"Wisdom of Sarai"

In the beginning:

Sagan was the ninth and last lord of unified Kobol. He planned the great exodus that took the humans to the colony worlds; the twelve, together, the one lost beyond the Void. He kept his secrets well.

The last lord sired four children, all of whom took their places in human history. Adam was the eldest, Sagan's heir, the lord of the migration. His name will be revered forever, surviving in glory as long as humanity exists. He saw the twelve worlds settled and strong before his death, flourishing as each tribe claimed its territory and made a home for itself. He, too, became a man of many secrets as the worlds became home. These hidden things haunted him always, but the mystery was not born in fear, so he trusted the knowledge he received from the Beyond.

Adam sired five children.

The oldest son was Seth, who became the first Lord of Caprica of the House of Sagan, taking his grandfather's name for a surname, as he was proud of his heritage but still wished to start anew. His line led the Twelve Colonies until the great Devastation.

The second child was Cain, who led the "lost tribe" astray in his mad dreams. His name is hidden through human his-tory, condemned as a traitor by many, honored by only a few. Only in the last days of the Colonies was his vision recognized as their salvation.

The third child, Debora, is remembered as a fair and honest woman who traveled widely among the growing Colonies, overseeing and guiding their development. She chose to settle among the Gemonese, and her wisdom was lost to the rest of her people when they could most have used it.

Gideon, the fourth, died young, but left a daughter who was to follow Cain.

The fifth and youngest child of Adam was Sarai. Truly a gift of the past to the future, Sarai was as talented as her grandfather and brother had been, and always knew the truth of Cain's vision. She felt the new danger threatening the Twelve Colonies. Because of her youth and his own arrogance, Lord Seth did not listen to her warnings, and the seeds of the Devastation were sown.

I

An impatient young woman paced in the atrium of Lord Seth's dwelling, a newly completed villa overlooking the city. Her brother had promised to see her earlier in the day, but had kept her waiting for over a centar. She halted her steps abruptly as a man entered the hall, but he passed through without speaking to her, nodding in preoccupied fashion at the younger sister of his lord.

Tossing back her dark hair with a snort of disgust, Sarai stalked to the huge open window to glare at the beginnings of the capital city for the Colonies. It was still in the early stages of occupation and construction, as was nearly every city in the Twelve Worlds, which had held humans for just over a score of yahrens, but Babelon already promised to be a place of beauty and strength. The elders claimed it would never match Eden, their distant home, but Sarai felt that was the nostalgic longings of people still fearful of the differences on the colony worlds.

When the refugees of Kobol reached the system, they thought it a godsend, twelve habitable worlds in such close proximity, a place apart and safe. Lord Adam, her father, recently dead, had known some great secret about the worlds, but his records and diaries were entrusted to the keeping of a small, separatist order of mystics, and his rich legacy of knowledge was all but unknown even to members of his family. But Adam had recognized something special about his youngest child, and had promised her the secrets when she was of age.

Sarai would never forget the look in his eyes when he spoke of these worlds, set apart for them for some special purpose; his provocative hints and the distant, almost maniacal gleam in his eyes told her how important the secret must be. She'd promised to visit a Retreat when she came of age, to devote a proper period of study and contemplation to his writings, but had forgotten her promise in grief at his death and funeral. There'd been so many duties to attend, public affairs, and Seth to deal with....

Then, two days before, Elders of the Retreat had appeared in the city and sent a message to her, reminding her of her promise to her father. She wondered how they'd known, but the reminder was enough to make her eager. She needed only her brother's permission to leave Babelon.

She sighed, staring at the sunny day and the bustling, churning streets below. All the people's energy was put into shaping these worlds into the homes they wanted, building grand monuments and memorials, gaining identities as nations.

She shivered in the window's sunshine, brown eyes turning bleak at the thought. Her father had been uneasy with the idea of settling each tribe on a separate world, but it had been the easiest way to begin. He separated them as much as he could, with the family lotteries, and hoped that commerce, intermarriages, and wanderlust would be enough to keep the original tribes mingled and united. But with her father gone, and Seth trying to forge an identity separate from that of Adam, a common heritage might not be enough to keep the Colonies together. Already there were shifts in the population, back to the older tribal loyalties. Sarai had had dark dreams about that over the last sectons, but her brother regarded them as the distraught fears of a young girl still grieving her father's death. He rejected and was suspicious of anything that might undermine his newly-gained authority.

He wouldn't listen to her now, when she was simply the much-younger half-sister of a man well into his prime. She doubted he would be much interested in her wish to leave Babelon to spend time at one of the Retreats, but he would let her go.

She grinned humorlessly at the thought that he'd probably be glad to see her gone from the capital, and wouldn't care if she stayed away permanently! Sarai was aware that Seth knew little about their father's writings, and cared even less; she herself had been entrusted to deliver the materials to the Elder officiating at his mourning ceremonies, and she had no intention of informing Seth about it now.

"Siress Sarai?" a prim voice interrupted her brooding.

The young woman turned to see a severe-faced elderly woman. "Yes?" she responded eagerly. "Will he see me now?"

"Lord Seth has a few centons free for you," the woman answered reprovingly. "Try not to tire him, child. He's had a busy day, and he still has to arbitrate a Scorpian dispute. They're the most argumentative people, except of course for the lost tribe."

"Our brother Cain's tribe." She couldn't help herself; Sarai dashed past the menial, running as much to anger the woman and flout proper behavior as to get to her brother. She was no longer a child, and she resented being treated as a lower-class, unwelcome member of the family. Several of the attendants of Lord Seth felt her mother had seduced Adam for greed, ambition, or worse, and couldn't or wouldn't keep their opinion of the offspring of the union to themselves.

Sarai didn't care. She knew quite well why her parents had married, and what others thought was immaterial. Unwanted or no, she was still a member of the House of Sagan.

Lord Seth wasn't alone, but she hadn't really expected a private audience. The last time she'd tried to talk to him privately, they'd ended up shouting at each other, and nearly carried the argument into a public scene at an official ceremony of mourning. She resolved she wouldn't lose her temper this time.

"Lord Seth, dear brother, I'm pleased to see you looking well," she began before he could speak. She took the wry amusement in his eyes as a good sign. He knew what she was doing - proper notice of respect and humility, sweet reminder of familial relationship, polite concern for his health, couched in loving terms.

"Greetings, sister Sarai." Not Siress Sarai? He really was in a good mood. She let her eyes flicker over the others as her brother continued speaking.

Seth's son, Aeron, only fifteen, was looking bored. As usual, she thought ungraciously, having little respect for her nephew's capabilities. It would have been better to insist on training Leah, Seth's oldest daughter, for the lordship. Leah was only Sarai's age, but had already announced she was abdicating any such claims to spend her time among the stars. Aeron was next in line, and resented that he owed his position as heir to his sister's refusal of it.

Seth's handful of counselors she passed over without thinking. They were intelligent, talented people; she knew them all by face, and some by personality. None of them took the time to seek out her friendship. She well understood why.

Three others waited patiently for Seth's speech to end, listening attentively. She recognized two of them as Elders from the Retreat; their eyes were quietly settled on the Lord of Caprica. The third was a much younger man in the simple beige robes of the order, with the sun medallion of a full mystic, but not much older than herself. He turned to glance at her as she looked at him. There was nothing spectacularly handsome about his face or form, but Sarai almost gasped aloud as their eyes met. She'd seen those distantly-gazing, cloudy blue eyes before somewhere, perhaps in a dream. He smiled politely at her, dropping his eyes for a moment as custom required, then gazing directly into her own amber-flecked brown eyes; they reached, it seemed, through her conscious thought and into her soul.

She turned quickly to her brother, immersing herself in concentration at what he was saying, but unable to shake the young mystic's gaze fixed on her.

"...and I have spoken with the Elders of Highpoint Retreat, as well as listening to your request, sister. I can only give you my blessings in this, and hope you will be content with your chosen place in life. You have my permission to join their community, with no obligations here. Be happy, Sarai."

Seth gestured at the Elders. "Elder Harmakhis will escort you, with his party. You will leave in the morning, as I understand the Elders have reason for haste. I am sure you can say your farewells this evening at supper. Don't worry about packing; Libitina is aware that you are leaving, and is supervising the gathering of such things as you might need immediately. Anything else will be sent after you. And of course you are free to visit when you choose."

The lord rose smoothly to his feet, brushing down the overrobes of state he was wearing. Aeron rose instantly to stride pompously behind him, smirking at something. The counselors, too, moved en masse toward the far archway.

"I leave you in capable hands, sister. But now, I must go. You know the Scorpians; keep them waiting and they'll solve it with blood feud. I'll give you formal blessings at supper."

Then, incredibly, he was gone, with his entourage, and Sarai stood still rooted to the spot, elated that he'd acquiesced so easily to her request - not that he had any reasonable excuse to do otherwise. She turned gaily to the mystics from Highpoint.

"Elder Harmakhis, it's good to see you again. We must talk, on the journey back."

"Sister, think over what the lord said, and reconsider your reaction," the elderly, ascetic man replied calmly. His eyes were almost as blue as the youth's were, but showed maturity rather than dreaminess.

"Why, he's given me permission...." she began, perplexed; then her mouth dropped and she felt sudden rage as her voice died. A long moment spent trying to deny what she knew passed before she spoke again, in a strangled, shrill voice. "He ordered me to lay aside the lordship and my obligations! He's sending me into exile, not a temporary retreat!"

"He has put you in our keeping," Harmakhis replied with a grave nod. "You are to remain with us as a sister. You can never ascend to the lordship."

"But I have no aspirations.... I didn't realize he hated me so much!" she whispered. "He can't...."

"It is done," the other old man told her gently. "But it is for the best, or we would never have accepted you without the tests and your consent."

"Why?" She raised a hand to run her fingers through her hair; they clutched on a thick hank and twisted the dark stuff, pulling it free of its careful styling. "How can he do that?"

"You did ask to spend time with us," Harmakhis reminded her.

"Yes, but ... Grandfather and Father left their writings with you, and I was to study those, and learn...."

"And you shall," the Elder interjected.

"But what good? Why? To what purpose? Seth's ordered me locked away where anything I learn will do no good!" she wailed frantically, speaking her thoughts before they were half-completed.

"So he believes," the youngest man said, speaking for the first time.

Sarai gazed at him again, the half-smile and gentle, clouded eyes stilling her panic. "What do you mean?"

"He has removed you as a threat to his authority, for so he saw you, by sending you where he believes you can do him no harm. You never intended to challenge him, but there's never been love lost between you; that is well known. Members of our Retreat aren't cloistered; we travel through the worlds, and we have Shelters on every world. We are here to preserve knowledge, and do what we can to prevent disaster. What you learn will be put to good use."

Sarai listened as if spellbound to the young man. For some reason, he was correct. If she remained, Seth would continue to disregard her and attempt to discredit her, to relegate her to the background of his lordship where she could never accomplish anything. Thinking he would heed her if she came back with Father's wisdom has been a noble but foolish dream.

But to flee without trying to prevent what she could foresee....

"How can I just leave?" she asked helplessly.

"You will be doing the best thing you can do. Lord Seth will no longer fear you; with a place among us you can move freely on the worlds, unhindered by the formalities required of a Siress of Sagan. You can return with the reputation and honor of our Order behind you. Even Seth listens to our Elders occasionally, with reluctance, we must admit. The other people, the members of our tribes, they all listen to us on the scattered worlds. We are their wisdom. Where they might not trust the lord, they do trust us. You can accomplish far more with us than struggling alone." The youth was persuasive, and Sarai knew he was right.

"Then I should tend to my packing," she finally acquiesced quietly, clasping her hands, hating to leave.

"That's being taken care of; and you won't need much, as a novice," Harmakhis overruled. "I think it would be more soothing to your agitated mind to continue speaking with my son." He smiled at her quick, automatic comparison of features. "We aren't celibate in the Retreats, and your father isn't the only one to have discovered a soulmate in his advanced yahrens. Starmont passed his Initiation over a yahren ago, and is a full mystic. Perhaps you will listen to him with more attention than you do to me, Novice Sarai. He can prepare you for the trip better than I." The old man was still smiling; he and his companion quickly left the room, walking spryly despite their yahrens. The mystic and the novice scarcely saw them go.

"It was wise to bring him after all," the other man commented under his breath as the two walked sedately through the high-arched corridor. "She might have been difficult otherwise."

"It is for the best, I'm afraid, Charon," Harmakhis chuckled. "And he's the one who insisted most strongly that she be accepted without a test. I think he's developing the Sight. Unusual, in one his age."

"And what of Sarai?"

"Starmont will give us his evaluation of her talents this evening. We can only proceed from there, and accept that this is the will of the Forces Beyond," he replied with a smile. Time would teach best, but his own gifts told him the siress was worth training. And only the full training of a mystic would develop her gifts to where she could truly learn from the writings of Sagan and Adam. The writings had been sealed, waiting for the one who could open them - perhaps this daughter of that house would be the one. Perhaps her child would be. And perhaps they could yet avert the terrible Devastation.

II

It had been yahrens since Sarai had walked in the gardens of Babelon, and she relished the experience.

She'd reached full womanhood in every way, and her maturity of mind showed in the confidence and serenity glowing in her dark eyes. With Starmont as teacher, she had learned a great deal in a very short time. When Lord Seth had summoned her back to the capital for her niece's wedding, Harmakhis had freely given his permission for her to leave Highpoint.

Leah, Seth's oldest daughter, was now sealed to a Scorpian she'd met in the space service. The Lord of Caprica wasn't pleased at the match, but since Leah had renounced the lordship, he could say nothing about her marital choice. The pair would soon be off on their wedding trip, but Sarai had a few more days before she left Babelon.

For now she enjoyed the garden. She stopped her easy pace to breathe the sweetly delicate perfume of a large white flower in its prime, growing on a tree-like shrub. She ran a finger lightly along the fragile blue veining of one of its petals; from this natural beauty had come the design for their ankh, the symbol of life itself, as this plant had come to be called the Tree of Life. Its ancestor had come from Kobol, had grown in the royal gardens of Eden; one variety was in fact named the Edenflower. It thrived only on Caprica and Aquaria of the Colony worlds. She wouldn't bruise the flower or break it free, but left it growing for another to enjoy after her.

Babelon hadn't changed much. Some buildings had been completed; numerous parks and gardens surrounded clusters of homes and offices; the spaceport was across the valley, out of sight, seldom busy; most industry was developing in the hills, away from the quiet beauty of the river plain.

Sarai shuddered at an unwelcome vision of the city in flaming, poisoned ruins, and she couldn't remain outdoors. The gardens were lovely, peaceful, and calming, but they overlooked a possibly doomed city. She fled for the shelter of her royally-appointed quarters. They were more ostentatious than she was used to, but Seth persisted in treating her as if she were still a Siress of Sagan, rather than a simple sister of the Retreat, now that she was no longer a threat to him.

A visitor was waiting for her, pacing the tiled floor of the shaded courtyard with nervous steps. It was Ester, Gideon's daughter, a tall young woman of even temperament. Sarai had an idea what the elegant siress wanted to see her about.

Ester was an unofficial ambassador of her uncle, visiting the Colony worlds to show the concern of the lords for their development and growth. Before the wedding, Sarai had spoken to her of the possibility of becoming an ambassador to another world. It was one of the reasons she had accepted Seth's "invitation."

Ester had seemed doubtful. But now, as the young siress turned to face her, Sarai could see fierce determination in her eyes. She'd made a decision.

She gestured her niece to an upholstered couch nestled under a flowered trellis, then turned to a waiting servant woman before she could speak. "It's a warm day, and my walk has been tiring. I'm sure Siress Ester would appreciate a beverage as well. Bring us something cool."

Veiled eyes shifted from one young woman to the other before the elderly servant bowed reluctantly and left.

"Seth still doesn't trust me, to have Libitina reporting my every move to him," Sarai breathed quietly, moving to sit next to Ester on the plush pillows of the couch. "You'd best speak quickly, and quietly, unless you've decided against...."

The taller woman shook her head grimly. "I've decided for," she stated flatly, her face shadowed by the leafy canopy.

She was surprised, and uneasy at both tone and look. "Why? What made up your mind?"

"Seth was monitoring us when we spoke after the sealing, and drew his own inference from your veiled request. He ordered me not to listen to such foolish words, and to be careful what I said to you in the future. Apparently, only your standing in the Retreat prevented him from raising a hue of treason against you for even considering such an idea."

Sarai sucked in a breath of surprise. This was something she hadn't expected. That Seth would go to such measures, that he distrusted her so much, was so jealous of his position....

"And that made you decide to go?"

Ester shook her head violently, sending loose dark hair flying. "No. I was willing to abide by his command, except for...."

"Except for what?" Sarai asked gently.

"I've had dreams since then," the other woman whispered, looking away. "You're right, Sarai, you are right. We have to find a way. Even if it means conspiring against my lord, even if it means treason. There has to be a way."

Sarai was chilled. She was not the only with forebodings about the future. Now Ester saw them too. But conspiring against her brother.... All she'd wanted was for someone to make the journey that Harmakhis had forbidden her to take. She hadn't planned a conspiracy.

But Seth's tight grip on authority was growing by the yahren. He wanted no challenges. And right now, the Order could ill afford to risk such a challenge. It wasn't their purpose to divide the Colonies, but to try and preserve them against a violent sundering.

"So what will you do?" she asked her niece. Her own actions were limited, at the Retreat; the other woman would take the actual risks, one way or another.

"I need a ship and a crew, with a captain we can trust."

"Have you someone in mind?"

"Yes. The one captain Seth won't act against, won't even suspect, until it's too late."

"Leah's husband. Theseus."

"Yes."

Sarai sighed, closing her eyes and leaning back on the soft couch. It sounded more like conspiracy all the time. "Have you spoken to them?"

"Yes. They ... understand. And they supplied the plan."

"Which is?"

Ester leaned closer. "No one will suspect a young couple, especially when one of them is the daughter of the lord. I will have a commission to fulfill. They will permit me to accompany them partway on their sealing trip, perhaps around the perimeter of what we call our space. From there we can easily vanish."

"And I remain here for the first few days of your trip, but will have returned to Highpoint by the time you've disappeared."

Ester nodded once. "You'll be safe at your Retreat; no one can say for certain what's happened to us."

Sarai smiled humorlessly. "How like Cain."

The other woman laughed nervously.

A slight sound from the antechamber drew their attention. With a finger on her lips, Sarai rose soundlessly, moving with the smooth grace of a skilled athlete, gained from her training. At the door, she listened quietly for a moment, then returned to the couch.

"Libitina's back," she mouthed at her niece.

"And Leah made a beautiful bride," Ester murmured, understanding immediately. "And Theseus looked noble enough to be a lord himself!"

The mystic easily shifted her mind into girlish gossip of weddings and appropriate attire. Their giggling and mindless chatter might delude the ever-vigilant spy in the next chamber. Sarai knew Libitina hadn't been there long; the sound had been the elderly woman stepping next to the door to listen to what the young aristocrats discussed. And whatever she heard, she would carry back to the suspicious Lord Seth. But she could have heard nothing; she'd been detected immediately - and if either the servant or the lord chose to construe details of lacework and color in a bride's gown as treasonous, they were truly paranoid.

The servant entered the luxuriously decorated courtyard several moments later, a sour look on her face and a tray of cool fruit punch in her arms. She found excuses to bustle around the sunlit chamber for the remainder of Ester's visit, giving the young conspirators no further privacy or chance to discuss their treason. It wasn't until the siress left that Sarai could give any further support or acknowledgment.

"Ester," Sarai said, taking the other woman's hands in a warm and encouraging gesture. "I wish you a safe and successful journey. And as you will be traveling with Captain Theseus and Siress Leah, give them my fondest wishes for a happy life and prosperous endeavors. I doubt I shall have time to see them, or you again, before you leave...."

"Not likely," the elegant young siress responded. Her eyes held tears, and her grip tightened painfully, knowing the separation of family and friendship could be for yahrens - perhaps even the rest of their lives. "We leave today. I wish you happiness and safety as well - the Fellowships of the Retreats don't look for wealth or fame, I know. Thank you for your kind wishes; I'll carry them to Leah."

She turned away quickly, hurrying from the room. Libitina watched her narrowly, then turned to her supposed mistress.

"You may remove the tray now," Sarai ordered evenly. "I think I shall rest for a few centars. The last few days have been strenuous, and I have an arduous trip home soon. Wake me for dinner." She ignored the servant's muttered response and retreated to her dark bedroom. They must all play their parts, for a few days more....

* * * * *

Meditation had proved useless; she was too anxious to settle her mind to any one thought. Instead, she chose to spend the hot afternoon perusing tapes and records from the Migration - Sagan's, Adam's, and Cain's primarily, though she knew them nearly by heart after several yahrens of intense research and study.

Cain left because he foresaw a tragedy; Seth interpreted his brother's defection as wild ambition. He doesn't see what Cain must be going through now, trying to build a world alone, without support from either a mother world or sister Colonies.

And we don't know where that Colony, Earth, is. But we must learn. Did Cain know we would follow him? Did he know that we would send someone to Kobol, to find his secrets, and follow him to this Earth?

That's what Theseus, Leah, and Ester must do. Find the way to Earth, establish some communication between our worlds. But Seth is so afraid of Cain that he doesn't want the link, doesn't want a human world beyond his control. He prefers to let the thirteenth tribe be forgotten....

Brother, you would call us all traitors for doing what we must do to be loyal to humanity. Do you really see yourself as the only one whose opinion matters? Perhaps we have been lords too long....

"Sister Sarai?"

The woman glanced up from her contemplation. One of the younger novices, barely past adolescence, still shy, still in awe of his elders. "Yes, novice?"

"You have a visitor. Lord Seth of Sagan is here, and Master Harmakhis permits. Will you see him?" The meek youth obviously expected an affirmative; he was her brother as well as their lord.

By now Theseus's ship would be gone, hurrying back to the Void, finding the way through it and back to Kobol's pulsing sun. Was Seth calling her to account for its disappearance? He might, especially since he'd taken the trouble to monitor her at Leah's wedding, and suspected her interest in reestablishing contact with the thirteenth tribe, wherever it was. She hoped all had gone well with her conspirators - if she were punished it meant nothing, so long as they succeeded. Harmakhis and others at the Retreat knew of the plan, and could take her place if necessary as contact for Ester.

She took several deep, cleansing breaths, controlling herself and bracing for a possible confrontation. "I will be there shortly."

Visitors, even the Lord of Caprica, were not permitted within the Retreat's main cloister, only the brothers and sisters. Unlike the freedom granted when members of the Order traveled in the outer world, they maintained strict privacy in the Retreat. Guests stayed in shelters scattered over the lower mountain slopes, and could speak with members of the Order only with permission, in a specially set apart chamber. To that chamber Sarai now made her way.

"Greetings, my lord," she began quite formally, hands clasped passively before her, nodding in the proper reverence those of the Order gave only to members of the House of Sagan.

He had been studying a fresco in the simply-plastered walls; now he turned to her, and his face was ugly, distorted with rage and grief. His eyes shot hatred and distrust at her.

"They're gone."

She cocked her head quizzically, glad she'd prepared herself for this moment. "My lord?" she inquired gently.

He took two controlled steps nearer, then seemed to loose any concern for appearance or propriety. A powerful back-handed slap from the middle-aged man sent the young mystic flying backward; only her agility saved her from serious harm. Lord Seth continued to glare at her, while the novice at the door gasped in dismay and shock.

She stared up from the floor while he stood over her, breathing heavily. Her own face had gone ice-cold and empty at his behavior. It was a tribute to her training and strength of will that she could still be in control of the situation from her awkward position. "My lord, explain yourself," she demanded, without raising her voice.

"Ester is gone," he stated slowly, accusingly.

"And I am to blame?"

"She was aboard Leah's ship."

"Then I have lost the two members of our family who was closest to me. Ester and Leah were close as siblings to me," she replied deliberately. "How were they lost?" Now she allowed a trace of grief to pucker her forehead. She doubted he believed it.

"We don't know. They simply disappeared. But you are responsible, and I know it, and someday I will prove you brought them into a conspiracy...."

She started as though in surprise, then pulled herself back to her feet. A gesture, and the novice at the door was gone, to bring back Elders who could either reason with her brother or shame him into leaving.

"My daughter...." His voice was grieving. He had truly loved Leah, and cared filially about Ester. He was shaking, and she felt sorry, suddenly, that things had to be the way they were between them. If Seth had shown any willingness to listen to her explanations, she would have told him everything then.

"And you did it all, lured them from their loyalty, sent them off on your wild quest for a dead traitor!" he continued in rage. "Someday, Sarai, someday, little sister.... You will learn who it is you have crossed...."

Her pity vanished. She knew who she had crossed. Her dark eyes were empty of emotions as she spoke. "My sympathies to their families," she said coldly, distantly. "Both shall be missed. They were fine women, true daughters of the House of Kobol."

He felt the force of her words, knew she'd excluded him from the family house deliberately. He seemed to recollect himself with a strain, forcibly schooling his face to a more appropriate aristocratic emptiness. "I thought you should know, half-sister."

The words were intended as a return slap, but she'd heard them so many times from him that they no longer disturbed her. She merely continued to watch him minutely, without response.

"Until next time, then, Sister Sarai. And you will regret it." The threat delivered, he turned on his heeled shoe and stalked out.

She felt relieved. At least he hadn't tried to drag her away by force, though he certainly had no evidence that she'd committed any treasonous act. But he was the lord....

And now they were gone. It would be long yahr-ens be-fore she saw Ester or Leah again, she knew, and grieved for it. She would deeply miss them. She hadn't seen them of-ten in the past few yahrens, but they had often exchanged letters, and she had still felt close to them. They had been like sisters to her, and now risked their own lives and honor for her vi-sion....

An image formed in her mind, and her eyes snapped open, the tears halted. Seth is no longer sane! Her mission was suddenly more important. And she and her brother would never meet as friends.

III

Seth's sanity came to be seriously questioned as his temper grew more volatile; his furious outbursts and hysterical threats couldn't be hidden from the aristocratic men and women who held government positions, though they were kept secret from the public. Pressure to step aside in favor of Aeron, his son, grew stronger, but the lord resisted every effort.

Aeron, at forty yahrens, was quite ready and eager to take on his responsibilities; Seth's response to every offer of assistance was a suspicious refusal - often followed by a withdrawal of current duties. The aging leader no longer trusted his own son.

Sadly, the frustrated, bitter young man reacted exactly as his father feared - he began drawing a small but powerful and growing political faction to himself. Some were able bureauticians fearful of where Seth's insanity might lead them; others were ambitious sycophants fawning on the heir as a key to future power for themselves.

It was not long before Seth acted as his friends feared, and his enemies hoped. Accusations of illegal behavior on the part of Seth's own captains were callously brushed aside by the lord; there were rumors that his own ships were acting as pirates against craft from Scorpia. It was known that Seth had grudges against owners of several of the attacked vessels - the very idea that he, the lord, was using his position to react personally against his own people, those he was supposed to protect, brought a public furor that couldn't be silenced or bribed away.

Lord Seth was caught; Lord Aeron stepped in. When the mess was settled and peace restored, it was the younger man who wielded power. He intended to keep it. His father was forced to abdicate.

For appearance's sake, he chose the Retreat at Highpoint for his retirement. It was not really his choice. It was the safest place for him to be, after the enemies he had made in his last yahrens as lord. Pressure from his successor and his remaining true friends forced him to accept the suggestion; all seemed afraid he would soon be back in political games and ploys if he stayed in Babelon, or wandered to another of the Colony worlds. At Highpoint he would also be protected from the intrigues of powerful Colonials with grudges against him, who might try to revenge themselves now that he was out of power.

He accepted it all as best he could, putting a noble and generous face on his only option as "the best thing for all concerned, especially the people." But once at Highpoint, he bitterly denounced his son for his betrayal.

His rage extended to Mystic Sarai, whom he again and loudly accused of treasonous conspiracies, though she was innocent, this time, of any involvement. After a rambling public diatribe and a physical attack upon his sister and her chosen spouse, Mystic Starmont, the Elders quietly confined him, and kept watch over his activities. It went against their usual actions, and was as repugnant to them as to their former lord, but it was necessary. His behavior showed his utter loss of control.

So Aeron reigned as Lord Sagan of Caprica, competent in his own way, but not brilliant. The Colonies flourished under his uninspired rule, each world becoming more independent as populations grew and economies expanded.

Sarai remembered the wanderers she had sent on their journey while the rest of the Colonies seemed to forget that Cain and the thirteenth tribe had ever existed. The yahrens at first seemed long, but as her own time passed, her life changed. Her understanding deepened, and she felt more sure of her choices, and she was content with them.

IV

Elder Sarai felt very much alive on the bright autumn day, and so much attuned to the world around her that she chose to take a walk through the mountain meadows instead of spending her afternoon in quiet contemplation as she most often did.

She had reached her hundred and fortieth yahren, and knew her steps were beginning to slow, but her body still obeyed her mind. Exercise kept her agile and trim, and her senses were still good. Streaks of silver gleamed in her dark braid of hair in the strong sunlight of the peak. A calm and restrained lifestyle had kept her face relatively unlined. Her dark eyes were still as lustrous as the day she'd first left Babelon, well over a century before.

Since the conspiracy that had sent Ester and Leah into space, she'd kept herself strictly free of government policies and intrigues. Life was healthier, less bothersome that way. However much the former lord ranted in his confinement, she'd been uninvolved in his removal, and slept serene and secure in that knowledge. After so many yahrens, the brothers and sisters of the Retreat simply cared for the old man's needs and treated him kindly, as if his mind were still intact, without taking offense at his accusations and threats.

Through the yahrens, Sarai'd risen to a position of great esteem among the elders. She had a sense for things that must be done, and had learned to ease the pains and fears of others. Through teaching and study and contemplation, she'd developed her skills to a fine edge where she controlled her talents, and could use them in the best interests of the Retreat.

Starmont, her lover, then her husband, had done much the same with his time. Also an elder, he could read the hearts and minds of those who came to visit or to stay, finding hidden talents and detecting secret knowledge, helping young people to know themselves.

Among those young people had been their own children.

Their oldest child, a daughter, Britomartis, had left Highpoint for the other Colony worlds. She'd traveled for many yahrens before returning with the certainty of her mission in life. With the blessings of the Retreats, scattered here and on the other Colonies, she'd led a small group of brothers and sisters away, to try and settle a world somewhere else. Neither Sarai nor Starmont was ever able to see where Britomartis's life would lead; she had taken her people, along with a number of others dissatisfied with life on Caprica, and left.

The world was not far, but communications were few, as the new colony refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of Lord Aeron, who had become almost as despotic as his father. Aeron, fortunately, was still sane, and had sense enough to refrain from a military attack on the fledgling community.

Their second child, Serapis, lived in a Retreat on Gemon. That world was a harsh one, prone, for some reason, to new ideas and strange customs. The Order there had divided three times since the settlement, and attempts to reunite the arguing groups had proved futile thus far. But Serapis was a competent mediator and a very charismatic man - if anyone could convince the Gemonese to draw together again, it was him.

How long any such agreements or reunions lasted, however.... The elder shook her head as her footsteps stirred the wild mountain grasses and delicate blooms hidden among them. The Gemonese, it seemed, were doomed to disunion; politically they seemed capable of working together, but in the absence of an outsider to face as a common bond, their philosophical and spiritual disputes splintered them ever more rapidly.

"Elder Sarai!"

She heard the voice calling from below her, echoing softly among the hills. It was her third child, who hadn't called her mother since the day he turned ten yahrens old. The youth was bonded to the Retreat, and to a life of mystical contemplation. His spirit communed with others of like gift across the star system; he could reach any of the distant Retreats on this world and the rest of the Twelve with his mind. It was unlikely he would ever wish to leave Highpoint; the emotional chaos of the outside world appalled him.

"Here, Apollos. I'm returning to the Retreat." She spoke softly but knew he heard; she felt the slight stirring in her mind that suggested urgency.

What disturbed the talented young man? Sarai halted for a moment and turned her face up toward the primary sun, feeling its warmth as she opened her mind, trying to reach out as her sons, daughter, and husband were all capable of doing with such ease. Something.... A suppressed excitement.... The vital secret.

Her eyes flew open in shocked joy, tearing up against the sudden brightness of the sun in the brilliant sky.

She's back! She lifted the skirts of her robe and ran breathlessly back to the stone-and-wood walls of Highpoint.

Apollos directed her to one of the visiting rooms. She knew what she would find when she stepped through the door, but it was still with tremulous amazement and a multitude of mixed emotions that she reached out her hands to greet the woman who had spent nearly a century wandering the stars at her request.

"Ester!"

"Sarai!"

The trip had aged the woman; gray streaked her hair as well, and there were lines of worry around faded green eyes that told of many responsibilities and hard decisions over those yahrens. The tall woman's trim figure had filled out, though she carried thirty extra pounds better than most women could have.

They embraced, and time fell away as their tears mingled on each other's cheeks.

"You're back!"

"We're back..."

* * * * *

Between Ester's tale and the logbooks of Ark Kobol, the knowledge was there, the story of their trip and the yahrens it had taken, and what they had discovered and learned.

They had gone first to Kobol, treading a backward passage through the infinitely empty Void that had so terrified the first traversers. Only the knowledge that it had an other side, that humans had passed it safely before, and that their first destination waited there for them had driven the young, idealistic humans on, through all their fears and the panic when they'd thought themselves lost. Captain Theseus had kept the most minute of navigation notes on that part of the trip, leaving a record of how to return to their home world that wold be invaluable one day, when humans again returned to their birthplace.

On Kobol, tragedy had struck. They could stay only a small period of time, as the planet wobbled under an uncertain star. They had gone to the tomb of Sagan, last Lord of Kobol. A yearning summons had been left, as Ester had somehow known it would be, in that still place - left by Cain, in the last days, as he prepared his plans and led the thirteenth tribe on its lonely journey.

Captain Theseus and several of his officers had vanished as they prepared to leave, readying for the next leg, following the path Cain had marked for them on the walls of Sagan's tomb. They had searched for days, but no one had thought, until too late, that the single-minded officer might have returned to the pyramid that contained his wife's ancestor. They found the missing men in an antechamber, already past help in the arid, unfriendly climate. They would never know why he had returned there. Leah had ordered her husband's body and those of the others left where they lay, and resealed the tomb. She'd become grim at the loss, and her eyes held dark death for any who dared to question her after that. The young widow had simply taken command of the Ark Kobol, and ordered them to proceed. She never spoke of Theseus again.

Of the yahrens of the trip, there was much to say, but little of it concerned Cain and his destination. They'd passed numerous systems, found worlds with small human groups, and planets humans could one day settle. They encountered a handful of alien peoples on some of those worlds; only one of the species had space-faring ability.

Once they thought they'd made contact with the thirteenth tribe, long before they expected to. That signal fell silent, ending when they tried to contact the senders. Whoever it was, vanished before them. They returned to their original heading, and followed it faithfully.

They'd reached Earth. And been as shocked as Cain must have been when they first saw the world - or perhaps he hadn't been so surprised after all, considering what they learned.

There had already been humans on that world, humans with a long history, but in a culturally depressed time, in an almost constant state of conflict that rent any attempt to build a society before it could become viable.

As Cain himself had feared, the thirteenth tribe had split on that world. Some had joined local peoples and local troubles. While they meant to help, often their involvement only worsened the condition of the native humans. A few of the more ambitious tried to establish themselves as leaders of the scattered humans, either for altruistic motives of unity and benevolent despotism, or openly as a power base. Several large groups remained together, trying to settle in regions where they thought they might survive and draw other humans to join their more peaceable societies.

It was too soon to tell if Cain's scattered experiments would bear useful fruit for this world. Cain himself was dead, and his descendants faced a difficult task. But the literature of the world, as well as Cain's own diaries and records, was made available to Ester's people. She'd brought it back with her, carefully preserved with their own logbooks.

Another exchange had been people. Some of the crew of the Ark Kobol had chosen to stay, to try and help recivilize this possibly failing world. Some of the children of the thirteenth tribe had petitioned to return to the stars, longing to see the universe as their near ancestors had done.

When they felt they had learned all they could, and had trained the new crewmen and given whatever assistance they could to the pockets of civilization, Leah had ordered them underway again, for the long journey home.

They had returned to the Colonies safely. It was long since anyone had cared to search for the Ark Kobol, and other ships had carried the name in the intervening time, so it had been able to pass through the shipping lanes unnoted. Ester had come down to Caprica alone. No one had gone to Babelon, and no one would until they knew what the situation was on their old home world....

The situation was not good. Aeron, like Seth before him, had little patience for anyone who questioned his rule, and no interest in learning that Cain's mission had been partially successful. Ester remained at the Retreat for a time, sequestered from her former life, never making it known that she had survived and returned. Seth learned she had returned, but despite his requests to see her, she never spoke to him. A few yahrens later, she traveled to Gemon and spent the rest of her life helping Serapis hold the world together.

Captain Leah departed again with the Ark Kobol, and disappeared. Sarai believed she had chosen to return to Kobol, and wished her luck. Leah never returned to Caprica.

V

Sarai leaned back into the comfortable cushions provided for users of their extensive archives. Ester's logbooks were classified as reserved, open only to elders of the Retreat and certain others; few beyond that even knew such materials existed. Most other documents, including extensive and irreplaceable histories of Kobol, were available to any serious scholar or student who was willing to take the time to come to Highpoint. The aging mystic had spent the last few yahrens engrossed in the huge quantities of records her nieces had brought back from their voyage to Kobol and Earth. Few others among her peers were interested enough in the thirteenth colony to devote as much time to the study as she did.

It would take more than one lifetime to learn everything. Besides the information on what was happening on Kobol, the dying world, and the massive amounts of literature and history of the revitalized Earth, there were star charts and world surveys among the logbooks. Ester had done a thorough job. A traveler could reach Earth from the Colonies, via the Void and their planet of origin, and know every step of the route - how long it would take, what systems would be encountered along the way, planets containing human-usable supplies of food and water and fuel, and even a handful of worlds, human-settled and alien, that could be counted on to greet traders and peaceful travelers with open arms and pleasure at the contact.

But the distance.... Sarai thought. I was born at the end of the voyage from Kobol, and my mother was born there at its beginning, far across the stars. She grew up and married Lord Adam on the journey. I didn't realize it was so far back to our home world. And Cain went even further the other way, to reach Earth. Why did the Ancients settle so far from each other? What were they afraid of if their worlds were in close proximity?

It doesn't matter now. We know where Earth is, that it exists, that Cain reached there safely. That world is growing again; I wonder how long before our brothers and sisters reach the stars again....

What we need to do is cut the stopover at Kobol. A direct route would save so much time.

She was tired. Early afternoon had turned into late night while she was engrossed in the old records; perhaps in the morning she could speak to one of the archivists, one with astronavigation in her background. The woman might be able to suggest some way of plotting the necessary charts for a starship seeking Earth again. Perhaps she would have some idea how to more safely and easily cross the Void....

She returned most of her documents to the brother on duty, keeping only one of the logbooks to reread in her own small chamber. Once there, with her husband, her reading was forgotten. She swiftly fell into restless slumber.

Something is wrong! She woke with a wild terror ripping at her heart. Pausing only to grab a robe and pull it about her body, she ran out into the hall, past the cubicles of fellow mystics, ignoring the rising confusion and questions behind her. Barefoot, she ran through the central hall and out into the night, leaving her footprints in the thin, crusty banks of snow. Alone in the windless darkness, she reached frantically with all her senses, trying to see what had so disturbed her.

The peace of the mountain winter was shattered in a fireball explosion. Sarai stared, horrified, as the magnificent archival hall became a wild storm of flame, its stone shattering under heat stress, and its contents burning to cinders or molten metal before anything could be done to prevent it.

"Merciful ones, why?" she whispered as the tears flowed. Standing in a snowdrift as close to the fiery structure as she could, she felt its heat searing into her soul. The archives! The treasure of their worlds, and more importantly of Kobol and Earth. How could the gods rob them of the information they so desperately valued and needed? How could this have happened?

Starmont was suddenly beside her. She felt his physical presence and the mental horror he was projecting. For once, there was no comfort they could give each other.

Voices lifted in screams and prayers around her. Brothers and sisters who hadn't been awakened by their own sensitivity before the explosion were aroused by its fury. All poured out to stare in agony as an important part of their purpose was lost in centons. There was no question of extinguishing the fire; the structures burned to its shattered foundations in too short a time.

And we thought our mere existence would preserve our culture, our past! But why? How? What happened to the automatic sensors, the systems that should have turned on before it got this far? How could this happen?

Among the laments, there came an answer. One voice suddenly raised in laughter, a mocking, giddy, half-crazed giggle. Sarai spun to see an old, gray-haired, bent-shouldered man watching the fire with gleaming eyes.

Seth, formerly Lord Sagan of the Colonies, was laughing! He was staring at the fire and laughing hysterically. "Do you see, dear sister? I told you, I told you, you shouldn't cross me! For what you cost me, my daughter and my honor, I took your precious archives. I know you sent Leah and Ester away. Now I have them back, because you don't have her journey anymore. I took them back. Their travels are gone, gone, back to the stars...."

The logbooks of Ark Kobol, the star charts, the planet surveys, the history of Kobol, the records of Earth's civilizations and peoples.

"You have stolen our past, and perhaps our future as well!" was all she could whisper.

Someone - she didn't remember who - howled with rage; then a man threw himself on the old, former lord, and the two fell to the snow, struggling. Others broke up the one-sided battle, and the senile Seth was taken away, still laughing, still screaming in victorious fury at his younger half-sister.

Through tear-blinded eyes, Sarai saw the last rafters collapse in the dying blaze, sending a final, faltering flurry of red sparks into the night sky. Insanity had planted a bomb in the structure, and all it held was gone. The cold of the starless night began to seep into her middle-aged bones, and she shivered. Starmont's arms around her weren't enough to take away the chill, or bring feeling back to her bare feet. She felt very old, very frail.

"There's nothing we can do here," her husband whispered. "Come back inside; you're nearly frozen."

"We are old, Beloved," she muttered sadly. "What have we left, now that Seth has struck, in his madness? All we worked to accomplish in our lives - and he has destroyed it in one act."

"Not all. What were you reading, before we settled to bed?"

She continued to stare bleakly at the glowing embers of the ruins, unable to tear her gaze away. "A tape...."

"It was a logbook. We have something, if we can protect it from Seth and his kind, from common knowledge and hatred and fear."

She could look at him, at the fading eyes, no longer the blue of a clouding sky, at the wrinkles marring his face, at the slowly stooping shoulders. He was aging, too, but she saw him for a moment as the young man who'd taught her and trained her. She took a deep, shuddering breath as yahrens fell away, and realized it was his doing, reaching into her mind for that memory, giving her what consolation he could.

"We have one logbook...." And that one was the first step of the journey - from the Colonies to Kobol, through the Void, perhaps the worst part of the trip; Theseus' nav-igation notes and comments. And once on Kobol, Cain had left instructions of his own on how to follow him to Earth. Yes, they still had the most important knowledge. And they could record what she remembered, she and the others, of the histories and journals.

"We can send it off-world, to one of the other Retreats, keep its existence secret," her love argued persuasively. "When the time is right...."

"Serapis, on Gemon," she told him dreamily. "The knowledge will be there, when our people need it, even if it be six millennia from now. We will know the way to Kobol. And a little of our goal."

She staggered on cruelly frostbitten feet, falling toward him. Starmont caught her, realizing that beneath the light fabric of her robe, her always-trim figure was becoming frailly thin. Monastic life here could be hard in the winter, and yahrens of winter on this mountain were beginning to tell on her.

It was beginning to snow again. Dark hair and fair were touched with beads of melting ice. Their clothes, inadequate for a winter night, were becoming frosty as they dampened. Starmont turned away from the eerie red shadows of the burning building. His wife in his arms, he walked away from the dying archives into the darkness. Tiny dancing snowflakes continued their crystal-bright song, swirling around their vanishing forms.

Two days later, in the middle of the worst blizzard since Highpoint was settled, Seth died. An age ended.

The greatest memory kept of Sarai is that she saved the knowledge of Kobol. That information was kept by the Retreats for all the millennia, to one day become the link to Earth and hope, so desperately needed by the refugees fleeing the destroyed Colonies.

* * * * *

Epilogue:

Adama handled the crumbling pages of the ancient book with extreme care, almost reverence. There were tapes of the old history, but so translated, revised, and updated that he sometimes thought they were worthless. This was the oldest book he possessed, supposedly made directly from the original logbook of the Ark Kobol. He never learned where old Mimir had obtained it, but his mentor from the Academy had sent it to him when he became commander of the Galactica. This book had led him to Kobol, and the tomb of the last lord.

When Kobol's star appeared in the Void, it had been the first time he accepted the book's words as true, stark history, not embellished myth and religious propaganda.

Rereading several passages that he already knew well, he replaced the tome in its protective trunk, and prepared for a restful sleep.

Sarai had been real. Ark Kobol had been real. And Earth was real, too, waiting for them, somewhere. They would find it. Someday.


Next Part

Main Index

Enter Sheba's Galaxy