It was an emergency meeting of those who had been leaders of Resistance groups operating in the Southwestern region of North America. Ham Tyler had called it, with Archangel's cooperation; he and Chris Farber represented the larger, global resistance movement that had originally sent them there. Colonel Hannibal Smith was there, with his team. Devon Miles represented FLAG, with Michael Knight, his "secret weapon," and several others of his organization. Archangel was, of course, in attendance, minus his usually-present driver, but with a handful of operatives sent from the Washington, DC branch of their bureau, who'd been sent to ensure the security of the United Nations representatives to Philip's council. Soviet and British agents were present for the same purpose. A handful of trusted others were also there – some from other Resistance cores, some the last survivors of groups less lucky during the war.
"Do we trust them?" Tyler asked bluntly. "How do we know these so-called Colonials aren't some new trick by the Visitors to divert our attention?"
"I supposed that depends on whether or not we trust Philip," Devon Miles commented diplomatically. "He seems to have accepted them as genuine, and as he seemed sincerely to be a Fifth Columnist, I would say this is not trick – at least not of his."
"But Philip disappeared last night, just after the 'Colonials' appeared yesterday, and were guests in the Embassy – and one of the Colonial women disappeared as well," contributed one of the newly-arrived Washington agents.
"I saw a picture of that woman – if they disappeared together, Philip's got good taste!" cracked one of Smith's men.
There were a few snickers and some glares; one of the women elbowed her male companion. The amusement and other reactions quickly died when Tyler ignored the remark.
"We don't know if they're human or lizard, if they're plants of the Visitors, or Diana, or some new party throwing a monkey wrench in everybody's plans...." the dark-garbed mercenary continued.
"They are human." Archangel stood to gain the group's attention. "I've seen the medical reports on the one called Starbuck, the one you took into custody in the desert, Michael Knight."
"And that's why we trust 'em?" Knight answered, unconvinced. "I'm not sure I should trust everybody in this room, much less strangers I've never seen before, who claim to be human, and to have come from outer space, and to be interested in our welfare. The Visitors haven't exactly been real convincing that we should trust what comes from out there, and when they're concerned about us, it makes me wonder what they really want."
There were answering murmurs, and a few nods. The Firm agent caught a few troubled glances sent his way.
"Whom did you intend to suggest you don't trust?" he asked directly.
After a moment more, Tyler finally spoke. "Word is, Donovan and that scientist friend of Julie's disappeared last night too. We've also heard they were last seen on their way to visit you – at gunpoint."
Archangel cocked an eyebrow and smiled tightly. "I can see we'll have to be more careful about using Mr. Seavers in the future."
"Colt's concerned with all of us, not just the government's wishes."
He nodded. "All right. It's a fair question. Yes, Michael Donovan and Steve Maitland saw me last night. And we brought them from Science Frontiers under ... a very strong suggestion that they obey. And today they are nowhere insight. Obviously, I can hardly deny knowing anything about them, and you don't seem willing to take my word that they're unharmed, so....
"They discovered something that we have no desire to make public, at this point. Since they could conceivably betray this information without intending to, I suggested they go someplace where the information would present no danger to them – or anyone else. Dr. Maitland is currently at a scientific research station. Donovan has been sent south with another Resistance group.
"I will point out that both went willingly, after our discussion."
Tyler and Farber both stood up straight, and looked suddenly menacing. "I don't know Maitland," the leaner man said, "but I don't believe Donovan would just up and leave without letting someone know where he was going."
Archangel locked stares. "Even to save his son?"
"We finally located the Visitor Youth camp where Sean is training. Our people took it this morning. Donovan will be helping with deprogramming over a hundred American and Mexican teen-aged boys. You tell me, would he do that?"
Tyler refused to back down. "He would. But how do we know you're telling the truth?"
"You trust me." His eyes bored into the group. "Like you've had to before."
That didn't seem to reassure everybody.
"And just what information don't you want to make public at this time?" asked one of the other Resistance leaders.
Archangel studied the people in the room. Tyler, Smith, Miles, Knight, Robbins, Allen, Rider, McConnell, Hawke, Jones, Cutter, Holt, Steele, a dozen lesser known Resistance operatives.... Some of the best people he'd every worked with, under the worst of situations.
"We think we know where Diana is holed up. Again. And this time we're not moving in until we're sure, and we know we've got her."
"And Donovan found out? What's dangerous about that?" Farber asked, perplexed. "That's information any of us would bring back to this group."
"Let's just say he had some personal involvement, and leave it at that."
"Let's not." Tyler seemed determined to find out what was going on, and most of the others were going along with him.
And you'll react as he did if I tell you Parrish is gone. The Visitors can't have the woman who saved the world.
At that moment, one of the guards stuck her head in the door. Archangel nodded to her, glad of a moment's reprieve. "What is it, Jayne?"
"Dr. Lincoln from Humanidyne to see you, sir."
"I'll see her in a few minutes, unless it's urgent."
"It's urgent." A tall, think black man stepped past the guard. He literally stared over the crowd, towering over everyone else present. Despite Archangel's quick gesture that they would speak privately in a moment, he addressed all of the Resistance leaders. "The Visitors got Mirella and Caitlin last night. I stuck around 'til I found out where they were taking them, then I got out and called Billy to bring me here. Diana's holed up at Science Frontiers, but she's moving to a place called San Carlos, and taking her prisoners with her. And the woman at Science Frontiers isn't Julie Parrish. She's a lizard."
The room erupted in a hubbub of shouts and cries.
"That's why she took us off the alien ship!"
"Oh my God, then Diana knows...."
"How'd he get away?"
"All right!" Tyler's yell, backed with everything he had in the way of menace, intimidation, and command, brought back relative quiet. There was near-enmity in the glare he fixed on the Firm agent. "I think we're all entitled to the complete story now, Archangel."
The grim agent finally nodded. He'd sent people into danger before, including Mirella. It was never easy to lose them; several deaths lay as uneasy blots on a conscience he often had to ignore. He'd sacrifice her if he had to, as he'd sacrificed people before, but he'd rather not have to....
"We first suspected something was wrong at Science Frontiers several days after Philip approached us with the plan for a United Nations discussion here in Los Angeles. Dr. Parrish suddenly stopped checking in, and became singularly uncommunicative about the alien ship. I sent in Mirella Lincoln and Caitlin O'Shaughnessy to investigate. Dr. Lincoln and several members of Humanidyne's think tank assisted. The capture of the one Colonial, followed by the arrival of Colonel Tigh yesterday, dropped the priority of the Colonial ship; however, they'd also discovered by then that the woman in charge was no longer Julie Parrish, but a Visitor, presumably one of Diana's. Donovan and Maitland reached that conclusion last night; their closeness to Parrish, and the likelihood of their doing something impetuous and idiotic, made it necessary to temporarily remove them from the scene.
"I sent our agents back tonight to learn, if they could, where Diana was, and how much she had learned about our operations from things some of you might have passed along to the phoney Julie Parrish."
The dry finish brought uncomfortable looks from some of the Resistance fighters; they had indeed spoken with her, and if the false Julie was in league with Diana, she now knew much more about the Fifth Column and the Resistance than they wanted her to.
"So she knows about the UN conference?" Miles asked, voicing a concern the others hadn't yet considered.
"The conference is common knowledge; but we took the liberty of changing a number of the arrangements when our suspicions were raised; even if Parrish spilled everything she knows, it's outdated information."
There was collective relief.
"Is Julie alive?" inquired Callie Jones. The tall woman was a friend who also worked at Science Frontiers, and had been on the team examining the Colonial ship until the Visitor took Parrish's place and reassigned the human.
Archangel glanced at the male Dr. Lincoln.
He nodded. "She's listed on the cargo manifest for the trip to San Carlos, along with Lincoln and O'Shaughnessy, and the missing Colonials."
"So they're not her agents?" Tyler demanded.
"No. She's as agitated about them as we are. And I suspect, from everything I've heard, that this means they're on the level."
Everyone absorbed the thought.
"Humans from outer space." Jones took a deep breath. "What my father would have given to know that...."
Archangel smoothly resumed control of the gathering. "If we all accept that, the next order of business, now that we all know the situation, is planning a raid on San Carlos. Who's in?"
The response was unanimous.
"But how'd you get away?" someone piped up again, talking to Lincoln.
He replied in utter seriousness, "I ran under a cabinet."
The thought of the tall, lanky youth literally running under a cabinet to hide from Visitor troopers sounded so ridiculous that several of the fighters actually laughed, in spite of knowing something of his abilities, and the planning for the raid began on a slightly more optimistic note.
Dawn over Los Angeles. They two newly-arrived mother ships, accepting Miriam's information, identified themselves to Lydia, and rejoined the alien fleet. Seven Visitor mother ships – Los Angeles, Cairo, Toronto, London, and Paris, with the newly-arrived New York and Tokyo – strung their orbits around the planet, their skyfighters and shuttles weaving a pattern between them as they ferried personnel and supplies, and established a guard routine to protect the world – and its satellite, for they knew well how easy it was to approach from behind Luna, and hide there, undetected, until it was time for an attack.
The mother ship of the Leader remained aloof, still preparing her crew to deal with the humans, with the aid of the equally silent Sydney and Rio de Janeiro Mother Ships. She still refused to give any explanation for her presence. Her commander simply stated that they had been summoned, and that they would wait until they knew why.
Human radar blipped as yet two more vessels approached the web of protection. Those mother ships asked for, and received, permission to rejoin the Visitor fleet.
The Moscow and Athens Mother Ships, their crews decimated first by Red Dust poisoning in the second invasion of Earth, and then in a mutiny by Fifth Columnists, were no longer solely manned by Visitors. Each had carried massive cargoes of human beings, meant as a food source for Sirian troopers in distant quadrants as they faced the Cylons – unlike the Tokyo and New York Mother Ships, which had carried mostly water and natural resources. Tokyo and New York had limped back short-handed, after their less-bloody mutinies. The Fifth Columnists of Moscow and Athens had freed enough of the Terrans to crew the ships, and begun teaching them.
Upon returning to Earth orbit, without contacting Lydia or any other Visitor superiors for approval, they defrosted the rest of their captives, and began shuttling back to Earth thousands of Russian and Greek scientists, doctors, engineers, computer and defense specialists, and myriads of ordinary men, women, and children.
In one day, Visitor technology became irretrievably available to the humans.
The Fifth Columnists passed that information among themselves, but Lydia wasn't aware of it. As she studied the odds, however, she realized there were now four mother ships firmly committed to peace with the humans. She was certain the Renegades would figure that out too. If push came to civil war, Diana would no longer have any chance of regaining control of the fleet. Especially with Philip so obviously committed to the humans as well.
But Philip was missing.
And the Leader's Mother Ship hung in disquieting silence over Luna.
Lydia quietly announced to the commanders of the mother ships that Philip had gone into Retreat, taking a few days to meditate and prepare for the conference. She assumed command of the fleet in his name.
By noon, there was still no word on any of the missing, not human, Colonial, nor Visitor, nor any challenge to Lydia's new-claimed leadership, from Diana or anyone else. The commanders of the other mother ships either accepted her story about Philip, and her ability to lead them in his absence, or were too cautious about seeing one of themselves take control to contest it with her. Or else they doubted they could take command from her in combat, for she was fully prepared to duel any who challenged her. Her reputation was well-known; the number of her kills was not exaggerated, and there were in fact only a small fistful of other Visitor warriors in the Earth fleet whose challenge she would hesitate for even a second to accept. Even the unpredictable Damian, from the Toronto Mother Ship, seemed to have adopted a wait-and-see attitude for the moment.
As the sun rose high over Los Angeles, Lydia prepared for the midday meal, to be shared with the Colonials. She considered formal attire of some sort, but rejected it. This wasn't a celebratory occasion, but a serious discussion, and she intended to meet the humans as an efficient officer carrying out the duties assigned her by her superior. Only Adama knew that Philip was gone.
I hold a fleet for a male who may be dead or a prisoner, as good as dead both by our codes and by the nature of his likely captor. And this is the man who gave my brother to our enemies as a hostage. I am becoming a fool, or....
And why do I trust this Adama? I should not trust him, but he reaches something in me, draws my loyalty as the Leader did. He is human; he has no reason to trust me, yet he seems to. He knows he could control me, as he controls his own people, almost effortlessly, and still he does not. And that binds me, as Philip does, more than if he....
They have power, both of them, power from within to compel others, and power from their people to command ships and crews. I am drawn to that. I joined the Military to serve such power, and to find it in myself.
Philip, what has happened to you?
For a rigid, timeless moment, Lydia felt something at the edge of her mind, a call, or a command, or reassurance. It was powerful, but distant. She had never felt anything like it before, and she had no idea what it meant. It was not repeated, and she began to doubt she'd heard or felt anything.
The security commander-cum-fleet commander ordered a marvelous banquet for Adama and the other Colonials, a sample of the near-infinite variety and bounty Earth had to offer. They were suitably impressed, and enjoyed the meal immensely after yahrens of ship-bound life and limited menus.
Afterward, Lydia discreetly followed Adama to the garden.
"You wish to speak to me?" he called quietly.
She was surprised; she hadn't expected him to notice her until she was near him and ready to talk. She stepped into view and settled her sunglasses to protect her eyes from the direct sun, strong and quick to burn delicate alien retinas. "Yes, I had hoped we might speak privately...."
"Any word of Philip, or the others?"
Lydia marveled at the iron control that held his voice and features neutral, when his children were at risk. If it had been her brother who was missing and likely in Diana's clutches, she would have torn the city apart looking for him, and raged or pleaded with everyone she met.
"No, nothing. I'm afraid we have to accept that Diana may have taken Philip, as she has likely taken the others, but I don't understand why she hasn't acted against us in any other way...."
"This Diana has a long reach, and a most intricate sense of timing, to have snatched so many prisoners at her whim, when we can do nothing but wait for her next move."
The blonde female bristled. "What are you implying?"
He stared levelly at her. "The disappearances, as explained to me, could only have occurred if there are Renegades in the Embassy."
You find fault with my security? Or is it me you accuse of being a Renegade? "We suspect as much, yes, but...."
"I believe there are also Renegades, or Diana herself, at your Science Frontiers facility." His eyes were steely gray, and something of brooding menace now hung over his thick brows and set mouth.
She gaped. "That ... would explain much...."
"I suspect it would be safest to move the ... United Nations meeting to another site, if Diana has so thoroughly infiltrated this city."
"Such as?" Lydia felt humiliated that she hadn't figured out Diana's probable location herself, but had let herself be caught up in anxiety over Nigel.
"The Galactica has facilities for such a meeting. She is neutral territory to both of you. We are not of Earth, so your people would feel safe from reprisals of vengeful Terrans, and the air is uncontaminated by the Red Dust. To the humans of this world, we are brothers, and we will let no harm come to them, if we can prevent it; they need not fear being on our ship as being entrapped." He delivered the words calmly, logically, totally reasonably.
"If the humans trust you, and accept that we would not attack your ship...."
"The hostages in New York would prevent you from attacking," he replied, with a curious emphasis that told her he knew her weakness. "And Diana would not have the capability to attack us. I have spoken with Colonel Tigh and our Quorum representatives on this matter...."
There was a rustling in the bushes near them. Commander Adama ignored it, but Lydia whirled to face whatever was there, dropping into a fighting crouch, since she was unarmed, as per Embassy regulations.
Whatever was in the bushes continued to move violently, suddenly accompanied by grunts and thuds.
A moment later, a Visitor trooper was shoved into view, his red uniform and humanskin somewhat mangled, his sunglasses shattered and dangling from his nose at an odd angle. Two Colonial warriors, a black man and a blond-haired white man, rolled into sight after him, obviously out of breath from a wrestling match with the physically stronger Visitor, and equally roughed up.
"Willard!" Lydia exclaimed.
"Lieutenants Boomer and Starbuck," was Adama's calm statement. "This is the gentleman who has been following me?"
"Yeah!" Starbuck panted.
"What?" the Visitor security commander demanded.
"So he is not one of yours?"
"He is, but...."
"I suspect we have one of your Renegades."
Willard squinted against the sun to glare at the two of them, and looked ready to bolt, until the Colonial warriors grabbed his arms and twisted them behind the man. After the effort they'd put into tracking and subduing the Visitor, they didn't want him getting away.
He hissed at her, but gave no answer.
"So you are Diana's link." There was deadly fury in every tensed muscle of the woman's body. "And she is behind Philip's disappearance...."
The man's startlement was too real to be feigned.
"It would seem he finds this a surprise," Adama commented. "Since you have kept Philip's disappearance a secret, I suspect Diana's people do not know he is gone. Therefore, they are not responsible."
"But why would Philip just leave?" she shot back.
Adama had no answer to that, but he did have another suggestion. "Perhaps the young man can give you other information."
Her tight smile was unholy. Yes. Information about Diana, no doubt, and other matters as well. I should call the guards.... How many other Renegades are there, when I trusted my forces? No. I made enough of a mistake, in almost trusting you.... Her eyes fastened hypnotically on Willard's; he tried to flinch away from her. You will pay for my mistake, and your own treachery, soldier. You will pay for betraying my trust, and Philip's....
She glanced at Starbuck and Boomer, then at Adama. "This man may well be responsible for the disappearance of your daughter Athena."
His eyes narrowed fractionally; she saw the warriors tighten their hold on Willard as their own expressions grew grim.
"I am not sure I can trust all my men here, at this point," she admitted. "Commander, with your wisdom and apparent experience...."
"I have dealt with traitors before," he acknowledged without emotion.
She made an offer. "Perhaps you would care to be present at the ... interrogation? And if I might ... borrow your warriors for a short while?"
"We do not believe in questioning under torture."
"I know how to run the equipment, and I know several Fifth Columnists I can trust to work with me on this, if nothing else. You need not be present, if you do not wish to be. All I ask is that you help me get him there. Let us administer our own justice."
Adama nodded, and gestured at his warriors to obey her for the moment. "I trust you will consider our offer of the Galactica for your conference?"
"It seems ... a logical alternative to a difficult situation."
Philip stared at the mountain ranchhouse. The call had not come from here. He would have walked past it, but two figures ran out to him.
"Philip!" It was Willie. The other male was Kyle Bates, blinking against the bright sun that warmed lizard blood.
He studied them, only half-aware of what he said and did. His soul was some distance from here, and his will was guided by another. "The Leader is not here," he announced distantly, then turned and left them.
"The Leader is dead!" Kyle erupted, catching his arm. "The shuttle ... it exploded, me and Elizabeth are all that survived...."
"The Leader is not here." He pulled free without effort and continued the quest. Shining blue, the time of change.... Investiture.... For the People....
"What's got into him?" Kyle demanded of the other Visitor.
Willie's eyes were wide. "Now I understand...."
"Understand what?" The handsome young human was still confused.
"It is not Elizabeth. It is the Leader. The Leader calls...." His jaw slackened, and his eyes glazed over as if he'd gone into shock. "I obey the will of the Leader...." He fell into step with Philip.
"Not Elizabeth? The Leader?" He suddenly remembered with awe-inspiring clarity exactly how Elizabeth and the Leader had interacted; the feeling hit like a punch in the gut. The Leader and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, the Leader. She's gone. He's taken her over completely. Elizabeth is gone....
"No!" he screamed. "I'll fight you! I'll fight for her! Not you, you bastard, you've got no right to her!"
The Visitors walked on, unheeding, vanishing into the woods.
He ran back into the cabin. The guns and rifles from hunting expeditions of better days were still there, along with the lasers from the last stand when Diana had tried to recapture the Starchild. Working feverishly, Kyle pulled out weapons and ammunition. Armed with loaded weapons, he charged out into the forest to track his possessed friends. One way or another, his Elizabeth would be free....
Julie sighed. Reduced to its most truthful level, Diana had her working as a technician or graduate assistant, not a scientist. But she hadn't really expected access to any of the massive computers or advanced equipment – the Visitor wasn't giving her any opportunity to contact the outside world, or to mess up any experiments under preparation or in progress. So she cleaned up, washed the most primitive equipment, collated data, and stood around a lot. The Visitor had promised her a role in providing for Earth's defense against the Cylons; so far, she hadn't been allowed to do much of anything.
She glanced up from her collection of freshly sterilized glassware to see James striding toward her. The hulking soldier was close to Diana, in many ways, but recently, there had been competition in the form of Douglas. Julie had seen how wary it made this male, and wondered if she could use it in any way.
She pasted a falsely warm smile on her face as he stopped next to her.
"Hi, James. Can I help you?"
"We are leaving here in a few minutes. Finish whatever you're doing and wait until I return," he ordered brusquely.
"Where are we going?" She tried to keep up a facade of amiability. James had a perverse interest in human females; she'd played on that once, to escape, and it might have worked if Diana hadn't interrupted. She figured it was worth trying again, so she had been friendly on the few occasions when they were together.
His eyes devoured her on several levels. "You'll be traveling with the Colonial female. You'll see where we're going when you get there."
"Yes, James." She nodded submissively and began stacked away the petri dishes, pipettes, and assorted flasks.
He suddenly caught her wrist in a vise-like grip. Startled, she glanced up to see an unreadable expression on his face. Just as suddenly, he released her and stalked away.
Rubbing the bruising skin, she wondered what he'd meant by it.
She finished storing the equipment, and took a seat near the door under the watchful eyes of another Visitor trooper. In a few minutes, Apollo and the alien Serina entered as well.
An alien, pretending to be his wife. When I first saw Serina, I thought she really was a Colonial, 'converted' as he was, and working for Diana. It wasn't until they kidnaped Athena – poor woman! – and she said the real Serina was dead, that I knew. Diana, you are utterly without any moral sense or compassion. To play on a lost love....
But there was a flicker in his eyes when Athena screamed at him that Serina was dead. He reacted to her. And Diana doesn't want to use the conversion chamber on Athena for fear it'll disrupt their vile 'experiment.' So she'll be an influence on him. And maybe she can tell me things I can use to make him remember, to help him pull clear of his brainwashing....
Robin, I wish you'd talked more about your feelings during your pregnancy. We couldn't end yours when you wanted to; maybe we couldn't end hers even now, this early. Athena's a mature woman, and I've got some idea how to deal with the physiological aspects – if these Colonials are human enough for that to matter – but I don't know how to help her deal with the thought of an alien offspring.
Something – Athena recovered from those drugs pretty well, and faster than I expected. I'll have to keep a close eye on that, if maybe there are some differences between the Colonials and us. Something I can use, or something to watch out for....
They're from the stars, Apollo and Athena. Maybe it won't be as shocking a thing for them to face, a half-human child. Maybe among them, someone like Elizabeth would've had a more normal life, more acceptance.... Star Trek might be a lousy way to look at it, but maybe they've got their own real versions of Mr. Spock, and all these things that shock us so much will be perfectly acceptable, if a little out of the ordinary....
Pointed ears. I remember when they first came, some kids and Trekkie-types were disappointed because the Visitors looked too human, not alien enough. We sure got over that. No pointed ears.... 'Dr. Parrish, you are thinking most illogically. Please confine your thoughts to subterfuge and escape.' She stifled a giggle.
Apollo sat down next to her as Serina hurried off to tend to some other unknown duty. Julie watched his eyes follow her until she vanished from sight around a corner.
Then he looked at her. He seemed troubled. "Julie? Why doesn't Serina remember Boxey?"
"Our son. From before me. She doesn't remember our son...."
Your son...? Diana didn't go deep enough! She didn't think far enough when she prepared Serina! You're pulling away, seeing again! God, I'll help you every way I can. Maybe I can save you....
"Remember what Athena said?" she whispered back.
He was silent, eyes downcast. His glanced flickered back to her for a moment. "She said ... Serina was dead ... but...."
"They bleed green, the Visitors. They bleed green."
He shook his head and moved away from her. But the tension in his body was very obvious to his fellow human.
It's begun. You know, you just don't want to accept. Apollo....
James returned, taking unnecessarily long steps. The dark-haired woman he dragged along had to hurry to keep up; the way he held her arm, it would have snapped if she tired to stop. There were angry tears in her eyes, but she held her tongue.
He almost threw her into Julie's arms, face grim. "Let's go."
Julie nodded quickly, and sent an encouraging look at Athena.
The woman's attention was on her brother; the expression was of hurt betrayal. He took her arm to help her, but couldn't meet her eyes.
"Let's go," James repeated, glaring challengingly at Apollo. The human's eyes hooded over, and he returned the stare with a watchful intensity. After a moment, the Visitor shoved his way past them to lead the way.
Julie took Athena's other arm and whispered. "Don't fight them, not now. They're stronger than we are, physically."
Athena understood; James hadn't been kind when she tried to resist him. "We need a plan, first. And we choose our own time to strike." She yanked free of her brother to lean on Julie.
Apollo looked hurt and unsure as he trailed behind them.
Julie couldn't help but notice the light green flaking on the sides of Athena's neck.
The armored truck, emblazoned with the logo of Science Frontiers, was loaded and ready to go. Part of its cargo was four human females – Julie Parrish, Mirella Lincoln, Caitlin O'Shaughnessy, and Athena. The fifth human prisoner, Apollo, traveled in a separate car with the Visitor Serina. Diana saw the two vehicles safely off through the gate before turning to James.
"You know your duty?" she demanded.
"Yes, Commander," he replied. "While you and your prisoners and staff move to San Carlos, my task force and I remain at Science Frontiers, with Juliet to give a semblance of normality. When the council convenes in a few days, we blow up the Los Angeles arena where they meet, and Science Frontiers. Then we go to the sands, and disrupt the city in every way possible. We especially want the Colonials to see these Fifth Columnists as incapable of bringing peace to Earth – if necessary, taking their superior officers and councilors as hostages. In the meantime, our people on the mother ships will move against the Fifth Columnists and retake our ships. You would prefer Lydia and Philip as captives, but better dead than free to act against you again."
"You have people in position to assassinate them if they cannot be taken?"
"Again, yes. But I'm sure you see why I cannot entrust that information to you. No one person can know too much, in case he should be captured – many of my Renegades know only a handful of my people, and don't know where our new base is, for their own protection as well as ours."
His eyes hooded over coldly.
Diana touched his hand in promise and farewell; he grabbed her fingers almost roughly in response. She took it as a gesture of passion, and pulled away with seeming reluctance, then hurried to her own vehicle.
Douglas was behind the wheel, a lover she had yet to claim. She slid in next to him, nestling closer than was necessary. "Let's go."
James's eyesight was very good; he observed the closeness. His expression was stony as he watched them drive away. After a moment, he dismissed his squad and re-entered the sprawling, mostly darkened technological center.
Juliet was still in Parrish's office.
He watched her blonde head bowed over the results of some experiment or other. The human Julie had played up to him these past few days, and for a moment he regretted not having taken her up on her implied offer. Whether she meant it or not, he would have enjoyed the use of her body, and she would have learned the folly of teasing him. Or perhaps she was one of those Earth females who secretly enjoyed being mastered, and actually wanted to be his toy....
Diana's interest was so obviously elsewhere, with Douglas and with some other she'd slipped away to meet on several occasions – he didn't know, yet, who the other was. James now had a reputation as belonging to Diana, as more than just a night's entertainment, and no other Visitor – male or female – was ready to risk dallying with Diana's own.
But she'd almost ignored him the past days, except for the day he captured Lincoln and O'Shaughnessy. It seemed his time as favorite was running out; perhaps he ought to be looking past Diana....
He continued to study Juliet. As a scientist, there was much she could gain from the right connection in the military – and he was still an officer of high standing, with the likelihood of gaining much from the situation. She was now the image of Parrish, even if she was of his own kind. If she kept the humanskin, the fantasy would be there.... He felt his interest igniting.
With natural arrogance, he entered the office.
All around them was night. A few vehicles passed the small convoy, but they mostly had the road to themselves. As they left the urban area behind, Apollo saw stars glowing above in a clear sky. They twinkled warmly, as stars did through a thick atmosphere. In space, they were only cold, hard points of light; on this world, they were comforting and awe-inspiring against the night.
He reached to take Serina's hand. She stiffened, and he could feel tension in her cool fingers that suggested she would rather pull away from him.
"Are you angry with me?" he asked softly, to keep their conversation private from the other riders in the van.
You're lying. Or maybe you're not angry, but you don't want my presence. You've been cold every time I touched you, in every way. You've found excuses not to share my bed. I think you despise Athena, and she seems horrified by your very presence.
And you don't remember Boxey. There was no recognition at all in your eyes when I mentioned him.
Athena says you're dead. Julie says you'd bleed green.
My God, I don't want to believe it. I don't want it to be true. I can't lose you again....
Why did I think that? What...?
Again. Kobol. I saw her fall, held her.... She died in my arms, back on the ship....
No, you're alive!
Fight.... I have to fight....
What did you do to me? What happened to my mind? I'm breaking out in a cold sweat! Something.... They gave me something. But what...? I have to remember, I have to! For Athena, for myself, for Boxey and Father....
You don't know Boxey. Serina died on Kobol.
Lords of Kobol, help me!
The distant stars did little to lessen the darkness which covered the town of San Carlos. Only a few streetlights glowed to mark where Visitor sentries walked their routes, disguised as humans. The rest of the citizens, the real humans, obeyed the Visitor-imposed curfew and had confined themselves to their homes. They knew the lives of friends, neighbors, and family members depended on their obedience. Some of them knew more.
A handful of men moved stealthily through the darkness, watching, listening, meeting friends, and then retreating to their own base far from town. It hadn't been easy bringing in men and weaponry, and establishing a camp, without the Visitors observing, but the aliens were lethargic in the midday heat and sunlight and through the coldest parts of the night, when the Resistance moved. There were former Resistance members in the town; they'd passed word about Diana's take-over, and were now working with Archangel's people to free their community.
A half-dozen men huddled over a map in the dimly-lit cave.
One of them pointed to a pot on the crinkled paper. "The hostages are being held here, under a guard of a dozen lizards. There's supposed to be two sets of explosives in the walls, ready to be detonated if there's any trouble. Stone says they'd have already attacked if not for that. Fifty hostages, mostly children, and some teachers and the town council."
"Certain of the location?"
The dark man nodded. "We send food every day; some of the women followed to find out if their children were still alive. You can't keep mothers from their children."
Archangel smiled faintly at that bit of chauvinism; he suspected plenty of fathers had followed too. "So we have to take out the guards and disarm the bombs, then find the hostages in the caves and get them out before the alarm can be sounded in town and the Visitors rally to a counter-attack...."
"Take care of the guards and the bombs, and we guarantee the rest."
Archangel raised an eyebrow.
"My family came here as migrant workers, illegal aliens; so did some of the others." Memories shadowed his eyes. "The caves may be cold, but they're better than sleeping on the bare ground under pouring skies. We know every bolt-hole in the caverns, and a dozen ways to get out of each. All we needed was a little help, or some organization, and we'd've acted before this...."
Archangel nodded efficiently. The old question of illegal immigration between Mexico and the United States had become something of a joke since the Visitors arrived; his assignments no longer included tracking down individuals involved in it. "And the town?"
"We'll be ready at dawn," piped in another. "As long as we know our children are safe."
"They will be," pledged the first man.
"We trust you, then," responded the second. Between the pale-skinned landowner and the dark, weathered farm worker, there had obviously been differences in the past. A common foe had ended that past enmity most brutally.
Archangel gestured at Hannibal Smith, watching from the shadows with a slight smile. "Get the guns and grenades to the meeting site by three a.m.; you should all be armed and ready by four. Tyler's team takes out the sentries at four-thirty. If our intelligence is correct, that gives us twenty-five minutes to get the kids to safety and begin our attack on the town before the five a.m. guard change."
"How about the women and kids in town?" demanded a big burly black man decked in gaudy jewelry. "Don't do no good to save the kids in the cave if the ones in town get blown up."
The landowner spoke. "They move as soon as the sentries are out. We know which of the townspeople are collaborators – not as many as there used to be, since the lizards took some of their children, too. They go out under guard so they can't warn the lizards, but we aren't leaving any human blood for the Visitors."
B.A. nodded satisfaction, and crossed his arms in silence.
Archangel finished the last details in a few moments. "Good. Our own sentries are on guard; the rest of you try to get some sleep. We'll wake everybody after midnight and get moving...."
They dozed only fitfully as the truck bounced over the rough road.
"Does anybody know what time it is – ouch!" Athena complained when they hit a particularly deep pothole and she almost flew off her seat. She bumped into Julie Parrish; in the darkness of the truck, they couldn't see anything.
"This highway needs work," Julie muttered. "Sorry, Athena, this can't be any fun for you, especially in your condition...."
Caitlin murmured something in her sleep about Airwolf needing repairs, then was out again.
"What condition is that?" Mirella asked sharply. She was the only one of the four women who hadn't slept at all.
Athena sounded quizzical as well. "You never did tell me why I needed a doctor," she announced. "What did they do to me?"
The scientist was glad it was dark in the armored truck. In daylight, she would have been ashamed to admit to Athena what the Visitors were doing. "Um, Diana planned.... Uh, do you know anything about Elizabeth Maxwell?"
"Who's Elizabeth Maxwell?"
"The Starchild," Mirella supplied. "Half human, half Visitor. She had a number of interesting abilities, and.... But the lizard leader took her, and she died with him.... Julie, do you mean...?"
Julie couldn't answer for a moment.
"Julie?" It was Athena, sounding worried.
"I'm here," she whispered. "And yes, Mirella, that's what I mean. Diana wants a second Starchild, one she can control. Athena, you're pregnant. The father is a Visitor."
Shock hung heavily in the silent darkness.
"He must be the father. Douglas." Athena spoke in a stunned whisper.
"I don't know who Diana chose...."
"She chose him? I thought ... but it couldn't have been, could it? I didn't know him ... until then. I'd never met him before. I didn't think. She must have drugged me...."
"Very likely. Robin needed ... special preparation, too – Elizabeth's mother. I delivered the babies."
"If we get out...." She was hesitant.
"We tried to abort Robin's baby. We couldn't do it without killing her. There may not be any way out of this."
Athena took a deep breath. Julie remembered how Robin had reacted when she realized what Brian was, and what kind of child she carried. But Athena was a woman, not a frightened teenager, and from another world; surely she wouldn't react with panic or hysteria.
"Julie, you'll get me through it, if we have to, won't you?"
"I'll do all I can," she promised fervently.
"If we get out, maybe our doctors can do something.... But if we don't, Julie, that woman doesn't get my baby. I see what she's done to Apollo. She doesn't get my baby...."
"Why hasn't she 'converted' Athena, too?" Mirella intruded a moment later. "Then there'd be no questions, no problems. She wouldn't have to worry about losing control of the child."
"The conversion process may harm the child, now, and I think she was afraid of what those drugs would do to Athena before. I managed to get a look at Apollo's charts. They had to use more of those will-suppressants than they expected, and they don't know yet if it was just him, or something in the Colonial physiological make-up that makes them more resistant."
"My poor brother," Athena whispered.
"What is his condition?" Mirella asked intensely. "Is there any chance we could count on him for assistance of some kind? Diana's given him more freedom than she's given us."
Julie thought for a moment, then voiced her suspicion or hope. "I think the conversion is beginning to break, but I don't know how long it could take, or how thoroughly he's actually converted. And Diana may put him through a second process if she suspects he's pulling away from her."
The truck suddenly swerved and threw the foursome to the floor. Caitlin woke finally as they sorted themselves out.
"What happened?" she asked in confusion.
There was an explosion somewhere outside, muffled by the metal walls, but obviously close. It was followed by rapid bursts of machine-gun fire.
"Trouble," Mirella whispered. "Or maybe help. Get ready to run if we get a chance to get out of here. Whoever's shooting may not know we're in here. We could get roasted alive if one of those shells hits this truck, or shot trying to run if they suspect we're from the wrong side or escaping."
"That's real encouraging, you know?" Caitlin muttered sourly.
They clung to the edges of their seats as the truck bounced over even rougher terrain than before, obviously at top speed.
"We must be off the road...."
It suddenly spun. The women screamed as the truck shifted crazily, then righted and rolled on, more slowly.
"What's happening?" Athena swallowed. Nothing in Academy training or fleet experience had prepared her for such mad travel in the dark.
"I think we're stopping," Mirella answered with sudden hope. "Get ready...."
The truck stopped, then slowly tilted, and fell on its side. The women were tossed together in a tangle of arms and legs, still in darkness.
The door popped open with an audible clang, the final indignity of toppling being too much for the lock. Starlight and distant dawn illuminated the inside of their metal prison, and the sounds of gunfire and explosions were louder.
For a moment, they stared at each other and at the open door, almost expecting a Visitor trooper to thrust a laser through it and order them to stay where they were. Nothing happened.
Mirella crawled to the door, peering out the open half.
"Anything?" Caitlin whispered.
"Nobody! Let's go...."
"But what happened?" Athena demanded as Julie pulled her toward escape.
"Somebody attacked the convoy. We rolled off the road, I guess, and nobody's come to investigate yet...." Mirella dashed out of sight around the side of the truck. She was back in an instant, two lasers in her hands. "Our driver and the guard are dead. Let's go."
"Athena, we don't know who attacked, or why. We don't know who's winning, or even if anyone will come looking down here. Julie, you get her out of here, hide in the bushes somewhere, or run as far as you can. Caitlin, we'll check things out on the road...." The black woman handed the redhead one of the lasers. "Maybe we can help with the odds, if there's fighting."
"I can fight too," Julie stated briefly. "I've been with the Resistance for a long time, long enough to...."
"No, stay with your patient," Mirella urged.
"That's enough!" Athena chimed in. "I'm tired of being somebody's patient and somebody's prisoner and somebody else's breeding stock. I'm a trained warrior. Give me a laser; I can probably outshoot the three of you together."
They heard running footsteps. Apollo appeared between some shrubs, looking a little the worse for wear and an apparent accident of his own. He was bruised and disheveled. "I saw you go off the road, then we got hit...." He was breathless. "Athena, are you all right?"
She drew back warily, but Mirella stepped forward.
"What happened up there? You could see, we couldn't."
"Somebody bombed the convoy. We got hit, too, and rolled. One of the trucks blew up, mostly equipment, but some armaments, that's what made the most noise, I think. There were troopers in another of the trucks, they fanned out looking for whoever it was. Shouldn't take long to find them and round them up...."
"Then we've got to escape in the meantime." The agent's voice was grim.
"Nobody moves." The icy voice froze them all in their tracks.
They all stared. The Visitor Serina had them covered with a vicious-looking weapon. She, too, looked the worse for the accident. Her clothing was ripped in several places, and there were rents in her bodysuit, revealing stretches of green scales. Across the top of her forehead, the wig had been deeply torn, and something green and viscous oozed through the hair.
Apollo stared, choked into silence.
Caitlin raised her laser, but not fast enough. A shot from Serina's weapon sent it spinning out of her hands and away from her, amazingly only singeing her fingers and not drawing blood. No one else moved, seeing in the Visitor's expression that the next shot would kill.
"Do you really think you can take all of us?" Mirella demanded coldly. They were scattered, there were bushes and shadows, and the light was still uncertain. Maybe if Serina were distracted, they could separate, and some of them would get away.
Serina smiled fiercely. "Try it, and find out." She wanted the chance to shoot them. "I suggest you drop your weapon and accompany me back to the convoy, which should have taken care of your troublesome would-be rescuers by now."
"Serina," Apollo began reasonably, "there's no reason to hurt anybody here. They'll do what they're told."
Athena's glare was poison. "Like hades we will!"
"Then your brother dies." The alien obviously relished directing the gun at Apollo. "No one will question his death in an escape attempt. And you're the only one of this herd we really want alive anyway."
Julie swallowed and interrupted. "You'll try to tell Diana her converted pet suddenly tried to escape from his 'beloved wife'? And you had to shoot him to save yourself? I doubt she'll find that palatable," she finished lightly.
Mirella and Caitlin stepped slowly apart.
"Don't try it, Dr. Lincoln!" Serina snapped. "You're the only one with a weapon. I shoot you, and I can hunt your friends down like the animals your species is! We've lost enough people here that none of my leaders will complain...."
Mirella dodged and came up firing.
Julie grabbed Athena's arm and pulled her to the ground as Caitlin moved as well. Only Apollo stood stiff as stone.
Mirella's shot grazed Serina's arm, and more green flowed freely, but the Visitor's shot struck the human and Mirella went down, ashen-faced as blood forced its way through the burns on her hands and arm. The laser dropped.
Apollo stared at the dripping green and Serina's hate-contorted face.
Serina laughed and raised her laser to sight on Mirella again; this time, the shot would kill, not merely wound, but not quickly; it would be a slow, agonized death.
Caitlin threw herself at Serina from the other side, hitting her in a low tackle that would have knocked a human woman to the ground. The alien only staggered, then kicked Caitlin solidly in the stomach. She reflexively rolled away, gasping for breath. Athena screamed as Serina turned again, leaving Mirella for the moment to concentrate on Caitlin.
She pointed the weapon.
Mirella cried out, unable to fire with her wounded hands and arm, watching in fury as Serina prepared to kill her friend.
Apollo moved. He grabbed the laser Mirella had dropped, and whirled to aim. "Serina!" he yelled warningly.
She glanced over her shoulder and laughed to see him armed. "You can't shoot me, lover!" she taunted. "But I will take pleasure in killing you!"
She spun to one side, forgetting that Apollo was naturally left-handed. All she saw was the weapon in his left hand; all she thought was that he was still under Diana's conversion spell.
She fired at him.
Apollo was faster. He fired first, then instinctively rolled from her line of fire.
Serina froze in shock. The laser dropped from her bloodied hand, and she clutched at the wound in her chest as she fell.
The human knelt at her side, having no recollection of how he'd gotten there so fast. She stared up at him, still disbelieving the speed of his draw, that he'd shot her at all. He touched her hair with incredible tenderness; his hand came away smeared with green. She saw his eyes fill with alien tears, and hated the suit covering her, the semblance of belonging to his race. Serina didn't want an enemy's tears, any more than she had wanted his love. When he stroked her face and whispered the alien name, she only wished she could see the world through her own yellow eyes, not the false lenses she wore. She wished she could have killed him....
"I'm sorry, Serina...."
She had no strength to curse him as her life ebbed into eternity.
"Serina?" Apollo whispered desperately.
A hand touched his shoulder hesitantly. It was Caitlin, who'd recovered from the kick; her fingers were red, and he thought he saw the beginning of what would be painful blisters. He glanced over to see Julie tending to Mirella's wounds. Athena was with them, avoiding him.
Something blurred his vision. He was crying. He tried to rub away the tears with the palms of his hands.
"She was an imposter, she wasn't your wife. She would have killed us all...."
"I know," he replied huskily. "She bleeds green, just like Julie said she would. But it wasn't easy, shooting her, even knowing...."
"I understand," the freckled, redheaded woman answered in a whisper.
He needed to cry. He wondered if she'd mind if he borrowed her shoulder.
"We've got to get out of here." It was Julie. "Apollo...?"
Apollo blinked and saw the other two women assisting Mirella to her feet. Her arm and hand were wrapped in something white – Julie's lab jacket, he realized. Athena's expression was anxious, maybe a little bit guilty.
He glanced at Serina one last time, and took a long, hard look at the green blood cooling on her forehead, hand, arm, and chest.
"We need you, Apollo. We've got to get out of here. You heard what she said, that the troopers were routing the ones who attacked them. You're the only one with any idea where we are, which direction we came. We've got to get out of here before they come looking for us...." Caitlin.
"They want your sister, Apollo." Julie. "Diana wants her. She's pregnant. Diana will use her child, your niece, unless we get them both out of her reach. Help us. Help her."
He stared at his sister, who responded with a single nod, then held her head high, as if challenging him to ask for an explanation.
"Apollo?" Caitlin again. "Let's get away from here, please?"
He felt very empty. He took a deep breath and nodded, then turned away from the image of Serina, forever. "Let's go."
He grabbed up the extra lasers laying around the fallen truck, and led off.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy