Baltar stalked his command deck like a hunting carnivore. "You lost! You were driven off by the forces of one mother ship! How do I explain that to the Imperious Leader?"
"So you ran?" Baltar yelled in fury.
"There-were-two-additional-base-ships-approaching. We-could-not-face-the-firepower-of-five-base-ships. We-would-have-been-destroyed."
Baltar threw himself into his chair, breathing heavily, wondering how he could salvage some semblance of victory, or at least a tie, from this latest rout.
He groaned. Twelve base ships! How symbolic, twelve base ships for the Twelve Colonies. Probably more on the way, to stand for the Thirteenth Colony. Add the Galactica, and whatever forces the Earth humans can muster. And while we were watching the Sirians, the Colonial refugees passed us undetected to reach safety as well! I need reinforcements. We can't take this planet without a greater force. I must return to Cylon, speak to the Imperious Leader. I need a larger fleet. Surely the Leader will see that....
He turned back to the gold Cylon who'd been in charge of the attack force. "Order the navigation station to set course for the nearest Cylon outpost."
"Then take yourself to the recycling station, and have yourself broken down for replacement parts."
The Cylon Centurion swivelled its head to look at him. "By-your-command."
The monotone took all pleasure out of the order. What good was it to command a being to enact its own destruction, when it accepted the order without complaint or defiance?
The Cylon lumbered out of the command chamber without further comment.
Baltar leaned back against the hard chair. His stomach churned with impotent rage at the defeat, and even promises of future destruction seemed to do little good. All he could do was focus on one target, one enemy he could blame for everything. It might be the Sirians who had driven him off, but it was the Colonials, and one man in particular, that he held responsible.
I will be back. I will return to take that planet, and destroy both Sirian and human forces. And I'll come with more than a simple task force; I'll have enough basestars and fighters to destroy them.
Adama, I'm still here. Don't become complacent while I'm gone, because I will be back to end your miserable fleet and the planet you hoped to escape to. How long do you think they can hold out against the might of the entire Cylon Alliance? You couldn't beat the Cylons before; the Sirians won't stop them for long. Then we'll come for you. Keep your eyes to the skies, because I will be back....
Philip and Willie had found the cave without any difficulty, even in the dim light of dawn, after an endless night in the mountain cold. The closer they came to their goal, the easier it was to home in on it. Kyle followed in deadly silence, his heart already broken, his laser rifle ready.
Within the cave, the light was blue, flickering off stalactites and reflecting into the darkest curves and corners. Uneven walls threw shadows like the writhing unrealities of a madman's mind. Guarding the passage and central chamber were hundreds of cold-blooded creatures, drawn to warmth and light and something else. The Visitors stepped over those coiled snakes and assorted reptiles, whose attention was on the writhing cocoon in the center of the chamber.
The human followed more cautiously, pushing snakes out of the way with a long stick, wondering what was at the end of the long, blue-lit tunnel.
Then he saw what waited.
His friends had paused at the entrance to the chamber. They'd first stripped off their human-style garments, leaving them in two jumbled piles. A step further, they'd torn off the humanskin bodysuits, leaving what looked like tortured, empty bodies in shredded masses. It was the torn heads and flattened faces that made him want to vomit. It didn't help his stomach to see their false eyes rolling under the claws of a fascinated lizard.
He clenched his teeth and walked gingerly past the heaps.
What must be Philip and Willie, in their natural reptilian appearance, stooped on either side of a glowing, pulsing, amorphous blue mass at the center of the cave. The odd light played across their scales, making them even more alien and threatening to the watching human. Their clawed hands moved across the cocoon in some odd pattern, and they crooned a decidedly unmelodic tune in a kind of harmony with the pulsations. They swayed in time with their own singing, and soon the other denizens of the cave were swaying and hissing with them.
Kyle tightened his grip on his laser, near-religious awe and fear almost overcoming his anger and determination to save Elizabeth. It was easy to harden his heart against his friends when they looked as alien as they were, but the very intensity of emotion in the chamber came near to drawing him into the song as well. He leaned against the wall so nothing could come at him from behind, and waited. Despite his intention to be alert to everything that happened, and ready to act when the time came, he found himself dozing off. It had been a long afternoon and night before; tracking the Visitors in their single-minded search through the mountain wilderness hadn't always been easy. He fell asleep.
"Here!" Murdock and B.A. pushed the Visitor female forward, their guns trained on her, ready to kill her if she gave them the slightest bit of trouble. "We found her, Colonel. She was trying to run toward San Carlos. You think maybe she hasn't figured out yet that we freed that town an hour ago?"
By dawn's early light, Diana glared at her captors.
Hannibal just laughed at her, while Murdock grinned and B.A. traded her glare for glare.
"I'd say she didn't know, Murdock," the Colonel answered easily. "I don't think she expected to find us here at all, the way she fell for that diversion trick, sending her people out after us when she had no idea how many of us there were, or how well armed we might be." He waved his cigar at her. "You can tell she's a scientist, not a strategist. Now, if it had been Lydia, she'd never have fallen for that old trick."
Diana wanted to scream with fury at the mention of her rival's name.
"I'm sure Lydia will be glad to know we've got you in custody again. She was rather annoyed when you slipped away last time. Did you know, she actually promised Murdock a piece of your heart? Whaddaya think of that? Hardly the sort of comment one expects from an old friend."
Her hands clawed air as if they itched to rend his torso and spread his guts across the dirt to rot.
Templeton Peck joined the group, looking more serious. "I found an overturned truck, and an empty van. A couple dead Visitors, and some red blood, but no human bodies. Looks like there was a bit of a shoot-out, and the 'cargo' got away on their own."
"Set some of the locals to trailing 'em, and you go with 'em, Face," Hannibal ordered brusquely. "B.A., Murdock, let's get this lady to safer quarters, then check in with the angel."
"How long we gonna play his game for nuthin', Hannibal?" the black man groaned. "He been callin' our shots long enough!"
"He calls our shots while we fight the war, Sergeant," the gray-haired colonel shot back. "We work as a unit in his team – no time or need, now, to play it on our own. But I'd say, with a certain treacherous lady out of the way, that war'll be over pretty soon."
B.A. snorted at that, and Face looked doubtful. They'd been at war too long, in too many ways, to expect it to end that easily.
"'Course, I could be wrong." Hannibal grinned at his men, then lowered the laser crooked in his elbow so it pointed directly at their poisonously attractive prisoner. "Now, Diana, let's take a walk."
The humans made her walk all the way to San Carlos, where she was greeted with jeers and scowls from the freed citizens of that town, and a few thrown rocks and vegetables, until Tyler's people took her into custody and waved off the crowds. It was more for their benefit than for her pride, she knew.
"You look good bleeding red," Farber commented loudly.
She realized a rotten tomato had spattered her crimson uniform with darker red smears and small yellow seeds. Her guards laughed when she wrinkled her nose in disgust at the stain and smell.
As she was chained with the rest of the captured Visitors, she heard the sound of human media technology, and glanced up to see Michael Donovan, camera whirring as he recorded her shackling and the loading of the prisoners, under guard, in a skyshuttle. Her eyes widened.
"I was in the vicinity, at one of your youth camps." He didn't offer her a second look as he panned the camera over the line of Visitors. A few seconds later, he put down the camera and yelled, "I need more film!" He smiled at her. "I could get a Pulitzer out of this, Diana – the discovery of a Youth Corps camp, the liberation of a town, and the capture of you. I should thank you for it, but...."
A youth ran from a nearby vehicle, several canisters in his hand. "Here, Dad! I'll load it for you...."
The boy glanced at her once, troubled, then shrugged and turned his attention back to the canisters. He'd broken free of the alien training, and she knew she could expect no loyalty from the boy, nor likely from any of the other youths who'd been in the secret camp.
The triumphant look Michael gave Diana was all the revenge he ever need to take on her. He put his arm around his son's shoulder and they walked away, not looking back.
"Yes, Commander Adama?"
"Your discussions with the civilian representatives of this world?"
The elegant woman nodded at his low-voiced query. Commander Adama and Siress Tinia had each spoken to those they could more skillfully deal with. Adama had been more comfortable speaking with the leaders of the Visitors, military men and women as they were, than with the understandably wary human civilian leaders. The Terrans had been happier talking to a civilian government representative, one of their own kind, who knew what it meant to be attacked and beaten down by aliens – if they were smug about having fought the Visitors to something of a standstill, Tinia played the diplomat and ignored the point that Diana had almost destroyed them anyway, but for the Leader's intervention. The humans and the aliens had also felt more comfortable, each dealing with one they felt better understood their situation.
"Our suggestion was well-received by the President of their United Nations delegation," she replied. "The Terrans accept the invitation to hold their meeting aboard the Galactica. In fact, they seem to find it something of a relief!"
Adama had to smile. "Commander Lydia seemed to find it something of a relief as well. Her security concerns have lessened, and she can now concentrate on locating the Renegades, both in her forces and loose on the planet, and taking them into custody."
"The names and locations of the Renegades are being supplied by her prisoner?"
The commander answered her grimness with a setting of his own jaw. "So it seems. I believe the young man has already given her what information he could, and he is now incarcerated. But several of those he named have also betrayed others of their movement."
"Betrayed? A harsh word. But then, you were present for the beginning of his interrogation. I'm sure you could not help but wonder if our people, under the same or similar circumstances...." She had to glance away as they paced the quiet balcony of the Embassy. His son had very likely been in the same circumstances, and Adama's presence at the "interrogation" had been more out of a need to know what Apollo might have endured than any vengeful urge to see pain inflicted on a young Visitor.
"Under the circumstances," she continued quickly, "I can understand how many of their young warriors must have felt torn, with conflicting loyalties. The decision must not have been easy, for some of them, to chose either the Fifth Column or the Renegades, in their struggle with our Earth brothers and sisters. It has been a long and difficult war, and the deeds they have done must not always have rested easily on their souls." She lifted her face to the sun, feeling the warmth with a pang of nostalgia for lost Aquaria. "Sometimes warriors must act as their conscience commands, even if it goes against the orders they have been given."
"True." He remembered how the councilor had clashed with several of his crew, particularly Colonel Tigh and Captain Apollo, until each discovered the value and strength of the other. Tigh was still with him, but Apollo....
She touched his hand. "I'm sorry, Adama. I didn't mean to remind you.... I'm sure they're all right, and it's only a matter of time before they are found and safely returned to you."
"I pray you're right. But for now, Tinia, we have duties to attend to. The Galactica must be prepared for the conference." He met her gaze.
"And it will occupy your mind while we wait for word from the task forces sent against Science Frontiers and the other community? If you wish, Adama, Geller and I can prepare for the conference, and you could remain here." Their hands still rested together on the stone railing.
"I would not have it said that I shirked my duty...."
"From concern for your children? There are times you carry your sense of duty too far, I think. Adama, ought we not to maintain a military liaison here while conference preparations continue, someone who can communicate with the Visitor leaders? Especially as they seem still to be in charge of much of the city, however they appear to defer to the local human militia and civilian authority. The Visitors, after all, must be convinced at least to permit us our chance at union, if not to consider a peace or treaty alliance. We must still deal with them. As you seem most capable of doing so...."
He chuckled warmly. "Ah, Tinia, it is no wonder you were re-elected for the quorum. Send your aides and Sire Geller back to the Fleet to prepare for the conference. We must also have someone here who can communicate well with the Terran diplomatic leaders, and I suspect you are the more able of us to accomplish that."
Was it the heat of the sun or her reaction to his eyes that so flushed her cheeks? "A wise suggestion, Adama. This is, after all, a human world. We ought to be speaking more frequently with its rightful occupants."
He took her arm as a gentleman ought as they went in search of Geller.
"Diana has been taken! And San Carlos...."
For a long moment, James stared through the officer bringing the news. Juliet moved closer to his side, eyes worried.
"Diana is taken. Then the prisoners are free, and the humans know we are here. Ronald, order immediate evacuation of any of our people still at Science Frontiers. We go to the sands, now."
The other saluted briefly and ran.
"What do we do now?" the female asked.
James's eyes were totally devoid of expression. "Diana is taken. There will be no mercy for us from Philip, and none from the humans, not now. And the Colonials will likely not forgive us either."
He stalked the room with easy grace; when he turned, there was a hooded, almost malevolent smile on his face. "I will not surrender. I have orders to do otherwise, to disrupt the humans and see certain of them dead. If Diana were to be in a location where it were my duty to carry out certain orders, she could possibly be caught in the line of fine...."
"Then should we not surrender, rather than put her at risk?" Juliet was confused.
"No. It would be unfortunate if Diana should be killed along with our enemies, but such are the fortunes of war. She is a scientist, not a warrior, but I'm sure she has learned that over the years we have been on this humid world."
Her eyes narrowed.
He approached her and took her chin roughly in hand. "I must of course assume command of whatever forces we still have."
"It would be ... pleasant to have someone at my side I could trust, someone I could speak with, in our own language."
"As we ... spoke last night?" she asked, her voice dropping lower.
James nodded, feeling a definite heat at the sun-touched memories of the night spent with this female. He saw her consider for a moment, then felt the second she discarded her loyalty to Diana and gave it totally to him.
"The fortunes of war...," she murmured. "And we must do our duty."
"We will make a place for ourselves, one way or another, and you will be my consort. The war may still be turned against Philip's people. A new Leader on Homeworld may decree the destruction of the humans. The Cylons may turn the tide and give us a chance to escape. We will take our chances."
"I will be yours." She whistled a low, tuneless hum as she stepped next to him. He ignored the invitation to an embrace, but offered no protest at her tongue flicking easily over his chin and high cheeks. When she finally touched his lips, he pulled her closer with rough arms.
"Lieutenant James!" It was Ronald again, interrupting the intense moment.
"What is it?" He put Juliet away almost rudely.
"A message from one of our people at the Embassy. The Leader's Mother Ship is in orbit around this planet. He has no more information than that, and he fears Willard has betrayed him as well, but he sends us this last information, and his farewell."
"Finish the evacuation," James ordered evenly.
Ronald nodded and disappeared again.
"And now, my lord?" the female demanded when they were alone in the office.
"We will soon know the fortunes of war, my lady." He calculated the possibilities and odds. "I think we must surrender now."
"You just told me...."
He turned a cool, amused expression on her. "We will surrender to the Leader, whoever he now is, and swear our fealty. We are most obedient to his will."
"But Diana ... and Philip! And the humans!"
"We will profess our loyalty, as we must. We obeyed Diana because we believed she was carrying out the will of the Leader. Shown otherwise, we are of course penitent and at his disposal."
"He will dispose of us!"
"I think not. An exile would have been possible, in previous days. I think an execution is also unlikely, as the situation stands. If we were to testify against Diana's treason ... and it is possible the Leader will have such need of our abilities that he will parole us, after a token punishment. But now, we go to the sands. There are things we must do before turning ourselves in...."
"Diana will never let us testify! She'd implicate us in everything, imply it may have been our idea, take us down with her, if nothing else!"
"You have heard very little of what I said, I think. The fortunes of war are not kind...." You will never understand strategy. If Diana and Philip and Lydia perish in terrorist activities apparently of human origin, who will question us? If there is enough turmoil, and insufficient evidence of our involvement, we may win the new Leader's ear....
But you are beautiful, Juliet, in and out of humanskin, and pliant to my wishes. You are intelligent and capable, and I'm sure you will prove yourself useful to me in many ways. For that I will keep you. For your blindness to the ways of ambition, I will trust you – but never with a blade at my back.
Lydia was of mixed emotions, and the sun bath was doing little to settle her thoughts or feelings. She squirmed to a more comfortable position under the heat lamp, wishing life was as simple as it once had been. It was much easier carrying out orders than accepting uncertain responsibility for the current unsettled situation.
True, Willard had told her everything he knew of the Renegades, under the persuasion of the conversation chamber; the human Adama had stood by for the interrogation, offering questions of his own, but with obvious revulsion at its use. The offered use of the Galactia as the meeting place for the delegates to the conference made her security work easier, and the Earth humans seemed equally pleased to be out of Visitor reach.
But they insisted on keeping the hostages in New York until the conference was completed. The delegates were already transferring to the battlestar, relief and doubt openly displayed on every face, but her brother and the other Visitors would not be allowed to return to their ships for another week – or longer, if there were any difficulties at the meeting.
And where was Philip? Someone had to serve as Visitor delegate to the conference, and those of the Leader's Mother Ship still refused any but the most routine communications. The humans would never accept her as a representative, but who could she send? Who could she trust? What was expected from this conference, and how was it to be achieved? She was a warrior, not a diplomat....
She uncurled lazily and faced the human warriors. Adama had graciously offered the Embassy his own warrior security while she investigated her own forces; with Colonials in residence, it had seemed prudent to accept. "What is it, Boomer?"
Neither male, not Boomer nor the blond she remembered so well, could quite keep their eyes off what appeared to be a perfect, naked, human female in the tanning bed, even though Starbuck had to remember clearly their first meeting, and had probably made it known to his friend.
Boomer swallowed. "Report from San Carlos. The town is free, and Diana is in custody."
"What?" She slid sinuously to her feet and grabbed for her clothing.
"They report Diana is one of the prisoners, and they are bringing her in with the others. No trace of Captain Apollo, Lieutenant Athena, or the other missing people...."
"Regrettable," she hissed without emotion, already half-dressed. "When will Diana arrive?"
"Within the centar ... uh, hour."
"Thank you. Dismissed."
Their anger at her lack of concern for their friends burned through her, but she didn't really care. She ignored their glares, only for a second noting how their emotions had driven out their interest in her body. It was of no consequence to her.
Life ... life ... life....
The struggle was eternal, to burst free of the bonds, to live, to defy the throbbing suffocation of death, to claim the heritage.
Life ... life ... life....
And more than life.
The time was near. She struggled against death, felt it close around her. But also present was the need to live, an instinct to continue when the mind said surrender.
And something more.
There was another within, many others. They led back into the past, and reached for the future. They were her heritage, what she possessed, what she could offer. They craved release, craved her life, pushed her to live that they might survive.
Life ... life ... life....
Investiture. As they had triumphed, she must also.
The past embodied within her spirit and flesh. The eternal link of past to present, of present to future; of yesterday to today, of today to tomorrow, of tomorrow to eternity.
She must live. Intensity built within her, growing to a passionate flood she couldn't identify, could only flow with and fight for.
Life ... life ... life....
The throbbing continued, and she heard, with an alien sense, the call of the ones who waited for her. Their need reached her, as her need had drawn them. She could not resist. She tried to scream.
Life ... life ... life....
She put out a final effort, and the web shredded at her touch, her fire, her need. She gasped, felt life-giving air sear her lungs, and knew triumph at her own success. She, too....
In his dreams, Kyle heard something change in the serpent song. He dragged himself from sleep, feeling tingles and aches in every joint and muscle from the hours on the stone floor. Groggily, he forced himself back to his feet.
The two reptilian Visitors bent over the blue shape, now so bright the human couldn't bear to look at it without flinching. He squinted, trying to see. His grip tightened on the laser.
Something moved wildly within the cocoon-like form, pushing, kicking, writhing from side to side. Then whatever was within tore along an entire side, and blue-green fluid trickled out.
The alien song rose in volume, and Philip and Willie continued stroking the blueness, but offered no assistance in freeing whatever was within.
The trickle became a flood as a second rip paralleled the first, and an appendage was visible for a second before the blue seemed to ooze over it again. A third slash crossed the first two, and the glow in the cavern died as if a power cord had been cut.
With a wild cry, the entire cocoon shredded into a half dozen pieces, and a form lunged upward to stand alone.
Willie and Philip fell back, hissing, flattening themselves to the floor on their backs, exposing throats and bellies as if to a conqueror's claws.
Kyle caught his breath, fighting an urge to scream.
A woman stood there, blazing blue, with lines of green racing along her bare arms and face. The blue-green fluid drenched whatever gown she had been wearing; it clung to her almost obscenely. Her hair dripped in discolored tendrils; it had once been blonde. Formerly blue eyes were now sapphire pits into eternity – youth, age, pain, power, and incredible knowledge were there, if one could bear to endure their gaze. An aura gleamed from her body, almost palpable in the now-dim cave. The glow was of majesty; the image was of a woman reborn.
Or, perhaps, a goddess newborn.
She was not human. She was equally not Visitor.
Elizabeth stepped free of the ruined cocoon.
The Visitors rolled over and crawled to her on their stomachs, cringing at her feet.
"Leader...." The hiss was Philip's.
Willie's call was less formal. "Elizabeth...."
"Yes, my loyal friends, I am...." Her voice resonated through the cavern and echoed back a dozen times. The voice was not quite masculine, but too similar to that of the previous Leaders for her human lover's taste. Then she seemed to notice him for the first time. "Kyle. Ah...." An affectionate smile touched her lips, and she extended a hand to him.
He shuddered back.
She was saddened. "Kyle...."
"You're not Elizabeth," he whispered in agony. "I don't know you. Don't call my name, you butcher. Don't wear her shape and call my name...."
"I am Elizabeth." Some of the glow faded, and the cave darkened further.
She appeared as she had on the Los Angeles Mother ship when she'd first accepted the Leader's possession of her mind and body. He could not believe anything but that she was again the tool of an alien, this time perhaps forever.
"Leader?" Philip rose from the stone at her feet.
She took his hand, and reached for Willie as well. "Trusted and oldest friends, please, call me Elizabeth. It is my name. I know what I am becoming, but I am still Elizabeth."
Her eyes pleaded with Kyle; he couldn't resist. Against his own will, he dropped the weapon and moved closer to her. Tears rolled slowly down his cheeks. His panic was contained in his terror-stricken eyes as his hands reached steadily for her of their own volition.
With a sigh, the glow faded from her body, and all that was left was a soiled young woman in a ruined gown, looking very human and cold.
Kyle pulled away.
"I'm sorry, Kyle, I forgot...." the female whispered. The sound reverberated sadly through the cavern.
"Elizabeth?" It was Philip.
She drew her arms around her suddenly shivering body. "I think I'd like to get cleaned up, and find something else to where. Then we must go home."
The morning was almost gone. Apollo was worried. They hadn't gone far from the crash site, and there could be pursuers on their trail. But Mirella was too badly injured to move fast, and her failing strength might force them to seek shelter from the growing heat of the sun.
"You should go on without me," the black woman forced through clenched teeth. She tried to squirm out of his arms. "The rest of you are unhurt. You could get away. You're the ones Diana wants, not me."
"No. I'm not leaving anyone behind." He tightened his grip, carrying her more securely without putting any pressure on her wounded arm. In the lighter gravity, it was no difficult chore for the muscular warrior to carry the woman over several miles of relatively rough terrain. There were too many memories from his past of those who'd been left behind.
Beside him, the civilian doctor looked worried.
He tried to reason with the agent. "Diana would know which way we'd gone if she found you. She might question you. We can't let you betray us." It was a brutal statement, but Mirella seemed to accept it.
We'll get out together, all of us. I'm not sacrificing anyone in this command for Diana to find. He'd quickly assumed the lead of the small group, in more than just his own thinking. He was a trained warrior, a senior officer, used to command; the others had deferred to that quickly, almost without realizing it. His most likely competition, of course, had been the wounded woman.
Athena and Caitlin came up from behind. That meant their trail was covered, and there was no one in immediate pursuit.
"I'll check ahead," the redhead murmured.
He nodded and watched her go, grateful for her familiarity with the terrain, if not the exact location, and her obvious expertise at survival. She'd recovered from the Visitor's vicious kick; fortunately, there had been no broken ribs, and apparently no bruised internal organs. Caitlin's only remaining injury, besides the rib bruising, was the blistering on her hand from a laser near-hit.
It could have been worse. I could've been stuck with a group from the Quorum of Twelve! Julie's a doctor. Mirella may be injured, but she's well-trained and self-disciplined; she's holding up well, considering how seriously she seems to be hurt. Julie thinks she's got a chance.
Caitlin used to be a member of their security forces – police, they call them, I think – and she knows the terrain, and how to survive in it. At least she wasn't badly injured. If we'd had two injured women to carry with us, I don't think we could've gotten away.
Athena had the same survival training I did at the Academy. If we only knew the world a little better.... But she's so quiet. She's hardly spoken to me all day. I guess I can understand that. I betrayed her. I believed Diana would help us. I believed Diana. That makes me responsible for Athena's ... condition.
We'll get by, as long as Mirella's not too badly hurt, and nothing goes wrong, and I don't mess up again.
I know what Diana did to me. I won't let her get me again. I won't go through it again. I won't betray my friends and family again.
Serina didn't even occur to him. She was a closed book, an empty, cold spot in his memories of the last few sectons – weeks. It was over; he had no desire to remember her. Someone had used the memory of the woman he loved to deceive him. That fact cast a pall over their love. His emotions were dying within his soul, and he knew he didn't dare care long enough to stop it. He had to let go of her, or risk being destroyed by Diana, along with his sister and Lords-only-knew how many other people. Remembering her would only tangle his memories with Diana's foul dreams, and of killing the alien Serina. He had to let her go, send her away. But this was the only thing, the cruelest thing, that could compel him to leave Serina's memory behind.
And there a memory of Starbuck, too, of wanting to kill him, that made Apollo want to forget his friend....
Mirella's head lolled on his shoulder, and he realized she was unconscious.
He stopped and lowered her to the ground while Julie Parrish checked her pulse and looked at her eyes, then examined her wounds again.
"We've got to stop," she announced. "I've got to wash that wound, and she needs to rest. We all need to rest."
"And what if Diana's people find us?"
She looked exasperated. "Apollo, you're a slave-driver! You may find this pace exhilarating, but I'm almost exhausted! And Caitlin must be too – she was a bit bruised up as well, you may recall! None of us had much sleep last night. We can afford to take a break – we have to! The Visitors would have to be ahead of us to catch us after this pace, and with Caitlin and Athena covering our tracks, it won't be easy for them to trail us. If they are waiting for us somewhere ahead, I'd just as soon face them rested as beat. Look at your sister!"
He glanced her way, and saw Athena did have a greenish cast to her pale complexion, and exhausted circles under her eyes. It was as much emotional as physical exhaustion.
The captain glanced around. There was a lot of shrubbery nearby, scattered rocks, occasional groves of small trees. It was not a very fertile area; outside of San Carlos's irrigated and cultivated orchards and fields, which they'd left behind them, the area was largely unfenced and uninhabited.
"Where do you suggest?" he deferred to Julie's presumed knowledge of her own world and Mirella's needs.
"Caitlin?" she called softly.
The petite redhead appeared almost instantly. "There's a stream not too far ahead where we can rest. Trees for shelter and wood, some cliffsides so there should be caves if we need to hide. And if I remember my maps of this area, there should be an interstate not too many miles to the north."
"Interstate?" Apollo inquired, brows furrowed.
"Main traffic artery," she supplied, by now aware of his limited familiarity with American English idioms. "Lots of assorted vehicles, and there may be towns and telephones – communications devices – along the road."
"Will that suit you?" he asked Julie.
"It'll have to."
He gently gathered the woman up in his arms to continue the journey, realizing as he did so that his shoulders were beginning to ache, and his legs were getting tired. It had been too long since he'd had time for long walks and weight training. Too, his arms were still sore from the grazing wound he'd received in the attack on Diana's first hide-out. He needed a rest as much as the women did, and was glad, almost a centar later, to ease down his burden and rest in the shade of a group of ... cottonwoods, were they?
A weary Caitlin willed herself to stay on her feet long enough to stalk the perimeter of the grove. Athena just dropped to the ground, head resting on her knees, looking exhausted.
Julie examined her patient, then shook her head. "Not good. She needs real help, in a hospital, or at least from a doctor with the instruments and medications to do some good."
Apollo hesitated. He wanted to talk to Athena, make things right between them, share her difficulty, but there wasn't time. In a war zone, personal matters and medical staffs, too, for that matter, took a back seat to the needs of the military and the exigencies of the moment. This wasn't the life or the people he knew; maybe.... "What do you suggest?"
Her blue eyes held anxiety. "I wish I knew...."
There was a droning sound somewhere in the distance.
The freckle-faced young woman ran back into the clearing. "Something's up there. We'd better get out of sight."
Apollo glanced around quickly, but there was no place better that they could reach in the microns they had.
"Roll in the weeds, then don't move," he hissed, wishing the women were wearing something besides the prison white bodysuits Diana had given them – and glad the Visitor witch allowed him to continue wearing his own uniform, which at least would match the local soil.
The droning continued, fading for long moments, then coming back louder, always seeming to get closer to their grove. Apollo knew holding his breath wouldn't do any good, but it seemed an instinctive response. Beside him in the wiry grass, Athena was doing the same, until she buried her face in the vegetation and sighed in despair. Julie looked more anxious at that, but kept an arm protectively over her wounded patient.
Mirella suddenly stirred, staring heavenward, then smiled and relaxed.
Catilin blinked and caught her breath. "That's Airwolf!" she gasped.
"Airwolf!" The redheaded woman darted out of the trees and into plain sight of the very close aircraft. "Here we are! Hawke! Dom! We're here! Help! SOS! Mirella needs a doctor! Hawke!"
The aircraft hesitated, then slowly set down, a sleek technological marvel of human engineering in gleaming black and white. It was indeed Airwolf. When she was safely down, a man in flight fatigues and a black helmet jumped out and ran toward the woman.
Apollo fingers tightened on the laser. This was the craft which had shot him down on his first day on Earth, almost an eternity ago. He moved protectively between the stranger and the rest of the women, but there seemed no need for concern.
"Caitlin!" the newcomer bellowed.
"Dom!" She flew into his arms.
"Are you all right? The others...?"
"We're all fine now, we're all fine...." She was almost in tears with relief.
Julie crawled out of the grass and moved into sight, leaving Apollo and Athena more or less concealed with Mirella.
"You Dr. Parrish?"
"Yes," she responded gratefully to his question, ready to hug him herself. "You're Santini? I've got a patient who needs medical attention, Mirella Lincoln...."
"Mirella's hurt? Why didn't ya say so!" The hefty man barreled into the grove, but the Colonial had already picked up the woman.
"Mirella...." He halted uncertainly.
"Hi, Dom...." She managed a smile before lapsing again into unconsciousness.
The men exchanged glances, then Apollo carried Mirella to the aircraft. Another grim-faced man reached out and pulled her in, strapping her into the co-pilot's seat while the man identified as Dom Santini clambered into the back.
"We've informed the search team of your coordinates," the pilot announced almost tonelessly. "They should be here soon. We'll get Mirella to a hospital."
Apollo stepped back as Airwolf's blade began to whirl, and a man-made windstorm blew dust at him. "Right. We'll be here...." The confirmation was lost in take-off.
He studied the remaining women. His sister, and two Earth women who had proved extremely competent and dependable. "Well, I guess we wait, now. You sure we can trust those men?" He thumbed a gesture at the vanishing speck of Airwolf.
"Completely." Caitlin stared after the craft with fondness, hands planted lightly on her hips.
He accepted her word.
Perhaps fifteen centons later, the first of the rescue team blundered into view out of the weeds.
Apollo stared at a blond man he would have sworn was Starbuck, under any other circumstances. He wasn't sure how to take it.
The man glowered at him suspiciously.
"Hi," he ventured.
"You're not going to try and shoot me, are you?" the man demanded.
Apollo glanced at his laser, then sent back a puzzled stare. "No. Why should I?" He wasn't sure he could if he wanted to, in the mixed emotions of the moment, but it seemed rather odd to want to kill one's rescuer.
"Or strangle me if I get in range?"
"I hadn't planned on it...."
The man nodded. "Good. Say, hi there, pretty lady...." He very solicitously took Athena's hand to help her to her feet. She stared at him in bemusement as an arm slipped around her waist to guide her.
Apollo had to sigh. Whoever the man was, the resemblance was more than skin deep.
"What about Diana? And San Carlos?" Julie interrupted.
The stranger sent a winning smile her way. "Diana's a prisoner. San Carlos is free."
She cheered. Athena looked ready to faint. Apollo felt a great weight lift from his shoulders.
"So where do we go now, uh.... Who are you?"
"Call me Face. We go to Los Angeles, where I understand they're people who are very eager to see you all." He directed suddenly mischievous eyes at Apollo. "Though I can't imagine why...."
Lydia strode into the reception room with the expression and bearing of a conquering warrior queen. Her eyes swept imperiously over the waiting men and women, cataloging each in her thoughts. Adama, Tinia, Tigh, a handful of Colonial warriors, and a boy. The man known as Archangel, with his new female driver. Several Resistance members with personal interests in the returning humans – Tyler, Donovan, Maitland, Farber. A number of her own people, including Thelma and representatives from several of the orbiting mother ships.
She caught their attention with her entry. She faced down all of them for a moment before speaking. Some of them were familiar with part of what she had to say. None of them knew it all. And none of them knew the contents of the last message she had received from a skyfighter on its way to the Embassy from a mountain cabin.
"As you all know by now, Diana was captured this morning and returned here to Los Angeles, a prisoner. She is interned in the facilities here at the Embassy. She will be transported, under guard, to the Leader's Mother Ship as soon as it can be arranged."
The representative from that ship, also its commander, a male who now wore human guise and carried the name Lloyd, nodded as if it were already done.
"Her human prisoners have been found by a search team. The woman Mirella Lincoln has been taken by one of your aircraft to a hospital here in Los Angeles. Her injuries are reportedly not terminal; she is expected to recover."
Nobody but Lydia saw the relief on Archangel's face.
"Caitlin O'Shaughnessy and Julie Parrish are also free. Both are well, and arrived here at the Embassy a moment ago. They will be here as soon as they have refreshed themselves." Her lips curled in detached amusement at human vanity.
Steve Maitland and Mike Donovan sent looks at each other that said quite plainly, "the truce is off; winner take all." Farber gave a raised-fist salute for his friends, but Tyler only nodded his head, in tight control.
Lydia's next words went directly to Commander Adama, without scorn or arrogance, as a warrior to an equal. "And Captain Apollo and Lieutenant Athena are here as well. We will question them later as to their treatment and why Diana wanted them, after you have seen them. I doubt you will have to wait long. They seemed overjoyed to know of your presence."
Starbuck whooped aloud, and Sheba and Boomer exchanged embraces. Jolly scooped up his charge, Boxey, and deposited the boy in his grandfather's arms. Tinia and Tigh exchanged relieved smiles of truce. Adama held Boxey tightly, and nodded back at Lydia, for a moment too choked to speak.
"Do they seem well?" Tigh asked, seeing his friend's brimming eyes.
"Yes." She hesitated. "A little tired, that is all." She had seen the light green blistering on Athena's neck, and guessed what Diana had planned, but she wasn't going to air her knowledge and suspicions here.
One of the Embassy staff moved closer to her, and under the hubbub of the humans' babble, asked her, "May I be excused? If we have new guests, I have certain responsibilities...."
He sounded nervous. Lydia barely glanced at him before dismissing him with a flick of the wrist. The man left quickly.
Lydia waited for the noise to quiet down. She had another announcement to make, of importance to all three peoples represented here, but mostly to those of her own race.
"Anything else?" Archangel. She marveled at his shrewdness in reading that from her.
"Yes." She studied Lloyd. "But I suspect you already know."
The man shifted. Like John, he had chosen a more mature appearance that stood out like a beacon among the young soldiers and officers around him. His appearance had affected the Colonials deeply, especially the female Sheba, but there had been no time to inquire why. "All I know is that I was ordered to come here, to be here now. And I cannot tell you how the order came, because I don't know myself."
Lydia accepted that. There was, at times, an almost mystical link between the Leader and his personal commander. She had seen it before, in her years of service, even though she suspected she would never understand it.
"Then I will tell you. Several hours ago, one of our skyfighters was diverted from its usual patrol route. We lost it on scanner, but picked it up again a short while ago. It is now on its way here, after picking up several passengers in the mountains."
She took a breath, seeing their expectation.
"The passengers are Inspector General Philip, and Willie, and the human Kyle Bates, and another. The other is the Leader, according to Philip."
The Colonials didn't catch the importance of that statement, but Donovan did. "Kyle? And the Leader? But they were killed in the shuttle explosion, weren't they? And what about Elizabeth?"
Lloyd had risen from his seat, his gazed locked on Lydia.
"Elizabeth Maxwell lives. She is coming here."
"Different skyfighter?" Donovan persisted, perplexed.
Lydia was silent.
"Then the truce is still on? There really is peace between us? And she and the Leader...." Donovan didn't seem to know how to proceed.
A figure appeared at the door. It was the Starchild.
"Elizabeth!" Donovan and Tyler both started forward, then suddenly stopped.
Light blue played across her body with a certain majesty. "Yes. I am Elizabeth." She stepped into the reception room as everyone rose, studying her with varying degrees of confusion and respect. Behind her, a very subdued Kyle and several Visitors in their natural reptilian skin followed.
"I am Elizabeth. I am the Leader."
Before anyone could respond to her calm announcement, she stiffened and glanced around her, as if studying the air.
Something shook the very foundations of the Embassy.
"Again! No! It will not be, if I die...." She raised a hand....
James studied the chronometer lying on the floor, then rolled and faced Juliet. "It is time," he announced in satisfaction. "The bombs should have gone off a few seconds ago. By now, the Visitor Embassy in Los Angeles is an inferno."
She smiled enticingly and slithered closer to him on the ceremonial bed of rock. "Then let us seal our mating, my lord."
"Sealed in blood and fire...." He pulled her closer.
Enter Sheba's Galaxy