Donovan and Maitland sat in the back seat. The black woman they knew as Dr. Mirella Lincoln drove the inconspicuous late model car through the streets of Los Angeles. The red-haired technician kept a laser on the two men from the front seat.
"Who are you really? Are you visitors?" Donovan asked bluntly.
"No." Their freckled guard shook her head decisively.
"Then why take us out of Science Frontiers at gunpoint?" he persisted.
The woman was momentarily distracted at something behind their automobile. Before the man could take advantage of it and try anything, she glanced at Dr. Lincoln, and her fingers tightened on the weapon. "We're being followed, Mirella."
"I know, Caitlin. I saw the headlights a few blocks back. It's nothing to worry about yet." The driver was brisk, unconcerned, as if this contingency had been planned for.
Steve Maitland joined the conversation. "What's Humanidyne's interest in Science Frontiers, Dr. Lincoln, if that's your real name? You're primarily funded by the government. Is somebody trying to take over the Visitor technological studies?"
In the rear view mirror, they saw Mirella smile. "You could say that."
"Does Archangel know you consider kidnaping to be part of your job?"
"C'mon, Steve," Donovan broke in. "Kidnaping has been part of the government's job before, hasn't it, Mirella? I presume we can drop the 'doctor' bit?"
"I really do have a PhD in engineering, as well as in five other areas," she replied blandly. "And I am fully qualified to fly anything in the military today, up to and including the space shuttle and Visitor skyfighters."
They heard squealing tires behind them, and glanced back to see a dark pick-up truck peal out of an alley, slamming sideways into their pursuer with a satisfying crunch. The street was effectively blocked, and for a moment they heard drunken yells before Mirella turned left and out of sight.
"Courtesy of Archangel?" Caitlin asked lightly. "I hope no one got hurt."
"Of course not. The driver and his companions are experienced stuntmen, and as they have acted as bounty hunters in the past, they are also quite adept at taking care of themselves. All they have to do is delay our followers for a few minutes."
"What if they catch up to us again?" Donovan asked from the back, detesting the professional not-quite-smugness in the driver's voice.
"Figures. It is the government. What do our holier-than-thou politicians want with us?"
"You'll have to talk to Archangel about that."
"In about ten minutes." With that, Mirella swerved left again, and headed straight for the side of a brick building. At the last second, the side of the building swung away, and they drove inside.
Donovan had barely stuffed his heart back down his throat where it belonged when the floor seemed to drop away beneath them.
"Elevator going down," he heard Maitland mutter through clenched teeth.
When it stopped, Mirella and Caitlin got out, putting their weapons away.
"Well, gentlemen, you wanted to see Archangel. Are you coming?"
They followed through a dark corridor to a small room full of electronic equipment. The tall, sandy-haired Archangel was waiting for them, leaning on his cane, dressed, as always, in immaculate white. He gestured them to chairs, and took a seat himself.
The journalist refused to sit down. Instead, crossing his arms and trying to look determined, he demanded, "Why did you kidnap us? And why do you have agents infiltrating Science Frontiers?"
"Infiltrating? Now that's a harsh word. Mirella is more than qualified for the position we gave her." Archangel seemed quite at ease with the situation.
"That doesn't answer my question. Why did you kidnap us?"
Archangel fixed him with a steely gaze. "To protect the situation."
"Mirella and Caitlin were assigned to investigate certain suspicions of several officials. Their evidence confirms those suspicions. The female currently in charge of Science Frontiers is not Dr. Julie Parrish. She is a Visitor obviously a competent scientist, but not one of ours or Philip's."
Maitland stared. "That would explain...."
"A Visitor? Then why not take her in? Why'd you stop us from...?"
"From recklessly exposing who and what she is? Because right now, Michael Donovan, we need the Visitor Juliet."
Archangel shook his head. "We're getting the information we expected from Julie about the alien ... Colonial ship, from our agents. That's no problem anymore, with this Colonel Tigh and his people in Los Angeles. Negotiations with the Colonials should make their technology available to us before long. If it were just that, we'd arrest her quietly. But we have reason to believe Juliet is a link to Diana's Renegades. If possible, we want to exploit that information and find Diana. She may be somewhere in or near the city."
"What about Julie Parrish?" Maitland broke in, outraged.
Archangel glanced at him. "That's another reason. Take Juliet, and we warn Diana, who may be holding Dr. Parrish. Juliet may be the only chance of finding Julie Parrish alive."
The two prisoners stared at each other for a moment.
Then Donovan asked, "What about Willie? Did you take him, too, to prevent him from messing up your operation?"
For the first time, Archangel looked uneasy. "No. We've got no idea what happened to Willie. And that is ... disturbing. If he ran, we have no idea why, or to where. If he found out something, Diana's people may have taken him, but we've no idea where, any more than...."
"Any more than Julie? In other words, they may both be dead." Donovan was grim.
"Perhaps. But will it do any good if you join them?" the Firm agent countered.
"So what do we do now?"
"Juliet would prefer to keep her distance from you, to prevent your finding out who and what she is. That's not a bad idea. Gentlemen, would you care to disappear?"
Athena flitted through the garden of the Visitor Embassy in borrowed night clothes, feeling delightfully naughty. The night was warm, and there were enough flowers in bloom to scent the entire acreage. Their perfume had drawn her from her room to experience a starry Terran midnight, and the heady feeling of running barefoot and half-dressed through dew-touched grass. She ran her hands through a bush, and broke off a deep pink blossom a rose, they called it. The color matched the lacy robe she wore.
The stem had thorns, and a tiny drop of blood stained the pink. She stared at her pricked finger, but a single drop was all it bled, and it stopped hurting.
Humming she caught the flower up in her hair. She was content.
Her people had reached Earth. It might not be the safe haven the Colonials had hoped for, when they fled their own ravaged worlds, but at last the journey was over. And while the Cylons were still behind them, and the Sirians and Terrans had at best an uneasy truce, there was at least a chance their diverse peoples could work together, and drive back the Cylons. Here in the Terran city of Los Angeles, they could rest a little, and a warrior like herself could forget the war while the Council and the commander and the human and Visitor leaders worked out their plans.
Her brother was a prisoner of the Renegades, but someone had seen him alive, and apparently well-treated; perhaps he could be rescued.
Starbuck was alive, too, and here in the Embassy. Staring up at his window from the shadows of a tree, she saw a light still on, and mischievously contemplated surprising him. She'd been good at climbing trees when she was a child, and it hadn't been as long as her parents and brother thought since the last time she's shinnied up an old, wrinkled trunk. She wondered what he would think of a night queen stealing in through his window, perhaps even sneaking into his bed something she'd never even thought of doing before.
"Starbuck!" she whispered into the intoxicating night. Maybe he'd hear her, and think there was something in the wind. She giggled to herself.
A hand touched her shoulder.
"Oh!" She jumped back. "Willard!"
"Are you sure you should be out here tonight? And dressed...?" His eyes slipped over her figure, but the expression was no threat. The Visitor wasn't interested in human women.
She smiled sunnily. "But it's such a beautiful night, I couldn't resist. I know, you're just doing your duty, guarding me. But I'm all right, really." Athena then sighed and slipped into his arms in a faint.
A dark-haired female Visitor joined the Embassy guard. "Her evening 'tonic' seems to have done the trick, finally."
"I'm certain I slipped the proper amount of the drug you gave me into her drink, Diana," the husky Visitor protested, lowering her to the grass.
"I'm sure you did. These alien humans may be stronger than they look. Take her to the west gate and give her to Douglas. In an hour and a half, check her room, then raise the cry that she's missing."
"You want her disappearance noted before morning?"
"An hour will give us time to disappear. It will be safer for you that way, Willard, if you appear to have been doing your job conscientiously. And right now, your position is a very valuable one to me." She smiled, haunting alienness covering a reptilian beauty he remembered with hunger.
"Whatever you wish, my leader."
"You will be well-rewarded for your services."
"Permitting me within your presence is reward enough."
She favored him with a light kiss that quickly grew to tongue-twined urgency. The female broke away first, with regrets.
"You are off-duty tomorrow, I believe? I will wait for you, at the place you know."
"I will be there...."
She vanished into the night, and he gathered up the unconscious warrior to deliver her to her captors. A single pink rose was left on the grass, with a broken stem, a few long strands of brunette hair caught by a thorn, and a small spot of blood drying on a soft petal.
The Embassy had settled down for the evening. Philip had given orders for the comfort of the human guests, and the Embassy liaison, Scott, had seen them through; the Colonials were, indeed, now guests, and even Starbuck was being afforded more of the courtesies and amenities of host-obligation. It had been a long, tense day, nonetheless, and the inspector general was glad to see it end, glad to bask for a few hours under the lamps approximating the heat and light of a warm afternoon on Homeworld. The altered heat lamps of the Embassy were an amenity that he occasionally permitted himself when he was in Los Angeles. Curled in the warmth, he was a very contented lizard, nearly asleep, when the pager on his desk sounded loudly.
The woman at the other end of the telescreen wore the red and gold of a security officer, with the bands of a commander. It was Lydia. She'd returned to the mother ship, but he'd left word he was available if she should call, at any time of day or night.
Wearing only his humanskin, Philip flipped the toggle to accept her call. "What is it?"
"We're receiving a distress signal from one of our mother ships, Philip."
He shivered unexpectedly, and not from the sudden chill of leaving the so-called "tanning bed" that was so comfortable to those of his species. "How can that be? Which one?" Did one of the commanders move away from the fleet against my orders? Is there a mutiny aboard? If the war begins here....
"Not one of ours, Philip. The ship in inward-bound toward this system. From Homeword! They're being attacked by Cylons, and request any help we can give them."
His fingers and toes tensed instinctively into claws, tearing through the bodysuit in several digits. "Positive identification?"
"Affirmative." She looked as ready for battle as he felt.
"Do they give the strength of their attackers?"
"Cylon fighters, several squadrons of them perhaps what could be spared from the defense of three of their base ships, in enemy territory. They're holding them off, but with losses."
Philip's mind raced over his own forces. Seven mother ships. What could he spare? What if this was a trick to lure him from the system? To defeat his ships one by one? But he couldn't sit by and let one of his own people's vessels be destroyed, especially when that ship might have information and supplies crucial to the situation.
Then it's not which of the mother ships I can spare, it's which of them I can trust, either not to mutiny or run if I sent them out, or which I can trust not to turn on me if I bid them remain. I dare not send the Los Angeles Mother Ship, not now. Her presence is needed for the conference, or the humans may wonder what new menace has come to their planet. And I know the people I can depend on from that mother ship, and which are likely still Diana's snakes.
The Toronto Mother Ship is a science vessel. She could fight if she had to, but it's not her purpose. I would rather have her people and technology at my disposal. And I would not trust Damian with the eggs of my house.
Paris? London? One is trustworthy; the other is not. But I don't know, yet, which side they would support in a civil war. Cairo? A good ship, but.... Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, then? Yes. Their commanders are as loyal as any, and their friendship makes them unlikely to turn on each other like saurotons over a single prey.
"Send the mother ships of Sydney and Rio de Janeiro. I'm coding in the orders right now."
"I'll send the orders...." She signed off.
Raman keep them strong until we can reach them. The forces of two or three base stars attacking one of our mother ships?
It struck him that such a thing was unusual. Either the commander of the new ship was uncommonly canny, or they carried more armament and firepower than the norm. Another Triex battle station? Or some new design of mother ship incorporating some of its aspects?
After calling the other mother ships to inform them of the situation, if it was necessary, and confirm Lydia's orders for defense, he dressed in a simple robe styled after something from Homeworld. Then he stood at the window. The desire for sleep was gone, but he knew the following day would be busy, and he needed the rest. The temperature outside, though warm to the humans, had a chill to the cooler-blooded lizard. As his body temperature lowered, he felt his prior drowsiness and lethargy return. Then he returned to his bed to warm himself and sleep.
Night in the mountains was cold. The stars in the clear sky shown down with icy hauteur on the two figures struggling through the underbrush.
"Elizabeth?" Kyle yelled with no real hope of response.
He and Willie had been searching for the missing Starchild all day, and had found no trace of her. He turned back to see if his Visitor friend was still following. Since sunset, the lizard had been moving much more slowly, rubbing his mittened hands together and hunching deeper into his jacket.
Willie had stopped and was slumped against a tree, arms crossed over his chest and his eyes closed in near stupor.
"Willie?" Kyle ran back to his friend.
The lizard gazed dully back at him; even his blinks were sluggish.
"I am sorry ... Kyle," he slurred out the whisper through stiff jaws and tongue. "My people cannot ... take sustained periods of cold ... as your people can.... Cold-blooded but ... you humans are so warm...."
Kyle Bates would have remembered that, but he was half out of his mind with worry for Elizabeth Maxwell, who'd walked into the woods a few days before and seemingly vanished from sight and sound of human or Visitor senses. Now reminded that Willie had been out in the forest with him all day, with nothing to eat and insufficient preparation for the climate, he felt guilty. The Visitor trooper had been unselfish and uncomplaining about what must be torturous cold. All he'd thought were frantic demands to know why Elizabeth wasn't calling Willie any more, if it had been her who summoned him from Los Angeles.
"Here." He pulled a bulky object from his backpack, something he'd intended for the Starchild, who'd ignored cold and heat since their return to Earth. He draped the knitted shawl over his friend's shoulders instead. "Maybe you'd better go back to the ranchhouse."
"I do not think ... I would make it back ... and shawl won't warm me. Not enough body warmth.... Better just sleep here ... wait for sunrise."
"Are you due for another antidote capsule?"
"I do not ... remember...."
Kyle grabbed his wrist to check the watch. It was almost time. He rummaged in the Visitor's pocket for the small vial of capsules, then extracted one and shoved it into his friend's mouth. Alien jaws opened, a tongue rasped over his hand, and the pill was swallowed in one convulsive movement.
Willie's skin was cold. Kyle knew it was nothing to worry about, really, but there were predators in the woods, and dangerous night prowlers. He couldn't leave his friend at their mercy. Heart wrenching, he made a decision.
"I'll help you back. We can't find anything at night anyway."
"I'll go out again after you're safe and warm." He put his arm around Willie and dragged him upright again, wishing he'd thought to bring a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate.
"It is kind of you to care about ... a chosen lizard...."
"Chosen...? Oh, frozen, as in very cold." Kyle thought about it for a moment. "Actually, Willie, you are chosen. A chosen friend. And I'm glad you're here to help me look, and care about her, too. Nobody else even knows we're alive." His thoughts rested briefly on Mike Donovan, Julie Parrish, Ham Tyler, Chris Farber, Robin Maxwell, and his other friends from the Resistance; but they quickly flew back to Elizabeth. He'd risked everything to try to win her back, even stowing away on the Leader's shuttle. She had gone anyway.
And she had brought him back alive from the fires of an explosion and a sudden empty chill in his lungs. And there had been another light, after the heat and chill, before the blue enveloping fire and the feel of air around him and ground at his feet....
Had he died? He wasn't sure.
But if he had, what had Elizabeth become that she could bring him back? What mortal human vanity made him think she needed him now?
Philip stirred quickly from his bed for the second time that night, his blood flowing quickly from a combination of heated bed and natural chemical rush at the call. He recognized the guard who stood at his door, ready to run. "Yes, Willard?"
"One of the Colonial women, Athena, is missing!"
"What?" He grabbed his robe. "Have you checked...?"
"I've checked with all of them, including the males. She is not in any of their rooms, nor anywhere else in the Embassy. The Colonials are dressing now, sir. Their Colonel Tigh wishes to speak with you as soon as possible."
"What arrangements have you made for a search party?"
"I've called the day shift, sir, and the night shift is already scratching the grounds."
Philip had to smile. "I think the humans might say, 'combing' the grounds, Willard."
His eyes nictitated, and his face suddenly looked out of place as he nodded. "Yes, sir, I think that is the way they would say it. We are searching for Athena everywhere. Do you wish to expand the search to the city?"
The Inspector General was half-dressed. He considered the security man not one of Lydia's better men, he decided. "Only if she is absent from the grounds. But alert the local police force. They know what she looks like."
Willard saluted stiffly and returned to his duty. Philip heard him barking orders.
He finished clothing the humanskin bodysuit, covering it as the humans would cover their own naked flesh. The whole planet knows what every one of these Colonials looks like, now, after the way they landed today. She wouldn't be hard to find if she walked off. But I suspect there are renegades working on our ships, so why not here at the Embassy? Is it Diana...?
Colonel Tigh met Philip with a cold stare. "Lieutenant Athena is nowhere on the Embassy grounds. I was under the impression these grounds were supposed to be safe. Do you have any idea what may have happened to her?"
The Inspector General glanced over the Colonials. Only Starbuck and Boomer weren't there; they were still out prowling the garden, not entirely trusting the report of Embassy security. Tigh was, at that moment, in full accord with their suspicions. To lose one of their number on the first night, in a supposedly secure area, did not bode well for future trust and cooperation.
Several more Visitors passed through the lobby in their search; only one remained, a worried-looking female.
"We've alerted the local human civilian security forces to be alert for her, in case she went for a walk and simply became lost in an alien city...." Philip began.
"But you don't think that's what happened to her?" The black officer scowled. "You spoke yesterday of renegades from your own people, who are hidden on this planet and supposedly have taken Captain Apollo prisoner...."
"We have a witness to his presence among them, and his apparent conversion," Philip interrupted. "And if you are about to suggest the renegades are a fictitious threat composed by us to justify our continued presence on Earth...." The Colonial Warriors straightened coldly, as if that were indeed their belief. "...I suggest you speak to members of the human Resistance, who can verify the danger of these renegades, and that our Fifth Column is not involved with them. You might particularly wish to speak with Michael Donovan, a journalist who"
"But Michael Donovan is gone!" the female spoke up.
Tigh and Philip turned as one; Jolly, Greenbean, and Sheba also turned their hostile attention to the newcomer. The colonel noted she wasn't as attractive as the other female Visitors he'd been introduced to. Did that imply she was less attractive to her own species? Or perhaps human-appreciable beauty had been chosen as an attribute of alien officers, indicative of rank to humans who might not understand Sirian insignia and titles....
"Thelma? What do you mean, Donovan's gone?" Philip demanded in concern.
"I went to see him tonight," she responded in agitation. "Willie did not come home yesterday evening, and Michael was going to check at Science Frontiers, with Dr. Maitland. But Donovan did not come home, and Maitland is not at home, either. I called Dr. Parrish, but she had no idea where they might be, so I came here to speak to you...."
"Willie did not come home?"
"We have lived together as humans do, but we plan a ritual mating...."
Tigh felt like yelling at the woman, but restrained himself. "So there have been four disappearances these past two days?"
"Willie, Michael Donovan, Steve Maitland, and Athena," Philip confirmed, his attention still on Thelma. "A dangerous group to be absent, and the council gathering only a few days off. Already there are delegates arriving from New York...."
"What council?" Tigh interrupted again. There hadn't been much time the previous day to discuss the current political system and neither Tigh nor the Visitor Inspector had volunteered any non-essential information.
The alien officer's face and voice were carefully empty of emotion, as Tigh could remember Adama's being on many occasions. "A council for Pretanama, true peace, not an uneasy truce, between our two species," he said flatly. "I sent some of my officers as hostages to New York while the delegates of their United Nations come here. Enemies within each other's grasp. Your arrival has somewhat altered the agenda of what must be discussed."
Tigh found himself remembering how Apollo had spoken to the representatives of another Terra, across the stars, to buy time for peace. The thought touched him in a way he didn't expect. There had to be peace on Earth, and between Terrans, Sirians, and Colonials, if they were to face the Cylons and survive.
"I will contact Commander Adama and the Council of Twelve," he told Philip levelly. "I am sure we will want to be present, and perhaps contribute to the discussion."
"Colonel!" The three pilots spoke as one, stunned.
Philip stared at him, then slowly lowered his face and worked at his eyes and hands. A moment later, he raised his gaze. Tigh saw, with shock, the yellow, slit-irised eyes that hid beneath human-seeming lenses. The blue-eyed shams rolled in Philip's hand like half-marbles. The skin on that hand was pulled back. Green scales glimmered through the rent, and a yellowish claw poked out where a fingernail had been.
A forked tongue tested the air. "Perhaps you would wish to know, truly, with whom you deal."
The warriors were shocked, and Sheba looked close to bolting, but Tigh held his ground.
"We had an idea what the old Cylons looked like. And we have dealt with lizard species before," he said quite steadily. "I suspect your disguise will continue to be of use in dealing with our Terran brothers, who have less experience with the diversity of the galaxy. I would recommend, however, that you make it quite clear to the delegates and the population that they are dealing with a non-human, non-mammalian species."
The Visitor replaced his eyes, and blinked several times to settle them.
Tigh noted he kept the damaged hand clenched out of sight. What does he think he's hiding? Or does he even realize...?
"Those who have dealt with us know our true appearance." Philip's voice carried discomfort, as if this was a difficult subject. "It is what first precipitated their uneasiness with our presence on their world, and then their resistance. It is only that...."
"That you have lived so long on this planet, looking and speaking and trying to live as humans, that you no longer feel comfortable with your own appearance? That you have come to identify too totally with the ones you came to subjugate?"
The Visitor stared mutely.
The Colonial gestured at the hidden hand. "Or is it perhaps not the image you chose to wear, but what your people did here, when you first came, that makes you ashamed of what you are?" He glanced at Thelma, who looked down, while other Visitors present hissed shock or denial; then at his own people, who appeared startled with the idea; and finally back to Philip, who studied the rents in his hand. After a moment, Tigh waved his pilots out of the room.
"Check the garden," he ordered. "See what's keeping Boomer and Starbuck."
They left reluctantly. The Visitors followed a moment later when Philip hissed something in their native tongue. The two officers faced each other, alone.
"You are very perceptive," Philip finally replied slowly. "Especially for one reading the unconscious language of a being from an alien people, through a disguise many humans still do not penetrate. You read what I did not even know I thought or said. Your commander must value you highly, and properly.
"You are correct that I am not proud of our attempt to conquer this world instead of dealing with its inhabitants honestly. But I am proud of my people, Tigh, proud of our history and our survival against many odds. We have been what we had to be. In some cases, that made us hard and cruel, made us revert to the instincts that we had left behind long, long ago.
"My people are my first concern; they always have been and always will be. I studied the law codes for that reason. I work in the service of the Leader for that reason. But I simply find myself less willing to see the destruction of an intelligent, innocent species to reach our goals.
"Especially since our goal, now, is the same to face the Cylons and survive. I have observed and listened to your people, Tigh. You are few, but there are many humans on this world who could join you. The Cylons have tried to destroy us for many cycles of our history, but I think they have come very close to destroying you. What will happen to your fleet, hidden in the stars, if there is no welcome here?"
It was as though a moment of truth had come. Each male felt a certain admiration and respect for the other, and a certain knowledge that he could trust the other and risk the truth.
"You also read men very well. As I said before, I will contact Commander Adama. This council is important to all of us, and there are some things which should be discussed before it opens."
"Yes. And while you do so, I will encourage the search for Athena."
Tigh felt a stab that he had forgotten, even for a micron, the disappearance of his aide and best friend's daughter. What happened to her? And how do I call Commander Adama and tell him, "Both of your children are lost on this planet, but will you trust the alien leader and come here to speak to them anyway?"
Starbuck scanned the bushes. She'd walked in dew before stepping on the concrete walkway, and small damp footsteps led this way before wandering into the grass. In the lantern's glow, something caught his eye, lying next to a tree and half-crushed from some heavier footfall.
He stooped. It was a flower, a rose, as the Terrans called it, in Athena's favorite color, a pink that matched the nightwear she'd been lent. One of the petals had a dried smear of something on it, and strands of hair were caught in a thorn on the stem.
He picked it up very carefully, but several crushed petals detached and drifted to the ground. Where one of them landed, he found a bit of pink lace, torn from clothing. His heart in his throat, Starbuck searched the grass and shrubs. From the rest of the scene, it appeared she had fallen here, and someone had picked her up and carried her away.
He still didn't trust the inspector general. Without raising a hue and cry, he first contacted Colonel Tigh on his portable comlink.
Diana studied the medical report so rapidly compiled on the new human prisoner. It was as favorable as she had hoped. Athena carried the same genetic codes, in the necessary chromosomes, as her brother Apollo. Similar enough to Robin Maxwell's to permit the human, with proper preparation and care, to conceive and carry a child of Visitor siring.
Her smile was victorious. Philip might have access to Colonial technology, but what was technology compared to the abilities of a Starchild? And Elizabeth, the first Starchild, was dead, with the Leader who'd been Diana's own lover, then sent her to this planet when he tired of her. She had removed him when he threatened her ambitions a second time.
Yes, I have the trumps now. I have Apollo to tell me anything I need to know. I have the knowledge and equipment to create a second Starchild, one completely under my control and teaching. And I have the perfect vessel for her in Athena. It will take some time, but I can wait. Philip's attention will be turned outward, and he cannot know what I plan.
Your council will be a dismal failure, Philip, when I shatter it and send you to war with the humans again....
She swivelled her chair at that urgent voice. "Yes, Juliet?"
The female blinked at seeing Diana comfortably nestled in her own chair at her own desk, but discarded the reaction as disloyal. "Thelma contacted me while you were performing your genetic tests."
"Oh?" She tossed the sheets off-handedly to the desk. "Thelma's not one of our people."
"She was concerned about Willie...."
"I understand he disappeared, but it wasn't my doing."
"I know, but apparently Michael Donovan suspects his disappearance may be connected to Science Frontiers. She said he told her that he was coming here last evening to check things out, and to talk to Dr. Maitland, but that neither of them returned to their homes, nor did they contact her with any information. She was concerned, and wondered if they had spoken to me."
"They were here?"
"I don't know. I sent James to check...."
Diana rose and began pacing with some agitation. "They were here? What do they know? What do they suspect?" She glared at her blonde subordinate. "What did you tell her?"
"That I hadn't seen them, and that they hadn't spoken to me. I said I would call her if they contacted me, and asked her to call me if she saw them, as naturally I was very concerned about the possible disappearance of several of my closest friends."
Her smile was tight. "Excellent response, Juliet...."
The page on the desk rang out imperiously. Diana nodded at her to answer.
"Yes?" Juliet leaned over the desk to flip the toggle; Diana was out of sight of anyone on the other end, but could listen and observe freely.
James's arrogant face appeared on the screen, raking quickly past Juliet. "Is Diana there?"
Juliet stepped aside to give her superior access to the terminal.
"Yes, James, what have you found?"
"We have two prisoners, Commander." He licked his lower lip with the point of his tongue, looking ready to sample the prisoners for breakfast.
The woman's response was as predatory as his. "Donovan and Maitland?"
He shook his blond head. "No. Mirella Lincoln and Caitlin O'Shaughnessy, the personnel sent over from Humanidyne a few days ago. We found them lurking in the computer data storage chamber, trying to access certain files. They put up a fight, but both have been secured, and are relatively undamaged."
She loved the emphasis he put on the words "secured" and "undamaged." "My dear James," she hissed lovingly. "My trust and faith in you grow every day. I have a special task for you, then, since you serve me so well. Take them both to holding chambers, and guard them personally. I will speak to them later, and determine what we ... will ... do ... with ... them...."
His eyes moistened at the patent invitation. Then he saluted and signed off.
Juliet met her gaze questioningly.
The other woman virtually shot sparks. "It will keep James away from the medical chamber while the subject is prepared. Douglas's task will be done before my dear lover is aware of her being captive here." She gently stroked the other female's jawline. "Let us go."
Athena felt everything through a delightfully warm haze. She purred softly to herself as she curled up on the soft cushions. The cold was gone, and the unyielding metal against her back. Whatever they'd given her to drink had been tasty, and now flowed soothingly through her veins.
"Hello, my love."
She rolled at that throaty whisper. There he stood. She stretched languorously and smiled.
He took her hand and pulled her to a sitting position. She drew her feet under her and leaned on her free hand. His fingers coiled along her arm in a most intriguing way.
"Do I know you?" she teased coyly.
"I am Douglas." He stroked her shoulder and reached for her neck as he settled beside her on the bed. Stripped to the waist, his presence had a strange effect on her. She let her own fingers glide across his chest, over his well-muscled shoulders.
"I think I've seen you in a dream," she mused. There was something in his eyes....
He bent to kiss the hollow of her throat, and lingered, nipping gently.
"Umm...." She pulled him to her, breathing faster. Should she encourage him this way? It was hardly proper; she hadn't know him long, after all though just how long was fuzzy. And what would Starbuck think if he knew? Or her father and brother?
Why should I care? It's my life. And if I want Douglas to be part of it....
He pulled the lacy garment from her shoulders; she responded by reaching for his belt.
Athena was no virgin, even if she wasn't as experienced as some of her friends, and she soon realized there was something odd about the man's lovemaking. It didn't matter, though. He brought her a fire she couldn't resist, and she responded more than eagerly. He held her curled close to him, later, and whispered to her.
"You are so delicious...."
And she fell asleep in his strong arms, glad she wasn't dreaming.
Diana watched coolly as Douglas disentangled from the sheet and draped it over the sleeping human's body. A silly, sentimental gesture, but some males and females were that way in the afterglow of sexual activity. She didn't hold the moment's tenderness against him. The duty was done, and obviously done quite well.
Observing, Diana felt her own clinical detachment slipping away to a certain excitement beyond anything ambition could account for. Now, as Douglas dressed and left the chamber, she wondered why she had waited so long to take the young officer to her own bed.
She would soon remedy the situation.
When he came out of the mating chamber, she touched his shoulder. "Well done, and she was no child like Robin."
His eyes were half-dilated as he finished dressing. "The colors, textures, and pheromones were well-chosen." His voice was somehow distant, as if his mind were as clouded as the human female's had been. He stared at the viewer, beyond which was the room where the Colonial woman would sleep for many hours; she would be watched for any unexpected reactions during that time. "All preparations were successful."
"Are you ... weary?"
"Yes," he replied with a quiet sigh, then moved away.
She was stung. He stared back at her. But perhaps he does not realize what I offer, or is too drained to accept. Another day, when we are both rested....
Diana didn't like waiting for what she wanted, and her interest was now piqued. She didn't realize that, as she studied Athena through the screen, her face was clouded with jealousy.
The deep cavern should have been dark and cold. Instead it glowed with blue fire, and the heat drew the reptilian inhabitants to bask in its warmth like the sycophants of some long-gone tyrant. In the center of the chamber the large, amorphous blue lump twisted and spasmed as if from internal agony or metamorphosis. The heat and eerie light came from that shape, and occasionally it emitted sounds like pained hisses and lost moans.
Dawn over Los Angeles. Philip hadn't slept since Athena's absence was discovered, and he and the Colonel spoke. He watched the reddened horizon with a lethargy common to his species at this time of day, and aggravated by his lack of rest. He knew he'd feel better in a few hours, when the sun brought warmth and light to the city.
There had been no trace of the missing woman. Philip was certain Diana had engineered her disappearance and was working against him in other ways as well. Commander Adama was on his way to Earth, while his ship, the Galactica, retrieved the rest of their survivor fleet. Lydia had likewise informed him she was ordering the remaining mother ships into an orbit around the planet for "mutual protection." He hadn't come up with any countering arguments, and hoped there would be no incidents between the Colonials and his people. There hadn't been word yet from the incoming mother ship, nor from the rescue force he'd sent out. The hostages were safely arrived in New York, securely in the hands of possible enemies. In a few days, there would be a huge council between the Terrans, Colonials, and Visitors.
He closed his eyes, facing the rising sun, hoping its warmth and light could dispel his worries as well as the chill in his blood.
Startled and shocked, he glanced quickly around, feeling, for a moment, blue fire lapping at his face. The compulsion returned, searing an urgent command into his brain.
"I obey, my Leader."
She turned to the communications officer. "Yes, Miriam?"
"Report from Commander Bruce on the Sydney Mother Ship. They have rendezvoused with the newcomer, and the Cylons are retreating. Also, several of the mother ships sent back to Homeworld are returning!" the petite officer informed her.
"The Tokyo and New York Mother Ships are returning. Their commanders demand to speak to Philip and no one else, and they refuse to enter orbit until they have done so."
She blinked. Mutiny. It must be. I suspected Philip was a Fifth Columnist he all but admitted it. If they have to speak to him, there must have been mutinies. Were there others? Will they come here too? Or have the Cylons already found them?
"What word from the newcomer?"
"She identifies herself as the Leader's Mother Ship. The Commander reports they were summoned here, but refuses to give any additional data. Sydney and Rio de Janeiro are outfitting her crew as we are, with names, tongues, and costuming, apparently also by the Leader's orders."
"Then the Leader did survive." A weight left her shoulders. "Send word that we await their arrival eagerly, and look forward to extending proper honors. I'm going to the surface to speak with Philip. Contact us at once if you receive any further transmissions."
She trusted Miriam would obey her orders. She wasn't aware, however, that the idealistic young Visitor had also been a member of the Fifth Column, and was already passing along the information to several individuals on Earth and on the returning mother ships, reassuring them that orbit was safe, and their mutineer crews would face no reprisals.
As Lydia boarded her shuttle, she considered how canny Philip had been in not proclaiming himself Leader at the Hunt. It was very likely he would survive the audacity of his orders as Fleet Commander....
Adama flew the shuttle himself, with Omega as his co-pilot. Council members Tinia and Geller came as representatives of the Quorum and the Fleet, at their own insistence. Vipers from Red Squadron accompanied them, and skyfighters from several mother ships joined them along the way. Earth was in sight, growing in the ports as a blue, white, and green world of incredible beauty to the veteran who'd spent so much of his life between stars, and spent so much of his soul to bring his people here safely.
The quest had also cost his family. Zac, his younger son, was dead back at Cimtar, the first casualty of the Destruction. His wife, Ila, had perished in the firestorm over Caprica. His son's wife, Serina, had fallen victim to a Cylon gun on distant Kobol, the world which had spawned the Colonials. Apollo, his oldest child and his pride, who'd lived through so much and come back so many times, was said to be a prisoner of an enemy faction, likely brainwashed, if he had indeed tried to kill a man who was the image of his best friend. And just a few centars previously, Athena had been reported missing as well, her fate unknown.
His sight blurred. All warriors but Ila, all sworn to surrender their lives at their people's need, all young, courageous, and noble. And all gone.
He steeled himself, and surreptitiously wiped away a tear.
This is our goal. This is what we fought and died for, across the stars. Soon, we will know if the journey was worth the price.
They dropped into the atmosphere, skimming over a vast expanse of ocean before sighting land that was the western edge of the continent called North America. Wispy clouds, wide swells of water topped with whitecaps, then hills of brown and green, dotted occasionally with structures and marks of human presence, and finally the tallest roofs of the city. Primitive, by Colonial standards, but still with a grandeur of its own.
The Visitor skyfighters led toward the spacedrome ... airport.
"Shall I take us down, sir?" his flight officer asked with concern.
Adama realized his mind had been wandering a bit, and there was still a smear of tears in his vision. "Take us down, Omega."
Omega took the controls while Adama turned back to Siress Tinia, Sire Geller, and their aides. "We'll be on the planet's surface in a few centons. Prepare yourselves to meet our brothers and sisters of the Thirteenth Tribe and the aliens who have occupied their planet."
Geller looked somewhat anxious, as did the four aides, but Tinia nodded more confidently.
"I'm sure we will be able to reach an accord with this Inspector General of the Visitors, and the United Nations President of the Terrans," she said.
"We don't really know how much power either has, over what parts of this world," he warned. "We have yet much to learn, and it might be wise if we listened more than spoke, at first."
"We are not fools, Adama!" Geller snapped nervously.
Commander Adama shared a momentary glance with Tinia. The issue of who might be fools had yet to be satisfactorily determined.
A centon later, the shuttlecraft settled to ground with a delicate thump. It sat on a long concrete lane, surrounded by a maze of similar lanes. Several tall structures were visible at some distance, and hangars of other craft.
An honor guard waited outside, consisting of several uniformed and beribboned Visitors, the warriors he'd sent down previously, and the members of the Viper escort. At the end of the line, a blonde in the uniform of a high-ranking Visitor officer stood with carefully schooled face.
Adama walked up to her, with Tinia, Geller, and the aides and pilot behind him. He and Lydia studied each other frankly. The Visitor broke silence first.
"Commander Adama, of the Galactica."
"Yes. You are Security Commander Lydia. I recall you from several communiques."
"Yes. A vehicle is waiting for us, and other limousines for your Council members."
"We are to be separated?" Tinia interjected.
Lydia smiled. "It is a Terran custom to grant dignitaries private transportation. A gesture of respect. We will be traveling to the Embassy in caravan, of course. If you find that unacceptable, we could perhaps fit you in one vehicle, but the space would be cramped, and your aides would still have to travel separately from us."
"Terran custom is quite acceptable to us," Adama replied firmly. "But I had expected Inspector General Philip to greet us?"
"He is busy. As his second-in-command, this happy duty fell to me." She led him to a waiting black vehicle with small banners on its front bumper.
As soon as they were in the car and the doors were closed, Lydia took a deep breath, then released it in a deep sigh. "Commander Adama, I have bad news."
"Inspector General Philip is missing."
He stared mutely.
"He vanished this morning from the Embassy. No sign of foul play, but no one saw him leave, and he hasn't contacted us since. I tried to find him with urgent news, but.... Do you know how many people have disappeared in the last two days?"
"Colonel Tigh mentioned several. I presume you have a reason for passing along this information privately?"
"We are both affected by this, Commander. I think we should find a way to deal with it."
"What do you suspect?" he asked quietly, his mind already racing.
"I suspect Diana is trying to disrupt the council. And I fear...."
"Yes?" He watched her closely. There was a personal interest in her posture.
"Adama, my brother is one of the hostages Philip told you of. I will do whatever I can to keep him safe. To protect him, I must protect the council delegates, and find Diana. But...." He saw how she hated asking. "...I need your help."
"My children may also be considered hostages." He leaned back in the plush cushions. "And my primary concerns are my people, and preserving them from the Cylons. If we can be honest with one another, perhaps we can meet our goals together."
He thought gratitude flashed in her falsely-human eyes. Her brother must be what mattered most to her in this life. He filed that fact away, as if he were in the presence of an untested ally against whom such information might be useful.
Athena woke up slowly, her head as achey and her mouth as cottony as if she'd drunk a couple of bottles of insufficiently aged ambrosa. She stared upward at her watcher for a moment before the image made any impression on her. Blonde woman, hair to her shoulders, lightly waved. Worried, almost sick expression. Her first thought was that it must be Cassie, but a micron's consideration told her it wasn't.
"Hello...." Talking made her nauseous. "I feel sick...."
The woman's expression turned angry, bitter. "I'm sure you do. Robin was too. But Diana knows I delivered Elizabeth, so she's got me watching you, the bitch...."
"If you can sit up without retching, here's something that will help your head."
Athena tried to sit, but had to lean on the other woman for a long moment before she could support herself. She downed the tablets and water without protest. It stayed down, and after a moment she was able to look around without her vision blurring.
"Where am I?"
"The basement of Science Frontiers, in the Terran city of Los Angeles. This particular luxury suite is one of Diana's prison holding cells." She spoke bitterly.
"Why am I here? Who are you? Where's...." His name wouldn't come to her.
"I'm Julie Parrish, the real Julie Parrish. Call me Julie. I'm to be your doctor for the next nine months or so."
"Oh. Am I sick?"
"You will be."
The chamber was not large, containing only a bed, a small desk and chair, a mostly-empty book shelf, and sanitary facilities. The walls were painted a light blue, but were empty. There were no windows, and the one door looked like it sealed quite tightly.
"Will I have to stay here?" she asked, not especially thrilled.
"Not if you cooperate, and accept your situation."
"You don't sound like I should."
"You're human." Julie rose and went to the door. "She's awake."
A male figure appeared in the doorway.
"Apollo!" Athena threw herself out of bed and staggered into her brother's arms. "You'll all right! What happened, Apollo? Are you all right?"
His smile was encouraging, but doubt suddenly nibbled at her.
"But they said ... they said you were a prisoner of the Renegades...." She glanced back at Julie, who couldn't meet her gaze.
"We're all prisoners, Athena," she said quietly.
"What? No! Apollo...."
"Not prisoners, exactly, Athena. We're just being protected, from people who would just as soon see us dead as alive. Diana's keeping us safe...."
She stared in shock at her handsome brother. The words had a monotonal quality to them, and the supposedly reassuring smile was somehow mechanical, and wrong on his face.
"What did they do to you?" she asked in a small voice.
Another person entered the room, a brunette in a white lab coat. "Julie, you can return to your chamber. Apollo, my dear, Diana would like to see us."
"Of course, Serina."
It didn't register at first. "Serina?" It couldn't be. Stunned, she stared from Apollo to Serina to Julie. Serina's expression was mocking. Apollo appeared engrossed in her very presence. Julie looked compassionate.
Guards appeared to escort the guests out. Athena tried to grab Apollo's sleeve. He shook her off when Serina took his other arm.
"But Apollo, Serina died at Kobol!"
Serina's tight smile was gloating. "Diana saved me," she told the other woman. "She saved us all." She pulled Apollo out.
Julie closed her eyes, shaking her head, and left, looking downcast.
The door closed, and she was alone.
"But...." She ran to the door and pounded on it until her hands bled. "Apollo!" she shrieked at the top of her lungs. "Serina's dead! She's dead! They're using you! It's not true, this isn't real! Serina's dead!"
There was no answer, and after a time the pain from her bleeding hands got through to her brain. She slumped by the door, too shocked to cry.
"But Serina's dead...."
Enter Sheba's Galaxy