"Dreams ... or nightmares...." Boomer responded slowly.
"Nightmares?" she repeated, and turned to stare at him. He looked so haunted, suddenly.
He didn't look like he wanted to answer. "I've ... had some bad dreams these last few nights."
"Their deaths?" she whispered.
His eyes widened.
"You mean the Skipper and Starbuck?" Jolly had joined them from a glade; he looked like he knew exactly what they meant.
Boomer glanced back the way they'd come, the way their friends had gone - alone. "No! Not this time." Laser in hand, he raced off desperately, with Sheba and Jolly keeping the furious pace behind him. This time it was real; this time they didn't dare be too late.
The paths, with their stones as broken as tortured men's bodies. The trees overhanging, their branches beckoning in the breeze as they whispered in murderous conspiracy. Starbuck looked hypnotized by them.
Fatalistically, Apollo accepted it. They couldn't disobey orders - he didn't even think to call the commander to request a change, for how could he explain that a nightmare was the reason he couldn't obey? And he wouldn't send anybody else on a mission from which he did not expect to return. Therefore, he had to carry through with it. He had to find her, somewhere around the glade, with her guards.
"Shall I take the north?" Starbuck asked flatly, as if reading lines from a drama that barely interested him.
"Yes. I'll follow the path." The response came out automatically, and his feet moved forward of their own. His thoughts wandered over the people he would never see again, the world he had left so far behind, the future that would not be. Entranced, he left the sunshine behind.
Several centons later, alone amid the trees, he heard the rustle, and turned before the men could seize him. They were the same ones he'd seen in the nightmares. He stared at them without fighting as they took his weapon and pulled him away into the underbrush.
He returned to the plaza as he had before, when Apollo didn't answer his call; the place was as empty as before, for the moment. Feeling expectant, he cast his eyes across the water and waited. The woman was there somewhere, and would undoubtedly show herself at any micron, with her captive. And then her guards would seize him. It would be quick, at least, not like with the Cylons. They could have been days dying in Cylon captivity.
Why hadn't he told Cassie he loved her, on their last night together? That he wanted to seal with her, someday? And explained and apologized to Athena? And why hadn't he admitted to Apollo just how much his friendship meant? And he could somehow have told Boomer and Sheba and Jolly good bye, and maybe the commander and Boxey and Chameleon and....
Someone stepped into view in the sunlight. Starbuck sighed, waiting.
Then it struck him.
It was a woman waiting across the water, but it wasn't the woman from his dreams! The alluring and dangerous siren of his nightmares had become an old woman, erect but wrinkled, with gray hair instead of the glorious gold of the dream witch. Her gown was still in shades of green, but the figure within was full and mature, not the willowy youthfulness he had dreamed. And there was no sign of Apollo in the trees behind her....
It wasn't the same! As the wild hope rose in his heart that fate could be challenged and changed, someone grabbed him from behind.
The old woman spoke again, ceasing her pacing long enough to study the two men being held securely by her guards. She sounded as frustrated as the warriors felt. Their weapons, computrons, and languatrons lay in a heap on a stone, and they couldn't communicate without them. One of the natives fingered his knife; Apollo could almost feel its cold edge pricking his neck, and he could see his friend shudder.
As another incongruity to their dreams, the five natives each carried a small energy weapon of some kind in addition to their blades. The weapons were of such crude or ancient design that Apollo couldn't place their origin for certain, but he thought it was Colonial. That made it all the more frustrating that they couldn't speak to these people.
"Lady, we don't understand you!" Starbuck broke out desperately. "Can't you figure that out yet? We don't speak your language, and you certainly don't seem to know ours!"
She glanced at him, then concentrated her attention on Apollo. He felt a strange pressure for a moment, then a pain as though something sharp had just been plunged into his brain. A psychic blade, perhaps, to slash his mind preparatory to the physical one in her hands slashing his throat? He gasped as his equilibrium slipped in a very odd fashion.
"No! Not this time, you crassidies!"
Warriors and captors whirled at that enraged shout. Boomer stood at the edge of the grove, panting and sweating from a long hard run, face set in a grim dark mask. His laser pointed directly at the woman, as did the weapons of the warriors flanking him. Jolly and Sheba looked equally disheveled, and equally determined. Any of the three would shoot before they would allow her to give the final order or raise her knife.
She cried out one word; Boomer fired; she fell.
Apollo suddenly felt as though his spirits had lifted a thousand metrons. Something inside his soul was free again.
Glancing over, he saw Starbuck looking newly inspired as well.
The next micron was a blur. He felt the grip on his arms loosening, and tore himself free of his two captors. Starbuck had also grabbed the chance for freedom, and thrown himself toward their weapons. Laser bolts stung the air as their friends opened carefully-aimed fire.
Then the guards were lying in heaps on the ground, and their friends raced forward to join them, all but crying in relief. Sheba threw herself at Apollo in a warm, tearful embrace. Boomer leaned against a tree, suddenly weak-kneed. Jolly slapped them both on the back, unable to say anything.
"How did you know...?" Starbuck demanded of no one in particular.
"You're not gonna believe this," Boomer replied somberly, "but we all had bad dreams, and this place matches what we all saw-"
"Dreams?" Apollo and Starbuck both stared at him sharply.
It sank in slowly.
"Let's get out of here," Apollo finally said shakily.
"What about them?" Jolly asked, nudging the man lying nearest them. "We only stunned them. They'll wake up soon enough - and they probably won't be very happy to see us again."
"Leave 'em!" declared Boomer. "Whatever we dreamed, it won't happen if we get out of here. The rest of the survey team is already at the landing site, we warned them on the way."
"No," Apollo decided quietly. "They're human, and this place may have been a Colonial outpost at one time. We owe it to them, and to ourselves, to find out what happened. And why they're so hostile to us, and don't speak our language. Maybe even why we all dreamed of what could happen here...."
Starbuck chimed in with, "And why this woman was young in my dream, and old in reality."
"What?" asked a puzzled Sheba.
"That's right," Apollo confirmed. "She was young in my dreams too. We'll take her with us; when she wakes up, we can question her, now that we have access to our languatrons."
"Right." Jolly quickly shouldered the elderly woman's limp body and started off at a rapid pace, for one of his girth carrying such a burden. Boomer and Sheba hurried after, weapons ready in case they encountered any more of the unfriendly natives. The former captives took a micron to grab their weapons and equipment.
"One other thing, Apollo," Starbuck said slowly, as they followed the others. "There were only four guards and her. We could have taken them. Why didn't we fight? Why did we just let them capture us? When Boomer stunned her ... well, it was like I woke up from something. What happened to us?"
Apollo was already considering that very thought. They had been captured without a fight; they would have died without a fight. What had happened to their instinct and spirit? "Good question. Maybe she can answer it for us, when we're back aboard the Galactica."
The woman stared past Commander Adama in controlled silence. She hadn't said one word during the entire flight to the battlestar, and obviously intended to remain silent, even in the face of the ten warriors crowding the commander's chambers. She hadn't seemed surprised at waking in the shuttle and finding herself in space, nor at seeing the Galactica through the port as they approached. She had studied everything around her with wary curiosity, not the cowed fear they might have expected of a primitive. Obviously, her people knew something of space travel.
The five who had been on the surface of the planet and been involved in her capture moved restively, some hostility in their stances. Colonel Tigh and the security guard wore expressions varying from caution to curiosity.
Adama watched her for a long centon, fingers resting on the desk computer terminal. Accessing all language banks as it currently was, it functioned as a mega-languatron. There was no conceivable way the woman could not be understanding what he said. So why did she refuse to answer? He could swear her first reaction on entering the chamber had been recognition; if she knew him, why did she not speak?
He leaned back, trying to be as patient as she. He had to admit, she seemed almost familiar to him, too. What was it about her? Face lightly touched with the first creases of age. Silver-gray hair still with its last streaks of gold. A figure tending toward plump. The style of her gown was unusual, dyed in shades of green and embroidered in the same colors with flowers from a planet he didn't recognize - but thought he should know.
She was taking his measure too. He wondered what her judgment would be.
Starbuck's patience gave out before anything was decided or announced. He stepped forward, ignoring the captain's restraining hand. "Why did you try to murder us?" he demanded.
Startled, her gaze slid to the warrior. Anger replaced the set expression she had affected. A burst of words spilled; the computer translated. "Where is the crime in killing a killer?" she shot back.
Everyone was as astonished as Starbuck.
Her lips curled in contempt. When she spoke again, it was in slightly archaic Colonial standard. "Do you deny that your people founded our colony, then abandoned us here? I'm surprised you dared to come back, after leaving us to die. You're as guilty as the ones who murdered my people, those centuries ago!"
There were exclamations of surprise.
"You do speak our language!" Apollo cried. "But then why didn't you answer.... And what do you mean, we abandoned you?"
Silence!" Adama reclaimed command of the room, then touched a toggle to turn off the languatron. "I think there are many explanations in order, and this will not be necessary for them. Which of us shall begin?"
"As I am the prisoner, I believe you shall."
Adama had to consider for a moment. If the woman's people were to be friends, they should have the truth. But what if, somehow, they were enemies, and betrayed them to the Cylons? He stared at the woman for a moment longer, sensing that she knew more than she let on, and was not what she appeared. He decided to take the risk.
"Very well." He thought for a centon. "I am Commander Adama. These are some of my warriors. We guard the last survivors of the Twelve Colonies, descendants of Kobol. Our worlds were destroyed by a race known as Cylons, who seek the destruction of all humanity. We have fought them for a millennium, and lost. We now seek a planet called Earth, where our brothers of the Thirteenth Tribe may yet live.
"I sent my son and these others down to your planet, to determine if it might be Earth, or some other human-settled world. They were to make contact, peacefully, if they discovered inhabitants. Yet it seems your reaction was to take them prisoner and threaten their lives - and they claim you would have killed them, and did, in their dreams." The last was added reluctantly; how would this woman react to hearing what sounded unbelievable to him?
Strangely, the woman smiled slightly at that. "Cylons," she repeated, mouthing the word. "They are the ones who destroyed you? Silver beings in the shape of human?"
"Yes. You know of them?"
"They are the ones who attacked and destroyed us, many centuries ago."
Adama frowned. "And you feel we are as guilty as they?"
Her next words were chilling. "Surviving records say we called to our home world for help when we were attacked, but no help came, no answer of any kind. We believed ourselves abandoned. Some of us survived, on our own. Is it any wonder we have no welcome for you now?"
"We lost contact with many of our colonies in the early days of the war. Yours must have been one of them."
"We called our world Parnus. We were settled by Capricanus. You are Caprican, Commander. Tell us why you did not answer."
Sad enlightenment showed on his face as he explained. "Some of us are Caprican, true - but Caprica and Capricanus are not the same world. I remember reading about Capricanus in our histories. Settled early by Capricans, but not one of the Twelve themselves. She was destroyed in the first yahrens of the war. There were no surviving records that she had sent out settlers of her own." He sighed. "I don't know if we could have helped you even if we had known. The first yahrens were very difficult for us, before the battlestars were built."
She studied him intensely, suspicion battling with acceptance on her features. "How shall I know if you speak the truth?"
He stared at her. "The same way you knew we had arrived, the same way you knew our tribe, the same way you were not surprised to hear of my warriors' dreams. My mind is open to you now; reassure yourself."
The others present started in shock as Adama and the woman locked eyes. For several microns a peculiar heaviness seemed to hang over the chamber. Then the woman bowed her head and the heaviness lightened.
"You speak the truth. And you are entitled to the truth, and whatever assistance we can provide you." The bewilderingly swift shift in attitude left the warriors blinking.
"My name is Rhiannon," she began. "I am from Parnus. I am one of the Gifted. Our story is deep in history, but you may have copies of our records if you wish them. For now, sufficient to say we were settled by Capricanus and destroyed by the Cylons. But there were telepaths among the first colonists. Something about Parnus intensified those natural gifts. When the Cylons attacked us, only those gifts enabled us to survive. To this day, we who are Gifted serve as the protectors of our small society. And our society continues to exist, hidden.
"I felt your coming a secton ago, when you were still beyond our star system. All the anger and fear of those centuries ago remained; we did not want you here - you could have come with the Cylons behind you, or to reassert Colonial control over our world, or even as enemies yourselves. All we wanted was to be left alone. Our Council commanded that you be driven away, and that became my task."
Rhiannon made a face. "But somehow, Adama, I could no longer reach you. I know why, now - you had blocked off your thoughts after our first contact. You must somehow have known of my presence, subconsciously, and protected yourself from me. However I tried to touch your thoughts....
"So I turned to the others." She glanced around at the warriors. "I recalled the names and impressions of those closest to you. I thought if they could be made to fear our planet, that they would refuse to go, or perhaps advise you against landing there."
She met Apollo's stare. "I gave them dreams of despair and death. I ... haunted them, using an image of myself as inevitable death."
"You sent those nightmares," Starbuck muttered.
"Why use a language we didn't understand?" Apollo asked slowly. "You wanted us to understand and stay away...."
"To make the dreams more threatening. We fear what we do not know more than we fear the familiar."
"Would you have killed us?"
She shook her head. "No, not I. But you would have disappeared. And your companions eventually would have believed you dead, and returned with that belief."
"Those dreams ... you don't look like that young woman," Starbuck objected.
Rhiannon's expression turned tart. "I did, when I was young. It appears my psyche still sees me so." She sighed briskly. "It is not easy to accept that youth has faded. Someday, Starbuck, you will have to look in a mirror and realize you are no longer a child."
He looked uncomfortable, and shut up.
"What now, Commander?" she asked, turned her attention back to Adama.
"Our warriors will escort you back to Parnus, if you wish. Or you and yours are welcome among us. You mentioned assistance you might provide?"
She laughed briefly, her eyes flashing as brightly as they must have in her glorious youth. "I do not think there is room in your fleet for all our people! Remember, our society is hidden! But our Council is aware of all that has been said here today. We can provide you with some food and water, and there is tylium on our world's moon.
"We had also been planning for an expansion in our population through the next generation - we have had to plan carefully to protect ourselves. We could welcome perhaps a thousand of your people among us, and there may be a few who wish to travel the stars with you." She sounded more thoughtful.
"That is something we must discuss," the commander agreed.
Parnus was a much more beautiful place with her secrets revealed, and with the peace of knowing death wasn't waiting in the next few microns. Rhiannon's people were primarily concealed underground, with the few surface installations and fields so scattered as to appear ruins or natural random chance. The population knew how to maintain the illusion of wilderness so everything looked untouched and unlikely to attract attention from the mechanical Cylons
However, it was guaranteed to attract attention from the planet-starved population of the fleet. It was a lovely place for furlon, and the Parnussians graciously granted the privilege to the Colonials, who were quick to take advantage of it. Even the warriors had time off to spend on the surface.
Loading what supplies the Parnussians could spare took only a few days, time that was more pleasure than work for the technicians involved.
What took longer was selecting new settlers from among the several thousand in the fleet who volunteered for the comparatively few places available on the planet. Rhiannon was in charge of the selection, choosing by a complicated system of personal belief, health, and heritage, with Cassiopeia as assistant because of her own medical background and empathy. The Council of the Gifted did insist on access to the personnel files of the volunteers - which somehow led to access to complete personnel files. The Parnussians wanted settlers who would be compatible with the society they already had, and would also infuse new genetics to their relatively limited, isolated people. They rejected members of the Otori sect - who had volunteered as a group - out of hand, which nearly caused a riot on the freighter Gemini; then they extended an invitation to the staff of the Orphan Ship to supply likely candidates from among the children. When Adama inquired, Rhiannon pointed out that some of their people were foregoing their right to have children in the next few yahrens to make space for the Colonials now, and were therefore entitled to ask for the children, who after all had no known relatives, and could now have families and safer lives. Several individuals were issued special invitations to join the society; some declined, others accepted.
When Adama asked Rhiannon what standards she was really working by, the woman smiled mischievously and said the Colonials might have to wait a few millennia for that answer. Adama took that to mean the Parnussians meant to return to space, but in their own time and way. Somehow, he knew he was right. Rhiannon and Adama had several discussions on various topics; some of those conversations were private, and no one was quite willing to ask outright what had been discussed.
The selections were finally made, not without additional grumbling. The thousand or so settlers, including three hundred orphaned children, were moved to the surface. It did allay, somewhat, the overcrowding in some of the ships.
Only a handful of Parnussians were interested in leaving their planet, but they were duly welcomed aboard the Galactica.
Adama stared at the chalice of light green fluid. It was distilled from the blossoms of the moss-like plant that strengthened the psi centers of the human brain, according to Rhiannon. She had told him of its uses on Parnus. The rest of the bottle was safely stored under voice-lock in his chambers. And she had promised him more, if he wished it.
She'd wanted him to stay, he knew. But Rhiannon and the Council of the Gifted had been wise enough to realize he couldn't. Even so, she had asked him, once, personally, to remain on Parnus. Even at his current age, she suggested, he could learn about and expand the natural abilities she knew he had.
There had been many times in Adama's career when he had been certain of the results of future actions. Was it precognition? He knew he had some telekinetic gifts. If this vintage would help him to serve his people better, and protect them from their enemies, it would be a gift beyond compare.
He took a sip.
Hmm. Even if it did nothing at all, the flavor was worth the drinking.
Adama felt something at the edge of his thoughts, questioning. He smiled, wondering what kind of range either of them had.
"Hello, Rhiannon. Yes, I hear you...."
Starbuck studied the courtyard as if memorizing it. "A few more centars, and we'll be on our way again," he murmured. "If you'd told me two sectons ago that I could miss this place...."
Apollo grinned in complete understanding. "Changing your mind? I'll bet they'd still make room for you - and Cassie, since she was invited too."
"I think I was born for the stars, not a planet. And Cassie seems to be with the Galactica for the duration now. How about you? Are you changing your mind?" Both warriors had been among those invited to stay on Parnus.
The sunlight played on the water, breaking and rippling as the scented breeze teased small waves across the pool.
"Said all your good byes?" Apollo asked a moment later.
Starbuck nodded. A former girlfriend and her new husband were among those staying; Aurora and Damon had been invited because of their electronics skill, he was sure. They had been eager to accept, and find a new life on the planet.
Apollo glanced around to the grove that had figured so prominently in their nightmares. He began to stroll down the paved path through it. The spice scent was heavier under the branches and hanging moss, heavier even than it had been the day they first met Rhiannon. He drew in a deep breath of its life. She'd said something about certain flowers and herbs being ready for harvest, and the strange moss was obviously in full bloom. But he wondered why the scent had been so strong in his nightmare; smell wasn't usually a dominant sense in his dreams....
Footsteps rustled behind him, and a hand rested on his shoulder.
"Hey, Apollo, Boomer called...."
Touch brought a spark in his thoughts, and the rest of Starbuck's sentence echoed in his mind even as his friend stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed in utter shock.
"...from the shuttle. It's time to go." An image of Boomer, the shuttle, and the Galactica in flight among the stars.
Those thoughts vanished in grayness as Starbuck jerked away from him.
Apollo slowly realized he was leaning against a tree for support, half-buried in the drape of moss with its thick flowering of small, green, spice-scented flowers.
"How in hades...." Starbuck said weakly.
"Your thoughts," Apollo murmured, breathing heavily.
"You were thinking of Rhiannon, and the dream...."
"And you were thinking ... of Boomer, and of leaving...."
Starbuck paled more, if that were possible. He nodded and swallowed.
Two figures appeared along the path, Rhiannon and a young man, one of the guards they had first met. The old woman gestured and the man lent a hand and pulled Apollo out of the moss. Starbuck stepped back when the man turned as if to help him as well.
"Rhiannon," Apollo said, "what happened? Did you...?"
She shook her head with a vaguely superior look.
"I will explain, if you will stop stuttering."
The warriors were silent, intent on her words.
"There is something about the green-flowering moss, it affects the psi center of the human mind."
Apollo understood. "That's what makes the Gifted Ones gifted?"
"It can only affect what already exists."
Starbuck glanced at Apollo in panic.
"That is one reason we were eager to have you join us, from the obvious effect of the moss. With training and exposure, you would both have been very useful to us, and undoubtedly have risen to the Council of the Gifted in time."
"You didn't kill us because you were going to kidnap us?" Starbuck blurted without thinking.
"No. The time we would have risked taking you without your people's knowledge or will is past. Knowing you know, I doubt we could convince you to join us - it would be foolish to try to hold Gifted Ones such as yourselves who are so obviously dedicated to your own people and duties. No, I have come to say my farewells to you, and to apologize, again, for our misunderstanding."
"Is this permanent? How long does the moss effect last?" Apollo asked with trepidation. "This isn't something...."
"You haven't been exposed long enough for any permanent effect. It is only that you are here in peak bloom. I suspect that if you had not touched in this grove you would never have noticed anything more than heightened sensitivity to each other's moods for a few days."
"You suspect?" the captain repeated.
She shrugged. "I have never been without my gift. And as none of our people have left the planet in nearly a millennium - which was before we understood the reasons ourselves - we haven't actually been able to experiment. But that is something you will have to deal with, whatever happens, since you have rejected the choice of remaining here.
"However, that is not why I am here. I have a gift for Adama, and I wish you to convey it to him," Rhiannon finished easily, a flick of the wrist dismissing the prior topic.
Her companion moved back to the crate he had been carrying, but had put down to assist Apollo out of the vegetation.
"I promised him some of a local vintage - a very special vintage. He is expecting it, and knows its strength."
"That sounds rather cryptic," Apollo noted.
She only smiled warmly, secretively, and moved off along the path, vanishing completely along its curve through the trees.
"Apollo," Starbuck began shakily, "what do you think happened between her and your father? I mean, after that first meeting...."
"Starbuck, I'm not going to ask. And neither are you. I ... suspect we'll just have to ... trust her a little. The Commander obviously does. Let's get back to the shuttle before Boomer comes looking for us. I'll take the ... local vintage."
"Hmmph!" But he followed, as always. As always....
And felt Apollo's gratitude at knowing the truth of it.
Galactica Fan Fiction
Enter Sheba's Galaxy