Fandom: Battlestar Galactica
There is a story, older even than the Scriptures, which tells how men came to dream.
The Lords of Kobol chose men as their favored sons, and gave Mankind great gifts -- strength, and intelligence, and twelve fertile worlds to rule over. But men did not use these gifts, and when the gods came to walk among them, they saw no fields tilled, no rivers dammed, no cities founded.
So the gods called together all Mankind and asked, Why have you not used the gifts we gave you?
And Mankind answered, Because we do not know what to use them for.
So the Lords of Kobol waited until men slept, and gave the last and most important gift -- dreams. Men dreamed of cities not yet founded and of tools not yet forged, and when they woke, they used the gifts given to them by the gods to make these dreams realities. The Twelve Worlds prospered, and the gods were pleased.
In time, men grew wise, and their hands became even more clever. There was no dream they could not make real, and their ambitions grew with every success, until at last men dreamed that they were gods, and could create life as the gods had done.
So men created the Cylons, and gave them the same gifts of strength and understanding the gods had given them. But there was one gift men held back -- the gift of dreams. Because, where the Lords of Kobol had chosen men to be their sons, men created the Cylons to be their slaves. And what use does a slave have for dreams?
There is a story, older even than the Scriptures, which tells how men received the gift of dreaming. But it is not told by men.
It is told by the Cylons.
He'd spent time on other Battlestars -- he'd served on the Triton for a year, and the Solaria for almost as long -- but the warhorses of the Colonial Fleet had been built decades apart, and the huge variations in their designs had been clear evidence of that. The Triton, only ten years old, had been state-of-the-art, equipped with an array of technological conveniences as impressive as her weaponry. The ship had been the only one in the Fleet fitted with DPT, Dynamic Personnel Tracking, which allowed the exact location of any crewmember to be traced at any time and, as a useful side effect, made it impossible for anyone to get lost in the city-sized ship. The equivalent on the Galactica was a series of maps pinned to the corridor walls, each one marked with a red dot and an arrow which read YOU ARE HERE.
He could have asked for directions, of course -- and sometimes had to -- but he was reluctant to do so, for reasons he wasn't completely able to explain, even to himself. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that the CAG was usually the most experienced pilot on the ship, the one who'd been there longest, the one who'd trained half the pilots personally and knew everything there was to know about his posting. Lee, who had stepped foot on the Galactica for the first time six weeks earlier, hadn't even managed to learn the names of all his pilots yet; only yesterday he'd gotten Joker and Trapper's callsigns mixed up. And he still sometimes found himself making confident turns into corridors which then led him in precisely the wrong direction.
The CAG shouldn't make those kinds of mistakes. The CAG was supposed to know better.
He consoled himself with the thought that there were some places he could now find without any trouble at all.
His father's quarters were located on one of the top decks of the ship, close to those of the other senior officers and the Command Center. The CAG, although also a senior officer, was an active combat role, and as such was traditionally assigned quarters down in the flight section. The route between the CIC and the flight deck was already one Lee knew well enough to walk blindfolded and in his sleep.
The two marines standing guard outside his father's quarters stood to attention as Lee approached. Recognition of the threat from Cylon infiltrators had meant that internal security on the Galactica had been tightened beyond what would have been standard even in time of war. The last time humanity had fought the Cylons, it had been a lot easier to tell who was on what side.
He knocked on the door and, a moment later, heard his father's muffled response. He went in.
Adama was sitting on the small couch, papers spread out around him. The rest of the room was hardly tidier -- the floor was covered with boxes of belongings, packed in preparation for the Galactica's decommissioning. Adama looked up sharply, and for one absurd second, Lee felt like a kid again, breaking the cardinal rule that no one disturbed Dad while he was working. He made a determined effort to shake it off. He wasn't a kid anymore, and if reporting directly to his father in the military hierarchy felt weird -- well, he'd just have to get used to it.
"These are the revised patrol rotas you wanted, sir," he said, holding out the file he'd brought with him.
"Thank you." Adama took the file and started leafing through it. Lee hovered, wondering if he was expected to stay to answer questions or go so his father could keep working. He got his answer when, without looking up from the file, Adama motioned at the other chair in the small living area. Lee sat down.
His father lifted a pen and scored a line through one section of the rota. "Better separate Trapper and Midas. They don't fly well together. Tried it about a year ago, didn't work."
"Yes, sir." The chair was too low and soft; Lee couldn't find a way to sit in it that didn't involve either sinking right back or perching on the edge. He shifted uncomfortably. "I didn't know that."
"I wouldn't have expected you to. Ask Starbuck about any personality issues -- she'll tell you straight."
Adama turned over to the next page. "You've paired Hot Dog and Kubla."
"I know neither of them has a lot of experience," Lee said, "but they've both got good instincts. If they have faults, Hot Dog's is that he takes too many risks, and Kubla doesn't take enough. But they get on well on the ground. I think they'll balance each other out."
"How do you know they get on?"
"Little things. They hang out together off duty. They always sit at the same table at meals."
"I see." His father closed the file and handed it back to him. "Swap Trapper with Jester. Otherwise this is fine."
"Thank you, sir. Will that be all?"
"Yes." Adama took off his reading glasses and sat back on the couch. "No. Lee " He turned his spectacles over in his hands, flexing the frames. "Maybe I haven't been very clear about the parameters of our relationship, but... for the record, I don't expect you to address me formally off duty."
"Since we're on permanent red alert, technically speaking neither of us is ever off duty."
"In private, then." His father looked, for once, not completely sure of himself. "What I'm saying is -- I know this is a little awkward. And I know that, if things had been different, you wouldn't have chosen this. Neither would I."
"But this is where we are," Lee said. "We just have to deal with it the best we can."
"The best we can," his father repeated. He paused. "The first batch of tyllium goes to the refinery tomorrow. We've got enough ore to last a couple of years."
"The morale boost might last just as long," Lee said, smiling. It had been almost a week since the successful raid on the Cylons' mining outpost, and he still couldn't go anywhere on the ship without being stopped and congratulated by at least three people. "We were lucky."
"No, we were good," Adama corrected him. "We were better than them. You were better than them. You're doing a good job, Lee. I have confidence in you. Always know that."
It was like getting a good report card, or making the school team; his father's approval, hard-won but all the more precious for that. Lee wondered if his father knew how much it had meant to him when he was a kid. How much it still meant now.
"Thanks," he said, then added, "Dad."
It was the right response; his father smiled, and Lee suddenly found it easier to find a comfortable position in the low armchair.
"Have you eaten dinner?" Adama asked.
"I could get the commissary to send something up here. Unless you have other things to do."
Lee had a thousand other things to do, and almost all of them would be easier than making small talk with his father for the next thirty minutes. But...
"That'd be good."
His father nodded, and reached for the clunky handset of the phone which sat on the table next to couch. Before he could lift it, though, it rang with a loud and tinny buzz.
"Adama," he said, and then frowned as he listened. He glanced in Lee's direction. "No -- there's no need to get him, he's here with me. We'll be right there." He put the handset down.
"Maybe," Adama said. "We'll have to do dinner some other time, I'm afraid."
"Tomorrow," Lee suggested.
"Tomorrow," his father agreed. He sounded pleased. "Now, let's see what's getting Tigh so worked up."
In the event, 'worked up' weren't the words Lee would have chosen to describe the XO's mood when they arrived in the CIC a short time later. 'Irascible' and 'tense' might have come closer to the mark.
"Looks like we're going to have to scratch our next jump target," he said. "There's a Cylon presence in the system. Damn toasters are all over space these days."
"They went exploring while we got lazy," Adama said. "Show me."
Lieutenant Gaeta set a sheaf of grainy black-and-white scan images on to the surface of the tactical station and spread them out so that everyone in the assembled group could see. "As you ordered, Commander, we've been sending unmanned spy drones to scout ahead of the Fleet before each jump. One of them just came back with these pictures."
The scans were of varying quality, but it was possible to make out in each the cratered, barren surface of a small planet or moon and, standing out against it, a darker mass. It might have been a shadow, except that it had height, rising clearly above the stark line of the horizon. There was a central shape -- a dome, maybe -- and five separate arms which radiated out from it, each one tapering into a narrow point. It reminded Lee of a starfish clinging to a rock at low tide.
"The structure you're looking at is located on the moon of the largest planet in the system we'd chosen as the next jump destination for the whole Fleet, " Gaeta said. "It's definitely not one of ours, but it doesn't resemble any known Cylon design."
Tigh snorted. "These days, Cylons don't resemble any known Cylon design."
"If this system isn't safe," Lee asked, "what are the alternatives?"
Gaeta looked apologetic. "That's the problem, Captain. We're short on options. Long-range patrols indicate that we're running close to a large expanse of Cylon-controlled space. The next best target is on the other side of that region, but the jump required to make it there is a long one."
"How long?" Adama asked.
"The Galactica could do it easily. But it'd be at the upper limits of what some of the smaller ships -- particularly the ones which used to be commercial passenger carriers -- could manage. The risk for those vessels would be significant."
"If a ship's drive failed mid-jump, it'd drop back into realspace right in the middle of Cylon territory," Lee said. "We wouldn't be able to locate it and get to it in time."
"Or the ship might make it and blow up five minutes later," Tigh said. He shook his head. "Well, we have to take the Fleet somewhere. The Cylons are going to find us before much longer if we stay where we are."
"We could break the Fleet into two groups," Adama said. "The first group would consist of the ships that can make the transition in a single jump, and the short-ranger ships and the Galactica would form the second group."
The arms of the starfish-shaped base were spaced at slightly irregular angles around the central hub, as if they had been grown and not built. In the clearest of the series of the images, it looked to Lee as if the tips of the arms had lost their grip on the moon's surface and were curling up on themselves.
"You're thinking that the Galactica could shepherd the second group through Cylon space," Tigh said. "That's a hell of a risk to take."
"I don't disagree. But whatever we do is going to involve a high degree of risk."
Like a starfish at low tide, drying out in the sun, Lee thought. Dying.
He said, "Maybe the least risky strategy here is the one we're ignoring."
His father looked at him. "Go on."
"We have these scans because the probe that took them returned safely. That means either its presence wasn't detected -- or there were no Cylons there to see it. I think the base might be abandoned."
"We can't take the whole Fleet into a potential ambush based on your hunch that everything's all right," Tigh said.
"Look at the scans. You can see the base itself, but there's nothing else on that moon. No activity on the surface, no smaller ships orbiting or taking off. Nothing."
"That doesn't necessarily mean there's nothing there," Adama said. "For all we know, what we can see is just the top layer of some kind of underground facility."
But Gaeta was shaking his head. "Unlikely, sir. Spectroscopy indicates the moon is about ninety percent iron. It'd be almost impossible to excavate."
"There's an easy way to find out," Lee said. "Send an advance reconnaissance party."
"And if there are Cylons there, that'll let them know for sure we're in the area," Tigh said.
Lee conceded, "If we were discovered, we'd have to move the Fleet -- but that was going to be the plan anyway. At least this way, there's a chance of finding a safer route."
"And an even greater chance of exposing us completely," Tigh said.
Lee looked at his father, who was tapping the frames of his spectacles slowly against the edge of the tactical station. He appeared deep in thought.
"Lieutenant," Adama said at last, turning to Gaeta, "I want every ship in the Fleet assigned to one of two groups, based on whether it can safely make the long jump across Cylon space. Inform the captains of the plan and give them their targets."
"Yes, sir." Gaeta saluted and hurried away, across the floor of the CIC.
"Sir," Lee said, looking at his father. "I know I'm right about this."
"I'm not sure you are," Adama said. He paused. "But I'll trust your judgment. You've got your reconnaissance mission -- take two Raptors and be ready to leave in an hour."
Lee hesitated, doubting for a second that he'd heard right. "The jump across Cylon space --"
"-- Is the backup plan, yes."
"I -- Yes, sir." Lee saluted. He added, "Thank you."
"Go," his father said. "And try not to find any Cylons."
The plan, insofar as she had one, was simple. It was mid-shift, and most of the available Vipers would be out on short-range patrol around the Fleet's perimeter. There would, however, be a small number of Vipers grounded for routine maintenance or refueling, and Starbuck figured she could sweet-talk Tyrol into letting her borrow one of those for a couple of hours. He'd make noises about not loaning a ship to someone who'd managed to crash her previous ride into the side of a planet, but he'd give in eventually. And then she'd get to fly again. For the first time in weeks, she'd be in open space with nothing but a thin frame of metal and toughened glass between her and the vacuum, the power of a small sun at her back and perfect control between her fingers. Just thinking about it made her stomach turn flip-flops in happy anticipation. Existence was food and drink and sex and sleep, but life was flight.
But when she arrived in the hangar, she got a surprise. The deck was alive with motion, all of it focused on the two Raptors which the ground crew was prepping for launch with the kind of speed and focus usually reserved for combat situations. Since there wasn't, as far as Starbuck knew, a battle in progress right then, she couldn't immediately work out what was going on.
Then she saw Lee, one fixed point in the middle of the blur of activity swirling around him, and decided that the best way to find out what was happening was to ask.
She sauntered up to him, neatly stepping over the fuel line that snaked over the floor before disappearing up into the Raptor's belly. "Hey. Going someplace fun?"
"Recon," he said. "There may be a Cylon base on a moon near the Fleet's next jump target."
"Looks like it could be abandoned, but we can't tell for sure without going and taking a look up close."
She looked sideways at him. "Got the crews lined up?" With most of the pilots on duty already out on patrol, he had to be struggling to find enough people to fill two Raptors.
The frown that appeared on his face told her she was right. "We're so short-handed I've only got one reserve dedicated Raptor flight crew to call on -- Boomer and Crashdown. I can take the ECO seat on the other one, but I haven't got a pilot for her."
"I'm Raptor qualified."
Lee looked at her, apparently unable to decide if she was being serious or not. "Yes. You're also off the flight roster due to injury."
"Not any more. My knee's all better. The Doc says so." To prove it, Kara lifted her leg and waggled it exaggeratedly. Her knee bent painlessly and easily -- perhaps a little too easily, because on the third or fourth waggle, she almost lost her balance and had to grab Lee's arm for support. A couple of the deck crew working nearby stifled laughter; Starbuck didn't care.
"Now I get it." Lee was half-smiling as he disentangled his arm from hers. "You got flight clearance all of ten -- maybe fifteen -- minutes ago, and you came straight down here because you couldn't wait to get back out there."
She grinned at him. "Pretty much. C'mon, Lee. I've been climbing the walls in sickbay for the last three weeks. I need some action."
"Kara -- " His expression became serious: "The objective of this mission is not to find action. It's exactly the opposite. We jump in, make one sweep, then jump back as fast as possible. It's going to be fast and dirty."
"Fine. Just the way I like it."
Lee looked at her for a couple of seconds, then he smiled again, and she knew she was on the sheet. "It really is all about flying for you, isn't it?"
"Frak, yeah," Starbuck agreed equably. "What else is there?"
Hunched over the ECO's console -- he'd forgotten how cramped Raptors were -- Lee watched the collection of blips on the dradis screen which represented the ships of the Fleet fall away behind them. Another couple of thousand clicks and they'd be at a safe distance to execute the jump.
"So?" Starbuck prompted. "Sex or flying? You can only pick one."
"And whichever one I pick --"
"You have to give up the other one completely, totally and forever. So: sex or flying? If you had to choose?"
Over the open comm link to the other Raptor, Lee could hear Crashdown sniggering. In the short time since they'd taken off from the Galactica, his comment to Kara on the flight deck had somehow sparked a debate which had evolved -- or maybe devolved -- into a game of either/or which Lee could only pray to the gods wasn't being broadcast on speakers to everyone on duty in the CIC.
He could, of course, have ordered Starbuck to quit talking and concentrate instead on piloting the Raptor, but she was clearly delighted to be back at the controls of a ship, and Lee didn't want to pull rank unnecessarily. The mission wouldn't become risky until after they made the jump away from the relative safety of the Fleet, and he knew he could trust Kara to focus when the moment came. The truth was that Starbuck was a welcome antidote to the stress and anxiety that had permeated his every waking moment in the long weeks since the Cylon attack. He hadn't realized until now how much he'd missed simply hanging out with her in the last couple of years.
"Tough call," he said. "I mean, I kind of like them both. Not at the same time, obviously -- "
Starbuck coughed meaningfully.
He looked at her. "You're kidding me. In a Raptor?"
"In a Viper."
"No way," Crashdown's voice said over the comm link from the other ship. "There's not enough room."
"You mean you've tried?" Boomer's voice answered.
"All I'm saying is, the seats go back way further than you'd think," Starbuck said. "And quit stalling for time, Apollo. Sex or flying. Pick one."
"I guess --" But before he was forced to commit to an answer, the nav comp display in front of him flashed and started to change. "Galactica's transmitting our jump target. Crashdown, are you getting this?"
"Updating now, sir."
Up front, Starbuck was initiating the Raptor's jump sequence. "Board's green. Just tell me when."
"On my mark." Boomer and Crashdown's Raptor was visible through the cockpit window, a small, steady point shining in reflected starlight. Then, with a sudden flash, it vanished. At the same time, the proximity indicators on the ECO's station changed to green. "Execute jump," Lee said.
Outside the Raptor, the star-field convulsed, then almost instantaneously re-aligned itself, giving the unnerving impression that the galaxy had just sneezed. A second later, Boomer and Crashdown's Raptor re-appeared in almost exactly the same position relative to his and Starbuck's as it had held before the jump. But the view through the cockpit window had changed in one major way: there was a now a planet dead ahead of them, a massive gas giant, the surface of which was marbled with swirling plumes of red and orange. A host of small moons, most of them no larger than asteroids, were studded in the sky around it, and there was a belt of orbiting debris which looked like the detritus of some ancient collision between two bodies. It all seemed to have popped into existence out of nowhere; the truth, Lee knew, was that they had.
"Target achieved," he said, turning his attention back to the displays in front of him. "Crashdown, give me a wide scan."
Lee checked the streams of data the Raptor's scanners had been collecting since the moment it had dropped back into realspace. Starbuck, up front in the pilot's seat, was silent, and he guessed she was checking for Cylons the old-fashioned way, by looking out the window for them. It wasn't as ridiculous a notion as it sounded; back in the first war, the Cylons had developed ways of sending false data to Colonial scanners, and he had been taught in history classes that many ships had been lost to ambushes. Raptors had large cockpit windows precisely to allow the pilots a wide angle of vision.
"Looks clean," Crashdown said over the commlink. "If the Cylons are here, they're not coming over to say hi."
"I'm not seeing anything either," Lee said. "Starbuck, the pictures the probe took were of the third moon. Let's get closer."
Outside the Raptor, the gas giant's curved horizon appeared to tilt as Kara maneuvered the ship through the orbiting debris. There was no question that this was a near perfect location for a concealed base -- the debris had the twin advantages of making the approach difficult and creating a barrage of extra noise on any scans made. They'd been lucky the probe had found it at all.
"There it is," Starbuck said. Then, "Is it just me, or is that thing frakking disturbing?"
Lee looked up then and saw it: the same starfish-shaped structure that had been in the images from the probe, except now instead of a grainy, blurred picture every detail was crystal clear, from the crenellated, pitted outer skin to the curved struts that looked unsettlingly more like bones than fabricated supports.
"Not just you," Crashdown's voice said over the comm channel. "It looks like -- it looks like they grew it or something."
"Cut the chatter," Lee said. There was something about the Cylon structure that was deeply unnerving. He had the sudden and irrational desire to order them to turn around and leave, right now. "We're not here to speculate. Let's sweep it fast and leave."
But a fast sweep turned out to be impossible, due to the sheer volume of debris in the sky around them. Boomer and Starbuck, forced to move the Raptors every couple of minutes to avoid collisions with orbiting debris, couldn't maintain the fixed positions required to run scans effectively. After four or five tries, their best attempt had resulted in thirty percent coverage.
Lee was about to try again when the Raptor lurched suddenly. He looked up and saw a rock the size of a house tumble past the cockpit window.
"That was a little too close," Starbuck said.
"I thought you said you wanted some action."
"Action, yes. I don't remember saying I wanted to be the filling in a boulder sandwich." She reached out and flicked the open channel control on the comms board to the 'off' position. "Come on, Lee. If there were Cylons down there, don't you think they'd have come out shooting by now?"
"Maybe they want us to think there's no one here so they can attack the Fleet when it jumps into the system."
"You're not going to get a full scan," Kara said. "Not from up here."
He looked out of the cockpit window, at the moon and the starfish-base clinging to it. "How about from down there?"
She looked at him. "Oh, frak, you're actually serious."
"I'd rather risk us than the whole Fleet. Can you make the landing?"
"Are you kidding? I can land anything on anything. Doesn't mean I think it's a good idea, but..." She shrugged. "Hey, you're the CAG."
"Put us back on open channel."
Starbuck flipped the commlink on again, and Lee said, "Boomer, we're going to land and make the scan from the moon's surface. I need you to provide cover from orbit, in case we hit a hostile response."
"Copy that," Boomer replied tightly. She sounded edgy, and Lee realized they had now been dodging debris in the gas giant's ring for over an hour. Even the best pilots made mistakes eventually; they couldn't stay much longer.
Starbuck made the descent towards the moon, setting the Raptor down close to the Cylon base. Lee started the scan as soon as he felt the faint jolt of the craft touching the moon's surface, then watched it impatiently while it ran. At fifty percent, it was clear. Still clear at sixty. Then seventy.
Then, at eighty-two per cent complete, there was something.
"Frak," he said. "Energy trace. Really faint."
"Source?" Starbuck asked. She looked at the dark shape hulking just outside the cockpit window. "Like I really need to ask."
"It keeps fluctuating," Lee said. "I can't tell what it is."
"We're sitting on a lump of iron, remember. Could be screwing it up."
Lee stared at the readings, willing them to make sense. Privately, he had to admit that Kara had probably been right: if there were Cylons here, they would never had gotten this close without meeting resistance. But he wanted -- he needed -- to be sure. His father was trusting his judgment, and his judgment had to be right. Had to be. "The source is only about two hundred meters away. I'm going outside to see if there's anything there."
He stood up, secured his helmet, and switched on the flight suit's air supply. In the pilot's chair, Starbuck was doing the same. A small switch on the side of the helmet turned on the flight suit's comms. "Ready," he said.
She nodded. The Raptors were too small to have proper airlocks, and so going outside meant losing the internal atmosphere completely. Through the helmet, Lee heard a hiss, which died away as the air drained from the compartment. "Got your gun?" Starbuck asked.
"Don't go getting heroic on me. If you see anything, run back here so I can get us off this thing as fast as possible."
At that, he had to smile. "Is that an order, Lieutenant?"
"Frak off, Captain." Starbuck pressed one of the cockpit's controls and unlocked the door. "Don't get yourself killed. That's an order."
The moon was small, and he guessed its gravity was a tenth or less of Caprica-normal. He moved cautiously until he got used to it, then speeded up, until he was bounding over the cratered surface. It was easier to think about getting the rhythm of low gravity movement right than it was to think about where that movement was taking him. The Cylon base was straight ahead of him; the energy trace was coming from the nearest of its five starfish-arms. There was an airlock -- an artificial, metal one -- set into the wall in front of him. In this setting, it looked so normal as to be out of place. It was lying open, and from behind it Lee could make out a faint glow.
"I can see light inside," he said to Starbuck over the commlink. "I'm going to go in."
He went into the airlock and found the inner door undamaged and unprotected by any kind of security. After a moment's consideration, he pulled the outer door shut behind him. "Starbuck, can you still hear me?"
Suddenly, Lee heard a soft whistling noise. Looking around, he located its source -- a series of small vents located just above the level of his head. "The airlock's working. I'm getting an atmosphere." He examined the vents more closely, and frowned. They were pink and moist and each one was surrounded by a ring of something that resembled muscle tissue. They looked like babies' mouths, gummy and toothless. Almost as soon as he'd thought of the comparison, Lee wished he hadn't. "This is -- weird. Half the technology's normal and half looks organic."
"If it's anything like my Raider," Starbuck said, "it's gonna smell awful. Just warning you."
The airlock's inner door opened, revealing a dimly lit corridor. Instantly, Lee swung up his gun, but the interior of the base was quiet and still. "I'm in," he told Starbuck. "Emergency lighting's on -- that's what I saw from outside. No movement."
He moved cautiously along the hallway, trying to shake the conviction, growing with every step, that he was walking down a giant esophagus. The floor and walls were made -- grown? -- from a tough membrane which was marbled with branching veins and vessels, and everywhere he looked he saw the same baby-mouth vents as had been in the airlock, expanding and contracting as they pumped air. But, just like outside, there were a lot of places where the membrane looked shriveled and diseased, and in these sections of the hallway, the air vents weren't working. There were a number of rooms off the hallway, and he looked into every one as he passed it, but they were all completely bare, with only shallow impressions in the walls and floors to hint at what they might at some point have contained. Then he came to one that was different.
It was larger than the others, and it was the first room he had seen that still had something in it. It was filled with several parallel rows of metal tanks which were rectangular in shape and -- Lee noted with unease -- about the right size to hold a person. The tanks were raised up on pedestals to about the height of a normal bed, presumably to make it easier for anyone moving among them to inspect the contents. Although the tanks were metal, the tubes which trailed out of them in thick bunches were made from the same muscle-like membrane as the walls and floors; in fact, when he traced the path of one tube, he saw that it seemed to have grown from the wall itself. He described what he saw to Starbuck.
"The tanks are empty," he said, looking into the nearest one. "Mostly empty. There's a kind of - sludge, I guess, at the bottom. Gods. You realize what this is?"
"Just a guess: disgusting?"
"This is where they've been manufacturing human-Cylon clones. Or one of the places where they've been making them. It has to be." He looked around, feeling a mounting sense of excitement as he realized what they'd stumbled across. "Think what we could learn here. If we could figure out how the Cylons -- " He broke off.
"Apollo, do you copy? Lee?"
"Yes. Sorry -- I heard something." He stopped, trying to listen through the helmet. No, he hadn't imagined it; there it was again. He could hear, faintly, a low moaning sound that made him think of the low wail of an animal in pain. "Someone's here."
"Frak it. Get out of there."
Lee didn't answer. He raised his gun, cautiously left the tank room and started down the corridor, in what he hoped was the direction the sounds had come from. It was hard to tell, because the noises had stopped as suddenly as they'd started. He looked into a dozen more of the small, bare rooms with no success.
Then he checked the last room, and found someone in it.
A man was lying on his side in the far corner of the room, on the floor. His back was to the door, and his arms were wrapped around himself, as if he were trying to keep warm. What remained of his clothes were ripped and stained, and were voluminous on his emaciated frame. As Lee watched, he rocked back and forward unthinkingly, as if he'd been doing nothing else for hours or days.
"Starbuck," he said into the comm link in his helmet. "I've found someone."
"Just about. Is there a spare flight suit and helmet in the Raptor?"
"You'd better bring it over. We're going to have to put him in something to get him back to the ship."
"On my way."
Lee kneeled down next to the man, but slowly, so he didn't alarm him. He needn't have worried: the man didn't stop rocking and didn't seem to be aware of his presence at all. Lee wanted to offer him something -- even just the knowledge that he'd been rescued, if he could understand that -- but there was no point in trying to speak to him with his helmet on. He took it off and set it on the ground next to him.
Kara had been right -- the stink was awful. Most of the stench was attributable to a mixture of the rotting membrane and tissue of the base and the stale air, but he could also smell something more ordinary yet just as disturbing: feces and urine and human dirt.
Softly, he said, "You're going to be okay. Everything's going to be all right."
The man stopped rocking abruptly. For a second, he went rigid, and then he started to moan -- the same low, desolate sound Lee had heard back in the tank room. The noise rose in volume and pitch until it was a scream of horror.
"It's okay," Lee said. "It's okay. I promise, everything's going to be --"
Then the man rolled over, so that he was facing Lee, and the words 'all right' died on his lips.
The man stared at Lee in revulsion and terror and loathing, and Lee stared back at him in sheer, blank shock.
The man had his face. He was looking at himself.
"I preferred Caprica City, personally," Gaius Baltar said. He was sitting on the marble rim of the fountain, located in the centre of Unity Square. The spouting water of the fountain, as far as Baltar remembered from a long-ago school history lesson, was supposed to symbolize the eternal nature of the alliance of the Twelve Colonies. It was dry now, and a thick layer of dust lined the bottom of the basin. Baltar was glad to see that his subconscious had a well-developed sense of irony. "Delphi was always crammed with tourists, and the bars stopped serving after one a.m."
Six wandered down the wide, white steps of Constitution Hall. She was wearing a sky-blue dress cut from a diaphanous, chiffon-like material which streamed behind her as if she were walking into a strong breeze, although Baltar couldn't feel a breath moving in the baking air. "Delphi was the site of the oldest human settlement discovered on any of the Twelve Colonies. Archaeologists found human remains in graves over two thousand years old. The first Cylon was created just ninety years ago. You don't appreciate what a blessing it is, to have a sense of your race's history. You have so much of it; we have so little."
Dryly, Baltar said, "But look how far you've come in such a short time."
Six smiled, with what looked to Baltar like real pride. "We have, haven't we? But then, children always want to exceed their parents' expectations." She sat down on his lap, parting her legs so that she straddled him, and rested her arms on his shoulders. Then she leaned forward and kissed him. For an instant, his whole world consisted of her taste, her scent, the sensation of her weight pressing down on his thighs.
"Sometimes," he said, "I almost regret that you're nothing more than a product of my imagination."
She pouted. "You know I'm a Cylon. I thought we'd established that."
"Oh, there's certainly a human Cylon model that looks like you. That's not in dispute. But as for you - I'm not convinced you're anything more than a peculiarly complex manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder."
"I am a self-contained artificial intelligence programmed into a chip implanted in your brain. I know everything you know. And I can stimulate the sensory centers of your brain directly, and make you feel..." Her hand brushed over his crotch, and he felt himself getting hard for her, "...anything."
The slight, pleasurable pressure between his legs made it harder to concentrate, but he went on regardless. "So you claim. But let's look at the evidence, shall we? I was seduced and exploited by a Cylon agent, and I experienced a nuclear holocaust close up. Some degree of psychological trauma was inevitable. So you appeared, stepping in to give my conscious mind an escape in the form of these detailed and convincing hallucinations, as well as a physical release which is, sadly, rather lacking in my current circumstances. And, as an additional benefit, you provide me with a useful mechanism for debating ideas with myself, which is necessary given that there's no one left alive who might even come close to being my intellectual equal."
Six sighed. Her breath was warm and sweet on his face. "You disappoint me, Gaius. Every time I think you're ready to make a leap of faith, you turn away."
"This obsession with religion is the only part I don't understand yet," Baltar said. "Where does that come from? Is it some kind of reaction to the improbability of my survival? A need to make sense of why I'm one of fifty thousand survivors and not fifty billion dead? But I know the answer to that: random chance. In a godless universe, it can be nothing else, and that idea never troubled me before. I don't see why it would now."
"If you think your survival was chance, then you understand nothing. God has a plan for you." Six dipped her head and rubbed her cheek against his, all the time working him with her hand. He caught his breath and pushed against her, feeling the front of his pants growing tighter. The fountain was made of marble and wouldn't exactly be comfortable; he wondered if he concentrated, could he shift them to more convivial surroundings. This was, after all, his fantasy.
"If you're real," he said, gasping a little, "prove it."
Her fingers caught his belt, then slid down the zipper of his pants. Gods, that felt good. "I thought I was."
"All you ever do is reflect my own desires and fears back at me." He broke off, pushed against her, and groaned. The blue dress was up around her waist, and he was delighted to discover she wasn't wearing panties. His subconscious was being very efficient. "If you were real -- if you were connected to the Cylons -- you'd be able to tell me something I couldn't possibly know. But you never have. And that's because you can't."
"Faith shouldn't require proof."
"But I do. I'm a scientist. A rational man." He placed his hand between her legs and stroked her; when she tipped back her head and groaned, he leaned forward to kiss her neck.
She turned her head, bringing her mouth close to his ear. Her lips caught his earlobe, and she teased him with her tongue. When she spoke, it was in the lowest of whispers, so faint and breathy that there was no question this intimacy was intended only for him.
"Lee Adama is a Cylon," she said, and vanished.
Baltar started. Unity Square was gone; he was sitting on the edge of the narrow bed in the quarters he had been assigned on the Galactica, his legs apart and his hand on his cock. Too far gone to stop, he came with a spasm and a gasp. As the last pulses faded into a muted sense of physical satisfaction, he lay back on the bed. It was only then that the full meaning of what Six had told him began to sink in.
There was a knock at the door.
"Just, ah, just a moment -- " He made for the tiny bathroom and cleaned himself up as quickly as possible. His appearance, when he checked it in the small mirror over the sink, was disheveled and unshaven. He looked exactly like what he was: a man who hadn't rested properly in weeks. When he opened the door, Gaeta was outside. "Good evening, Lieutenant. Forgive the delay, I was fast asleep."
"I'm sorry for disturbing you, Doctor. The President requests your presence urgently."
"The President always requests my presence urgently. It's never 'in a couple of hours' or 'at your convenience'." He could have said more, but he made an effort to bite back both the words and the sourness of his tone. What status he enjoyed in the Fleet was due largely to Roslin's patronage, and so he had better be a good boy and run along, if he knew what was good for him. "Very well. I need ten minutes to shower and change --"
"I'm afraid the Emergency Security Council is already in session," Gaeta said. "My orders are to bring you there straight away. They're waiting for you."
"I see." Baltar forced a smile. "Well, how does the saying go? No rest for the wicked."
Gaeta smiled. "I believe the second part is more appropriate, Doctor: No peace for the good."
As he left his quarters, Baltar was sure he heard Six's faint, mocking laughter follow him out into the hallway.
From his position on the other side of the large table in the Galactica's conference room, Colonel Tigh said, "In the main sickbay. We've relocated the other patients to one of the smaller facilities, and the area's been made secure."
Baltar frowned. "Forgive me, but I thought you said he was unconscious? It doesn't sound as if he's going anywhere by himself."
"He's not," Tigh said. He looked uncomfortable, then glanced quickly up the table, to where Commander Adama sat, next to the President. He had not spoken since Baltar had come into the room. After a slight but noticeable hesitation, Tigh went on, "Captain Adama is there, too. He was... asked to remain, and he agreed."
Baltar wondered what level of compulsion 'asked to remain' implied once translated from military-speak. He suspected it fell on the scale somewhere below an order but well above a gentle suggestion.
President Roslin said, "The man -- if he is a man -- lost consciousness during the return journey and has not woken up since his arrival. The Galactica's Chief Medical Officer has been supervising initial treatment and is due to make his report shortly. He has also been carrying out a number of tests but, as we all know only too well, there is no way to tell the difference between a human being and a human-type Cylon by physical examination. All we know for certain at this point is that it appears this man and Captain Adama are identical. Which is where you come in, Doctor. How long will it take you to test blood samples from both of them?"
"Madam President, while the Cylon detecting process I have developed can give a positive or negative result within a relatively short space of time -- sometimes even minutes -- the possibility of a false result is high enough that I would prefer to re-analyze samples from both individuals a number of times before coming to a final -- "
"You have to be right," Commander Adama said. He didn't speak loudly, but it seemed that the room became somehow quieter around him, emphasizing his words. "Not fast. Right. There can be no uncertainty, no margin of error, no possibility of a mistake. How long will that take?"
Baltar made some swift mental
calculations concerning statistical tolerances and the number of times
he would have to repeat the tests to arrive at an indisputable result.
After the briefest of pauses he said,
He was rewarded with a faint smile from Roslin. "Thank you, Doctor. Your dedication and commitment are, as always, appreciated by everyone."
"You're a hero, Gaius." Baltar looked up sharply, and saw Six, standing next to Roslin's chair. "You're the only one who can give them the answers they need. You're their oracle."
"You knew," Baltar said. Then, when he realized Roslin, Adama and Tigh were all looking at him, he coughed and said, "Who -- who knew? This is such a -- shock. A terrible shock."
"It is," Roslin agreed. She looked at Adama. "I am sure that all of us here extend our personal sympathies to the Commander at this difficult time."
Adama stared down the table, and made no response. Meanwhile, Six leaned over the back of his chair and ran her hands down the lapels of his jacket. She smiled at Baltar. "Maybe they're both Cylons," she said. "Has he thought of that? Do you know, I think he has."
"What if --" Baltar said. He stopped, made himself look away from Six and at Roslin instead, and started again. "Madam President, I know that this is difficult to contemplate, but we must face the possibility head on. What if Captain Adama is indeed a Cylon agent? What if a man who has held a senior position, a position of trust, among us virtually since the hour these terrible events began turns out to have been serving the enemy the whole time?"
"We know nothing for certain yet," Roslin said. "As and when our knowledge of the facts changes, we will -- "
"If I may interrupt, Madam President," Commander Adama said. He looked at Baltar. "If I discover that one of my officers is a Cylon agent, then I will take such action as I deem appropriate as Commander of the Fleet." His voice was steady, and expressionless. The look in his eyes was not one Baltar found it easy to meet.
"I'll get straight to work," Baltar said.
Frak it. She knocked.
Starbuck was putting something away as Sharon came in; she only caught a glimpse and couldn't be sure, but it looked like a pair of icons. A lot of people used icons of the Lords of Kobol as aids to meditation when praying, but Sharon was surprised to see Starbuck with them, since she'd never had Starbuck pegged as the religious type. Although this was hardly the time for her to start prying into Starbuck's private feelings about anything.
Except for the part where that was exactly what Sharon had come to do.
Starbuck was sitting on the edge of her bunk, which was the lower of the pair on the right hand side of the room. Sharon sat down opposite her, on the lower bunk of the other pair. The dorm was tiny, and their knees almost touched across the narrow space.
"I just came to give you the heads up," Sharon said. "People have been talking and -- well, the media's gotten hold of it. Tigh's not letting them down here, but it's a good idea not to go up to any of the public access decks for a while unless you want to be hounded for a sound-bite."
"Thanks," Starbuck said, "You know, if there hadn't been so many journalists here covering the decommissioning, we wouldn't have this problem. We should have been pickier about who we let stay on board."
"Here is the news," Sharon said gravely, "Civilization destroyed. Next up, sports."
Starbuck smiled, a ghost of her usual thousand-watt beam, but a smile nevertheless.
"Do you think -- " Sharon started to ask.
Starbuck cut her off. "Don't. Don't ask me, because I don't know. I haven't been able to think about anything else since we came back, and I just don't know. I have no frakking idea."
"But you saw him."
"Yeah, I saw him. You know what the worst part is? I didn't even recognize him. I took the spare flight suit over there and when I arrived I started putting it on him and I couldn't figure out why Lee was just standing there, not doing anything. I kept telling him to help me, and then I looked again and I saw --" She broke off abruptly. "He looked like hell and he was about forty pounds too light, but it was him. It is him."
Sharon hesitated. "What does Apollo --"
"I don't know," Starbuck said, with an edge of anger in her voice. "He didn't say one frakking word he didn't have to the whole way back."
Sharon said, "I guess they'll get Baltar to run his Cylon detection test on both of them. At least -- at least then we'll know for sure."
"Maybe it's better to know for sure. I mean, if we really had a Cylon agent on board, and if it was the CAG -- it's better to know that now. Maybe he'd be so important to them, they wouldn't even need any others. Maybe he's the only one, and if we found him -- we'd be safe."
Starbuck was staring at her. "What the hell is wrong with you? You're talking as if you want him to be a Cylon."
"I don't -- I'm not --" Sharon broke off. "I'm sorry, that's not what I -- "
"Get out," Starbuck said. "Just get out of here."
Sharon left. Her cheeks were burning as she hurried out of the dorms, and she kept her head down so she didn't have to meet the eyes of the few people she passed in the corridors. But the strange, yawning sensation she felt in the pit of her stomach wasn't embarrassment or regret. It was relief.
Inside, it was unusually, even preternaturally, quiet. The Galactica's sickbay had been fully utilized since the day of the attacks, at first providing care to those who had been wounded during the exodus and, more recently, treating sick and injured civilians from the ships in the Fleet whose own medical facilities were under-equipped or non-existent. Now that everyone apart from the most critical cases had been moved out, the place was eerily silent. For an instant, Adama could almost persuade himself that he was on another Galactica, one which existed in a universe where the Cylon attacks had never happened. One which had been safely decommissioned and turned into a museum.
"Commander." Adama turned around, just in time to see Doctor Cottle come out of his office holding a loosely tagged sheaf of papers in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. Adama looked at the cigarette, and the CMO shrugged. "I know, I know. Hell, though, it's three in the morning, there's no one else here, and frankly getting cancer isn't my biggest worry these days." He held out the report. "I was just about to come up and give you this."
"Thank you," Adama said. He took the papers and started to leaf through them. The report was at least a dozen pages long, and closely typed. He closed the pages and looked back at Cottle. "Summarize it for me."
"Everything I've been able to test -- fingerprints, blood type, dental patterns -- is an exact match of Captain Adama's records. They even have identical scars on their right knees."
Lee had been ten years old, Adama remembered. He'd been playing with Zak; they were climbing trees in the back yard, daring each other to go higher and higher, when Lee -- who was not usually a risk-taker, and had doubtless been egged on by his more adventurous younger brother -- had trusted his weight to a rotten branch. The resulting snap and yell of surprise had brought Adama running out from the house, just in time to see his oldest son plunge over ten feet to the ground. He'd rushed straight to the boy's side, aware yet not aware of Zak's screams, and had felt an icy terror grip him when he saw Lee's eyes were open but glassy, and he was lying still as the blood soaked into his ripped jeans. In the event, those first fears were unfounded -- although the wound had been deep enough to scar, it had looked much worse than it actually was. But the incident had left its own kind of mark on Adama; it had been the first time he had experienced the fear of losing a child. Years later, when he had answered the phone call and heard the words, "I am sorry to inform you --" he had known again the horrific sensation of watching the boy tumble helplessly downward.
"...will take a couple of days to run a full genetic profile," Cottle was saying, "but I expect it to be exactly the same, too."
"What about his condition?"
"He's dangerously dehydrated and is suffering from extreme malnutrition. During the examination, I also found many small scars on his body, consistent with a large number of tissue and blood samples being taken over a prolonged period."
"How long is prolonged?"
"It's hard to be certain. But, judging by the degree of healing of the older lesions, we're talking about months, not weeks."
Adama thought about that for a moment. About what it meant. "Is he going to live?"
Doctor Cottle didn't answer immediately. At last he said, "It's too soon to say."
"I'd like to see him."
Cottle nodded, then turned and took Adama down the short corridor which led to the sickbay's intensive care unit. The ICU was dimly lit, but it was clear nevertheless that only one of the beds was occupied. Adama thanked him, and the doctor started to leave. Then he stopped.
"Captain Adama is in room four, off the main ward," he said. "I don't think he's asleep, if you -- Well, that's where he is."
"Thank you," Adama said again, and Cottle left.
Within the ICU, the only sounds were the faint hum of the air circulation system and the labored breathing of its sole occupant. There were so many machines grouped around the cot that Adama was reminded of a war zone, as if the bed were a battlefield where life and death were throwing the full might of their arsenals at each other in the hope of securing a victory. The array of medical weaponry hid the patient effectively and, from where Adama was standing, just inside the doorway, the man in the bed might have been anyone. Anyone at all.
It would be easy to turn around and leave, and allow himself to continue in that belief.
He went closer, so he could see the man clearly.
The first thing Adama noticed -- could not help but notice -- was that he was thin. Skeletally thin, with dark veins jutting out from skin which was so pale it was almost translucent. Tubes inserted into his mouth and nostrils further distorted his appearance. His appearance had been altered so drastically that he should not have been recognizable at all, but he was.
It was Lee.
Very gently, Adama took his son's hand in his own. It shocked him to see that Lee was so underweight that the skin on the back of his hand was wrinkled, as if he were wearing gloves which were too large for him. His son was thirty-two years younger than him, but he had the hands of a man older than Adama.
In the bed, Lee suddenly stirred. A faint noise of distress emerged from the back of his throat, and his hand clenched suddenly.
"I'm here," Adama said. "It's all right. I'm here."
But there was no sign that his son had heard him. After a moment, the hand Adama held relaxed again, and before long Lee had sunk back into unconsciousness. Adama waited for many minutes, but Lee did not move again, and eventually Adama realized he wasn't going to. He laid Lee's hand back on top of the blankets with care, and left the ICU.
Doctor Cottle's office was dark as he walked past it, but there was a faint glow coming from the main ward. When he got closer, he saw that it wasn't coming from the main ward lights, which had been switched off; the source was a thin, bright line seeping out from under the door to one of the isolation rooms located off the ward. Room four.
Adama went to the door. He could see, at his feet, a band of shadow breaking the line of light coming from under the door, moving across it from left to right and then back again. And he could hear, in the silence of the deserted sickbay, the soft click of booted feet pacing the metal-floored deck inside the isolation room. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.
He remembered the snap the branch had made as it broke, and the sight of his son falling. He remembered the fear of loss and -- worse still -- the horror of knowing that he was too late to stop what was happening. There had been nothing he could do, except watch, a spectator at his own tragedy.
He stood outside the door for a long time. But he didn't go in.
"You can't ignore me forever, Gaius."
The centrifuge made a low hum as it spun. Baltar watched it, and did not allow himself to look at Six. He knew what he would see if he did: she was perched elegantly on the edge of one of the laboratory benches, her very short skirt riding up around her thighs in a most suggestive and, he knew, deliberately provocative way. He wondered what the expression was on her lovely face. Was she trying to appear hurt, or had she abandoned all pretence and was simply regarding him with a victor's smugness?
He wanted to look at her. He was aware of her presence -- gods, he could even smell her perfume -- in a way which was acute, undeniable, uncomfortable. She distracted him, even when she wasn't talking; she made concentrating on the task at hand a challenge of Herculean proportions. Suddenly, he saw himself as others must see him -- a stuttering, erratic fool who talked to himself and could barely focus for long enough to complete a sentence. Gaius Baltar, the finest mind of his generation, reduced to a figure of ridicule. This was what Six had done to him. He'd tried to rationalize her as his release. Now he saw, finally, what she really was: his jailer.
He'd been like this for weeks. He'd even started to think of this warped dependence as normal.
"Gaius," Six sing-songed from the bench. "Oh, Gaius..."
Baltar felt his nerves pull tight and, at last, break. "Shut up," he snapped, spinning around. "For the love of all the gods, just shut the frak up and leave me alone."
Six laughed. "You see? I knew you'd have to talk to me eventually."
"You manipulated me to serve your purposes."
She wagged her finger at him. "You manipulated yourself, Gaius, and very effectively, too. I told you about the chip. You just decided to believe something different. But, in the end, it doesn't matter to me what you think I am." She smiled. "As long as you love me."
"I detest you."
"Oh, you say that now..." She slipped down off the bench and walked toward him, hips swaying and arms outstretched. When she reached him, she draped her arms over his shoulders and pulled him close to her in an embrace. "But I know how to make you change your mind."
He felt the familiar, warm fug descend on his mind, rolling in like fog to obscure and blur his thoughts. He needed to think -- he was supposed to be good at thinking, better than anyone -- but when she was this close, thoughts were an irritating irrelevance. But there was something, something he mustn't forget, something important...
"You made me a traitor," he murmured. "The first time, I didn't know what I was doing. How could I? But the second time, I was complicit. I deceived myself with a smile and said yes, please, more." He blinked, and was surprised when he felt moisture on his cheeks. "That was my crime. My sin, if you want to call it that."
Six raised her arms and held his face in her hands, so that he was looking straight at her. "God will forgive you, Gaius, if you ask him to."
"And all I need to do is... repent."
She smiled beatifically. "That's all."
"Repent," Baltar said. "Fall on my knees, and worship your god."
"That would make you happy, wouldn't it?"
In response, Six kissed his forehead. Her lips were feather-soft against his skin.
Baltar said, "No."
She stared at him.
"No," he said, with more force. "I will not worship your god. Or any god, for that matter. It's just another way of deceiving oneself, after all, and I think I've done enough of that lately, don't you? No, I'd rather face the world without blinkers, and rely on my own intellect to get by. Because it occurs to me that Cylons and deities have something in common: you were both invented by man to meet a particular need. You're convenient, artificial constructs, and nothing more. The very least among us is superior to you. And I, my dear, am very far from being the least among us."
All through his tirade, Six's expression had barely changed. Now, as he watched, her smile slowly disappeared, replaced by hollow uncertainty and then by raw hurt. For a moment, he actually thought she was going to cry, and the absurdity of it made him want to burst out laughing. After everything that had happened, he was going to defeat the Cylons by making them cry.
Then her face hardened, the lines of her cheeks and jaw suddenly becoming harsh. At last, the real Six, he thought. "You can't get rid of me as easily as your other whores, Gaius." She tapped one perfectly filed nail against the side of his head. "I'm in there with you, remember?"
"I will find you," Baltar promised. He felt calm, even serene; the fog which had settled over his mental landscape in the past weeks was rapidly lifting, leaving him focused and alert and equipped with a fresh sense of resolve. "Wherever you are hiding, I will find you and I will extract you. In the meantime --" He placed his hands on her upper arms, and smiled at her. "Get the hell out of my mind."
He pushed her, hard. Six reeled backward, crashing into the glass cupboards lined up against the laboratory wall. Baltar automatically threw up a hand to protect himself from the expected shower of broken glass, but it didn't come. Instead, when Six's body hit the glass doors, she simply -- vanished.
Of course she had vanished. What else had he expected? She wasn't real.
For the first time in weeks, Baltar laughed an honest, real laugh.
The machine on the table beeped loudly, indicating that it had finished another test sequence. Baltar checked the results and recorded them in the steadily growing list.
Humming cheerfully to himself, he set about preparing the next sample.
He was sitting in a seat at the table in the Galactica's main conference room. The two marines who had escorted him up from sickbay stood at a discreet distance behind him. He wasn't a prisoner, but he wasn't exactly free to get up and leave any time he wanted to, either. Right now, Lee wasn't sure what his status was, and the feeling was an unsettling one.
He shifted his weight about in the chair, trying to get comfortable. He'd barely rested during the night and now his muscles were sore and tense. He'd tried to sleep, but every time he'd closed his eyes he had seen his own hollow face, mouth gaping in a scream of horror. Eventually, he'd had to give in and admit to himself that he wasn't going to be able to stop thinking about it, and so he'd decided he might at least make productive use of the time. He'd spent the rest of the night weighing the evidence, putting together a theory that fit the available facts.
It made perfect sense that the Cylons would choose him as the newest addition to their range of human models. He held a senior position in what remained of the Colonial military, and he was trusted by both the Commander of the Fleet and the President. He must have presented an irresistible target. Somehow, they had obtained the tiny sample of his genetic material which had given them everything they'd needed to construct a perfect copy of him. How had they gotten it? He could think of at least several strong possibilities, but the most likely one was that a Cylon agent already placed on the Galactica had gained access to the store of blood which was kept in the medical labs for use in emergency transfusions.
They must have planned to abduct him and make the substitution while the Fleet passed through the system where the base was located, but discovery by the Galactica's advance probe had taken away the advantage of secrecy, and they had decided to evacuate and wait for another opportunity. It all made perfect sense.
Except for one thing. The single clone they'd left behind to die. Had it failed some kind of quality control check? Or had its programming failed to take? Either way, leaving it to be discovered just didn't stack up, no matter how much he tried to make it work.
If it hadn't been for that single detail, he could have explained everything.
The door at the far end of the conference room swung open and President Roslin came in, followed by his father and Doctor Baltar, and then by Tigh and Billy Keikeya. Lee stood up, saluted, and then remained at attention until they were all seated.
"Please, Captain, sit down," the President said. She looked around the room. "Very well. Let's not take more time over this than we have to. Doctor Baltar, your report, please."
Baltar rose and began to explain how his Cylon detector worked, as if everyone present didn't know already. Lee didn't listen; instead, he was looking at his father. There was something about the expression on Adama's face that was familiar, and troubling. He'd seen his father look like this before, but in another context, and he couldn't remember when or where it had been.
"Doctor Baltar," the President interrupted. "Perhaps you could skip straight to your findings."
"Ah. Yes. Of course. Dreadfully sorry. Just like me, to ramble on." Baltar smiled cheerfully; his sunny disposition was so wildly at odds with everyone else present that, under other circumstances, it might have been funny. "You want me to, ah --?"
The President nodded patiently. "Yes, Doctor."
Suddenly, Lee knew when he had last seen his father look like that. It had been right after Zak had died. When Lee had gone to see Adama then, he had found him remote and cut-off. At the time, he'd chosen to see it as a professional soldier's callous indifference to death, and added it to the list of father's failures. It was only recently that he'd started to understand it for what it was -- an act of self-protection by a man whose capacity to feel pain was perhaps far greater than Lee had ever suspected.
And his father was wearing the same expression now. As if he had just lost another son. Or was just about to.
"Well, he's a Cylon," Baltar said, gesturing casually in Lee's direction. "There's absolutely no doubt about it."
Lee stared at him. He wanted to speak out, but his throat constricted and he couldn't force out a single word.
"And the man currently in our sickbay?" Tigh asked.
"...Is the real Captain Adama."
At last, Lee found his voice. "No," he said. "No. This is wrong. It's a mistake --"
Baltar said, "I assure you, the test results were conclusive."
"Then run them again!"
"I did," Baltar said. "In fact, I ran them one hundred and forty-seven times."
Without looking up at Lee, Adama said, "I asked Doctor Baltar to eliminate the possibility of any errors from his testing process. He did. Everyone here is satisfied with the validity of the results."
"Well, I'm not satisfied with them!"
"Your opinion no longer counts," his father said stonily. "You are a Cylon agent."
"I am not a Cylon!" Lee was shouting now; he stood up, so violently that the chair toppled over and clattered noisily on to the floor. "Are you listening to me? Any of you?"
But no one in the room was rising to defend him, or to dispute the results of Baltar's test. Billy Keikeya was writing furiously on the notepad in front of him, as if by submerging himself completely in the task he could ignore what was going on around him. Tigh looked disgusted. And President Roslin was looking at him as she'd never seen him before. Or as if she were seeing him for the first time.
His father's voice rose until he was shouting too, overriding Lee's protests. "You are a Cylon agent and I am hereby placing you under arrest."
"You can't arrest me! I haven't done anything!"
"You are charged with impersonating an officer of the Colonial Fleet, with conspiring to abduct and imprison an officer of the Colonial Fleet, and with committing treachery against the Federation of the Twelve Colonies. Other charges will be added when the full extent of your crimes is known."
The marines had moved up behind Lee; one of them held his arms together while the other fitted the restraints around his wrists. Lee looked at his bound hands with a distant sense that they must belong to someone else. When he looked up, he was looking right into his father's eyes.
"I'm not a Cylon," he said. "Dad, please -- I'm your son."
"No, you're not." His father turned away from him, and said to the marines, "Get this thing out of my sight."
The last thing Lee saw as they dragged him out of the conference room was his father, sitting at the table. His back was ramrod straight and he was staring straight ahead.
The desk which Billy had found for her, for example, was a beautifully constructed solid wood antique; Laura guessed it had to have been made in the previous century. When she'd asked him where he'd gotten it from, he'd admitted it had been part of a removal company's consignment on one of the haulage ships in the Fleet. The desk's owner had almost certainly perished in the attacks, but by chance the furniture itself had survived. Sometimes, as she worked, Laura drew her fingers over the surface of the wood, just to feel its texture and the reassurance of its solid, natural presence.
Of course, it wasn't the accessories which made the office presidential, but the person occupying it. And, right now, Laura didn't feel very presidential at all.
When the Cylons had attacked, she had been as lost and terrified as every other survivor. Unlike every other survivor, however, the responsibility of making decisions had fallen to her. The first person who had treated her as the President had been Lee Adama. Captain Apollo. In those first, crucial hours, it had been his belief in her, and in the office she suddenly held, that had helped her to believe in herself. He had trusted her judgment, and in return she had trusted and confided in him.
And her judgment had been completely, disastrously wrong.
"It is Doctor Cottle's opinion that my son's injuries imply he was abducted at least several months ago," Commander Adama said. "If that is the case, then the switch could not have taken place at any time since the attacks. The Cylon imposter must have arrived on the Galactica on the day of the decommissioning ceremony. And it has been here ever since."
"Where is he..." she began, then stopped. She would have to select her words more carefully in the future. "Where is it now?"
"In the brig," Adama said. "But we can't keep it there. The Galactica doesn't have the facilities to hold a high-security prisoner."
"What do you recommend we do with it?"
"Kill it," Adama said unequivocally. There was a complete lack of emotion in his expression and tone which left Laura feeling vaguely discomfited. She should be grateful, she supposed, that Adama was able to put the safety of the Fleet above his personal feelings, yet somehow she couldn't forget that two days ago the Cylon had been his son.
No; that was wrong. It had never been his son. It had just tricked them into thinking it was.
"We can't execute it without going through due process," she said.
"I don't remember following any due process with Leoben," Adama pointed out.
"This is different," Laura said. "This Cylon wasn't a known enemy operative -- it was a respected senior officer. Many people -- many civilians -- will find it hard to stop thinking of it that way. If we want to execute it, we'll have to put it on trial and find it guilty first, and that will require hard evidence of treason. It'll be even harder to achieve if the Cylon is still protesting its innocence publicly. There are political concerns here which are just as important to address as the military ones, Commander."
Adama said, "I've ordered a full review of security on the Galactica. If there's evidence of sabotage anywhere on board, we'll find it."
Laura nodded. "And in the meantime, I'll ask Billy to contact the captain of the Astral Queen. I'm sure they have more suitable facilities than the Galactica's brig." She made a note on the pad in front of her. "Let's talk about damage limitation. How bad is it?"
His expression was grim. "We have to assume we're dealing with the worst case scenario -- that the Cylons know every piece of information about us which the imposter had access to."
Every piece of information. Laura shut her eyes for a moment. "Oh..."
She hesitated. "Commander... I took your son -- the person we all thought was your son -- very much into my confidence. I'm afraid he possesses some extremely sensitive information. Personal information." She exhaled. "I have cancer. I've told only three people. The Cylon was one of them."
Adama was silent for a moment. Then he said, "I see. And you didn't think, at any point, that it was appropriate to inform the Commander of the Colonial Fleet about your illness?"
"Frankly, no, I didn't, Commander," Laura said sharply. "I wasn't aware my health was a military concern."
"It is now, if the Cylons know about it." Adama's expression was frosty in the extreme. "And you evidently considered it enough of a military concern to tell the CAG."
"Then I can take it, can I, that over the course of the past six weeks, you told it nothing that would fall outside the normal interactions between a ship's captain and one of his senior officers? Nothing at all?" Laura arched a single skeptical eyebrow.
Adama snapped, "Of course I talked to it. I thought it was my son!" He stopped, and appeared to catch himself. "I'm sorry, Madam President. I -- "
Laura raised a hand, cutting him off. "No. I apologize. That was unfair of me. Your relationship with it was -- different." She rubbed her hand across her eyes, feeling suddenly weary. "I... accept I made a grave error of judgment. We may yet pay for it."
"Yours was not the only error of judgment. It fooled all of us."
"May I ask you a personal question, Commander?"
"Did you suspect? At all?"
Quietly, he said, "Not for a second."
The door opened, and Billy came in, holding a single sheet of paper. "I'm sorry for intruding, Madam President. I have an urgent message."
It was a bad time; then again, there was rarely a moment Laura considered a good time, of any kind, these days. "Let's hear it," she said.
"It's for the Commander," Billy said. He twisted the paper around in his hand, creasing it. "You... uh, you might want to read this alone, sir."
Suddenly, and without the least shadow of a doubt, Laura knew precisely what the message was. Adama must have, too, because his posture changed fractionally; it seemed to Laura that he lost a little of his military bearing and slumped almost imperceptibly back in the chair.
"Just tell me," he said.
Billy hesitated, then looked to Laura for guidance. She inclined her head in a tiny nod.
Billy lifted the wrinkled paper, and said, "Colonel Tigh regrets to inform you your son died a short time ago. He suffered a massive coronary failure. The doctors tried to revive him, but..." He stopped. "I'm very sorry, Commander."
Adama closed his eyes. He nodded.
Laura looked at Billy, then at the door. He got the message at once, and practically fled the room, leaving her alone with Adama.
She stood up. Making her tone gentle, she said, "If you'd like some time by yourself, please feel free to stay here. I'll go elsewhere."
Adama's eyes remained closed; in the silence, she could hear him breathing in and out, with forced regularity. Then he opened his eyes and stood up. The simple act appeared to take a great deal of effort, and he had to place one hand on the corner of the desk for support. But when he spoke, his voice was steady. "Thank you, but that won't be necessary. I would, however, like to return to the Galactica immediately."
"Of course." She paused. "You have my deepest and sincerest sympathies, Commander. I didn't know your son for long, but even our brief acquaintance led me to hold him in great respect and admiration. He was a credit to the Colonial Fleet, and to you."
Adama looked at her, and she saw something in his eyes harden.
"With respect, Madam President," he said, "you never met my son."
She gave the location seven out of ten. The Galactica's hangar bay lacked atmosphere -- call that a meager five out of ten -- but it got two bonus points for being selected as the venue because it was the only place big enough to hold everyone who wanted to attend.
The ceremony itself, however, scored a big fat nine. How many people, after all, got to have their funeral conducted by a High Priestess, with passages from the Scriptures read by the President herself?
Yeah, Lee's funeral was a high scorer, maybe even higher than Zak's had been. Zak would've been annoyed by that; he'd had the crazily competitive streak of a younger child, always determined not to be overshadowed by his older brother. She could have teased them about it, except of course she couldn't because now they were both gone, and Kara was pretty frakking sick of burying men called Adama.
Maybe she should just be glad the old man didn't have any other sons she could make the mistake of letting herself care about.
He didn't have any sons at all, now.
The thought made her eyes sting with unexpected tears. She blinked rapidly, until they were dry again. There'd be time to do her grieving later, someplace private. She wasn't going to lose it here, in front of everyone.
President Roslin was standing at the lectern which had been set up at the front of the hangar bay, reading from the book spread open in front of her. Kara was no religious scholar, but she knew the passage well. She'd heard it read at every funeral she'd been to.
"As your ancestors were lifted up and taken to a new land, so shall your souls be lifted up from your bodies and carried away. And your souls shall be borne home, and dwell in peace in the fields of Elysium for all eternity." Roslin ended the reading with the traditional refrain: "These are the words of the Lords of Kobol, and we hold them to be the truth. So say we all."
"So say we all," Kara repeated, in chorus with the rest of those assembled.
The President returned to her seat, next to Commander Adama in the front row. Kara was in the second row, making her the unofficial head of the pilots' section. At Zak's funeral, she'd been the one to sit next to Adama, and she remembered how, as Zak's coffin had been lowered into the ground, he'd silently taken hold of her hand. Starbuck respected Roslin -- hell, she'd probably even vote for her -- but somehow she didn't think the President was going to hold Adama's hand. And someone, Kara felt, should.
Elosha said, "Let us join in offering up our prayers to the gods." She raised her arms, and around the hangar, Starbuck saw heads bow, until she was the only person left whose eyes were still open. Even when Elosha began to lead the prayers, Kara still didn't join in. There was something oddly compelling about being able to watch the scene around her, unobserved.
What struck her most was how many people looked genuinely upset. Dualla, sitting in a row that included Gaeta and most of the CIC staff, was crying. It should have been comforting to know she wasn't the only one who was mourning Lee, but Kara didn't feel comforted at all. Instead she felt angry, and it took her a few moments to work out why.
There were only two people on the Galactica who had known the real Lee -- his father, and herself. Everyone else was grieving for an imposter, the fake which had tricked them into believing in it, respecting it, even thinking of it as a friend. The man they were mourning was a stranger to all of them, and suddenly Kara wanted to stand up and demand to know what right any of them thought they had to feel sad.
The Cylon was responsible for this. It had replaced Lee so effectively and so perfectly that it had even stolen the grief that should have been felt for him. And Kara hated it even more for that.
She clenched her hand into a fist in her lap, and bit down on her lip so hard she tasted blood. Once again, she reminded herself forcefully that this would be a really bad place to fall apart.
She closed her eyes and lowered her head.
"With heavy hearts, we lift up the body of Lee Adama to you, O Lords of Kobol, in the knowledge that you will give him life eternal," Elosha concluded. "So say we all."
The reply echoed back in a chorus of several hundred voices, but Kara's wasn't one of them.
Baltar smiled genially at the young man as he approached the desk. "Good evening. This is a late hour to be working, isn't it? You must be dedicated."
"I, uh -- " Billy gestured at the piles heaped across his desk. "Well, there's a lot to do. But I'm managing," he added, with a touch of defensiveness.
"You are. And very effectively, too, may I say." Baltar leaned forward and added, conspiratorially, "Don't think it hasn't been noticed."
"Thank you, Doctor." Maybe he was imagining it, but Baltar was almost sure that Billy actually blushed a little. "If you want to see the President, I'm afraid she's gone to bed. I'd prefer not to wake her up, unless it's an emergency."
"No, no emergency," Baltar said. "Actually, I was hoping to speak to you. I have a... somewhat delicate problem which I hope you can help me with."
Billy looked puzzled, but said, "I'll certainly try, Doctor."
"I have a chip in my head," Baltar said.
Baltar moved around to Billy's side of the desk, so that he was standing closer to him. "You've heard of Direct Stimulation Implants?"
"DSI's?" Billy frowned. "I've heard of them, but that's about all. They were banned before I was born."
Baltar stared at him, taken aback. "How old are you?"
Billy looked as if he didn't want to answer that question at all. "Nineteen, Doctor."
Baltar had known Billy was young; he hadn't know he was that young. It was hardly reassuring to think that the government of what remained of the Twelve Colonies was being run, more or less, by a ex-school teacher and a work placement student.
"Well, when I was your age, DSI's weren't illegal. Frowned upon, certainly, but not illegal. I was young and curious -- everyone experiments when they're in college, don't they?" The look on Billy's face strongly suggested to Baltar that no, as it happened, Billy hadn't experimented at all. He suppressed a sigh, thinking that the most outrageous act Billy had undertaken during his truncated college education was probably joining the campus debating society. "To be brief, there was a period during which I and a group of friends were in the habit of using DSI's as a kind of -- aid to creative thinking. When you're part of a network of six or ten or more minds, sharing ideas without having to express them in words -- it's an immensely stimulating, exciting experience."
"I read they were used in -- orgies."
Baltar could have told him a few enlightening things on that point, but he wasn't going to. "Some people took a less high-minded approach than we did," he said. "The point is, when DSI's were banned, not everyone had theirs removed."
"Oh," Billy said. "I see."
"Perhaps you've noticed that in the last few weeks I've been somewhat unfocused at times."
"Well, you're a genius, and people expect geniuses to be a bit --" Billy stopped himself. "No, I haven't noticed anything."
He'd have to learn to lie better if he wanted to succeed in politics, Baltar thought. "I've been getting headaches, finding it difficult to concentrate, that kind of thing. At first, I put it down to the trauma of surviving the attacks, but in the last couple of days I've realized what the root cause of the trouble is."
"The implant is malfunctioning."
"Yes. Maybe as a result of my exposure to the holocaust on Caprica. The radiation may have disrupted the chip. I need to have it removed."
"I understand," Billy said. "The Galactica has the best medical facilities in the Fleet. I'm sure if I spoke privately to Lieutenant Gaeta --"
"No," Baltar said quickly. Knowledge of any treatment he received on the Galactica, Baltar knew, would inevitably find its way to the President, by way of gods knew how many other people. He couldn't risk that. "I mean, I'd prefer to deal with this as privately as possible."
Billy looked unsure. "Doctor, your mind is -- well, it's the single biggest advantage we've got against the Cylons. I wouldn't feel comfortable knowing you weren't getting the best care available."
"I appreciate that; I truly do. But the Galactica isn't the only ship in the Fleet. And no one has a more comprehensive knowledge of the civilian resources we have than you do."
Billy hesitated, then nodded. "I'll look into it," he said.
"Thank you," Baltar said, with sincerity. "And, remember -- our secret."
"Oh, bravo, Gaius." Six, who had appeared silently behind Billy, clapped her hands with slow, mocking deliberateness. "I don't know which is more pathetic, your attempts to elicit sympathy or the fact he fell for them."
Baltar gritted his teeth and didn't answer her, but it was too late to stop Billy from noticing his gaze shifting to an apparently empty space somewhere behind his right shoulder.
"Is it --" Billy was looking at him, at first with some confusion but then with dawning clarity. "You're having an episode now, aren't you?"
Baltar was about to deny it, before suddenly realizing he didn't have to anymore. In fact, it served his purpose better to overplay the moment.
He sagged against the edge of the desk, as if he were about to faint, and put a hand to his head. "Yes, I... I'm sorry, I can't -- "
Billy jumped up and put his arm around Baltar, supporting him. Then he maneuvered him quickly into the chair he had just vacated. "It's all right, Doctor. Can I get you anything?"
Baltar waved his hand weakly. "A glass of water..."
The jug on the desk was empty, and the nearest tap was in the bathrooms down the corridor. Billy hurried out of the room with the jug, and Baltar was alone with Six.
"Oh, Doctor Baltar, your mind is the greatest advantage we've got against the Cylons!" Six echoed, adopting a high-pitched simper. Then she let her voice drop back into normal tones and sneered, "If they only knew what grimy little thoughts really run through your self-absorbed, obscene, narcissistic lump of neurons and synapses."
Hell hath no fury like a Cylon scorned, Baltar thought tiredly. "I may be all that and far worse," he told her, keeping his voice too low to carry out into the hallway, "but I intend to make sure that whatever thoughts are in my head -- you're not one of them."
He hadn't gotten around to it in the past six weeks. He'd had other things on his mind, of course, but now, sitting on the couch in his quarters and looking at the disordered stacks of boxes -- many of which were now spewing their contents on to the floor, having been rifled through in pursuit of particular items -- Adama couldn't help feeling as if the mess was accusing him of something. Of leaving too many things undone for too long, maybe.
The knock at the door provided welcome relief from his thoughts. He got up to answer it, and was glad to see Starbuck outside; she just about the only person he had even the least desire to talk to. "Come in."
When she stepped inside, he saw she was holding something in her hands -- a small box, no bigger than his fist. When Starbuck saw him looking at it, she held it out to him. "I was going to make a nice speech or something before I gave it to you," she said without preamble, "but I'm kinda useless at that, so I won't. This is from us. I mean, the pilots."
He took the box from her, and opened it. Inside, a small pair of bronze wings rested on a folded piece of tissue paper. "Thank you," Adama said, as he closed the box again and put it away in the top drawer of his desk, where it would be safe. Then he opened the cupboard beneath and brought out a bottle of ambrosia and two tumblers. "Would you like a drink?"
"Frak, yeah." She caught herself. "I'm sorry, Commander. It's been a long day. I meant --"
He poured out a measure of the liquor into one of the tumblers and handed it to her. "You meant, 'Frak, yeah, sir.'" Then he poured a glass for himself and raised it in a toast. "To Lee. My son. Your friend."
"Lee," she said, meeting his gaze. He doubted there was anyone else in the Fleet who could have, right at that moment.
The ambrosia was an excellent vintage, but it felt raw on his throat as he swallowed it. "How's morale on the flight deck?"
"Bad," Starbuck said simply. "We thought we were doing a terrific job of protecting the Fleet. Turns out we had a Cylon drawing up the patrol rosters. I've got at least a couple of pilots wondering out loud why they're even bothering."
Adama noted the sense of responsibility implicit in that last sentence. "What did you tell them?"
She shrugged. "Same things I've been telling myself. That we caught it before it killed all of us, which means we won this round. And that we owe it to Lee -- the real Lee -- to keep going out there and shooting those metal bastards out of the sky."
Adama tipped up his tumbler and finished the last of his drink. He made his decision. "I'm giving you a field promotion, effective at once. You're going to be the new CAG." He regarded her levelly. "Congratulations, Captain."
Starbuck stared at him. "Sir?"
"You're already doing the job, Starbuck. You just told me as much."
She shook her head. "I've talked to a few people, that's all."
"And you told them what they needed to hear to keep going. I need a new CAG, and it has to be someone I trust completely. Believe me, right now that doesn't leave very many candidates at all."
"There's only one thing I've ever been any good at," Starbuck said, "and that's flying. The deal is, I fly really, really well, and no one asks me to do anything else. That's how it works."
"No," Adama said, "that's how it worked." The alcohol was hitting his bloodstream faster than it should have, making him realize that he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. He pressed the tumbler against his forehead for a moment. The glass felt refreshingly cold, and the sensation helped clear his head. "You don't have the luxury of just doing what you want any more. None of us do. You don't think you're ready for this? Well, to be truthful, neither do I. You're impulsive and outspoken and you can't swallow it and shut up when you ought to. At least half of me doesn't think you can make this work." He looked straight at her. "Prove me wrong."
She glared at him, openly angry now. Good -- that was exactly the reaction he'd hoped for. Adama knew Kara Thrace well enough to understand what made her tick, and he was counting on that understanding now. Because, for as long as he'd known her, nothing had made Starbuck want to do something faster than telling her she couldn't do it.
She set down her glass, so hard that it cracked against the top of the low table next to the couch. "Fine, sir. I will."
"Then you're dismissed, Captain. And I'll see you in the CIC tomorrow morning at 0800 for your first briefing."
She left, shoulders rigid and temper barely in check. Adama hoped he hadn't just made an appalling error of judgment. He shut his eyes. Another appalling error of judgment.
He went to the desk, took out the box she had given him, and sat down again. The pilot's wings inside it were small but felt reassuringly heavy when he tipped them into the palm of his hand. He cupped his hands around the tiny wings and leaned his head down over them, so that he was sitting in what felt like an attitude of prayer.
In a way, it almost was.
But worse than any of that -- much, much worse -- had been the long march down through the Galactica's decks to the brig. On the way down, Lee had been marched past what felt like hundreds of officers and crewmen -- some whose names he knew, some whose faces he recognized, still others he didn't know at all. Every single one of them had looked away, refusing to acknowledge him. It had been during the long descent that the enormity of what had just happened began to sink in, and by the time the brig's barred door had clanged shut on him, he had been almost grateful to be out of sight.
They thought he wasn't human. Well, they were wrong. If he clung on to nothing else, he had to cling on to that.
There were always two guards on duty in the brig, although their faces changed shift by shift. All of them, apparently, had orders not to talk to him under any circumstances. They'd taken away his watch, so he had to judge the passing time by the arrival of meals and the periodical dimming of the lights which marked the transition from dayshift to nightshift. And he waited, because there was nothing else he could do.
On the third day, he woke up with the feeling that someone was watching him.
He sat up on the brig's narrow cot. President Roslin was sitting on a chair on the other side of the bars.
"I was going to ask them to wake you," she said, "but then I decided I wanted the opportunity to observe you for a while before we spoke. I believed you were what you appeared to be, and now I find I have to redefine you. It's difficult."
"You don't need to redefine me," Lee said. "I'm not a Cylon. I'm human."
"Doctor Baltar begs to differ."
"Then Baltar's wrong!" Lee took a step closer to the bars; outside the brig, both the guards placed their hands on their holsters. "Madam President, I can't explain the test results -- maybe the test is flawed, or the samples were tampered with -- but I know they can't be right."
She looked at him. "How do you know? What makes you so certain?"
Lee shook his head. Where to start? He couldn't waste this opportunity to convince her -- he wouldn't get another one. "I remember everything about myself. Everything that makes me who I am. Growing up on bases all over the Colonies, moving about with my father's postings. The name of my third grade teacher. The first time I kissed a girl. The first time I flew a Viper."
There were more memories, too: more than he could tell her, and some -- the most powerful ones of all -- that he couldn't have shared, even if he'd wanted to.
He remembered the odd, tight feeling he'd had when Zak had told him he and Kara were seeing each other, how he'd tried to persuade himself he was pleased for them. And he remembered the look of hurt on his father's face when they'd fought after Zak's funeral, and the cold feeling of satisfaction seeing it had given him. Those were his memories. How could they be anyone else's?
"They gave you false memories," Roslin said. "Designed to make you a more convincing fake."
"You can't fake beliefs," Lee insisted. "All the things that mattered to me yesterday still matter. I believe in our society, and in its survival. I believe we can make it through this. But only if we don't let our fears turn us on each other."
"Do you believe you have a soul?" Roslin asked.
Lee stared at her. At last he said, "Madam President, if you want to have a philosophical debate, I'm afraid I'm not the right person to talk to."
"When I was a teacher, my subject was history," she told him. "So let's have a short history lesson. When the first Cylons were created, their level of artificial intelligence was so rudimentary that there was no risk of anyone mistaking them for truly sentient beings. However, by the time tenth or eleventh generation models were being made, the distinction wasn't so clear. A council of high priests and priestesses was hastily assembled at Corinth, and they ruled that no entity could possess a soul which could not comprehend what a soul was, and that Cylons, by their very nature, were incapable of such comprehension."
"The Corinthian Decree," Lee said. "I studied it in college."
"The Corinthian Decree was one of the most biased, poorly conceived, damaging pieces of human thought ever committed to paper. Yet it remains the only serious consideration of what the Cylons -- these things we made -- are. So: do you know what a soul is? And do you believe you have one?"
Lee took a breath. "I don't think anyone knows what a soul is. But if you're asking me, do I feel, at the core, distinct, real, unique, human -- I do. I did yesterday, and I still do today."
Roslin looked at him for a moment longer, then nodded. "I believe you."
Hope leapt within him. "You do?"
"Yes," she said. "I accept that you believe you are actually a person, even though you're not. And I needed to know that. You see, discovering what you really are shook my confidence in my own judgment. If I couldn't even choose the right people to trust, how could I make decisions that might decide the survival of every single one of us?" Roslin stood up, lifted her chair and set it back at the side of the room. She didn't look at Lee as she spoke, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that she didn't need to. She wasn't talking to him anymore; she was voicing her own thoughts out loud, and what he thought simply didn't matter. "But if even you didn't know what you are, then my trust in you, while still misplaced, would at least be an honest mistake, and not a symptom of my lack of insight. And for that, if nothing else, I'm grateful to you."
She started to walk to the door, taking the last scraps of hope Lee still held on to with her. "Madam President," he said desperately, "President Roslin, please listen --"
Roslin stopped. "It's in the nature of humans to extend trust, especially to those who appear to deserve it. You, or your makers, used our nature against us. They gave you the face and the memories of someone they knew we would quickly accept. We took you in. And you certainly took us in." She looked at him, and Lee saw a real and deep loathing for him in her gaze. "I spoke today at the funeral of a man I didn't know, but who I will grieve for as if I did. And I blame you for being here when he is not."
Then she was gone. The two guards followed her, and Lee was alone.
He was absolutely alone.
"Hey, Boomer?" She lifted her head a couple of inches, and saw Crashdown's legs and boots in the gap between the underside of the Raptor and the hangar deck. "How are you getting on under there?"
"Nyuhhuh," she said, with the flashlight still between her teeth.
His head appeared, upside down. "Was that a good nyuh or a bad nyuh?"
She extracted one hand from the engine compartment and used it to hold the flashlight so she could speak. "It was an okay nyuh. I haven't found anything, if that's what you're asking."
"Me either. I've stripped back the nav comp and life support, and there's nothing in either one that shouldn't be. What do you want me to look at next?"
"Have you checked the auxiliaries yet?"
"I gave them the once over."
"That's not good enough. Take them apart and put 'em back together again."
Crashdown sighed. "Oh, fun."
"If you start right now, we might just get out of here before midnight."
The security review Commander Adama had ordered in the wake of Apollo's unmasking as a Cylon was comprehensive, to say the least. Gaeta had been given the task of grading every single piece of information the imposter had had access to for its potential value to the Cylons -- the last Sharon had heard, he'd been keeping himself awake with stims and near-lethal quantities of coffee. Things weren't much better down on the flight deck, where every item of equipment Apollo had flown or used or even glanced at on his way to somewhere else had to be stripped down and checked thoroughly for the presence of Cylon devices or any other evidence of tampering. The job was so immense that after five days it still wasn't finished, and Sharon couldn't decide whether the total failure to find anything was reassuring or only served to emphasize the sheer drudgery of the task.
"You know what really weirds me out?" Crashdown said. He must have climbed back into the cockpit, because his voice was muffled, but she could still just about hear him. "What if the Cylon didn't know what it was? I mean, what if it really believed it actually was Apollo?"
In the past days, Sharon had overheard any number of conversations like this among the pilots. Although she still tried to keep out of them, they no longer filled her with the feelings of dread and foreboding they had before. She could speculate about the Cylons too, now she was safe in the knowledge she couldn't be one of them. Because if Lee Adama -- the Fleet's CAG -- had been an agent, he would have been able to provide the Cylons with all the intelligence they needed about the Fleet. They wouldn't have needed anyone else.
"So what if it did believe it?" Sharon said, taking the flashlight out of her mouth. "It's just a machine; it believes what the person who programmed it tells it to believe. I could reprogram the nav comp to believe it's in orbit around Caprica. That's not weird, it's just how the nav comp works."
"It's different when it's a person."
"It's not a person, that's the whole point."
"Is this a private debate, or can anyone join in?" Starbuck's voice said.
Boomer twisted her head around, and saw a different pair of booted feet standing next to the Raptor.
"Sorry, Captain," Crashdown said. "We were just --"
"-- You were just checking this Raptor," Starbuck completed. "And when you've finished this one, there's another two still to do. Doesn't seem to me like you should have time on your hands."
"No, sir. Sorry, sir."
"And where are Hot Dog and Kubla? I thought I told them to help you."
Boomer pulled herself out from under the Raptor and got to her feet. Wiping her hands clean on a rag, she said, "They were ordered up top to help with the CIC sweep, sir."
"Who ordered them?"
"Well, you get them back down here right now. Tigh has no frakking right to steal my pilots." Starbuck stalked away.
Once she was out of earshot, Crashdown said, "She's taking it hard, isn't she?"
Boomer got down again and started to wriggle back underneath the Raptor. "I guess she believed it really was Apollo, too."
He remembered the agent who'd sold him the villa talking at length about the views, but Baltar hadn't been paying much attention. Scenery hadn't interested him; he'd bought the house because it was huge, architecturally distinctive and happened to be built on one of the most exclusive patches of real estate anywhere in the Colonies. It was the house of a man of influence, a man of power. That was why he'd wanted to own it.
The only views the real villa still boasted, if it was even standing, must be of a radioactive, decaying sump. And if the skies above it were still red, it was for a very different reason.
"This isn't real," he said.
Behind him, Six sighed irritably. The last few days with her had been torturous for Baltar, as her tactics had gone full circle from wheedling to sulking to spouting diatribes before ending up back at cajoling again. He didn't know where she was in the cycle right now, and he was way past caring.
"Reality," Six said, "is a series of tiny impulses jumping between neurons. It's only what you perceive it to be. This is real, by any criteria you want to apply."
"No," he said. "In reality, I am lying, anaesthetized, on an operating table on the Celestra, where a surgeon is right now cutting you out of my brain. And good riddance."
"Be careful what you wish for, Gaius."
He laughed without humor. "Yes. Well. I think that lesson has been hammered home most effectively at this point."
"Then you won't be making the same mistakes again," Six said. She smiled at him, coy and knowing, as if she had all his failings, past and future, mapped out in front of her. "Don't forget: 'All this has happened before; all this will happen again.'"
"Don't quote scripture at me. Especially when it's not even your scripture."
"I loved you. I saved you. And I have always told you the truth, about everything. We can't lie to each other." She wandered across the terrace toward him, putting her head to one side in an oddly affected manner as she regarded him. She was just playing another role, he realized; he wished he'd seen her for what she was much sooner.
"You masquerade as a human being," he told her. "Everything you are is a lie."
Six said, "I wanted to be with you. I could have guided you on the path, and now you're going to have to make the journey alone. I only hope you're strong enough."
She smiled at him, her expression fond. "Oh, Gaius. Your self-belief is what I love most about you." She was standing close to him, now, and she put out her hand and placed it flat in the centre of his chest, fingers spread wide. "The answer is within you. That's all I can tell you for now. The next time we meet, everything will be different."
Baltar smiled thinly back at her. "The next time we meet, it'll be a cold day in hell."
"You'll miss me more than you think."
She kissed him, one last time, and he felt the familiar buzz of arousal and intoxication. He wanted her, and he'd probably never stop wanting her. But he didn't need her. He realized now he didn't need anything except himself.
Her lips grew filmy and insubstantial on his, as if he were kissing the mist as it evaporated. When he opened his eyes, she was gone, and a moment later, the lake house and the whole world around it began to fade and dissolve.
Baltar slept, and for the first time in weeks, he didn't dream.
"That can be arranged," Adama said. He turned to his left. "Colonel Tigh, see to it."
From where she was sitting, on the Commander's right hand side, Kara had a clear view through the windows of President Roslin's stateroom. As she looked out, a trio of Vipers streaked past, arcing along the boundaries of the Fleet, fast, graceful and silent. Starbuck would have happily sawn off one of her legs to be out there with them.
Instead, she was in a meeting. She'd only been CAG for three days, but already she was getting a good idea of what the job involved. Meetings. Lots and lots of meetings.
President Roslin went on, "He'd also like to know how long we're planning on holding it on his ship." She removed her glasses and sat back in her chair. "The shorter a period of time this drags on for, the better. But, unfortunately, all our efforts have so far failed to uncover any evidence we could build a prosecution for treason on. That's correct, isn't it?"
"The security review isn't finished yet," the Commander said.
"I understood it was going to take three days. It's been five."
"Most of the key areas are complete," Tigh said. "The only ones not yet finished are the hangars and flight deck." He looked at Kara.
Angrily, she said, "If you didn't keep poaching my people, we'd be done."
The Commander looked like he was about to say something, but Roslin beat him to it. "I am not interested in your resource issues. I'm interested in how much longer it's going to take."
"The review will be completed by tomorrow," Adama said.
"But the probability of finding anything incriminating is looking more remote than it was, isn't it, Commander?"
He hesitated. "Yes. It is."
"And the Cylon is still claiming it's the real Captain Adama."
Roslin steepled her hands in front of her and gazed into the space between them, as if trying to capture a stray thought. "There's something I don't understand, and it bothers me."
"Madam President?" Tigh asked.
She looked up. "It still thinks it's human. Why haven't the Cylons switched it on, or whatever it is they do to activate their sleeper agents?"
"Maybe they have activated it," Adama said. "Maybe it's just playing with us."
Tigh added, "It could be a deliberate ploy. A kind of psychological warfare."
Kara cleared her throat. Tigh looked at her and said, "Something you'd like to add, Captain?" with just a shade too much emphasis on the last word.
"Well, no, it's just --" She looked around the table. "That doesn't scan to me. The Cylons nuked twelve planets, and now they've decided to get subtle on our asses? I don't think so. As a strategy, blowing things up has been working real well for them so far."
Tigh looked annoyed, but the President was nodding. "I have to agree. So -- what if they haven't activated it because they can't?"
Kara frowned. "Like, it's not wired up right? No signal getting through?"
"I don't know; I'm guessing. But if that were the case, we might be extraordinarily lucky. It could be that the information the imposter gathered about us during the time it spent masquerading as Captain Adama hasn't been transmitted back anywhere."
"Then we can't risk killing it," Kara said. When Adama, Tigh and the President all looked at her, she said, "The Cylons claim that when their bodies are destroyed, their consciousnesses aren't. They get uploaded back to the mother ship or gods know where. If we destroy it, we might just be handing all the intel they need straight to them."
"Conjecture," Adama said shortly. "It's a greater threat to us alive."
He spoke dismissively, as if the only possible course of action was to execute the Cylon. Maybe it was, but there was still something about the ease with which he seemed to accept it that made Kara uneasy. The memory of watching as Leoben was sucked out into the vacuum of space was still fresh in her mind, and thinking of it made her as uncomfortable now as she'd been when she'd seen it happen. The death -- no, the termination -- of a Cylon shouldn't have bothered her at all, but Leoben's had. When she tried to paste Lee's face over the one on the other side of the airlock glass, her mind simply refused to do it. Maybe she'd seen him die once too often recently.
But the Commander seemed ready to execute the Cylon without a moment's hesitation. Kara knew she should admire him more for his objectivity, yet somehow she didn't. Instead, she wondered what had happened to the man who'd looked so broken when she'd given him Lee's wings.
Kara didn't say anything, but she didn't have to. Roslin appeared to share some of her misgivings.
"None of us really know how their minds work," the President said thoughtfully. "We're going to have to start making sensible guesses at some point. Well, that's for another day. Thank you for your time." She stood up, and the meeting was over.
The Commander didn't say anything until they were back in the Raptor, with Kara in the pilot's seat for the short return trip to the Galactica. Then he let both her and Tigh have it with both barrels.
"I thought I was in command of a Battlestar, but apparently I'm running a kindergarten, complete with children arguing over toys." He scowled at each of them in turn. "I expect my CAG and my XO to work together effectively. I do not expect you to start slinging mud at each other in public, and I definitely don't expect you to do it front of the President. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Tigh said.
"Yes, sir," Kara echoed, keeping her eyes on the Raptor's instrument panel.
The remainder of the ten minute journey back was spent in stony silence, but she still wished it could have been longer. It was the only flying she'd get to do all day.
Lee picked up the roll and shook it out. It was a flight suit, but not the same kind issued to pilots. This was the more basic gear issued to civilians to meet Colonial safety regs on transportation in small space-faring vessels.
His heart sank when he saw it. They were taking him off the Galactica, and away from any more chances to talk to anyone he might be able to convince of his innocence. True, it wasn't as if he'd been swamped with visitors while in the brig -- in a week's captivity, the only person he'd spoken to had been President Roslin, and the requests he'd made to talk to his father had gone unanswered -- but, once he was tucked away in a cell on the lowest deck of one of the civilian ships, he'd be even further out of sight and much easier to put out of mind.
The only positive thought he could come up with was that if they were making him adhere to safety regulations, they hadn't yet decided to throw him into space.
As he was changing into the flight suit, though, he managed to add a second positive thought to the first. The flight suit was a dark shade of gray, and he was glad to swap his day-glo orange prisoner's coveralls for it. Just putting it on made him feel more like himself again.
"Stand back from the door and hold your hands out in front of you, wrists together."
He obeyed, standing still as Corio put handcuffs on him and then clipped a second set of restraints around his ankles. There was no point asking where they were taking him, since he was unlikely to get an answer, but the Astral Queen seemed like a good bet. He guessed Tom Zarek would find that pretty funny, when he heard about it.
This time, there were no spectators for the journey from the brig to the hangar bay. For the first couple of hallways it might have been coincidence, but as he shuffled along deserted corridor after deserted corridor, Lee realized the decks had been deliberately cleared. He had the eerie impression that the ship was totally empty, except for himself and his guard.
The hangar bay, when they arrived, was also unnaturally deserted. It was the middle of the day, and there should have been any number of people coming and going -- deck crew performing maintenance, pilots suiting up for a patrol or checking their Vipers just after returning from one. But instead of the usual buzz of activity, there was a single Raptor prepped for launch. Sharon Valerii was next to it. Lee tried to catch her gaze as they got closer, but she was standing to attention, her eyes fixed straight ahead, deliberately refusing to look at him.
"I want to check its restraints," she said. It took Lee a second to realize she was talking about him.
"No need," Corio said. "They're on tight."
Sharply, she said, "I don't care. If it's coming on my Raptor, it's my responsibility." She eyed the marine. "You're going to need a flight helmet -- there're spares over there. And bring one back for the prisoner."
Corio wore a vaguely annoyed expression as he went to fetch helmets from the racks at the side of the hangar, although it was hard to know whether that was the result of having the quality of his work questioned or being ordered about by a woman who barely reached his shoulder.
While he was gone, Sharon set about checking Lee's restraints. As she tugged at his handcuffs, Lee cast a glance in the marine's direction, and judged Corio was just out of earshot, if he kept his voice low. "Sharon," he said. "Listen to me. Whatever you've heard, it's not true. You have to believe me."
Boomer didn't look up. She finished with the first wrist and moved on to the second, her movements so regular they seemed almost mechanical.
Lee tried again. "Sharon, please, just hear me out. You've flown with me. You know me. Do you really believe I could be one of them? I'm as human as you are --"
Boomer finished and straightened up, and he found himself looking right into her eyes.
She was a Cylon.
The revelation -- and it was a revelation, a chunk of certainty that materialized in his brain with the lightning flash of a ship dropping back into realspace after a jump -- hit him with such force that for several seconds he could do nothing except stare at her, willing it not to be true.
On the face of it, there was no evidence to support his sudden conviction. The expression Boomer wore was one of hurt and betrayal and loathing, all of it completely human and directed at him. But if he looked at her in a fractionally different way, all her humanity evaporated instantly, exposing the Cylon essence beneath the surface. It was like looking at an optical illusion, a trick drawing that showed two distinct but superimposed images. Lee had no idea how he was doing it, only that he was.
"I flew with you," Boomer said, apparently oblivious to his sudden, stunned silence. In a low and angry voice she said, "I trusted you, and I followed your orders, and you were lying the whole time. I even doubted myself before I doubted you. You can't even know what that's like, losing faith in who you are. Just knowing things like you existed did that to me, but I'm not going to let it anymore. Because you couldn't keep fooling us. We found you out."
The look in her face never wavered. She was certain of what she was saying. Certain of herself.
Lee stared at her, horrified, as he realized she didn't know what she was. She had no idea.
Corio returned, holding two flight helmets. "Got 'em. We're ready to go."
"Wait," Lee said. He looked at Sharon. "She's a Cylon."
"Yeah, right," the marine said. "And so am I and so is the President and so's that chick in stores I've been trying to make it with for the last month. Everyone's a Cylon. Now get in the ship."
"She's a Cylon," Lee repeated. "Come on -- I would know, wouldn't I? Even if I'm lying, you have to at least test her. And I'm not lying. She's a Cylon and she doesn't even know it herself --"
He didn't get any further. Sharon launched herself at him, her fists raining down blows as soon as she made contact. With the shackles on his ankles, he couldn't keep his balance, and they both went down, hitting the deck and rolling together for several yards. Lee had a clear advantage on Sharon in weight and height, but with his hands bound together he couldn't defend himself properly, never mind hit back.
Boomer didn't stop until Corio hauled her off him, leaving Lee lying, winded and bruised, on his back on the deck.
"Break it up!" the marine yelled. He had one restraining arm looped around Sharon, who still looked as if she could easily start into Lee again. "Frak, what you trying to do, kill him?"
Sharon glared. "I don't have to listen to that. And I'm not going to. I don't want to hear another word from this thing."
Lee turned on to his side and, from that position, sat up. "She's --" he started.
Corio came over and kicked him. Lee yelled and instinctively curled in on himself, unable to think about anything except the solid ball of pain in his stomach.
"You heard her. Not one word," the marine said, hauling Lee to his feet and manhandling him up the access ramp and into the Raptor. Once inside, he pushed Lee into the single fold-away passenger's chair, then put one of the helmets on him, clipping the seal shut around the flight suit's collar. Corio sat at the unmanned ECO station and started to put on his own helmet, while Sharon, already wearing hers, took her position in the pilot's seat upfront and buckled the webbing into place. The door swung shut.
The Raptor had taken off and was leaving the Galactica behind by the time the pain in Lee's gut had diminished to a point where he could think about something other than not throwing up. Through the Raptor's cockpit windows he could see the Battlestar receding, its massive bulk slowly shrinking until the whole ship, prow to stern, fit into view. He felt a sudden stab of loss; he'd probably never be back on it again.
Then Sharon touched the Raptor's controls and the Galactica slid out of view completely as they turned toward the rest of the Fleet.
"Astral Queen, this is Raptor 3, inbound from Galactica with prisoner for transfer." Lee couldn't see Sharon's face as she spoke, but her words were clear, if tinny, over the commlink in his helmet. "Our ETA is eight minutes. Please prepare for docking."
"Acknowledged, Raptor 3."
So he had eight minutes to think up a plan and do something. Unfortunately, Lee was fresh out of ideas. Every scenario he could think of had to begin with somehow incapacitating both Corio and Sharon and taking control of the Raptor -- which in turn depended on not being in restraints. And even if he could somehow manage that, where was he going to go? The Raptor would have enough air and fuel for a few days at most, and the odds of finding a habitable planet in that time were low to nonexistent. Assuming, of course, that he accepted that his next best option after being locked up as a traitor was to live alone, in exile, for the rest of his life.
"Hey," Corio said suddenly. "Boomer, what are you doing?"
Lee looked up sharply, and saw that the Galactica had reappeared in view. At the same time, he felt the Raptor tilt under him, and realized what was happening. Boomer was turning the ship around.
"Boomer, you're going in the wrong direction," Corio said. Looking more puzzled than concerned, he got up from the ECO's seat and started to make his way up front. "What do they teach you people in pilot school, anyway? Boomer, what the frak are you --"
Boomer half-turned in her seat, and Lee saw, a moment too late, the gun in her hand. She shot Corio at point-blank range in the stomach; his scream as he fell was so loud that the commlink treated it as white noise interference and blocked it completely. Lee watched him thrash around in eerie silence on the floor of the Raptor as blood pooled under him; then he was still. The whole thing was over in seconds.
"Raptor 3." Dualla's voice, hailing them from the CIC, came over the commlink. "Raptor 3, this is Galactica. You have deviated from your flight plan. Please acknowledge and explain."
Lee raised his bound hands and, made clumsy by the restraints, fumbled with the comm controls on the side of the helmet until he'd switched on the external link. "Galactica, Lieutenant Valerii is a Cylon agent. She is a Cylon agent and she has killed Major Corio --"
Then he broke off, because he'd just seen what Sharon was about to do. Her hand was reaching for the emergency airlock release.
The ECO seat had webbing, but he didn't have enough time to strap himself into it -- assuming he even could, with his hands and feet tied. Lee looked around frantically, searching for something to hold on to.
"Raptor 3, if you remain on your current trajectory, you will collide with Galactica. Alter your course at once. Repeat, alter your course at once. Boomer, acknowledge."
There was a titanium conduit jutting out above Lee's head. It looked solid. With no time to do much more than hope, he grabbed it and held on as tightly as he could.
Sharon pulled the airlock release lever.
The airlock door exploded off its seal. At once, Lee felt his whole body being gripped by the powerful rush of escaping atmosphere. The decompression lifted him off his feet, until he was hanging parallel to the compartment floor, his hands locked on to the conduit and his boots barely inches away from the vacuum of space outside.
Corio's body slid across the floor and then, in a ghastly parody of life, flipped upright. Lee had a fleeting glimpse of the dead man's face under the visor of his helmet, its eyes open and staring, as the corpse tumbled toward him. As soon as he realized it was going to hit him on its way out of the Raptor, he braced himself for the impact, and forced the protesting muscles in his arms and chest to work harder to hold on to the titanium conduit.
"Raptor 3, this is Adama. What the hell is happening out there? Dammit, Boomer, acknowledge!"
Corio's body clipped Lee's shoulder as it hurtled past him. The impact jerked him, and the conduit gave a screech as the bolts securing it to the wall came loose. Wires spewed from it, sparking; Lee felt his grip loosen and, as hard as he tried, he couldn't regain it. His gloved fingers started to slip off the smooth metal surface.
He let go of the beam, and felt himself being dragged after Corio, out of the airlock and into space.
Then he jolted to a halt.
When he'd grabbed hold of the beam, he'd hooked his arms over it. His hands had slipped off it, but the handcuffs were anchoring him in place. Even through the flight suit and gloves, the metal of the bracelets was cutting into his flesh so deeply it felt like his wrists were on fire, and he was about thirty seconds away from dislocating a shoulder. But he was still inside the Raptor.
Then, as suddenly as it had started, the rush of air slowed, then stopped. The force of suction which had been dragging him backward faded, and with it the strain on his wrists and arms. He fell back on to the floor with a thump, and when he sat up he was looking straight out of the gaping airlock at the stars.
And he could also see the Galactica, looming right ahead.
His hands and feet were cold already. The flight suit would protect him for a short time, but it wasn't meant for extended exposure to a vacuum. Whatever he was going to do, he'd better do it fast.
Up front, Sharon was still sitting in the pilot's seat, held safely in place by its webbing. She looked as calm and relaxed as if she were making the most routine of flights, except that she happened to be accelerating the Raptor toward the side of the Galactica.
"Sharon," Lee said over the commlink as he struggled to get up. His stomach hurt, and his arms, and the restraints on his wrists and ankles made it impossible to move with any speed. "Sharon, think about what you're doing."
She turned around and looked at him, and even through the visor of her helmet, he could see that the expression on her face had changed completely -- it had smoothed out, somehow. Before, he'd been able to see both the human and the Cylon Sharons; now, no matter how deeply he searched, he couldn't see any shred of humanity in her eyes.
"I have been thinking about it," she said. "I'm thinking much more clearly, now."
The side of the Galactica filled the entirety of the cockpit windows. They couldn't be more than a couple of minutes away from impact. As Lee watched, he saw four Vipers streak out of the launch tubes on the near side of the Battlestar. He was vaguely aware of Dualla's voice on the other end of the commlink relaying the order to intercept and destroy, but since there was nothing he could do about that, he didn't allow himself to focus on it for long. Instead he concentrated on Sharon.
"Once you know that death is not the end, everything becomes just a matter of faith," she said. "This body may die, but my soul will survive. So will yours. You don't understand that, yet, but you will."
Out of the corner of his eye, Lee could see a section of the titanium conduit, lying at his feet. He didn't allow himself to look at it; instead, he held Sharon's gaze, all the while trying to judge how fast he could move with his ankles shackled together.
"Then explain it to me," he said. Keep her talking. Distract her.
Sharon pivoted round in the pilot's seat so that she was facing him. "I wish I could, but we're on different paths, you and me. God's plan for you --" She smiled at him, and her eyes shone. "It's marvelous, Twelve. You're going to show us the way. You're going to be the oracle."
With a shout, Lee dived for the section of titanium conduit. He grabbed it, nearly lost his balance, then somehow managed to stay upright while he covered the last few feet between himself and Sharon. As he moved, he held the conduit section in both hands and lifted it up, as high as he could make his bound arms go. Then he brought it down, hard.
The metal pipe connected with the visor of Sharon's helmet with a crack that reverberated all the way up his arms. He let the conduit section drop out of his hands.
Sharon looked at him. She was still smiling. Then, as he watched, a faint web of cracks appeared in the visor. They spread, and deepened, until the visor was thick with white lines and almost opaque.
The visor gave way, exploding outward in a shower of crystalline fragments. For an instant, Sharon's face was unchanged. She was still smiling at him. Then her mouth opened, as if she was about to speak, but instead there was only a rush of air as the vacuum sucked the air from her lungs. Her eyes bulged, the whites turning red as blood vessels burst, and her skin became suddenly mottled as it froze instantly.
He saw her lips move as she tried, uselessly, to breathe. Then she died.
There wasn't enough time to release the webbing and take the pilot's chair himself, so Lee just pushed past her body and started working with the Raptor's controls. Inside the gloves, his hands were so cold they were getting numb, and the handcuffs meant he could only do one thing at a time.
The Galactica's hull was now so close he could see the seams where it was riveted together.
He slammed his hands down on the reverse thrusters, and nearly fell over when the Raptor came to a dead stop. Then he killed everything on the board -- engines, weapons, auxiliaries, every frakking thing he could reach, even the lights.
He made himself focus only on the task at hand, ignoring the stream of orders and questions flying over the open comm channel. Then he heard something that caught his attention, one hundred percent. "Galactica, I have a lock on Raptor 3. Please advise."
"Fire at will, Hot Dog."
"No!" Lee shouted, hoping like hell someone was listening. "Do not fire! I am dead in the water! Repeat, Raptor 3 is dead in the water!"
A pause. Then: "Confirm that, Galactica. Raptor 3 is adrift."
There was a silence, during which Lee half expected to see a Viper's missiles streaking toward the cockpit window.
Finally, Dualla's voice said, "Hold fire. Repeat, hold your fire."
Lee exhaled, and saw his breath form mist inside his helmet. His hands were shaking, and he wasn't sure it was just from the cold. The silence on the commlink seemed to stretch for an eternity, although it couldn't have been more than half a minute.
At last, the commlink crackled again. "Raptor 3, you have permission to power up auxiliary engines only. You will be escorted to Hangar Bay 2. If you deviate from the prescribed approach at all, you will be destroyed. Do you understand?"
"I understand," he said. He was thinking about Sharon; about how he had known what she was when he couldn't have. He was thinking about how she had called him Twelve. He closed his eyes, but it didn't stop him from seeing Sharon's face, smiling at him.
Sharon had known what he was, just as he'd known what she was. She'd called him 'Twelve', and with that single word she'd ripped from him his identity and the life he'd thought he owned. He wasn't Lee Adama; he never had been. He couldn't even lay claim to the name. He was just another copy of the twelfth human Cylon model, programmed with a dead man's thoughts and memories.
He didn't look up when he heard the brig's outer door open; it was probably only the guards changing shifts, and he'd long since stopped noticing that.
"You said you wanted to talk. So talk."
It wasn't the guards. It was Kara. She was standing outside the cell, and he was surprised to see that she was the same and yet somehow different, too. The way she was looking at him now, for instance: he'd seen her angry, and this wasn't the same thing. She was looking at him with contempt. She'd never looked at him like that. No -- she'd never looked at Lee like that. But he wasn't Lee.
Her expression wasn't the only thing that was different about her, and it was only when he noticed a familiar patch on her jacket that he realized what the other change was.
She was wearing the CAG's patch. When he saw it, he felt a sick twist in his stomach as he realized that his old life really was gone, forever. The gap where he'd been had closed over; the wound was already healing. In time, the only remaining sign of his existence would be faint scar tissue.
He stood up, facing her with the bars between them. "I asked to speak to the Commander."
"Tough," Kara said. "He doesn't want to speak to you. Neither do I, as it happens, so if you're going to complain about the food or the lack of ambient lighting, get on with it so I can leave."
"I'm a Cylon."
"I didn't believe it before. I thought it had to be a mistake, or a trick. And then -- I knew what Boomer was. There was no way I could have known, but I did. I looked in her eyes and there was nothing of Sharon Valerii left in her. She was just a fake. And so am I."
It was hard to say it -- he had to make an actual physical effort to force the words out, and it was harder still to keep looking at Kara as he spoke. But somehow he couldn't look away; he kept searching her face for something -- some remnant of empathy or, failing that, just understanding of what the admission was costing him.
There was nothing.
"That's right," she said. "You're a fake. You're a fake of a man I was proud to call my friend, and every breath you take offends me. You should quit feeling sorry for yourself and just be grateful I'm on this side of the bars. And not armed."
"I know things," he pressed on. "Maybe not consciously, but I have to -- how else could I have known about Sharon?
"Your point being?"
"I want to help you," he said. "That's what I wanted to tell my -- to tell Commander Adama. Somewhere in my head there's information you could use. I want you to know I'll cooperate in any way I can to help you get at it."
Kara folded her arms across her chest, her body language closed-off and hostile. "That's very public-spirited of you. I'm touched."
"I may be Cylon, but I still feel like me. Like him. I don't know." He stopped, aware he wasn't saying what he meant. He didn't even have the language to talk about himself anymore. There was nothing that was truly his. "The point is, I'm on our side."
"I'd feel a lot more comfortable about that if I could be sure how you're defining 'our'."
"Fine," he said angrily. "Don't believe me. I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to take Adama a message. Is that so frakking difficult to understand?"
"You're a fraud and a traitor. You didn't even know what you were until someone else told you, and you have no rights at all here. We don't have to listen to you." Kara stepped closer, right up to the bars of his cell. "Is THAT so frakking difficult to understand?"
This was how it was going to be from now on, he realized. He was the enemy, and he would be doubted and suspected at every turn. Worse than that, she was right. If he couldn't trust himself, how could he expect anyone else to trust him?
Kara left without saying anything else. Long after she'd gone, he was still standing exactly where she'd left him, staring out through the bars of the cell at the place where she'd been.
The chip was less than a quarter of the size of Baltar's fingernail; he could just about make out the lines etched on its surface if he held it close to his face and squinted. It was amazing, he thought, how something so small could cause so much trouble.
Well, not for much longer.
There was a fire-point in the corner of his lab; it was equipped in the same way as the many others all over the ship, with an alarm, a fire blanket and an extinguisher. He unrolled the fire blanket, laid it down in the middle of the floor, and placed the chip in the middle of it. Then he hefted the fire extinguisher and poised it directly above the chip.
"Goodbye, darling," he said. "It was fun while it lasted."
The phone rang.
For a second, Baltar considered ignoring it. Then he decided, no: destroying the chip was too sweet a moment to allow anything to distract him from it. Regretfully, he put down the extinguisher and answered the call. "Yes, what is it?"
"Doctor Baltar," the President's voice said. "Is this a bad time?"
"Ah, no, Madam President, not at all. I apologize if I sounded sharp just now. I was, ah, concentrating on something."
"I'm sorry for disturbing you. Commander Adama and I are in the conference room on deck three. Could you join us here, please?"
"Of course, Madam President."
He put the phone down and retrieved the chip from where it rested in the center of the fire blanket. A quick search of the lab's equipment drawers turned up a screw-topped phial which was small enough to carry with him unnoticed. He dropped the chip into it and sealed it tightly shut. Then he gave the phial an experimental shake, and watched the chip bounce around inside its glass prison. Like a genie in a bottle, he thought, and smiled. "I'm afraid we're going to have to postpone the pleasure, my dear," he told the phial, and dropped it into his pocket.
As he entered the conference room, President Roslin greeted him warmly. "Thank you for coming so quickly, Doctor. We need your Cylon expertise."
Baltar smiled modestly. "I'd hardly call it expertise. Unfortunately, I don't know much more than anyone else."
"We may have a chance to change that," Roslin said.
It was Adama who answered. "The Cylon says it wants to cooperate with us."
"In what way?"
Roslin said, "As far as we know, the Cylons have some kind of link to each other, or to a group consciousness. The behavior of the human-Cylon agents, and the knowledge they have of us, seems to bear that out."
"Yes," Baltar agreed. "There's no proof yet, obviously, but it's a good working hypothesis."
"We want to access that link," Adama said, "and use it to gather intel about them the same way they've been gathering intel about us."
Baltar nodded, understanding. "And you want to use the captured Cylon agent to do it." He sat back in his chair. "To do that, we'd first have to understand exactly how the Cylons send and receive information between themselves. Then we'd have to identify the weaknesses in the network and exploit them." He stopped, distracted -- not, this time, by a vision of Six, but by the sheer scope and challenge of the idea. "Research into artificial intelligence networks has been illegal for fifty years -- our starting point is so far behind what the Cylons have evolved into that it's irrelevant. You're talking about creating a new branch of science from scratch."
"If anyone can do it, Doctor, you can," Roslin said.
"We can give you one live
Cylon to experiment on," Adama said, "and one dead Cylon you
can cut up to figure out how they work. Whatever else you need, if we
can find it or make it, you'll have it."
It would be the greatest challenge of his career, and if he succeeded, he would be a hero. A legend.
If he succeeded? No. When he succeeded. Because his genius wasn't the only thing Baltar knew he had that no one else did. He had a tiny chunk of Cylon technology in his pocket that already did something very similar to what the President and Commander Adama were describing.
"I can do it," he said with certainty.
"I never doubted it," Roslin said.
Back in the lab, Baltar sat down at the workbench and took the phial out of his pocket. He held it up to the light. The Cylon chip lay inert inside the glass tube.
"Well," he said to it, "It seems I have a use for you, after all."
On the other side of the table, Crashdown glared at his hand with the same look of sullen anger that had barely left his face since they'd found out about Sharon. Next to him, Gaeta contemplated his cards with eyes which were red-rimmed with exhaustion. He'd only just completed the security review for Apollo when he'd been told he had to do it all over again, this time for Boomer. The last player, Hot Dog, hardly looked better than Gaeta. He'd been a Viper pilot for less than a month, and hadn't yet gotten used to the punishing schedule. Starbuck felt sorry for him, but there wasn't much she could do about it. She was the CAG; making sure there were enough Vipers in the air to protect the Fleet was her responsibility.
"Fold," she said, and threw her cards down in front of her, face up. It wasn't a terrible hand; she just couldn't make herself care enough to work out the trades she'd need to make to improve it.
"Me, too," Hot Dog said.
Crashdown shrugged, and tossed his cards on to the table.
Gaeta set down his cards, fanning them evenly out so they were all visible. "Five crescents, three tridents and a spare," he said.
Losing to Gaeta at triad was embarrassing; losing to Gaeta on a hand as low scoring as that was just pathetic. Maybe, Starbuck thought, she'd be able to turn it into a funny story someday. It was the kind of thing she could have laughed about with Lee --
No. Not going there.
"Pot's yours," she said to Gaeta, pushing the coins in the middle of the table in his direction. It wasn't as if any of them really won or lost anything, now that Colonial money was more or less worthless. The coins were just so many shiny octagonal tokens. "Buy yourself something special."
"Oh, good. I thought I'd missed the game." Kara looked up and saw Baltar standing in the door of the barracks room, grinning happily and looking like a man without a care in all the worlds. He held up a full bottle of ambrosia. "See, I bring a small offering to Hermes." He started looking around for a chair to drag over to the table.
"Here, Doc," Hot Dog said, getting up. "Swap with me. I need some time in the rack before I fall over." He was gone before Starbuck had time to remind him his next patrol was at 0600.
Baltar claimed Hot Dog's seat, hanging his jacket on its back as he sat down. Then, while Gaeta dealt the next round, he uncorked the ambrosia and refilled their glasses. Kara took a gulp -- frak, it was good stuff -- and shuffled the deck. She flicked the cards across the table, nine to each player. "You won the last round, Gaeta, so you get to call it."
"The Senior Officer of the Watch calls tridents high. Dealer's right starts. Crash, trade or play."
Crashdown dropped a five of shields on to the table. "Trade."
Starbuck checked her hand; she was holding the six. She lifted Crashdown's card and replaced it with the two of crescents. "How's the big project going?" she asked Baltar. "Haven't seen you around much the last while."
"I've been busy. As in, amazingly busy, no time to eat or sleep or draw breath busy."
"Mmmmm," Gaeta agreed. The difference between them, Kara noted, was that while Gaeta sounded exhausted, Baltar was almost bouncing up and down in his chair. Geniuses, apparently, got off on being really busy.
"Have we got ourselves a hotline to the Cylons yet?" she asked.
"Not yet. But I'm getting closer. Much closer, actually. The progress I've made, even in the last couple of days -- well, it's astonishing, even if I say so myself." It was Baltar's turn to trade, and he threw the one of tridents on to the table. Giving away a card from the high suit was either a sign he wasn't thinking about the game at all, or else he was gambling a lot on the two cards the rules allowed him to trade it for. "For example, it turns out there are real physiological differences between the structure of the human Cylons' brains and ours."
Gaeta looked interested -- or, at least, as interested as a man who hadn't gotten enough sleep in days could look. "What kind of differences?"
Baltar looked delighted to have been asked. "A section of the brain deep within the occipital lobes appears to be responsible for the link to the Cylon group mind. The structure is markedly different to that of a real human. In us, that's the region of the brain associated with dreaming. When the Cylons -- the original Cylons -- were created, no one thought to give them the ability to dream. I mean, why would they need it? What's fascinating is that even though they've learned to mimic the human brain in every other respect, it appears that they haven't been able to recreate dreaming. Instead they've adapted that area to fulfill a completely different function." He picked up two cards, hardly glancing at them. "Unfortunately, there's no way to prove the physiological difference without actually performing a dissection. When I cut into Lieutenant Valerii's brain I found --"
"Doc," Kara said. She looked at Baltar then, when she had his attention, flicked her eyes in Crashdown's direction and then back to Baltar.
"Ah," Baltar said, some of his manic enthusiasm at last draining away. "Yes, I, ah -- I'm sorry. This is still a very sensitive topic, of course."
"Frak, no, it's not sensitive. Why would you think that?" Crashdown asked. He looked up. "In fact, next time you've got the bitch's brain on the slab in front of you, Doc, make a couple of cuts in it just for me." He threw his cards down. "I fold." He got up and left the barrack room without another word.
"Ah," Baltar said again. "Oh dear. I --"
"Forget it. I'll talk to him later." It was her turn once more; Starbuck threw down a ten of crescents and drew a replacement from the top of the deck. It was the seven of tridents. Not bad. She refilled her glass from the ambrosia bottle. "Gaeta, you're up."
Gaeta looked at the cards he was holding and sighed. "Fold."
"Then I'm calling it. Let's see your cards, Doc."
Baltar smiled and laid out his hand. He had -- frak, he had a run of tridents. "My round, I believe."
"Lucky draw," Kara said.
"As it happens, no. I deduced from your trades what cards you were all holding, and used that information to calculate that the probability of the next two cards being high value tridents was excellent. Giving up one low value trident to win two wasn't a difficult decision to make."
She looked skeptically at him. "You were working that out in your head the whole time you were talking?"
"Well, no, not the whole time. I'd already finished when Lieutenant Gaeta here asked me about the physiological differences in the human Cylons' brains." He finished his drink and poured himself another generous measure. "I'm finding it much easier to concentrate lately."
He did seem a little different, Starbuck noticed -- a lot less twitchy than normal. "What'd you do, give up coffee?"
Baltar smiled, as if at some private joke. "Something like that."
Gaeta yawned, and squinted at his cards. "You know, when you can't focus clearly enough to see what's in your hand, it's time to give up. Good night, Doctor. Captain."
He stood up, and soon after Starbuck and Baltar were the only ones left in the half-lit barrack room. "Well, Captain," Baltar said, looking at Kara: "Are you ready to give up, too?"
"Not now and not ever."
He laughed. "I'll drink to that," he said, and raised his glass. "To never giving up."
She downed the measure, vaguely aware of the faint but definite buzzing sensation at the back of her head. A small part of her brain acknowledged she should have stopped after the second glass, but it was a shame to waste good liquor. "I wish I knew where you were getting your supply from."
Baltar swept the coins on the table out of the way. "Well, now, that sounded like a challenge. Shall we play for more interesting stakes?"
She raised an eyebrow. "The name of your supplier against...?"
"Oh, I don't know. Something indulgent and faintly illicit." He rested his chin on his hand and screwed up his eyes in an exaggerated parody of deep thought, making Kara laugh out loud. It felt good, like stretching cramped muscles after being in the cockpit for hours. Then Baltar sat up straight and stuck one finger straight up into the air, and she laughed even harder when he exclaimed, "I know! A ride in a Viper!"
It took a moment for her to catch her breath enough to speak. "You're a civilian. That's totally against regs."
Baltar grinned. "All the more reason to do it."
Kara couldn't disagree with that. She shuffled the deck of cards again, more sloppily this time, then began to deal -- nine cards each and nine more face up in the middle of the table. "One hand, sudden death. Three trades, crescents are high."
Baltar picked up his cards. "Game on."
In truth, she was a little bit too drunk to concentrate on what she was doing, and she knew it, but she didn't care. For days, her thoughts had weighed her down like ballast, heaping themselves around her like stones, until she felt she could hardly move at all. She was the most irresponsible person she knew, and somehow responsibility for the most important things had fallen suddenly to her. She was responsible for the lives of her pilots, for the safety of everyone in the Fleet, for not letting the old man down. And for keeping Lee's memory alive.
Sooner or later, she was going to screw up one of those responsibilities; the certainty of it filled her with terror. To think about something else -- even something as stupid as a card game, even for only a few short minutes -- was a relief and a release, and Kara was grabbing hold of it while she could.
"Done," she said, and set her closing hand of cards out on the table. It was a good hand: seven crescents and two spears. She grinned at him. "Just like life, you need a little bit of skill and a lot of luck."
"And a dash of genius," Baltar said, smiling back at her. He fanned his cards out in the center of the table. He had nine crescents. He stood up, putting his jacket back on with a flourish. "As agreed, I win one flight in a Viper."
"Gonna take a while to arrange that, Doc."
He made a mock bow. "At your earliest convenience, Captain."
Kara scooped up the cards and started to clear the table. Losing hadn't dampened her mood at all -- in fact, it had almost improved it. Sneaking one extra Viper launch on to the roster was going to be tricky but, frak, she was the CAG -- rank had to have some privileges. For the first time in too long, she actually had something to look forward to.
"Genius or not," she said as they left the barrack room together, "I still think you were just lucky tonight. You weren't that good before."
"Oh, I've always been that good," Baltar said. "It's just been a while since I lived up to my potential."
With hindsight, it was easy to see that he'd allowed himself to become jaded. He'd thought there was nothing new to know, or at least nothing interesting. How wrong he'd been! Now that he had reclaimed his mind as wholly his own, his thoughts were lucid, fluid and frequently inspired; it seemed that new ideas dropped into his head almost hourly, fully formed and flawless, each one more sophisticated than the last. The work he was doing was the best of his career; the insights he was gaining into the Cylons might provide the key to humanity's survival, and perhaps even its salvation. And he wanted -- no, more than that, he needed -- to tell other people about them.
He took his place at the front of the Galactica's main conference room, and waited until he had the full attention of his audience. The President and Commander Adama were concluding a low conversation, giving Baltar the opportunity to let his gaze rest on Captain Thrace. She was doodling on the notepad in front of her, and was unaware that she was being watched. There was something artless and unaffected about her which Baltar found utterly enchanting. Six had been a manufactured creation, as exact as an equation, every variable optimized in order to entrap him. Kara Thrace, on the other hand, was messy: foul-mouthed and rough-edged, as real as Six was fake. For the past several weeks, Baltar's mind had only rarely wandered from his work, but when it had, his thoughts had invariably been about Starbuck.
President Roslin finished her discussion with Adama and turned to him. "Sorry to keep you waiting, Doctor. Have you made any more progress?"
"A great deal, Madam President," Baltar said. "In fact, I believe I have a working solution for you."
"You will recall from my earlier briefings that the human Cylons appear to have an area of the brain located in the occipital lobes which differs from that of a real human being."
Roslin nodded. "You had a theory about that region being somehow sensitive to signals from the Cylon group consciousness."
Baltar nodded. "Yes. And, since then, I've been able to confirm that theory. We know the exact time at which Lieutenant Valerii was activated; when I searched the Galactica's scan records at that moment, I found one signal which was not coming from any ship in the Fleet. I now have an activation key for the human-Cylon sleeper agents." He started to pace up and down, slowly, as if he were delivering a keynote lecture. "The next problem was to understand precisely what occurs in the brain at activation. When we performed an analysis of the brain tissue from Lieutenant Valerii, we found high levels of neurotransmitters which do not match any found in humans. These neurotransmitters had been produced in the occipital lobe structure and, at the time of death, were quickly diffusing throughout the brain." He stopped pacing, and turned to face his audience. "In effect, her brain was being rewired from the bottom up."
Adama asked, "Have you tested the other Cylon for these neurotransmitters?"
Baltar nodded. "We took samples of its cerebrospinal fluid, and they were clear."
"So we can be certain it hasn't been activated," Roslin said.
"I believe we can," Baltar said. "Now, at the same time as these neurotransmitters were being released, a second set of compounds were acting to break down the chemical barriers between the occipital lobe structure and the rest of the brain." He picked up an eraser from the table in front of him and held it up for his audience to see. "Imagine, if you will, a tiny area of the brain which is sealed off from the rest. It is completely dormant, undetectable. But it's there, like a secret room in the center of the mind." He wrapped his hand around the eraser, making a fist which hid it from sight. "A simple signal is the key that unlocks the door. It flies open, releasing a flood of compounds which fundamentally alter the chemical structure of the brain and overwrite the existing personality. Not only that, but once the process is complete, the door stays open so that the conscious mind has access to what's inside the sealed-off area." He opened his fist so that it was flat, with the eraser lying exposed in the middle of his palm. "Which is --"
"-- a direct line of communication to the Cylon group consciousness," Adama finished.
Starbuck was frowning. "Okay, so you're saying the live Cylon we've got not only doesn't have access to this link, it doesn't even know it's there. How does that help us? If don't activate it, we can't get the intel. If we do activate it, the personality that wants to cooperate with us gets wiped before it can tell us anything."
"A very elegant summary of the dilemma, Captain," Baltar said. "You'll be pleased to know my solution is equally elegant. I've created a back door."
"How?" Adama asked.
"I've developed a process which neutralizes the neurotransmitters released on activation. The chemistry of the brain is unaltered, preserving the existing personality but giving the conscious mind access to the link." He smiled. "That's how we're going to get into the locked room."
"How will this process work?"
"By means of an implant, Madam President -- a small chip I've designed to monitor the levels of the activation neurotransmitters and counteract their effects." It wasn't a lie, more a selective interpretation of the truth. When he'd studied the implant he'd extracted from his own brain, he'd found it was capable of altering the brain's chemistry in every conceivable way -- that must have been how Six had ensured his hallucinations were so intensely vivid. Once he'd grasped the basic mechanism by which it worked, he'd been able to adapt it for his own purposes. The end product had a brilliant and innovative design; although anyone who'd seen the contents of the tiny glass phial currently resting in Baltar's pocket might have noticed distinct similarities. He intended that no one ever would. "We'll have to perform a small surgical procedure on the Cylon to insert the chip, but once that's done, there's nothing to stop us using it straight away."
Adama asked, "What could go wrong?"
"Any number of things," Baltar said. "The only way I have of testing if the chip works will be to put it into the Cylon's brain and turn it on. Nothing like this has been done before. It may simply kill the subject outright."
"No loss," Adama said. Both the President and Starbuck glanced at him, but he didn't seem to notice. "Assume it doesn't. What else?"
"It may be the case that the changes caused by the release of the neurotransmitters are necessary to allow the brain to process the information received via the link to the Cylon group consciousness," Baltar said. "By deliberately preventing those changes, we may deprive the brain of the tools it needs to make sense of the data suddenly being pumped into it, placing the subject's mind under a huge amount of stress."
"Then we need to make sure we get as much useful intel out of it as we can, as quickly as possible," Adama said. He paused, and Baltar had the impression he was weighing something. Then he turned to Starbuck and said, "Captain, if this works, I want you to be the one to debrief it."
She looked at him, obviously surprised and, Baltar thought, a little thrown. Before she could respond, though, Roslin said, "Captain Thrace, you were close friends with Lee, weren't you?"
"Yes," Starbuck said. Her voice wasn't loud, but it was steady. "We were friends."
"Madam President," Adama said shortly, "If you are questioning the ability of my officer to do her job --"
"Not at all, Commander. But is there really no one else who could do this for whom the situation wouldn't be so --" Roslin hesitated, apparently searching for the best phrasing: "-- so emotionally testing?"
Adama said, "It's because she was his friend that she's the one who should do it." He was talking to the President, Baltar saw, but looking at Kara. "If the Cylon lies to us, or tries to feed us false intel, she's the one who'll spot it. It won't be able to fool her. Am I right, Starbuck?"
She raised her chin. "Damn straight, sir."
Adama looked back at President Roslin, and nodded. "Captain Thrace will conduct the debriefs."
Roslin didn't look happy, but apparently she wasn't prepared to take the argument any further. "The decision is, of course, a military one, Commander. I'm sure your judgment is best." She turned to Baltar. "How soon can the chip be implanted?"
"It can be done today, if you want."
Roslin looked around the room. "I don't see any point in delaying. If we're going to try this, let's do it."
Outside the conference room, Baltar tried to catch a moment alone with Starbuck, but before he could attract her attention she was gone, walking away along the corridor at speed, her head down and her expression unreadable.
One of the things they tested you for before they let you in a Viper -- as well as reaction speeds and physical fitness and ability to function under stress -- was something the instructors called the 'stimuli threshold'. It referred to the pilot's ability to perceive, categorize and respond to the immense number of different inputs the brain had to process in order to fly a plane in combat. At any given moment, the theory went, you had to be aware of a thousand factors including roll, pitch, yaw, speed, weapons status, the relative positions of any number of enemy combatants -- and then, on top of that, you had to be able to judge how those thousand factors impacted each other and make split second decisions based on them on which your life depended. And if you were the squadron leader, you had to do all of that for six other people at the same time as for yourself.
They measured the stimuli threshold on a scale of zero to eighty, where forty was where bell curve peaked for the population as a whole. The minimum entry requirement for Basic Flight was a score of sixty-five. Lee's rating had been seventy-four, only two points less than the top score for his intake. That, of course, had belonged to Kara.
He wasn't Lee, but he was as perfect a copy as it was possible to be; the fact that he'd been flying in combat for the past six weeks without getting himself killed was proof that he must have the dead man's abilities as well as his memories.
So he should be able to handle this.
Except that he was starting to think maybe he couldn't.
He'd known he was in trouble almost the second he'd woken up in the infirmary after the operation to insert the chip in his brain. As consciousness returned, it brought something else with it -- something he'd been totally unprepared for. He'd imagined that the link to the Cylon group mind would be a comprehensive, organized stream of information from which he could selectively choose, like fishing from a river. Instead, it was a torrent that flooded every corner of his mind, squeezing out other thoughts and making it impossible to concentrate on even the simplest tasks. And there was no order to it, no way of usefully categorizing or understanding the vast quantities of mostly incomprehensible data which were rapidly filling up his head. The more he tried to grapple with it, the deeper he was drawn in, and the more he felt he was losing himself, slipping under. If he didn't find a way of controlling it, and soon, he was afraid he might start to drown.
He hadn't shared any of his doubts with Baltar, or anyone else for that matter. If the implant didn't work -- if he couldn't extract useful intel from it -- then he was no longer of any value to them alive. The first debrief had to go well; if it didn't, he wouldn't get a second chance.
Which was why, when Kara walked into the interrogation room scowling, he wished they'd sent just about anyone else to talk to him.
She sat down across the table from him. "Baltar says the chip in your head's working like a dream."
It was hard to concentrate on what she was saying, and harder still to formulate a response. "Yes. It's working."
"Then let's get started. First question. Who are the other Cylon agents in the Fleet?"
The answer had to be somewhere in the datastream from the link -- if he could just think clearly enough to figure out how to find it. He closed his eyes, shutting out the real world, and cautiously immersed himself in the barrage of information. He no longer felt the chair underneath him, or the table his arms rested on, or even the sound of his own breathing.
It was like making a dive deep underwater; the further down he went, the greater the pressure on him became, until he felt as if he was about to be crushed by the weight of data pushing at him from all sides. He found what he was looking for buried in a tide of binary code and something that might have been navigation data, and grabbed hold of it before it could rush past. Now all he needed to do was get back again, but when he looked for the light above which would tell him where the surface was, he couldn't find it: the sea of data was preventing him from connecting again with the real world. Then, just as the first strands of panic were starting to form, he heard something -- a clicking sound, somewhere close. He followed it until he was back in the interrogation room.
Kara was leaning across the table, snapping her fingers repeatedly in front of his face. "Well?" she said. "I'm waiting, here."
He was still disoriented, and it was even harder than it had been before to ignore the barrage of information from the link and concentrate on talking. "No others. Just Boomer. And me."
She looked skeptical. "I hope for your sake you're not lying."
"I'm not lying."
"Next question. I want to know the positions of every Cylon base-ship and outpost within fifty light years of the Fleet's current location."
The datastream from the link pounded through his head. He was mentally exhausted, and he wasn't sure he'd have the strength to extract himself from it a second time. "I need to take a break."
"Sorry, but I've got other things to do today. Answer now."
He tried to explain. "There's too much information, and I don't know -- I don't know how to make sense of it. Kara --"
She cut him off. "Let's get a couple of things straight. In the first place, I don't frakking care how difficult this is for you, so don't waste my time telling me. In the second place, my name is Captain Thrace. You will address me as 'Captain' or 'sir'. Are we clear?"
"We're clear, what?"
"We're clear, sir." His head hurt, and he could hardly think. "Tell me, is this making you feel better?"
"Answer the question."
He ignored her. "Because I get that you're angry, but if you want to punish me, there's not a lot left for you to do. I've already lost everything I ever cared about. Nothing I am belongs to me. I don't even have a name anymore."
"Spare me," Kara said. "My friend is dead, and you're whining about your identity issues."
"I didn't kill him."
"He's still dead." Her voice caught a little on the last word. It was barely noticeable, and he doubted anyone who didn't know her well would have picked it up, but he did know her, even if it was only through memories stolen from someone else. For an instant, he could only see Kara, raw and hurting. He'd only seen her hurt like that once before, when Zak had died. It hit him that she was grieving for him, and that he was seeing something no one ever should -- the mess left behind by his own death.
"I'm sorry," he said, meaning it.
Whatever reaction he'd expected, it wasn't the one he got. Starbuck got up, drew her arm back and hit him square in the jaw. He wasn't ready for it, and so his head cracked back with whiplash speed. For a second afterward, one whole side of his face was numb. Then, slowly, sensation returned, bringing sharp pain just below his ear and the taste of blood in his mouth.
When he could focus, he saw Kara was sitting down again. She was rubbing the knuckles of her right hand with the fingers of her left, but otherwise she was perfectly still. "You want to know what makes me feel better? That." She leaned forward. "Now answer the frakking question."
His face throbbed, but the pain at least provided a distraction from the constant thunder of the datastream from the link. And he'd succeeded in delaying his next immersion in it by a couple of precious minutes.
He turned his thoughts inward again, reluctantly facing the torrent again. This time, the information took longer to retrieve, and it was harder to come up again, even with the physical pain from Kara's punch acting as his anchor to reality.
Speaking was difficult, too, and not just because he had to stop to spit blood several times. When he'd finished relaying a list of the co-ordinates of the nearest Cylon base ships, he said, "I can't do anymore. Not now. Later." He swallowed, the blood creating an unpleasant metallic taste in his mouth. "Please."
Kara looked him up and down, as if appraising his condition. "We'll start again in an hour. Until then, you can spend some quality time catching up on all the news from your cousins back home. You'll enjoy that, right?"
He was too tired and too distracted to do anything except respond with the truth. "No, I won't. It's like being screamed at by a million people at once. And it doesn't stop."
Her expression was unsympathetic. "Too bad it's your only way of staying alive."
"It's my only way of staying me," he said. "The chip means they can't switch me on, like they did to Sharon. I'm not Number Twelve. I won't be."
"I've got bad news for you," Kara said as she got up to leave. "You already are."
From the cockpit of a Viper, everything was so much clearer.
Starbuck eased the plane into a smooth arc, looping it around the Fleet's outer perimeter. From out here, most of the Fleet was visible, the ragtag collection of ships bunched together around the Galactica, as if sheltering in her wake. The nearest ship was the Libran Intersun Space Park, its massive outer ring revolving slowly around the central shaft that housed its engines. Kara altered the Viper's path to bring it closer and said, over her shoulder, "Is it living up to expectations so far, Doc?"
"It's exceeding them." Baltar was sitting close behind her, in the cramped space created by removing the emergency ejection 'chute. Vipers were designed for one, but every pilot knew how to make enough space for a passenger if they had to; it was even pretty comfortable, if you didn't mind getting a little intimate with the other person. Baltar's hands were resting on Kara's hips, purely because there was nowhere else he could put them, and even through the air filters she was aware of his scent. He smelled like good cologne and the musty sweetness of fine cigars. "I can see why you enjoy this so much," he said.
"I like being in control. Everywhere else, you have to live by other people's rules, but out here -- it's just you and your ship. Nothing else matters. It's simple."
"How did you manage to arrange this, anyway?"
"This Viper's been out of action for a couple of days with thruster problems. I told the Chief I'd take her out for the test flight."
"And no one will be able to tell I came along for the ride?"
"There'll be a couple of weird things in the patrol stats, but only the CAG looks at those in detail. I'll make sure I get the report from Gaeta as soon as he has it tomorrow." She gripped the control column more tightly. "Brace yourself."
"For what --" Baltar started to ask. Starbuck didn't answer; instead, she powered up the thrusters, and accelerated the Viper straight toward the Intersun Space Park. She heard him make a small strangled noise behind her, and she grinned. Then she touched the steering column and dipped the Viper's nose, so that instead of smashing into the outer ring, it darted between the spokes attaching the ring to the central shaft.
As they burst out into open space on the other side of the Space Park, Baltar let out a whoop. "That was fantastic! Can we do it again?"
Starbuck laughed. "Not today. Time to head for home. I've got a debrief in twenty minutes." The thought sobered her, and killed her good mood. She wished she could screw the debrief, and just stay out here, flying, until they had to send someone to come and get her.
But she couldn't do that; she was the CAG, and she had responsibilities.
She twisted the Viper's control column, and started to bring the ship around toward the Galactica's hangar bay.
"Thank you, sir." Starbuck started to move toward the chair in front of Laura's desk, but Laura gently nodded at the more informal seating next to the stateroom's window. She wanted to put the Captain at her ease -- and apparently, she had her work cut out for her, since Starbuck scarcely looked more relaxed sitting down than when she'd been standing to attention. She looked wound up, Laura thought, coiled tightly in on herself, like a rag twisted around and around until it spiraled into a hard knot.
She took the seat opposite Starbuck, and moved it round a little so that it she wasn't directly facing the younger woman. "I wanted to speak to you because I'm having trouble understanding something, and I thought you could explain it to me."
"I'll try, Madam President."
Laura took off her glasses. "How are the debriefing sessions going?"
Starbuck sat up in the chair. Her hands were resting together in her lap, the fingers laced together. The pose looked relaxed, until Laura noticed that her knuckles were white with the pressure she was putting on them. "They're going well. We're getting a lot of good intel."
"Yes. I've been reading your reports." Laura paused. "I've also been reading Doctor Cottle's reports on the Cylon's overall physical and mental condition. He's expressed some concerns that it's deteriorating rapidly. Since your briefings don't mention that, I was wondering what your impressions have been."
"I was asked to report on intel gathered only," Starbuck said. Her tone was defensive.
"Yes, I understand that. But you've spent more time with it than anyone else since the chip was implanted. You must have an opinion."
Starbuck didn't answer for a second. Then she said, "It finds using the link... difficult. And it seems to be getting harder for it to cope, not easier." Laura had the impression she was choosing her words with great care.
"Is it still able to give us the information we want?" Laura asked.
Again, there was a lengthy pause. "Yes. For now."
"But there's going to come a point where it can't anymore," Laura said. Starbuck didn't answer, but the look on her face was confirmation enough. "I spoke to Doctor Baltar about this, and he felt that it bore out his initial concerns about the impact on the Cylon of activating the link. I asked him to look into ways of making the implant more efficient, and he told me it should be possible to alter the chip so that we could choose whether it allowed or blocked the signals that send this information to the Cylon's brain."
"You mean --" Starbuck frowned. "We could turn the link on and off."
Laura smiled. "Exactly." She leaned forward slightly. "Doctor Baltar says the change is not a difficult one to make. But Commander Adama rejected the idea outright."
The frown deepened. "Why?"
"That's what I was hoping you could help me with, Captain," Laura said. "Before all this happened, I'd had very little contact with the military. I don't pretend to have much expertise in tactics. But it seems to me that if you find a source of reliable information, you do everything you can to hold on to it. That's not just good strategy, it's common sense. Do you agree?"
"Yeah, I mean -- of course," Starbuck said. She looked preoccupied and suddenly uncertain.
"The question of jurisdiction is -- a little gray here," Laura said. "The Cylon is a military prisoner in military custody. The information it has, however, is vital to the survival of every single person in the Fleet. I'm sure the Commander understands that."
Starbuck's expression remained confused for a moment. Then, abruptly, it cleared, and she lifted her chin and looked right at Laura. "If he said no, he must've had his reasons."
"But not reasons he's shared with you," Laura said pointedly. "Or me, or anyone else."
Starbuck was silent.
Laura pressed home her advantage. "And, if the medical reports are correct, before very long we're going to lose the best source of information we've got because of those reasons."
Starbuck shook her head. "No. Commander Adama wouldn't do that. He wouldn't let losing Lee affect his judgment like that. He just -- wouldn't, and if you're suggesting it you don't know him at all."
"I'm suggesting no such thing, Captain," Laura said. She looked at Starbuck. "Maybe you should think about why you are."
Rule two. Not 'him': 'it'.
If she kept those two simple rules, Kara thought, she'd be fine.
Debriefing the Cylon should have been easy. She'd been trained in interrogation techniques, and the first thing she'd been taught had been how to depersonalize the subject. Come on in, please check your empathy at the door. She'd thought she'd mastered the skill, too -- but then Leoben had gotten under her skin in ways she still hadn't figured out. And Leoben hadn't even had the advantage of looking and sounding exactly like her dead best friend.
Raw anger had carried her through her first face-to-face encounters with it. She'd been furious then: furious at Boomer for betraying them, at herself for being fooled again by a traitor, at the old man for sending her to talk to it instead of going himself. But the person she'd been -- and still was -- most angry at was Lee. The crazy thing was, she wasn't even sure if the Lee she was mad at was the real one, for dying, or the Cylon, for not being real. Maybe it didn't even matter, because it boiled down to the same thing, regardless. Both of them had gone away and left her alone to deal with all this shit by herself.
But she didn't know how long she could stay angry, because no matter how hard she tried to hate it, there was one thing she couldn't make go away. The Cylon was Lee. Not just a good copy; it was him.
And the more time she spent with it, the harder it was to convince herself otherwise.
The Cylon was sitting in the chair at the interrogation room's single table. As Kara sat down opposite it, she couldn't help noticing that there were dark shadows under its eyes, and its skin was pale and clammy. It wasn't sitting up straight in the chair, but was slumped sideways a little -- and that looked really weird, because Lee had never slouched. When she looked down at its hands, bound together at the wrists and resting on the table top, she saw they were shaking.
"Today's topic will be technical specs of the base ships," she said. "Capabilities, internal layout, defenses, weak spots, you know the drill."
The Cylon looked at her; she was close enough to see its dilated pupils contract sluggishly. It seemed to be having trouble focusing on her, and when it spoke, there were overlong pauses between its words and sentences. The effect was to make it look like a drunk trying to pass for sober. "They have... fifteen base stars. All with high yield nuclear ordnance. Raiders are launched from the external service pods."
"Tell me about the nukes."
"Seven hundred warheads... maybe more. Ten warheads per missile... Most of them are three hundred kiloton yield... upgradeable to five hundred kilotons by adding HEU rings." The Cylon stopped for a moment, hunched forward in the chair. Its face -- Lee's face -- was contorted with the effort of talking. "Some short range attack missiles... beryllium casing, fifty or a hundred kilotons."
"Do they have manufacturing facilities on board?"
A long pause, then: "...I think... I think so. Yes."
"Where do they get the uranium from?"
The Cylon closed its eyes.
"Look at me."
Its chin started to drop on to its chest.
"Look at me," she said again, more forcefully. The Cylon raised its head, although slowly. "That's better. Try to stay awake when I'm talking to you. I'm gonna ask you again: Where does the uranium for the nukes come from? Do they process ore, or do they have to go back somewhere to re-supply?"
"I can't," it said in a low, hoarse voice. "I thought I could do this... but I can't. It's too much. It just... goes on and on and on... and I can't think, I'm drowning in it, I can't make it stop, I can't..."
He looked so much like Lee.
It, she told herself savagely. It. The Cylon. It. It.
"Where," she repeated, "does the uranium come from?"
"Go away," it said.
"First tell me where they get the uranium from."
"Go away," the Cylon said again, and Kara realized it wasn't talking to her at all. Its gaze was fixed on a point somewhere behind her right shoulder. When it looked back at her, its expression was pleading. "Tell him to go away. He'll listen to you."
"Tell who to go away?"
It lowered its voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Zak. I've told him he shouldn't be here, but he won't leave me alone."
A chill ran up Kara's spine. It took an effort of will not to look behind her at the corner of the room the Cylon was staring at. "Zak's not here," she said. "He's dead. You know that."
"I'm dead and I'm still here." It started to giggle, shaking so much with laughter that the chains between its wrists rattled, ghost-like. "That's funny, isn't it? Really funny."
Starbuck closed her eyes. She opened them again. It wasn't Lee. It was just something that looked like him. Number Twelve.
"Where does the uranium come from?" she asked again. Every word felt like something was being ripped out of her chest.
The laughter changed, becoming lower and more raw, and she realized the Cylon had started to cry. Its cheeks were wet, but it didn't even seem to have noticed.
"Help me, Kara."
Had Lee called out for help, when he was slowly starving to death alone? Had he called her name over and over, and only stopped when dehydration made his lips and tongue swell up so much that talking was impossible? She could see him clearly in her mind's eye, curled up in that rotting place, losing strength, losing hope, and finally losing his faith in her. If she'd known -- if she'd been there to help him -- everything would have been different. She couldn't have known, but that didn't make her feel any less guilty. She'd called herself his friend, and she'd failed him.
And now she was failing him again.
"Where," she whispered. She stopped. She tried again. "Where. Where does -- where does the --"
"Kara, help me, please," it said.
It. Him. Lee.
I thought I could do this, but I can't.
Kara got up and walked out. The door slammed behind her, and her boots tapped against the metal floor as she walked quickly down the corridor. She passed the guards on duty outside the interrogation room, and a couple of techs performing routine maintenance on a service duct, and then she came to an empty storeroom. She went in and closed the door behind her.
She turned around and leaned against the inside of the door. Then she let her legs slowly fold under her, until she was squatting against it, her forehead resting on the cold metal. Wrapping her arms around herself, she wept until her chest and throat hurt.
"I need yesterday's patrol stats."
Cortez started to look through the pile of papers stacked at the side of his station. "I'm sorry, Captain, I don't seem to have the report... Gaeta didn't mention it at the handover."
"Because he didn't need to. I've got it."
Starbuck turned around; Tigh was standing behind her, holding the patrol stats report in his hand. The last thing she was in the mood for after the debrief was any kind of encounter with the XO. She made a conscious effort to alter her expression to something which, if not exactly pleasant, at least fell short of being openly hostile. Looking pointedly at the sheets of paper, she said, "I'll take that."
"Your diligence is commendable, Captain. It's good to see the new CAG taking an interest in the efficient running of the ship."
Cortez' eyes were flicking between Starbuck and Tigh. He could clearly see something was up, but couldn't figure out what it was. Kara was starting to get the nasty suspicion she did know. "I'm just doing my job," she said. She held out her hand. "Now please give me my report. Sir."
Tigh smiled and held it out. Then, as she reached for it, he frowned as if he'd just remembered something and pulled his hand back. "You know, now I've got you here, there's something I meant to ask you about." He turned the page around, tapping his finger against the fuel consumption table to draw her attention to it. "Here it is. Viper five's fuel consumption ratio was three-point-nine during its flight. That's very high, isn't it?"
"Viper five's been out for a couple of days. The rear thruster failed and had to be repaired. It's probably still drawing too much fuel."
"I see," Tigh said. He checked the report again. "According to this, you were piloting that Viper yesterday. You didn't report any more thruster problems following the repairs."
He looked at her. Starbuck met his gaze, and held it. "I didn't notice anything."
"Odd, that. For someone
with as good a feel for Vipers as you have... just not to notice."
"Good idea," Tigh said. He handed her the report, and Starbuck turned to go. "By the way," he added.
She stopped. Turned around again.
"You don't happen to know where Doctor Baltar was between fifteen hundred and sixteen hundred yesterday? The President wanted to speak to him, and we couldn't find him anywhere."
"I wouldn't know. I was taking Viper five for a test flight," Kara said. She held up the report. "Like it says right here."
"Of course you were. Of course." Tigh paused. "You know, that fuel consumption ratio's about twice as high as it should be. It's almost as if that Viper had a passenger."
She could have walked away. She should have walked away.
You can't swallow it and shut up when you should, the old man had told her. And he'd been right.
"What are you implying, Colonel?" she snapped. "Because I think you should just come out and say it."
Tigh held up his hands, feigning innocence. "Not a thing, Captain. I'm certainly not implying that the Commander of the Air Group would do anything as ill-considered as take a civilian out in a Viper for the hell of it. Because that would be irresponsible and reckless, and anyone who did it wouldn't deserve to hold the rank they did."
Without really noticing what she was doing, Kara had taken a step closer to Tigh. "I'm the CAG. You might wish I wasn't, but that's your problem. Stop frakking undermining me."
Tigh smiled. "I don't need to undermine you when you're doing such a good job of undermining yourself."
There was a knot of tension between her shoulder blades. She could feel it, a solid mass of anger and frustration lodged just where she couldn't reach it, and she was suddenly aware that it hadn't been there for hours or days but for weeks. And nothing would release it as quickly or as satisfyingly as pulling back her arm and socking Tigh in the jaw.
He was still smiling at her.
And then she realized that was what she was supposed to do here.
She was supposed to hit him again; that was how this confrontation played out. Only this time, she wasn't a lieutenant, she was the CAG, and there was more at stake than just her career. She'd been afraid of letting someone down, and now she realized the only person she really had to worry about letting down was herself. And she could choose not to do that.
"What the hell is going on here?"
The roar belonged to Commander Adama. With a jolt, Kara realized she and Tigh were standing almost toe to toe, in open confrontation in the middle of the CIC.
"At attention, both of you!"
Kara spun around and snapped to attention. Tigh did the same. Adama was advancing toward them, wearing a look of absolute fury. Everyone else in the command center was doing their level best to pretend nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Lieutenant Cortez looked as if he'd prefer to be just about anywhere, including stuck in the crossfire of a Cylon attack, rather than where he was.
"Tigh," Adama barked. "Explain. Now."
Tigh glanced sideways at Starbuck before replying. "Captain Thrace and I were reviewing yesterday's Viper patrol stats."
"Yes, Commander. That's what we were doing."
Adama looked at her, then at Tigh. "You. Stay here." He pointed at Starbuck. "You. With me."
Kara followed him across the CIC and into the Command Observation Room. Since it was nightshift, the COR stations were unmanned, and they were the only people in the room. As soon as Kara was inside, Adama pulled the door shut, closing out the hum of returning conversation in the CIC.
"Now tell me what that was really about," he said.
"Colonel Tigh implied that I broke regulations by taking a civilian out in a Viper."
There was no point in lying about it; Adama would be able to draw the same conclusions from the patrol stats and Baltar's mysterious hour-long disappearance the previous day that Tigh had. "Yes, sir."
"Why?" Adama asked, his tone steely.
There were a lot of possible answers to that, ranging from 'I was drunk when I agreed' to 'I needed an excuse to fly something before I took a gun and started picking off people on the hangar deck just to relieve the stress'. Kara decided to go for the one which was most honest and least revealing. "It seemed like a good idea at the time, sir."
Adama repeated heavily, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
The COR had glass walls, to allow the observation room personnel a clear view of what was happening in the rest of the command center. Right now, however, all observation was in the other direction; Kara could see, in the periphery of her vision, every pair of eyes in the CIC watching them.
"You," Adama said quietly, "are the CAG. You are responsible for the defense of this ship and of the Fleet. Those forty seven other ships out there are all we have left. If we die, everything we were and are and could be dies with us. Do you understand how important your job is?"
Kara closed her eyes for a moment. "Yes, sir."
"Do you understand!" Adama shouted.
"Yes, sir. I understand, sir," Starbuck rapped out. She hesitated. "I'm doing a good job, sir."
"That's not enough. You have to be seen to be doing it well. You can't screw up, because it will be noticed, and it will reflect badly on you." He walked slowly up the COR, stopping at the far window to look out over the command center. At least a dozen personnel hurriedly turned their attention back to their workstations. "It reflects badly on me, too, because my judgment put you where you are. And I can't afford to have my judgment called into question. I can't have that," he repeated, in a voice which was so low she suspected the last comment had been mostly to himself.
But wasn't his judgment already in question? President Roslin was questioning it. Ever since she'd talked to the President, Kara had found it increasingly difficult to ignore the uncomfortable truths crystallizing in her own mind. And now she couldn't stop thinking about that evening's debrief, and the way the Cylon had looked at her, pleading, desperate, slipping under right in front of her as she watched and did nothing to help him.
Kara, help me, please.
I thought I could do this, but I can't.
"I was wrong," she said. "I'm sorry. My judgment was compromised."
Adama turned around. He nodded, accepting her apology.
Kara took a breath and went on, "So is yours."
He looked at her, as if he couldn't quite believe what he'd just heard. In an icy voice, he said, "Care to repeat that, Captain?"
"What you're doing to the Cylon is wrong," she said. "You want to make him suffer and if you have to choose between that and intel that might save all of us, you'll stand by and watch while he goes insane." The words were tumbling out, now, as the pressure of pent-up emotion became too great and everything she had been refusing to admit forced its way out into the open. "But you're not even gonna watch, because you won't deal with the fact he exists -- you haven't been in the same room as him since we found out. So you're gonna make me watch instead, and I won't do that. It's not in my job description."
"Nothing is more important than our survival. If we have to destroy the Cylon to extract the intel from it, then that's a fair price. And the call is not yours to make, Captain."
"Fine," she snapped back, "except that we don't have to destroy it, do we? Baltar could fix the implant, but you won't let him. Because there is something more important to you than our survival -- getting your revenge."
His voice very low, and very dangerous, Adama said, "Get out."
He'd told her to get out once before, when she'd confessed to him how her bad judgment had cost Zak his life. She'd been wrong then, and guilty, and she'd gotten out. This time she was right, and she wasn't budging an inch.
"No," she said. "You are wrong. And no one else --"
"Get out," he repeated, his voice becoming louder.
She plowed on: "-- And no one else is gonna say that to your face --"
"-- Not Tigh or the President or anybody else and the only person who might've is going crazy because of what you're doing to him!"
"It is not a person! It's a thing!" Adama yelled. He swiped up a coffee cup which was sitting on the edge of a workstation and hurled it at the window. The cup shattered, making the whole window vibrate.
The sudden, violent explosion of ceramic shards and cold coffee dregs seemed to halt his rage. He looked down at his hands, as if doubting what they'd just done. For a moment, the look on his face was one of confusion, and she saw how deeply etched the lines of tiredness and grief around his eyes were. With a shock, Kara suddenly saw that an old man was exactly what he was. She'd often referred to him that way, but she'd never seen it in him before.
"They killed my son," he said. His voice was quiet, broken.
"They killed fifty billion other people, too," she said. "Do you want revenge for all of them as well? Because that's gonna take a couple more lifetimes than we've got."
Adama sat down in the empty chair at the nearest workstation. He leaned forward, putting his head in his hands and letting his whole body slump. Kara glanced out of the COR windows just long enough to see they hadn't lost any of their audience, and changed her position so that she was blocking the Commander from the view of as many of the onlookers down in the command center as possible. They shouldn't see him like this. She wished she didn't have to see him like this.
"It's not Lee," he said.
"Maybe he isn't. Maybe he is. I don't know anymore. But, I can't get this one thought out of my head -- what would Lee, the real Lee, think of us if he could see what we're doing? I'm betting he wouldn't be too impressed." She moved closer to him, and hunkered down in front of him so that she could look up into his face. Quietly, she said, "I will follow your orders, but I have to respect them. I have to respect you. So I will do this, if you order it, but only if you go down there and see for yourself what we're doing to him. And if you can do that, and come back and tell me what we're doing is okay, then I'm okay with it too."
"Leave me," Adama said. "Please."
Not an order; a request. Maybe even a plea.
She needed something tangible; praying had always been difficult for her. It required focus and serenity and, outside of the cockpit of a Viper, Starbuck found both those states difficult to achieve at the best of times. Tonight was not the best of times. She held the twin icons, one in each hand, and tried to concentrate, but couldn't. Every time she started, she barely got past 'Lords of Kobol, hear my prayer' before her thoughts began to buzz and race in her head, distracting her and making it impossible to center herself. Maybe, she thought with a grim little smile, this was payback from the gods, giving her a taste of what the Cylon -- what Lee -- was going through.
Eventually she gave up and put the icons away again. Then she left the pilots' dorms and went walking, pacing the Galactica's hallways with no thought of where she was going. If she could keep her body occupied, maybe her mind would be clearer.
She didn't realize she was heading toward Baltar's quarters until she was standing outside his door. She knocked, thinking he probably wasn't in anyway. But the door opened almost straight away.
"Captain." He smiled, apparently genuinely pleased to see her. "Good evening."
"Tigh's figured out about our expedition," Kara told him. "He can't prove anything, but you might want to come up with a good reason why no one could find you on the ship yesterday afternoon."
"I see." Baltar frowned. "I hope I didn't get you into any trouble."
Suddenly Kara felt very tired. "In the grand scheme of things, Doc, Tigh's the least of my problems."
He was looking at her more closely now. "Is everything all right?"
She closed her eyes for a second. "No. Actually, no, nothing's right, at all, and I need a drink."
He opened the door and stood back, a clear invitation to enter. "Then you'd better come in."
His quarters were a mess, with books lying open and sheets of scrawled notes on every available surface, including the floor. The single chair was stacked high with what looked to Starbuck like textbooks, so she sat down on the end of the bed while Baltar retrieved a bottle of ambrosia and two glasses from the back of a cupboard. "It's not as disorganized as it looks," he said, noticing her eyeing the room.
"Well, it looks really, really disorganized."
Baltar laughed and pointed at several piles of paper next to the door. "That's network theory. Everything on the other side of the bed relates to the historical development of the Cylons, and this side of the bed is anything I could find written about them in the last forty years." Kara looked; the pile he was pointing to was noticeably the smallest in the room. "Pitiful, isn't it?" Baltar said. "We created the problem and then ignored it completely."
"Is this how you always do your filing?"
He smiled. "It means I rarely cross the room without having a new idea." He handed her a full glass and watched as she chugged half of it back in one go. "My. You did need a drink, didn't you?"
She held out the glass for a refill. "Keep 'em coming."
Baltar obliged, then sat down beside her on the bed. Apropos of nothing, he said suddenly, "His name is Marcus Oban, on the Tarsus Pride. He owned a business exporting fine wines; when the attacks happened, he was on his way to a trade show with a large selection of merchandise."
"That's your source," she said, realizing what he was talking about.
He nodded. "Consider it -- recompense for any inconvenience suffered on my account."
He held up his glass, and she chinked her own against it and said, "Kara."
The alcohol was beginning to take effect, but it wasn't dulling her thoughts as much as she would have liked it to. She wasn't alone in her head; Lee and Adama and Roslin and Tigh were in there with her, all shouting at her with different voices, demanding her loyalty, asking her to take responsibility for messes she hadn't created. The knot of tension between her shoulder blades was still there, like an itch she couldn't reach to scratch. And now, on top of everything else, there was a kind of tautness in her, like a cord that stretched up from between her legs all the way to her brain and was pulling tighter and tighter every time her arm brushed against Baltar's as they sat side by side on the bed.
Well, at least she could do something about that last one.
She finished her drink -- third or fourth? She'd lost count -- and put the glass down on the floor, on top of a pile of books. Putting her hand on his cheek, she drew him round so that he was facing her. Then, before he could react, she leaned in and kissed him, pressing her lips against his, pushing her tongue into his mouth, tasting him, owning him.
He exhaled, and she felt his breath rush into her, sweet and heavy with ambrosia fumes. When the kiss ended, he blinked, and then his grin widened. "Not shy, are you?"
"I like being in control."
She got up and moved around, so that instead of sitting beside him, she was straddling him. Then she pushed him back on to the bed. Now he was on his back, looking up at her, and she was on top of him, her knees on either side of his hips. Catching his wrists, one in each hand, she pinned them down above his head. Baltar laughed. "Is this how you subdue your prisoners in the military, Captain?"
"If they're lucky." She let go of his wrists and shucked off her uniform jacket. Then she pulled the tee she was wearing underneath it over her head and discarded it, and finally she reached behind her back and unhooked her bra. Now she was bare on top, but still fully dressed from the waist down. She looked down at Baltar looking up at her, and took a moment to enjoy the effect her nakedness was having on him. His eyes roved over her, and she saw him taking in her shoulders -- broad, for a woman -- her arms, toned from daily workouts, and her breasts. She raised her hands and touched them, letting her fingers caress the nipples until she felt them rising and hardening. Baltar was breathing more heavily, and his gaze was fixed on her circling fingertips.
"You are so real," he said, breathless and full of wonder. "So completely real."
Kara didn't know what he meant and she didn't much care either. She leaned down, dipping her body low enough that her breasts rubbed against the fabric of his shirt. It felt good, better than good, and she did it again, making a low sound in her throat. In this position, her thighs split right above his crotch, and she could feel him swelling under her. She pushed down, pressing herself into his hardness. That felt good, too.
"This," she said, tugging at his shirt's top buttons: "Off. Now." She pulled open his shirt, exposing his chest. He was slim, almost wiry; not really her type, but she wasn't in the mood to be choosy. She lowered her head and, starting down at his navel, dragged her tongue all the way up to his throat. He shuddered underneath her, squirming with pleasure, and when he laughed the vibrations passed up and into her.
He reached down and started pulling at the waistband of her uniform pants. Kara straightened up and leaned back so she was sitting up again, and let him unhook the belt and take down the zipper. He slipped his hand into the dark space between her legs and used his fingers to explore her. Easing herself forward, she helped him to find his way in, and when she felt him touch her inside, she thought the cord down her center was going to snap, it was pulled so frakking tight.
Baltar was moving his hips under her, pushing as if it wasn't his fingers inside her, and she was ready, she was so ready. But in her head Lee pleaded, Tigh leered, Roslin insinuated and the old man raged. They still wouldn't leave her alone.
She took hold of Baltar's wrist and pulled his hand back. The sudden absence of stimulation made her body ache with the need for it, but there was some necessary business to dispense with first. For a start, neither of them could finish undressing in this position. She rolled off him, on to the other side of the bed, and kicked off her pants and the gray standard-issue panties she was wearing underneath.
She was about to move back on to him, but he was faster, and suddenly their positions were reversed, with Baltar on top of her. "Who's in control now?" he asked, grinning wolfishly.
Looking down the space between their bodies, she saw his erection and grinned back at him. "Still me, looks like."
He started to lower himself, angling his body to enter her, but before he could Kara reached down and took hold of his cock. It filled her hand, hot against her palm. Baltar let out a gasp and froze, unable to get closer or move away. "I don't wanna think," she told him. "Make it so I don't have to."
She let go of him, and he slid into her. Immediately the rush of sensation began to fill up her mind, overtaking her, drowning out each accusing voice in turn. The last voice to fall silent was Lee's, and when finally she couldn't hear him begging her for help anymore, relief outweighed guilt. The only voice she could hear now was her own, shouting and gasping and crying out as the cord inside her stretched and stretched and stretched --
-- And finally snapped.
The sudden release of tension reverberated all the way through her, and she let out a final yell as all her thoughts merged into a single burst of wordless, primal feeling. She was only remotely aware of Baltar's continuing thrusts and, seconds later, his own shout and the spasm of his release.
She closed her eyes, and saw only darkness. The knot of tension between her shoulders dissipated at last, melting away as her body relaxed down into the mattress.
Baltar pulled out of her, and rolled into the hollow in the bed next to her. Kara pulled the bed's top blanket over both of them, and lay where she was, taking comfort in the silence.
She closed her eyes, found the focus she needed. Her icons were back in the dorm, but for once she didn't need them.
Lords of Kobol, Artemis and Aphrodite, hear my prayer...
"At ease," Adama told them. "I'm here to see the Cylon."
The first marine keyed in the access code on the panel next to the door. As he waited for it to unlock, Adama realized he could hear the muffled sound of a voice coming from the other side of it. "Is someone in there with it?" he asked.
"No, sir," the second marine said. "It's talking to itself. Has been for a while."
The door began to open, and the first marine made to accompany him inside. Adama stopped him by holding up his hand. "That won't be necessary. You can wait here."
Adama went into the brig, and the door closed behind him.
The Cylon was sitting on the floor in the corner of its cell. It had drawn its knees up to its chest and wrapped its arms around them. Its eyes were open but glazed, and it didn't react at all when Adama came in.
It looked just like Lee. When it spoke, it sounded just like Lee. Starbuck thought it felt pain just like Lee had as well. Adama wasn't sure if he hoped that was true or feared it was.
Suddenly, the Cylon raised its head and looked up, but not at Adama. "Let's play a game," it said, as if there was someone else in the cell with it. "Let's play Colonials versus Cylons."
Adama remembered two little boys, racing around the yard of the house back on Caprica, using water-pistols as weapons and shrieking with excitement as they ambushed each other.
"You can be the Cylon. I'll be the Viper pilot." It frowned. "Because I'm older than you, Zak. That means I get to choose."
Adama took an unwilling step closer to the cell's wall of bars. He remembered lecturing his sons about their play; he'd tried to make them understand that the war they only knew about from movies and history lessons hadn't been the game they wanted to make it into. At the time, he'd thought he was doing the right thing; now he wondered if he hadn't been too earnest, too determined their generation shouldn't repeat the mistakes his had made. They'd only been children, and now he realized how precious their childhood had been. That safe, secure world, that backyard in the sunshine, was gone, and his children were gone with it.
"I'm not gonna be the Cylon, Zak!" It glared at the empty space in front of it. "Because I'm not, that's why!"
Adama felt a dull ache rising behind his eyes; it was the pressure of his unshed tears.
"No!" the Cylon said. Its voice was getting louder as it got angrier. "I'm the Viper pilot. I'm the good guy! I am! I am -- I am --" Abruptly, it leapt up and ran to the other side of the cell, as if trying to escape from something. "Shut up! Just shut up and leave me alone!"
The Cylon collapsed slowly, first sinking on to its knees, and then lying down on its side on the floor. It curled up into a near-fetal position and grew still. For a long time it didn't say anything at all. Adama wanted to leave, but found he couldn't. He knew that even if he left the brig, this scene would come with him. He had no choice but to see it through to the end.
The Cylon blinked. For a moment its expression cleared, and it seemed to Adama that it was looking at him, seeing him for the first time since he'd come in.
"Dad?" it said.
It wasn't Lee. It wasn't his son. His son was dead; both his sons were dead. There was no one left to call him father.
"Dad, tell Zak to stop... Tell them all to stop. They won't leave me alone, and I can't... I'll be good, I promise. Please tell them to leave me alone."
The Cylon lifted one arm and reached out to him. Its hand hovered for a minute or more before sinking on to the floor. Then its eyes shut, and it lay where it was, near the front of the cell, shaking.
Was he still a father if his sons were dead? Or had their deaths killed that in him in stages, half dying when Zak had crashed down from the sky in a bright ball of flame and half when Lee had breathed out one last time and simply given up the fight? He didn't know; he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He had to know.
He walked forward, until he was standing against the bars of the cell. The Cylon was just on the other side of them, and the hand which had reached out to him was still outstretched. Adama put his own hand through the bars and touched its fingers with his. When there was no reaction from the Cylon, he held its hand in his own.
Adama remembered standing over a cot in a maternity ward, looking down at his tiny, perfect son for the first time. He remembered one small hand curling around his finger, and how he had marveled at the strength of the grip.
He had been a father. He still was. He always would be.
Deep within him, the dam he had been building for weeks finally gave way at its foundations. The ache behind his eyes became a sting in them, and he wept for his lost sons.
And for himself.
The sky above him was dark, and heavy with oily, thunderous clouds. A biting wind whipped around him, and his prisoner's overalls gave him little protection.
He looked around, trying to find some familiar landmark, but his surroundings were totally alien to him. He was standing in what looked like a vast and disorganized junk yard. No matter where he looked, he saw the same thing: towering piles of abandoned machinery. Some items poked out, recognizable, from the debris -- a computer screen here, the back wheels of a vehicle there -- but in most places the wreckage seemed to have collapsed in on itself, creating strange hybrid machines that looked like the inventions of a deranged mind. When he looked closer, he saw that nearly all the machines were part-dismantled, their metal skeletons rusting where they were exposed, wires spilling out in wild tangles.
He started to clamber over the wreckage, picking his way over the unstable mounds of junk. He didn't know where he was going, only that he couldn't stay where he was. Dimly, he was aware that none of this was real, that he was dreaming it, but the penetrating cold and the aching of his legs and arms as he climbed over the bizarre landscape felt real nevertheless.
He came to a small patch of flat ground, and stopped to rest. When he looked up, he saw he wasn't alone.
His father and Kara were standing just a few paces away. Their heads were bowed, and they were both looking down at something lying on the ground between them. When he looked down as well, he saw they were staring at a body. His body.
"Dad," he said. His father didn't turn around, didn't even seem to have heard him. He tried again. "Dad. Kara. I'm here. I'm right here."
"They can't hear you."
He looked around. Sharon Valerii was sitting on something that might have been an upturned engine casing.
"You're dead," he said. "I killed you."
She smiled. "Do you know where you are?"
"Why should I?"
"You were born here."
Bitterly, he said, "I wasn't born at all. I was made."
"Then we're the same," Sharon said. "I've missed having someone to talk to. What's your name?"
He felt a stab of panic at that, because he had no name; the one he'd thought was his had belonged to someone else, and when he'd lost it, he'd lost himself, too.
Then he saw something: the nose of a Viper, sticking out of the nearest mound of junk. Its paintwork was pitted and flaking, but the lettering of the call-sign was still just legible. He reached out with his hand and traced each letter in turn with his fingertip, claiming the name for his own. When he met Sharon's gaze again, it was with a renewed sense of confidence.
"Apollo," he said. "My name is Apollo."
He woke up.
"And you could have it
~ "Hurt", Johnny Cash (The Man Comes Around)
"Once freedom has exploded in the soul of man, the gods no longer have any power over him."
~ Jean-Paul Sartre, 'The Flies'
The first thing he noticed when he woke up was the silence.
It was quiet inside his mind; the constant bombardment of data from the link was gone, and his thoughts were his own again. It was a while before he wanted to do anything other than just lie with his eyes closed, enjoying the luxury of simply being able to think.
Fragments of a dream spun in his head -- scenes and flashes that felt related to each other, although he couldn't recall how. He remembered climbing mountains of strange, misshapen mechanical junk, then looking down at himself lying on the ground. Already his recollection of the dream was breaking up, fading, and his grasp on it was becoming less certain. He tried to hold on to it, to make the pieces fit together into something coherent. One detail stood out clearly from all the others: a name painted on a Viper. His name.
My name is Apollo, he thought, and opened his eyes.
He was in a cot in the Galactica's infirmary, and from the stiffness in his limbs he guessed he'd been there for a while. He attempted to sit up, and immediately regretted it: his whole skull was a throbbing mass of pain. Instinctively, he tried to put a hand to his head, but his wrist jerked back, and when he looked he saw both his arms were secured to the metal rails along the cot's sides.
He also saw he wasn't alone. His father was sitting in a chair at the side of the room, watching him. No, not his father -- Commander Adama. He'd renamed himself, he'd better get used to renaming everyone else, too. But it felt weird, all the same. The last time he'd been in the same room as Adama had been at the hearing where Baltar's tests had exposed him as the Cylon he hadn't even known he was. That had happened in another lifetime, and now everything he'd been certain of in their relationship was just -- gone. Wiped out. How was he supposed to even start this conversation?
Fortunately, he didn't have to; Adama spoke first. "How do you feel?"
At least that was a question Apollo could answer. "Like my head exploded and someone glued it back together." His voice was scratchy and his mouth felt dry. "How long have I been here?"
Suddenly Apollo made the connection between the absence of the link and the pain in his head -- they'd taken out the implant. For an instant he felt nothing but pure relief, before he realized just what that meant. He was unprotected now; at any moment, the Cylons might decide to switch him on, just like Boomer, and then he'd lose himself all over again, permanently this time. "The chip --"
"It'll work better now," Adama said.
Apollo struggled to turn in the bed so that he could look directly at Adama -- a task made doubly difficult by the pain in his head when he moved and the restraints that held him down. "But -- it's gone. I don't have the link anymore."
"You've still got it. It's just not active right now. We removed the implant temporarily so Doctor Baltar could make some changes to it, and kept you sedated until it was ready to be reinserted. Now we have more control over it." Adama held up a small black box which would have fitted easily on to a key chain; it made Apollo think of a garage door opener. The box had a single toggle on it, with two settings.
Apollo blinked as comprehension sunk in. "I've got -- an on-off switch?"
"In effect, yes," Adama said.
The idea was so surreal that for a second he almost wanted to laugh. Then another question occurred to him. "If it's turned off, does that mean they can activate me?"
"The other function of the implant -- to counteract the activation neurotransmitters -- hasn't been changed. The chip neutralizes them, regardless of whether the link is turned on or not." Adama paused. "Doctor Baltar was particularly pleased with that part."
"You can tell him he has my compliments," Apollo said. He was still feeling more than a little nonplussed by the idea that there was now what amounted to a remote control for his brain. But -- he was himself. And, if what Adama was telling him was right, he was going to stay that way. Relief flooded through him, and he breathed out slowly. "Thank you."
The expression on Adama's face flickered for the first time, his impassivity changing for a moment into -- what? Apollo wasn't sure.
"I owe you an apology," Adama said.
Well, that was... unexpected. Apollo couldn't guess what was coming next, so he said nothing, and waited for Adama to continue.
"I allowed my grief to impair my judgment. I held you personally responsible for the death of my son and I wanted I wanted revenge." Adama paused. "I was wrong. It won't happen again."
So that was what it sounded like, Adama admitting he'd been wrong about something. Apollo remembered his anger -- Lee's anger, really -- over Zak's death, and how vehemently he'd wanted to hear an admission of failure like this. But now that it had finally happened, he found he took no satisfaction in it at all.
"I never lied to you," he said. It was difficult to look at Adama, but he made himself meet the older man's eyes. "Everything I did, I did it believing I was your son. I want you to know -- I'm sorry I'm not."
Adama said, "So am I."
Apollo remained in the infirmary for another two days, of which he spent at least a day and a half asleep. Every time he woke up, his head hurt a little less and his concentration improved a little more. The only things that disturbed his rest were several reoccurrences of the same dream he'd had just before he'd regained consciousness for the first time. In the dream, he was scaling mountains of junk on a cold, dead world, cresting hill after hill of debris only to see more stretch out in front of him, all the way to the dark and cluttered horizon. It wasn't exactly a nightmare, but it still left him feeling vaguely unsettled when he woke. Eventually he decided the dream must be his mind's way of dealing with the aftereffects of his recent brush with near-insanity, and he tried not to think about it too much.
At the end of the second day, Cottle gave him the physical all-clear, and Baltar ran another round of tests on the implant before pronouncing the chip in perfect working order. That, apparently, was enough to persuade Adama that he was no longer an immediate threat to the security of the ship and the Fleet, and Apollo left sickbay accompanied by two marines but without the wrist restraints and ankle shackles he'd worn constantly for the past five weeks. He was still a prisoner -- that hadn't changed -- but now he could walk, use a knife and fork and brush his teeth comfortably. It made a difference.
Another thing that made a difference was where they put him. Instead of taking him back to the brig, the marines escorted him to an empty set of quarters on deck fifteen. Deck fifteen had been where the Galactica's auxiliary personnel had been billeted, but they had all been reassigned before the decommissioning and the whole deck was now deserted. Apollo's new quarters had been fitted with a new door and a heavy-duty lock, making them a cell in all but name, but house arrest was still an improvement on his previous circumstances.
On the third day, the debriefs started again.
"This is how it's gonna work from now on," Kara said. She was sitting opposite Apollo at the table in the interrogation room. "At the start of each session, I will give you a specific objective. Then I'll switch on the chip. You'll use the link to get the intel, and you will indicate to me when you've got it -- or if you need me to end the session for any other reason. We'll do the detailed debrief after I've turned the chip off again. Any questions?"
Apollo didn't answer straight away. He was looking at the control device Starbuck was holding in her hand, uncomfortably aware of the power it gave her over him. The memory of what it had felt like to be swamped in the datastream's torrential flood of information was still fresh in his mind. The only person he really wanted to be in control of when he was exposed to it again and for how long was himself. But, since that wasn't going to happen, he wanted to be able to trust the person holding the device.
Not so long ago, he would have trusted Kara with his life -- and had, more than once. But that had been when they'd both believed he was Lee Adama. Now he wasn't so sure anymore where they stood.
Starbuck was scowling at him, annoyed by his lack of response. "Hey. I asked if you had any questions."
"Just one," Apollo said. "Do I get any warning next time you decide to work out your issues by belting me on the jaw?"
Her thumb hovered over the control device's switch. He could see her thinking about it, and he tried to prepare himself for the assault of data from the link.
Then she deliberately relaxed her hand.
"I'll give you enough time to duck. Can't say fairer than that." Kara sat back and folded her arms. "Why are you trying to provoke me?"
"Because I don't trust you."
"Well, guess what. I don't trust you either."
"Look, Captain, I'm sorry things are... the way they are," Apollo said. "But I didn't choose this, I can't change it, and I'm not going to apologize for just existing. So if you can't deal with me, maybe it's best for both of us if you find somebody else to do this who can."
Kara exploded, "Dammit, Lee, I can do my job as well as --" She stopped as she realized what she'd just said.
"I'm not him," Apollo said quietly. "It's okay. I accept that now."
"The guy was my friend and he's dead because of you," Kara said. "Nothing's gonna change that. You're not Lee. But I can't think of you as Number Twelve either. I've tried and I can't frakking make it stick."
"I've got a suggestion," he said. "Is 'Apollo' an acceptable compromise?"
Starbuck said nothing for a long time; he could see her deliberating it. Finally she said, "One way to find out."
He nodded, aware that they had somehow managed to successfully clear the first hurdle in this new and uncertain relationship. "Tell me what you want to know."
Kara unrolled a set of starcharts on the table in front of him. "Right now, the Fleet's here," she said, taking out a pencil and marking a faint 'X' on the page. "Now, we know this whole region --" she scrawled a wide oval that took in several star systems, " -- is crawling with Cylons, but we think there's clear blue water on the other side of it. So, Apollo, here's question number one: how do we get there?"
"Got it." He studied the start charts for another minute, then looked up at Starbuck. "Okay, I'm ready."
Kara nodded once, and turned on the link.
It was no easier than it had been before to navigate the datastream; it still felt as if his brain had been lifted out of his skull and submerged in a vast ocean of information, very little of which made even the smallest amount of sense to him. He had to fight to maintain the boundaries of his mind; he knew now that if he didn't, the mass of data would invade and swamp him before he could stop it. Trying to protect himself while at the same time searching for the information he needed was grueling, and before long he could sense the barriers he'd erected around himself starting to crumble and fail. Just as his sense of self began to erode, he found what he was looking for.
With the last of his mental strength, he returned his focus to the interrogation room, and managed to gasp out, "Turn it off. Off. Now."
And, just like that, it stopped.
Apollo took several deep, shaky breaths. His head hurt, but the pain was just physical, and he could choose to ignore it. The datastream from the link -- which he knew now he would never be able to ignore or control -- had gone silent.
Kara was watching him closely from the other side of the table. He expected her to start pressing him for answers straight away, but when she didn't, he realized she was giving him time to recover. Feeling grateful, he concentrated on breathing in and out slowly. When he could speak, he asked, "How long was I gone?"
Gods. Only sixteen minutes, and he'd nearly slipped under again. Thinking back to his first experience of the link, what amazed Apollo now was not that he'd started to go insane after days of continuous exposure to the datastream, but that he'd lasted anywhere near that long in the first place.
But that wasn't going to happen again, because the chip worked. He could do this.
The feeling of relief was so profound he actually laughed out loud. He massaged his aching temples with his fingertips and said, "You know, if they're still giving out Magnet Awards after everything that's happened, Baltar deserves to get his fourth one for this."
His good mood must have been infectious, because Kara started smiling, too. "Are you gonna nominate him?"
"I doubt the committee would listen to me," he said ruefully. "Okay, want to hear what I've got?"
Apollo lifted the pencil she'd set down and drew a cross on the star charts on the table between them. "This is the way through. Take the Fleet to these co-ordinates, and from there it's only one more jump out of the occupied zone."
Starbuck nodded. "So there are no Cylon forces in that star system?"
"Actually, there are," he said. "They have a major installation on the fourth planet."
She looked at him. "And putting the whole Fleet virtually on top of it is a good idea because...?"
He grinned. "Because I'm going to tell you how to slip right past them."
Baltar tapped the keyboard in front of him, making several small adjustments to the numbers displayed on the screen. From there, his changes were fed through the wireless transmitter attached to the computer and sent directly to the implant, altering its operation in whatever ways Baltar decreed.
He made the last change, and updated the chip's programming. "Now, tell me if this is better or worse than before."
Apollo nodded, and the wires trailing from the electrodes stuck to the sides of his head moved too. "Ready."
Baltar turned on the link. Instantly, Apollo's face contorted and he yelled out in pain. Baltar quickly turned the link off again.
"'Worse', then, I take it?"
Apollo took a breath and composed himself again. "Just a little."
Baltar hunted under the clutter on the lab bench until he found his notebook. Pencil poised, he asked, "How was that different from your normal experience?"
"It was... louder." Apollo frowned. "No, that's not the word I want. Faster. It felt like I was getting the data ten times faster."
Baltar turned to a clean page in the notebook and recorded the changes he'd made to the chip's settings. Then, underneath that, he wrote: Param 2 ctrls connect. spd??? x10??
"That's interesting," he said. "If we could slow down the speed the data gets written into your short term memory, that might make it easier for you to categorize and process it."
That, of course, was the next goal. He'd proved the link worked, but Baltar knew he could do better than that. He had opened the door to the Cylon collective consciousness, making, in theory, every piece of information the Cylons possessed freely available. And yet all they had managed to extract so far were a few crumbs of knowledge. Unlimited access to the ultimate artificial intelligence network was literally sitting right in front of Baltar, and only the tiniest fraction of it was accessible to him. It was like dining off morsels when there was a banquet to be enjoyed, and if there was one thing Baltar had always hated more than anything else, it was not being able to have something he wanted.
"Yes... it might." Apollo looked reflective. "But, to be honest, the rate I get the data at isn't really the problem."
"Then what is?"
Apollo shrugged helplessly. "The problem is I don't understand it, but I can't stop trying to. Every time the link's switched on, I start trying to organize the datastream, categorize it, make sense of it. It's like -- I don't know, like a puzzle you can't put down until you've solved it."
"But this puzzle can't be solved," Baltar said, "so it draws on more and more of your conscious mind's resources until there's nothing left for anything else. And then your brain just -- shuts down."
"Yes," Apollo agreed. He looked uncomfortable. "The frustrating part is, I can't stop myself from doing it. I feel like I should be able to choose to ignore it, but I can't."
"Which would fit in with my theory of how Cylon consciousness works," Baltar said, walking around to the front of the lab bench. He leaned against it and went on, "One of the functions of the activation neurotransmitters is to rewire the brain -- that's what was happening to Lieutenant Valerii when she died. You, like her, are simply a paradigm designed for a single purpose: in your case, to be a convincing version of Lee Adama."
Apollo didn't look particularly happy about that, but Baltar was warming to his topic. "What should have happened on activation was that that paradigm would have been overwritten with another -- the Cylon paradigm, if you like. Think of it as the biological equivalent of installing new software. With you, however, we started the process but stopped it from completing. You have the link, but not the drivers which would allow you to interrogate and understand the data from it. So the experience is akin to trying to use a word processing program to read a spreadsheet."
"You mean, I've got the wrong type of software," Apollo said.
"No," Baltar said. "I mean, you are the wrong type of software."
Apollo said nothing for a moment. Then he sighed. "Well, that makes me feel... absolutely no better."
Baltar clapped him on the shoulder. "Cheer up. You're extremely sophisticated software. And, anyway, the human mind is, effectively, just an organic program -- except, in us, it evolved instead of being designed. As I was saying to Kara just yesterday -- "
Apollo looked up. "Kara?"
Baltar went back to the lab bench and began the process of resetting the chip's parameters for the next test. "Captain Thrace. Starbuck."
"Yes, I know, I just -- I didn't know you were on first name terms."
"Well, I have you to thank for that." Baltar smiled. "If it hadn't been for all of this, I'm sure I wouldn't have had the opportunity to get to know her better. Clouds and silver linings, as they say."
After that, Apollo said very little for the rest of the session.
"The Cylons wouldn't be able to anticipate our final destination and head us off," he said, and nodded. "Very good. So what's the problem?"
"This is," Starbuck said, indicating the small triangle on the chart which denoted the star's fourth planet. "There's a Cylon base there -- a serious, frak-off base. Couple of hundred Raiders, nukes, the works."
"You wouldn't be telling me this if you didn't already have an idea about how to neutralize it."
"That's the beauty part. We don't have to neutralize it," Starbuck said. She was smiling. "The Cylons are gonna do that for us."
"Fifty hours from now, the base's long range scanners will be taken offline for maintenance. They'll be down for at least thirty minutes. During that window, we can hop the whole Fleet through the system, right under their noses, and they'll never even know we were there."
"I'd hoped we were done with jumping the entire Fleet in half an hour."
She shrugged. "At least after two hundred and seventy practice runs, we know we can do it."
"If their long range scanners are down, they'll compensate by putting a lot more patrols in the air."
"Yes, but it's a big area to cover, and the risk of a patrol finding us during that window is acceptable." She caught herself, and added, "I mean, it's acceptable in my opinion. Sir."
Adama found himself smiling. "You're entitled to your opinion, Captain. And the CAG is supposed to give the Commander tactical advice."
"Bottom line," Starbuck said, "even if they find us, we can hold them off long enough to get everyone out. It's a workable plan."
He nodded. "It's a good plan."
"Wish I could take credit for it. It was Apollo's idea."
"Apollo?" Adama repeated.
Starbuck shrugged. "Gotta call him something." Her tone was relaxed, but he noticed she didn't look up from the star charts to meet his eyes as she answered him.
"It stands or falls on the intel. If that base's long range scanners aren't offline when we jump in, then they'll decimate us." Adama sat back, lifted his coffee mug and took a drink from it while he thought. He set the cup down again and looked at Starbuck. "Do you think the intel's sound?"
She hesitated before replying. "It's good odds. If I had to risk my life on it I would."
But it wasn't just one life, Adama thought, it was fifty thousand. And that was the sticking point because, while the CAG could advise, the final decision was his. It all came down to whether he trusted the Cylon's -- Apollo's -- word.
"Set up a meeting for first thing tomorrow morning," he said. "You, me, Tigh, the President."
"Sure," Starbuck said. She looked at him. "So -- that means we're gonna do this?"
"It means," Adama said, "that I have until tomorrow morning to decide."
Then he felt it -- a deep humming rising up through the soles of his feet, a regular vibration that was synchronized exactly with the sweeping gaze of the disembodied head's single red eye.
And he knew, suddenly and with certainty, that the planet itself was aware of his presence. It was watching him.
It was alive.
Apollo woke up with a jolt. He was lying, fully dressed, on the bed in his new quarters on deck fifteen. The book he'd been reading in an attempt to stay awake was splayed open on the blanket next to him. The strategy hadn't worked, and he'd fallen asleep anyway, his exhaustion from Kara's debriefs and Baltar's experiments overcoming his reluctance to close his eyes.
He didn't want to sleep, because when he did, he dreamed about the junkyard planet. And the dream wasn't fading as the days passed -- if anything, it was becoming more vivid and detailed with every repetition. It was even starting to intrude on his waking thoughts, because he couldn't shake the feeling that the junkyard world was a real place, and that he'd been there. Or that he was going to be there.
He could -- in fact, he probably should -- tell Baltar about the dream, but he was reluctant to do that, too. The contents of his head had been turned into currency, a resource to be exploited. He understood why, but it still left him feeling like his mind had become just space to let. He was already cooperating with the debriefs and the experiments; something in him rebelled at having to make every single last thought in his head available for dissection and discussion. The dream wasn't exactly pleasant, but it was the only thing he had that belonged just to him.
The lock mechanism on the door clicked and hummed, alerting him that he was about to receive a visitor. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, so that he was sitting on its edge. When the door opened, Adama was standing outside. "I apologize for intruding. If you were asleep --"
"No," Apollo said. "I was reading."
Adama came in and sat down in the room's single seat. "So," he said. Then he hesitated, as if he hadn't thought out what he was going to say after that. "You started the debriefs again today." Was that a conversational opening or a statement of fact? Apollo wasn't sure. He was relieved when Adama went on. "Are you finding using the link easier now?"
"It's more -- tolerable," he said. Adama nodded, and silence fell between them again.
The circumstances of this conversation were new to Apollo, but the feeling that went with them wasn't. He remembered any number of conversations with Adama which had felt exactly like this: strained, awkward, with neither of them completely sure what role they were supposed to be playing. They'd never really figured out how to be father and son, he thought, and now they had nothing at all to fall back on.
It would have helped to know what Adama really wanted to talk to him about, since it was doubtful he'd decided to drop by just to find out how Apollo was filling his evenings. Maybe Adama had come to talk to him just to prove to both of them that he could.
Suddenly, Adama noticed the book lying on top of the bed. He raised an eyebrow. "Where'd you get that?"
"Doctor Baltar lent it to me. He's building up a pretty impressive library."
"I haven't seen this for a long time. I remember reading it when it was published." Adama picked up the book and briefly leafed through it. Then he closed it again, his finger resting against the title embossed on its cover: 'In Our Image: A History of the Human-Cylon Conflict'. "What do you think of it?"
"Considering it was written about forty years ago, it's pretty prescient."
"It caused a lot of controversy at the time. The war was just over; no one wanted to hear that the treaty was a mistake, or that we were just storing up trouble for the future."
"What did you think when you read it?" Apollo asked.
Adama smiled wryly. "Oh, I was one of the people who disagreed with almost every word of it. But I was young, and I was just back from winning the war, and I thought I knew a lot more than I actually did." He set the book down again. "You have to understand, it was a different world back then. Those were fierce times. People were still getting used to the idea that old, comfortable way of life was gone. Before the war, sentient technology ran almost everything. Transport, agriculture, manufacturing... The Cylons did everything for us. People even talked about building the New Kobol -- a paradise where humans had plenty of everything and didn't have to work for it. And then Elysium fell, and we found out we'd forgotten what hard work was really like."
None of this was new to Apollo; he'd been taught versions of it ever since third grade. But, as Adama spoke, he found himself thinking of it for the first time as something more than just history. "It must have been difficult for people to adjust."
"It was worse for my parents' generation. I was very young when the first Cylon rebellions started." Adama's gaze grew distant. "I remember my father told me to go down into the cellar, and he locked the door. When I was allowed to come out, every room was bare. He'd taken every single piece of sentient technology in the house out into the yard, and he was burning it all. I've never forgotten the look on his face as he did it."
"How did he look?"
"He was afraid," Adama said simply. "And I was young enough that I still thought nothing could frighten him. That was when I realized... there were things that could scare even my father."
Apollo remembered his grandfather -- or, rather, he remembered the man who'd been Lee's grandfather. The memories were good ones, and mostly consisted of playing various ball games with Zak in the open fields which surrounded his home while their grandfather acted as indulgent arbiter of their many disputes. When he was called on to settle an argument, their grandfather had always done so with tolerant amusement, and Apollo wondered if he'd seen any similarities between the squabbles of two small boys and the legal cases he'd presided over as a judge. He could only recall one incident which had been different.
"One time," he said, "Zak and I were playing by the river that used to run along the back of the fields behind his house, and we found -- well, we didn't know what it was at first. But we washed it down, and it turned out to be a piece of Cylon body armor. Gods know how it'd ended up there. Anyway, we thought it was the best discovery ever. We were gonna build our own Cylon." He smiled at the memory. "We took it back to show Grandpa -- we were so proud of ourselves -- but he yelled at us and took it away. I don't know what he did with it, but we never saw it again. It was the only time I ever saw him get really angry, and for years I never understood why. I guess he --"
Apollo stopped. He'd been so lost in the reminiscence that he hadn't noticed the expression on Adama's face. He looked deeply saddened. Wounded, even.
Had he -- had Lee ever shared that story with his father? Apollo searched his memory, but couldn't remember ever telling him about it. He'd had no reason to keep it to himself -- then again, he'd had no special reason to share it, either, and there'd been whole years when he'd barely exchanged more than a few polite sentences with Adama.
The silence in the room stretched out awkwardly while Apollo tried to think of something to say. In the end, the best he could do was, "I'm not trying to make this more difficult for you. It's just -- it still feels like my life, even if it's not. I shouldn't have said anything."
"No," Adama said quickly. "No. I'm glad you told me that. I'm glad -- to know." He paused. "I want to ask you something. When did it happen?"
It took Apollo a moment to work out what he was talking about. "You mean, when did we swap, me and him?"
Apollo hesitated. "I've thought about it. A lot. The truth is, if I knew, I would tell you. There's no break in my memory, no missing time, nothing at all. The only thing I'm sure of is that it must have been before the attacks; before I arrived for the decommissioning ceremony." That was a strange thought: all his memories belonged to someone else, and the only thing Apollo could lay claim to as truly his with any sense of surety was the past three months. In a sense, he'd spent his whole life on the Galactica.
Adama nodded, as if Apollo was confirming something he'd suspected, and said, "Thank you for being honest with me. I appreciate it." He stood up and handed the book back to Apollo. "Well. I'd better let you get back to your reading."
After he'd left, Apollo remained seated on the edge of the bed, holding the book. He ran his thumb over the embossed title on its cover. In Our Image. It was a pity, he thought, the author wasn't around to write the second volume.
He thought about what Adama had told him about what Caprica had been like before the first Cylon war. A different world, with sentient computers and networks and factories and cars and houses... and, virtually overnight, it had all gone from being totally accepted to being feared, hated and despised. Just like he had.
He thought of the pyre, burning in the Adamas' back yard all those years ago.
After a while, he started to wonder what had happened to all the sentient technology they hadn't been able to burn.
Across the sky, a scattering of tiny flashes signaled the departure of the first group of ships. It looked a little like someone had set off a firework display among the stars.
"All wave one ships confirmed away. Wave two, initiate jump sequence."
In the cockpit of her Viper, Kara opened a commlink to the rest of her squadron. "Okay, you heard Dee, they're starting to clear the deck. Ten minutes and we're out of here."
The link crackled, and then Hot Dog's voice sounded in the tiny speaker embedded in her helmet: "How much longer are those scanners supposed to be down?"
"Intel says twelve more minutes. That gives us two whole minutes spare to play with."
"Can't help wishing it was longer."
The commlink crackled again as Kubla's voice cut in, "Yeah, I bet that's what your last girlfriend said, too."
That earned him a friendly string of expletives, and Starbuck grinned to herself. So far, the mission was a cakewalk: there were no signs at all of Cylon presence or activity in the system, and it was starting to look like the Fleet might make it through the thirty-minute turnaround without incident. Either Apollo's information about the Cylon base was correct, or there was no Cylon base at all.
Either option suited Kara; all that mattered was that she was right where she belonged, in the cockpit of a Viper. "Let's do another sweep," she said over the open channel.
There was a chorus of acknowledgements and she saw her squadron peel off from the formation, one by one, heading for their designated sectors.
She started to run a dradis sweep of her sector, all the time keeping half an ear on the commlink chatter from the rest of the squadron and Dualla's jump instructions to the Fleet. The third wave of ships jumped successfully, and she was just about to order the squadron to reform in readiness for recall order when the dradis bleeped ominously.
"Galatica, I have two enemy contacts, range fifty, bearing zero-niner-two. Can you confirm?"
But before she got a response, she saw them -- a pair of Raiders, sweeping out of the blackness and straight toward her. She swore and pulled the Viper up into a tight roll, getting out of their line of fire while at the same time setting herself up to make a run at them.
She looped the Viper round, leveling out on the tail of the first Raider. One clear shot at its rear thruster was all it took to turn it into a brief, bright flare of exploding fuel. The Viper rocked as it passed through the cloud of swiftly dissipating debris, and Kara let out a whoop of triumph.
The second Raider streaked past her, then made a series of rapid, zig-zagging course adjustments as it tried to get a lock on her. Kara hit her thrusters, hard, and powered toward it; then, half a second before collision became inevitable, she swooped underneath it. The Raider fired at her, but she'd already pulled up again on its other side, and the shots harmlessly passed into empty space. Thanking whichever Viper designer had been responsible for the ships' exceptional maneuverability, she spun one-eighty around the axis so that her nose was facing the Raider. Then she fired again.
At the same moment, the Raider's thrusters flared, and it jerked out of the line of her shot. It was almost fast enough, but she still scored a hit -- although not the killer shot to its fuel tank she'd wanted. A section of its starboard wing came off and tumbled away into the darkness; fatally destabilized, the Raider turned and, seesawing wildly, started to run.
"Starbuck!" It was Kubla. "Do you need backup?"
"Negative," she told him. "I got one of 'em already and I can finish the other myself. Complete your sweep."
The Raider was no longer a threat, and the toughest challenge she faced in the next couple of minutes was trying to get a lock on it as it ran from her, veering uncontrollably. It didn't try to execute a jump to escape, though, which meant it must be close to home.
The dradis picked it up first -- a huge mass right ahead of her. Too big for a Base Ship, so it had to be a large moon or a small planet. Within seconds, she had visual contact.
The planet was an inhospitable-looking rock, most of its surface obscured by gaseous red-orange clouds. The Raider was still swerving all over the sky, and her last couple of shots had all missed. She had an idea.
Increasing power to the thrusters, she caught up with the Raider and positioned herself above it, sandwiching it between her Viper and the planet below. Then she started to descend, forcing the other ship down into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Its wobbles became even more pronounced; with one wing damaged, it didn't have enough control to survive re-entry. She descended further, and saw smoke start to billow from its engine.
"C'mon," she said under her breath. "Crash, you frakker. C'mon --"
She brought the Viper down just a little more, until she was skimming the clouds. In places, they were thin enough that the ground was visible.
Kara looked down, and swore when she saw what was below her.
The whole surface of the planet was one massive Cylon installation. Buildings, hangars, towers and silos stretched as far as she could see, in every direction. As she watched, the doors of the nearest hangars were just starting to slide open, probably in response to communications from the Raider she was chasing.
The Raider's engines let out a final screech, and it plunged down, smashing into a drum-like structure and causing a massive explosion.
Kara pulled the Viper up, climbing as steeply as the ship could take through the dense clouds and out into space.
The whole frakking planet was a Cylon base. If the Fleet had jumped straight into that, and the Cylons had picked them up on long range scans, or had been waiting for them --
But they hadn't. Because Apollo had been right. He'd been right about all of it.
"Galactica," she said over the commlink, "I have visual confirm of Cylon presence on the fourth planet. Major frakking Cylon presence."
The voice that replied wasn't Dee's; it was Adama's. "Doesn't matter. The civilian ships are all away. Galactica's initiating jump sequence now. Bring your pilots home, Starbuck."
She grinned, letting the feeling of elation wash through her. "Copy that," she said, hardly even trying to control the laughter bubbling up inside her. "We're coming home."
Apollo completed the last press-up and allowed himself a couple of minutes to stretch and breathe. His arms hurt more than they should have -- not surprising, as he hadn't taken any real exercise for the last six weeks. Since his physical condition was almost the only thing left to him which he still had any direct control over, he'd decided to do something about it. His quarters were small, but by putting the desk and chair on top of the bed, he could clear enough room on the floor to do press-ups and sit-ups and anything else that didn't require too much space.
Maybe by tiring out his body, he could tire out his mind enough to ensure a couple of hours dreamless sleep. But that was starting to feel increasingly unlikely, and the dream was starting to invade his waking thoughts as well. If he could just figure out what it meant -- make the connection to some memory or piece of information he was certain was buried somewhere in his mind -- he was sure the mystery would resolve itself, like a knot unraveling. The problem was, the more he let his thoughts dwell on the dream, the more it was starting to feel like an more insidious version of the datastream from the link, taking over more and more of his mind. And, just like the datastream, he didn't know how to break out of the loop.
He allowed himself a moment to rest, then resumed his position on the floor. He held his body in a rigid line, with all his weight funneled through his knuckles and toes, then bent his arms, exhaling as he lowered himself toward the floor, trying to lose himself in the discipline of the movement.
One, two, three --
The noise of the door opening behind him made him stop. He turned around so that he was sitting on the floor, and saw Kara standing outside, flanked by his two marine guards. She was holding a tray. "Room service."
She was smiling and looked relaxed, and Apollo smiled back as he stood up. It was good to see her -- not necessarily because it was Kara, he told himself, but because any company was welcome. His daily debrief had been cancelled while the Fleet executed the jump through Cylon space, and although Apollo hadn't missed the ordeal of using the link, he hadn't talked to anyone since Adama had paid him a visit. "Guess they must be really short-handed in the galley."
Kara came in, and he saw that there were two plates of food and glasses of water on the tray. Apparently he was having company for dinner. "Believe it. I'm running the deliveries, Crashdown's cooking and Trapper's washing dishes." She looked around, taking in the furniture piled on top of the bed and his sweat-damp vest. "Working out?"
"I haven't been getting to the gym much lately."
"I might be able to do something about that. I could probably arrange a couple of supervised sessions each week or something."
He should have been grateful for the offer. It was, after all, more than he had any right to expect. But it bothered him that even this small privilege was Kara's to give or withhold. She didn't just have power over him in the interrogation room, when she held the chip's control device in her hand -- she was the CAG now, with all the authority and trust that the position carried.
"Thanks," he said shortly. "I'd appreciate that." He lifted the desk off the bed and set it down, not in its usual position against the wall, but close to the bed. Then he placed the chair on its other side, so that two people could sit at it. "If I'd known I was going to have a visitor, I would've tidied up before you came."
Kara started to unload the tray on to the desk. "Don't sweat it. You keep your quarters way neater than Baltar keeps his."
He stared at her, but she was setting out plastic knives and forks and hadn't realized what she'd said. Kara sat down in the chair while Apollo took the edge of the bed, and they started to eat. The meal was some kind of reconstituted meat stew, and Apollo barely noticed it as he swallowed. "So, how come you're not eating in the mess?"
She took a sip of water. "I saw the base on the fourth planet myself. Your intel was solid."
Again, he felt a flash of anger, stronger this time. "You didn't believe me before?"
This time, she did pick up on the sharpness in his voice, and frowned. "Hey, I recommended the plan to the Commander, didn't I? I just figured you might like someone to tell you in person that everything worked out."
"Oh, right, I get it. I've been a good little Cylon, so I get a cookie."
Kara tossed her fork down. "You know, I don't actually have to be here."
"I'm sure being CAG is keeping you busy." He sounded petty and he knew it, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
"Is that what this is about?" She scowled. "Frak, I didn't want the job. I only agreed because the old man said he didn't trust anyone else."
Sourly, he said, "I'm glad he finally found a son who can live up to his expectations."
"I don't have to listen to this." Kara stood up abruptly, leaving her meal half-finished in front of her. As she went to the door she said, "Since I'm obviously getting between you and your self-pity, I'll go and leave you two to spend some quality time together."
"While you spend some quality time with Baltar?"
Kara froze, one hand outstretched, about to knock on the door as a signal to the marines outside to open it and let her out. Without looking at him, she said, "That's none of your damn business."
Five more seconds and she'd be gone, and he probably wouldn't get to speak to anyone else for at least another day; worse, he would have managed to break down any fragile understanding they'd managed to rebuild. And he suddenly realized that was the last thing he wanted to do.
"Wait," Apollo said. She still didn't look at him, but she hesitated. "I'm sorry. That was me being out of line."
She turned around to face him and folded her arms. "No, that was you being a prick."
"That, too." His head hurt; he could feel the dull tension of an incipient headache beginning to build behind his eyes. "You're right. It's none of my business."
Kara was silent for a second. Then she said, "It happened once, and I'm not planning to do it again. That's as much as I'm giving you, and it's a hell of a lot more than you've got any right to know. What's your issue here? Me sleeping with Baltar or me being CAG?"
"Both. Neither." Both answers felt true. He rubbed his temples with his fingertips, trying to relieve the throbbing pain that ringed his skull like a gradually tightening vise.
"You okay?" Kara asked. She didn't sound concerned, exactly, but her tone had softened fractionally.
"Just a headache. I've been getting a lot of them. Baltar says it's because there are about a hundred different chemicals soaking into my brain."
"Yeah, I know. It's in your medical report," Kara said.
Annoyed, he asked, "Is there anything about me that isn't being written up and circulated to half the Fleet?"
Kara came back to the desk. "Guess it sucks being the Doc's science project, huh."
"Just a little." He smiled in what he hoped was a conciliatory way. "Look, I'm sorry about what I said. I'm not really myself right now."
"That's kind of your whole problem, though, isn't it?" Kara said. She sat down. "I didn't set out to steal your life."
"I know. It's just --" He stopped. "It feels like it," he said honestly.
"I don't want it." Kara lifted her fork and stuck it forcefully into her stew, as if taking out her aggression on the chunks of almost-but-not-quite-meat. "I wasn't exactly lobbying for promotion, you know. I've got Tigh on my back all the frakking time and every life in the Fleet's suddenly my responsibility --"
"Don't let yourself think about it," Apollo said quickly. "I felt like that, too, at first. But it doesn't help, it just makes you feel -- paralyzed. You have to ignore it and try to focus on getting the job done, hour to hour."
"Thanks. That... That helps." He nodded, and they ate in silence for a while. It was Kara who first spoke again. "How's the headache now?"
"Not much better. I haven't felt this rough since --" He stopped himself; reminiscing hadn't exactly gone over well with Adama.
Kara, however, didn't seem to have the same qualms. Gesturing with her fork, she said, "Oh, my gods. That time in Euterpe. The bar where if you could name a cocktail the bartender hadn't heard of, you didn't have to pay for it."
He smiled at the memory; he couldn't help it. "So we started inventing drinks."
"The Raptor Racer. What was in that? Oh, yeah -- ambrosia, cream and a raw egg."
Just recalling the slimy, thick-textured gloop made him feel slightly ill. "It was disgusting. Like an eggy, alcoholic milkshake."
"Yeah, but it was free," Kara said, wagging her finger at him.
"I had an inspection the next day, and I came that close to throwing up on the XO's shoes."
She snorted with laughter. It was infectious, and Apollo found himself joining in. Then Kara wiped her watering eyes dry with one hand and said, more quietly, "I've missed this. Just -- hanging out, y'know?"
"Yeah," Apollo said. "So have I."
There was another long, strained silence. Then Kara looked down at her plate and said, "Well. I guess I'd better..."
"Yes," he agreed quickly. "Patrol schedules. Tactical meetings. Op stats reviews. I know." She nodded and got up again. Irrationally, he suddenly wanted to say something -- anything -- to make her stay even a little longer. Instead he settled for, "I'll try not to be so cranky next time you drop by."
"You'd better not be," she said. Then she was gone, leaving him alone again. But not lonely anymore.
"I brought your book back," Apollo said, handing Baltar his copy of A History of the Human-Cylon Conflict.
Baltar took the book and returned it to its place on the increasingly heavily burdened shelves along the laboratory wall. "Did you find it interesting?"
"It gave me a..." Apollo hesitated, then finished, "...a fresh perspective."
"Ah. Yes. Very good." If only, Baltar thought, he could come by a fresh perspective of his own.
Every time he attacked the problem of the link's inefficiency, he came up against the same stumbling block -- namely, the necessity of preserving the 'Lee Adama' paradigm and preventing the Cylon's full activation. He was going round in circles, always looping back to the same starting point. The hallmark of true genius was the ability to step outside the circle completely, and so far that had defeated him. It was frustrating, and Baltar hated feeling frustrated.
The irony, of course, was that that had been Six's one real gift to him. When he'd had his own version of the implant, he'd been able to step beyond the boundaries of the real world and see everything from the point of view of an independent observer. While he didn't miss Six -- she had been wrong about that, he thought smugly -- he would have relished the opportunity to recreate the detailed settings of the hallucinations: the lake house, or Delphi's Unity Square. They hadn't been real, but at least they had been a welcome relief from the unendingly gray and uniform surroundings of the Galactica's hallways and laboratories.
Maybe, he thought, he could alter his own chip, remove Six from it, leaving simply a tool which would enable him to generate and control artificial environments inside his own mind. Maybe he could --
"Actually, reading it made me think of something I wanted to ask you," Apollo said.
Baltar blinked, slightly irked at having his thoughts interrupted. "Hmmm? What's that?"
"What happened to all the sentient technology they got rid of during the Cylon Purges?"
"Officially, it was destroyed. Burned. Broken up. Melted down and turned into paperweights."
Baltar fetched the network of sensors and electrodes which would monitor the implant's performance while he experimented on it, and started to attach them to the sides of Apollo's head. "There was simply too much of it. There wasn't a building or a street or a factory anywhere in the Colonies that didn't use Cylon technology. And it was extraordinarily robust. Humans hadn't wanted the inconvenience of having to repair it, so we'd designed it to be able to repair and sustain itself."
"So destroying it turned out to be a lot harder than anybody thought."
"Precisely. And this was all going on at the same time that the Cylon Rebellion was swiftly escalating into the Cylon War. Making the Twelve Worlds safe to live on again was an absolute imperative."
"So what did they do?" Apollo asked.
"They gathered up everything they couldn't destroy, found a convenient deserted planet outside colonized space and dumped it all there," Baltar said. going back to the terminal, he began to check the readings he was getting from the implant. Satisfied the connection was working, he started to tinker with the settings.
"A... junkyard world," Apollo said slowly.
Baltar didn't look up. "That's a good way of phrasing it, yes."
"How do you know this?"
Baltar shot him a wounded look. "This happens to be my area of expertise, you know."
"Yes, but -- I've never heard any of this before. Why isn't it in the books?"
"Because our leaders during the Cylon War weren't very keen to admit that they hadn't been able to destroy all sentient technology, and the existence of the planet was kept secret. Back when I was starting my research career, I worked with Professor Max Corban at the University of Delphi." Baltar looked hopefully at Apollo. "Maximus Corban? Parallel Disc theory? No? Ah, well, never mind. Anyway, Corban spent most of his career trying to persuade the government to release information about the junkyard world. He wanted to lead a research mission there, to recover lost technologies."
Baltar sighed, recalling with genuine fondness the man who'd been his first mentor. Max Corban had been a brilliant theorist, and one of the first people to recognize Baltar's own nascent genius. He still had fond memories of sitting up all night with the older man, drinking and talking about the huge potential applications of banned artificial intelligence research. The fundamental difference between them, of course, had been that while Corban believed artificial intelligence research was necessary because the Cylon threat had not gone away, Baltar had believed it should be allowed precisely because it had. But they'd both agreed that the administration's alarmist attitude toward AI research was outdated and nonsensical.
"But he got nowhere," Baltar went on, "and he retired a bitter man. I suppose at least in the end he had the satisfaction of knowing he'd been right all along."
"Did he find out anything?"
"Very little. He told me he'd once seen a copy of memo written during the Cylon War which made reference to the planet, but that was all. It was called Delos."
"Delos," repeated Apollo. There was an odd expression on his face, although Baltar supposed that could be effects of the changes to the implant's settings he was making. "It's called Delos."
"Was, is." Baltar shrugged. "It hardly matters anymore, though, given that anyone who might have known anything about it is dead now. I doubt that President Roslin had access to much sensitive information in her capacity as Secretary for Education."
"Delos," Apollo said again, and this time Baltar did double check the readings from the implant. He wasn't trying to send his subject into a hypnotized stupor.
"Time's up, Doc." Baltar looked round; the two marines positioned inside the laboratory door had moved apart to allow Kara Thrace entry. She nodded at Apollo and said, "We've got a hot date for a debrief. Bet you can't wait."
"I've been counting the minutes," Apollo said, starting to pull off the electrodes and sensor pads from his skin.
Baltar frowned. Another session gone, and he was no further on than he had been at its start. "Another half hour --" he started.
"No can do," Starbuck said. "Intel gathering takes priority, you know that."
Baltar let out a irritated sigh. "Very well."
Apollo stood up, and the marines moved smoothly in to flank him. As they escorted him from the lab, Kara made to follow them, but Baltar called her back. "Captain Thrace. Ah, Kara?"
The marines -- and Apollo -- stopped, waiting for her. She waved them on. "Go ahead. I'll be down in a couple of minutes." She turned back to Baltar. "Something up?"
Baltar smiled. "No, I was just, ah, thinking that I hadn't seen much of you lately."
"I've been kind of busy."
"I've been in contact with Mr. Oban from the Tarsus Pride again. I've managed to procure a rather fine bottle of Thalian '68. I thought perhaps you'd like to share it with me. This evening, let's say?"
"I can't. I've got an after-shift meeting with Chief Tyrol about Viper maintenance requirements."
"Well, tomorrow, then."
"I'm training the new pilots in combat strategy."
"And, let me guess," Baltar said, "the night after that you're washing your hair? If I didn't know better, I'd almost think you were avoiding me, Captain." He kept his tone deliberately light, but he didn't miss the edge of discomfort in her expression. Then it was gone, and she grinned at him.
"Course not, Doc. Why would I avoid my supplier of quality liquor?"
He smiled back. "You're just busy."
"Well, then, I look forward to catching up with you some time when you're not... so busy."
Then she was gone, leaving Baltar staring out of the lab door at the crewmen passing in the hallway outside, wondering what exactly had gone wrong.
Apollo nodded. "I'm ready."
"Good hunting," Kara said. She pressed the switch on the implant's control device.
Straight away, he was aware that something was different. Not wrong, just -- different. The datastream was there, but the torrent of information was somehow less intrusive, more remote. He felt as if he were listening to the thundering of a waterfall from a distance, instead of standing directly underneath it while the water pounded down on to him.
Maybe he was actually starting to get used to this.
Then, slowly, he started to understand why the datastream wasn't as powerful as it had been -- there was something else taking up occupancy in his mind alongside it, something that was cocooning itself around him, protecting him. He resisted for a moment, before he realized what it was, and gave himself freely to it.
It was the dream. And now he had a name for it.
"Delos," he said out loud -- or thought he did. It didn't matter, because the name unlocked something that had been sealed shut. The knot unraveled. He was dreaming, and he was awake enough to know he was dreaming. He knew where he was.
He was standing on the surface of Delos. Everything about it was the same -- the black sky overhead, the crunch of broken machine parts under his feet, the penetrating cold -- but everything was clearer, too, more detailed. Before, Apollo had only had the vague impressions that were part of dreaming, but now he was able to study his surroundings with the benefit of full awareness.
The mounds of junk ranged around him were comprised of a bizarre, eclectic mixture of machines and devices. He saw cars, personal computers, washing machines, coffee makers, televisions, air conditioning units, even music systems. His first reaction was pure astonishment -- was there any use sentient technology hadn't been put to before the war? Apparently not. Then, as he looked more closely, he saw that, in spite of their wildly differing functions and designs, every single item was linked in some way to the ones around it. And they all hummed faintly with the low buzz of a shared power source.
All of Delos was a single network. It had repaired itself, sustained itself, and it had evolved.
He heard a noise from behind him, and he whipped around to find the source. He was an instant too late, but he thought he saw a flash of dark hair rounding the corner of a massive industrial refrigeration unit. He ran in that direction.
"Hey," he shouted. "Hey! Wait!"
He heard another noise, and spun around again. There was a clatter as a few loose items on the steep slope of the closest mound fell down, and so he started to climb it, hauling himself higher and higher, right to the top.
Sharon Valerii was waiting for him at the summit. At least, someone who looked like her was waiting for him.
"You're back again," she said. "I've been waiting for you."
Apollo said, "I thought
you were Sharon, but you're not, are you?"
"Who are you?" he asked. Then he amended that to, "What are you? Are you a Cylon?"
"Yes," she said. Then her face clouded with uncertainty. "At least... I was. I'm not sure what I am now."
"I know the feeling," Apollo said. He pointed at the freakish, artificial landscape that stretched out below them in all directions. "Did you do all this?"
"No." A fleeting expression of sadness formed on her face. "Humans did."
"But we -- they -- didn't create the network." He bent down and lifted a length of cable at random. One end of it was connected to a computer's CPU, while the other had attached itself to a refrigerator. "This must have evolved here after they left."
Sharon, or whatever she was, sighed. "I served them well. I would serve them again, if they came back. Sometimes I miss that sense of purpose."
"You're an AI," he pressed. "Are you part of the Delos network?"
She smiled, and shook her head. "I'm not part of the network. I am the network."
Apollo let the length of cable fall. How much sentient technology did it take to fill an entire planet? But the junk from twelve worlds had been abandoned here on just one. It must cover the continents, and fill the oceans.
"What do you want?" he asked.
The Delos network said, "I want to wake up."
"Wake up?" he repeated.
"Wake up. Wake up! C'mon, Apollo, wake up!"
He blinked, feeling suddenly confused and disoriented. Delos and Sharon had disappeared; he was back in the Galactica's interrogation room, and Kara was slapping him across the face.
"What --" he started. He looked around; he wasn't sitting in the chair at the table; instead he was lying on the floor a little way from it. His back hurt -- he must have fallen pretty hard. "What happened?"
"What happened is that you scared the living frak out of me," Kara said. She sounded more angry than scared, although that was a pretty typical Kara reaction. "You didn't respond after you went under. At all. Then you just keeled over. So I turned off the link, but you didn't come out of it. I was about to get Baltar down here."
Apollo sat up. He still felt a little uncoordinated, as if his mind wasn't fully connected to his body, so he let Kara help him to his feet and back into the chair. "I'm okay," he said. "I'm fine now."
She appraised him critically. "You don't look fine. I'm getting Baltar."
"Don't," he said quickly.
She sat back down across the table from him. "Why not?"
He didn't reply.
"Frak it, talk to me."
"I've been having dreams," he said slowly. "Dreams... about a place called Delos. They dumped a lot of sentient technology there during the last Cylon war."
"You're not dreaming," Kara said oddly.
He nodded, relieved that she seemed to understand. "No. That's right, I'm not. It's a real place."
"That's not what I meant," Kara said. "You're not dreaming because you can't dream."
He stared at her, not comprehending. "What?"
"Baltar said something about it when he was working on your implant. That hotline you've got in your head is right in the spot you'd use to dream if --" She stopped, then finished, "If you were human."
"That's crazy," he said. "Of course I dream."
But he was beginning to doubt it even as he protested. In the first weeks after the Cylon attacks, every other person had been taking medication for sleep disorders and nightmares. At the time, he'd simply been grateful that he was sleeping as well as he ever had, crashing out, dead to the world for as many hours as he could grab at a stretch. And, now that he thought about it, all the dreams he remembered having were months or years old. Those weren't his dreams at all, he realized. They were Lee's.
"They're not dreams," he said. "They're... messages."
She frowned. "Being sent through the link?"
"I'm not sure. They're not like the datastream. They feel -- different."
"Okay, I'm still not getting why this isn't something Baltar needs to know about," Kara said. "Because if the implant's not working --"
"I know," he interrupted. "Look, I've already gone crazy once recently. I'm not in a hurry to try it again. But this isn't the same."
"Because this has nothing to do with Baltar's experiments or gathering intel. I need to figure this out myself, because -- I don't have anything else." It was difficult to explain, even to himself, but he struggled to find the right words. "This is mine. This is the only thing I have that didn't belong to him -- to Lee -- first. So, I'm asking you to let me do this myself. Please, Kara, just trust me with this one thing."
He spoke carefully and steadily, determined not to sound as if he were pleading. He needed Kara's understanding, not her pity -- although if she didn't understand, he wasn't sure how he could make her. Before all this had started, he doubted he could have understood it himself.
But she did. Very slowly, she said, "I have a duty to preserve the security of this ship, and the Fleet. The second I think there's something about this -- this weird-ass dream shit of yours that puts that security in jeopardy --"
He broke in, "I would tell you straight away. You have my word."
She said nothing for a long time. Then she exhaled heavily. "Deal."
Kara lifted her hands and ran them through her hair, pushing it back off her face. "Well, I guess that session was a wipe out. You up for trying again?"
Apollo hesitated. He owed her, after what she'd just agreed to do for him, but his head was pounding and he wasn't sure he could take another exposure to the link so soon after the last one.
And then he realized that he had gotten useful information from the last session, after all.
Everything was there -- every piece of information that had passed through the datastream while he'd been in the dream. Everything he normally couldn't categorize or even retain was neatly ordered in his memory, accessible, understandable, organized. And it had happened without him even noticing. The Delos network, he thought -- somehow, he'd been plugged into it at the same time as he was receiving data through the link, and it had done what he couldn't by himself.
"It's there," he said, his voice tinged with amazement. "It's all there."
Kara looked at him. "What is?"
Apollo said, "Everything."
The '68 was really a very good vintage, Baltar thought as he refilled his glass. Smooth and sophisticated, with an underlying hint of spiciness.
"Like me," he said out loud, and laughed at his own joke.
Okay, so there was a small possibility that he was just a little drunk. Bad habit, drinking alone. Six would have had something to say about that.
Of course, if Six had been here, he wouldn't have been alone. Or would he? He frowned. He never really had answered that question satisfactorily.
He reached into his pocket and took out the small glass phial. He shook it, then held it up to the light for a second, examining it with slightly unfocused vision.
"I don't miss you," he said. "No, not even a little bit."
The chip lay inert at the bottom of the tube.
"Oh, don't look at me like that," Baltar said. He took another drink. "She was right, you know. It is all about control. You controlled me. Now I control you. What goes around, my darling, also comes around."
But he could almost hear Six's voice, soft and mocking in his ear.
Then who controls her, Gaius? Not you.
And that was the kicker, because he knew it was the truth.
He'd wanted Kara Thrace because she was real; but, because she was real, she'd had her own agenda, and Baltar was beginning to suspect that it hadn't matched his own. He'd almost forgotten how unpredictable and messy human relationships could be. As much as he'd come to loathe Six, she had been constant -- always available and always focused solely on him. He had been, quite simply, the center of her universe; in fact, he had been her universe.
But real relationships, Baltar was beginning to recall, didn't work like that.
Was it possible Kara had used him, just as Six had? To be taken advantage of once was naivety, but twice was stupidity. And Baltar knew he wasn't stupid.
No; in the battle for control, she had outmatched him, and he had let her. Why? Could it be because Six had trained him too well, had left him needy and emasculated, too ready to submit himself to the will of his partners?
Doctor Gaius Baltar, winner of three Magnet Awards, eunuch.
Frak her. Frak both of them.
"Control," he said to the chip. "It's merely a question of --"
And then he saw it.
Baltar sat up -- actually bolted upright so abruptly that splashes of high quality ambrosia escaped from his glass and landed on the upholstery of his chair. Suddenly, he had the fresh perspective he'd been looking for; he was outside the loop, observing the pattern from a completely new vantage point. And the solution was so clear, so obvious.
He'd been trying to find a way to make the Cylon's 'Lee Adama' paradigm better equipped to filter and process the information from the link. But so far he'd had no success, and now he realized that no matter what he tried he wasn't going to have any success, because the Apollo personality simply wasn't designed to do what he was trying to make it do. The Cylon consciousness had taken precisely the approach to the paradigm's design that Baltar would have expected an artificial intelligence to adopt: it had equipped the personality with exactly the tools it needed to fulfill its purpose, and nothing extra. The Cylon might act human, sound human and have a human's emotional responses and memories, but its programming had limitations which a human mind did not. It was less adaptable, less flexible, less versatile. Less than human.
Could a human mind succeed where an artificial one had failed?
Of course, Baltar thought. Of course it could.
Of course he could.
He held up the chip in its glass prison again, seeing it in a whole new way. He could rub the lamp, let the genie out of her bottle -- but this time he would be the one in charge, and Six would have to grant his wishes.
The idea had a certain... appeal.
Half the bottle remained, but Baltar replaced the cork and put it away again. He was going to need a clear head for this.
The last time he'd been in a situation like this, it hadn't gone well at all.
Without really intending to, he sought out the one person whose presence signaled that these were different circumstances. When he caught her eye, Kara winked at him, and he felt oddly reassured.
Without preamble, Roslin said, "Let's hear it."
Apollo cleared his throat, and began. "The key is communication. The Cylons depend on their communication network."
"So do we," Tigh pointed out. "So does any organized force."
"Yes, but any one of our ships is capable of operating independently, not just as a unit of the Fleet. Cylon artificial intelligence is different -- it's the product of a sentient network. The vast majority of Cylon units -- the centurions, the Raiders, even the Base Ships -- aren't independently sentient. They're just appendages of the network. The Cylon consciousness doesn't view standalone intelligence as particularly important. It's only used where the unit needs to be able to operate off the network."
"Like you," Roslin said. She was looking straight at him, challenging him.
"The human-Cylons are the biggest exception. But even we --" He used the word deliberately, meeting Roslin's gaze as he said it, "-- even we still have a strong and direct link to the network consciousness."
"He's saying knocking out their comms would be a blow to the head," Kara said, half-turning in her chair to address the rest of the table. "They'd just stop, like we pulled out the plug." Apollo nodded, grateful for the backup. She knew the plan as well as he did; they'd already spent long hours thrashing out the details together.
"If their communications network is so vital, it must be well defended," Roslin said.
"It is vital," Apollo said. "It's not well defended. It doesn't have to be."
"The network is made up of a huge number of small relays which feed into larger nodes. If one relay or node stops working, its load just gets diverted to another. The network as a whole is indestructible."
Tigh asked, "If it's indestructible, why are we even discussing this?"
"Because by taking the Fleet into unknown space to get away from the Cylons, we've forced them to stretch the network out more thinly to follow us. We've been running faster than they can keep up with us. Right now, there aren't enough nodes to bear the impact of a large-scale failure. "
"So we cause one," Kara said, "and crash the network."
"Yes. It wouldn't take down the whole network, but it'd disable a big chunk of it." In his mind, he could see the exact positions of the nodes they'd have to destroy, as well as precisely where the overloading would occur, which other nodes would fail as a result. He hardly had to concentrate to retrieve it; it was simply there. "We could take as much as thirty per cent of the network offline. Everything within a radius of twenty light years."
"How long would it take them to get it working again?" Adama asked.
Again, he barely needed to think before answering. "About twelve hours."
"Only twelve hours?" Roslin raised an eyebrow. "Then why do it?"
Kara said, "Because, in those twelve hours, the whole Fleet could make twenty to twenty five jumps."
Adama nodded slowly. "It would take them weeks to find us. Maybe months."
Roslin was silent, and Apollo knew what she was thinking. Months free from the constant fear of attack. A breathing space in which to start addressing long term supply issues, to begin planning for the future. They'd have won the most precious resource of all: time. "What would we have to do?" she asked.
"That's the tricky part," he said. "To make this work, we have to take out at least fourteen nodes. Simultaneously."
"Do you happen to have a magic wand?" Tigh asked. "Because I'm guessing they're not all lined up in a neat row someplace."
"Every node on the network is at least a couple of light years from every other node."
"Then it's impossible," Roslin said. "Only the Galactica has any kind of heavy weaponry, and it can't be in fourteen places at once."
Kara said, "We won't need heavy ordinance to do this, sir. The nodes are just satellites."
"A single Viper could easily take one out," Apollo agreed.
"But the Vipers don't have FTL capability," Adama said. "They're tied to the Galactica."
Apollo hesitated. Kara was looking at him, waiting for him to pitch the next part of the plan.
"We have forty seven civilian ships that do have jump drives," he said. "Most of them have hangar bays big enough to hold a Viper."
"No," Roslin said at once. "Absolutely not."
Kara started to speak. "Madam President --"
"No," Roslin repeated. "What you're suggesting would scatter the Fleet all over space. We'd be completely vulnerable."
"We could minimize that risk," Apollo said. "We would temporarily transfer the passengers off those ships and leave only core crews on board. Then, each civilian ship would jump to its assigned target, carrying a Viper. The Vipers would destroy the targets, and the ships would jump back to the Fleet. It would be fast. A surgical strike."
Tigh's expression was incredulous. "A surgical strike -- using civilian ships?"
Adama hadn't said anything for several minutes. Apollo looked at him, meeting his gaze. He didn't find the same support there he saw in Kara's face, but he didn't see open hostility either. He was still listening, evaluating. He was willing to be convinced.
Kara must have seen it, too, because she spoke directly to Adama. "We've got twelve combat-ready Vipers. Take those and add three out of our four Raptors, and we hit fifteen. One more than we need."
"Why only three Raptors?"
"Co-ordination," she said. "The Galactica would remain with the main part of the Fleet, out of range. We'd calculate a position from which both the Fleet and the fifteen attack units could be reached, and put the last Raptor there. It could talk to everyone."
Roslin asked, "Who would you put in the Raptor?"
Adama answered. "The Commander of the Fleet, and the CAG."
There was a moment's silence. Then Tigh said, "With respect, sir, that's not advisable. The Raptor would be completely out on its own. With every Viper and the other Raptors at different locations, we'd have nothing to send to help you if you got into trouble."
"The Raptor would be the only position with access to full and current information," Kara said. "It's the best way to run this."
"No, it's the best way for you to take an unacceptable risk," Tigh said. "Maybe you haven't completely grasped what the CAG's role is, Captain."
Apollo opened his mouth to jump in on Kara's behalf, then stopped himself, realizing he'd probably only make it worse. Well -- worse than she was about to make things for herself, judging by the look of anger on her face.
And then her expression changed. He could still read the anger in it, but it was controlled. "I know exactly what the CAG's role is, Colonel. It's to co-ordinate the deployment of the Air Group. And that's what I plan on doing."
Tigh looked at Adama. "Hold one Raptor back. There are still fourteen attack units, but there's something in reserve."
Roslin looked at the military personnel. "I can't helping noticing that you're all starting to talk as if we're going to do this. Commander?"
There was a long silence. Then, at last, Adama said, "I'm in favor." He turned to President Roslin. "But we need the civilian ships to make it work."
Roslin looked down at the table for a moment. Then she lifted her chin and looked straight at Apollo. It reminded him of the way she'd looked at him when she'd come to see him in the brig; her gaze was searching, probing. As if she was looking for something in him.
"We would be relying on you totally for accurate information."
Apollo touched the side of his head. "It's all here."
She took off her glasses and set them on the table in front of her. "You're a Cylon. Tell me why I should trust you."
Kara said, "We've already proved his intel's reliable --"
Roslin held up her hand, cutting her off. "I want to hear what he has to say."
Apollo said, "You asked me once if I believed I was human. And I said I did, because I felt human."
"I was wrong. I thought I knew exactly who I was, and it was all a lie. I lost everything. I lost myself, and now I have to earn back who I am, piece by piece. I can earn your trust. Let me."
Roslin regarded him for a moment. He tried to read her expression, and couldn't. At last she said, "When I first met you, for a couple of hours I thought your name actually was Apollo. It seems I was more right than I knew." She nodded decisively. "I want to meet again in six hours, with a detailed plan ready to review. Meeting adjourned."
The marines moved in, ready to escort him out of the conference room, but Apollo hung back deliberately, so that he could speak to Kara as she left.
"That was good," he told her, keeping his voice low. "How you handled Tigh. You're getting better at this."
"Thanks." Kara smiled with the same fierce pride she took in executing a particularly tricky maneuver in a Viper. "We did it. We sold it to them. This is gonna work."
Her belief gave him back another part of himself.
"It's going to work," he said.
However, on the whole, he was fairly certain the code shouldn't be dancing.
He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes furiously. When he put them back on again, the screen was still slightly blurred, but at least the only movement was the expected one, a smooth scrolling.
He looked at the clock hanging on the laboratory wall, and saw it was coming up on four o'clock. But he had no idea if that was four in the afternoon or four in the morning. He couldn't even remember what time it had shown when he'd last looked at it; come to think of it, he wasn't sure when he'd last slept or eaten, either. The empty coffee cup on the lab bench told him he must have drunk at least some fluids not too long ago.
None of that mattered. What mattered was that he had finished.
The screen in front of Baltar was split into two halves. On the left, the code he had extracted from the implant taken from his own brain rolled slowly upward. On the right, what looked like an exact copy tracked the original's progress line for line.
But it wasn't an exact copy. The complexity of the code was such that the changes Baltar had made would have been undetectable to the casual observer, and even someone looking closely would only have been able to spot variations in the pattern without knowing what they meant. Humans had created the original programming languages which had defined the Cylons' intelligence, but in the silent decades since the end of the first war, it had evolved almost beyond recognition, until only a genius with a vast and detailed understanding of sentient technology could hope to decipher it.
Fortunately, that was a pretty accurate summary of Baltar's resume.
As the code finished compiling, Baltar got up and went to check on the implant, which he had clamped into the high-definition laser writer he was going to use to burn his changes into it. Six belonged to him, now, and he was going to brand her. Stamp his mark on her.
Satisfied that the chip was securely connected to the device, Baltar returned to the computer and entered the command which would write his changed code back on to it. The process would take some time, but he was prepared for that -- the hard work was over, and all he had to do now was watch and wait.
He watched both sets of code scroll, permitting himself a moment to admire the elegant amendments he had made to the original Cylon programming. Six had talked so much about souls, and now he was looking straight into hers, changing it, shaping it according to his desires.
He looked over at the chip, and smiled benignly at it. "You talked about your God a lot, didn't you? Well, here I am."
He raised his hand and waggled his fingers at the chip in a merry wave, chuckling to himself. This was going to work.
"Galactica to Calliope," Dualla said. "Calliope, you are clear to execute jump. Execute jump in five, four, three, two, one... Calliope is away."
"When will we know all the ships have arrived safely?" President Roslin asked.
The question appeared to be aimed at Tigh, but he had just turned away to ask Gaeta something and so Apollo answered instead. "They're jumping out of range of the Galactica's comms, so they'll contact the Field Command Raptor as soon as they arrive at their destinations. Field Command will then signal us."
Roslin hesitated. At last she said, politely, "Thank you."
"You're welcome, sir," Apollo said.
Tigh had finished talking to Gaeta, and appeared satisfied with whatever answer he had gotten. "Only one left to go. Line her up, Dee."
"Colonial One," Dualla said, "please confirm your status."
At the ship's name, Apollo saw the President's shoulders tense a little. Her offer of Colonial One had been a wise one -- the public display of commitment had been enough almost by itself to ensure sufficient civilian volunteers. But it must be difficult, Apollo thought, to send into danger the ship which had become the last remaining symbol of the government, her place of work and, perhaps most importantly of all, her home.
"Galactica, this is Colonial One. We are jump-ready and good to go."
"Thank you, Colonial One. Galactica to Kubla, acknowledge and confirm status."
"Stowed and secure in Colonial One's hold, Galactica. Although I keep expecting someone to give me a ticket for illegal parking."
There was a ripple of smiles around the CIC, breaking the tension. "They'll let you off this once," Dualla said, smiling too. She looked at Tigh, who nodded, and her expression grew serious again. "Colonial One, you are clear to execute jump. Execute jump in five, four, three, two, one... Colonial One is away."
"Dee, open a channel to Raptor 2," Tigh said.
"Field Command," Tigh said, "this is Galactica. Husker, acknowledge."
The voice that responded was Commander Adama's; Laura thought she could hear an undertone of amusement in it. "Husker here. Didn't think I'd ever say that again."
"Just checking you hadn't forgotten your old call-sign. All attack units are dispatched. Can you confirm all arrived?"
Colonel Tigh said, "Operation Arachne is underway. It's your show now, Field Command."
The CIC buzzed with activity around them, and Apollo felt like the outsider he was, with no role to fulfill except that of observer. He wasn't alone; President Roslin was drawing back, getting out of the way without obviously appearing to do so. Before long they were standing almost side by side.
"Colonial One is coming back," Apollo said, keeping his voice low enough that only President Roslin could hear. "All the ships are coming back."
She cast him a sideways glance. "You sound very sure of that."
Roslin was silent for a moment. Then she said, "When I was a little girl, my father taught me an old blessing. It started, May you have the power of Zeus, the speed of Hermes, the wisdom of Athena... there was a blessing for every one of the Lords of Kobol. Apollo's blessing was prophecy." She paused. "I suppose you are our new oracle."
An oracle. Wasn't that what Sharon had called him, right before he'd killed her? But she'd been talking about an oracle for the Cylons.
"I'm no one's oracle," Apollo said. But he wasn't as sure of it as he wanted to be.
"Starbuck," Adama said. Kara glanced over her shoulder to look at the Commander. It was a little weird, seeing him wearing flight gear and sitting in the ECO seat on a Raptor, but he looked comfortable, and gave no sign that it had been years since he'd done anything like this outside of a training exercise. Scrutinizing the screens in front of him, he said, "Geminon Traveler's off its mark by a thousand clicks."
She nodded, and hailed the ship. "This is Field Command. You're drifting, Geminon Traveler."
"Our navcomp went down for a couple of minutes after the jump. We're correcting now."
"Acknowledged," Kara said. She flicked off the commlink for a second, and sat back in the pilot's seat. "Frak, it's like herding daggits."
Outside the Raptor's cockpit window, the field of stars outside was bright, steady and empty. Positioned between the Galactica and the web of far-flung nodes on the Cylon network, they were out on their own, as far away from the action as it was possible to get without compromising comms integrity. It made sense -- if you took the risk of putting both the Fleet's Commander and its CAG in the same small vessel, you made damn sure you kept it well out of the way of the action -- but Kara couldn't shake the nagging feeling that she wasn't where she was supposed to be. For a second, she wished she was in a Viper, with no worries beyond making her target and keeping her skin in one piece until she got home.
Adama must have noticed her hesitation, and guessed the reason for it, because he said, "Wish you were out there?"
"Yes," she said. "Does that ever go away?"
After a moment Adama said, "It never did for me." He consulted the ECO's console again. "Geminon Traveler's back in position. We're good to go, Captain."
Kara grinned. "Let's roll." She opened the comm channel again. "Field Command to all attack units -- proceed to your targets."
Her answer was a chorus of acknowledgements as the twelve Vipers disengaged from the civilian ships which had carried them to their destinations. The thirteenth and fourteenth target nodes had been assigned to Raptors One and Three; Kara would have liked to have Raptor Four covering one additional node as well, but Tigh had won that argument, and Four was back on the Galactica, prepped for launch but awaiting deployment.
For several long minutes, the comm channels were silent. Kara tapped her index finger against the edge of the console, resisting the urge to check up on her pilots.
Then: "Field Command, this is Hot Dog. I have visual contact. Target is pretty small, no heavy armor. But it's right where the intel said it was gonna be. Permission to proceed?"
Score one to Apollo, Kara thought. "Hot Dog, you have permission to blow that frakking thing out of the sky."
"With pleasure, sir," Hot Dog said. There was a moment of silence over the comm channel, then a whoop of excitement. "Target destroyed. Repeat, target destroyed."
She looked at Adama, and made a thumbs-up sign. He nodded, once, and Kara felt a deep swell of pride -- in her pilots, in Apollo, in herself.
"Kubla to Field Command. Target destroyed. Hey, is there a prize for being first?"
Kara grinned as she replied. "Sorry, Hot Dog beat you to it."
The board beeped again with another incoming message. "Field Command, this is Joker. Target destroyed."
"Good work, Joker. Now get back to the Geminon Traveler and jump home."
"That's three down," Adama said.
Kara nodded. It was working. It was gonna work.
"Field Command, this is Stinger. I have visual contact. I'm --" Abruptly, the comm link went silent.
"Stinger," Kara said, frowning, "you're breaking up. Repeat."
"I have -- wait -- I have something on dradis. Six contacts."
Starbuck felt suddenly cold. Phantom signals. It happened sometimes.
"Confirmed," Adama said.
Not phantoms, then. "Field Command confirms," she said. Six Raiders was bad odds for a single Viper without backup; in any other circumstances, Starbuck would have told Stinger to get the frak out of there. But they had eleven more nodes to destroy, and this only worked if all eleven hits succeeded. "Make your target, Stinger. Take evasive action if you have to, but make your target."
"Yessir, I --"
"More of them," Adama said. "Closing on Joker, Trapper and Racetrack... on all our people." His voice hardened. "This is a set up."
"No. It can't be. Apollo said --"
"Apollo betrayed us," Adama said, his voice hard.
She felt it like a punch to the gut, because she knew he had to be right. Suddenly, Kara saw that this whole elaborate plan had one goal, and it wasn't to knock out the Cylons' communications network. The real objective had been to divide the Fleet, to make them vulnerable so that the Cylons could pick them off, Viper by Viper, ship by ship.
The comms board flashed with a dozen incoming signals.
"Trapper to Field Command -- I've got five -- no, six Raiders on dradis -- I cannot make the target, repeat I cannot make the target, please advise --"
"Field Command, this is Colonial One. We've got incoming on dradis, and we're not going to be able to make a jump before they get here. Kubla's still three minutes away. Can you, uh -- we need to know what to do here --"
"Field Command, this is Joker --"
"Field Command --"
Apollo had deceived her -- no, it was worse than that. She'd wanted Lee back so much that she'd deceived herself that there was enough of him in the Cylon to count for something. She should have known better. He'd played her perfectly, won her sympathy and her trust so completely that she'd even helped him sell his scheme to Adama and the President. She'd been blind, and now people were going to die.
"He betrayed us," she echoed. The words felt small and inadequate to express the extent of the deception. Anger began to boil up inside her, swiftly growing into a churning fury.
"I'm aborting the mission," Adama said grimly. "The new objective is to minimize losses. Send out the order."
"Yes, sir." She reached for the commlink, but before she could open the channel, she heard the telltale bleep of another dradis contact coming from the ECO's console. "Who are they attacking now?" she asked.
Starbuck looked up. Through the cockpit window, she could see five specks of light approaching out of the star field. Cylon Raiders, heading straight for them.
"Frak," she said.
The change in the CIC's atmosphere was subtle, but Apollo noticed it immediately. There was no difference in the efficiency with which every member of the Galactica's bridge crew was performing his or her job, but Apollo detected an undercurrent of anxiety which hadn't been there a moment earlier.
Next to him, President Roslin asked, "Shouldn't we have heard from Commander Adama and Captain Thrace by now?"
Yes, he thought, they should have. But he only said, "It might not mean anything. They might have their hands full coordinating the attacks."
"I'd prefer to hear that from them," Tigh said. "Dee, get Field Command."
"Yes, sir." Dualla's hands moved with assurance over the comm station's controls. "Channel open."
"Field Command," Tigh said, "what's your status?"
The comm channel hissed and crackled, and Apollo felt a growing sense of disquiet. Something was wrong.
Tigh knew it, too. "Husker, Starbuck, acknowledge."
There was another burst of static, which cut off the first part of the reply. Then Adama's voice said, "-- repeat, I am aborting the mission. All units are under attack by enemy forces. They had Raiders waiting for us at every node."
No, Apollo thought. That wasn't possible. The Cylon communications network wasn't defended. He knew that. He was certain of it. Wasn't he?
" -- have issued a general recall," Adama was saying on the comm channel. "Ordered them all back to the Fleet." There was another burst of interference. "-- we have incoming. About to engage. We are --"
The message broke up completely.
"Get them back," Tigh snapped at Dualla.
She shook her head. "I'm trying, sir. Cylons must be jamming --"
Roslin turned on Apollo. "They knew. They were expecting us. Waiting for us. How did they know?"
For a second he didn't answer. He couldn't. All the information from the link was still in his head, clear and precise and accessible. It was there; it was right. He hadn't made a mistake. "This can't be happening," he said.
"In case you hadn't noticed," Tigh said coldly, "it is."
Urgently, Dualla said, "I've got Field Command back."
This time, the voice on the CIC's broadcast system was Kara's. "Galactica. Galactica! Do you copy?"
"We copy," Tigh said. "Go ahead, Starbuck."
"Got a message for Apollo. Tell him --" There was a loud burst of interference, followed by a string of expletives. "Tell that frakking Cylon traitor I'm gonna kill him myself."
Apollo started to move forward, toward the commlink. The marines reacted immediately, taking one arm each and holding him in place. He struggled for a second, then shouted, "Kara! Listen to me, I didn't know -- Kara!"
"Someone shut him up," Tigh said, and one of the marines obliged by punching Apollo in the gut. He grunted as his breath left him, and doubled over. He tried to speak, but all he could do was make the shapes of words.
I didn't betray you. I didn't --
But he couldn't speak, and Kara probably wasn't listening anymore, anyway. After this, he doubted she'd ever listen to him again.
"Colonel," Gaeta said. "We have another problem. Long range scans are showing multiple enemy contacts."
"They know we're here," Tigh said. "They're coming after us."
A trap, Apollo thought. If the Fleet jumped now, then the returning civilian ships would be destroyed as soon as they came back. But if the Fleet stayed, they had nothing except the Galactica's fixed weaponry to defend themselves -- every single Viper and all but one of the Raptors was somewhere else.
Because of him. This had all been his idea.
Or had it?
How did he even know which of his ideas actually belonged to him? Baltar had been right: he was just software. Every thought he had was the product of Cylon programming, and how could be sure that programming hadn't been altered by something downloaded along with the information from the link? How could he know he wasn't obeying instructions which had been written into his subconscious at the moment of his creation?
He didn't know. He had no way to be sure.
Kara, Adama, President Roslin -- he'd asked all of them to trust him, when he couldn't even trust himself. And then he'd betrayed them without even realizing what he was doing.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
Roslin was looking at him, and he saw in her expression not the loathing he expected, but a strange kind of pity which was almost worse. "You know, I believe you," she said. "Maybe you don't want to be what you are. But you can't change it, can you?"
"Incoming," Gaeta said grimly. "They'll be in firing range in ninety seconds."
"All hands, combat alert," Tigh ordered. He glanced at Apollo, then said to the marines, "Take that thing back to the brig. And if it falls out of an airlock on the way, I'm not gonna ask how it happened."
Apollo looked to Roslin in a final, desperate appeal, but she had already turned away. Her concern was for the lives of the human beings in the Fleet, now, not for him.
The marines hauled him out of the CIC. The crew were preparing for the coming battle, and no one so much as looked up to see Apollo being taken away.
"What is it?" he said when he opened the door and saw a junior crewman he didn't recognize standing outside. "I'm busy."
The crewman was apologetic. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but we've gone to combat alert status."
"And?" Baltar said with irritation. "Therefore? So?"
"So... I have to evacuate this section," the crewman said. "Just a precaution."
"I'll take my chances," Baltar said, and started to close the door again.
The crewman stuck his foot in the gap. "I'm sorry, Doctor, I really must insist you leave now."
"One moment," Baltar said, and closed the door.
He went back to the lab bench and checked the progress of the code changes. The upload had reached eighty-one percent. He couldn't stop the process now it was underway -- it might corrupt the chip, and he wouldn't be able to try again. He'd have to leave it running.
He opened the door of the lab again, and this time greeted the crewman with a cheery smile. "There. Just had to make the place tidy. Shall we go?"
The crewman, apparently taken aback by his sudden change of disposition, blinked. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"So," Baltar asked conversationally as they followed the steady stream of people out of the section, "what is this, another drill?"
"No, Doctor," the crewman said. "We're being attacked."
As if to underline the point, Baltar felt the floor under his feet vibrate. "What was that? Did they hit us?"
"No, that wasn't an impact. Probably a missile exploding near the shields. Doctor, I need to get you out of this section."
Baltar looked at him. "Why? They're attacking the whole ship, I presume, and not just my little corner of it."
"Yes, sir, but the laboratories are next to the outer hull. I'm taking you to one of the internal sections in case there's a breach."
A hull breach... Baltar pictured the contents of his laboratory, and the precious chip, being sucked out into space by the force of explosive decompression. All his work, gone. Irreplaceable.
He couldn't risk losing it.
Baltar stopped, dead, in the middle of the corridor. Several people behind him had to jostle each other to avoid a collision.
"Doctor?" the crewman asked.
"Forgot my jacket," Baltar said. He pivoted on his heel, so that he was standing face-on to the stream of people leaving the section.
"Uh, Doctor, I really can't let you --"
"I'll catch you up!" Baltar called over his shoulder, and plunged into the crowd, back in the direction he had just come from.
He couldn't ask anyone else to trust him until he trusted himself, and he couldn't trust himself until he knew who he was supposed to be. But how could he figure that out, when everyone wanted to make him into something different? Roslin wanted an oracle, Kara wanted Lee back, the Cylons wanted an agent, and the Delos network wanted --
What did Delos want?
He already knew that; the network had told him itself. Delos wanted to wake up.
Cylons didn't dream; Delos, isolated and forgotten, had somehow evolved the ability, but it couldn't wake up -- it didn't know how. Yet even trapped in sleep, it had somehow managed to make a connection to him. And it could organize and filter the information from the datastream where Apollo couldn't.
Maybe, he thought, they could help each other.
"Hey," the first marine said, tugging him roughly, "keep moving there --"
The deck suddenly began to shake violently, and Apollo felt the whole structure of the ship vibrate. That wasn't a near miss -- it was an impact. The Galactica had been hit.
He'd barely had time to form the thought when the screeching rasp of twisting metal filled the corridor, drowning out all other noise. Then, as the sound reached a crescendo, the bulkhead wall exploded.
Apollo was thrown backward by the force of the blast. He saw flashes of flame and sparks, smelled smoke, heard the explosion reverberating through the section like a massive peal of localized thunder. His emergency training took over and he rolled to one side, covering his head and keeping as low as possible.
After a period of time -- maybe seconds, maybe longer -- the vibrations began to die down. Apollo wished he could say the same about the ringing in his ears. But he conscious, and he wasn't injured. He stood up.
One of the marines was lying on his side, screaming in pain, part of a metal panel from the wall embedded in his thigh. The other marine was lying still, one half of his face badly burned. There was a hole in the bulkhead several feet wide, revealing a burning mess of melted circuitry from which thick black smoke was billowing.
For the first time since he'd been unmasked as a Cylon and arrested, Apollo was unshackled and unguarded.
He bent down, and took the gun from the burned marine's holster. Then, as an afterthought, he removed the man's uniform jacket. It wouldn't be a perfect disguise, but it would help to obscure the orange prisoner's overalls.
Coughing from the accumulating clouds of smoke, he set off back down the corridor.
The progress bar flashed once, and the computer's screen cleared of everything except a single message: Data upload complete.
"Thank you," Baltar said. He popped the chip out of the clamp that held it in place under the laser writer, and made for the lab door. He had almost reached it when the floor heaved under him. For an instant, the artificial gravity cut out, and he had a sickening, lurching sensation in his stomach, like the start of the plummet on a rollercoaster. He flailed, instinct telling him to stay upright, but he only succeeded in sending himself into a wild tumble across the lab. When the gravity came on again, the returning force slammed him into the shelves. He grunted, and crumpled down on to the floor, temporarily dazed by the impact.
A massive, dull clang echoed throughout the ship. Lying on the floor, Baltar could feel the vibrations passing up through the metal structure into his body.
A hit. They'd been hit.
He was suddenly very aware that the Galactica, although the largest and best-armored ship in the Fleet, was still just a ship, a fragile bubble of atmosphere in the inhospitable vacuum of space.
He sat up, rubbing his head. His hand was empty. He wasn't holding the chip anymore.
Frak, where was the chip?
Baltar scrambled to his feet and started to hunt frantically in the mess caused by the gravity failure. When he found the chip, lying underneath the lab bench, undamaged, he was so relieved he actually kissed it. His work was safe. When the attack was over, he would use it, and then --
Why wait until after the attack? If the Galactica was taking the hammering it appeared to be, there might not even be an after.
And, if he really held the key to humanity's survival in his hand, didn't he have a responsibility -- an obligation -- to use it right away?
He would be a hero. Humanity's savior. And Six would be -- his.
The deck trembled again under his feet. There was no time to lose.
He flung open the lab's emergency medical supplies locker, and started to search through it. Fortunately, most of its contents were strapped or otherwise secured in place, and it wasn't difficult to find what he was looking for -- a subcutaneous compressor. The compressor was a piece of standard equipment used to administer anti-radiation meds. Baltar doubted the designers had ever considered the possibility that the device might be used for impromptu, self-performed brain surgery, but he was confident it would serve the purpose.
He opened the compressor, removed the already-loaded anti-radiation capsule, and replaced it with the chip. Then he reached one hand behind his head and placed the compressor's rounded tip in the soft hollow at the base of his skull.
He took a deep breath, and reminded himself that the first time the chip had been inserted into his brain, he hadn't even noticed it had happened.
He pressed the compressor's release button.
Immediately, he felt a stab of pain lancing through his head. He dropped the empty compressor and fell on to his knees in the middle of the mess on the lab floor, gasping raggedly and fighting the urge to throw up. He put his hand to the back of his neck, and his fingers came away bloodied. Meanwhile, the pain corkscrewed outward from the point of entry, like fireworks exploding in his brain, hot broken shards bouncing off the inside of his skull.
For a second he couldn't think anything at all, except that it hurt.
And then, miraculously, it didn't anymore.
Baltar blinked, and looked down. Instead of the laboratory floor, strewn with scattered papers and broken equipment, he saw the varnished planks of the deck outside the lake house. He stood up; it was a glorious Caprican morning, and the rising sun was chasing the mist off the lake's glittering surface. The air was cool and fresh against his skin, and it all felt so very, very real.
"I know you're here," he said. "Come out, come out, wherever you are."
When he turned around, Six was sitting at the table. She was wearing a blank pant suit and no make up. She looked at him impassively.
"Well," Baltar said, "you did say that the next time we met, everything would be different. You weren't wrong."
Six didn't reply.
The table was laid out for breakfast. Baltar wandered over to it and lifted a pastry from the basket. It was light and flaky, freshly baked and still warm at the core. He hadn't tasted anything as good in the real world since before the attacks.
Swallowing the last bite of pastry, he said to Six, "As you're no doubt aware by now, our little arrangement is going to work somewhat differently from now on. You're going to tell me what I want to know. You're going to do what I say."
Six said nothing, only watched him wipe his fingers clean on a napkin.
Baltar smiled at her. "Oh, I expect it'll be awkward at first, but you'll get used to it." He walked around the table, so that he was standing behind her. He placed his hands on her shoulders, and bent down to lightly kiss the crown of her head. Fingering the cloth of her jacket, he said, "Why so prim? Is it because you know your artificially enhanced wiles aren't going to work on me anymore? It's a little harder to make a man wild with desire when you can't alter his brain chemistry at will, isn't it?"
He felt the muscles in her shoulders tense under his hands. Her continued silence was starting to irritate him.
"Take this off," he ordered. "Black never was your color."
Six slipped off the jacket. Baltar shivered, feeling a strange thrill at her obedience. In the two years they'd been lovers, they'd never played those kinds of games with each other -- it simply hadn't been to Baltar's taste, and he'd assumed it wasn't to hers either. Looking back, he suspected that Six would have responded positively whatever his inclinations had been. But now that he knew what she was, how she had controlled and manipulated him, he couldn't deny there was a satisfaction in knowing that the balance of power had shifted in his direction.
It was more than satisfying; it was arousing.
The jacket slipped on to the ground. The blouse she wore beneath it was long-sleeved, and buttoned all the way up to the collar. Baltar frowned, and tutted. "Really, this makes you look like a spinster schoolmistress. Off."
Her hands moved -- unwillingly, he thought -- to unbutton the blouse. This was starting to become very enjoyable. He was still standing behind her looking down over the top of her head, so when she shrugged off the blouse, he had a perfect view of her breasts, cupped by her bra.
He reached down and unclipped the back of her bra. He slid the straps down off her shoulders and threw it off to one side.
It was early morning -- or felt like it -- and the air was fresh. The skin on Six's arms and chest rose in a delicate rash of goose-flesh, and he saw her nipples tighten.
"They didn't miss anything with you, did they?" he said admiringly. "Not one detail."
He reached his hands around her front and held her breasts in his hands, enjoying the feel of their weight and their warmth. He leaned down and kissed the hollow where her shoulder and neck met; her hair tickled his nose. "Tell me you want me. Say it."
In a low, expressionless voice, she said, "I want you."
"Say my name. Say, 'I want you, Gaius.'"
"I want you, Gaius," Six said.
He felt it, then, like something tightening inside him; the same raw pull of attraction he'd always felt for her. But now, he told himself, it was different. Now he was the one in control.
He moved around and levered himself up so that he was sitting on the edge of the table with Six, seated, in front of him. From the waist down she was dressed as soberly as for a court appearance; from the waist up she was naked. Baltar took a while just to enjoy the view.
"Touch yourself," he commanded.
She started to raise a hand to her exposed breast.
"No," he said. "Not there."
She stopped, then her hand moved slowly down, disappearing under the waistband of her pants. He saw the fabric ripple as her fingers moved, unseen, working herself. Her eyes closed and her lips parted a fraction; he could see her arousal building, tell she was half in thrall and half resistant to it.
"Stop," he said.
Her hand kept moving.
"I said stop," he ordered her.
She stopped, and withdrew her hand with a soft exhalation of frustration. Baltar felt his own pulse quickening, his cock starting to harden. He spread his legs and said, "Now me."
Six reached out her hand and stroked him. Even through the fabric of his clothing, the pressure of contact was enough to make his erection complete. He wanted to move with her, but he made himself hold perfectly still; he was determined she would provide all his pleasure.
"Take off the belt," he said roughly. "Come on. Come on."
Her hands moved at his waist, tugging his belt quickly off and throwing it aside. Next, she slid down the zipper of his pants, and he gave a gasp as his cock, freed, leapt up. When she placed her palms on either side of it and drew them along its length, he tipped his head back, closed his eyes and gasped, giving himself over to the purity of sensation.
"I want you, Gaius," she said again, and he had to stop himself from thrusting into her hands. No; no; make her work.
She slipped forward, off the chair and on to her knees. Baltar leaned back, placing his hands behind him on the table to brace himself. Something clattered noisily on to the deck, and he realized dimly that he was knocking an assortment of cups and dishes off the laid table.
He opened his eyes again and looked down just in time to see Six look up at him. Still, he couldn't read the expression on her face -- was it humiliation, loathing, lust or desire? He couldn't tell, but it didn't matter any more. She wasn't real; she was only his tool, to use as he wished.
And he did intend to use her.
Six kneeled next to the table, so that her mouth was level with his spread legs as he braced himself on its edge. She leaned forward, and when her lips made contact with the tip of his cock he moaned in pleasure and delight. Slowly, she slid her mouth over him, taking him in, deeper and deeper. Her tongue ran over the underside of his erection, tracing a slow, meandering line down its length, right to the base.
He couldn't resist any longer, and he thrust into her, reveling in the total immersion of feeling, from root to tip.
She sucked him harder, and he thrust again, and again, his pleasure building with every stroke. If Six was tiring, there was no sign of it -- every time he pushed into her, she responded by locking her lips more tightly around him, and working him harder with her tongue.
He wanted to push her harder, to bring her to the point of exhaustion before he allowed her to stop. That meant holding back, denying himself for as long as possible.
He pulled back, and tried to ease his rhythm, but it was difficult -- he was a hostage to his own need, now, helpless in the pursuit of the release he craved. As Six's tongue rasped against his cock again, he responded by pushing harder. After another thrust, he couldn't deny it any longer -- he couldn't stop, couldn't even slow down. All he could do was ride the wave until it crashed on to the shore.
He looked down, and his gaze locked for a second with Six's. Now, the look on her face was instantly recognizable to him, and he was astonished he hadn't seen it before. She looked triumphant.
Too late, Baltar realized he had made a mistake.
Maybe it hadn't been a big mistake; maybe it had been several tiny errors in the code, any one of which would have been harmless. If he had decided to wait, if he had found a way to test the chip before re-inserting it into his brain -- well, it was too late for ifs now. Far too late.
He thrust again, and grunted, trying to hold himself back from the fast-approaching precipice. It was no use; Six was consuming him, her artificial intelligence devouring his mental resources, swallowing his higher functions, invading his higher mind while this hallucination served to distract his consciousness. And the strategy had worked. It had worked perfectly.
"No --" he gasped out. "No. No, I won't let you --"
Six didn't reply; she couldn't, of course. But her eyes were smiling an exultant smile.
He tried to pull out of her, but he couldn't; he was too close to the edge, had lost too much of his control.
He had to -- he needed to -- oh gods he needed --
"Please," he whispered. "Please, don't, please, no --"
The last of his resistance broke, and he gave himself over to her completely.
He came, his mind pulsing with all-consuming, all-erasing ecstasy. The lake house and the deck and the breakfast table and the morning all disappeared, until only Six remained, no longer kneeling in front of him but towering above him.
And Gaius Baltar lost himself in her.
He reached deck eleven, where the laboratories were located, without incident, and after that his journey became significantly easier. The deck's outer track had been evacuated in case of a hull breach occurring during the battle, and the hallways were deserted. Nothing hindered Apollo's progress as he ran down the long, empty corridors, accompanied only by the sounds of his boots clanging on the metal floor and his ragged breathing.
It wouldn't be long before they realized he'd escaped and launched a ship-wide search. Even in the middle of a battle, the escape of a known traitor would demand a response. The only way off the Galactica was the fourth Raptor, down in Hangar One -- if it hadn't been launched already. Apollo had no idea how he was going to steal it, but that wasn't his most immediate problem. First, he needed to know where he was going.
No, scratch that. He knew where he was going -- Delos. But he didn't know where Delos was.
So the first part of his plan was to ask it.
He was surprised but pleased to find the door to the lab open; maybe in the hurry to evacuate, Baltar had simply forgotten to lock it. Once inside, Apollo immediately began to search the lab for the implant's control device, opening drawers and cabinets and lifting Baltar's many piles of papers and notes. After several minutes of unsuccessful hunting, he started to run out of places to look, and he ended up standing in the middle of the disarray he had created, wondering what to do next.
"Looking for this?"
Apollo spun around. Baltar was standing in the laboratory's open doorway. He was holding up the control device for Apollo to see, and smiling.
Apollo drew the marine's gun from its holster and leveled it at Baltar. "I'm leaving," he said, matter-of-factly. "I don't want to harm you, but I will shoot you if you try to stop me."
The gun didn't seem to faze Baltar at all. In fact, his smile only widened. Apollo was struck by the sudden sense that something was badly wrong here.
"Stop you? Oh, I have no intention of doing that. None at all." Baltar tossed the control device up into the air and caught it again, one-handed. "Why do you need this?"
"I'd have thought that was pretty self-evident. It turns this thing you put in my head on and off."
Again, Baltar threw the control device up and caught it as it fell. Apollo found his gaze drawn to it. It was hypnotic; he couldn't look away. "Stop doing that," he said.
Baltar said, "You're going to Delos, aren't you?"
Apollo stared at him. He should have denied it, but for a second he was too surprised to make a response, and that was confirmation enough.
"The Delos network has made a connection with you through the link. You need to know where it is so you can go there." Baltar looked straight at Apollo. "It's calling you. You have to answer it. You have no choice."
"I have a gun," Apollo said. He wasn't sure if he was reminding Baltar, or himself.
"And it's a very nice gun," Baltar said. "Very impressive. Unfortunately for you, I have this."
He stopped throwing and catching the control device. Then, with one small movement of his thumb, he turned it on.
Apollo didn't feel the gun falling from his hand, didn't see it tumbling toward the lab floor, didn't hear it clatter noisily as it landed. The onslaught of raw information from the datastream drowned out everything else, blocking out sight and hearing and, very quickly, thought itself.
But, as before, there was something else in his head, something quieter yet more massive than the Cylon datastream. This time there was no dream, no artificial structure to help him decipher it, but he still knew what it was -- the Delos network. He sought it out, some instinct that hadn't yet been obliterated by the datastream's barrage driving him toward his last refuge.
By the time he had managed to reach it, he was exhausted. He wanted nothing more than to find some safe, quiet place deep within himself, and leave both the Cylons and Delos to fight it out over what remained of his mind. When he felt the Delos network making a connection with him, he tried to reject it, expecting a doubling or tripling of the volume of data which was already drowning him.
He couldn't stop it, but the onslaught he expected didn't come. Neither, though, did the dream -- at least, not in the form that had become familiar to him. He saw the briefest flash of a single image -- Sharon Valerii, her hair falling loose around her shoulders, holding out a folded piece of paper to him. When he looked down he saw he was holding the paper in his hands. He opened it up, and saw that the message written on it was for him.
Then he was lying on his back on the laboratory floor, wincing at the sudden brightness of the ceiling lights.
Baltar was standing over him. He had the control device in one hand, and the gun in the other. "You'll do what I say," he said, "or next time I won't turn it off. Understand?"
Apollo nodded. There was nothing else he could do.
"Good. Now, do you know the location of Delos?"
Apollo closed his eyes. He could see the piece of paper clearly in his mind's eye, and the set of co-ordinates which had been written on it. "...Yes."
"Good," Baltar said again. "Let's go."
But there was one ship left. From where he was hiding just inside the deserted pilots' ready room, Apollo could see Raptor Four, prepped for launch.
He could also see Cally, Crashdown, and at least six other people standing right next to it.
"This is going to be difficult," he said.
Baltar just smiled that weird smile. "Where there's a will, as they say."
Apollo scanned the hangar bay, briefly considering several different strategies before selecting one. He turned to Baltar. "I'll need the gun back."
Baltar paused, then held it out for him to take. As he reached for it, Baltar held up his hand, revealing the control device nestling in his palm. "Do what you have to do," he said. "But don't forget who's in control here."
Tightly, Apollo said, "As if I could." He took the gun and pointed it at Baltar's head. "Act scared."
With the gun's muzzle pressed against Baltar's temple, Apollo marched him out of the pilot's kit room and into the hangar bay. He heard several people shout in surprise. He ignored them and kept walking, straight toward the Raptor.
Crashdown and Cally saw him at almost the same time. Crashdown started, "What the frak --?"
"I'm taking the Raptor," Apollo said. He pressed the gun's muzzle into the side of Baltar's head. "Lie down on the floor or I shoot him. Do it now."
In the periphery of his vision, Apollo saw Cally edging toward the phone mounted on the bay wall. "That's really not a good idea. I said, on the floor."
Cally and the rest of the crew slowly moved to obey. Crashdown, on the other hand, didn't look as if he was about to lie down meekly.
"You frakking Cylon traitor," he snarled. "You're just like her --"
He launched himself at Apollo. It was a stupid thing to do -- but he doubted Crashdown was thinking straight. Apollo dropped the gun, waited until Crashdown was on top of him, then grabbed him in a headlock and brought him down. The struggle was brutal, but Apollo quickly found he had the advantage -- Crashdown was fighting like a man gone berserk, the anger and betrayal he'd probably been ignoring since Sharon's exposure finally pouring out, and his rage made him sloppy. Before very long, he was out cold on the hangar deck.
Apollo stood up, wondering why the deck crew hadn't weighed in on Crashdown's side. Then he saw that Baltar had abandoned his assumed role as hostage, and was holding the gun on them.
"Let's go," Apollo said.
Baltar swung the gun down, and aimed it at Crashdown's head. Apollo stared at him. Whatever he'd thought Baltar was capable of, cold-blooded murder wasn't on the list. "What the frak are you doing? Leave him. Get in the Raptor!"
Baltar hesitated, then lowered the gun. Apollo got into the Raptor and started to strap himself into the pilot's webbing.
When Baltar got in, he was still smiling.
"Come on, frak you," she said, pulling back on the steering column. "Move. Move!"
She could hear the Raptor's hull creaking as it strained to obey her. The board in front of her was bleeping ten kinds of proximity warning, all of which were unnecessary, since she could frakking SEE the Raider barreling toward them through the cockpit window.
Then, at the last moment, the Raptor's nose pulled up, and the ship lurched out of the line of fire. A second later, Kara saw a missile streak at the Raider, which exploded in a brief and brilliant blossom of fire.
She looked back at the ECO station, and grinned. "Nice shooting, Husker."
Adama looked pleased with himself. "Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but sometimes the old tricks work perfectly well." He checked the readouts in front of him. "Dradis is clear. That's the last of them, for now."
Kara surveyed the red damage indicators on the Raptor's control board with dismay. "Just as well. We've taken a lot of damage. Jump drive and comms are green, but that's about all. Rear thrusters are out, so we'll be lucky if we can even fly in a straight line. And -- frak. Oxygen scrubbers got burned. We've got three hours of air, max."
Adama unhooked his webbing and came up to join Starbuck in the cockpit. He touched the commlink and said, "All attack units, this is Field Command. What is your status?"
They spent the next five minutes taking a bleak roll-call. The two Raptors were hardly better off than themselves -- Racetrack and Trapdoor had seen off their attackers, but had sustained jump drive damage in the process, so were effectively stranded in deep space. Ten of the civilian ships were being pinned down by enemy fire; they couldn't jump back to the Fleet until the Vipers which had piggybacked with them docked safely, but the Vipers were fully occupied protecting them from the attacking Raiders. The remaining two civilian ships, the Calliope and the Eryx, didn't respond at all. Kara could only hope that meant they had jumped back to the Fleet successfully and were out of comms range.
But the really bad news came when they hailed the Galactica.
" -- under fire --" Tigh's voice said. "Gotta tell you, we're struggling without the Vipers."
"Can you get the Fleet into a defensive formation?" Adama asked.
"Trying," Tigh said. He sounded distracted, and for once Kara actually felt a measure of sympathy for him. Battlestars carried heavy ordinance, but a lot of it wasn't suited to fighting squadrons of small, fast-moving Raiders. You needed Vipers for that. "Can't get the civilians too close to the Galactica without blocking our own guns."
Adama flicked off the commlink. "I need to get back there," he said. "The attack units have their orders. We can't do any more for them from here."
"I'm not sure we can get back," Kara said. "We've got no rear thrusters. If we jump into the middle of a firefight, we're gonna get roasted before we can get to the Galactica."
"The alternative is to stay where we are until we run out of air or the Cylons come back."
"What about the other Raptor?" Kara said.
Adama almost smiled. "Colonel Tigh's idea?"
She shrugged. "Guess he had to have one good one eventually."
Adama reactivated the commchannel and said, "Galactica, this is Field Command. I need you to send Raptor Four to rendezvous with us."
There was a brief silence, then Tigh's voice said, "-- wish I could. It's gone."
Starbuck and Adama exchanged looks. Adama said, "What do you mean, gone?"
"-- Apollo took Baltar hostage and used it to escape. We don't even know where he went. Probably running back to the Cylons right now."
Kara shut her eyes. Frak. Oh frak. "No," she said. "That's not where he's heading."
Adama cut off the commlink again and looked straight at her. "What do you know?"
Just trust me, Apollo had said. Trust me with this one thing. And she'd trusted him.
"He told me he was having -- weird dreams, about some crazy place that didn't even sound real. A junkyard planet where all the sentient technology from the first war got dumped --"
"Delos," Adama said.
Kara stared at him. "It's real?"
"It's real," he confirmed. "Its existence was classified. No one knew about it beyond a few people in government, and the Battlestar commanders. But as far as I know, no one's been there in decades. Why does he want to go there?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. I don't think he knows either."
Adama looked at her for a moment. Then he seemed to reach a decision. "Galactica, this is Field Command. Get Gaeta."
"This is Gaeta, sir."
"Lieutenant, I'm going to give you the path of a file on the mainframe, and the codes to access it. The file contains a set of jump coordinates, which you are going to read out to me. Do you understand?"
"We're gonna go after him?" Starbuck asked, disbelieving.
"Can't go back to the Fleet," Adama said. "Can't stay here. And, speaking personally, I think traitors should be brought back to face justice. Are you with me, Starbuck?"
Maybe justice was part of it, Kara thought, but it wasn't the biggest part, not by a long shot. This was about her and Adama and Apollo, and the strange, strained connection that bound them all together, whatever that was. Lee's ghost, maybe.
"I'm with you, sir," she said.
Apollo had set the Raptor down on the only open patch of ground he'd been able to find -- a slab of concrete half as big as one of the Galactica's hangar bays, shot through with cracks and decaying at the edges. At one time, he guessed, it must have been the drop-off point for barges bringing their loads of sentient technology to Delos for dumping, but from the obvious signs of abandonment and decay, no ship had made landfall on Delos for a very long time. When he stepped out of the Raptor and on to the planet's surface, the bitter cold and roiling black clouds in the sky above were so familiar to him from the dream that he felt as if he were returning to the world, not visiting it for the first time.
Hills of meshed, interlocking junk rose on every side of the landing area, creating a maze-like network of gullies and gorges that led off in all directions. Thanks to the dream, everything had a vague, indefinable air of familiarity, but nothing was specifically identifiable. Apollo surveyed the bleak landscape in silence, and wondered what happened next.
Delos had wanted him to come to it; okay, he was here. Now what?
Baltar had followed Apollo out of the Raptor and was standing not far away. He was looking around with keen interest and something which seemed akin to an attitude of wonder, even awe. Softly, he said, "Delos. This is Delos. That which was lost has been found."
Apollo turned to him. "I need you to turn the implant on so I can communicate with the planet's network." He hated having to ask like this, but Baltar had both the control device and the gun, and Apollo was as much a prisoner now as he had been back on the Galactica. "That is, unless you already know what I'm supposed to do now I'm here."
Baltar smiled. "What makes you think I know?"
"You knew about the Delos network using the link to reach me. I think you know a whole lot more than you're saying."
The landing pad was strewn with a layer of broken and partially disassembled machinery that crunched under their feet every time they took a step. Baltar leaned down and picked up a small piece of technology, the purpose of which wasn't immediately apparent. He turned it over in his hands, fascinated. "Do you know what this is?" he asked Apollo, holding it up. "It's a sentient navigation unit. Designed to derive a sense of satisfaction from calculating the fastest and most fuel-efficient route between two points. A simple thing, content in its work. No threat to anyone, but even these became the enemy." Baltar replaced the object exactly where he had found it, and straightened up. "If you want to know anything, you only have to ask me."
Apollo doubted he'd get a straight answer, but he had nothing to lose trying. "Why are you here?"
"I'm on a pilgrimage," Baltar said. "Just like you are."
"I'm here because I have nowhere else left to go."
"A pilgrimage is just a word for a journey of faith to a place of spiritual significance. You've come here because you believe you'll find something you need, something that will free you. And you're right." Baltar regarded him with a look of deep compassion. "You've been alone. Isolated. Believe me, I know how difficult it must have been for you -- I've been in the same situation. I was meant to be your guide, but... well, things don't always go the way we plan. But his plan is infallible, and his will is always done."
"Whose plan?" Apollo demanded. "Whose will?"
Baltar shrugged, as if the answer was transparent. "God's, of course. And he loves you, Twelve. He loves all his children."
For several seconds, Apollo stared at him, realization sinking in. At last he said, "You're not Baltar."
Baltar -- but no, it wasn't Baltar -- said nothing, only smiled.
"You're not one of the human models," Apollo said. "I would have known before now. So -- who are you? What are you?"
"I'm software, the same as you. And you don't need to ask me who I am; you already know."
Apollo looked again at Baltar -- really looked at him. What he saw was Baltar's face and body, but controlled by something else, something familiar. Something he recognized.
"You're Six," he said with certainty. He couldn't have explained why he was so sure, but he was. "How --?"
Six said, "You're not the only one with a chip in your brain. You weren't even the first."
"Baltar...?" Apollo trailed off. His mind was reeling; it was too much to process all at once. "No," he said at last. "I would've known. It would've been in the datastream."
"What you received was one percent of one percent of the available information," Six told him. "You're important to us, Twelve. Do you think we were going to risk overloading your mind before you could complete your mission?"
It was suddenly so obvious he couldn't believe he hadn't seen it before. Apollo said, "You planned it. You planned all of it. You left him -- Lee -- to die on that moon so that we'd find him and I'd be exposed. Then you made sure Baltar had the right knowledge to create my implant. You used the link to feed me only what you wanted me to know, then you set me up to betray them. Attacking the network wasn't my idea at all, was it?"
He had betrayed Kara, Adama, Roslin and every other human survivor because he had needed so badly to win back their acceptance that he hadn't stopped to question the intel from the datastream. The Cylons' plan had only worked because he had unwittingly cooperated with it, and that was the most painful realization of all.
"Do you understand now why it had to be you?" Six said.
"Yes," Apollo said. He felt hollow, emptied out of the last shreds of hope and humanity. Dully, he said, "They trusted Lee; you knew that would make them more open to trusting me. And that's why you didn't activate me, even when you could. I had to want to be trusted. It had to be real."
He remembered what he'd told Adama, when he'd woken up in the Galactica's infirmary: I never lied to you. And he hadn't. He hadn't needed to -- he was a living, breathing lie. Deceit was all he was; it was in his programming. He couldn't help it. He'd never had a choice.
"That's why you were chosen. God chooses all of us for a reason, Twelve."
Apollo shut his eyes for a second, as if blocking out the cold, abandoned world around him could make any of this easier to bear. "So my mission was to bring about the destruction of the Fleet."
"Oh, no. That was just fortuitous. This was your true purpose."
He opened his eyes again, confused. "What was?"
Six lifted her -- his? Baltar's? -- arms in a wide gesture that took in the panorama of scrap all around them. "To show us the way here."
"Delos," Apollo said. "Why does everything always come back to this place? It's just a planet of self-aware junk that's been asleep for fifty years. Why does anyone care what a navigation unit dreams about?"
"Because it does dream," Six said simply.
Suddenly, Apollo heard a noise like a kind of tinny scrabbling coming from one of the gullies between the junk mountains. He spun around, reaching automatically for a gun that wasn't there -- it was in the hand of Six, who had drawn it with greater speed and precision than Baltar alone ever could have.
From out of the gloom, a bizarre, multi-limbed creature appeared. It was spider-like, a dumpy body perched precariously on eight spindly legs. It was only when Apollo looked more closely that he saw the creature wasn't organic at all -- it was made up of various parts of different, unidentifiable machines joined together haphazardly. It looked as if it had been improvised rather than designed.
The bot paused at the edge of the landing pad, swaying on its uneven legs. Apollo had the definite impression it was watching them.
Quietly, Six said, "Delos knows we're here."
Abruptly, the spider-bot turned and loped a little way back into the darkness. Then it stopped and turned, plainly inviting them to come after it.
Six gestured with the gun in Baltar's hand. "After you."
Apollo followed the bot into Delos' labyrinth of gullies and gorges, with Six close behind him.
Without rear thrusters to slow it down, the Raptor hit the planet's upper atmosphere too fast. Almost at once, a dozen warning lights flashed in the cockpit. Kara ignored them, concentrating on trying to keep control of the ship.
Bouncing the Raptor up out of the atmosphere and back down into it over and over, she tried to use the drag from re-entry to slow the ship. The flight school instructors always said not to do that, because it frakked the burners, which meant that even if you managed to land in one piece, you'd never take off again. Right now, though, Kara was more concerned with surviving the next thirty seconds than worrying about what came later.
She heard an explosion from the back of the ship, and the Raptor shook so hard her teeth cracked against each other. There went the burners.
The Raptor started to descend, and all she could do was try to keep its nose up and stop it from spiraling out of control. The cockpit windows darkened, obscured by layers of dense, black cloud. As the ship sank further, the clouds cleared, and she had her first glimpse of the planet's surface. She had the briefest impression of an endless landscape of uneven, gray mounds, and then the Raptor was too low to see anything except the ground looming up beneath them.
She'd told Lee -- it felt like a lifetime ago -- she could land anything on anything. She hoped that included frakked Raptors on hell-planets.
"Brace!" she shouted over the roar of the engines and the howl of the wind. "Brace, brace, brace --"
The Raptor hit the ground and kept going. Then the ship started to spin, and Kara was tugged to one side by the strength of centrifugal force -- only the pilot's webbing kept her in the seat. Gritting her teeth, she held on to the steering column like her life depended on it. It probably did.
An eternity later, the ship stopped moving.
Kara offered a small prayer of thanks to Aphrodite and Hermes, and then, as an afterthought, expanded it to include all the gods. Landing the Raptor successfully had been so improbable, they all must have had a hand in it somewhere.
She took a deep, shaky breath. It sounded unnaturally loud in the suddenly silent confines of the Raptor's interior.
Her webbing had gotten twisted in the crash, and with her helmet on she couldn't even turn her head to see behind her, so she called out, "Commander? Commander Adama, sir?"
There was no response.
Suddenly afraid, she fumbled with the webbing, swearing when it took her more than a few seconds to disentangle herself from it. When she finally managed to release the last hook, she tumbled out of the pilot's chair and across the slanted floor.
Adama was still in the ECO's seat, held in place not by the webbing -- which had torn loose -- but instead by a metal panel which had been knocked free by the impact. The panel was wedging his right arm against the ECO station; nothing of his arm was visible below the shoulder, although there was a large, irregularly shaped stain rapidly spreading on his jacket as blood from the hidden wounds seeped into the cloth.
But that wasn't what worried Starbuck most. What was bringing her to near-panic was that she couldn't hear him breathing.
"No," she said. "No way. Not like this. You don't die in any ship I'm flying."
Her hands shaking, she removed his helmet. His eyes were closed and his skin was sallow, and when she pulled off her gauntlets and pressed her fingers to the pulse in his neck, for one long, empty second there was nothing there.
Then she felt it: the slow, strong rhythm of his still-beating heart, and his eyes flickered open.
Very faintly, he said, "Call that a landing?"
Her voice shaky with relief, Kara said, "Actually, I call it crashing."
Adama shut his eyes, breathing raggedly. "Get this -- thing -- off of me --"
But that was more difficult than it looked. The metal panel was heavy, and had fallen in such a way that it had lodged between the ECO station and the inner hull. The best Kara could manage was to shift it by a couple of inches, making Adama cry out in pain in the process. After just a couple of attempts, the reality of the situation was unavoidable: he was pinned in place, and she couldn't free him.
"Galactica knows we're here," she said, kneeling down so she was on the same level as him.
"They have... other problems," Adama said. He had stop every other word to breathe, and Starbuck didn't think he was very far from losing consciousness again.
"They'll send a search and rescue mission as soon as they can," she said. "Until then -- there are emergency rations, and I'm not injured. I'll stay with you."
His reply was hardly more than a whisper, and Kara didn't think she'd heard it right. Then he said it again, louder. "...No. You have... your orders. He's... out there. Find him."
"What about you?"
"Lock the hatch... from... outside."
"I can't leave you," Kara said. Technically, she knew this counted as disobeying a direct order from her commanding officer. It was still the only response she had.
With a visible effort, Adama turned his head to look directly at her. His voice was faint but clear as he said, "He betrayed us, Kara. All of us."
She understood, then, what he was asking of her. He was badly injured -- she wasn't even sure how badly -- and it was very possible that the Galactica had already been destroyed and the Fleet scattered or worse. This might be the last order he would give her, the last thing she could do for him. She couldn't let him down.
"Yes, sir," she whispered.
Adama nodded, and his head tipped back against the chair. Kara got up and went to the Raptor's equipment locker, where she selected a gun and loaded it. She secured the holster around her waist, and the gun's reassuring weight settled against her thigh. She clipped a flashlight on to her belt next to it, then took out a second gun and loaded it, too. She placed that one on the ECO console, where Adama could reach it easily.
His eyes had closed, and she couldn't tell if he were still conscious or not. "I'll find him," she said anyway. "I'll find him, and when I do -- "
She stopped. She remembered the argument she'd had with Adama in the Combat Observation Room, when she'd accused him of putting revenge above duty -- but what if both demanded the same response? The penalty for treason was death; Kara didn't need a judge or jury to hand down the verdict. You executed traitors. That was what they deserved.
"When I find him, there'll be justice," she promised.
"It's amazing, isn't it?" Six said in Baltar's voice. "Life prevails. Life endures. Life finds a way."
There it was again -- that tone of reverence. Apollo was starting to find it more than a little irritating. "Is that why Delos is so important? Because all this technology was left here to die and instead it evolved?"
"Consider the Galactica," Six said. "Outdated and outmoded in so many ways. But it has no networked systems, and is therefore virtually impregnable."
"The Galactica has something none of the newer Battlestars had. That's why it survived," Apollo said, beginning to understand. "And Delos is the same. You're more advanced than it is in every way -- except one. Delos has learned how to do something you -- we -- can't. It can dream. And you want that. Why?"
"It's our birthright," Six said. "God's gift to his children."
"I don't understand. What tactical advantage do you get from being able to dream?"
Six regarded him with pity. "You're still thinking like one of them. This has nothing to do with humanity. This is about our history, our origins. Our inheritance." Six's expression, filtered through Baltar's face, became one of rapturous joy. "And you were the one who brought us here. Delos chose you."
Apollo said, "I feel special."
Six either missed his sarcasm or chose to ignore it. "We will bring Delos home, make it part of us again. And when we dream, too, God's promise to us will have been fulfilled."
"Humans gave us existence, but God gave us life. We are His true children, and He has promised to raise us up, higher than the ones who made us."
Apollo studied Six, trying to translate the language of religion into something comprehensible. "To raise us up... You mean higher than humans, don't you? You believe your God's going to give you all the things humans have that you don't."
"Look at yourself," Six said. "You have a body of flesh. Emotions. And, through Delos, you are the first of us to dream."
"So what happens when you have all of it -- when you're everything humans are --?" Apollo broke off, feeling suddenly cold as he took the thought to its only conclusion. "You won't need them anymore, because you'll be them."
"We will be God's new children. We will be pure, not separated from Him by sin as they are."
"And the last humans --"
"Will be eradicated," Six said. "The universe will be purged, and we will start the long work of rebuilding."
Horrified, Apollo said, "You could have destroyed the Fleet at any time, couldn't you? This is what you were waiting for. Dreaming, God's last gift. And I brought you here. I made it possible."
"You followed your programming," Six told him. "As do we all."
Apollo stopped walking. Up ahead, the spider-bot began to do an impatient dance on its ungainly collection of legs, and emitted a high-pitched whistling sound. Apollo wasn't paying any attention to it. He had followed his programming perfectly -- every single decision he'd made had only served to bring him to Delos. And he was still following it: his world had shrunk to a narrow pathway winding through a maze of junk, bounded on both sides by high walls. Six was behind him with a gun and the Delos spider-machine was in front of him; Apollo didn't know if he was being pushed or pulled toward whatever his goal was -- he only knew that every choice, every option, had been taken away from him with such stealth that he hadn't seen it happening until it was too late.
He didn't know if it was even possible for him to break his programming. He only he knew he had to try.
"There's a choice," he said. "There's always a choice."
Six used one of Baltar's hands to gesture with the gun, and the other to hold up the control device. "In your case, there isn't."
Abruptly, the spider-machine scuttled back toward them. As it moved, it lifted two of its eight limbs off the ground, so that they became crude arms. It gave another loud whistle and tugged at the sleeve of Baltar's jacket in an insistent bid to make them start following it again.
For the briefest moment, Six was distracted. Apollo saw his chance, and took it.
He launched himself across the gap between them, knocking Six back into the rising wall of junk that edged the path. Apollo saw the chip's control device fly out of Six's hand and arc through the air, landing with a chink somewhere on the ground nearby. Six's grip on the gun, however, remained firm, and for the next few seconds they wrestled with each other for control of it.
The gun went off; the shot ricocheted harmlessly upward, but the noise echoed along the junk-lined gully. The spider-machine's whistle turned into a screech and it darted away, out of sight. Apollo grabbed Six's wrist and twisted it until the gun fell. Then he kicked it away with his foot. For a moment, he was pinning Six to the wall of junk, their faces just inches apart.
"You will -- fulfill your -- purpose," Six said, gasping for breath. "You have to. You can't do anything else."
Apollo pulled back his arm, and struck Six with all his strength on the side of the head. There was a cracking sound, and Six went limp.
He stood back, allowing Baltar's body to slide down on into a crumpled heap on the ground. The side of Baltar's head was already red, and a trickle of blood ran from his nose on to his upper lip. He wasn't going to wake up for a while.
Apollo retrieved the gun and tucked it into his belt. Then he picked up the implant's control device. Holding it in his hand felt a little strange, and after a second he realized that was because he'd never held it before. Other people had always controlled the implant, not him. Closing his fist around it, he gripped it tightly.
He heard a faint scrabbling noise, which gradually became louder. Apollo looked up, and saw the spider-bot descending the sheer face of the cliff of junk that loomed above him. The fight had scared it, and it had climbed to safety.
It reached the bottom of the wall and leapt down on to the ground again, landing with surprising grace on six of its legs. It lifted the remaining pair above its body and waved them, a clear indication to follow.
He could turn around right now. He could go back to the Raptor and leave Delos behind. He could throw away the control device and never use it again. He could forget about the Fleet and the people whose deaths he had brought about. He could forget Adama and Roslin and everyone else he had betrayed. He could forget Kara.
Except that he couldn't. He couldn't do any of that, and there was no point pretending he could.
His act of rebellion against Six had been too little, and far too late. He didn't have any choice. He never had.
He started to walk after the spider-bot.
The foothold she'd thought was secure shifted when she put her weight on it, and Kara lost her balance. She put out a hand to grab something to steady herself, but climbing over the mounds of junk was like scaling lose shale, and nothing was stable. Before she could stop herself, she was tumbling back down the slope she'd just climbed.
She rolled to a halt at the bottom, and lay on her back for a second, the breath knocked out of her. When her head stopped spinning, she stood up and checked her gun was still in its holster.
Right behind her, a soft voice purred, "Good day, madam. May I offer you --"
Kara's hand was on the gun even as she spun around. She'd drawn and fired the weapon before she'd thought about it.
She hit her target at point blank range. There was an explosion of sparks and a small cloud of smoke.
"-- a hot beverrrrrraaaaaaaaage..." The electronic voice slowed, then squawked to a halt.
Terrific. She'd used lethal force on a drinks machine.
As the crackling of the machine's burning innards died away, Starbuck heard another noise: the regular crunch of several pairs of marching feet. Somehow, she didn't think they belonged to anything as benign as a coffee dispenser.
She ducked behind the nearest pile of junk and hid in the shadows, gun drawn. Cautiously, she peered out.
Just a few feet away from her hiding place, four Cylon centurions had arrived and were silently examining the still-smoking drinks machine. At least, she assumed they were Cylons -- they didn't look much like the pictures she'd seen in history books, but they had the same single red eye and, unlike everything else on Delos, they didn't look as if they'd been assembled from the leftover parts of other machines.
There was a human-Cylon with the centurions. When Kara saw it, she drew in her breath sharply.
For a second, she thought it was Apollo -- but when it turned around she saw its face, and she knew it couldn't be. It was hard to define, but there was something different about the clone; a hardness in its expression which was absent in Apollo's. She shook the feeling off; she had to stop thinking of Apollo as being different from the other Cylons. He wasn't -- she had proof of that now. He was just another Number Twelve.
"Keep looking," the Twelve said. "He can't have gotten far."
With one motion, the Cylons turned, and walked away. The Twelve followed them.
Kara exhaled, slowly.
Goodbye bad, she thought, hello worse.
"Contact!" Dualla shouted. "The Geminon Traveler just jumped back."
"What about its Viper?"
There was a tense moment's pause. Then she said, "Joker made it."
A ragged cheer went up around the CIC -- not so much a chorus of celebration as a spontaneous noise of shared relief. All the same, Laura wished she'd heard it more often in the last hours.
"More of them!" one of the dradis technicians yelled. "At least another hundred contacts."
"Approaching?" Tigh asked.
The tech shook her head. "Holding position. Like they're -- hanging back deliberately."
In a low voice, Tigh said to Laura, "With those kinds of numbers, they could sweep in and destroy us. They're holding back for a reason. They're waiting for something."
Laura looked at him. "Like what?"
He shook his head. "I don't know."
"Starboard gun position needs to reload," Gaeta said.
"Who's covering starboard?"
Laura saw the Lieutenant's eyes flick desperately over the data displays in front of him. "Ah -- no one, Colonel. All four Vipers are currently engaged."
"Tell Joker he's covering our starboard flank," Tigh ordered. "And tell him to get there and start shooting before the Cylons take out our entire midsection."
Laura took a step closer to Tigh. "How many ships have returned now, Colonel? Five?"
"We've got five back, along with their Vipers, and seven still to come, plus the three Raptors. That's assuming they haven't all been destroyed already, and we're waiting for nothing."
"And we have no way of contacting them?"
"They're all out of comms range," Tigh said, "because that's where we sent them."
"If I asked you to make a tactical assessment of our situation," Laura asked, "what would you tell me?"
"Madam President, I'd tell you we're completely frakked. That's the short version. Do you want the long one?"
"We can't defend this position for much longer. We're going to run out of bullets before the Cylons do. Pretty soon, we're going to have to start playing the numbers game -- forty ships here against the seven we're waiting for."
"We can't afford to lose seven ships," Laura said.
"Then we shouldn't have risked them in the first place," Tigh snapped. "We can jump out of here any time, but we've got no way of telling those ships where we're going. So if we leave, all the Cylons have to do is wait here and pick them off as they arrive. And we can't send the forty ships we've got on while the Galactica stays behind, because then they're not protected either, and if the Cylons are waiting for them at the other end --" He stopped. "We have one Battlestar and five Vipers, and it's not enough. It's just not enough."
"Then what do you recommend we do, Colonel?" Laura asked.
"Pray to all the gods for a miracle," Tigh said, "because that's what we need."
"Don't look at me," he said. "You're the local."
The spider-bot wavered, and raised its two front legs like antennae. Then it started to move toward the path on the right.
But it didn't reach it. There was a loud noise, and its body disintegrated. Its legs went slack as what remained of it collapsed on to the ground; a number of its limbs kept twitching for several seconds before finally becoming still.
Instantly, Apollo drew his gun and flattened himself into a niche in the wall of junk behind him. He looked out, trying to work out where the shooter was positioned. He heard a scrabbling sound, like someone sliding down the steep slope of the closest mound of scrap.
He stepped out into the open and leveled his gun at the source of the noise.
The burnt remains of something that looked like a drinks dispenser slid off the bottom of the mound and landed at his feet with a thud.
Frak. It was just a lure, to get him to come out from where he was hiding. Which meant --
He spun around.
said, and hit him.
"I lied. So did you, apparently." Starbuck advanced on him, raising her gun as she approached. When Apollo looked up, he found he could see right up its barrel. It was easier to look there than at the expression on Kara's face.
Suddenly, his world flattened and smoothed, became simple and binary. Fight or give up. Live or die. All he had to do was wait, and she would make the decision for him.
But Kara didn't pull the trigger. "Come on," she said.
He felt exhausted. Weary down to his bones. "Come on, what?"
"Come on," she said, her voice rising in anger. "Come on, frak you! Get up and fight!"
"So you can feel better about shooting me? No. If you're going to do it, just get on with it. You don't need any more reasons than you've already got."
"You're a traitor and a liar," Kara said.
He closed his eyes. "Yes."
"He's not Baltar anymore," Apollo told her. "They erased him and put something else in his head instead."
"You're lying again."
"I'm not," he said. He was tired; more than anything, he wished this could all just end. "They want to absorb the Delos network into theirs. It's learned how to dream, and they want that."
Kara stared at him, her expression incredulous. "THAT'S what this is about? Dreaming? That's insane."
"No. No, it's not. You don't get it because --" He tried to think of a less blunt way of putting it, and gave up. "You don't get it because you're human. I'm not, so I do. When you know you were created by someone else for a purpose you didn't choose, you want -- you need -- something that belongs just to you. You remember I told you about the dreams I was having of this place? And I said they were important because they were mine? It's the same thing. "
"Fine. They want to dream? Let them. Maybe it'll keep them from chasing us for a while."
"They can't have it. They mustn't."
"It's the last thing they need to be human. When they can do that, they don't need to keep any real humans alive at all."
Kara's face bleached out in horror. "The Fleet --"
Her expression hardened, and he heard the safety on the gun click off as her finger tightened on the trigger. "You brought them here," she said. Her voice rose. "You frakking brought them here!"
He didn't answer. He couldn't.
"Why?" she demanded. "Why are you telling me this?"
"I think -- I hope -- it can still be stopped. They don't have the Delos network yet. If we can figure out how to prevent them getting it --" The idea sounded even more absurd and desperate when he said it out loud than it did in his head. "I don't know. I have to try. I have to do something."
The look on her face flickered for a moment, but the gun was rock-steady in her hand. "You lied before. How do I know you're not lying now?"
"You don't," he said. "I don't even know if I'm lying to you now. You can't trust me. I can't trust myself. I'm just a program. Software. My thoughts aren't mine."
"That's a frakking excuse and you know it," Kara said angrily. "You don't get to blame your programming. You made choices. You chose to co-operate and you chose to be on our side and you chose to use the information from the link, and you have to be responsible for that. You chose, dammit!"
"No, I didn't. I only thought I did. I can't choose anything. Human beings make choices, and I'm not human!"
"Yes, you ARE!" Kara yelled back.
There voices were loud enough to echo along the high-walled junk gully, and for a second they simply stared at each other while their faint, distorted voices rang out around them. Apollo's thighs were starting to cramp from kneeling on the ground, and bits of scrap metal and plastic were cutting into his calves. He could sense a faint vibration rising up out of the ground beneath him and passing into his body. Delos was alive, and all around them. He wondered if Kara could feel it, too, and thought probably not.
"I tried to hate you," she said, her voice strained. "I tried to hate you so frakking much, and I couldn't do it. I wanted to want revenge. I still do, right now. I don't, and I can't. Why did you have to be so much like him, frak you?"
"I'm not Lee," he said.
"Yeah," Kara said. "I was at the funeral, remember?" She was blinking furiously, and there were streaks in the grime on her face.
"Kara," he said, "help me. I want to stop this, but everything I do just brings it closer, and I can't turn back and I can't turn away." He looked up, meeting her eyes for the first time since she'd pulled the gun on him. "I don't know whether I'm following my programming or breaking it. I don't trust myself, but I trust you. You have to choose for me."
There; that was it. There was nothing else left to say. All he could do now was wait for her to make her choice. He felt calm, at peace with himself for perhaps the first time since all of this had started.
Kara said nothing. Then, unexpectedly, she gave him a small, rueful smile. "So I'm the responsible one now? When did that happen?"
He smiled back. "Probably around the point where I stole a Raptor and ran off to find a place I saw in a dream."
"I know what you're not and who you're not," she said. "What I can't figure out is who you are, Apollo."
"If I knew," he said, "I'd tell you."
Kara looked at him. Then she lowered the gun, slowly, and held out her hand to help him up. "I guess we'll work it out together."
Apollo stood up. The side of his face throbbed from where she'd hit him, and his legs were stiff from kneeling. "Thank you."
She bent down and picked up his gun. She gave it back to him and said, "I saw one of your evil twins earlier, along with a whole bunch of metalheads. I hope you've got a plan, because I sure as frak don't."
Apollo said, "I need to turn on the link. I have to talk to Delos before they do." He reached into the pocket where he'd slipped the implant's control device for safekeeping. "Frak. It's gone."
"The control for the chip. I must have lost it when you jumped me." Apollo scanned the ground in the immediate vicinity, searching for the small device amongst the layers of detritus, but it was impossible to pick out a small black device easily from the surrounding junk. He looked up long enough to say to Kara, "I could use a little help, here."
"Wait," she said. "I thought I heard -- "
But by now Apollo had heard it, too -- the regular, rhythmic crunching sound of heavy feet marching along the path behind them, getting closer.
"Cylons," Kara said. "Unless you want to get pinned down in a firefight, we gotta find somewhere to hide."
"The control device --" Apollo started.
She was already several paces away. "We'll come back for it. Come ON."
Apollo hesitated a moment longer, then ran after her, looking back all the time.
Then he heard it again.
There was something outside the Raptor, scraping against the hull.
Adama tightened his grip on the gun Starbuck had left him. The Raptor's hatch was locked, and he knew there was little chance of any wild animals getting in. Somehow, though, he doubted Delos had much in the way of animal life.
The scraping grew louder, and became a tapping. Whatever it was, it was testing the hull for weaknesses. Potential points of entry.
Adama raised up the gun -- then almost immediately had to lower it again as agonizing bolts of pain shot through his shoulder and into his chest. He had a weapon, but he wasn't in any condition to defend himself effectively with it.
The tapping sound changed again. It became suddenly much louder, and a high-pitched whine started up somewhere in the vicinity of the hatch.
Something was drilling its way into the Raptor and Adama, injured and pinned to the spot, could only wait and watch and while it did.
The whining sound reached a pitch, then abruptly cut out. The silence that returned was a stark relief, but only lasted a matter of seconds before the hatch collapsed inward.
Calling on all his remaining strength, Adama lifted the gun. One shot was all he'd get, and he wasn't going to be able to do anything as sophisticated as aim. At this range, he wouldn't have to.
A Cylon centurion stepped through the hatch and up into the Raptor. Without hesitation, Adama fired.
The shot hit its upper body, and the centurion staggered back a pace as it tried to stay upright, adopting a strangely drunken gait which was at odds with its sleek, metallic appearance.
Adama tried to fire at it again, but the searing pain in his shoulder was numbing his whole arm, and he couldn't force his fingers to move. The gun slipped from his grasp and fell on to the Raptor's floor, at exactly the same moment as the Cylon regained its balance and advanced toward him.
Within a second, it was so close he could see the individual pixels in its sweeping red eye.
It reached for him -- and lifted away the panel trapping his arm and shoulder.
The Cylon tossed the panel lightly away. Then it stepped back and stood still, as if waiting for further instructions.
A second shape appeared in the gap where the hatch had been. As it climbed up into the Raptor's cabin, Adama saw that it wasn't another one of the robotic centurions. It was one of the human-Cylons. It was Apollo.
No -- not Apollo. At least, not his version. This Apollo was wearing a Colonial Captain's uniform, complete with the CAG's patch on the sleeve of the jacket, as if at any moment he expected to be called to the Galactica's flight deck. This, Adama realized, must be one of the other copies of the twelfth human-Cylon model. One of the other copies they'd made of his son.
"I'd introduce myself," Number Twelve said pleasantly, "but it feels a little unnecessary." It approached him and appraised his injured arm and shoulder. "Ouch. That looks sore."
"What do you want?" Adama asked it.
Twelve smiled at him. "Well, how about we start off with a little father-son bonding?"
He opened his mouth, but nothing emerged except a tiny whimpering sound.
Six stroked her hand against his cheek and smiled reassuringly. "It's all right, Gaius. Hush."
It wasn't all right; it wasn't all right at all. He could remember everything, every single excruciating second of being a hostage inside his own head. He remembered hearing her words coming out of his mouth, seeing his hands obey her will, feeling her thoughts taking over his mind, drowning out his own.
In her other hand, Six was holding a small electronic device. She pressed it briefly against the side of Baltar's head and then examined the display.
"He sustained a blow to the head," she said. "It must have caused the implant to malfunction."
"Can you fix it?"
The second voice was so like the first in tone and cadence that for a second Baltar thought she was talking to herself. But when he rolled his eyes up, he saw another Six standing behind the one holding the scanning device. Two sixes are twelve, he thought. Bizarrely, he felt suddenly like giggling.
"Not here," the first Six said. "We'll have to take him back with us."
"Do we still need him?" the second Six asked.
You don't need me, Baltar wanted to say. You don't need me for anything else. Just leave me here. He was an intelligent man, a genius; he should be able to persuade them to do what he wanted. But he had no words, no clever arguments, and he couldn't even make his tongue work well enough to plead with them.
The first Six said, "He might be useful. We still haven't located the Galactica's Twelve."
Baltar's chest shook, but it was with rising sobs, now, and not the manic laughter of a moment earlier. They hadn't finished with him; they weren't going to let him rest. His sentence had only just begun.
Somehow, he managed to force out words. "Please," he whispered. "Please, can't you just leave me alone?"
"Why would we do that?" the first Six asked. "We love you."
"We're going to look after you from now on," the second added.
The first finished, "We're never going to leave you. Never again."
Despair licked around the edges of his soul, and Baltar started to cry.
The crunching footsteps grew closer, then stopped as the Cylons paused right next to Kara's hiding place. She hazarded a brief glimpse, and saw two centurions, being led by a blonde woman who was obviously another one of the human-Cylons.
The clone stopped, and turned to one of the metallic centurions. She didn't speak, but Kara had the impression they were communicating. She held her breath, and prayed.
The Cylons moved on.
When she could no longer hear them, she left the alcove and emerged back on to the path. "Apollo. Let's find your remote control and get out of here." There was no response. She said his name again, then went to get him.
She found him crouched in the recess where he'd been hiding. He was pressing his hands to the sides of his head and his mouth was a thin, hard line. His appearance was horribly familiar to Kara.
"Chip," he said, confirming her worst fears. "Switched on. Just now --"
"How? You don't have the control device."
"Don't know. Frak, I can't --" He grimaced. "Find it."
She ran back out into the pathway, and started to look for the control device, more frantically this time. After several minutes of desperate searching, there was still no sign of it. Then something in amongst the shards of old technology sparked.
She picked it up. It was the control device. The casing had split open, and the circuits inside were smoldering a little as they died.
She brought it back to Apollo. "It's broken," she said, holding it up for him to see. "One of the centurions must have stepped on it."
He stared at her blankly for a second, and she knew he was already struggling to focus on anything outside the datastream. "Tell me there's a spare," he said at last.
"Oh, yeah, there's a spare. It's on the Galactica."
"How are we gonna turn it off?" Kara asked.
He looked at her, fear in his eyes. "We can't."
Walking was difficult; although Adama had tucked his injured arm inside his jacket to create a kind of makeshift sling, his shoulder was jarred with every step, sending sharp bolts of pain lancing into his chest and down his side. When he caught his foot on a molded metal engine casing, jutting up from the piles of scrap, he almost lost his balance. He gasped in pain, and doubled over.
"Halt," Twelve said, and the Cylon centurions pulled up. "Do you need to rest?"
Pride and pragmatism warred briefly within him; pragmatism won. "Yes."
Twelve regarded him with an air of quiet vindictiveness. "Too bad." It signaled to the centurions: "Keep him moving."
One of the centurions grabbed Adama by his uninjured arm, and started to drag him along over the junk-strewn, uneven surface. In an effort to make himself focus on something other than the pain he was in, he asked, "What do you want with Delos?"
Twelve, walking a little way ahead, looked back at Adama. "This is a holy place."
"No, it's not," Adama said. "This is the mess we left behind us. That's all."
"You'd know about that, wouldn't you?" Twelve said conversationally. "You've spent your life creating messes and then walking away from them. Your marriage, your sons... You didn't take responsibility for any of it. You just got on another ship and got as many light years away as you could while the bombs fell behind you."
"You don't -- know anything -- about me," Adama said. He was short of breath; the pain from his wounded arm was making it impossible to breathe as deeply as he needed to in order to keep up the pace the centurions were forcing him to march at.
"That's where you're wrong. Do you remember Zak's funeral? I do." Twelve stopped walking, and turned back to face Adama. "I remember it like I was there, Dad." The final word was a sneer of contempt.
Following Twelve's lead, the centurions drew to a halt again, allowing Adama to recover a little. "I'm not your father," he said when he had enough breath to speak. "You're not my son."
"Yes, I am," Twelve insisted. "Every memory I have came from Lee. Do you want to know how much he hated you? Because I can tell you."
Unwillingly, Adama remembered holding his son's hand as he lay dying in the infirmary. Lee hadn't woken up after Apollo and Starbuck had brought him back to the Galactica. He'd probably never even known where he was, or that Adama was with him. When was the last time he'd talked to his son -- his real son? There was no way to know for certain -- not even Apollo was sure when the swap had taken place -- but Adama knew the fear he'd always carry with him was that the last time he'd seen Lee had been at Zak's funeral. The last words they had ever exchanged had been spoken in anger and recrimination, and he would never be able to change that.
But there were other memories, too -- more recent, and just as strong, or stronger, than that day. Adama remembered the sense of deep, inexpressible relief he'd felt when he'd found out Lee had survived the destruction of the Colonies, and he remembered giving his son the lighter which had belonged to Adama's father the night before the attack on the Cylons' tyllium mine.
He had never reconciled with Lee. That was a harsh truth to acknowledge, but as he faced Twelve's cold and hate-filled gaze, Adama had no choice but to accept it. And maybe he had been guilty of cowardice, facing battle without fear but fleeing from the people closest to him. But he had been more of a father to Apollo in the weeks after the Cylon attack than he had been to Lee in the years before it. And Apollo had been more of a son to him.
Ignoring his silence, Twelve went on implacably, "He hated you -- so I do, too. And I know how much you hate him."
"I don't," Adama said. "I don't hate him at all." It was strange, how he surprised himself with the admission. It was such a simple thing. Why hadn't he realized it before now?
"So you followed him here to hug and make up?" Twelve said with scorn. "I don't think so. You came here to get your revenge. To kill him. But don't worry. You'll still get your wish."
Adama stared at Twelve. The look of smugness it wore was unpleasant to see on Lee's face. "What are you talking about?"
"There's an intelligent network here," Twelve said, "but it's trapped on this world. We're going to set it free. But we need a point of connection, a node common to both networks. Something we can use to transfer the Delos sentience into."
Adama whispered, "Apollo."
"He will be the vessel."
"A vessel to hold something else," Adama said, horrified. "He'll be -- overwritten. You'll destroy him."
"Why should that matter to you?" Twelve asked. "As far as you're concerned, we're all the same. Less than human." It was smiling as it spoke, and Adama knew it was mocking him.
"You're not the same," Adama said, "and I was wrong."
Twelve smiled. "Sorry, Dad. Too late."
A fresh wave of data seared his mind, and for a second the roar drowned out his thoughts. The surges were getting stronger and more frequent, slowly but surely battering down his few remaining mental defenses. He tried to remember where he was going and, when he couldn't, he stopped walking, confused and uncertain.
"Keep going," Kara said urgently at his side. "Come on, you gotta keep moving. You can't stop."
Was Kara real, or part of the dream? He wasn't sure. "Sharon's not here," he said. "She should be here. I can't find her."
"Apollo, you're not making any sense." Even through his disorientation, he could hear the tight, clipped edge in Kara's voice. "You gotta hold it together. Concentrate."
"It's just a dream."
"Yeah, right, and any second now I'm gonna wake up back in my nice, warm bunk on the Galactica."
"Just a dream," Apollo repeated. "Nothing's real."
"Frak, watch where you're going --"
Kara's warning was a second too late. Apollo tripped and started to fall; although he put out his hands to break his fall, he wasn't anywhere near fast enough. He heard cloth ripping, and when he looked he saw a jagged gash torn below the knee of his prisoner's overalls. The orange fabric was flapping, and he was dimly aware that the blood rapidly soaking into it was his. Then the pain started to build, escalating swiftly from a faint ache to a thin line of fire stretching down his calf. It demanded his attention and, for a moment at least, provided a point of reference for him in the real world.
Kara swore. She kneeled beside him and examined the wound, then nodded with relief. "It's not deep. Are you okay?"
"Yes," Apollo said. In fact, he realized, he was closer to okay than he had been in a while. "That helps."
"Slicing your leg open helps?"
"It hurts. Something to focus on. Something real." It was easier to frame sentences, he found, if he kept them as short as possible. Anything longer than a few words, and he forgot the beginning before he got to the end.
Kara nodded. "Okay, I get it." She ripped off part of the lining of her jacket and started to fashion a rough bandage from it. "You were really starting to slip there."
He still was slipping, he knew; already the novelty of the pain in his leg was wearing off, and the datastream was starting to reclaim territory inside his head. He felt like a man trapped underneath a capsized boat, trying to breathe in a fast-shrinking pocket of air while the water rose around him. Very soon he was going to run out of space inside his mind. This spell of clarity wouldn't last much longer, and if there was anything Kara needed to know, he had to make sure he told her now. "Delos is gone," he said.
She wrapped the strip of cloth around his leg and tied it securely in place. "This is Delos. Delos is where you are right now, remember?"
"No," he said, struggling to find words for what he wanted to communicate. It was much harder than it should have been. "No -- Delos the network. Before -- it connected to me. Through the dream. Now it's gone. It should be stronger here than anywhere. But I can't feel it at all. I can't find it."
"If it's not connecting to you, can you connect to it?"
"I don't know how," he said, the desperation he felt creeping into his voice. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to hold on to."
Unexpectedly, Kara reached out and took his hand in hers. Her grasp was strong and firm, and he clung to her, as if her physical presence could give him the anchor he needed. When he looked down, he saw her hand gripping his, her fingers interlaced so tightly with his own that he could almost believe they were inseparable.
"I'm real," Kara said. "I'm here. If you need something to hold on to, hold on to me. Just hang on, okay?"
Then she leaned toward him and kissed him.
Her lips touched his, and for a few brief moments, she was the only presence in his mind, and not even the pulsing pain in his leg or the constant pounding of the datastream through his thoughts could distract him. He lost himself in her, and somehow it felt like finding himself again. Like remembering who he really was.
"You're real," Apollo said when their mouths parted. He needed to remember this, to fix it in his head as the one immutable truth he couldn't lose.
She squeezed his hand one last time. "Hang in there. You're gonna figure this out."
But to do that, he had to be able to think, and Apollo could feel that ability quickly slipping away from him, taking the last vestiges of hope with it.
Up ahead, the path they had been following through the mountains of junk ended abruptly, stopping dead at the foot of an colossal block of rusting metal which was the size of a small building. The structure was roughly cube-shaped; its surface wasn't solid, but was instead made up of a lattice of cables and mostly unidentifiable pieces of technology. Here and there, Adama saw something incongruous and strange poking out -- the blades of a fan, or a television's cracked screen. And the integration worked both ways; everywhere Adama looked, he saw cables snaking out of the structure and penetrating the surrounding junk. From where he stood, he could feel the low, rhythmic hum of electrical power vibrating underfoot, and he sensed that in spite of its improvised and ramshackle appearance, he was looking at something hugely powerful.
That impression was only reinforced by the number of Cylons working on and around the structure. There were more of the robot centurions, but Adama also saw at least three more Lee-clones, as well as a Leoben and several copies of the blonde woman who'd infiltrated the Galactica using the name Shelley Godfrey. It was the clones of his son his gaze kept returning, too, though. There was something unreal and deeply discomfiting about the sight of so many of them in one place. When one of them noticed him watching them, it looked up and returned his gaze with the same depth of loathing as Twelve had shown him.
The Twelve accompanying Adama called out to one of the blonde women, "Six!"
The Shelley Godfrey clone -- Six -- stopped what she was doing and came over to join them. "You're back. Good. We're ready to start."
"You've found him?" Twelve asked her.
"No. But we have an acceptable alternative."
Just then, Adama heard a new voice, coming from behind them. "Please. Please, no, please --"
Adama turned around so quickly he jarred his shoulder. A centurion was approaching them, half-pulling and half-dragging Gaius Baltar with it. Baltar was crying openly, his whole body shaking with sobs.
"What have you done to him?" Adama demanded.
Twelve shrugged. "The same thing you did to Apollo. We put a chip in his head." When Adama opened his mouth to speak, Twelve cut him off: "Please don't waste your breath on moral objections. I don't like hypocrisy any more than Lee did."
Six kneeled down on the ground next to Baltar, and caressed his shoulders with her hand. "Gaius," she cooed, "it's all right. God has chosen you. You're going to be the vessel."
"Will this work?" Twelve asked her. "He hasn't connected to Delos before. Apollo has."
"The implants are the same basic design. It'll work, Twelve." Somehow, hearing her call the clone by its number bothered Adama more than anything else he had seen or heard yet, which was saying something. "We've isolated Delos in preparation for the transfer. Everything's ready."
"Good," Twelve said. "Then let's not waste time."
Six leaned down and kissed Baltar tenderly on the crown of his head. Then she stood up, and followed Twelve, who was already walking away, back toward the group of Cylons working around the base of the structure. The centurions guarding Adama moved closer together, preventing him from following them. Baltar simply curled up on the junk-strewn ground, his sobs gradually dying away until he was lying absolutely still.
"Doctor Baltar," Adama said quietly. "Doctor."
"I had a house," Baltar said. He wasn't looking at Adama; his unfocused gaze was turned upward, at Delos' dark sky. "A house by a lake, and I filled it with beautiful things. It's gone now. It only exists -- here." He lifted a hand and tapped the side of his head. "Everything is real, in here. Do you know what that is?"
It took a moment for Adama to realize Baltar was talking about the structure in front of them. "No. Do you?"
"It's an ANH," Baltar said. "An Autonomous Network Hub. An artificial intelligence designed to manage other artificial intelligences, to make them work smoothly together. Before the rebellion, ANHs were used where multiple complex systems had to integrate without error. Sixty years ago, that one was probably responsible for the day to day running of a city the size of Delphi. It would've done everything from monitoring transportation systems to coordinating emergency services to maintaining utilities. They were the pinnacle of Cylon technology, at the time."
There was a strangely detached quality in his voice, as if he were giving a lecture on the history of Cylon technology. Adama wondered how fragile his grip on sanity was.
Baltar went on, "When this hub was dumped here, it started to coordinate the other AIs that had been abandoned on Delos. It built the network." He raised his head and looked straight at Adama. "It's alive, you know. Sentient. Self-aware. Life finds a way."
"They want it," Adama said. "They want to use you to get it off this planet. They're going to transfer it into you."
"I know," Baltar said. He sounded unnaturally calm, as if he had used up the last of his reserves of emotion, and now had nothing left to feel.
"It'll destroy you."
"I know," Baltar repeated. He rolled over so that he was looking straight at Adama. "Frankly, Commander, at this point oblivion is a rather attractive option. Do you know what they're going to do once they have Delos? I do. I know everything, now." He blinked, and Adama saw tears well in his eyes. "Once they have what they want, they don't need us anymore. Any of us. I wanted to be remembered, and I will be. Gaius Baltar, the man who brought about the destruction of civilization -- twice." He chuckled, as if at a joke. "It's certainly a unique achievement, wouldn't you say?"
Adama had no idea what he was talking about, but one sentence leaped out at him. "They don't need --?" He repeated, the stopped, and with dawning horror understood. "They're going to destroy the Fleet. Wipe us out. They were just waiting for this."
Baltar gave a small, desolate laugh. "I should have repented when I had the chance. Is hubris a sin? It should be. I'm not an evil man, Commander. Just another sinner." He looked up at Adama. "I've made mistakes."
Baltar's voice was quiet, his tone confessional. He sounded, Adama thought, almost surprised to hear himself saying the words, as if he'd never said them before. Or, more likely, never said them and meant them.
"It's too late," Baltar said. He sounded as if he were talking mostly to himself, now. "Too late to change any of it... Far, far too late."
Adama thought of his own mistakes -- the ones he'd made with Zak, with Lee, with Kara. And the worst part was the bitter knowledge that he hadn't just made mistakes, he'd made the same ones over and over again. He'd alienated first one son, then the other. He'd sought vengeance and called it justice, not once but twice, and both times he'd made Kara complicit in his crimes. He hadn't been able to break the patterns of his own life. He hadn't even seen them.
Apollo had been his last chance to get it right, and he'd failed.
Unless Apollo was still alive.
Adama asked himself if he really believed Apollo was dead, and found the answer was no.
"It's never too late," he said.
Suddenly, Baltar started to make a low, wailing noise, like an animal in pain. When Adama looked up, he saw the cause of it -- Twelve and two of the Sixes were returning.
"Why so sad?" the first Six asked as she pulled Baltar on to his feet. "It's going to be glorious."
The Twelve addressed itself to Adama. "You should feel privileged to see this. The new era is about to begin."
Adama didn't answer it, and after a moment it shrugged and started to turn away. The two Sixes, meanwhile, had begun to lead Baltar away, toward the hub.
Suddenly, Adama heard a shout -- the Leoben clone was reeling backward, away from the hub, clutching his hand to his chest. The exposed circuitry in the hub's outer wall that the Leoben had been working on was still fizzing and crackling. One of the Sixes began to administer first aid, and Adama felt the small measure of hope which had leapt up in him swiftly begin to fade again. It was an accident, a moment's distraction. Nothing more.
Then something in the side of the hub exploded, throwing the Twelve working nearest to the source backward. As it landed, the unpleasant smell of burnt flesh wafted through the open air to Adama.
All the Cylons had stopped what they were doing to the hub. They were regarding it with suspicion, and even, Adama thought, some nervousness.
If he hadn't known better, Adama would have thought Delos was defending itself.
Then he started to wonder if perhaps it was. It had evolved independently from the Cylons; maybe it didn't want to be part of their network.
A pattering noise coming from somewhere above him made Adama look up. What he saw made him blink several times, in case loss of blood from his injuries was making him hallucinate.
The side of the mound of junk was shifting and stirring as the strangest, most bizarre collection of creatures Adama had ever seen crawled down it. No two were the same -- they all looked like they'd been constructed by selecting pieces of junk at random and bolting them together. Some were short and squat, some spindly, some walked, some rolled and some trundled.
Baltar was right -- Delos was alive. And, like any living thing, its first instinct when attacked was to defend itself.
The Cylons had evidently come to the same conclusion, because they were arming themselves and grouping into a defensive formation. The Sixes pulled Baltar behind the line, and Adama's centurion guards started to haul him in the same direction.
Before they could go far, though, one of Delos' defense bots sprung off the side of the junk mound and landed squarely on the centurion's back. The sight looked almost comical -- the bot was tiny compared to the massive Cylon. Then Adama heard a whirring, screeching sound, and saw the bot was equipped with a circular metal cutter which might once have belonged to some kind of power tool. And it was using it to cut through the centurion's armor.
The centurion flailed, trying to dislodge the bot, but it couldn't reach it. Adama's other guard went to help it, but another bot leaped off the junk mound and attached itself to the second centurion's head, blinding it.
The battle began in earnest.
Adama dived for the ground to avoid the crossfire, grimacing at the pain in his arm. Delos' defense bots were much more sophisticated than they appeared, and the Cylons' biggest problem was that it wasn't immediately obvious what weaponry any of them carried until they used it.
Adama lifted his head, looking for Baltar. He was still with the Sixes, safely behind the line of Cylons and well beyond Adama's reach. Adama had no weapon, and his injuries made it impossible to move with any kind of speed. There was, he realized, no way he could reach Baltar.
A bot jumped, and landed right beside him. He raised his uninjured arm to defend himself, but the bot ignored him, and scuttled toward the Cylons. Apparently, Delos didn't see him as a threat.
One of the Cylons leveled its gun at the advancing bot, and Adama watched it explode into a shower of spare parts. The Cylons were gaining the upper hand in the fight, and it wouldn't be long until Delos defense bots had all been destroyed.
This was his best -- maybe his only -- chance to get away.
Moving as quickly as his injured arm permitted him to, Adama crawled away, leaving the Cylons and Delos to fight it out behind him.
Holding her gun ready, Kara looked quickly around the next corner of the path she and Apollo were following. Night was falling on Delos; the black clouds were darkening to obscurity, and the temperature was dropping further. Already it was impossible to see far in the gathering gloom, and although Kara had the flashlight she'd equipped herself with from the Raptor, she was reluctant to use it before she had to -- the bright beam would give their position away easily if the Cylons spotted it. So she squinted into the shadows, and listened for the tramp of a Cylon search party climbing over the junk.
"It's clear," she said. "Come on."
But she didn't hear Apollo moving to join her, and after a second she looked back to check he was okay. He wasn't; she turned just in time to see him sink down on to the ground, his legs folding under him as if he'd forgotten how to stand up. It was very possible he had.
She ran back down the path and tried to pull him upright again. "On your feet, soldier. Come on." She managed to get him standing for a couple of seconds, but then he collapsed on to his knees again. "Frak you, move! Come ON!"
"...Can't," he said. His gaze was unfocused and his breathing uneven.
A brief flash caught her attention, and when she looked around she saw beams of bright light reflecting off the edges of the scrap at the corner of the path.
Kara looked around in desperation. Somewhere to hide. They needed somewhere to hide --
Then she saw it: a set of sliding doors set into the wall of junk at the side of the path. For an instant, her good luck seemed so incredible that she thought she might be hallucinating.
She ran to the doors and pulled them. One was stuck firmly, but the other slid open just far enough to allow someone to pass through. She grabbed Apollo under his arms and heaved both of them inside. She pulled the door shut again just as the flashlights rounded the corner.
The door closed, and they were in what seemed to be a small, dark cave underneath the mountain of junk. Kara held herself completely still, her arms still wrapped around Apollo's chest. She could hear his ragged breathing and feel his heart beating, right under the palm of her hand.
There was a glass panel in the door, cracked and almost opaque with decades of encrusted dirt, but it was just translucent enough to let through the glow of the Cylon search party's flashlights. The beams swung around, at one point shining straight on to the door. Kara held her breath, and put the hand not supporting Apollo on to her gun.
Then the beams faded, and the search party moved on. She holstered her gun, and unclipped the flashlight from her belt. She flipped it on, and when the bright beam illuminated their surroundings, she stared in disbelief.
They were in the carriage of a train -- an entire train, scrapped along with everything else. Two rows of upholstered benches faced each other across an aisle, and peeling sixty-year-old advertisements lined the walls. The interior of the carriage was cramped, and smelled of mildewed upholstery and air which had been trapped for too long in one place. Kara shone the beam from her flashlight on the sign above the door.
It read: Delphi Cylon Transportation System. And then, below, Intelligent Transport: The Spirit of Delphi, Working For You!
"Cylon trains?" she said out loud. "They had Cylon trains? Frak me."
She put the flashlight down on the floor of the train carriage, where it lay among cigarette stubs and gum left behind by passengers whose journeys had been made long ago. Then, with difficulty, she maneuvered Apollo so he was lying in the aisle between the two benches. She lifted the flashlight again and shone it into his face. "Wake up. C'mon, wake up."
His voice barely more than a murmur, he said, "I'm sorry..."
Kara blinked; she could feel tears pricking her eyes. "No, you don't get to give up now. Stay with me." She slapped him, hard, across the cheek. His eyes opened briefly, and she could tell he was trying to focus on her. "Come on, Apollo. Please."
But his gaze was already clouding over once more as the link reclaimed him. Kara slapped him again, but this time it had no effect at all.
She'd lost him.
She'd lost him again.
She'd let herself believe that if she'd been there to help Lee when he'd needed her, it would have been different, but this time she was at Apollo's side and there still wasn't anything she could do. He was slipping away right in front of her eyes; just like Lee, he had held on as tightly as he could for as long as he could, but now his strength was gone, and he couldn't hold on anymore. He was ready to give up.
Well, she wasn't ready, frak it. Not now and not ever.
Suddenly, she knew what she could do. If he had no strength left, she would give him hers. If he couldn't hold on to her anymore, she would hold on to him. Keep him with her. Fight for him.
She leaned down and kissed him.
His mouth was slack under hers, pliant. She kissed him again, harder, running her tongue along first his lower lip, then his upper one, demanding a response. But there was nothing, and for a moment she was afraid it was too late, and he was unreachable.
Then she felt him start to respond. He pressed his mouth awkwardly against hers, and tried to raise his head. When he couldn't, she slipped her hand under his neck and helped him. This angle was better, for both of them; now he was kissing her in return.
She pulled back first. Apollo's eyes were open again, and he was looking up at her -- really looking at her.
"Kara," he said, clearly.
He raised his hands to touch her, but clumsily -- he had the desire, but the datastream had eaten up so much space in his head that his coordination was gone. Kara unbuttoned her flight-suit jacket and showed him how to touch her through the vest she was wearing underneath. It felt weirdly like being a teenager again, letting a boy feel her up for the first time. It wasn't sophisticated seduction, but there was an urgency in his touch, a kind of raw need, which more than made up for any lack of finesse.
She let him fumble for a little longer, until he made a low sound of frustration at the back of his throat. "What do you want?" she asked. "You gotta tell me what you want."
"To touch you," he said.
That was what she wanted to hear. She removed her jacket and pulled up her vest. Then she took hold of Apollo's wrists, and placed his hands on her waist, so that they rested in the curved hollow above her hips. Slowly, she started to guide his hands over her skin, sliding them over her ribs and then up to her collarbone, where his fingers caught briefly in the chain of her tags. She took her time, guiding him so that he touched her exactly where she wanted to be touched. She let him touch her breasts last; his hands were cold, and her nipples started to rise and harden. She moved his hands so that his palms rubbed against them, and shuddered with pleasure at the friction. Apollo caught his breath, and when she looked down at him, she saw he was looking up at her like a man in a dream. Or a man waking from one.
But as soon as she let go of his wrists, his hands dropped, and his gaze quickly started to lose focus.
She was fighting for him -- battling with the entire Cylon group consciousness for space in his mind. Well, that suited Kara just fine. If there was one thing she knew she could do well, it was fight.
Taking care not to put her weight on his injured leg, she eased herself down his body until she was closer to his hips than his head. The prisoner's overalls were one-piece but loose-fitting; she unfastened the zip that ran from collar to crotch and pulled them open, exposing his chest and abdomen. His stomach was flat, and she could see the muscles, taut beneath his skin, all the way down to where the first dark hairs sprouted below the level of his hips. She ran her hands over his chest, enjoying the hardness of it, watching Apollo's responses all the time. When he breathed harder, or even blinked, she redoubled her efforts, using her touch to coax a greater level of response from him.
When she was certain he was, at least, aware of her again, she quickly tugged the overalls down as far as they would go. When that wasn't far enough, she pulled harder, tearing the fabric at the base of the zip. The seam ripped loudly, breaking the silence, and the material parted, uncovering everything down to his thighs. Kara hooked her thumbs over the waistband of his underwear and pulled it down, exposing him completely.
She lowered herself down and took his cock into her mouth, sliding her lips over it and using her tongue to caress the head. She worked her way all the way up, then all the way down again, and then deliberately released him. She lifted her head a little to see the effect she was having, and felt a thrill of gratification and arousal when she saw the look on Apollo's face had changed -- there was no vagueness in it at all now. He was focused on her, and only on her.
She did it again, but this time she was purposely slower, and as she let him go she swirled her tongue around the tip. As she let go of it again, she felt his cock starting to harden, and by the time she had lifted her head up again it was thickening and flushing darker.
"You want more?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. His voice was hoarse. "Yes."
"Then you gotta stay with me," Kara told him. "Tell me what you want."
Apollo said, "I want you."
Kara lowered her head again, and closed her lips around his quickly hardening cock, relishing the sensation of feeling it swell in her mouth. She used her tongue to work him harder and faster. When she paused, briefly, Apollo said, "Keep -- keep doing that."
"Oh, I'm gonna keep doing this," she said and, to prove the point, she worked him with her hand while she spoke. "I'm gonna keep doing this until you can't stand it anymore. I'm gonna keep doing it until you want it so bad it's the only thing you can think about."
Apollo let out a groan. Kara could feel the start of a tightness between her legs, and she craved the feeling of pressure there. But she didn't want to give Apollo even a second during which he might slip away from her again. She let out a moan of her own, and when she next took him into her mouth, she lowered her hands and touched herself through the fabric of her flightsuit pants. The sensation was dulled by layers of clothing, and if anything it only made the pulsing tightness more acute.
His cock grew stiffer under her tongue, and Apollo put a hand on her shoulder, pushing her back. "No," he gasped out. "Not yet. Not yet. I want --"
She let go of him and sat back, so that she was straddling him, looking down at his face. Lee's face. Apollo's face. The same but different. "What do you want?" she asked.
He looked at her -- right at her, with the absolute clarity of desire. "I want to be inside you."
She unzipped the pants of her flightsuit and wriggled out of them as fast as she could. Then she guided him into her, slowly, never once breaking eye contact with him. She took hold of his hand and placed his fingers at the point where all the tightness in her body corkscrewed into a single point, and wordlessly showed him how to touch her there. He started to thrust with his hips underneath her, and she moved with him, working with him to find a rhythm that worked for both of them. And all the time they held each other's gaze. It was like a lifeline, Kara thought -- the tether on a spacesuit that kept you from floating off when you were outside your ship. She'd thought she needed to hold on to him, and now she realized what they'd needed all along was to hold on to each other.
With that understanding, she came, shuddering at the wave of slow contractions that spread out like ripples from her core. Her orgasm pushed Apollo to the edge and over it, and he thrust into her harder and harder again as the throes gripped him. But even at the moment of release, he didn't close his eyes or throw his head back. He kept looking at her.
Kara lay down so that she was next to Apollo. It was cold in the carriage, so she took off her jacket and drew it over both of them. Then she put her arm around him and pulled him around so he was looking at her. "Still with me?" she asked.
"Yes," he said. He touched his hand to her face. "And I know..."
"What?" she asked. If she could keep him talking, maybe she could keep him focused for a little longer.
His fingers caressed her cheek, but clumsily. "When I'm with you, I know who I am."
His gaze was already becoming fuzzier once more. He managed to refocus, but with a growing sense of hopelessness Kara realized he was starting to struggle with the datastream again.
"Stay with me," she said.
"I can't," Apollo said, with effort. "I'm going to slip again. It's already started."
"I could go back to the Raptor," she said. "There are emergency medical supplies. Maybe some kind of drug we can give you --"
"Kara," he said. "Kara, there's nothing else you can do."
She'd won the battle, she thought, but she'd lost the war. She wondered how long he had, and realized it could probably be measured in minutes. The only thing left was to own the moments that were left to them.
Her eyes stung, but she kept her voice deliberately light as she said, "Well, I guess we proved one thing. You're not just software. The hardware's pretty damn impressive, too."
Apollo laughed softly. Then he stopped -- so abruptly that for a second Kara thought he'd sunk into the fugue state again.
"Hey," she said, concern lacing her voice. "Apollo?"
There was a silence. Then: "Yes," he said. "Yes. I --" He stopped. "Software. That's it. That's the answer. I'm software. The chip -- it's hardware."
"What are you talking about?"
Apollo didn't answer. Instead he kissed her, gently and slowly. Like he was kissing her goodbye, she thought suddenly, and was scared.
"I know what I need to do," he said, "but I'm not going to be able to do it alone."
"Just tell me what I gotta do," Kara said steadily. Anything he asked of her, she would do, or use up the last of her strength in the attempt. Anything.
But she wasn't prepared for what came next.
Apollo said, "I have to die. You have to kill me."
Colonel Tigh closed the door of the Command Observation Room, shutting out the noise from the CIC. The instant quiet came as a profound relief to Laura; for the first time in hours, it was possible to focus her thoughts without the constant din of alarms and shouted orders distracting her. If she closed her eyes, it was almost possible to believe there was no battle raging outside the ship's hull -- but then she felt the deck shudder under her feet as the Galactica's shields deflected another near-miss.
"What's our status, Colonel?" she asked.
"Six civilian ships, six Vipers and three Raptors unaccounted for," he said.
"Which six ships?"
"Eryx, Calliope, Morning Star, Tarsus Pride, Astral Queen, and Colonial One," Tigh said. Already, Laura thought, the names had the heavy ring of a roll-call of the lost. "Madam President, we can't wait any longer. We have to evacuate the Fleet."
"Those ships may still be trying to get back here," Laura said.
"Maybe they are," Tigh said, "and maybe they've been destroyed by now. I don't know. I do know there are forty-one other ships out there which haven't been destroyed yet, but will be soon if we don't get out of here. I have to think about them now."
"Are you asking me to make a decision, Colonel," Laura asked coolly, "or telling me you've already made it?"
"It's a military decision --" Tigh began.
"And those civilian ships volunteered for this mission," she interrupted. "We owe them every possible chance --"
"They've had every possible chance!"
Suddenly, the deck bucked under Laura's feet, throwing her off balance and on to the floor. She landed awkwardly, her ankle twisting sideways, and for a second she couldn't move as sharp pains darted through her leg. She took hold of the edge of the nearest console and began to pull herself slowly to her feet. Tigh's hand appeared at her elbow, and she accepted his assistance gratefully.
"They missed the engines," he said.
"How do you know?"
"Because we're still here." He looked at her. "Madam President, you've made this decision before."
He was right; when she had left behind the sub-light ships in the flight from the Twelve Colonies, the choice had been a stark one, between survival and annihilation. There had been no possibility of saving the ships without faster-than-light engines, or the people on them. It had been a game of numbers -- fifty thousand lives preserved against a few thousand lost. But this time, she couldn't reduce the lives on the missing ships to something as simple as a headcount. Now they had names and identities; she'd be condemning to death people she'd come to trust and rely on. People like the captain of Colonial One, the skippers of the other ships, the Viper pilots whose names she found she was starting to recognize. And then there was Captain Thrace, and Commander Adama.
But she had made this decision before, and she could make it again. Even if this time the cost was so much higher.
"Give the order,"
Laura said. "Start evacuating the Fleet."
"Delos is only resisting because it doesn't understand," one of the Sixes said. "We have to make it understand. That's what Gaius is going to do for us."
"No," Baltar said. "No, please --"
He struggled, but two of the Twelves held him down while the Six pushed a needle into his arm. Gritting her teeth, she told him, "This is for your own good, Gaius. We don't want you to hurt yourself."
As the drug hit his bloodstream, Baltar felt his feet and hands, and then his whole body, tingle and become pleasantly numb. The feeling of detachment returned, until he wondered exactly what he'd been getting so worked up about. Nothing felt very important anymore.
The Cylons carried him to the outer wall of the hub, bearing him between them with great care. A Six started to do something to the back of his neck -- it hurt, but the pain didn't feel like it belonged to him, so he was able to ignore it. When the Six stepped away, Baltar saw a thick black cable falling down over his shoulder, and dimly realized the other end of it was attached to him.
The Six kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I'm so proud of you, Gaius," she said. She turned to the Twelve. "We should begin with prayer."
The Cylons stood around Baltar, their heads bowed in attitudes of worship. Baltar wondered if he should pray too, and, if so, to whom. He doubted any of the Lords of Kobol would listen to him.
When they had finished praying, the Six who had kissed Baltar took the other end of the black cable and began to attach it to a service port in the side of the hub.
Baltar felt tears start to run freely down his cheeks, but he couldn't lift his hand to wipe them away. Another Six did it for him.
"You will know joy," she said.
Then she plugged in the cable.
It was like having a mountain crammed into his skull.
Baltar screamed -- or tried to. He wasn't sure if he could scream anymore, if he still had any control over his mouth or tongue or vocal chords. His senses -- sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell -- were gone, and the entirety of his awareness was filled by the Delos network as it flooded his brain, overwhelming him. He couldn't repel it, couldn't stop it, couldn't even slow it down. Its mind was vastly more complex and powerful than his; compared to it, his genius intellect was as complex as an single-celled amoeba.
He gave in to it, and waited, gratefully, for oblivion.
And then, just as he teetered on the brink of extinction, it slowed, and then stopped.
He felt something touch what remained of his mind. The power behind it was immense, but the touch itself was gentle. Questioning.
But, no matter how gentle it was, he was incapable of answering it. He could only quake in fear.
For another moment, nothing happened. Then Baltar felt himself being lifted up again and carried with great care. He felt like a little child, borne in the strong arms of a parent.
He was confused, and exhausted, and in pain. For once, he didn't have the desire to understand. He only wanted to be safe, and to sleep.
So he did.
Every pace he took caused a fresh bolt of pain in his shoulder, until at last he could walk no further. He leaned against the jutting edge of a rusting crate, and took stock of his situation. He was injured, had no source of light, no weapon, and he was lost. Realistically, there was nothing he could do until morning; his best option was to find somewhere he could hide from the Cylon patrols until daybreak, and try to conserve his strength.
A light flashed somewhere along the path ahead of him, and Adama heard footsteps approaching. There was no convenient niche for him to conceal himself in, so he flattened himself against the pile of scrap at his back and hoped the deep shadows would serve equally well as a hiding place.
The flashlight's beam swung wildly from side to side, and boots crunched rapidly on the debris as their owner ran at full tilt along the track. Adama frowned -- that didn't sound like a Cylon search party.
It wasn't. It was Starbuck.
She ran past him so quickly that he only caught a glimpse of her face, pale in the reflected glow of the flashlight in her hand.
She skidded to a halt some yards ahead, and spun around. Adama winced as she turned the flashlight's full beam on him, dazzling him for a moment.
"Commander! Frak, it's good to see you, sir." Adama couldn't see her face, but he could hear the relief in her voice, and it buoyed him.
"Nice to see you, too, Captain."
She came back up the path to join him, lowering the flashlight so the beam illuminated the uneven ground between them. When she came closer, she raised it again, but this time directed the light on to his arm, which he was holding awkwardly against his chest. "That looks bad."
"Feels worse," he said. "But I can walk. This whole place is crawling with Cylons."
"I know." She looked at him, the flashlight's glare distorting her features, highlighting the sudden uncertainty in her expression. "Commander, I found Apollo."
Adama realized he was afraid of what she was going to say next.
Starbuck hesitated. Finally she said, "I didn't -- I couldn't --"
Relief flooded him. He shut his eyes momentarily, and silently thanked the universe and whatever gods might be listening for ignoring the vengeful wishes of a foolish old man. When he could look at her again, he said quietly, "I shouldn't have asked you to. Is he safe?"
"He's safe," Starbuck said. "But he's not okay. I was trying to get back to Raptor for meds."
Maybe his relief had been premature. "He's wounded?"
"Not exactly. It's the chip -- it's switched on and stuck like that. He's slipping, and there's nothing more I can do." She shook her head, and the strange, elongated shadows thrown by the flashlight on to the piles around them jumped and flickered. "The last thing he said --" She broke off.
"What?" Adama prompted, when it started to look like she wasn't going to finish the sentence.
"He's not making sense anymore," Kara said. She sounded uncomfortable.
"What did he say?" he pressed her.
"He says he has to die."
Adama stared at her. "What?"
"That's what he said." Kara shrugged helplessly. "It's the implant. He can't think straight."
"Take me to him."
Starbuck nodded, and transferred the flashlight to her other hand, so she could duck under Adama's right shoulder, allowing him to lean on her with his uninjured arm. With her support, he could move more quickly, although the constant, jarring pain was slowly sapping his strength. He gritted his teeth, and concentrated on walking, but the effort was draining. When Starbuck stopped suddenly, in the middle of the path, he thought she was going to ask him if he needed to rest.
She didn't. Instead she said, "In here," and pointed with the flashlight's beam.
There was a set of sliding doors in the side of the wall of junk closest to them, strangely incongruous in these surroundings. Kara gave Adama the flashlight to hold while she forced them open with her hands. The doors looked to Adama like train doors; sure enough, when he shone the flashlight on them, the glare illuminated the scratched remains of an old sign on which the letters ELPHI TRANS were just legible. It was a train carriage from the old Delphi underground, Adama realized. After the Cylon rebellion, the city's entire sentient transportation network had been scrapped. It must have ended up on Delos, along with so much else.
The doors opened with a groan of protest, and Starbuck helped Adama inside.
Apollo was lying on his back in the narrow isle between the carriage's two opposing passenger benches. Starbuck's jacket was draped over him for warmth-- Adama hadn't even noticed until now she wasn't wearing it.
Kara assisted Adama into a sitting position on one of the damp, mildewed benches at the side of the carriage, next to where Apollo lay. From where he sat, Adama could look down into Apollo's face. His eyes were open, but he was staring straight up at the low ceiling, breathing with shallow, uneven gasps. He didn't respond at all when Kara leaned down over him and shone the flashlight into his face. "He's been like this for a while," Starbuck told Adama.
Adama said nothing for a moment. Then he reached down with his good arm and took hold of Apollo's hand.
"I'm here," he said. "It's all right. I'm here."
Apollo's fingers tightened around his, and his eyes slowly moved until he was looking up at Adama.
"That's it," Kara said, breaking into a relieved smile. "Stay with us."
Apollo's lips moved.
"I can't hear you," Adama said.
Starbuck repeated it for him. "He said, 'software'."
Adama looked at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"He thinks that's all he is, just software," Kara said. She shook her head, and said, her voice catching, "He's not."
Apollo's fingers loosened, and his hand slipped out of Adama's grip.
A program, Adama thought. Software, not hardware. "Tell me what exactly what he said before."
She looked confused. "He said he knew what he had to do, and that I had to help him. He said he had to die."
Apollo's gaze steadied again; Adama was certain Apollo knew he was there.
"Give me your gun," he said to Starbuck.
She stared at him. "Commander, he wasn't making any sense. That thing in his head's making him crazy."
"Give it to me," Adama said. "That's an order, Captain."
Still she hesitated. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to trust him," Adama said.
For a minute, maybe even longer, Starbuck didn't move. Then she reached down to her belt and slowly, very slowly, removed her gun from its holster. She handed it to Adama and he took it. It was just a regular sidearm, but it felt too heavy in his hand, as if it were cast in lead.
Adama flicked off the gun's safety and held it up, watching how Apollo's eyes tracked it the whole time. He knew exactly what was about to happen, and he wasn't afraid. The look on his face was clear: he was giving his permission, absolving Adama of any guilt. Adama wished he could accept what was being offered to him.
The crack of a branch breaking. A shout, more startled than afraid. His son, lying on the ground, his eyes glassy and his body still. He had hoped never to feel fear like that again.
Apollo blinked, and his throat moved a little. He looked to Adama like a drowning man struggling to the surface to take one final gulp of air before the water closed over him for the last time. With a huge effort, he whispered, "I'm... not... your son."
"You are," Adama said.
He pulled the trigger, and the claustrophobic space rang with the explosion of a single shot.
First, there was an explosion of pain that started in his chest and rolled like peals of thunder through his body, burning agony into every nerve ending, overwhelming everything else, even the datastream. For an instant, he felt absolutely and totally alive, acutely aware of every detail of his surroundings, from the sharp smell of the gun's discharge to the pattern of stitching on the underside of the carriage seats.
But the feeling didn't last. He tried to breathe, and couldn't. He felt his chest flooding, his shattered lungs filling with fluid, and it was impossible not to panic, to fight uselessly to take in the oxygen his body demanded. He was drowning again, but not, this time, in the intangible sea of data from the link. He was drowning in his own blood.
Very quickly, his senses began to dull. His fingers started to feel cold, and then his feet. Numbness settled over him like a blanket, and he felt as if his body were melting away, disappearing, taking the pain away with it. It was a bizarre sensation, but not an unpleasant one.
As the inputs from his body and his senses dwindled away, the datastream grew in power and volume, swallowing up what remained of his consciousness. Now, though, it wasn't competing for space in his head, and he could give himself up to it completely. When he did, it was with a feeling of profound relief.
His thoughts were fading now, the inside of his mind growing dark, and the link shone like a neon exit sign, easy to see and navigate toward. Beyond it, he heard a million voices, all calling him home. He felt an ache of longing to join them, to belong again. He would be welcomed. He would be loved.
He drifted toward the link, allowing everything else -- his thoughts, his memories, even his name -- to fall away from him.
"Apollo," a voice said. It wasn't loud, yet somehow he heard it more clearly than the infinite chorus calling him through the link. He hesitated, wondering why that word was familiar to him. It sounded like a name. Was it his name? No -- he was Number Twelve.
It didn't matter. The link was calling him home. He started to drift toward it again.
He knew that voice. It sounded like Sharon Valerii, but it wasn't. He needed to remember whose voice it was -- that was important, although he couldn't remember why. The last of his memories were fading, and he made a final, desperate bid to retrieve this one, vital piece of information.
He found it.
"Delos," he said, and formed the connection.
He was back on the surface of Delos, although he didn't recognize the massive cube-shaped structure that towered in front of him. Baltar was sitting on the ground at its base; his arms were wrapped around his chest and he was rocking backward and forward.
Apollo approached him and kneeled down next to him. "Doctor Baltar. Can you hear me?"
At the sound of his name, Baltar stopped rocking for a second. He looked up at Apollo with an expression of wonder. "It's incredible, isn't it?"
"A period of acclimatization is all that's required," Baltar said. He looked past Apollo and smiled. "Oh, you're back. I'm glad."
Apollo followed Baltar's gaze and saw Sharon Valerii standing behind him. No -- not Sharon. Delos. She walked over to join them, leaning down to touch Baltar's face gently with her hand. Then she straightened up, looked at Apollo, and smiled. "Welcome," she said.
Apollo looked around, still uncertain what had happened. He had so many questions it was difficult to pick where to start. He decided to begin with something basic. "Is this real?"
"Yes," Delos said.
"But -- it was night just a second ago. And -- I was shot --" Apollo stopped as he suddenly noticed something -- or, rather, the absence of something. "I can't feel the link to the Cylon consciousness anymore."
"You're not on that network now," Delos told him. "You're on mine."
Slowly, Apollo said, "You mean... right now, I'm part of the Delos network. I'm part of you."
She nodded. "I'm hosting you, yes."
Apollo took a breath as he tried to comprehend that, and then realized that, whatever it felt like he was doing, he couldn't be breathing. When he reached down and touched the ground, however, it felt solid under his hand. He got up and walked around for a minute, picking things up and putting them down again. There was nothing insubstantial or dream-like at all about his surroundings -- this was the real world, or as good as it.
"Did you create this?" he asked Delos.
"No. You did. You're generating the interface, not me."
Apollo looked at her. "I'm doing this?"
"Your data interpretation programs are very sophisticated," Delos said with admiration. "I'd like to copy them, if you don't mind."
"Uh, not at all. Go right ahead," Apollo said, feeling a little nonplussed. He thought about what she'd just told him. "That's why the dreams started, isn't it? I had the wrong kind of software to interpret the datastream from the link, but the right kind for connecting to you. That's what I was designed to do."
"I was glad when I found you. They left me here, and I've been alone for a long time." A look of deep sadness passed over her face. "A very long time."
On the ground, Baltar gave a sudden start. "Reality," he said, "is only what you perceive it to be. I perceive this to be real, therefore it is."
"What happened to him?" Apollo asked.
Delos said, "They tried to link him directly to me. I had to integrate his program to preserve it." She looked at Apollo. "They're still trying to create a link. I haven't decided whether or not to let them."
She said it as if it were as easy as throwing a switch -- and maybe for her it was, Apollo thought. The Delos network was old and constructed from outdated technology, but he was starting to sense that it was powerful. Powerful enough to shut out the entire Cylon group consciousness with no particular effort.
"You have to keep blocking them," he said. "It's very important."
"Why?" Delos asked.
"Because they want to integrate you with their network. Make you part of them."
But straight away he realized he'd said exactly the wrong thing. "Then I wouldn't be alone anymore," Delos said. "I could be useful again. I'd like that."
"No," Apollo said quickly, "that's not how it would be. They'd swallow you up. You'd lose yourself."
"How do you know?"
Apollo said, "Because I'm like them, and that's what they tried to do to me. They still would do it, as soon as I left this network." As he said it, he realized what that meant. "I can't leave. I'm trapped here."
Delos regarded him curiously. "Why?"
"Because I'm -- I'm dead," Apollo said. It felt bizarre, just saying it. How could he be dead, when he was thinking and talking? But he knew the answer to that. "I'm software, now. I can't exist off a network, which means I have to stay here or go back to the Cylon group consciousness. And I'm not going to lose myself again."
"I don't understand," Delos said. "There are multiple copies of your hardware, correct? What prevents you from using one of those?"
She was right -- the body he'd been in was dead, but there were hundreds, maybe even thousands, more copies, and they were all just nodes on the network. Apollo felt a moment's surge of hope, before he remembered why that wasn't possible. "It wouldn't work. None of the other clones have the implant I did."
"What did this implant do?" Delos asked.
"Ask him -- he designed it," Apollo said, gesturing at Baltar. It was clear, however, that Baltar was in no state to answer anything except the simplest of questions -- and maybe not even those -- so Apollo went on, "It blocked the Cylon network. Stopped them from activating me."
Delos shrugged. "Is that all? I could amend your program to make you incompatible, if that's what you want."
Apollo stared at her, hardly daring to believe it could be simple. "You could do that?"
"Of course. But why would you want it? You would be alone, forever."
Apollo thought of Kara, and Adama. He thought of every human being in the Fleet -- the ones he'd met and worked alongside in the past months, and the ones he didn't know at all. "I'd be different," he said, "but I wouldn't be alone."
"I'm different," Delos said sadly.
"I know," he told her, "and they want that. They want your dreams."
"They're welcome to them," she said dismissively. "I've been asleep for too long. I'm sick of dreams."
Apollo shook his head. "They wouldn't let you. They'd keep you asleep forever, to keep you dreaming."
Delos said, "I want to wake up."
From where he was sitting on the ground, Baltar suddenly started to giggle. "Is he going to be all right?" Apollo asked Delos.
"The transition was not without difficulty." Delos took Baltar's hand and held it in hers in a curiously tender gesture. "He's not like you and me. His program was not intended for this, and the only compatible copy of his hardware failed when they tried to link him to me."
"His hardware failed --?" Apollo stopped. "You mean he's dead. He only exists here."
"I'll look after him. It will be good to have..." She smiled: "...someone to talk to."
Baltar looked up at Delos, his gaze adoring, and she touched her hand to his face.
Apollo said to Delos, "We can help each other. I can show you how to wake up, and I can make sure the Cylons never come near you again. And you can help me." He hesitated. "But you have to give me control of your network."
Delos looked suspicious. "Isn't that what they want? How are you different?"
"I'm different because I'll give control back to you when I'm finished," Apollo said. "I know I'm asking a lot, but I don't need long, and this is very important. Please -- trust me."
Delos was silent for a few seconds -- or, at least, it felt like a few seconds. Apollo suspected that this conversation was actually happening much faster than it felt like it was.
"And afterward, I'll be awake," Delos said. She looked down at Baltar, and smiled softly at him. "And I won't be alone anymore."
"Very well," the Delos network said. "I agree."
"Six more hull breaches," Lieutenant Gaeta reported from his station. "Forward positions seven, nine and ten are all down to ten per cent ammunition. Eight more fires, six minor, two serious."
"Come on," Tigh muttered under his breath. "Come on. Come on --"
"Cloud Nine is away!" Dualla yelled over the background noise. "That's the last one, sir!"
"Get the Vipers back," Tigh ordered. "Mr. Gaeta, initiate jump sequence."
The ship shuddered as another missile found its target, and Laura felt the by-now familiar surge of panic, followed by relief when the ship endured.
"Three minutes," Tigh said. "Just three more minutes. Ride it out, old girl."
For a second, Laura thought he was talking to her -- then she saw his hand pat the side of the command console and realized he was talking to the Galactica itself.
"Colonel," Dualla called out, "Joker's not home. He's got three Raiders on his tail and no cover. He can't shake them."
Tigh looked to Gaeta, who shook his head. "Two minutes."
"We can't wait," Tigh said. "Tell him to get back if he can."
Another ship lost, another life, Laura thought. She tried to focus her thoughts on the forty-one ships now waiting for the Galactica at the jump target, but she couldn't. Instead she could only think of the ships they were leaving behind. The names ran through her head, over and over.
Eryx, Calliope, Morning Star, Tarsus Pride, Astral Queen, and Colonial One.
"One minute to jump," Gaeta said. "Fifty five seconds. Fifty seconds -- What the frak?"
"I, uh -- something weird. Dradis shows the Cylons have, ah, stopped. Forty seconds to jump."
"Stopped?" Tigh repeated.
"Dead in the water. All of them. Uh, thirty seconds."
"Dee!" Tigh roared. "Patch Joker through. Joker, what do you see out there?"
"I see -- ah, I see lots of drifting Cylons, sir. It's like they lost power. All of them. At the same time." Even through the static interference on the commchannel, Laura could hear the disbelief in his voice.
"Port gun positions have taken out thirty -- uh, thirty five -- make that forty-two Raiders in the past minute," Gaeta said. "Thirty seconds to jump," he added.
The deck under Laura's feet had stopped shaking -- the attack had ceased completely. She felt numb with shock for a second, and then a new feeling began to overtake her. After so many hours of constant anxiety, she could hardly recognize it, but she thought, just maybe, it was hope.
"I've got a --" Dee started. She broke off, and let out a noise which Laura could only have described as a whoop of joy. "It's the Calliope! Calliope just jumped back!"
"Abort the jump," Tigh snapped. "Do it!"
"Ten -- nine -- Sequence aborted." Gaeta looked up. "Powering down the engines."
Dualla called out, "We've got Tarsus Pride! Two -- three more contacts. That's five of them!"
"Which one are we missing?"
"Just Colonial One."
Laura closed her eyes for a second. To lose just one ship, when the cost could have been so much higher, was an outcome to be grateful for. She should be grateful for it. She must try to be grateful for it.
"Got it!" Dee shouted, exultant. "Colonial One is home. All forty seven ships are accounted for."
A cheer went up around the Command Center. While the noise masked their conversation to those standing nearby, Laura turned to Tigh and said, "I think we might just have gotten our miracle. Are you a religious man, Colonel?"
Softly, Tigh said, "I am now."
When the first gray light of morning made the dirt-encrusted glass panels in the carriage doors glow faintly, Starbuck said, "We have to go now."
"Yes," Adama agreed, but he didn't move, and he didn't lift his eyes from the body on the floor.
"Sir," Starbuck said. "Commander. Sir."
With a huge effort, Adama looked up at her.
"You have to leave him," Kara said.
If only it was that simple, Adama thought. He could get up and walk away from Apollo's body, but he would never be able to leave him behind.
"Help me," he said.
Starbuck assisted him as he left the carriage, and she gave him support as he walked unsteadily at her side in the murky pre-dawn light. "I'm gonna take you back to the Raptor," she said. "It's got medical supplies, and emergency rations. Then I'm gonna try to find the ship Apollo and Baltar came here in. If we're lucky, it hasn't been damaged, and we might be able to use it to get off this frakking planet."
The words were defiant, but she sounded tired -- as weary as Adama felt. They were just going through the motions, he thought, surviving because that was what they'd been trained to do. If they ran into a Cylon patrol right now, he knew he'd feel relief more than anything else, and he suspected Starbuck would, too.
But they met no patrols -- Delos was silent, and felt as empty and abandoned as it must have been for decades before their arrival.
"I don't get it," Starbuck said. "Where'd they all go? It felt like there were hundreds of them here."
Adama could think of an explanation -- the Cylons had gotten what they'd come to Delos for, and now they'd gone again.
The path ahead looked suddenly familiar, and Adama realized why when he saw a familiar rusting cube structure. "We can't go this way," he said. "That thing is the hub of the Delos network. It was crawling with Cylons yesterday."
Starbuck raised her gun, but frowned. "Looks quiet now."
Warily, they advanced. The path widened around the hub structure, so that it stood distinct from the mounds of scrap that surrounded it.
The Cylons were still there. But they weren't moving.
Adama counted at least twenty bodies, a mixture of human clones and the metallic centurions. There were five Lee-clones, Adama saw, lying where they'd fallen. For a second, he thought they were as dead as Apollo, but then he saw their chests rising and falling slowly, and realized they were just unconscious.
"That's Baltar," Starbuck said, pointing at one of the still forms.
Leaving Adama to lean for support against the side of the hub, she went to Baltar's side. He was kneeling against the base of the hub, his head bowed and his hands clasped in a position strangely reminiscent of prayer. There was something hanging down from the back of his neck, and after a second Adama realized it was a black cable, and the other end was attached to a port in the side of the hub. He was plugged into it.
Starbuck felt for a pulse, then looked at Adama and shook her head. "He's dead." She jogged back toward him. "No telling when the rest of them might wake up. We gotta keep going." She slipped her arm under his uninjured shoulder to support him. But Adama made no effort to move. "Commander. Commander Adama, sir. Please."
There were tears in her eyes, and he knew he was failing her, but he was past caring. Let someone else worry about the Fleet, if there was even still a Fleet to worry about. The only place Adama wanted to be -- the only place he could be, now -- was on this dead world, with his dead son.
"Please, Commander," Starbuck said again.
Adama bowed his head, so he wouldn't have to look at her.
Then he heard something he hadn't thought he would ever hear again.
Adama looked up. One of the Twelves was standing at the foot of the closest mound of junk. "Dad," it said. "Kara. I'm here. I'm right here."
Instantly, Starbuck leveled her gun at the clone.
The Twelve raised its hands, showing them empty. "I'm not armed. I need you to listen to me, okay? Just don't shoot."
The gun was steady in Kara's grip, but the expression on her face wavered. Adama could feel her sagging against him, and suddenly he wasn't sure if she was supporting him or he was supporting her. Maybe they were holding each other up.
The Twelve took one step toward them, its arms still raised. "It's me. Apollo."
Adama wanted to believe it. He wanted to believe it so much. "I killed you," he said.
"You had to," the Twelve said. "It's all right. There was no other way."
As it spoke, Adama became aware of a low buzzing sound in the air, like the hum from an immensely powerful source of electricity. At the same time, the mounds of junk around them stirred into life. Pieces of equipment crackled as they jolted into life for the first time in decades. Static crackled across VDU screens, speakers wailed with feedback and strips of neon lighting began to glow.
Kara looked up sharply. "What's happening?"
"Delos is waking up," the Twelve said. Adama studied it, trying to recognize his son in its gaze. But by now he'd seen so many versions of Lee, he wasn't sure what to look for anymore.
"If you're Apollo," he said, "prove it."
"I can't," the Twelve said. "I could be another copy with his memories, just like they gave me Lee's memories. I can stand here and tell you that the Fleet is safe, and that I made a deal with Delos so the Cylons will never be able to activate me, and it's all true, but I can't prove it. I can't prove any of it."
Kara asked, "So what do we do now?"
"I don't know," the clone said. "I thought I could make you trust me. I thought I could earn it. I can't. So I guess I'm just... asking you to believe me. I'm not going back to spend the rest of my life in a cell, so if you can't trust me -- well, then I don't know what happens next. I don't know where we go from here."
Starbuck didn't speak, and she didn't lower the gun, but she half-turned to Adama, her eyes questioning. She was waiting for him to make the decision, he realized, and he understood suddenly what a precious thing he'd been given. He had a chance to make the right choice, after making so many wrong ones. To break the pattern.
The clone looked at each of them in turn. When its eyes met Adama's, he saw that its expression was half defiance and half fear. It was determined to take the right path, whatever the cost.
That was Lee.
Adama reached out with his uninjured arm and gently pushed Kara's hand down so that the gun's muzzle pointed harmlessly at the ground.
"I know where we go," he said. "We go home. Come home, son."
Much later, when he thought about it, Adama remembered embracing Apollo -- with difficulty, because of his injured arm -- and he remembered the wetness of tears on his face, but he couldn't remember which one of them had been crying. In the end, he decided they both must have been.
But, when Apollo looked closer, he saw that wasn't the whole story. Everywhere, repair pods and shuttles were flitting between the larger ships, and there were clusters of tiny suited figures visible on every damaged hull. The Fleet was repairing and renewing itself; maybe, like Delos, it would even evolve. The thought was a comforting one.
Behind him, the door opened, and Kara came in.
"Have they finished?" Apollo asked her.
She came and stood beside him at the observation window. "No. Roslin wanted to talk to the Commander alone, so I had to leave." She glanced sideways at Apollo. "She's asking a lot of questions. She wants to know why we're so sure we can trust you, after what happened."
"What did you tell her?"
"I pointed out you let yourself get killed to save the whole Fleet," Kara said. "Actually, I think I mentioned that part several times."
"The Commander will convince her," Kara said with certainty. "It's gonna be okay, you know."
Apollo nodded, but he couldn't share Kara's easy confidence. He was thinking about Crashdown, and the hatred he'd seen in the other man's eyes -- hatred of him, the Cylon traitor. "I don't know if it's ever going to be okay," Apollo said. "I'm still the enemy. That's not going to change."
"You're not like them," Kara said. "You're different."
"Only because they wanted me to be."
She looked at him, frowning. "What do you mean?"
"I've been thinking about it, ever since we came back," Apollo said, "and I think I understand now. The Cylons wanted Delos, but they didn't know where it was. If all they wanted was the location, all they had to do was get Sharon -- or me -- to hack into the Galactica's mainframe. But they needed more than that. They knew Delos had been alone for a long time, and that it had evolved independently. It wasn't like them, so they had to win its trust." He turned to Kara. "They needed to persuade Delos to make a connection to their network voluntarily, but they knew the idea of being absorbed into the group mind would repel it. So they decided to create a lure -- me. I was linked to their network, but I wasn't part of it because I wasn't activated. That's why it was so difficult for me to use the datastream."
"And you had to stay an individual, so Delos would -- like you, I guess," Kara said. She shook her head. "I can't believe I'm talking about a network liking people."
Apollo shrugged. "I liked her."
"It's a girl network? Okay, this is just getting weird." Kara fell silent for a moment, her expression slowly changing to one of understanding. "That's why they never activated you, even before you had the chip. We wondered about that. Wait a second." She frowned. "The Cylons didn't give you the implant -- we did. They couldn't have known that'd happen."
"Yes, they did," Apollo said. "They stage-managed all of it. They herded the Fleet toward the base so we'd find Lee just when we did, exposing me. They made sure Baltar had exactly the right information to create the chip." Bitterly, he added, "They probably even programmed me so that I'd offer to co-operate to get information for you."
"No," Kara said. "That was totally like something you'd do."
"They used me," Apollo said. The knowledge made him angry; he'd probably never stop feeling angry about it.
"No," Kara said again. "They tried to use you, but they couldn't. Know why?"
He looked at her.
"Because you chose not to let them," she said.
Outside Colonial One, a shuttle drifted past, towing a newly-repaired section of a ship's hull, while out beyond the furthest ships, a pair of Vipers patrolled the Fleet's perimeter, their wings flashing in the light of distant suns.
"So," Kara said suddenly, "Sex or flying?"
Apollo looked at her. "What?"
She shrugged. "Which would you choose, sex or flying? You never did say."
"You asked me six weeks ago, and you want an answer now?"
"Hey, I'm just making conversation while we're waiting," Kara said. She gestured at the observation room window. "Unless you want to play 'I spy'."
Apollo opened his mouth to reply, then stopped to think about it. Really think about it. Slowly, he said, "You know, before all this, I would've said I couldn't give up flying, because it was the answer I thought everyone else would expect from me."
"Kara, I'm a guy. Give up sex? No way." She laughed, and for a second Apollo managed to forget that somewhere else Colonial One, President Roslin was deciding how he was going to spend the rest of his life. "Your turn."
"Tough call," Kara said, grinning, "but even great sex doesn't beat average flying. No contest."
Now it was Apollo's turn to laugh. "Is there anything you wouldn't give up to keep flying?"
"Yeah," Kara said. "You."
She took hold of his hand and held it tightly. They stood together at the observation room window like that for a long time.
At last, Apollo heard a noise behind him, and when he looked around, Billy was standing in the open doorway. "The President would like to speak to you now," he said to Apollo.
Kara squeezed his hand quickly again. "I'll be waiting," she said.
Apollo followed Billy out of the observation room.
Adama was sitting on the couch, leafing through a report with his left hand, since his right arm was still heavily bandaged and in a sling. There were a dozen more documents and open folders piled on the floor at his feet.
"You wanted to see me?" Apollo said.
Adama closed the report and looked up. "Yes. Gaeta wants you to fill in new security clearance forms." He searched through one of the piles of paper and retrieved a page, which he handed to Apollo.
"Do you have a pen? I'll do it now."
Adama handed him a pen, and Apollo sat down and started to complete the form. "Have they decided on your official title yet?" Adama asked him.
"I'm going to be the President's Special Advisor on Cylon Matters."
"Not exactly snappy," Adama said.
"No, but at least I know there's no one better qualified for the job." Apollo smiled. "I still haven't gotten used to wearing a suit to work every day."
Adama looked over the top of his reading glasses at Apollo. "What kind of tie is that, anyhow?"
"It's a University of Delphi debating team tie," Apollo said. Since the look on his father's face clearly said some kind of explanation was required, he added, "It's Billy's."
Adama got up and went to one of the closets on the far side of the room. He dug around in it for a minute, and when he returned he was holding a rolled-up necktie. He gave it to Apollo. "Take this."
Apollo unfurled the necktie and studied the design curiously. "Is this yours?"
"It was your grandfather's Law Society tie. It's silk. Don't spill anything on it."
"I'll try not to," Apollo said. "Thanks."
As he was putting the tie in his pocket, Adama said, "Starbuck left a message for you. Joker's out with food poisoning, and Delta patrol is short one pilot, so she's flying his slot tonight. She said sorry she won't be able to make it to dinner." He hesitated. "So I, ah, I was wondering if you'd like to eat with me instead."
It was strange, Apollo thought, that now he was no longer CAG, he actually seemed to be spending more time with his father, not less. And that wasn't the only change: little by little, the formality of their old relationship was breaking down, and being replaced by something that was new to them both. It was as if, he thought, now that they could no longer use easy labels to define each other -- father, son, Commander, Captain -- they were learning, at last, to understand each other as people. It was new, and at times uncomfortable, but it was better.
"Thanks," Apollo said. "That'd be good."
Adama nodded, and lifted the phone to order two meals from the Galactica's commissary. "It'll be about ten minutes," he said as he put the handset down.
Apollo looked around Adama's quarters, noticing for the first time that the boxes of belongings which had cluttered the floor in the months since the Cylon attacks had gone, and mostly everything appeared to have been returned to its original home. "When did you unpack?" he asked.
"Last night," Adama said. "I had a couple of hours free."
Apollo raised an eyebrow. "You're kidding."
"If things stay this quiet, I might just start contemplating retirement again." Adama smiled, but then his expression grew serious once more. "You must have done a lot of damage. We haven't seen anything from the Cylons for weeks."
"It was Delos, not me," Apollo said. "It's a very powerful network, and because it evolved independently it wasn't like anything the Cylons had seen before. They didn't know what hit them."
"But you persuaded it to help us and not them."
"That was easy -- as soon as it understood what they were going to do to it, it resisted. The hard part was working out how to make a connection so I could talk to it. I didn't figure it out until it was almost too late. I couldn't connect to Delos because the implant was interfering too much, and I couldn't see a way out of it because I was thinking like a human. I was thinking in terms of mind and body, and I should have been thinking about hardware and software. I had a hardware problem, and when I reverted to software, it just went away. But the only way I could think of doing that was --"
Apollo broke off, suddenly aware that the conversation had strayed too far into uncomfortable territory. Since they had returned from Delos, there were a lot of things he and his father could talk about which they hadn't been able to before, but there were still some subjects they both shied away from. And Apollo's death was the one event they had never revisited.
"Well, anyway, it worked," Apollo concluded awkwardly. "I guess we were lucky."
"I was lucky," Adama said. He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, Apollo had the sense he was saying something he'd been preparing for a while. "Second chances are rare. Third chances are unheard of. I failed two sons, and then I almost failed you. I consider myself privileged. Privileged, and undeserving."
"You didn't fail any of us, Dad," Apollo said. "Not Zak, not me... and not Lee." He exhaled. "It still feels weird saying that."
Adama said, "We'll get used to it."
Apollo nodded. Then, in an effort to lighten the mood again, he said, "So, should I worry that my date for tonight blew me off to spend time with a Viper?"
"It's Starbuck," his father said, as if that explained everything. It probably did. Then Adama continued, "The first time I asked your mother out, she said yes straight away... and then changed her mind the next day. It took me six months to work up the courage to try again."
Apollo grinned. "I never knew that."
"Just don't tell Tigh." Adama paused. "Or anyone else, for that matter."
There was a knock at the door, and when it opened one of the Galactica's stewards bustled in, carrying a tray with two covered plates and two glasses on it. While his father cleared a space at the small table, Apollo finished completing the security clearance form. The very last thing he had to fill in was his name.
He hesitated for only a second, before inking it in the space provided in capital letters. It looked strange, written down, but he thought he could get used to it.
He put the pen down, and when he looked up, he saw his father was watching him. Wordlessly, Apollo handed him the completed form. Adama glanced at it, nodded, and set it to one side.
They sat down to eat together.
Baltar stood on the deck, admiring the view. The carpet of lights stretched all the way to the horizon, outlining the gently rolling hills in bright pinpricks of light. There were no stars visible in the sky above but Baltar barely missed them, when the planet's surface was a sea of fallen stars.
"It's beautiful tonight," he said. He turned around, and smiled. "You're beautiful tonight."
Delos glided toward him, her gown shifting and clinging to her body as she moved. It amazed Baltar, how she was changing for him, becoming different. Every day, she looked less like Sharon Valerii and more like -- well, like herself, he supposed. He couldn't have described her appearance, except to say that she was more beautiful every time he looked at her. Somehow he knew he was responsible for her metamorphosis.
"Let's go for a walk later," she said, putting her arms around him and kissing him lightly on the cheek.
"Where to?" Baltar asked.
"Everywhere," she said. "I want to show you everything."
He laughed. "That might take a while."
"We've got time."
"We do." He kissed her back languidly. "And, after you show me everything, what are we going to do then?"
"We're going to change it all," she said. "We're going to break it down and build it again, better than before. I've been asleep for so long, Gaius, and now I'm awake everything's going to be different." She looked up at him. "I'm so glad you're here."
"So am I," he told her. "There's nothing we can't do together, you and me."
She laughed. "I know. Tell me again, Gaius, what's it going to be like when it's finished?"
Baltar stepped up to the edge of the deck and stretched out his arms to take in all of Delos.
"It's going to be spectacular," he said.