to what I told you yesterday," he broke in. Keeping in mind the commander's instructions, Starbuck had kept his mouth shut for most of their interrogation. Philip and Lydia had obviously been exasperated, but for some reason hadn't pressed the issue.
"Indeed? Not even concerning the small group of spacecraft our radar detects approaching this planet, even now?"
The Colonial stared.
"What appears to be a shuttle craft, and four more vessels of the type you were flying when you arrived."
He blinked, uncertain if this was a deception or if the Galactica was really sending an envoy of some kind, perhaps even Commander Adama himself.
"I see," Philip commented. "You were unaware of any plans to approach this planet openly. I must therefore assume your leaders have changed their course of action and are now interested in meeting with us – we have been aware of your presence in this system for several days, you must understand. Do you wish to be present for the arrival of your fellows?"
"The arrival?" Starbuck pulled himself together, still uncertain why Philip's mere presence unnerved him so – true, Lydia's alienness had shocked him, but his reaction to this ... man was a personal, gut feeling.
Philip nodded, smiling. "They've requested clearance at ... what I recall to be named L.A. International Airport. I intend to greet them in person."
"Why?" he demanded suspiciously.
"There have been ... certain changes in the past day, and there will undoubtedly be more changes where you humans are concerned. I would wish it to be known at once that we extend our hands peacefully to you, and the war on this planet is truly over, to our mutual benefit."
"They're landing soon?"
"Yes. If we take the transportation vehicle now, we will be in time...."
"Then, no offense, but let's stop talking, and go!"
The red-clad Visitor gestured toward the door. Starbuck instantly accepted the unspoken order – if this was a trick, there was only one way to find out. And if there was an ambush waiting at the "International Airport," he would do everything in his power to sabotage it.
Diana was furious. Not at her prisoner, not really – he'd been most cooperative since the conversion chamber process, and the presence of what he thought was his late wife made him quiet compliant. No, it was her own test results, and those of her fellow scientists.
The genetic experiments she'd hoped to conduct wouldn't work. Apollo's compliance was irrelevant; it appeared no Visitor female could hatch a child of human siring.
So she raged, in her usual fashion, and the unfortunate technician cringed timidly, as he usually reacted to any criticism.
"It won't work," she fumed. "A half-mammalian child won't survive in one of our females. And the artificial cloning wombs are ineffective as well – without incubation in one of their females, the native bacteria are fatal to a fragile embryo. The genetic mixture functions successfully only way – Visitor male, human female – and apparently only the female zygote will survive parturition beyond a few days. Why are we so susceptible to their misbegotten bacteria and viruses in infancy? How can they carry our children when we cannot carry theirs? And why only to the delivery of daughters?"
The unfortunate technician scurried away on some quickly-found errand. She let him go, only to be disturbed by one of her officers a few moments later.
"Commander!" It was James.
"What is it?" she demanded in irritation.
"Colonial ships, landing in Los Angeles!"
"We're down, Colonel," Athena reported nervously.
Tigh stared past her through the front port. He could just see Viper noses to either side of his small shuttle – Boomer and Sheba, he knew. Greenbean and Jolly were at rear guard position. But what made him anxious, although he couldn't show it, was the assortment of alien ground and space craft clustered some distance before them, and the group of red-garbed men and women approaching. With that official-looking assemblage were a number of what appeared to media personnel, carrying cameras and recording devices. The Colonial arrival was at least not being kept secret, with the crowd gathering beyond the distant fences.
"Starbuck!" Athena suddenly cried joyfully. "Look, it's Starbuck!"
He stared in the direction of her pointing finger, and saw one brown-uniformed man among the red. It was, indeed, one of their missing warriors – apparently unshackled and walking freely, although surrounded by several more of the crimson-garbed strangers.
"He doesn't look like a prisoner," Tigh muttered, earning a worried look from his aide.
"Do you think he's all right?"
"I expect we'll find out soon enough," he replied. "Stay here until we know what kind of reception we're getting. I doubt you could pilot this ship out of here safely if we had to run, but keep channels open to the Galactica."
"So they'll know if we're all murdered in the next few centons...." Athena gulped.
Tigh smiled grimly. "Correct. Warriors, stay in your Vipers until I've approached their leader. Stay on this channel...." Adjusting the headset he intended to wear on this vital first meeting, the black man strode out of the shuttle, taking only a moment for a few deep breaths to steel himself.
The asphalt under his feet was hot from the midday sun beating down on it. It was a warm California day, very bright after the artificial light of the ship, and Tigh wished briefly for a visor.
Then he set his thoughts aside and carefully walked toward the man walking toward him.
The blond man wore a red uniform trimmed in gold, and a dark pair of sun-glasses over his eyes. He stopped, saluted briefly – Tigh assumed it was meant as a friendly welcoming gesture – and began to speak.
"I'm Inspector General Philip, representing the Leader of Homeworld, and commanding all Visitor forces in this system. Welcome to Earth."
Tigh studied him. "You're one of those who invaded this planet," he said steadily, but carefully without accusation.
"An unfortunate situation, but it has been remedied. There is truce between our peoples now, and we hope for a lasting peace and alliance." The alien ignored his lack of identification; the human wondered if he was as anxious for this meeting to go well as he seemed – he knew its importance to his own people, waiting in the Fleet in the system Earth identified as that of Bernard's Star.
"Alliance against your star enemies?" he asked.
"We do not demand the humans go to war with us against the Cylons, but I admit we would find their aid useful. We have been fighting for a long time, and it has perhaps made us more warlike and less trustful than we should be...."
Tigh started in surprise, as did Starbuck behind Philip.
"Your enemies are the Cylons?"
"Yes. You know of them?"
The colonel nodded. "The humans called us here to aid them against you. Their signal also led the Cylons here. It seems we fight a common enemy, and we will soon be facing them here."
Philip seemed to find this enlightening. "That explains many things about the past few weeks, Earth time...."
"Seven complete rotations of their planet, seven days. You say you fight the Cylons also. Yet you were quick to answer your brothers' call for help...."
The gentle probing of their military strength and purpose didn't pass the Colonial, nor his frankly evaluating study of the four Vipers and shuttle, where he knew five more of the starfarers waited. Tigh glanced at Starbuck, who shrugged marginally, then stepped forward.
"May I speak to this warrior?" Tigh asked, sidestepping Philip's unspoken questions for the moment. The alien frowned slightly, seemed uncertain, but finally nodded and stepped back, waving his own people and the assorted media away as well.
"They haven't hurt me, or pressed their questioning. I ... couldn't say one way or the other whether to trust them. I haven't given them much information, besides my name and service number. But there's a couple of factions here, Colonel, and the other side has Apollo. It sounds like he's been brainwashed by them. We may have to ... trust this Philip."
"But you don't?"
Starbuck was silent a moment. "The humans I've met here.... Well, they seem to trust him. And they have an embassy in the city. I think it's on the level. He's the man we have to deal with, among the Visitors."
Tigh made an instant decision. Touching his headset, he said, "Warriors, I believe you may join us."
Tigh and Starbuck faced the Visitors. Athena, Boomer, Sheba, Jolly, and Greenbean joined them a moment later. It was an impressive honor guard as Philip stepped forward, only a blonde in uniform at his side.
The colonel extended a hand, hoping a handshake was a recognizable gesture of friendship. Starbuck didn't contradict the action – he was too busy smiling at Athena. Philip quickly reached with his own hand, and they shook.
"I'm Colonel Tigh, from the battlestar Galactica," he announced formally. "I believe we have a great deal to talk about, and a few communications links to establish. Commander Adama, leader of the fleet and president of the Quorum of Twelve, is very eager to speak with you, and those governing Earth...."
The fact that their fleet was all that survived of the Twelve Colonies, after a complete Destruction by the Cylons, and that they had come seeking asylum on Earth, were things Adama would have to explain.
Apollo stared with jaundiced eye at a piece of abstract art, a prize from the looting of a museum. He looked as disturbed as the painting.
"Are you unwell?" Diana asked sympathetically, entering the well-secured but extremely comfortable prisoners' quarters.
"I'm bored," he responded honestly.
"But safe," she reminded him. "And you have the company of your dear wife...." She ran her fingers along his shoulder, wondering briefly if humans from the stars were as delectable, when properly prepared, as Earth humans. But she had come to test his loyalty, not his gastric appeal.
"Safe...." He shuddered. "It's hard to believe my own father could sell me out like that, and my friends...." He closed his eyes and grimaced against what he thought were bad memories, but were only the induced insanity of the conversion process.
"But you know, now, that they are truly your enemies, and they despise me for harboring you...?" she questioned delicately, watching closely to see the degree of loyalty he would offer her.
His eyes were cold when he faced her. "I know. When I saw Starbuck with those raiders who tried to capture you, I knew. I can't depend on him, or any of the others. You're the only one I can trust. I wish I'd killed him...."
"You protected me, Apollo," she purred with pleasure. "We're both safe now, and Serina as well. We're all safe...."
His gaze rested briefly on the painting. She didn't hear the quietly breathed, "Boxey...."
"Apollo," she began again, "there is something I wish you would help me with...."
"Several of your people are on our planet, perhaps even some of your enemies, including the one you call Starbuck."
His expression remained cold, but she saw a twitch in the right hand of a left-handed man.
"Could you identify them for me? So we may know what we face? If they have come to search for you, to drag you back, or to destroy us all...."
"I'll tell you everything I know," he assured her.
As you already do. "Come." She gestured toward the door. The guard who'd followed her into the chamber stepped aside to let them pass.
A few moments later, they were watching a videotape of the arrival of Colonel Tigh and his party. The captain's face was expressionless as he watched his former shipmates, until Athena stepped into view. His eyes softened.
"Who is it, Apollo?" Diana demanded. She watched every blink closely.
"That's Athena," he said evenly.
Diana frowned. "I remember the name; you spoke of her once...."
"She's my sister."
"Your ... sister?" The unholy smile on Diana's face would have congealed the blood of any free-thinking human being. Apollo knew only that his benefactor looked pleased.
His sister. A female of the human kind. One who could bear a Starchild to one of my officers.... Her thoughts skimmed over several of her people. James ... no, too ambitious. Douglas.... Yes....
As though with great concern, she spoke to Apollo again. "Could she be in the same danger as you? A sacrificial lamb to your father's ambition and your people's folly? Would they be as willing to offer her to an enemy as they were to send you?"
He drew a quick, horrified breath. "Maybe...." he whispered. "She would be as quick to go, if asked...." He stared at the screen a moment more, then grabbed the alien scientist's hand. "Diana, you saved me and my wife. Save my sister, too! Get Athena away from them!" he entreated.
"How could I not do such a thing for you?" she answered softly. "You had only to ask. One of my people works at the Embassy. We can reach her secretly, and bring her to safety. We will do it, Apollo. For you. And for her."
He smiled gratefully. Within her devious mind, Diana laughed.
Baltar studied the patrol reports. One of the large "mother ships" was approaching. It would be a good test for his mechanical pilots, to see how they performed against a living opponent again, against beings different from the humans they'd trailed so far across the heavens.
The ship moved cautiously, with skyfighters out constantly. So they were aware of danger, but uncertain of its origin or degree. So much the better. While he had no intention of squandering his strength, a kill of such magnitude should earn him greater forces from a grateful Imperious Leader – and with a sudden strike, they should offer little resistance.
"Sound the attack," he ordered. "They are one ship. It should take no time at all to destroy them utterly."
It had been a long day at Science Frontiers. To Dr. Steve Maitland, it had been a frustrating one as well. He hadn't come running from Seattle at Julie Parrish's urgent summons to be ignored and refused admittance to some super-secret project.
"Well, how's your first day back?" A man in jeans and checkered shirt fell into step with the scientist in his white lab coat.
"Hello, Mike Donovan." He forced a smile of friendly recognition for the man who'd regarded him distrustfully during most of their previous encounter.
"You look like you've had a lousy time," the journalist continued genially.
"Rather," he acknowledged. "Between that secret project, the break-in, and Willie's absence today, I haven't seen Julie for more than five minutes...."
"Willie's gone?" Mike demanded in sudden concern. "I was supposed to meet him here after work...."
"Well, he hasn't been here." Seeing the other man's concern, he asked, "Was it important?"
"Uh, not really. What kind of break-in was it? I didn't hear anything."
"Julie wouldn't say, but I talked to one of the other technicians – Mirella Lincoln. Know her?" Mike shook his head. "Seems a minute quantity of drugs were stolen very late last night. Very odd. All the stores of pharmaceuticals kept here, and somebody stole some Red Dust antidote – not supposed to be common knowledge, if your journalistic instinct is surfacing again. But speculation is, either a renegade working alone, or Diana has something specific in mind that she needed some of the anti-toxin – maybe mass production on her own, if she's got the equipment and the raw materials. I'm surprised the news hasn't been passed on to the Resistance...."
Donovan's face was pale as he shook his head again. "No. And she should have told us. She's been acting strangely these past few days. Even Willie thought so.... I wonder if he could've taken the drugs?"
"I have no idea. His being missing today is suspicious.... Unless it was meant to be interpreted that way...." His voice died away, and his jaw tightened suddenly. "You thought Julie was acting strangely, too?"
"Well...." The blond man shrugged, but thought for a moment before speaking slowly. "I thought she was just busy, with everything that's been going on, that she didn't have time to see me, but if other people have noticed it, maybe...."
"Maybe she doesn't want to see me...."
"Why would she do that? She almost married you once; she almost went back north with you after we sabotaged that brain bacteria of Diana's. You had to tell her to stay, and promised you'd be back after the war."
"True." Steve Maitland stared into the distance. "You've seen more of her than I have these past few years. But thinking how she was when I first knew her, and then on the mother ship.... The war changed her. And now...."
"It's almost like she's a different person...."
Donovan understood. "You don't think.... My God, what if she is?"
Another disturbing fact surfaced in the scientist's mind. "Oh, no.... Mike, I saw her signing a requisition form today.... I'd forgotten, until now. She was writing with her left hand!"
"It's not our Julie," the other man concluded woodenly. "Diana got to her. She may have been through the conversion process. That means Diana could be here in Los Angeles even now. Maybe she got Willie...."
The possible implications slowly sank into their stunned brains.
"We've got to talk to Philip, and get Julie out of here, to where we can help her...."
"That, Michael Donovan and Steve Maitland, is precisely what you will not do."
Mirella Lincoln stood behind them, a very large laser in her very capable hands. And she wasn't alone. Another woman backed her up. When she gestured toward the door, and slid the weapon into her lab coat so that it was still pointed at them, they understood what was demanded of them. Dumbfounded, the two prisoners obeyed.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy