Chapter Eight: Last Days


Stillness reigned in the Visitor Embassy. The Starchild stood like a statue, her face blank with concentration, her hand still outstretched. Around her, the air seemed to have solidified into some blue sphere highly conducive to energy; no one could get close to her without angry sparks arcing outward from her body. Lydia tried to touch her shoulder, and fell to the floor, stunned. One of the Visitors who'd come in with Elizabeth stooped to check her; the other remained focused on the Starchild, entranced.

The foundations shook again, and the blue sphere intensified.

"What the...? Geological instability?" asked one of the Colonials. "I heard something about groundquakes in this region."

"That was no earthquake!" Donovan shot back at Starbuck. "I've been through enough of them.... What was it?"

Commander Lloyd moved to stand in front of the very young Leader. "It is her. She is doing this."

"But what is she doing?" demanded the Earthman.

"Saving our lives."

A Visitor guard ran into the room, nearly tripping over Philip and Lydia. She cried out something in her native tongue, the garbled hiss only confusing the humans more. It took a moment for her to remember their speech. "Explosives! There are explosives in the building! But they only burn with blue fire, then fade...."

She stared open-mouthed at Elizabeth.

Everyone waited mutely as a third shock rattled pictures and knocked a glass figurine off a shelf.

Then the blue faded from around the Starchild, and she slowly lowered her hand and stared about her.

"What was it, Leader?" asked Lloyd.

"Incendiary devices," she replied distantly, her eyes still far from any of those present. Her voice was feminine and rich with power. "The one who set them is across the street, wondering why this structure still stands. The one you call Scott is reporting to James. Follow him, and he will lead you to the male who tried to kill us all."

* * * * *

As the Starchild knew or perhaps caused, Scott fled to the Renegades when he realized nothing was happening at the Embassy. There, he was confronted by his shocked and furious superiors, the newly-mated James and Juliet.

"What went wrong?" James howled.

The much less physically imposing Scott flinched and bared his throat. "I don't know.... They should have blown up. I don't know why it didn't...."

Juliet fought down her panic. "What do we do now, James?"

"Philip and Lydia are still alive. And Diana. And the new Leader, the half-breed Starchild...." James was still stunned, his mind racing but finding no avenue of escape. A feeling of imminent danger rushed through the Visitor warrior's blood. It was an old taste, one he was well-familiar with, and which usually stirred him to heroic action. But this time, he needed time to find an alternative course. "Time. We have to move again, to one of our own places. Diana will tell them everything, to see us taken, to revenge the bomb set against her. She will see us as a danger to her now...."

"The plan was based on them all being dead...." The scientist quailed, the thought of a short and already lost battle unnerving her.

"But they are not dead. And we must proceed from that...."

A sudden noise echoed off the cavern walls from outside their chamber. James and Juliet started, while their messenger scuttled into the shadows, out of mind and out of reach. The noise was repeated: laser fire, quickly followed by shouts.

"James?"

"Too late." His expression was grim, his eyes cold. "Prepare to die."

"No!"

James grabbed a weapon and moved to the door like the serpent he was. As he set his hand to the control pad, it opened from the outside.

There stood a husky, dark-skinned human decked in combat fatigue trousers and strings of gold jewelry. Lieutenant James and the former Sergeant B.A. Baracus locked stares, and recognized each other. Long-lived and slow-burning hatred came to life in each of them, with bloody memories. The Visitor hissed; a drip of venom stained his lips. The human growled deep in his throat, like a bear. As one, each threw away his weapon and charged, locking together in a wrestling grip from which neither would give quarter. They froze in their grapple, leaning into each other, fighting for leverage before pressing the battle.

The Visitors were physically stronger than the humans, and James was not small for his race. He should have forced the human back. But B.A., too, was strong for his people, and he fought to avenge small victims.

Both Juliet and Scott stared in silence. The female was a scientist, and untrained in combat; even if she'd been a skilled warrior, she knew she couldn't face what she saw in both combatants' eyes – and James would kill her for depriving him of the duel, if she intervened. After a moment, the bewildered Scott saw an opportunity and moved forward to grab one of the tossed lasers.

"B.A.!" An older, gray-haired man pulled up short. Understanding at a glance, he trained his own weapon on Scott and Juliet. "Why don't we just let them settle their little 'discussion,' shall we? Yours to win, B.A."

For a moment more, neither was winning. Then, bare shoulders and back muscles straining, B.A. began to step forward. James tried to shift his hold without losing ground. With a single Herculean grunt, the human jerked the Visitor from his feet and tossed him to the stone floor.

"That's for the kids...."

* * * * *

"She's changed, Mike." Kyle's face was haggard.

"That's obvious! Elizabeth as the new Leader.... This puts a whole new complexion on the war, and what we do next."

"That's not what I mean."

Donovan waited for his young friend to continue, but Kyle just slumped into the easy chair. After a moment, he asked, "Care to elaborate, or is this a guessing game? I thought you'd be happy to have Elizabeth back – that's why you went after her."

He shook his head, still staring at the floor.

"Kyle, what happened out there? There were rumors the Leader's shuttle exploded, that you and Elizabeth were killed with him. But here you are, and the Starchild claims to be the Leader. How did you get here? What happened? Can't you tell me?"

Kyle glanced past him, his eyes bright with unshed tears. The journalist felt a pang; young Bates had always looked up to him; he hoped he wasn't pushing the kid into telling him things that Kyle wasn't ready to talk about. But something was eating at him, and if it had anything to do with the new Leader, and maybe all of Earth's future, he had to find out what it was.

"The shuttle exploded. I think I died."

Donovan started visibly.

"Then suddenly we were at Maxwell's cabin. The pilots were dead, just me and her still alive. Only I don't know who or what she is now. She didn't talk for a week. Then she ran away. When Willie and Philip came, we looked for her, and we found a cocoon, in a cave, just like you did the first time. They acted real strange, I don't know what they were doing, they just started humming and touching it. I waited. Then it ripped open from the inside and she.... But.... She's not Elizabeth any more. She'd the Leader, too. He's in her, somewhere. It's like they're one being, now."

"And you've lost her? That's what hurts?" Donovan prompted gently after a moment.

The younger man shuddered. "No. I think I could take it, if I'd lost her. But I haven't lost her. She still wants me. And so does he, somewhere in her mind. So alien...."

He was unsure how to answer that; there were too many layers of innuendo and uncertainty in what Kyle had just said. "Do you want to leave? Get away for a while?"

"I would if I could. But I can't." He sighed, and suddenly looked older and very tired. "I can't leave. The Leader won't let me. I tried to run, back in the cave. And she called me back. I didn't want to go to her. She just reached out her arm and called me, pulled me. I tried not to go to her. But I did. To her, or him, or both of them. She ... they ... won't let me go."

"Elizabeth wouldn't...." He couldn't help remembering some of the things Philip and Lydia had said when the Leader first appeared to take the Starchild.

"She's changed, Mike. She's different. She's ... them."

"I remember her first metamorphosis. She may need time...."

"They won't let me go."

The fatalism in those words shook Mike Donovan to the depths of his soul.

* * * * *

Diana paced in her holding cell, hating the power bars between her and the door, loathing the gray prison tunic and confinement belt, and despising the bloat-bellied guards who obeyed Philip and Lydia rather than serving her and advancing Sirian goals on this planet. The fury at her captivity was fed and twisted by fear. She'd felt it when James's bombs detonated, yet failed to incinerate the structure.

He has to know I'm a prisoner. He tried to kill me as well. Faithless, ambitious.... I should have disposed of him before.

But the bombs.... Elizabeth took them into herself, controlled their fire. And she survived the explosion in space. She is the Leader. And she is stronger than my former lover, and younger. She has so much power. It should have been mine to command. Now....

Will she order my death?

Fear and hatred warred in her mind and twisted her features.

The distant door opened, admitting more guards, under Lydia's direction, and more prisoners, heavily shackled in cold steel chains. James, Juliet, and Scott. Her people.

Or were they?

The obviously shattered Scott was quickly stripped of his uniform and handed a confinement tunic before disappearing behind the partitions and bars of his cell. Diana felt nothing but contempt for the young officer, seeing his meek acquiescence to Lydia's commands.

Philip entered as the guards turned to the other two. With a gesture, they stepped away, and the inspector general faced their defiance. He studied them for a moment before speaking.

"The Leader states that if you request mate-right, it is granted."

Diana froze in shock. Mate-right? James has taken Juliet? No!

She caught James's eyes, staring at him in disbelief. He held her gaze, then nodded briefly and responded as custom demanded.

"I am a prisoner of my Leader, as is she who is my mate. Let the Leader be merciful, and grant a common cell to us who are mated as one." He hesitated a moment, then added, "I have disobeyed the Leader's law, unknowingly. I submit myself to her will, and accept her punishment as the will of Raman."

"A confession is not required to claim mate-right," Philip observed.

"We disobeyed in error, not knowing our Leader survived. We would never have acted against her law had we known," James stated levelly. He glanced at Juliet, who quickly nodded.

"Indeed," Philip murmured. It was impossible to tell if he believed it or not. "Juliet, do you claim and accept mate-right with this male?"

"He is my mate, and I claim the right. May the Leader grant it...." she affirmed.

"It is done." Philip quickly exited.

Lydia gestured the guards forward again. James and Juliet stood in silence as they were stripped and searched, obeying orders mutely. Then, dressed in loose gray tunics and confinement belts, they were escorted to a cell together.

If Diana could have found a voice, she would have screamed in hysterical fury at this proof of ultimate treason against her as a woman and a commander.

* * * * *

"Lydia is seeing the prisoners tended to, personally," Philip reported to Elizabeth. "We are of course monitoring their cells to record whatever conversations they may have, and to prevent a second escape."

"Well done." The Starchild's words were faint. Her eyes were far away as she sat cross-legged on the floor before the Sword of Raman. The blue sphere around her sparkled and flared lightning in arcs between her spread fingers and the Sword's hilt. She did not touch the sacred weapon. Ten such Swords existed among the Sirians; this one had been the property of Charles, an heirloom of his house. If Diana had produced a child, it would have belonged to that child. Without an heir, the treasured weapon reverted to the Leader, to keep or bestow as he or she chose. Philip had taken custody of it during Diana's and Lydia's competition, and kept it in a place of honor. When the Leader came for the Starchild, he had left the Sword. Now it was Elizabeth's property.

"Leader?"

"When there is only us, Philip, please call me Elizabeth. Sit."

"As you wish, Elizabeth." Wondering, he knelt opposite the weapon.

She smiled finally, and drew back her hands. The blue fire faded from her body, but the Sword's glow continued for a moment before dying. Elizabeth stared in frustration.

"You power a Sword of Raman...."

"But not with the fire of a Leader," she overrode. "The Sword knows me, but it also knows I have never stood under the sun of Homeworld or walked the Path of Proving. It knows I have never held the firestone or worn the diadem. It does not answer me."

"You were self-Invested, by the will and power of the previous Leader, may his spirit fly with Raman. How could the Sword deny that?"

"Invested, but never crowned. Never proclaimed on Homeworld. The Council knows of me, but they have never sworn to me. I must go to Homeworld."

Philip was uneasy. "It may not be safe...."

She stared through him. When she spoke, her voice held something ancient and terrible. "I will not hide here while the People face war. I must go to Homeworld. Without a Leader, the People will not survive."

He bowed to her will. "We will leave at your command, Elizabeth."

"I will go with Lloyd. You, Philip, will remain for a time, in command of the forces I will leave here. Lydia will remain as your ... aide, as she has been. You are Wardens of the People, Philip. Do not fail me."

"I will not. And Kyle?"

"Kyle...." Her voice caressed the name. "I pray he will understand, and accept what I can offer him. We will speak of this later. You may go, Philip."

Shaken, he moved back and slipped toward the door. The young woman took a deep breath and reached out mentally once again for the Sword, fanning her fingers above blade and hilt without touching it. Her plans remained her own.

* * * * *

Several members of the Galactica medical staff shuttled to the surface to examine the freed prisoners – they weren't risking contamination by exposing the general population of the Fleet to potentially hazardous Earth micro-organisms. The ones who'd been on the planet so far were unaffected, and decontamination took care of whatever they might have picked up, but Apollo and Athena had been prisoners for some time, too long to trust to their usual procedures.

"You're clean, Apollo. Check out perfectly healthy." Cassiopeia gave him a smile and her hand to help him back to his feet.

"Thanks, Cass. What about Athena?"

"Uh...." The blonde med tech looked less comfortable as she handed him his tunic. "Well...."

"She's pregnant, I know. But how is she?"

"Salik's still checking her out. We don't really know yet. Dr. Parrish is helping him, but our physiology seems just different enough from Terran to slow the examination."

He sighed. "Thanks anyway. Hey, where are Starbuck and Sheba? I haven't seen them. I thought my friends would be here, to see how I was." He pulled on the shirt and strapped on his laser pistol.

"Well, actually, once they knew you were alive and all right, they found reasons to leave the Embassy," she laughed easily. "Starbuck is trying to avoid the Inspector General – and I don't blame him, he looked too much like Ortega for Starbuck's comfort. And Sheba can't bear the sight of Commander Lloyd. I know the Visitors didn't deliberately make him the image of Cain, but it's eerie, and Sheba...."

"Yes. That should have occurred to me. Maybe I am a little bit insensitive."

"You're fine, Apollo, maybe just a little disoriented yet. And speaking of your friends, here's Boomer."

The black warrior waited, grinning.

"My guard, right?"

"Hey, Apollo...."

"You can't deny it, Boomer. Somebody's been following me ever since I got here. And I understand. I was ... brainwashed, converted, they call it. The commander has to make sure I'm not going to do something ... treasonous, now, that I don't revert."

"Don't take it too hard, buddy."

"I'm not. Say, I got an idea. Do they still have drivers ready to take us on necessary errands, until we're cleared to operate their vehicles?"

"Yeah, but mostly the Siress and the Commander, I think–"

"It just became necessary to visit that hospital."

"What?"

"Have to check on Mirella and Caitlin. And you, Boomer, have to come along. You're my guard. And besides, there's a lady I think you'll enjoy meeting."

* * * * *

Was it the way she'd said it, that Lydia should be his aide? Had Lydia said or implied something to Elizabeth that the Starchild was in favor of? Did the Leader have some purpose of her own that she wanted to encourage a closer relationship? Philip had looked at the security commander as a female, but never with any consideration that she and he be anything more than fellow officers.

The humans considered her attractive, he knew – there was something about her combination of facial features, hair and eye color, well-filled body, and way of moving that drew the attention and raised the sexual interest of human males. Under the human disguise, she was equally attractive to Sirian males. Philip had seen her before the Earth invasion. Her body was slim and sinuous; human style hipswing was nothing compared to the way she could move when unencumbered by their necessary disguise. The delicate green of her mouth and jawline, the tilt and fire of her golden eyes, the iridescent hues of color in the smooth, even scaling of her body under Homeworld's day.... He found himself wondering how brilliantly her crest would purple in mating ritual, how deeply her nails would score in the combat of passion-frenzy, how she would taste and smell when ripe for the joining, the whiplash of two bodies on sand or stone....

Some part of his mind reminded him he was on duty. Lydia was a fellow officer, not a pleasure toy to be recalled with fond arousal. Except for that one party, and the implications of her gratitude after he saved her brother, she had always behaved with propriety for her rank and his. He had to disregard her actions where Diana was concerned; that was personal feud, and common enough. He surreptitiously smoothed his ruffled hair. No one was in the hall to notice; another moment or two, and his body would cease betraying him.

"Inspector General?" Lydia came down the corridor, framed in golden sunlight from the window at its end. "Has the Leader made her wishes known?"

"She has. The Leader will return to Homeworld for a proper ceremony of Investiture, and a call for the Hunt. Commander Lloyd prepares for the journey."

He saw pride in the female's carriage. "And the fleet?"

"I do not know how she will split the fleet. I'm sure some of our mother ships will accompany her, but a few will remain in this system, for Earth's defense and continued negotiation with the humans. You and I will be remaining with them, you as security chief, and I, in my role as Inspector General and one familiar with our codes and customs, to speak with the humans."

He saw her deflate as if from a blow to the belly. To be left behind from such a voyage and the following events among their people was almost a defeat, a mark of disfavor.

"After Investiture and the Proclamation, she will return to Earth for our reports."

"Return?" Lydia was puzzled, then her eyes opened wider. "We are her Wardens?"

"We are." From abandoned dishonor to trusted glory. To be Warden was to stand for the Leader and all the People, living symbols. As Raman had been, long before. As both John and Pamela had been, during the invasion of Earth, before Diana's assassinations. Diana herself had never been so titled.

Lydia fell into step beside him. "And then?"

"I don't know. I doubt if our young Leader has planned further than that. War, I suspect."

"We will do our duty."

"Of course." Another thought occurred to him. "Ah, word came from the New York Mother Ship a few minutes ago. Commander Adama has spoken to the human United Nations forum, and they have agreed to release our hostages, now that the meeting will be aboard their Galactica, and with the other circumstances of the Leader's return and Diana's captivity. They will be restored to us as soon as arrangements can be made, perhaps tomorrow."

"Nigel...?" He almost saw her spirits soar with relief as the last of her worries vanished.

"Yes." An idea from elsewhere nudged his mind. "Perhaps we could celebrate the successful conclusion of our current duties with dinner this evening, and plan our future courses of action? I could arrange a special meal – I believe there are some very tender hamsters in the commissary, and certain other delicacies are available in the right quarters...."

"I could arrange the meal, Inspector," she interjected, smiling. "I am not so much the officer or so little the female that I can't plan a simple menu."

"Ah, but your responsibilities just now are greater than mine. I have several bottles of Homeworld vintage that I believe we might open for such an occasion, and I suspect carrying them from the mother ship to your quarters would cause comment. Shall we meet in my chambers?"

"I am honored, Philip. And now, as you reminded me, I have duties...."

There was something in her smile and the sparkle in her eyes that made him eager for the evening. Yes, Lydia was pleased about her brother's release, and the singular honor the Leader had bestowed upon them, but there was something else, too, an excitement.... Philip suddenly discovered he couldn't stop thinking about her.

* * * * *

"Lydia, Lydia, oh have you seen Lydia, Lydia the tattooed lizard...."

The off-key song echoed weirdly through the stone hall. If Lydia had been human, or less elated at the current situation, she would have flushed furiously. As it was, her eyes narrowed, and she followed the sound to its origin, in one of the Embassy parlors.

It was Murdock, Smith's man. Her entrance was noted; the others had the grace to look abashed, but the lunatic Murdock only grinned saucily.

"Lydia, Lydia," he warbled again.

"Murdock!" Hannibal Smith shushed him, then sent a casual leer of his own her way. "Hi. Come to say good bye?"

"And why would I say good bye? Are you leaving? What a pity." Her cool tone said completely otherwise.

"Well, your Leader's going back to your Homewhatchacallit world...."

"And you assumed I would be accompanying her?" Lydia smiled with assumed lightness. "Actually, the Leader has appointed me to stand as Warden for the People. I suspect I shall be here for a long time."

Murdock and the other two looked distinctly disappointed, but for some reason, Hannibal only grinned the wider.

Uncertain if she'd won or lost the round, Lydia nodded slightly and turned to the door.

Murdock tried a new tack. "We're off to see the lizard...."

She glanced back coolly, and found a condescending smile. "Off, at least, as even your friends proclaim. And while I do not know the song, I think off-key is also fitting." She retreated triumphantly, knowing from Hannibal's genuine laughter that one human, at least, respected her.

* * * * *

Athena tried to rest, as per the doctors' suggestions, but someone disturbed her nap. There was a man at her door. She wasn't sure she wanted to see Apollo, but he stepped into the room despite her hesitancy. Once there, he didn't seem to know how to proceed, either. He reached a hand to touch her neck and pushed back the forward-combed hair. He couldn't help wincing at the color and feel of the green scaling. The gesture angered her; the alien pregnancy had come between her and her family and friends.

"Are you ashamed of me for it?" she demanded.

He finally looked her in the eye, and she saw a glimmer of tears. "No. How could I be?"

"An alien child, by one of them. Starbuck won't get near me; I haven't seen Father; the others look nervous when I'm around. They can't stop looking at my throat. I can see them wondering what it looks like under my collar, under my hair. It's like I've been tainted with something terrible."

"An alien child. Diana wanted that from me, too. I'm as tainted as you are. I shared a bed with that Serina for several ... weeks. I thought she was my wife," he stated simply without going into details she could deduce for herself; it was her turn to shudder. "How could I say anything about your having a Visitor lover once, when there was nothing you could do about it...?"

"Lover?" she repeated angrily.

"All right." He swallowed. "Rapist is a more fitting word. And I was responsible for your being a prisoner."

"Yes, you were." She was almost rude, but her voice softened almost at once. "You were drugged, too, brainwashed, Julie told me. That creature used us both. I ... don't really blame you, I guess. I just don't know how to react, it's not something I ever thought about. I don't like my condition."

"There's really nothing anybody can do? Not us or the Visitors or the Terrans?"

She shook her head. "It would kill me. So I'm stuck with it."

"I'm sorry."

"I know...." Impulsively, she hugged him, and felt his arms tighten around her shoulders in response. Somehow there was no longer anything awkward about her brother's presence. They each understood what the other had gone through, and even if nobody else knew or understood, brother and sister could depend on each other, as they always had.

"Well," she asked a moment later, "how are the others? Mirella and Caitlin?"

"Oh, they're both fine. Caitlin's being released today, and Mirella should be out in a few more days."

"That's wonderful. They're very special people."

"You're not the only one who thinks so. My ever-present and faithful companion Boomer took one look at Mirella, and didn't come back with me. He muttered something about later...."

A sudden breeze stirred the curtains. Both glanced toward the window; Athena gasped and pulled back, while Apollo went for his weapon.

It was a man in red Visitor trooper fatigues. Douglas blinked against the light, having obviously climbed in from outside. He glanced once at the male warrior and his laser, then focused his attention on the woman.

"Athena...."

She stepped behind Apollo.

"Who is it?" he asked.

"The father," she replied flatly. She sensed her brother tensing, and for a micron was pleased that he would kill the alien.

Then he relaxed with difficulty. "What do you want?"

"To see the woman."

"To kidnap her again? To hurt her more? No."

Douglas had made no threatening gestures; Athena edged around Apollo to see him more clearly. "What do you want, Douglas? I thought you were killed at Diana's convoy ambush."

"Or hoped as much? I survived. I escaped. I came here to find you."

"Why did you want to find me?"

He stared at her, puzzled, as if he hadn't considered that question himself until that very moment.

"Turn yourself in, Douglas."

"I would be killed!"

"Then why did you risk coming here?"

There was a sound at the door, and they heard Lydia's voice. "Athena?"

Douglas jumped like a startled animal, and vanished through the curtains. Apollo would have called to the security commander to begin a search for the Renegade, but Athena suddenly caught his arm. Resting her fingers on his lips, she whispered, "Don't tell them."

He was obviously stunned, and wanted to ask why, but she'd already reached the door and was opening it to admit Lydia – and the Starchild.

"The Leader wishes to speak with you, Athena."

She studied Elizabeth, glowing an odd, gentle shade of blue. Then she nodded. "Of course."

"Alone."

"I'll see you later, Apollo."

So summarily dismissed, he had no option but to leave the room. Lydia followed, leaving Athena alone with the Leader.

Elizabeth studied her calmly, then raised a hand to touch her throat. "So you keep the child."

"I have no choice." Athena endured the surprisingly warm touch tracing the green band.

She nodded slowly. "I fear that is so. But when she is born, what then?"

"I don't know."

"I am leaving Philip and Lydia here. And Julie, too, had a hand in my rearing. She knows how to help you. Heed their advice. They will help see your daughter safely to her very early adulthood."

Athena took Elizabeth's hand. "From everything I've heard, our reactions have been different from your ... from Terran reactions. We are stronger, we tire less quickly. But our bodies react differently to drugs. There will undoubtedly be other differences. How can you be sure everything will be all right?"

The Starchild closed her eyes; the blue aura intensified. Then she smiled. "It will be all right. Raise the girl until I return. Trust the ones I leave with you. If you do not want her, I will take her...."

"I'll keep my daughter, thank you,"Athena replied with more spirit than she'd shown in days, surprising even herself. "Diana meant to use me as a breeding machine, and I won't let you do the same. I'll keep my child – whatever she turns out to be. And I suspect Salik and Cassie, who are familiar with my medical history, will do an excellent job of delivering my baby."

"So be it." Elizabeth smiled. "A willful people, and strong. Our alliance will hold against the Cylons. Raman and Kobol will be the poles of strength. Thank you, Athena."

Then Elizabeth exited, leaving the Colonial to wonder what she meant.

* * * * *

Security Commander Lydia and Captain Apollo waited in the hall. After a few moments, the Leader came out of Athena's quarters. "She will rest now. Be there when she needs you, Captain," the strange woman said distantly. Apollo stared after her as she gestured to Lydia and walked away. The trooper followed.

"Lydia."

"Yes, Leader?"

"There is another of the Renegades in the gardens below. Lieutenant Douglas, from the Los Angeles Mother Ship, communications division. See to his capture at once."

If she was surprised at the knowledge or the order, it didn't show. "I will. Shall he be disposed of privately or kept for public trial?"

Her expression was enigmatic. "Keep him alive, and uninjured. There will be no public trial for him. Athena would prefer it that way."

"Yes, Leader."

Lydia was surprised when he surrendered without a fight.

* * * * *

The Visitor Embassy holding cells were all but emptied at Elizabeth's command. Many of the Renegade prisoners were transferred to the Leader's Mother Ship, where Commander Lloyd saw to their incarceration. Several were handed over to Earth authorities for various specific crimes against humanity. A few simply left and were not heard from again. Only four remained: Diana, Douglas, James, and Juliet. As most of them were not on speaking terms with each other, and the guards were careful not to converse in their prisoners' hearing, the long room was silent.

When Lydia came for them, she took Diana, James, and Juliet, leaving Douglas in his cell. She ignored Diana's deadly hiss as her wrists were chained and a small mouthpiece fitted over the venom pits in her palate. The gag wouldn't keep her from speaking, but it would prevent her from spitting poison. The other two put up no resistance; their strategy was obedience.

Douglas waited tensely. The security commander ignored him., but ordered the room guards out as she left. Astonished, they obeyed. The door sealed behind him, and he was left completely alone. He heard a quiet hiss beyond the walls, which quickly died as the air circulation system shut off, and realized the holding area was completely airtight against the outside world.

From a blank wall where no door had been a moment before, two women entered. One, the blonde in the low-cut pink robe, was Elizabeth Maxwell, the Starchild, the Leader. The other, the nervous brunette in a tightly-fastened, hooded Colonial dress, was Athena.

He waited, unable to take his eyes from the dark-haired woman.

"This is him?" Elizabeth asked quietly.

Athena nodded mutely.

"Do you wish his death?"

"I...." she started, then fell silent again.

He wondered if they would simply leave again. Tightly sealed, and without the circulation system functioning, he would slowly suffocate over a period of days in the ever-more stale and poisonous air.

The Starchild produced a small vial, and handed it to Athena. The vial was half-filled with a powder the color of a Visitor uniform. Douglas stiffened, knowing.

"This is live Red Dust," Elizabeth informed them both. "It is what my mother used to kill my father. Athena, if you wish, you may use it to kill the one who fathered an unwanted child. The room is sealed – the powder will not affect anyone outside this room. The Red Dust does affect humans in such a limited dosage, for such a short time. Nor will it affect me. It will become dormant in a day or two, and the room will be flushed and heat-sterilized then. No one will know what has happened to him."

The human woman stared in horror, then shoved the small container back at her.

"It is your right."

"No!"

"You cannot kill him?"

"No!" She stepped back.

"If you desire a proxy, it is allowed. Shall I open the vial?" She lifted it, rested a finger on the seal.

Athena grabbed it away.

"Do you wish him to live?"

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

"For your sake, or your child's?"

"I don't know...."

"So be it." Elizabeth studied Douglas sadly. "I never knew my father. I knew what he was, what he had done to my mother. I saw him die, and heard my mother laugh. But I never knew him. Humans raised me, humans at war. I was raised to fight against half of my heritage, to see my own kind as dreadful aggressors and brutal, treacherous invaders. Willie tried to teach me a peaceful way, but it took Philip to show me what my people could be, that our culture had produced beauty as well as violence, kindness as well as brutality. Philip...."

She drew a decisive breath. "He lives, Athena, at your will. If you want him, he is yours. Otherwise, I will find a place to exile him. But he will live." She turned away.

Athena stepped closer, finding Douglas's eyes locked on hers as if mesmerized.

"Your scent," he murmured. "It is still the same ... and your taste lingers in my senses.... How can a human affect me so?"

The woman shook herself. "Probably because your life is in my hands and you know it."

Athena fled before he could say anything more.

* * * * *

The three prisoners stood in the circles before the judges, their hands chained to the railing. The male stood between the females. Although it felt cold as ice from their personal enmity and the hatred from every direction, the chamber was hot, lit with reddish light. Sand crunched underfoot. It was the same room where the Dusk-Hunt had been called, and it appeared the same, but the feeling was very different.

Inspector General Philip sat on one side of the main throne, silently watching; if not for Elizabeth, the matter would have been his to conduct. Security Commander Lydia held the position on the opposite side of the throne. Several other Visitors were ranged beyond them, including representatives of several of the mother ships and the supreme priest from the Visitor fleet. Commander Lloyd of the Leader's Mother Ship waited behind the throne. Several humans sat or stood behind the aliens, sweltering and uncomfortable in the heat and light. Their tense conversations never rose above low whispers.

One of the Visitors made the humans additionally uncomfortable; one look from the yellow-eyed, cat-irised female, and they drew away from her. Lydia leaned back to speak to Michelle. "Your aide forgot her eyes today."

The Toronto representative pushed back mahogany hair and smiled sweetly. "Lucinda never wears them. She feels they distort her sight in combat," was the light response.

Lydia's own eyes narrowed, recalling the female's reputation. She almost spoke again, but at that moment the Leader arrived, alone, and took her place on the center stone. Elizabeth studied the prisoners, her face unreadable. She dismissed the mated Renegades apparently without a second thought, focusing on Diana.

Diana couldn't meet that look.

"Diana," Philip announced solemnly, "you are charged with multiple acts of treason against the Sirian people, with the murder of the Leader, and with numerous crimes against the human species. Have you anything to say to this court before judgment is passed?"

It was the same as at Lydia's trial after Charles's murder; there was no real question of acquittal, innocent or guilty. A decision had already been made. At this point, honor demanded silence. She kept it.

Philip's attention passed over James to Juliet. "Juliet, you are charged with attempted murder against the Leader and others, and with numerous crimes against the human species. Have you anything to say to this court before judgment is passed?"

The scientist stared at the floor and trembled.

The blond male next to her stiffened as he realized he had no stake in this trial; his destiny was decided, and it would not be stated here. That could only mean he would be turned over to the humans, to face their punishment. He glanced over the watching Visitors and Terrans. His eyes halted for a moment on the Toronto representative, but moved on. Julie Parrish wouldn't meet his eyes; her wrathful attention was on his mate. One human, with dark eyes and a brooding aura, watched him closely. James recognized him, and the two who flanked him. It could only mean he was being returned to–

Elizabeth leaned toward Philip, and he unexpectedly spoke again, addressing Juliet.

"Do you still claim mate-right?"

Juliet stared for a moment, then turned slowly to look at James, studying him for a long moment. Knowing his life was in her hands, that he could share whatever was in store for her or endure whatever fate the humans concocted for him, his eyes were hard. Diana moved restively, but both ignored her. Finally Juliet nodded, as if hypnotized.

"I claim mate-right. Let he who is mine share my fate."

Philip finally focused on him. "Has Juliet the right to such a claim?"

"She has the right; she is my mate."

"Do you accept her claim, and accept her fate if the Leader so grants?"

If she were condemned to death, he would die with her. It was better than facing "justice" at the hands of his human enemies. "May the Leader be merciful, and let our fates be one."

"The Leader grants it. May judgment be passed."

Elizabeth finally rose. "We are at war," she began quietly. 'These females are scientists. Their knowledge is valuable, and they have already proven they are capable of much. They are ... useful. They are therefore handed into Security Commander Lydia's custody, to work with Science Frontiers and the Toronto Mother Ship for the defense of this system and its peoples – all its peoples. As Juliet claims mate-right, it is granted that James will accompany her." Her eyes bored into the astonished trio, and she had to speak above cries from the stunned human witnesses. "They must take the Oath. If it is violated, let the traditional punishment be dealt to them, that they be sealed alive with the bodies of their victims, to perish as time allows."

As this sank in, Julie Parrish and some of the others looked revolted, but the prisoners seemed to have expected worse.

The rest of the Visitor version of a trial was quickly over, and the room emptied.

Outside, Lydia caught up with Michelle again. "Is Lucinda to be in charge of security while Diana is aboard your mother ship?"

"Lydia is my personal bodyguard," Michelle replied off-handedly. "Ship's Security Chief Daniel will be responsible for them."

"I understand James is kin to you."

The other officer's gaze traveled slowly over her face. "Traitors are kin to none. Do you question my loyalty?"

Lydia knew her own dueling abilities. But seeing the silent Lucinda tense, she knew who she would face if she pressed the issue. And truly, she had no quarrel with either woman, worth killing or dying for. She found a smile. "As you say, traitors are kin to none."

* * * * *

"Father?" a hesitant voice asked.

Adama turned to see Athena in the doorway, looking as timid and frightened as her voice had suggested. He felt a pang of guilt; he'd been so busy with arrangements for the great council that he hadn't had time to see her or Apollo, and they were both still recovering from.... He shook off the thoughts.

"Athena, come in, child."

"If you're not busy...." She moved into the room, eyes and face downcast.

"No, most of the preparations are complete, and Inspector General Philip and Siress Tinia are seeing to the final details at both ends. Is there something troubling you?"

She stared at him, obviously on the verge of tears. "I thought you knew. Didn't Dr. Salik tell you...?"

He finished quietly. "That my daughter is pregnant, by an alien, and there is nothing he can do about it. Yes, he told me."

"Is that why you haven't come to see me? Are you ashamed of me?"

He started. To conceal it, he stepped next to her and raised her chin in his hand – unwittingly revealing the green band staining her neck. She jerked away. Her too-visible pain hurt.

"I've been busy, too busy. I've neglected you, I'm afraid. I didn't realize how much you needed me there. Athena, you have never shamed me, you or Apollo. I have always been proud of you, I want you to know that. I'm afraid it is old habit, putting duty first, even when it's not necessary. But don't ever fear that I would walk away when I knew you needed me. I will be there for you."

Her tension eased, and she leaned into his arms.

"Have you decided what to do?" he asked, a moment later.

"I'll keep it. That's what I told Elizabeth. If it turns out like her, Dr. Parrish will know what to do. If not, I don't have much choice anyway. But I want to go away for a while, where nobody knows, and I can rest, and think."

Adama wished there was more he could do for his children. For now, he just held his daughter closer.

* * * * *

Julie Parrish stared around the office she hadn't seen in what seemed forever. It was good to be back home. Her white lab coat hung over the chair. She picked it up, then put it down. Juliet had worn it, while running Science Frontiers at Diana's command. She would never wear this coat again. She opened her top desk drawer, and found her old wire-rims where she'd left them. She picked up the glasses lovingly; the Visitor had never touched them. Perching them on the tip of her nose, she strolled back into the empty hall.

Science Frontiers was still silent, although she knew it would be bustling again in a few days. The human scientists were coming back, after the place had been reclaimed from the token Visitor force. A few of her people were already on duty, cleaning and gearing up for new efforts – Murray Bozinski, California Jones, two or three others. She signed. War again, when they'd hoped to leave it behind....

But now, they wouldn't be alone. The Visitors were working with them – even Diana and the other scientist, both currently aboard the Toronto Mother Ship. And Colonial scientists and engineers like Wilker and Shadrack were making themselves at home, too, with their star-brought technology and techniques. The Toronto Mother Ship was supposed to open its computer library and facilities to them before the Leader's Mother Ship returned to Homeworld. Several Colonial research vessels were computer-linked with Earth, working with Humanidyne as Science Frontiers would be working with the Visitors.

What a tremendous future they could have–

"Julie?"

She turned at the tentative voice, and saw the Starchild.

"Elizabeth," she greeted her fondly. Mike and Kyle had been worried about her, but Julie thought the young woman looked fine, if somewhat reserved, considering what she had recently gone through, and what she was becoming.

"Do you have a moment?"

She scanned the empty hall and nodded. "Of course, Elizabeth. What is it?"

"The Galactica talks begin in a day, and we will be leaving soon after. I wanted a chance to say good bye to you...." She was being too formal.

Julie pulled the girl into a hug. "We'll miss you, Elizabeth, you know that. You're facing a lot of responsibility for one so young and inexperienced."

"Oh, Julie...." She suddenly seemed to crumple, leaning her head on the older woman's shoulder, fighting for control. "I ... I.... You've been so good to me ... I'm frightened, I don't want to leave you now...."

"Honey, if you really don't want to...."

"But I have to." Still clinging, she drew a shuddering breath and looked up. "Not much time for tears, with a war to fight. Philip is staying here, and Lydia, to lead our ... my forces, the Visitors. But Philip is a jurist, and Lydia is a soldier, not a warleader, not yet. I think ... I think the Colonial commander is someone they will listen to, and I think he can guard this world better than any of ours, just now ... he knows the Cylons.... Listen to him, and...."

"Hush, honey. You're babbling. We'll get by. We'll fight. Will you be okay?"

She smiled brightly. "Oh, yes. Lloyd will teach me more, and I'm taking Willie and Thelma to stand by me. When I feel the fire too brightly, they'll remind me of Zan, and I won't be lost in battle-hunger. And the warcouncilors of Homeworld will stop me from making too many mistakes with our strategy. Knowing you're waiting here will remind me to come back. I want to come back, to you and Mike and Kyle and Mother and all my friends...."

"You will, Elizabeth." She stroked the young woman's hair, whispering soothingly. Elizabeth was still little more than a child, only a few years old in real time, forced into a terribly important position. She was coping as best she could. Mike and Kyle were just paranoid.

* * * * *

"Hey, Colonel! You're him, right?"

Tigh looked up at the call. It was one of the Earth pilots who was now serving as honor guard for members of the Terran delegation. He was a dark-haired young man with a devilish grin. Another man walked with him, a blond with close-cropped hair and a definite attitude.

"Depends on which 'him' you're looking for," he replied with some stiffness.

"The one who's responsible for setting up the program at Miramar."

For some reason, he felt relieved. "That's me. What do you want?"

"I used to be an instructor there. Thought you might like a little help."

"Are you volunteering?"

"Thought I might."

Tigh sized him up. He seemed competent enough. And from what he recalled, those who taught at Miramar Academy were mostly graduates of the special programs there, men who had been tops in their classes. He knew he could do worse than to have such a man participating in the set-up of the new flight training program. "You'll have to go through our qualifiers yourself, you know."

The instructor's grin widened. "No problem."

"You sound very sure of yourself."

"I've heard pilots are supposed to be confident, even egotistical."

"Some more than others," the second Terran muttered.

Tigh ignored it. "If you pass, I'd certainly appreciate your assistance and familiarity with the current programs and performance standards."

"Good. I'll see you after the meeting." He spoke to his companion as the two moved away from the colonel. "And then I can get back to teaching. You should come, Ice. A few things you still have to learn...."

"Mav, the only thing you have to teach me, I don't want to learn."

"Hard up?"

"Not yet, but keep talking...."

Tigh realized their banter was rapidly sliding off into the obscene. He couldn't catch the exact meaning of it all, but some things needed little explanation. Having women at the Colonial academies hadn't kept such talk out of the dormitories or everyday life, and there was a special comradery between pilots that sent a wave of nostalgia crashing through him. It had been long since his own yahrens at the Academy, less long since he'd flown regularly. But suddenly, Colonel Tigh felt he'd come home to what he was always intended to do.

* * * * *

Apollo watched the assembly from the doorway. He'd never seen so many chairs and tables stuffed into the gymnasium, each with its own languatron – translation equipment. And the main body from the Earth United Nations – its Security Council, or some such – was in a separate chamber, the Council Chamber, with the Colonial Quorum and Visitor Leader and her people, visible on massive vidscreens on two walls. It was an impressive group, with representatives from almost every arbitrary nation-state on the planet. Most wore the toughened expressions and guarded wariness grafted into the species from the yahrens ... years spent in war against the Sirians. They'd taken well the knowledge that their war had really just begun, that an equally deadly foe was not far off among the stars. That their former enemies now stood with them could not be easy to assimilate, but the tolerated presence of several Visitors among the delegations said they were willing to try cooperation.

He sighed sadly. They had hoped for so many things, and it all came down to one inescapable fact. The war continued. But maybe with the Colonials, the Terrans, and the Visitors together, it would have a more positive future.

At any rate, if one could judge from the Terrans present, they were prepared to fight tooth and nail to continue holding their world – as the Visitors would undoubtedly fight tooth and claw. Apollo found an unexpected smile.

The next speaker in the chamber caught his attention as she rose and took her place at the podium. She was a black woman with the language and accent of the United States, the nation-state he'd had opportunity to investigate firsthand. Elegant features, he thought, though middle age had filled out what must have been a very attractive figure. He saw the attention focused on her, and realized she must be an influential, well-known person.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she began, "most of you know me, and you know my interest in space travel, and in the future of our planet and our peoples. I hope that will not prejudice you against what I have to say, for I have thought about it long and hard. I hope you will consider, equally deeply, what I now have to say.

"I suspect there is no question, despite the generous offers of our Visitor ... friends, that we will be placing first priority on familiarizing ourselves with the culture and technology of our brothers and sisters from the Colonies, including and at this point concentrating on their military hardware...."

She hesitated, glancing around her. There were nods of agreement and some applause as the speech was translated for everyone present. On the screen showing the Quorum chamber, the members of the Security council likewise expressed agreement. The Visitor Leader seemed quite at ease with their opinion, although some of her people showed consternation.

Satisfied, the woman continued. "Then it would seem our first action must be the construction of vessels capable of patrolling our star system and protecting our planet; we cannot, after all, expect to be safe here while leaving the stars open to whoever warps by...."

There were assorted chuckles. Apollo saw several individuals muttering to others, apparently explaining something that wasn't stated outright in her words; he wondered what it was.

"And we can hardly expect our Colonial friends to risk their lives so we may cower here...."

Several men and women glanced at Apollo and the other warriors scattered around the room among the delegates. He almost looked away; risking his life was what he'd always done, and if called upon, he would continue to do so, whatever the humans decided. He saw his father on one of the screens; the gray veteran was sitting very erect, very calm, the image of dedication and pride. He wondered briefly what codes and customs the Terrans honored and lived by; he hadn't had time to study their laws....

"So it seems to me that we must begin building battlestars of our own."

Approval rippled forth again, in cheers, claps, raised-fist salutes, other gestures and calls the Colonials were less familiar with.

"To this body, then, I would like to offer a suggestion for the naming of the first battlestar, and hope you will all consider it well...." She took a deep breath, looking taller and straighter. The audience leaned closer; some suddenly smiled as if illuminated.

"There was a ship, a vessel of the United States, which fought the Visitors in the early days of the first invasion and resistance. Her captain refused to surrender when attacked, and a mother ship sank her. We remembered that day, all of us. She was a symbol to the Resistance, a rebel, she went down fighting. We know the handful of survivors who came back. Remember them...."

Apollo almost sighed in exasperation. The Terran audience was obviously recollecting the incident she referred to, but for someone like him, with little knowledge of Earth's history, recent or long-past, this was frustrating. She was mistress of the audience now, and they followed her speech quite willingly, but he knew these oratorical techniques, and wished she would get to the point.

"There was another Earth vessel, designed to leave our surface, to 'slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of God,'" she continued, her voice a song of glory, lyrical and full of emotion demanding response, dropping in the next moment to a heart-wrenching dirge or tribute. "One of her design died, with her crew, but she still waits, flightless, a symbol of what we wanted to be, and where we wanted to go...."

Her words brought a lump to his throat; he saw tears, and wondered what memories they brought to these humans.

"And, if you remember, our first shuttle was named for another ship, one that never flew except in our imaginations, a vessel named for others in the past, to be an ideal and a symbol, and a goal for humanity, as we stretched our arms to the sky and reached out...." Her own voice quavered.

"There are many names we could give a ship, a battlestar, and I fear we will need every name for the war that's coming. But let the first be a symbol and a dream, a plea, a tribute, a reminder of what we wanted to accomplish, and where we wanted to go. Let us remember all the ones who fought, and reached, and were willing to explore and pay the price....

"Name the first battlestar Enterprise."

Without waiting for a response, she sat down.

Apollo heard a husky voice beside him whisper, "Right on, Nichelle."

From the others in the room, he heard nothing for a long moment. Then he saw tears, and heard small conversations, people exchanging comments, smiles, handclasps. It was the same as when his father had spoken to the gathered survivors after the Destruction, promising them a dream. His vision blurred, and he couldn't see anything else. But he heard the scattered applause that built to a deafening crescendo as the representatives of the nations of the world accepted the suggestion.

Earth's first battlestar would be Enterprise.

He turned away, and bumped into one of the Earth pilots. Blinking, he saw the young man's proud smile, and the determination in every line of his erect carriage. A shiver ran down his spine, followed by an incredible joy and calm certainly. Earth's future was written in that body. This youth was what would stand between the Cylons and this planet, this people. The Visitors would fight, too, but the spirit that had held against aliens for so long would stand with or without them.

Earth would survive. He was sure of it.


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Enter Sheba's Galaxy