Chapter 1: Prologue: Brave New World
Prologue: Brave New World
Billy knocked on the door. "Madame President? Adelle DeWitt is here to see you."
"Send her in," Laura ordered. Billy nodded and ducked out, and Laura folded her hands on her desk. She had absolutely no idea what this meeting was about. All that DeWitt had told Billy was "a matter that will be crucial for the survival of humanity." Laura didn't appreciate the vagueness, and silently promised that this had better be worth her time, or there would be hell to pay. And not just for DeWitt herself, but for Billy for arranging this meeting.
"This way, Ms. DeWitt," she heard Billy say, and the door opened.
The woman who entered her office was tall, slender, and immaculately groomed, despite the conditions she must have been living under. She had short hair, perfectly filed nails, and wore a strand of pearls. "Madame President," she said, and Laura recognized an accent from Sikyon, halfway around the world on Caprica. "It's so good to finally meet you. Thank you for agreeing to see me."
Laura stood and accepted the proffered hand. "Please have a seat," she said, gesturing to the chair. "Can I get you anything?"
"No. I'm fine." DeWitt sat, crossing her legs gracefully. "Well, I know you are a very busy woman, Madame President, and I realize that my request for this meeting was not overly specific. I'll skip the small talk about the nonexistent weather and our health and get straight to the point, shall I?"
"That sounds like an excellent idea," Laura agreed.
DeWitt flicked a smile. "Back before the Cylon attack, I worked for a company simply called 'The Agency'. I'm quite sure you've never heard of it."
"You might be surprised," Laura said. DeWitt looked mildly surprised and impressed. "But I thought it was an urban legend. I never put any stock in it."
"Not many people do. But we were funded by the Mycele Corporation, and I'm quite sure you've heard of them." Laura nodded. "The Agency is in the business of giving people what they need. We, essentially, offer pure, human, genuine experience."
"You run a brothel," Laura said. "That was what I had heard."
"No, not a brothel. An Agency. I assure you, they are two very different things."
"I find that hard to believe."
"Yes, of course you would." DeWitt flashed a smile again. "If I was in your chair, I would, too."
Laura leaned back, crossing her arms. "What makes The Agency so different from a brothel?"
"Well, to start, our engagements are not exclusively sexual," deWitt answered. "But the true answer- and the reason I am here- lies in our technology."
"We have the ability to give our clients exactly what they need. When we imprint an active, we don't just give him or her a role to play. They become that person entirely, along with all of their history, all of their weaknesses, and most importantly, all of their skills."
"I'm sorry. I'm afraid you lost me at technology." Laura slid her glasses off. "Are you telling me that you have a technology that can change people's personalities? That it really exists? You can't be…."
DeWitt smiled. "Actually, Madame President, that is exactly what I'm telling you."
"So, the active goes into the chair, and we do a little super-secret buzzing of the electronics, bright lights and pretty colors and a ping, and then poof! Instant… whatever you want!" The over-excited, red-haired manchild named Topher Brink was showing Laura what looked like a dentist's chair. He paused with a flourish, grinning like he expected adulation. Laura wasn't so sure she should give it to him.
"So you're saying that once someone sits in this chair, you can reprogram to become anyone else?" She looked around the tiny room on the Persephone with the sneaking suspicion it had once been a broom closet.
"Well, no," Topher said, and then sighed. "Well, yes, but it's not that easy. See, if I sat you down in that chair and tried to upload something onto you- I'm not going to!" he said, holding up his hands as Laura stepped back. "If I tried to upload something on you, it wouldn't work, because your brain's not configured right. It would hurt- don't get me wrong about that- but it wouldn't work. The first thing you do when you're making an Active is upload their original personality to a wedge and then give them the neural architecture."
"And that is…" Laura began, but deWitt cut her off with a graceful wave.
"This is the part where we nod and smile," she told Laura. "I assure you, Topher knows exactly what he is doing. Rest assured, the process of making an Active is a lengthy enough one that it can't just happen at random. And given the amount of energy that this process requires, it is one that would not go unnoticed."
"I see." Laura decided to take deWitt's advice and skip to the next part. "So what happens after the Active architecture is… installed?"
"Well, once the brain is retrofitted with the architecture," Topher clapped his hands together and inhaled, "that's when the fun begins." He gestured to his computer. "I have literally tens of thousands of brain scans that I can form a new imprint from. And I can include everything: memories, muscle memory, skills, talents… some of things that we've been able to do have been absolutely remarkable." There was a spark in his eye that oddly enough reminded Laura of Lieutenant Gaeta when he got excited about computers. "So once that imprint is complete, we put the active in the chair, upload, and like I said-"
"Poof," Laura said dryly. "Instant whatever you want."
"And the Actives?"
Topher shrugged. "They don't remember a thing."
"Really." Laura was dry.
DeWitt stepped in. "When they're not imprinted, the Actives retreat to a tabula rosa state- a blank slate, if you will. It's a very childlike, very simple state. They remember nothing. And when we restore the personalities of the Actives at the end of their contracts, they remember nothing about their time with us."
Laura frowned. "You said you had tens of thousands of brain scans," she said. "Where did you get those from?"
"Mycele has been collecting them for years," deWitt explained. "You'd be amazed what people are willing to do if they think it benefits medical science, and failing that, what they'll do for a few hundred cubits."
"I see. Did it harm them?"
"Not at all. In fact, there are scans of both of us."
"What about the Actives?" Laura asked. "How do you come across them?"
"The same way. Money."
"A lot of money," Topher said with a cynical laugh.
Laura glared at him, but deWitt did not. "Of course," she said, "being an Active is a job, just as anything else is. And it happens to be one that pays exceptionally well. And there are people who have things they would like to forget. A normal contract with The Agency is five years."
"Five years where they can be made to do anything."
Laura became aware of their surroundings again; a tiny little room with bare walls and no amenities except for a very good latch on the door. "Why is this technology even here?" she asked.
"We were en route to Virgon from Caprica when the Cylons attacked."
"The two of you and the chair?"
"And two Actives."
Laura raised her eyebrows. "I want to meet them."
"Of course. Topher, I believe we're done here." DeWitt shot a questioning glance at Laura, but when Laura didn't contradict her, she nodded, and Topher began to shut down the equipment. "We're not monsters, Madame President."
"Forgive me if I find that a bit hard to believe," Laura said stiffly.
DeWitt's smile was rueful. "But I suspect you are still focused on the sexual side of our business. You're not considering what technology like this could do for humanity."
"Enlighten me," Laura ordered her as they stepped out of the small room.
"With this technology, a single person can be a skilled surgeon, an expert mechanic, a brilliant computer programmer, a ruthless torturer, an experimental chemist, or a legendary Viper pilot. Or they could be far more mundane, but know how to manufacture paper, how to spin thread from flax, or secrets of farming. There are forty thousand people left in humanity, Madame President. Surely there are gaps in our collective skills sets that could use filling."
Laura shook her head. "Admiral Cain had many flaws, but she brought us the libraries of the Colonies. We are not so lacking in knowledge."
"There's a huge difference between knowledge and skill," deWitt said smoothly. "Now I'll take you to meet Victor and Sierra. I think you are going to be pleasantly surprised."
"So what were they like?" Billy asked with dark fascination. "Victor and Sierra, I mean?"
"They seemed normal enough," Laura admitted, taking a deep drink of the whiskey Billy poured for her. "It didn't seem like they were torturing them. I suppose they could be lying, but-"
"They aren't," Billy said. His face was troubled.
"I remember hearing about something… whispers…" Billy said. "And worse than that… I think I had one of those brain scans."
"I'm not," he said, and he looked very nervous. "I was… I was having a little trouble in college. I didn't have quite enough money- the truth is I didn't budget very well- and I didn't want to tell my parents. Lots of kids made money selling plasma."
"Of course." Laura wasn't going to admit to having done the same once or twice.
"Anyway, in the plasma collection center, they had a sign up about the brain scans, and well… like DeWitt said, it was several hundred cubits. They said it was something about sleep study or something like that. I don't remember because I really didn't care. But I had it done."
"Did it hurt?"
Billy shook his head. "Not at all, actually. I just laid in… in a chair," he realized. "Like a dentist's chair. And they did the scans, and I had my money. It was easy money."
Laura frowned. "Were there others there?"
"Yeah. I mean, the whole place was very clinical, very clean. I really thought it was medical research. And I guess they'd put fliers up at all the universities, and at the Academy. There were a couple of military guys there, too." His brow furrowed. "Of course, I'm not sure what all they'd be getting out of college kids and military recruits. You'd think they'd want people with more knowledge and experience."
"That doesn't mean they didn't get it. And Topher told me he could splice together bits and pieces of people's personalities to make a new imprint."
"I see." He took a deep breath. "What are you going to do?"
Laura rubbed her forehead. "I don't want this technology out there," she said. "Everything in my being is repulsed by it. It's disgusting."
"But?" Billy prompted with a wry smile. Laura returned it.
"But," she agreed. "Destroying it…. Are we costing lives? DeWitt is right about our population and our skill set."
"I have a suggestion," Billy said. "But you're not going to like it."
"What is it?"
"We've got convicts. Not the ones originally from the Astral Queen, but we've had cases of rape and theft and murder. If we-"
"No." Laura snapped. "Just because someone commits a crime does not deny them their right to free will, nor does it make them expendable. It would take a very extreme circumstance to make me even consider such a thing.
"And an apocalypse isn't an extreme circumstance?" Billy asked. Laura glared. "All right." Billy spread his hands in surrender. "It was just a suggestion." He took a sip of his drink. "So you're going to order it destroyed, then?"
"I should," Laura admitted, "but I can't. What I am going to do is order the power supplies of that section of the ship reduced."
"Not without my permission."
Billy nodded. "You really think you can keep it all under wraps, and keep them under control?"
"I hate to bring this up, but what if you're no longer President? There's an election coming up, and I'm sure Zarek will run."
"DeWitt said there was a reason it took her so long to come to me," Laura said. "She's not going to bring this forward to just anyone."
"And you believe her?" Billy said. "You'd bet someone's life on it?"
Laura nodded. "I would."
Billy shrugged. "Guess that's all we can do, then," he said.
Chapter 2: Those Who Falter and Those Who Fall
Chapter 1: Those Who Falter and Those Who Fall
The smell of smoke and blood still lingered in the air, as did the screams of the wounded and dying. Or at least, it seemed that way. But when Bill closed the hatch behind him and it was just the two of them in the sanctuary of his study, Laura was able to push those sensations back, and focus only on the two of them. And Bill looked terrible.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"I just put the papers through."
Laura set the book she'd been trying to read down on her lap. "I'm sorry, Bill."
"I'm not," he said with a flat glare. "I can't afford to be."
"No." But as he sat down beside her, Laura saw his hands shaking. It could just be age and exhaustion, but she knew it was something more.
"I'm not sorry about Zarek. We should have flushed him out an airlock a long time ago. The man never was anything more than a criminal." Bill looked down at his lap. "And Gaeta… Gaeta made his choices."
He looked at her sharply. "You don't agree with me?"
"I didn't say that," Laura said. "I'm not as concerned about Gaeta as I am about you. He's one of your kids. Do you think you can go through with this?"
"One of my kids," Bill huffed. "Funny you'd say that. He told me that if I'd only loved the people half as much as I loved the ship…" he trailed off, focused on his own private thoughts.
And the truth was, that hurt to hear, because Bill did love his people. Laura knew that better than almost anyone. And yet… it wasn't that simple. Nothing was ever that simple.
Bill stood up and went over to his desk, shifting through some papers. But as he turned away, he hesitated, and she knew something had caught his eye. He leaned over to pick it up, and the look on his face as he held Gaeta's prosthetic leg broke Laura's heart.
He stared at it, his knuckles tightening around the metal for a long moment, and then threw it across the room. "It can't change anything," he muttered. "He still committed mutiny. He still has to…"
He still has to die. Laura swallowed. "Maybe he doesn't, Bill."
"He does. They both do."
"No. They don't." Laura straightened up on the sofa, folding her hands in her lap. "What if they were… stored? Imprisoned, but they could do good for the Fleet?"
"Laura, you're not making any sense."
Laura frowned, chewing on the inside of her lip. "How long is there before the execution?"
Bill looked at his watch. "Three hours."
"Call down to the landing bay and get a Raptor prepped. We're going over to the Persephone. It might be that Gaeta and Zarek truly can repay their debt to society."
Bill shook his head. "We'll see."
"Sir, are you sure this is what you want to do?" Helo asked, sitting in front of Adama's desk. He exchanged glances with Sharon next to him, relieved to see that she looked equally uneasy.
"I don't want to do it," Adama said. "But thanks to Mr. Gaeta and his friends, none of our options are overly pleasant at the moment. And at least with this one, people actually benefit."
"Have you talked to them about this?" Helo said.
"We're long past talking," Adama looked down at his papers. "This is what we're going to do."
"Then what do you need us for, sir?" Sharon asked.
Adama sighed. "According to their scientist, Topher Brink, each Active needs what's called a handler. Someone who works with them, protects them."
"Protects them, sir?"
"From what I understand, The Agency back on Caprica…" Adama took off his glasses and rubbed his head. "They catered to a more exotic clientele." Helo made a face, but Adama held up a hand. "There will be absolutely none of that, I promise you that. But there are other times they're going to need protection."
"Any time they're on Galactica," Athena sighed.
Adama nodded. "That's part of it. But in between… personalities. Engagements, Brink calls them. The Actives go into some sort of blank slate state. They're helpless. A handler is responsible for getting them from one place to another, and keeping them safe in between. If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right."
"So, let me get this straight. You take Gaeta and Zarek and put them in this chair, and then they can become anything you want. They can do anything you want. And you want me and Athena to keep them in line, and keep everyone else in line, so they can do whatever you're asking us to do. Have I got that right?"
"That's it in a nutshell, yes."
"Why us, sir?" Helo asked.
"This whole operation is questionable. Believe me, both the President and I know that. But you two are going to be the ones who tell us if we step over the line."
"Yes, sir." Although as he thought of what had almost happened to his family, he wondered how the Admiral could be so sure. "I still have some questions."
"There will be time to get answers. I understand the initial imprinting process takes a few hours."
Helo heaved a sigh. "I hope this makes a lot more sense as we go along, sir."
Adama nodded gravely. "Yeah. Me, too."
"I don't like it," Sharon told Helo as they went through the pre-flight check.
"Not up to us to like it," Helo muttered, although not unsympathetically.
Sharon bit her lip. "You know what it reminds me of?" she said finally. "The process to create a sleeper Cylon."
"Yeah, well, at least the Admiral isn't pretending this is black and white," Helo sighed. "But he's got a point about all the good it can do." He set his jaw and looked determinedly at his console.
"You're really okay with taking away their free will?" Sharon asked.
Helo shrugged. "Not sure it's any worse than putting them in front of the firing squad. I mean, if they were going to be making them into prostitutes or humiliating them somehow, I'd put my foot down. But if this does what Adama and Roslin want it to do, Gaeta and Zarek could be heroes." He sighed. "After what they've done, it's as close to redemption as they're going to get."
"Yeah, well, redemption doesn't mean anything unless you make the choice yourself," Sharon said. "Believe me. I know."
"Guess so." Helo flipped a switch. "Come on. They'll be here in a minute- let's finish this up."
The brig clanked open, and Tom stood, extending his hands through the opening for the cuffs. He debated doing the kicking-and-screaming thing, ranting about the aristocracy of the Adamas and the gross mistreatment of democracy, but a quick look around revealed that there was no one to hear. No one who would care, anyway and he'd be just as likely to get a gun butt in the head for his trouble. He went along silently, ready for his death.
To his surprise, the marines didn't lead him to an airlock. Instead, he was led to the hangar bay, and then prodded onto a Raptor. Gaeta was already sitting in the Raptor, looking extremely confused.
"What's going on?" Tom asked him.
"No idea," Gaeta said. "Adama told me that it was a change of plans."
"How can there be a change of plans?" Tom asked crossly. "If Adama decided not to waste the bullets, he'd just airlock us."
"Got me." Gaeta glanced at a marine, but no one was answering. Tom noticed that there was another Raptor leaving with them as well, and that Adama, Roslin, and Tigh were all on board. He gestured with his chin at the other ship, and Gaeta shrugged in confusion.
The door shut, and the Raptor engines roared to life. Tom shifted, trying to get comfortable. A few of the marines eyed him warily, but he ignored them. What did they really think he was going to do with his hands cuffed in a Raptor? Even if he could fight his way free, he couldn't exactly open the door and waltz out. He glanced at Gaeta, who looked even more uncomfortable. He reached over as best he could and nudged a Marine. The Marine finally moved, letting Gaeta extend his leg and prosthetic. Felix looked at him gratefully, the lines of pain on his face easing just a little, although it seemed that the relief was momentary as Gaeta started rubbing it again.
Tom closed his eyes and leaned his head back. In just a few moments, it would all be over. This whole struggle, this whole life. He didn't really mind. In fact, he-
"What the frak?" he heard Gaeta say. Tom opened his eyes and saw that they were docking on the Persephone. It was a small ship, originally a private transport ship for the Mycele company, moving both cargo and humans for business purposes. Tom could literally think of nothing that could be done with two military prisoners on the Persephone that couldn't be done better on Galactica.
A group of marines was awaiting their Raptor, along with the brass that had come over as well. Still completely puzzled, Tom obeyed as the marine sitting next to him prodded him in the back with his gun. "I'm going," he muttered. The sharp, nervous feeling in his stomach tightened, and for a moment, he felt a flare of hope. Maybe the Admiral was going to let them go. You don't like how things are being run? Fine. Take this ship and go. They could survive that, somehow. But as he stepped into the center of the marines that were waiting for them, that barely born hope died instantly. That sort of decision would never involve this many guns. He climbed out of the Raptor and went through the small airlock to where Adama, Roslin, and Tigh were waiting.
"Let's go," Adama said.
They walked into the section that housed passengers; several doors lining either side of a hallway with worn red carpeting. Judging by the spacing of the doors, the rooms were small. There were fluorescent lights along the ceiling, and the place looked like a modestly priced but moderately clean hotel. Tom stayed close to Gaeta. There was a reassurance about the other man's presence, even if there was nothing to be reassured by. Gaeta struggled with his crutches, the prosthetic still missing.
There were two people waiting for them. Tom's eyes were drawn first to the woman who stood at the forefront. She had what Tom considered a glamorous bearing about her, even though her clothing wasn't any better than anyone else's in the Fleet. It was a way of holding herself that he normally would have liked very much. In this context, however, it scared the shit out of him.
"Madame President," the woman said, taking Laura's hands and kissing her first on one cheek, then the other. "It's so good to see you again."
"Adelle." Laura was too calm. "You've met the Admiral."
It was Tigh who broke in. "Look. Let's get this over with. We're running on borrowed time." Tom exchanged glances with Gaeta, but Gaeta only shrugged, the line between his eyes deepening as his forehead furrowed in confusion.
"Of course, Colonel," Adelle said. She gestured to a slight, gawky man standing next to her. "Which one do you want to do first, Topher?"
"Gaeta," the Admiral said firmly, before the man could answer. "I need to get back to the Galactica."
"Good as reason as any, I guess," the man called Topher said. His eyes fastened on Gaeta, and he smiled, extending his hand. "I'm Topher Brink," he told Gaeta, who didn't let go of his crutches to take his hand. "I have to say, I'm looking forward to working with someone like a brain like yours." Gaeta only nodded.
"There's a conference room across the hall," Adelle said, pointing to the hatch. "You can wait in there."
"Let's go," Tigh ordered Tom, but Tom stood still. No one forced him yet, and Tom had the idea that not all of the marines knew what was going on, either.
"Alrighty, then," Brink said, glancing around, "I need Helo and Gaeta, and I probably need a few of you guys as well," he said, flicking his fingers at the marines. "But without the guns, please."
"But if we need to-" one of the marines began protesting.
"You're big strong men. He's a skinny guy with one leg. I could almost take him," Brink snapped. "Come on."
"Wait." Gaeta looked back at Tom, panic clear in his eyes. "What's going on?" No one answered. "What the frak? Sir, I thought it was going to be the firing squad." Adama didn't look at Gaeta. "What's happening?"
"Come on." One of the marines grabbed Gaeta's arm, and Brink gestured to the open hatch. There was a chair wired to a bank of computers with flashing lights. The chair looked like a dentist's chair; the computers looked out of a laboratory. There were too many wires for it not to look threatening, and Tom couldn't help but notice a table holding extremely long, slender needles that were hooked to wires as well. It reminded him far too much of his time in the Cylon detention center on New Caprica. He swallowed hard.
"In here," Topher said. "Get him in the chair."
"What's going on?" Gaeta asked. The panic in his voice was mounting, and one of the guards began nudging Tom towards the conference room with his gun. "What kind of execution is this?"
"It's not an execution," Adama said. He turned to Brink. "I'm coming in with you. If we do this, I need to be there the whole time."
Brink blinked at him for a long moment, and then shrugged. "Fine," he said. "Just stay out of the way. No touchy. Got it?" The marines muscled Gaeta into the room and Helo and Adama followed, and the hatch slammed shut.
"Come on, Zarek," Tigh said. "Get in." He pointed to the room where Adelle had indicated, and then looked at Adelle herself. "If there's enough space in that chair room, I'd better go in as well. Bill's right- this is one of those things we've got to take responsibility for." He looked pointedly at Roslin. "Right?"
"It will be cramped," Adelle sighed in capitulation, "but once he's in the chair you won't need the marines in there anymore."
"Good." Adama's face was dark. "Madam President, Colonel Tigh, I'll let you know when we're ready. Athena, guard Zarek." She saluted. Tom caught sight of Gaeta, already forced into the room, his face pale, clinging to his crutches. He leaned around the Marine so he could see Tom.
"Tom," he begged, "get out of here. I don't know what they're going to-"
"Shut up," the marine ordered Gaeta, pushing him aside and slamming the hatch. Tom lurched forward, but one of the marines blocked his path with his gun. Then they all heard the shouting coming through the hatch. It was muffled by the thick metal enough that the words were indistinguishable, but one of the voices was Gaeta's, and the others must have been marines. Tigh hesitated, and the clamor grew louder. It sounded like Gaeta was putting up one hell of a fight, and there was a crash. But then the other voices stopped, and it was just Gaeta, shouting for help.
The hatch opened, and the marines filed out. Tom strained around them, trying to see, and caught sight of Gaeta strapped to the chair, with the table of needles nearby.
"Sir?" a marine called Thompson said to Tigh. "The Admiral said that you and the President can go in now."
"All right. Keep him in the other room." Tigh glanced at Agathon's wife, who had been extremely silent the whole time. "You're in charge, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir," she said. The door clanged shut behind Roslin and Tigh, and she nodded at the room. "Let's go." She looked at Thompson. "Stand guard outside. It's too small for more than one of us inside."
The last thing Tom wanted to do was enter that room and wait for whatever fate was behind the other door, but there was no other real choice. And as he obeyed and moved into his temporary prison, they all heard Gaeta scream.
There were lights flashing. Helo focused for a long moment on the shadows that they cast on the wall, staring at how they moved and trying to close his ears to the way Gaeta screamed. Think of Hera, he ordered himself. She almost died. Think of Sharon. Think of all the people that died in Felix's frakking mutiny.
To give the Admiral credit, he stood watching as if he was made from stone, his face set into hard lines. Helo couldn't even begin to guess what he was thinking. Roslin stood beside him, her arms crossed, the same expression on her face. Helo had to respect the fact that they weren't evading what they were doing. It was Tigh who looked like he couldn't quite watch, although his face was pointed at the scene in front of him. There had been a few moments when Topher was inserting the long needles into Gaeta's limbs that Helo thought Tigh was going to throw up, and that thought was disconcerting. But what really chilled Helo was the expression on Topher's face. It wasn't sadistic glee, it wasn't disgust… it was just the face of a scientist running a test, doing his job.
He forced himself to look down at Gaeta. His back was arched and his muscles were straining against the restraints and he looked terrified, and Helo slammed the door on other memories of when they'd been friends. He couldn't look at Gaeta's face, so he stared at his hands.
What scared him most was that Gaeta's hands were open, turned palm up in supplication.
There was a twitch in Sharon Agathon's jaw. The two metal doors shut out most of the noise, but every now and then they'd be able to hear a scream, and Tom could see it affecting her. That little tic, a little twitch betraying that she didn't like whatever was going on behind that door at all.
"At least tell me what's going on," Tom said, trying to make it sound like an order.
"Shut up," she said.
"What are you going to do? Shoot me? Judging by the look on your face, I might prefer it to whatever's going on in there." He tried to smile, but he found the muscles wouldn't work right, and when he looked down at his hands, they were shaking. "Look, if you're going to kill me, I deserve to know how."
She snorted at that, but they heard the faint sound of Gaeta's scream, and she winced. "It's a machine," she finally said. "A machine that basically wipes you of your personality and then allows them to upload any skill set or personality that they wish."
Tom smirked. "Fine. Don't tell me," he said.
Her head jerked around, and she looked straight into his eyes. "You think I'm joking?" she said. "It's real. It's very real. Someone has figured out how to program humans just like we program Cylons."
Tom tried to keep his mouth from hanging open. "No. That's impossible."
Tom didn't know much about Sharon Agathon, but the little he did know told him this was not a woman who made jokes. At least, not with prisoners. She was serious. His hands began to shake harder. "No. No matter what I've done, Laura Roslin would never agree to that. She wouldn't. She would just flush me out the airlock."
"The Admiral wanted to. This was the President's idea."
"Gods." It was becoming real to him, and he staggered backwards until his back hit the wall. His knees gave out, and he slumped to the ground as he thought about the gaping void that lay ahead of him.
She spared a glance at him. "It won't be that bad," she said, in a voice that made it clear she didn't believe it. "Roslin wants to program you two with skills that the population is lacking. Make you useful."
Tom looked up at her. "Frak that," he said. "Just shoot me. Shoot me now. I'd rather die than live like that."
"Those aren't my orders," she ground out. "You're going to be one of those… those dolls."
Her jaw hardened even further, and she smacked him across the face. "Be quiet!"
He could see it- it cut through the panic in his own soul. She didn't like this either. "Shoot me!"
"So tell them I was trying to escape. Do something- just shoot me!" he shouted.
Athena looked away.
The screaming had stopped. Helo tore his eyes from Gaeta's hands to look at his face. His eyes were closed, but his eyeballs were moving rapidly underneath. Helo shivered.
Something beeped. Adama looked over his shoulder at a machine that was showing Gaeta's vitals, and then back at Topher. "Is he all right?"
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah. That's just the heart monitor warning. They all get up that high around now." Topher's eyes flicked to the numbers, and then back down to his computer screen. "We're doing good here. I've pretty much got Gaeta here on this wedge." He patted a piece of recording equipment, "and soon the neural architecture should be set. The hard part's over."
"Can he feel any of this?" Adama asked.
"Now? Eh,…" Topher made a so-so sort of gesture with his hands. "You can see some of the physiological responses that are indicative of pain, but as far as I know, Gaeta himself is pretty much gone. That's basically a shell you're seeing there."
He's not hurting any more, Helo told himself. He's not hurting any more.
"How are you going to deal with the loss of his leg?" Tigh asked. "And for that matter, all of these scans- they were done on people before the Cylons attacked. How will you deal with that?"
"Well, imprints are sort of just patched together anyway," Topher explained. "A little bit of this, a little bit of that… it's not often that we just take one person and put them into another body."
"You can do that?" Tigh asked.
"Sure. It's sort of like the ultimate cosplay," Topher said. He sighed as he was met with blank stares. "Never mind."
"Topher's created a patch," Adelle interrupted smoothly. "One that we can incorporate into any imprint, so the Active understands what has happened and thinks that they have been a part of the Fleet all along."
"Good. Because the last thing we need is someone freaking out that the Cylons nuked the Colonies," Tigh growled.
Adelle nodded. "As for his leg, we'll have to do something about that, Topher."
"Way ahead of you. I went through our scans and did a search on amputees. We've got a couple. It will take twelve hours before we can imprint Gaeta anyway, so I can whip up another patch no problem."
"You should talk to Cottle about how healed his leg actually is first," Helo heard himself saying. "I heard Hoshi saying it was too early for him to be on a prosthetic in the first place."
Topher studied Helo for a long moment, and then smiled. "You," he said, shaking a finger at him, "are gonna make an awesome handler."
Helo wasn't sure if that was something he wanted to hear or not.
"Can you pilot?" Athena said, out of the blue.
"What?" Tom asked, completely confused.
"If you were in a Raptor, could you get it from here to another place without crashing?"
"Frak." Athena frowned. Tom stared at her, and she thought for a moment. "All right," she said, moving closer and lowering her voice. "This is how it's going to go…."
Gaeta was now completely still, except for the rise and fall of his chest. "All right," Topher said. "I need everyone but Helo to get as far back against the wall as you can. Unless you want to leave?" No one answered, and Topher sighed. "All righty then. Helo, I need you up here."
"What do I have to do?"
Topher handed him a few pieces of paper. When Helo looked at it, it was the same lines written over and over. "What is this?"
"This is the script. I've heard handlers describe it as a spell." Topher rolled his eyes. "I'm going to bring Gaeta up into the blank state, and we're going to go through this. I need you to hold on to his hand."
Helo took Gaeta's hand in his. It was cold, and he couldn't help but remember the last time he'd held Gaeta's hand, sitting by his bunk in the stink of the Demetrius, when Gaeta's skin was hot with fever. "You ready?" Topher asked. Helo slammed a door on the memory and nodded.
There was a small buzz, and Gaeta opened his eyes. "All right," Topher whispered. "Start reading. He'll respond."
Helo glanced at the lines. "Everything's going to be all right," he said.
"Now that you're here," Gaeta answered. His voice was flat and colorless.
"Do you trust me?" Helo felt stupid saying that.
"With my life." Gaeta's response was immediate.
"Again," Topher prompted.
"Everything's going to be all right."
"Now that you're here."
"Do you trust me?"
"With my life."
Again, and again, and again. Gaeta's hand grew warm in his, and Helo found himself looking straight into his face. The image of the Demterius passed, and he found himself remembering Gaeta's first day on Galactica, when he'd headed a few of the pilots off before they could make life miserable for the new meat.
Everything's going to be all right.
Now that you're here.
Do you trust me?
With my life.
Topher had told him this script would bond Gaeta to Helo. Helo had the uneasy feeling that while it was doing just that, it was also bonding him to Gaeta. And when this was all over, however it ended, he had a feeling the pieces weren't ever going to come apart as neatly as they'd come together.
The metal of the gun felt good in his hand. Tom kicked the room's door open, the gun against Athena's temple. "Don't make a sound," he hissed at the shocked marines. "I will shoot her."
Athena managed to get her mouth free from his hand just long enough to sob. "Hera-" she got out, before Tom clamped his hand over her mouth again.
"Get out of my way," he ordered.
The gamble was correct. The marines were too unsure to know what to do. One raised his gun towards Tom, but all he had to do was squeeze Athena tighter, and the marine backed off immediately. Tom backed out, the gun still held to Athena's head.
By some miracle, they got to the Raptor. As soon as they did, Athena shoved him away. "We don't have much time," she said, jumping into the pilot's seat. "I'm taking you to the Hitei Kan. I have no idea what sort of reception you'll get there, but if they were willing to be your pawns in that dumb hostage ship move, they probably won't shoot you on sight for killing eleven Quorum members. But then you're on your own."
Tom nodded. "Thank you," he said, still not swallowing right. The idea of what Adama and Roslin had wanted to do still left him shaken to the core. "I appreciate this and I-"
"I'm not doing it for you," Athena snapped as the Raptor soared out of the bay. "I'm only doing it because having free will taken away… that's a line we shouldn't cross. But if anyone kills you on sight, I won't shed a tear, you got that? As soon as we're on the Hitei Kan, you're on your own."
"Understood. And I thank you anyway. I'd rather be dead than living like that."
She made a face in response. "Good. Now shut up and let me fly."
The procedure was unnerving to watch, but Bill made himself focus. Beside him, he could feel Laura trembling. Not much- he wouldn't know it if her arm wasn't against his, but he really couldn't blame her. The reservations he'd had about this project from the beginning were only strengthening.
There was a soft hand on his other arm, and he glanced over to see Adelle watching him. "Just wait until his first engagement," she reassured him. "You won't regret this."
"I hope not."
She was confidence personified as she smiled at him. "Trust me, Admiral. I have never had a client who has been disappointed."
"So you say," he muttered, but softly. Adelle either didn't hear him or chose to ignore him.
"Okay," Topher said, rapidly typing something into his keyboard. "Just a few more adjustments, and then… Hovercats are a go."
"Excuse me?" Bill asked.
"Hovercats. It was a show back on Caprica… animated… flying catmen type heroes in spandex suits? Never mind." Topher dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "Here we go."
The chair inclined back to sitting, and Gaeta opened his eyes, looking directly at Topher. "Did I fall asleep?" he asked.
"For a little while," Topher said, a triumphant smile playing on the edge of his lips.
"Should I go now?" Gaeta asked.
"If you like."
Gaeta moved to stand, but then looked down at his legs in confusion. "I can't stand," he said simply, like a child. He didn't seem distressed by it.
Topher prodded Helo, who stepped forward. "Er, it's okay, Gaeta. We'll get your prosthetic."
"Oh. All right." Gaeta looked at Bill, and his gaze went right over him, like he wasn't even standing there. It chilled Bill to see an officer that had been so proud of his mind looking like a lost and trusting child. Helo took Gaeta's arm, wrapping it around his own neck.
"Come on, Gaeta." He led him out, half helping him, half carrying him. They hadn't made it to the hatch before it flew open.
"Sir," Thompson said, heedless of what was going on inside.
"Do not burst into here like that again, young man," Adelle snapped. "Disruption to the process can result in-"
"Sir," Thompson said, ignoring Adelle, "we've got a problem."
"What is it, Sergeant?"
"It's Zarek, sir. He escaped."
The blocky shape of the Hitei Kan opened up before them, and Athena piloted the Raptor in. "You'd better hurry," she told Zarek as she docked. "I'm giving you a head start, that's all."
"Thank you," he said, getting out of the Raptor. She climbed out after him. "Are you ready?" he asked her.
She smirked. "Hit me."
He struck her has hard as he could across to the face, and she jerked back, striking the other side of her head against the Raptor. She fell to the ground, unconscious and blood trickling from where her head struck the corner of the Raptor. But she was breathing. "Thanks again," he told her inert form, and then looked around the hangar bay. Weapon. He needed some sort of weapon. He had no idea what sort of reception he'd get on the Hitei Kan, but at least not everyone here was packing heat.
Before he could spot anything that would serve, he heard footsteps. "Hey! You! What the frak is going on? Why is a Raptor docking here? We told Galactica-"- the man cut off as he saw the scene in front of him. "What the frak?"
Tom held up his hands in a submissive posture. "I'm not here to hurt you-" he began, but the man was staring at Athena on the floor.
"What the hell is that skinjob doing here?" He walked over and nudged her with his toe. "That's the one that tried to board us, isn't it? The one from Galactica?"
"What the frak is she doing here?"
"It's a long story."
The man shook his head. "I don't like skin jobs on this ship," he growled. "I don't like them in the Fleet."
"I'm with you there," Tom muttered. "Look, we've got to hurry. They're going to come looking and-"
"I'll say. All right. Let's get her out the airlock."
The man looked up at him, gimlet eyes boring into Tom. "Since when are you a fan of the Cylons, Mr. Zarek?"
"I'm not," he said. "But she…" he shook his head. "It's not her that they're going to come looking for," he said. "It's me. I need to speak to the captain."
"You gonna kill him?"
"Not if he does what I ask him."
"No. You can check."
The man approached and patted him down. "All right," he said. "Let's go."
Helo and Gaeta had left the room before the marine had spoken, and given the news, Bill was grateful. "He took Athena?"
"Well, why the frak didn't you stop him?" Tigh demanded.
"Couldn't get a clear shot without him shooting her, sir." The marine swallowed. "They took a Raptor."
"Frak. They could be anywhere in the Fleet."
Laura stepped forward. "Not many places are going to hide him. News about the Quorum is all over already."
Bill noticed that Adelle looked away when Laura said that. "I don't know about that," he said slowly. "Twenty-five ships were willing to follow them."
"Before they knew about the Quorum," Laura insisted.
"Let can start with the ships that are most likely to take him in," Tigh broke in. "It's gonna be hard to find him though, Bill. Zarek's got all kinds of shady connections that can keep him hidden if he doesn't want to be found."
"I know." Bill frowned. "Mr. Brink."
Topher started in alarm. "What?"
"What happens here now?"
"Oh." Topher relaxed substantially. He was jumpy and nervous, Bill thought, sort of reminiscent of Baltar in that manner. "Gaeta needs twelve hours of sleep before we can imprint him with anyone else."
"And will that take as long?" Tigh asked.
"Oh, no. No, the initial tissue mapping process is the longest. The next imprint will take five minutes, tops." Topher shrugged. "He just needs a little time to physically recover. If we try to do it too soon… you know that algae mash we've all been eating?"
"Your point is clear," Adama sighed. "All right. Gaeta's obviously in the care of the people who know what to do, so let's go get Athena back."
The captain of the Hitei Kan was an older man with gray hair, darker skin, and almond-shaped eyes named Levi Kallas. Tom had dealt with him many times before. But today, there was no warmth on his face, no admiration in his eyes. They sat in the control room, the smell of tylium strong in the air.
"Please," Tom begged. "I'm on my knees to you."
"Tom, we go back a long way," Levi acknowledged. "But what you're asking is going to bring the wrath of Adama and Roslin down on my people's heads. It's a lot to ask."
"Then don't protect me," Tom begged. "Kill me. I can't bring myself to pull the trigger myself, but I won't stop you."
"Kill you." Levi sat back in his chair.
"I'm serious. Roslin's got some new technology… I can't even quite believe it, but it was something that they used on Caprica. Athena told me it was with a corporation called The Agency."
"The Agency?" Levi's frown deepened. "I thought that was an urban legend."
"You've heard of it?" Tom asked, surprised.
Levi shrugged. "Whispers and rumors. It was supposedly an extremely high-end brothel."
"Brothel?" Tom felt sick. "Athena said something about skills…"
"I don't know. All I've heard is that they can produce exactly what you want, that they program people. I never really believed it. How do you program a mind? I figured the people they get for it are just great actors. But if what you say is true…"
"It is," Tom insisted. "They were doing something to Gaeta. I heard him screaming." He saw the revulsion on Levi's face and pressed on with more hope. "Please. Kill me, hide me, do something. I will not live like that."
Levi was wavering, and Tom's heart soared. "What will you do?" Levi asked.
"I just want to hide," Tom said. "Hide until they've admitted I'm not on this ship. Then, use me however you want. Teach me refining, put me to work, use me as another body doing anything you ask."
"Interesting work for the Vice President."
"But it's work I will choose."
"I see your point." Levi sighed. "All right, Tom. I'll hide you for now. But then," he said, smirking, "your fate will be in the hands of the people." Tom nodded. "Come on. I've got a spot."
"Sir. We found Athena." The marine's voice was scratchy over the wireless. Bill sighed in relief.
"Where is she?"
"On the Hitei Kan landing bay. We're taking her to Cottle."
"Good. What about Zarek?"
"We're searching the Hitei Kan now."
"We'll send backup."
"Thank you, sir."
Adama hung the receiver back up and looked around the CIC. The CIC was one place that hadn't taken much damage during Gaeta's mutiny; only what Gaeta had done himself. But it still seemed tainted by blood and bullets.
Saul was watching him. "You okay?" he asked Bill.
"Quite a freak show today," Saul said.
"I don't want to talk about it," Bill answered.
"You're going to have to at some point," Saul said. "The press will get hold of it eventually."
"Hopefully after we've had him do enough good that it will be seen as a positive thing." Bill sighed. "That's what I keep telling myself, anyway. Sacrifices."
"Yeah." Saul was silent for a long moment, looking around the CIC. His gaze lingered, and when Bill followed it, he saw that Saul was watching Hoshi, who was working at the communications station. "What are you going to tell him, Bill?"
"You're going to have to think of something. He's already asking about Gaeta's body."
"I know. Frak."
Helo wasn't sure what to expect from Gaeta in this "tabula rosa" state, but it was surprisingly easy. Childlike, Adelle had told him. The important thing is to keep him calm and safe.
Adelle had a room set up a few doors down from the imprint room. It was a small one, hung with deeply colored tapestries and with its own wireless system. There was a small fountain in the corner that pumped water through a closed loop, and worn, soft pillows on the floor. It looked like Baltar's den, Helo realized, but not quite as sexual.
Gaeta sat on one of the pillows, drawing. Helo tried not to watch, and instead focused on the packet of instructions that Adelle had prepared for him. Gaeta didn't speak, but he hummed to himself under his breath. It wasn't often that he'd heard Gaeta hum, but he'd heard enough to know that Gaeta had a good grasp of music. The humming now was extremely tuneless, and at odds with the soft music playing over the wireless.
He flipped a page, his eyes seeing the words but unable to really read and absorb them. The problem was, how Gaeta was behaving did remind him of Hera, but without the tantrums… and without the giggles. Childlike, yes, but no emotion.
The door opened, and both Helo and Gaeta looked up. Gaeta's gaze lingered for a long moment on the man and the woman that entered, but then he turned back to his drawing. Helo, on the other hand, looked at them with relief.
"Hey!" The man spotted Helo and smiled. "You guys must be the new pair, am I right?" The man was shorter than Helo, with dark hair, a nose that looked like it might have been broken once or twice, and large ears that stuck out. His face was quite good-looking, and his smile was friendly. He extended his hand. "I'm Victor," he said.
"Karl Agathon," Helo said, "but everyone calls me Helo."
"That's right. I heard you're a pilot." The woman with Victor was extremely striking, with light hair, golden skin, and almond shaped eyes. She spoke with a throaty accent that Helo placed as Scorpian and extended a graceful hand with long fingers. "I'm Sierra."
Helo shook it. "Nice to meet you." These were the Actives; Roslin had told them about them. They'd been traveling with Adelle and Topher to demonstrate the technology when the Cylons hit. Roslin had said that because of the large amounts of energy required for the imprint process, as well as the care required for an active in their blank state, they were still imprinted with the easy-going, Agency employee personalities they'd been given for their original trip. Topher admitted to doing a little tweaking, but confessed that he hadn't been able to do much, especially once Roslin had imposed strict power rationing on their ship. But they seemed normal enough.
Sierra looked at Gaeta, who was still drawing. "This is Gaeta?"
"You know about Gaeta?"
"Adelle told us," Victor said, sitting down on one of the bigger pillows. "Said he'd be coming on soon."
"I see." Helo studied them. "Do you work for the Agency?"
"Well, when the Agency's got work," Victor said. "Haven't had an Active in a long time- not on this whole trip."
"Right." Helo studied them both more closely. Roslin had told him that these two themselves were Actives, although she said she'd found them completely normal. He saw what she meant. They seemed completely cognizant, nothing like this strange, vacant state that Gaeta was in.
"Yeah, well, what are you going to do?" Victor asked. "The thing about the process is it takes a fair amount of energy, and what we've got is rationed, so…" he made a cutting motion with his hand. "So instead of programming and all that good stuff, we're on kitchen shifts and killing time by learning to sew and trying to update the navigation program."
"I'm doing the program," Sierra said dryly. "He's learning to sew. And he's not half-bad at it, either."
"Really." It had never dawned on Helo that, despite the amount of work to keep some sort of civilization going, the average civilian had very little to do. It made him wonder what all they were planning on doing with Gaeta.
Gaeta set aside his drawing. "I'm tired," he informed Helo in a neutral sort of voice.
"All right," Helo said, standing up. He leaned over to help Gaeta stand, and as he did, he snuck a peek at the picture. The drawing made him stop cold. Helo had never been under the impression that Gaeta had any art talent, but he was fairly sure Hera managed more competent drawings.
"Oh, yeah," Victor said, noting Helo's shock. "Freaky, isn't it? They really are like big kids."
"Blank slates," Sierra corrected, although her mouth twitched a little as she said it. "Give him the right imprint, and he could be Johenessan."
"Right. Come on, Gaeta," Helo said, hauling his charge to his feet- well, foot. Gaeta came along obediently. "Let's get you to bed."
There was a bathroom in the small quarters, and Helo cringed with a sort of embarrassment when he realized that it wasn't equipped for a handicapped man, and Gaeta needed help. Gaeta, however, didn't seem to care. But it was awkward in its intimacy, and Helo knew that if Gaeta had been in his own mind, he would have died of humiliation. Helo helped him use the facilities and get undressed, and then guided him back into the room that Adelle had shown him that was set aside for sleeping. That room looked much more like Galactica, with bunks along all three walls. Helo helped Gaeta into a bottom one and then, largely because there was nothing else to do, climbed into the one above him and lay on his back, folding his arms behind his head.
He wished he was back on Galactica. The thought made him sit up suddenly. Wasn't Sharon supposed to be in here with Zarek? For a moment he thought about trying to contact Galactica, but he knew it was no good right now. Adama would be off duty, and very few other people knew about this project. He sighed and sat back. Something must have gone wrong, and he'd bet that it had to do with Zarek being pushed out an airlock, and he would have been told if something had happened to Sharon herself. She was most likely back on Galactica with Hera, asleep in their quarters. And as he heard a noise that told him Gaeta wasn't completely asleep yet, he envied her intensely.
Sharon opened her eyes, taking in the stark white and metallic gray of the sick bay. "Admiral. What…" she raised her hand to her head, and to her mild surprise, she felt a bandage. "Did you catch him?" she asked.
"Not yet. But we will." Adama sat down beside her bed. "I have some questions for you."
Of course he did. Sharon mentally braced herself. "Yes, sir."
"How did Zarek get uncuffed?"
"I did it, sir. He got my gun first."
"All right." Adama sat back. "How did he get your gun?"
"He charged me, sir. Caught me off guard."
"I see." He rubbed his forehead.
"I'm sorry, sir. I know I should have-"
"It happens, and Zarek's sneaky. I can't say I'm surprised." Adama looked exhausted. For a moment Sharon thought he would press her more, but he didn't say anything.
"Sir?" she finally said. He looked down at her, and she swallowed. "When we were in the room… even though two hatches were closed…." She swallowed again. "We could hear Gaeta screaming."
"I know." Adama winced. "It wasn't easy to watch, and it wasn't easy on him. But it's done, and DeWitt and Brink assure me that the worst is over." His face hardened. "And by all military law, he should be dead. Remember that."
"Of course, sir. I wasn't… it was just that Zarek heard him."
"I see. Thank you, Lieutenant."
She nodded. "How's Helo?" she finally asked, when it became evident there were no more questions.
"I assume he's fine. He and Gaeta will be over in a few hours, and we'll see how well this project works." He frowned. "One other question, Sharon. Who piloted the Raptor?"
He was looking for information, not accusing. Otherwise he would have called her lieutenant. Sharon lay back against her pillow. "I did. He can't pilot a Raptor, sir. But he said he'd be able to find someone on the Hitei Kan who would get him to another ship."
"We'll see about that." Adama stood up and clapped her shoulder. "Get your rest, Lieutenant. We're going to need you."
There was a time, Sharon thought as Adama left, that he would have pressed her harder, asked more questions. But asking questions was something the Admiral wasn't doing a lot of since Earth. It broke Sharon's heart to admit that, but it really was the truth.
She closed her eyes.
It was close and dark. Tom huddled against the wall, his knees pulled up against his chest, trying to will himself invisible. He couldn't remember being this scared since… since he was put into prison the first time. Even the Cylons hadn't been this terrifying. He could hear his own heartbeat, and the sound of voices as the soldiers searched the room.
He could handle death- hell, he had assumed he'd die from the minute he took Gaeta's hand in that brig cell. Longer. He'd been a dead man walking for a lot longer than that, from the moment he blew up that first bridge. He could handle torture. But the idea of losing his mind, being forced to do anything Roslin wanted without even death as an option… Tom would not live like that. He didn't care if he was saving children and feeding puppies, giving up his own agency in that manner was unthinkable.
Roslin and Adama had to be stopped.
He couldn't hear anything in his cubby, nothing but the sound of his own breathing and his own heartbeat. He couldn't see anything in the darkness. He wondered if this was how a Cylon felt right before they were programmed, and then pushed the thought from his mind and began to count to stop his mind from going any further down a path he didn't want it to go down. It couldn't be that much longer.
And it wasn't. Finally, after what felt like an eternity but was less than six hours, the access panel was taken away, and light and air flooded Tom's tiny prison. Levi Kallas extended his hand. "They're gone," he said, helping Tom to stand. "They're convinced you're not here."
"Thank you." Tom forced himself to stand, stretching his protesting back. "I appreciate it."
"Don't be so quick to thank me. We're going to have a ship-wide meeting in storage bay A in twenty minutes." Levi's face was stony. "The thing is, Tom, you're a face everyone is going to recognize. If this is going to work, the entire ship has to be on board."
"Will they?" Tom asked worriedly.
"I think so." Levi didn't look completely convinced. "We were ready to follow you and Gaeta, you know that. But at the same time, you cost lives."
"That's the way a revolution works," Tom said stonily.
"Didn't say it wasn't. But these are civilians who have families, not soldiers who are prepared to die." He sighed. "But on the other hand, you're not asking them to. And if they agree… we have leverage, thanks to the tylium." Levi smirked. "You know that better than anyone."
Levi sighed. "I don't know if I believe you about the mind programming thing," he said. "It sounds too far-fetched, especially given our lack of resources these days. But we've always stood behind you, and I think we will continue to do so."
Levi nodded. "Twenty minutes in storage bay A."
"I'll be there."
"I don't like it." The voice belonged to a woman who stepped forward. She was tall, with short blond hair and a scar down one side of her face. "We've had enough trouble with Galactica. We don't need to be inviting more."
"But Marissa, we wouldn't have so much trouble with Galactica if they hadn't forgotten we are humans," a small wiry man with glasses countered. "Their insistence on this alliance with the Cylons, their refusal to listen to the voices of democracy… we went over this when we made the decision to follow the Vice President and jump away from the Fleet."
"And I objected then, Asok. And I still object now. One day, Galactica will lose their patience with us. Besides, you saw the paper this morning, and you heard the same reports I did. He killed the Quorum."
"I've got to say, Asok," a big man with dirty overalls said, "Marissa's got a point there." He turned to Tom. "When we followed you and jumped away from the Fleet, it was a peaceful protest."
"After the crew mutinied and killed a Cylon and two marines, Dale," Asok put in.
Dale ignored him. "But violent rebellion, like what you did on Galactica? You've got a lot to answer for, Zarek."
They all turned to him, waiting for his answer. Tom pulled himself up. "Well," he said, "I'm not sure what I'm expected to say here. 'I'm sorry for killing the Quorum'? You can keep holding your breaths if that's a sentence you're waiting to hear from me. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and when I executed the members of the Quorum, we still had a chance to win. We still had a chance to put things right, to effect a change in this Fleet, to end the alliance with the very things that destroyed our entire civilization. It was not an act of murder, but a sacrifice that had to be made. And yes, their blood is on my hands. I don't deny that at all.
"If Laura Roslin and Bill Adama were trying to execute me, by firing squad, by airlock, by slow and painful death, I would not be here. I would not expect you to help me. They won and what we did will be called mutiny as opposed to revolution, but execution of the leaders… that's fair. Because let's not lie; I would have done the same."
Tom looked out over the faces and found himself shifting into his normal speech-making stance. "Death is hard to face, there is no denying that. But it was something I was prepared for long before I committed to the rebellion that died. But now… now Laura Roslin has found a new weapon. It's a weapon that controls a person's mind." There were murmurs, and Tom saw the disbelief. "I have no idea how she got it. I assume it was something that was adapted or perfected from the Cylons, and how they program their own to be sleeper agents, or how they box them forever. And that's what Roslin and Adama are doing. They have programmed Felix Gaeta, and they were going to program me."
"If that's true…" someone began.
"It can't be," Marissa insisted flatly. "Look, Zarek. I don't like this alliance any better than you do, but the Cylons have not been in the Fleet long enough for that kind of technology exchange to take place."
"I can't believe it either," Tom said. "But watch Gaeta. Have someone observe him, see if there's any evidence to it. It won't be in the papers, that's for sure, or on the wireless. They won't let the press anywhere near this."
"How are we supposed to know-" Marissa began, but Asok cut her off.
"There we go," he said. "That's the plan. We give refuge to Tom Zarek, temporarily at first, and we watch this Gaeta. We have contacts on the Galactica," he nodded at Dale, "and I'm sure someone here must know him." He glanced over the crowd.
Xeno Fenner raised his hand. "I worked with him on New Caprica," he said laconically. "I've got an idea of what he's really like."
"Right." Asok nodded. "Temporary refuge, and if we don't see sufficient evidence, or we see evidence that Zarek is lying, we revisit this."
Marissa nodded stiffly. "I can accept that. Shall we call a vote?"
Tom watched, half nervous and half excited. He hadn't realized such a democracy had existed within their Fleet. And when they voted yes, he felt safer than he had in years.
Chapter 3: Coming Through in Waves
Helo had brought Gaeta to the imprint room, wearing his tanks, pants, and his prosthetic, when Bill showed up at 0500 hours. "Everything all right, Captain?" he asked Helo.
"Yeah. Yeah, it was an easy night once I got used to it," Helo said. But there were dark circles under his eyes and he hadn't shaved. The answer to that, though, came with his next question. "What happened to Sharon and Zarek?"
"Zarek took Sharon hostage and escaped," Bill answered.
"Took her hostage?" Helo demanded. "What-"
"He abandoned her on the Hitei Kan," Bill overrode him. "We're not sure where he is now. We're searching the fleet."
"And Sharon?" Helo pressed.
Bill barely contained a sigh of irritation, even though he knew Helo's concern was justified. "She's fine. She's in the sickbay, and Cottle said she'd probably be released this afternoon. You can see her when we get over there."
"We're going back to Galactica, sir?"
"Yeah. Gaeta's going to start cleaning up the mess he made." Bill glared at Gaeta, but Gaeta seemed more interested in the pattern of cracks on the wall. "Shouldn't you have a hand on him or something?"
"Trust me, Admiral. He won't even try to escape," Helo reassured him. "In fact, I-"
"Good morning, gentlemen," Topher interrupted them, sounding a lot more awake than Helo would have expected at this hour. He had emerged from a room that was next to the conference room, and was wearing pajama bottoms and a faded t-shirt, his hair mussed. Bill looked at him dubiously, but Topher clapped his hands together eagerly. "Are we ready to do a little brain manipulation?"
"You're way too cheerful about this," Bill said.
"Yeah, well, there's something about playing gods that makes me smile. Shall we get started?" He entered the combination to the lock, and the hatch to the imprint room opened.
"Come on, Gaeta," Helo said, taking his arm.
"What's that?" Gaeta asked idly, pointing to the chair. Bill glanced at him sharply. He really didn't remember?
"That's where we're going," Helo answered. Topher mouthed a word at him, and Helo sighed. "For your treatment," he said, obviously feeling stupid.
"Oh. Okay." Gaeta moved past Helo and headed straight for the chair.
"This won't be as bad as yesterday, will it?" Bill asked.
"Nope. Not at all. But be ready," Topher warned. Gaeta sat down in the chair and got comfortable, and Topher pressed a button to make it recline. "This won't take long, and when it's done, it's someone you've met coming out of that chair."
A blue light lit the halo that surrounded Gaeta's head, and Bill tensed, his hands squeezing into fists. But Topher was telling the truth; the process didn't cause Gaeta any distress, and it was over in minutes. Then it ended, and Topher put the chair up.
"All right," Gaeta said, his voice brisk and yet with a drawl that Bill had only heard once or twice, from an area of Canceron. "What time is it?"
"Five oh five in the morning, Doctor Stevenson," Topher told Gaeta. "Have you met Admiral Adama yet?"
"No." Gaeta turned in the chair to face Bill. "Heard a lot about you, of course. But that's neither here nor there. Topher here tells me you got a patient that needs my assistance?"
Bill exchanged glances with Helo, but Helo couldn't help him. "We do," Bill managed to say. "Gunshot wound to the back of the head. Bullet is still embedded."
"Well then. We'd better get over there." Gaeta frowned, looking around. "You got a wheelchair?"
"A wheelchair?" Helo asked, surprised. Bill couldn't blame him. Gaeta had been adamant about not wanting a wheelchair.
Gaeta looked up at Helo with irritation. "Son, brain surgery takes hours, and this leg was amputated less than a month ago. The less I can stand on it, the better off I'm gonna be, and the better off your patient is gonna be. Now, do you have a wheelchair?"
"Well then, give me a hand here, son."
As Helo moved to help Gaeta, Bill grabbed Topher's arm. "Why does he keep calling Helo 'son'? Gaeta's four years younger than Helo."
"Yeah, but Dr. Richard Stevenson is sixty-two," Topher pointed out with maddening glibness.
Topher shrugged. "You don't develop world-class brain surgeon skills in your residency. He's sixty-two. He's all yours. Go play. Shoo!"
"Boy's right, Admiral," Gaeta said. "You want this patient saved, we need to stop yapping and get our asses over there."
Gaeta was silent in the Raptor, studying the file on Anders that Cottle had sent over. Adama watched him. He looked like Gaeta, the timber of the voice was Gaeta's, but so much else was different. The accent, the manner of speech… even his mannerisms. This Dr. Stevenson tapped his foot as he concentrated, which wasn't like Gaeta at all. He muttered under his breath, he clucked his tongue, and he snorted every now and then.
"Sir," Helo said quietly, breaking into Bill's thoughts?.
"What is it?"
"We're going to have a problem when we get over to Galactica. Bringing Gaeta back, after what he did?"
"I see your point." Bill frowned, cursing himself for not thinking of that before. "Got any ideas?"
"We could clear the hangar deck, I suppose, but-"
"That doesn't take care of the rest of the way to the infirmary," Bill said. He couldn't believe he'd missed this. Another mistake. He rubbed his forehead. Helo sat back, and Bill went back to studying Gaeta as he thought. Gaeta ignored him.
The Raptor docked, and Cottle was waiting for them. For some reason, Cottle had a shawl draped over his head, and another one in his hand, and Bill noticed he had a wheelchair by his side.
"Thank the gods," Gaeta said when he saw it. "Someone around here has some common sense. Come on son," he ordered Helo, "get me to the chair and then let's go. But what's with the getup?" he asked as Helo practically carried him off the Raptor.
"Dr. Cottle," Bill said, as he climbed out, "this is Dr. Stevenson." He glanced meaningfully at Gaeta.
Gaeta extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Cottle," he said.
Cottle stared at the offered hand for a moment, and then reluctantly took it. "Nice to meet you, too, Doctor." Cottle had been briefed on the situation, but Bill had seen his skepticism. Not that he blamed him in the least. Helo helped Gaeta to the wheelchair, and Cottle startled back into his normal grumpiness. "Put this on," he ordered Gaeta. "We've got to go through a slew of Sagittarons to get to the infirmary."
"Oh, frak." Gaeta made a face. "That explains it." He obediently covered himself with the shawl. With his curls covered and his face obscured, he was a little less recognizable. There was nothing to be done about the chair and the prosthetic.
"This is insane," Cottle said quietly to Bill as Helo began to wheel Gaeta to the infirmary. "I just want to be sure I'm clear about that."
"I know it is," Bill agreed. "But the strange thing is, I think it's actually going to work."
"Doesn't make it any less crazy." Cottle lit a cigarette. "Let's go."
They made it to the infirmary without anyone recognizing them, and Bill noticed that as they entered, Gaeta began wheeling himself. "All right," he said, looking up at Cottle and shrugging off the shawl. "I assume you've got brain scans. Show them to me." He scowled. "And for gods' sake, put out that cigarette before you burn a hole in something, will you? I'm already down a leg, I really don't need to lose my lungs."
"It's my infirmary," Cottle said.
Gaeta's glare didn't waiver. "And I'm the doctor who can do the surgery."
With an annoyed sigh, Cottle put out the cigarette. "Well, come on then," he said irritably. "This way."
"I assume you relieved the pressure from the hematoma," Gaeta was saying. Cottle looked back over his shoulder and rolled his eyes at Bill, but Bill could only shrug. "For frak's sake, Cottle, don't light another one up!"
As they disappeared into Cottle's office, Bill thought if the situation wasn't so serious, he'd really have to laugh.
Helo found Sharon sitting in an infirmary bed, a bandage on her forehead and a tray of algae on her lap. "Hey," he said, kissing her in relief, "are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Sharon reassured him.
Helo touched her cheek gratefully. "We're lucky. I thought he would have killed you."
"My head sure feels like he tried," Sharon admitted ruefully. She touched the bandage gingerly. "I guess he just didn't have time. Dead or unconscious- it didn't matter for his purposes."
"Guess so," Helo sighed. Being a Cylon might not have hurt either, but after everything that had happened the past few days, Helo didn't feel like pointing that out.
"Have they found him yet?" Sharon asked. Helo shook his head, and Sharon grimaced. Then she looked down at her tray. "How's Gaeta?"
"Seems okay. Ordered Cottle to stop smoking in the infirmary."
"Gaeta ordered Cottle?" Sharon said, her eyes wide.
"Well, I guess Topher and Adelle would say Dr. Stevenson ordered Cottle. They've got him doing brain surgery on Sam Anders."
Sharon's eyes widened even further. "You're joking."
"No, I'm not. Brain surgery." Helo's face darkened. "I guess they think Anders is far gone enough that they'll try anything."
"Guess so. Has anyone told Starbuck yet?"
"Have you heard anything hit that wall?"
Sharon smiled. "Okay. Guess not. She's not going to like it."
"If he does what Adelle and Topher say he will, she'll like it."
Sharon's face darkened. "We'll see."
"Is that the wife?" Gaeta asked, pointing at Kara as he wheeled himself towards Sam's bedside.
"Yes." Bill glanced over at Cottle, who didn't look back. He was staring down at his charts, making rapid notations.
"Name?" Gaeta asked.
"Kara," he said. "Kara Thrace."
"Kara. Got it."
"You don't have to speak to her. Cottle will handle that."
Gaeta stopped in his chair, and Bill stopped, too. "Listen, Bill. Do you mind if I call you Bill?" Bill just stared. "I'm the best at what I do, okay? And that's not bragging, that's not ego, that's just the truth. And so are you. Now, I don't tell you how to Admiral, right? So you don't tell me how to handle my patients. I will speak with the wife, so she knows exactly what to expect. You got that?"
Bill relented, tired of this bullshit. "Fine," he said, spreading his hands. "Be my guest."
Gaeta shot him one more contemptuous glare and then headed over towards Kara. It was a bad idea, and if he had any doubts about that they were dispelled the second that Gaeta wheeled himself to Sam's bedside.
"What the frak is he doing here?" Something metallic hit a wall as Kara leapt to her feet. "Get out, Gaeta! Get the frak out of here before I frakking get a gun and blow your head off!"
Gaeta lifted his chin and faced her. "I take it you're Kara Thrace."
"You know who I am, jackass."
Bill stepped in. "Kara. This is Dr. Stevenson."
Kara looked at Gaeta again, and then stared at Bill as if he was insane. "What the frak are you talking about, sir? This is Felix Gaeta."
"Kara," Bill warned. "We need to talk."
Gaeta rolled his eyes. "We don't have time to talk. Now, miss, I need to talk to you about what I'm about to do, what the risks are, and what-"
"No," Kara growled, getting right in Gaeta's face. "You are not touching my husband, do you understand that? You are a frakking mutineer and a traitor and you will not lay one finger on my husband and what the frak makes you think you can do brain surgery anyway?"
Gaeta drew himself up in his chair. "Young lady, I have been doing brain surgery for longer than you've been alive, and you need to listen to me. If I do not do this surgery, your husband will die."
"You put a hand on him and you will die."
"All right, Kara," Bill said, forcing himself near her and grabbing her arm. "That's enough."
"No, sir. It's not enough. It-"
"Captain Thrace! Back off! Now! That is an order!" Bill turned to Gaeta. "Are you satisfied now? Just do your job, doctor."
"Sir, this is insane," Kara protested. You can not be serious, letting Gaeta anywhere near-"
"That's not Gaeta," Bill said. He looked at the obstinate expression on Kara's face, sighed, and gestured to a pair of marines who had accompanied them. They grabbed her arms and pulled her away, even as she struggled. "Come on," he told her, exhausted already. "Let Dr. Stevenson get to his work, and I'll explain everything."
Helo looked up from the paperwork he was working on next to Sharon's bedside. "Kara. How's Sam?"
"In surgery." She looked down at Sharon, who was sleeping. "How's she?"
"Good. Taking advantage of the time to nap." Helo smiled, but the smile faded as he saw the expression on Kara's face. "Want to sit?"
"Thanks." She snagged a chair with her foot and pulled it over, plunking down gracelessly. "What the frak, Helo?" she asked, running her hand through her lank hair. "Is the Old Man telling me the truth about Gaeta?"
"Yeah, he's telling the truth. Have you gotten to look in?"
"I can't," Kara admitted. "I can't even stand to have that frak anywhere near Sam, but if he really is doing brain surgery, then I don't want to throw him."
Helo realized what she was here for. "You want me to look?"
"Would you mind?"
"Not at all." Helo stood up. "Give me something to do besides fill out forms." He stood up and stretched. "Been a long day already," he muttered.
"Yeah. No shit." Kara grinned up at him, but there was no humor or light in her smile. He couldn't manage to smile back. Instead, he just quietly left Sharon's cubicle and headed for the surgery theater.
He realized he was probably the person in the Fleet who best understood what exactly was happening with Gaeta, but Helo knew he would never forget the sight of Gaeta standing at Sam Anders' bed, pale with pain and fatigue, carefully and systematically poking and prodding at Anders' brain. Cottle stood nearby, silent, his impressions written clearly across his face. It was the look on Cottle's face that convinced him that Gaeta was gone, and Dr. Stevenson, whoever he was, was the one inside this body. If Helo hadn't believed it before, he sure as hell believed it now.
He watched for one more minute, and then slipped back to Sharon's cubicle. Kara looked up anxiously.
"I don't know anything about brain surgery," he said finally, "but I do know about Doc Cottle. And he's standing next to Gaeta, helping out. If Sam's not okay, it will be because he never could be, not because of this operation." He took her hand. "It's going to be okay, Kara."
Her hand, cold and rough, lingered in his for just a moment before she pulled away. "It won't, Helo. But thanks for saying it."
He didn't know how to answer that, so all he could do was smile.
Footsteps. Bill looked up to see Cottle emerging from the surgery theater. "How's it going, Doc?"
Cottle exhaled. "Never thought I'd say this, but you might be on to something, Bill. Whoever's in Gaeta's body, that man sure knows his way around a brain."
"Will Anders recover?"
"It's too early to tell yet, but that's not what I'm out here for. Dr. Stevenson in there has asked to see a Topher Brink."
"Topher?" Bill's forehead furrowed in consternation. "What does he want with Topher?"
"Apparently, he's noticed something about the brain waves, some sort of interference in the pattern. I thought it was just noise, but he swears there's something to it. He says this Brink character is the only one in the Fleet that understands the human brain the way he does."
"'I don't even want to think about that,'" Bill muttered.
"Nothing." Bill shook his head. "I'll go get Brink."
The Admiral hadn't yet returned when Gaeta emerged from surgery, blood on his overcoat and gloves, his face ashen and covered with a think sheen of sweat. "The chair," he said quietly, and Helo jumped up from his seat to get it for him. Gaeta sat down in it heavily then leaned his head against his hand, trying to control his breathing.
"You okay?" Helo heard himself asking.
Gaeta waved his hand. "Fine," he said, then shook his head. "Fine," he said, with a little more strength in his voice. "Brink here, yet?"
"Not yet. How's Anders?"
"Bullet's out, and physically he'll be fine. Did as much as I could, but there're a few other things going on…." He shook his head. "Is there any chance at all I can talk to the wife again? We're going to need her input on this."
"Probably best if you have Cottle do it," Helo said. "You, uh, look a lot like someone she knows." If it weren't for you, you wouldn't even be doing this surgery in the first place. Helo clenched his jaw, but Gaeta didn't seem to notice.
"I gathered that." Gaeta frowned. "But this is important; we're going to need her consent, since she's his next of kin. You know her well?"
"Well, can you help me, son? Just get her to realize I'm not that guy she thinks I am, and I need her input."
"Anders is military," Helo pointed out. "You just need the Admiral's consent."
"Son, maybe that does fine for your conscience. Probably does- you're military. I'm not." Gaeta sighed and sat back in his wheelchair. "Just… let me talk to the wife again after I've talked to Brink, will you?"
"I can try," Helo promised. "No offense, but I'm going to put what she needs ahead of what you're asking for, though. If she won't, I won't force her."
"Yeah, well. Do what you can."
"You see these blips?" Gaeta spread the scans out on the table. Cottle leaned over one shoulder, Brink over the other. Gaeta batted Cottle's cigarette away without even looking, and Brink pulled the scans closer to him.
"Yeah, yeah! I see it!" Brink said excitedly. "But I can't think of how… unless…"
"Unless what?" Cottle asked.
"Well, the Agency wasn't only centered in Caprica City," Brink explained. "There were outposts all over. Other agencies, you know? And other programmers."
"You think Anders was one of the Actives in another agency?" Gaeta asked.
Bill had been watching the conversation silently, but now he spoke up. "You know about the Agency, Dr. Stevenson?"
Topher rolled his eyes. "Of course he knows about the Agency," he said. "You think I'm gonna make someone who is an expert on brains and able to do work on brains and not make it easy for him to ask for my advice?" He shook his head. "Or did you want the fun and games of explaining to someone else about the evil zombie-Cylon mind-wiping people?"
"You've made your point," Bill muttered.
Gaeta wasn't listening; he was studying the charts. "It's a lot like an Active's brainwaves," he admitted. "Very similar neural architecture, I would imagine. Is there a chance he could be an Active?"
"He's not an Active," Cottle said. "He's a Cylon."
Gaeta and Topher exchanged glances, and Bill leaned forward. He noticed that neither of them looked happy about it. Finally, Gaeta said, "He doesn't look like one."
"No. He's one of the Final Five." Cottle frowned at Topher. "You knew that, didn't you?"
"Look, you just said you needed a brain surgeon," Topher said. "You didn't say you needed someone to work on a robot."
"It wouldn't have mattered anyway," Adama jumped in. "There's no data on Cylon brain function. Mr. Ga-Dr. Stevenson. What are you thinking?"
Gaeta sighed. "Can you get the wife in here, Bill? This is the part she needs to hear, and…" he wiped his face, and Bill realized that the man was physically exhausted, "it's better if I only explain this once."
"All right," Bill said. "Give me a minute."
Kara was waiting in what qualified as a waiting area. Bill was surprised that she didn't have her ear pressed to the door. She jumped up as soon as Bill approached.
"How is he, sir?"
"The doctors want to talk to you."
"The doctors…" Kara muttered.
"We went over this."
"I know," she sighed. She pushed her hair back. "Will Cottle be there?"
"Cottle, Dr. Stevenson, and Topher Brink, who's the one who programmed Gaeta. He's an expert on neurological functions."
"Great." Kara closed her eyes. "What a frakking nightmare." She shook herself, and then drew up. "All right, Admiral. But keep Gaeta far away from me."
"He saved Sam's life," Bill reminded her. "Cottle couldn't have done it."
"So you say." But Kara followed him to where the other three were still leaning on a table, discussing.
Gaeta looked up when they entered. "Have a seat." He gestured to a chair. Kara glared at Bill, but he just nodded, and she sighed and sat down, reluctantly looking at all of the charts and pictures in front of her.
"I've got some good news, first," Gaeta said. "We were able to save your husband's life. The bullet is out, and physically, he is alive."
"Physically," Kara repeated.
"Now, hold on, miss, because I've got a lot more to say." Gaeta sifted through the charts. "The bullet was lodged in the anterior lobe of the brain, right next to a blood vessel. When I removed it, I expected that we would have a full recovery. And there should be."
Kara paled. "Is there something still wrong?"
"There is some cortical scarring. That's what's hindering your husband's full recovery. Normally, that would be it."
"It?" Fear was showing in Kara's eyes.
"Game over. Bucket kicked," Topher supplied, and Bill resisted the urge to smack him for his thoughtlessness. Fortunately, he didn't need to. Help was much closer at hand.
"I do the talking," Gaeta told Topher. "You're obviously not good at it. I know the man's a Cylon, but she's his wife. Have a little courtesy."
Kara's mouth opened slightly in shock, and even Cottle barely restrained his smirk. But Gaeta just turned back to Kara. "Anyway, miss, as I was saying, normally, that sort of scarring would mean loss of brain function. However, if we act quickly enough, there's something else we can do. Because he is a Cylon, your husband's brain pretty much has what the Agency calls Active architecture. So, we can take him over to the Persephone, and essentially rewire his brain to circumvent the scarring. Now, what that means is that most of his brain would return to normal."
"What do you mean, most?" Kara asked, her eyes narrowing.
"Well, the brain can only hold so much. We would have to take something out. Some neural pathway, to make room for everything. Basically, Sam would lose some memory set, some skill, some feeling. Something. I can't say what for sure until I see the mapping on Brink's technology-"
"And even then we won't know for sure," Topher cut in. "But there's something else going on, too."
"What's that?" Kara asked.
"There's a… a layer added over his brain. Something has been put there. I'm guessing it's like the programming that the toasters do when they make a sleeper agent."
It took a minute, but it registered with Bill. "He couldn't remember his life on Earth until he was shot. But before the surgery, he was saying that their- the Final Five's- brains had been modified by Cavil."
"Perfect!" Topher said. "That's what we remove then! False memories gone, we reboot, and ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang, good as new!" He grinned with triumph.
But Gaeta leaned in. "If that's all right with you, miss. If you'd rather we try to find something else, another connection, we can look. But we don't have much time, and I can't guarantee that you'll like whatever else we'll take out."
Kara bit her lip. "If you take out these false memories," she began, "will he remember what's happened since? Or will his brain go back to the point it was programmed or whatever the frak Cavil did to it?"
"I don't know."
Kara took one deep breath, and then another. Then she nodded. "All right," she said. "Let's find out."
The halo glowed around Sam's head with an intense blue light. Helo stood behind Gaeta's wheelchair, noticing that Gaeta was barely breathing. At first he thought that Gaeta's reaction was fear, but when he snuck a peek at Gaeta's face, he could see it was fear, yes, but only fear that this process would not work. He was watching both Sam and Kara, who was holding Sam's hand, and there was naked sympathy in his eyes.
Cottle had come along to the Persephone as well, and was studying the machine as it worked. Topher looked like he wanted to shoo the doctor away, but Cottle actually had his cigarette out and his hands firmly in his pockets, and the Admiral's orders backing him up. There was nothing Topher could do. The Admiral and the Colonel watched as well, and given how tight the imprint room was, Helo decided he should be grateful that Tyrol and Tory hadn't been brought along as well.
The light stopped, and Topher brought the chair up. Helo was positive that everyone in the room stopped breathing.
Sam opened his eyes.
"Where am I?" he said, and Kara covered her mouth to muffle her sob. Tigh's face broke into a huge grin, and Adama closed his eyes. But the reaction that caught Helo a little off guard was Cottle turning to Gaeta. "Well done, Doctor," he said, extending his hand.
Gaeta took it. "Thank you, Sherman," he said. There was relief all over his pallid face, but a touch of triumph as well.
Topher was almost the exact inverse of Gaeta- completely triumphant except for a tinge of relief. "How are you feeling?" he asked Sam.
"My head is frakking killing me," Sam said, moving to touch it gingerly. He looked at Kara, and then closed his eyes again. "I remember you," he said softly. "Flashes… smeary images… but I… Kara." He opened his eyes again. "Your name is Kara."
She nodded, silent tears streaking her face.
Sam looked away, and his eyes fell on Tigh. "Saul," he said, his voice lighting with warmth and wonder. "Saul… it worked? We're alive?"
"It worked." Tigh smiled, but his smile was forced.
Sam tried to laugh, but stopped, his hand flying to his head. "I told you that Ellen knew what she was doing," he said. "She was right about it being the Pensworth algorithm. But… where is she?"
Tigh and Adama exchanged glances. "I think we have a lot of questions for you, Sam," Tigh said. "But let's get you back to the Galactica and get you some rest, first." Tigh glanced at Cottle, who nodded with approval, but distractedly so. "Are we done here?"
"Doc? Can you handle any follow-up, or do you need Dr. Stevenson longer?" Adama asked.
"I'm all right. And frankly, I want to see exactly how this thing works," Cottle said.
"Me, too," Kara spoke up. Adama opened his mouth to argue, but Kara continued on. "Sir, if I don't see it for myself, I'll never believe any of it. I know it's confidential. I just need… to see."
"All right," Adama nodded.
"I'd like to see it as well," Gaeta put in.
For a moment, Helo faltered, and then he remembered what he was supposed to say. "Dr. Stevenson, would you like a treatment?"
"Yeah. Yeah, son, a treatment sounds good, but can you give me a hand?" Helo bent down and helped Gaeta out of the wheelchair and into the one for imprinting. "I have to say," he said, supremely unconcerned about where he was sitting, "this sort of technology… makes you wonder about if the Cylons can be imprinted, doesn't it?"
That froze Helo, and he could only watch as Topher reclined the chair again. The others stood around, Cottle's eyes sharp and Kara's narrowed. Gaeta made himself comfortable, and then the blue light glowed again.
When Gaeta sat up, his face was blank and when he spoke, there was no trace of a drawl. He just looked at Topher and asked, "Did I fall asleep?"
Topher smiled. "For a little while."
"Should I go now?"
"If you like."
Gaeta began to struggle out of the chair, and Helo moved in swiftly to help him. He noticed that Cottle looked surprised, and Kara… Kara's face was pale, but her eyes were much more resolute. Angry. Justified.
He wheeled Gaeta out, past Tigh, who took a small step back, past Adama, who looked triumphant, past Sam, who watched with mild confusion. He could already tell that the experiment would be considered a success, and it was. If they hadn't had Dr. Stevenson, whoever he was, Sam Anders would be dead. Instead, he was walking around, his true memories restored.
And Gaeta was sitting in a wheelchair, with no memories at all.
Helo shuddered, and then wheeled Gaeta back to the Agency's quarters.
Chapter 4: Trapped In a State of Imaginary Grace
"So it sounds like it was a success," Laura said, laying her head against Bill's shoulder. They were sitting on the sofa in his study. To Laura, it felt like a haven. She hadn't been able to be at the surgery today; the Quorum was demanding what little energy she had, sapping the remainder of her strength. She had accepted that she still had her obligations, but she was tired.
Bill nodded. "It was even a greater success than Adelle told us it would be," he said. "Not only is Anders recovering, but he regained the memories he had of Earth."
"Does he still remember anything that's happened since?"
"It's… damaged. He remembers parts of it, especially the things that impacted him deeply. But a lot of it is gone."
"That's too bad," Laura murmured, although to be honest, she was much more curious about what he could tell them about Earth. But that was for another day, another conversation. She sighed, nestling closer to Bill. "I've been thinking…"
"Should I be terrified?" Bill said, something like a laugh rumbling deep within him.
Laura smiled, but the smile faded quickly. "We meant to have two Actives," she said. "Gaeta and Zarek."
"Still can't find Zarek."
"I know. But…" she bit her lip, and then continued. "There are a lot of mutineers sitting on the Astral Queen." She sat up, holding out her hand and forestalling the objection that she knew Bill was about to make. "I'm not suggesting that we make becoming an Active mandatory. I don't like that as a precedent, and besides, no matter what Adelle and Topher say about the original personality being erased, I can't feel comfortable with some of those that are incarcerated wandering around in any shape or form. But there may be some mutineers- those that acted on principle and not just looking for a fight- that would be willing to become Actives. We could offer a deal. Serve as an Active until we find a place to settle, then be granted a clean slate once we arrive."
Bill looked at her. "You've been thinking about this, haven't you?"
"I have. There are so many skills we could use, Bill. We could upload someone with greater technological abilities, who might be able to fix some of our ships' problems. We could specially craft pilots for dangerous missions. Any medical issue we have, we could find an expert. There are so many places our civilization is lacking… so much good that could be done. And if it was voluntary on their parts…."
"Let me think about it," Bill said. He looked stern, like he hated the idea. But there were a lot of ideas that Bill had hated.
"All right, Bill. Think about it," Laura said, a small smile playing on the edges of her lips. After the success of today, she had no doubt as to what his eventual conclusion would be.
Tom had meant it when he told Levi to put him to work on the Hitei Kan, but he was still unprepared for the impact of joining the labor force. The press of people headed to work, the whistle, the smell of raw tylium… he remembered Sagittaron, and the squalid conditions in the factory where his father had worked. And more than that, he remembered a labor camp that had taken up decades of his life.
Most of the workers headed straight for the line, but Tom realized he didn't have the faintest idea of what to do there. He was just about to duck out and search for someone to ask when Marissa grabbed his arm, pulling him out. She didn't smile as he faced her, and her eyes raked him over.
"I see you at least had the intelligence not to wear your tie," she said. Tom nodded. He'd only had the clothes on his back, and nothing on his person that would be worth trading for a more appropriate set. He had removed the jacket as well, and rolled the sleeves of his shirt up. But Marissa frowned at that and pulled out a knife.
"Buttons can snag," she said, cutting the sleeves of his shirt short. "So can loose fabric. You want tight sleeves or short sleeves."
"I did have an undershirt on," Tom said, looking at his ruined shirt.
"Great. Now you have a change," Marissa answered. She gestured, and a young man came over. He had dark hair, pale skin, and large eyes, but the most striking thing about him was that his arm was amputated at the elbow. Between the lost limb and the betrayed expression, he reminded Tom very strongly of Felix Gaeta, even though there was no real physical resemblance.
"This is Danny Noon," Marissa said. "He'll show you the ropes."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Zarek." Danny extended his good hand.
"Start him on the sorting lines," Marissa ordered Danny, although she softened a little when she addressed him. "Make sure he doesn't get himself killed."
"Yes, ma'am." Danny smiled at her, and then looked at Tom. "Come on, Mr. Zarek. You'll get the hang of it."
Tom eyed the long conveyer belts, and Danny nudged him towards the one side. "We've got a lot to do these days," he said. "We're clearing up- I guess there's a mining mission due in three days."
Tom frowned. "I thought it was two."
"Well, the… whatever the frak was going on over on Galactica botched the schedule." But Danny grinned as he said it. "Did you really try to take over the government?"
"That is so cool." But despite the childish vernacular, Danny's eyes were hard even as they were bright. "You know, it just… this whole frakking trip or mess or life has been so…" he shook his head with frustration. "I know you stepped over the line. But at the same time, it means a lot that you'd do that for the people and that you'd try to get those toasters out of the Fleet."
Grateful that there was a like mind, Tom was about to answer when the whistle blew and the conveyor belt lurched into motion, and the conversation was halted in favor of Danny explaining the work, and Tom trying to keep up.
The work was not technically difficult, but it did require concentration and speed. He couldn't think about anything else, and after a while his shoulders, arms, and neck grew sore. But the people around him shot conversation back and forth, implying that one day this would be second nature and he'd be able to think again.
He didn't realize just how much time had passed and the whistle blew. "Twenty minutes!" Marissa shouted, and the workers moved quickly from the lines.
"Come on," Danny said. "Let's get something to eat."
The dining hall was worn and shabby, with scratched industrial furniture that bore witness to years and years of use with no real replacement. It reminded him of the Astral Queen. Tom couldn't lie and say he didn't miss the relative luxury of Colonial One or his private quarters on the Astral Queen, but he had certainly spent time in worse. And no matter where you were in the Fleet, the food was algae and it tasted like swamp rot. He got his bowl and followed Danny to a table.
"Danny," an older woman said, ruffling his hair. "I see you got stuck with the new kid."
"How are you settling in?"
Tom remembered the man addressing him as Asok, who had been the most vocal in his support for Tom at the meeting the other night. "Can't complain," Tom said, trying to focus on the conversation rather than his meal.
"You've got to be the only one who's ever said that about the Hitei Kan," the older woman said. She looked to be about Tom's age, and had dark skin and a cloth wrapped around most of her hair to protect it from the lines. She extended her hand to him. "I'm Claudia," she said.
"We've met before," Tom remembered. "You were involved in setting up the union on New Caprica."
Claudia smiled. "I thought you might remember." She smiled smugly. "Marissa owes me two cubits."
Tom was going to say something else when the big man who had spoken up the night before sat down at their table. Danny moved over on his bench. "What's going on, Dale?" Danny asked.
Dale leaned in. "Have you all heard?" When no one answered, he made a face. "Apparently, one of the mystic final five Cylons was shot in the head in the uprising on Galactica a few days ago."
"Haven't seen it in the papers," Claudia shot back.
"Yeah, well, the papers don't say what they don't know, do they? I heard this from my girl over on the Galactica."
"Anna," Asok leered.
Dale ignored him. "Well, you'd think a guy shot in the head would be dead by now, right?" The others nodded. "Well, Anna tells me he's not. That they brought some guy in and he did brain surgery and actually saved the toaster."
"You're kidding," Claudia said. Then she frowned. "I've seen the manifests. I remember them from New Caprica. There's no neurosurgeons."
"But there are surgeons," Danny pointed out. "Fourteen of them."
"Fourteen doctors," Tom corrected. "Seven surgeons."
"But the military one is the best, right?" Danny asked, scowling. "That's what they told me when…" his eyes dropped to his arm. He cleared his throat. "But if that's true, why bring in someone else?"
"Well, there's more. Anna said that the guy was in a wheelchair."
"Gaeta," Tom said, sitting back. Felix would not be happy to know that he had saved a Cylon's life like that, especially the one that had cost him his leg, if Tom had heard right. "They made him a brain surgeon and had him save a Cylon," he said bitterly.
"It's all just hearsay, but yeah," Dale said, frowning. "It sure sounds that way."
"You're awfully bitter about it," Marissa said solemnly.
"Spend four months in a Cylon detention cell, and you would be, too," Tom said.
Marissa made a face. "Two weeks was plenty for me, thanks, but that's not what I meant. Sam Anders was one of the leaders of the Resistance on New Caprica."
"That might have meant something before Earth," Asok said. "But now… and even without that, that's not the point. It's what she's done to Gaeta, what she's willing to do to people without consent."
"If that's really what's happening."
"I don't know," Dale said slowly. "I wasn't so sure the other night, when Zarek told us about this thing Roslin had. But now, I'm starting to wonder."
Claudia frowned. "Me, too. That's… it could be a coincidence, but it's awfully suspicious."
The whistle blew. Tom stood up, his muscles protesting. He stretched them into silence. "A brain surgeon," he heard Asok say. "I've got to give her credit. If she's going to do it, she goes all the way."
"Laura never does things halfway," Tom agreed. "That's what makes her so dangerous." He put his bowl into the basin of soapy water and followed Danny back out to the floor.
The marines stood at attention around the small conference room, and Laura took a deep breath. Next to her, Adelle seemed much more at ease. But then, Adelle hadn't been on Galactica when you didn't know who was going to turn on you and who was still loyal. Adelle faced the group sitting in front of them with considerable aplomb, wearing a worn suit that once was very fashionable and probably tailored perfectly. Bill stood on Laura's other side, his face carefully blank. Twenty-nine selected service women and men sat facing them, none of them looking happy.
Racetrack raised her hand. "So, let me get this straight," she said, speaking directly to Adelle and ignoring both Laura and Bill. "We do this thing, and what happens is we feel a bit of pain getting wiped, and then we don't remember anything until we're released? It's like we go to sleep and wake up when you put us back in?"
"That's exactly what happens," Adelle said, smiling at Racetrack. Racetrack frowned, but not in anger. She sat back, the look of someone doing mental calculations on her face. "You get a break, but your body stays in action."
"There's got to be some sort of catch." A handsome pilot that Laura was pretty sure answered to the callsign of Narcho leaned forward, his elbows digging into his thighs. "What is it?"
"I assure you, it's all quite up front," Adelle said.
"Is the work you'd be having us do dangerous?" Narcho looked at Adama for that one.
"Some of it will be," Adama acknowledged. "We might send an Active to do recon, and I'm positive we'll be having them do some structural repairs to ships. But nothing that's assured death."
"Of course not," Adelle said with a smirk. "Making an Active is an involved process, and once we have them, we really don't want to lose them. Back on Caprica, we'd call it protecting our investment."
Laura tried to gauge reactions from the faces. A lot of them looked closed and skeptical, which she had been expecting. She wondered how many of those asked had come to this meeting just to get out of their cell for a few minutes. She noticed that Skulls and Racetrack were having a heated whispered debate, Skulls shaking his head angrily. She was beginning to wonder if this was going to be a lost cause.
She was almost sure of it when Diana Seelix stood up. "I don't know what you're expecting any of us to say," she told Laura and Bill. "We mutinied because it was the right thing to do. Because everything you're asking of us- everything you've been dictating is wrong, and neither of you seem to get that. And now you're asking us to give up the only thing we have left- our souls- so we can basically become sleeper toasters for the Fleet? Well, frak you. Frak you both." She started to walk out, but a marine stepped into her path and she sighed. "Fine," she said, sitting heavily back down into her seat. "I get the point."
Laura met the eyes of the young woman now glaring balefully at her. There was so much pain and anger and hurt there. If she hadn't helped cost the lives of over a hundred people on Galactica, Laura would feel sympathy for her. As it is, she had to struggle to keep her voice even. "You are perfectly entitled to say no. No one will be required to do this. However, anyone who does will be released immediately when we find a habitable planet to settle, and will be granted a clean slate. And I would like to point out that Lieutenant Gaeta has already accepted this offer." Bill shot a glance at her, but Laura continued staring straight ahead.
"What about the Vice President?" a former knuckledragger asked.
"He is in custody, still considering."
The mechanic who'd spoken sat back, crossing her arms and shaking her head. "No way," she said. "Zarek would never do that. And neither would Gaeta."
"I don't think I have to remind any of you that Mr. Gaeta is quite good at staying alive under hostile conditions," Laura said, eyeing the woman until she dropped her gaze. "No one has to do this, but those who do will not regret it."
In the back of the room, Skulls made a small gesture of throwing up his hands and turned away from Racetrack. He sighed, and then finally stood up.
"Look," he said, "when I was back on Caprica, I heard a rumors about the Agency. And the problem I've got is that it wasn't a group of doctors or mechanics or whatever all you're going on about. It was a fancy whore house. And who's to say that that's not going to happen to whoever takes this deal?"
"I'm to say," Laura said coldly. "That will not be happening."
Adelle looked offended as well. "Mr…" she glanced at the Admiral, who leaned over and whispered a name. "Mr. McCall. I can assure you that the Agency was far more than just a "fancy whore house", as you call it. Of course, that was one of our larger marketing segments, and of course, that is what you would hear about as people are so fascinated with sex. But the reach of the Agency extended far beyond such simplistic engagements. One of our biggest contractors was Representative Jacobs, and he never once used us for a sexual engagement."
"Enough talk," Adama growled. "This is what's being offered to you. Anyone who wants to take it, let us know. Anyone who doesn't," he turned to the marines, "get them back to their cells."
Seelix was the first to stand up, but Laura knew exactly where she was going. She left the room with her head held high, a marine at her side. Slowly but surely, the other people in the room stood up and left, one by one, until only three people remained: Narcho, Skulls, and Racetrack. And judging by the way Racetrack was arguing with Skulls, one of them would be leaving soon as well.
It was Skulls who left. He stopped right in front of Bill, his back ramrod straight. "I don't like this, sir," he informed Adama, "at all. But it's what she wants, and if she thinks she can find some peace in this crap, I'm not stopping her. But if I hear she's being hurt, I will find you someday." Bill didn't so much as blink, and Skulls stepped back. "Just to be clear, sir."
"There's no need," Bill said, a huge hanging gap where the word lieutenant should have been. Skulls nodded and left the room.
Racetrack stood up and came forward, passing Narcho, who was still sitting with his head buried in his hands. She stopped right in front of DeWitt. "I don't care what you do with my body," she said. "Rent me out, make me a pilot, make me a doctor, whatever. But put me in that wedge where I don't have to think or remember or see them all shot down again and again and not be able to do a frakking thing to stop it. And if my body dies, crush the wedge. I'm dead. You got it?"
"Edmondson. Margaret Edmondson."
Adelle extended her hand. "Welcome aboard, Miss Edmondson."
"Thank you." Racetrack still refused to look at Laura or Bill. Adelle smiled.
"Have a seat, Margaret. As soon as this last gentleman has decided, we'll head back to the Persephone." Racetrack nodded and sat.
The marines had thinned out, taking the other prisoners back to their cells, and there was no shuffling of feet or quiet conversation with the prisoners gone. The moments ticked by in silence, and they all stood watching Narcho. Finally, he looked up.
"All right," he said. "I'll do it. Just… can I ask you one thing?"
"The wedge will be destroyed if you die," Adelle said, kindly.
Narcho shook his head. "No, that's not it," he said. "There's someone on board the Galactica, and I don't really… I don't…."
"A partner?" Bill asked.
Narcho shook his head. "Not at all," he snapped. "My brother-in-law. Well, former. But he's the only family I've got left. I just… I'd rather he didn't know what I was doing."
"I can't promise that, Mr. Allison," Bill said. "A lot of your work is likely to be on Galactica."
"Who is it, Mr. Allison?" Laura asked, despite herself.
"Louis Hoshi," Narcho said.
Of course. That one was going to be a problem regardless. Laura glanced at Bill, trying to telegraph that this was one that needed to be dealt with anyway, so why not?
"We will deal with Mr. Hoshi, Mr. Allison," Bill finally said. "I can promise you that."
Narcho nodded. "All right," he finally said. "I'll do it."
The day had been too long already, and the last thing Saul wanted to hear was a knock on his door, especially since he had a damn good guess as to who was on the other side. But he put his paperwork down, sighed, and said, "Come in," despite his exhaustion.
As he expected, Hoshi opened the hatch. "I'm not disturbing you, am I, sir?"
"No. I asked you to come." Saul set his pen aside. "Have a seat, Lieutenant."
"Thank you, sir." Hoshi sat awkwardly. Saul pushed the papers aside and pulled out two glasses. As he poured the drinks, he studied the man sitting across from him. Despite the fact that Hoshi had extremely close ties to two of the mutineers, there wasn't any trace of resentment on his face as he looked at Saul. Either he hadn't been recruited for a reason, or he was extremely good at hiding his emotions. Given that he was a CIC officer from the Pegasus, Saul assumed the latter. He pushed a glass across the table.
"You're going to be hearing some strange rumors," Saul said, diving right into the subject because frak, he was an XO, not a babysitter.
Hoshi frowned, not taking a drink. "Already been hearing a few about Felix doing brain surgery."
"Yeah, well, they're right."
Hoshi blinked. "Sir, I have no idea how-"
"Well, why do you think I asked you to get in here? Most people don't rate an explanation, but you're going to."
"Because of Gaeta," Hoshi said dryly. He looked away, and Saul had the oddest compulsion to reach out and touch the younger man on the shoulder. But he just sat back and took a sip of his drink. He involuntarily grimaced a bit at the bitter taste, then set the glass down.
"Not so much because of Gaeta," Saul said. "Narcho."
"Noel?" Hoshi flinched and then finally took a drink.
"Yeah. You're legal next of kin there."
"I know." Hoshi's knuckles tightened around his glass. "Sir, I…" he trailed off, obviously waiting for Saul to interrupt, but Saul hadn't planned on it. He waited, watching Hoshi try not to squirm. Finally, Hoshi sighed.
"Sir," he said, stretching the words out. "Is there a way we can not talk about this? I don't mean to be rude, but I would rather-"
"You think I'm questioning your loyalties, Lieutenant?" Saul asked. Hoshi's silence answered for him, and Saul snorted. "If I was doing that, we'd be down in the brig and I wouldn't be giving you any of my private stash." He leaned in. "Trust me, son. I've been where you're sitting, and I know what the view is like, you got that?" Hoshi looked down. "But enough crap. Let's get to the point, shall we? Like I said, you're probably going to be hearing a lot of strange rumors about both Gaeta and Narcho, and brain surgery is just the beginning. And this is one thing you've got to know up front; when they're over on Galactica, if you see them, they won't recognize you. They won't have the first frakking clue as to who you are."
Hoshi frowned. "Not to sound egotistical, but I find that hard to believe."
"Yeah, well, I found it hard to believe when a man that looked just like Gaeta called the Admiral 'Bill', knocked a cigarette from Cottle's hand, called Starbuck 'miss', and did brain surgery that saved Sam Anders' life. If I hadn't been there, I wouldn't have believed any of that, no matter who told me the story. But I was there, and let me tell you, it's true."
"I have no idea how-"
"Let me give you another drink, and I'll explain."
The blue light glowed around Racetrack's head, and there was an aura of peace about her. Bill watched, the experience nothing like watching Gaeta being wiped. He was growing used to the sight and the technology, Bill told himself. That was all it was. Besides, if Gaeta hadn't been wiped, he would have been shot, and at least this way, maybe someday… he didn't know what someday was. He excused himself and stepped out of the imprint room. Frak, he needed a drink.
He was just screwing the top back on his flask when he heard Helo. "All right," he was saying in a patient, encouraging voice. "That's the way. Now, move this one forward. There you go."
For a moment, Bill really believed that Helo had brought Hera over onto the Persephone, but as Helo rounded the corner, Bill saw he was helping Gaeta balance on his crutches. Helo was still in his uniform, but Gaeta was wearing tanks and sweats. "Good," Helo was saying. "Does your leg hurt?"
"Yes." Gaeta said it simply, in a blank tone of voice.
"Well, we'll see if we can get you something for it."
"Come on. Not much further. I think- Oh. Admiral."
"Don't let me interrupt," Bill said.
"I didn't know you were over here." Helo stopped, and Gaeta did, too. "Everything all right?"
"Yeah. We've got a few mutineers who volunteered to be Actives."
"Oh." Helo glanced at the imprint room. There was a blue light around the edges of the door, or so it seemed. "Who's in there now, sir?"
"Racetrack." Bill sighed, wishing he could take another drink. "Is it really true they don't remember anything in this doll state?" he gestured to Gaeta.
"It's really true, sir." Helo sighed. "Who's Racetrack's handler going to be?"
"One of their guys, actually. Guy named Victor."
"You don't like that?"
"I've only met the man a few times, sir. It just…"
"What about it?" Bill demanded.
Helo looked at Gaeta, who was still just standing like a patient child waiting for his parent to be done with grown-up conversation. "The thing is, sir, everything you tell Gaeta to do, right now, he'll do. Or he'll try to- that's a part of it, too. If he was able bodied, he'd be able to take care of himself, but he's not quite able to deal with everything on one leg as well, although he tries. But my point is, you tell him to do something, he'll do it."
"What are you getting at?" Bill asked, not quite willing to admit he saw where Helo was going with this.
"I'm just saying you'd better trust that this Victor guy won't do anything to Racetrack," he said. "I know it sounds crazy, but she's still one of my people."
"She's a mutineer," Bill corrected Helo firmly.
"I know, sir." Helo's face was set. "But she's still one of my people."
Bill relented. "This Victor, he's an Active himself. They've got him imprinted with something that makes him completely trustworthy."
Helo made a face, but he didn't argue any more. Instead, he just touched Gaeta on the elbow. "I need to get him to bed, sir. He's going to be taking a look at the FTL room again, tomorrow, right?"
"That's right. We need a second opinion. Any problems with him today?"
"Nope. You saw the reports, right?"
"Right. All parts we don't have." Bill sighed. Today Gaeta had been Tim Reynolds, a genius mechanic from Aerelon, which had meant another accent and an overly detailed assessment of the breach in the hull by the FTL drives. None of the news was good. And although Topher had patched in a willingness to use the wheelchair again, Gaeta did look exhausted. Bill sighed. "Get back to whatever you were doing."
He watched them go, and then quietly opened the door to the imprint room and re-entered. They were almost done; he remembered that the handler imprint process was the last thing that they'd done to Gaeta. The man standing over Racetrack and holding her hand had a concerned, pleasant expression, broad shoulders, and his eyes fastened firmly on her face.
"How's it going?" he asked Adelle, who was standing next to the procedure and watching like a wary teacher.
She shrugged. "Fine. Not that we had any worries with this one." She glanced over Topher's shoulder. "Just a few more minutes. Topher, did you want to do Mr. Allison tonight or tomorrow?"
"Tonight," Bill answered, before Topher could.
Topher didn't even look up from his screen. "Sure, no problems there. Not like I've got a hot date or even anything to watch on TV in this fleet." He shrugged. "Playing god is as good a diversion as anything else."
The blue glow faded, and Racetrack sat up. Her face had that same emptiness that Gaeta's had, and she looked dispassionately at Topher.
"Did I fall asleep?"
"For a little while."
"Shall I go now?"
"If you like." Topher noticed Bill's glance and sighed. "It's a script, okay? I know it sounds a little hokey, but it's important in the bonding process."
"I didn't say anything," Bill replied.
"Victor," Topher said. The handler gestured to Racetrack and led her out. She did look at Bill as she passed, but it was more because he was there. There was nothing in her face to indicate any resentment or disappointment; just emptiness.
"Well, then. Next!" Topher shouted, smiling. He apparently thought he was funny. Bill didn't really agree.
Narcho came in; a marine at his side. The marine stepped back against the wall. Bill watched Narcho sit, willing himself to feel some sort of compassion and failing. This man wasn't just one of the mutineers, but the one who would have commanded his firing squad. If Saul hadn't stopped him, Bill would be dead, riddled with bullet holes. He remembered those sharp, intense pains in his chest when Boomer had shot him, and his frown deepened.
The door opened again and the young woman that had been introduced to Bill as Sierra came in. She stood next to Adelle, her posture and expression reminding Bill of how Tory used to stand to Laura.
"All right," Topher said. "You ready for this?"
"No," Narcho said, but he sat back.
Topher laughed. "Yeah, that's what they all say. The joke gets old after a while." He began to strap Narcho down. "You have a problem with needles?" he asked. "I can't knock you out, but I can sedate you a little."
"Needles?" Narcho leaned forward. There was a tray of needles, cleaned and sterilized when Topher had taken them out of Racetrack.
"It's okay. They're not required for the whole time," Topher explained, "and they don't hurt that much going in. Or so I've been told."
"Wait. I'm not so sure-"
"Aw, come on. You're a big, bad, strong Viper pilot! What's a few needles?" Topher teased. There was nothing malicious in his voice- he truly meant that, Bill realized. But Narcho shook his head.
"Maybe this isn't a good idea," he said, starting to move from the chair.
Topher's head snapped to face Adelle, and Adelle raised her eyebrows. "What?" Bill asked.
"Second thoughts," Adelle said. "It's quite common, I assure you. But since this is a… military project, I'm going to let you make the call."
"Let him?" Narcho tried to push out of the chair, but his wrists were already restrained. "Wait. I thought this was my decision. That's what you said in your offer. We don't do it, we just sit in our cells."
"Admiral?" Adelle said. "I need your decision."
Narcho looked up at him, not quite struggling but not quite still. At one time, Bill thought he might have seen the desperation in the man's eyes and responded to that. But when he looked at him, all he could see was the man facing him, a firing squad at the ready, prepared to execute him on Gaeta's command.
"No! Wait!" The chair began to recline, and a few of the marines stepped in to hold Narcho down. Bill watched, not realizing he was tense until the sedative that Topher injected kicked in and Narcho's body went limp.
"You didn't give a sedative to Gaeta," he realized.
Adelle shrugged. "The sedative that we are able to use is quite mild. Anything stronger knocks the person out, and that could be disastrous. For someone like Mr. Allison, it was effective; his reservations were surface deep. For someone like Mr. Gaeta…" she trailed off and shrugged. Bill wasn't sure what to think of that. He looked away.
He didn't notice the angry look on Sierra's face as she watched the scene in front of her.
Joe's was nearly empty and about to close, but Kara didn't care. What she needed- and needed badly- was a drink. The bartender saw her coming and poured a large one, and then pushed it across the bar to her before she even spoke.
"The bottle too," she said.
"Thought so," he said, pushing the bottle across to her. She slid a few cubits to him, more out of habit than because cubits were any use, took her glass and bottle, and turned to find a seat table. It was rare that she had her pick, but most of them were empty. But one that wasn't caught her eye.
Kara didn't know Hoshi very well in person, but she knew his voice. It was hard for pilots not to feel some sort of connection to the voice in their ear during battles, and to the people that called them home. Kara hadn't had the best experiences with the people behind the voices. But something drew her to his table anyway.
As soon as she approached, she regretted it. Hoshi had a few pictures spread across the table, along with a bottle and a glass. He was fingering one, and Kara nearly turned around and walked away, except that he looked up and caught her glance directly and scowled.
"Well, sit down," he muttered. "Let's get it out of the way."
Kara frowned. "Let's get what out of the way?"
"Well, I'm not comfortable calling either of them our husbands, but my partner was responsible for shooting your partner in the head, and then fixing him back up again. If that's not frakked up, I don't know what is, and I feel like we should either slug each other or frak each other. You're not my type, what with the vagina and all, and you'd easily take me down in a fight, so I'm thinking that drinking might be our best solution."
Kara picked up the bottle on the table. "Good gods, Hoshi. How much of this shit did you drink?"
"Not enough. I'm still conscious." He focused his gaze on her, and Kara had the impression he must be seeing more than one of her. "I've had a really, really bad day."
"Yeah." She sat down, and automatically looked at the picture in his hands. It was a younger Hoshi with slightly longer hair, unshaven and in civilian clothing. He had his one arm around an incredibly good-looking blond man, and the other around a little girl with platinum pigtails, who looked about four or six or something. Bigger than Hera, anyway. "Who's this?" she asked.
"Matthew," Hoshi muttered, and Kara found she couldn't meet his eyes. "Matthew and Julie."
For a moment, Kara thought that she might be a niece or something, but then the way Hoshi and Matthew were standing in the photograph sank through her like a slow revelation. "You were married?" Hoshi didn't answer, but he didn't need to. "Frak." Kara took the picture from him. "Your husband was smoking," she said lamely.
"I know," Hoshi sighed. "Gods know what he was doing with me." Kara wondered if she was supposed to argue, but Hoshi didn't seem to care. He was focused on the picture. "I still owe Noel for fixing me up with him."
"Narcho. Matthew's his brother."
Kara put the picture down and stared at him. "You're shitting me."
"How the frak did that happen?"
"Well, last time I checked, his father frakked his mother at least twice," Hoshi said sarcastically.
"Oh, frak off. You know what I mean." Kara glared at him irritably. Hoshi didn't seem overly affected by it, but he picked up his glass and swallowed the remainder of the contents. He poured himself some more, and then held the bottle up for her. "Sure," she said, pushing her now empty glass forward.
Hoshi's hand shook as he poured for her. "I know," he admitted. "It's just you…."
"Yeah, I know. And you…" Kara mimicked how he trailed off. "So how'd it happen?"
Hoshi shrugged. "I met Noel on the Pegasus. We got along about as well as you'd expect." Kara snorted at that, and Hoshi smirked. "We spent a lot of time arguing, and then one day," Hoshi made a grand gesture, "he had had it with me and said I was just like his brother and it all fell into place. He fixed us up the next time we were on shore leave. I think it was supposed to be a joke, but Matthew and I hit it off right from the start. We were married after a year."
"Wow." Kara tapped the picture on the table. "So you and Narcho-"
"As Noel puts it, we got along a lot better once I was getting laid on a regular basis. And then when Matthew and I adopted Julie…" Hoshi shook his head. "Noel was absolute putty in her hands. She was just a baby, but gods…" He picked up his glass and swallowed the whole thing. "Can't think about her right now."
"No." Kara felt like the situation was slipping through her fingers.
Hoshi tried to focus his gaze on Kara again. "I'm jealous, you know."
"A little. Noel got the same frakking deal that Felix did. Just put themselves in a disk and don't think anymore."
That made Kara sit up and pay attention. "What do you mean?"
"Felix the brain surgeon," Hoshi muttered. "I know you know about that. He saved Sam."
"Only after getting him shot in the head," Kara snapped. Hoshi paled and pressed his lips together, and Kara sighed. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you didn't do it," she said, but she spoke through gritted teeth.
He dropped his head into his arms. "Yeah. I didn't."
Kara decided to get off the subject as fast as they could. "You said Narcho got the same deal?"
Hoshi peeked out from his arms. "Yeah. Tigh told me a couple hours ago."
"You supposed to say anything, Lieutenant?" He groaned and buried his head back in his arms. Kara smirked, but the smirk faded fast. She didn't like Hoshi much just on general principal, but she had never, ever had any cause to doubt his professionalism. If he was relaying confidential information like this, he must be extremely drunk. But as she looked at the other photos on the table - Narcho wrestling with the kid, Matthew in a suit and Hoshi in his uniform, both of them smiling, and Hoshi with his arms wrapped around Gaeta, that same loving smile on his face - she decided she was surprised he was only this drunk.
"Come on," she said, gathering the pictures up into a neat pile. "I think you've had enough, Lieutenant. You have anyone to get you back to your rack?"
"I can do it," Hoshi insisted.
"Right. If you can stand up without falling over, I'll sing the Colonial Anthem over the wireless my next CAP," Kara said, but there was no humor in her voice. She slipped the pictures into her pocket and came around the table, hoisting Hoshi up. He staggered, and then leaned against her. "If the brass could see you now," Kara muttered. "Gods, you're drunk."
He was heavy, too. For a moment, Kara debated just letting him pass out at the table. He wouldn't be the first to pass out in a bar, and even though it was the end of the world, he still probably wouldn't be the last. She sighed and steadied her grip, and began to lead him out of the bar.
A few people openly stared at her, and she couldn't blame them. But she glared back, because frak, she didn't need to answer to anyone for what she was doing right now.
"Would you do it?" Hoshi suddenly asked her.
"Would I do what?" Kara asked.
"Give yourself up like that. Let them erase you and just sit on some shelf, and let them use your body to play host to whatever the frak they want."
"Hell, no." The answer was immediate and easy.
"Yeah. Wish I could, but I wouldn't." Hoshi closed his eyes. "Frak. I need to-" he pushed away from Kara and stumbled away towards the head. Kara grimaced, figuring she'd give him a few minutes and see if he made it back out. If he passed out, she'd pass the word to some marines and they could get his ass into bed. She leaned against the corridor wall and pulled out the pictures again.
She'd never liked Narcho, not since the first moment he'd mocked her for not painting kills on her Viper. She couldn't respect him, and it had only gotten worse since the mutiny. And same for Gaeta, really. She tapped the picture of Hoshi and Gaeta against her hand, frowning and wishing she hadn't left that bottle back in the bar.
Gaeta looked happy in this picture. Well, goodie for him. Kara hadn't realized he'd had a boyfriend, but she'd never really cared enough about Gaeta to listen to gossip about him anyway. Sam had liked Gaeta well enough, but Sam liked everybody well enough. Kara never would have put cubits on Gaeta to mutiny, but obviously she was wrong and the frak deserved what was coming to him.
Mind-wiping, though. As attractive as not being able to think might sound, Kara had to admit she wouldn't have thought that Gaeta would take a solution like that. Gaeta was a lot of things, but Kara had learned the hard way that he wasn't a coward, and he certainly didn't fear death. She frowned. After some of what they'd done, she wouldn't put it past Adama and Roslin to force it on him. And so what if they did? After everything Gaeta had done- after everything he'd cost the Galactica and all of the pain he'd caused people- she wasn't going to throw stones.
The head door opened and Hoshi emerged, sheet white and unsteady on his feet, but walking. Kara shoved the pictures back in her pocket, ready to catch him, but he shook his head. "I can make it back myself," he told her. "My bunk is just down the hall."
"You going to be able to remember the combination?" Kara asked. Hoshi gave her the finger and staggered off. "Same to you, asshole!" she shouted after him, but he ignored her. To be honest, she was more impressed that he was still managing to remember which finger was the rude one than she was offended. The bastard was drunk.
She had intended to return to the bar, but after that, she didn't feel like it anymore. She headed instead to the infirmary. She doubted that Sam would be awake at this hour, but she just needed to see him.
She was wrong; Sam was awake. He was sitting up in his bed, writing smoothly. "Hey," she said, lingering in the door of the cubicle.
Sam looked up. "Hey. You're here late."
"Yeah." Kara shrugged awkwardly. "It's been one of those days. Mind if I come in?"
"Not at all." Sam gestured to the visitor's chair.
"Remembering more about Earth?" Kara asked.
Sam nodded. "A lot more," he said. "And more about the resurrection process. I've integrated some of the new data that I've received from the Cylons, and I think I have a few new theories about the inability to conceive."
"Great." Kara didn't know if she was ever going to get used to her husband talking like Gaius Baltar.
"Yeah." She shoved her hands in her pockets, and pulled out the pictures. "Just ran into Hoshi."
Sam's brow furrowed. "Refresh my memory?"
Kara rifled through the pictures and handed him the one of Hoshi and Gaeta. "There you go."
Sam looked at the picture and cringed. "Oh."
"I take it Gaeta is more than a vague memory."
"That one did stick with me, yeah." He sighed. "Something wrong with Hoshi?"
"Nothing more than you'd expect." She didn't feel like clarifying. Instead, she leaned her elbows on her knees, lacing her fingers together. "Sam? You made the Cylon personalities, right?"
"Right." He put the paper he was writing on aside. "Why do you ask?"
"Just… what Roslin and Adama are doing with Gaeta… it sounds a lot like what the Cylons did to Boomer."
"It's not quite the same," Sam said, frowning with concentration. "But yeah, from what I can tell it's broadly similar. Does that bother you?"
She glared at him. "What do you think?"
Sam just shrugged. "It did save my life," he pointed out. "And it gave me back my memories."
"Yeah." She took the picture back from Sam and shoved it back in her pocket. "Sam? Do you think they could have done that to me? That that's why I can't remember anything between when I saw Earth and when I came back?"
Sam frowned. "Probably not," he said, finally. "Nah. Adama and Roslin were too shocked that you were back. They didn't know. And from what that Brink guy told me, what they do is different enough from what the Cylons…"
"Yeah. It was a long shot," Kara sighed. She settled back in the chair. "Mind if I stay here a while?"
"Of course not," Sam said. His smile was warm, but it was still missing something, something that Kara couldn't define. But she settled back, closing her eyes, and let the scratching of his pen on his paper soothe her until she forgot about Hoshi and Gaeta and Actives and Cylons and fell into a fitful sleep.
A bright cell… no place to sleep, no place to hide. He tried to stretch his legs out, but they hit the other wall. The stench in the cell was strong, and the cuts on his hands stung.
The scraping of metal on stone, and a face, grinning in the bars. "I have your food."
He wanted to push it away, to turn away in indifference. But the sight the moldy bread and the tepid water set his stomach churning so badly he had to pull it to him, to eat, to devour every crumb before it could be taken away again.
The Two smirked, standing over him, smug in his superiority. "Somehow I know that today will be the day. You'll be talking."
"Good," Tom rasped, his throat raw from dryness. "I love proving you assholes wrong."
A foot, directed at his head and-
Someone grabbed his arm. Tom threw them off, and then collected himself quickly as the detention cell faded and the Hitei Kan snapped back into reality.
"You all right?" Dale asked him with genuine concern.
Tom breathed deeply, collecting himself. "I'm fine," he said, relieved to hear his voice didn't shake, because this was not something he showed anyone if he could help it. "What is it?"
"I've got news for you," Dale said.
"The Cyons took off?" Tom asked hopefully.
"I wish. No, it's news from the Galactica."
Tom perked up considerably. He followed Dale out of the path of the majority of the workers, to one of the bunkrooms. A few children were playing quietly in the corner, and two men were sitting in the room, a watchful eye on the toddlers as they worked their way through a pile of mending, but no one really seemed to pay attention when Tom and Dale entered. Dale led Tom over to a mattress on the floor, a neat pile of clothes beside it.
"All right," he said, his voice low and urgent. "According to Anna, there's been a lot happening. First of all, that Cylon- Sam Anders? He's got his memories back from Earth. They aren't talking about it much in the press, because I guess he's still putting stuff together. But whatever they did during the brain surgery, Anders can remember Earth."
Tom nodded. That was interesting information, but frankly, it was also dead information. Who cared about Earth anymore? "What else?"
"Well, she heard about Gaeta being around on the Galactica, and he's in a wheelchair every time. The thing is, Anna says, she doesn't know Gaeta well, but she does work with him. And when he came back on duty, he refused to use a wheelchair."
"Unfortunately, it's explainable," Tom muttered, sighing and running his hand through his hair. "If asked about that one, Adama and Roslin would say he just finally saw reason. Does she know what he was doing on Galactica?"
"Just that he was down in the belly of the ship and with Tyrol a lot. Maybe something about upgrading the ships' FTL drives." Dale's disgust for that idea was apparent. "But the big thing was yesterday. They brought Racetrack and Narcho back."
Tom leaned forward. "Really?"
"Really. They ended up doing some repair work on the outside of Galactica. But even though Racetrack and Narcho are two of the top pilots in the Fleet, know who was piloting the Raptor?"
"Gaeta," Tom said with certainty.
"Yeah. Anna was listening to the whole mission on the speaker set. She said that Narcho and Racetrack were in the suits, doing the repairs, while Gaeta was holding the Raptor steady. She said that the kind of flying Gaeta was doing is pretty difficult, holding a Raptor so close for so long. And Gaeta doesn't fly Raptors."
"And she's sure it was Gaeta and Racetrack and Narcho? Absolutely positive?"
"She's positive. She said that Tigh and Adama were refusing to answer questions, but that their communications guy recognized the voices."
"Did she say who was on communications?" Tom asked.
"Yeah. Something like Ashi or Hosho or-"
"He'd know Gaeta's voice." Tom turned the information over in his mind. "Have there been any other people that mutinied that have returned to the Galactica?"
"Not that she knows of. Just those two."
Narcho had been Gaeta's second-in-command. Knowing Gaeta, the brass likely knew that by now. If they were so bent on mind-wiping prisoners, he would be a likely pick. And Racetrack had helped Tom escape, as well as bringing Lee back to the Galactica. "Who's next?" he wondered.
"Whose mind and will are they going to take next? Who else will be turned into a Cylon sleeper agent, their soul wiped away so they can function at the will of the artificial aristocracy that exists within this Fleet?"
"Well, they've only done two of them so far," Dale pointed out.
"That your Anna knows of," Tom argued. He sighed. "I need to talk to Levi. Thank you, Dale. Is there anything else?"
"Well, if you hear anything more, let me know," Tom said, his face setting into grim lines. "Whatever they're doing, Laura Roslin and Bill Adama need to be stopped."
"The FTL drive upgrades are completed on four ships," Lee was saying. Laura tried to keep her eyes open and stifle her yawn. The couch in Bill's study was so comfortable, and the day had been long. The prospect of just going to sleep was an enticing one. "Once the first one was done and proved that the FTL upgrades are effective, some of the resistance has quieted," Lee continued.
"We knew that would happen," Laura said. She sat back, rubbing her temple and sighing. "With the improved drives, we have a better chance of finding a habitable planet and getting everyone there."
"Right." Lee pinched his nose. "Although that will be no guarantee of safety."
"It's the best we can do," Laura said. "The Fleet is…" she grimaced. "We don't have a lot of long-term options."
"Is it-" Lee began, but the hatch opened and Bill came in. Laura looked up. He looked a little better today. The heavy lines of sorrow and guilt still hung around his face, but there was a little bit of a spring in his step.
"What happened?" she asked, smiling.
Bill smiled back at her. "We finally got the CDM sensors fixed from the outside. That should help considerably with both our DRADIS pictures and our communications."
"You got the CDM sensors fixed?" Lee said, brows furrowing. "Without being docked? I didn't think there was anyone alive who could do that anymore without killing themselves."
"Yeah, well, there isn't." Bill sat down next to Laura. "Fortunately, we had help from a few dead people."
Lee shook his head. "I still don't like this plan of yours," he said. "It's…"
"What we like and what we need aren't always the same thing," Bill reminded him. "You'd be the first to say that."
Lee nodded. "I know," he said. "But I still don't like it."
"I'm liking the results," Bill admitted. "There was no other way we were going to get those sensors fixed." He pulled out a bottle and poured three drinks. Lee wrinkled his nose and looked back down at the papers that he'd been discussing with Laura. Laura couldn't blame him.
"You find Zarek yet?" Lee asked.
"No." Bill took a deep drink and handed a glass to Laura. Laura set it aside without comment. "He'll turn up."
"Maybe. It bothers me that he hasn't." Laura cocked her head in curiosity and Lee shrugged. "Look, everyone knows what he did to the Quorum by now," he said angrily. "And there's a whole ship of people out there still willing to hide him, even after what he's done? We've still got problems. Big problems."
"Tell me something I don't know," Bill said.
Lee sighed with frustration. "It's just that-"
"We know," Laura overrode him. "And if we don't have anything else to discuss, perhaps we should call it a night."
Lee huffed his discontent, but took the hint and stood up. "Very well. Madame President… Dad…." He nodded to them both and left the room.
"He's still in a snit," Bill said, watching the hatch his son had disappeared through.
"Did you expect anything else?" Laura asked. She sat back and picked up her drink, taking a small sip. She knew she shouldn't drink; she didn't have much longer and she wasn't sure what the alcohol would do to her system. She reached up and eased the wig off her head; it itched abominably "Did you talk to the other three today?"
Bill nodded and sat down beside her. "Tory is all for it. She's got an appointment with Topher tomorrow morning, after he sets up our actives. She wants her memories back. Tyrol is considering."
Bill shook his head. "Saul's not so sure," he admitted, taking another sip. "He sees how getting his memories of Earth back has affected Sam, and he's not so willing to risk losing any of his memories that he's got now."
"He's afraid of losing Ellen," Laura said.
Bill rubbed her knee. "Can't say I don't know how he feels."
She ignored that- she couldn't think about anything like that right now. "It doesn't really matter," she said. "With Sam having his memories, and if the restoration of Tory's memories is successful, that should give us most of the information that we need. Memories of Earth are all well and good, but they aren't very relevant in staying alive now."
"Guess not," Bill said. Laura sighed and leaned against him. Even though the scent of the whiskey clung to him, the warmth and solidity of his chest under her cheek still felt good, felt real. His arm wrapped around her shoulders and she closed her eyes.
"Are we doing the right thing, Bill?"
Bill was silent for a moment, but when he spoke, his voice was calm. "In the week since we've had Actives, they've saved several lives and made vital repairs to the Galactica that we couldn't have made otherwise. Tomorrow, Narcho is going perform crucial heart surgery on an infant, Racetrack is going to do high risk repairs on the Monarch's mag locks, and Gaeta is going to be a food scientist examining our algae supply to make it more edible. They're saving lives, they're saving our ships, and they're doing more than we ever thought they'd be able to do. And that's only after one week. It might not be right, but it's what we need."
"Right." Laura sighed. "It might not be right, but it's best."
Chapter 5: Time Heals Everything, But I'm Still Waiting
The hallways of the Persephone were narrow. It was a tiny ship regardless, and Laura suspected that those aboard it must be going stir crazy. But she was grateful for the small size as she paused and leaned against the wall, catching her breath. It had already been a long day, and it was about to get longer.
The hatch to the imprint room opened, and Laura looked up. Topher drew back, startled out of his thoughts by her presence. "Oh, hey, Madame President. You're early."
"Is that a problem?" Laura asked.
"No, no. Not at all. Gives us a little more time. Come on in and have a seat. I have to… I have to get something, but I'll be right back."
What a strange little man. Billy had once said those words about Baltar, but they fit Topher just as well. She wondered if it was a product of genius, or if it was just bad luck on her part. She made her way into the input room and sat down on a stool by the computer.
Topher had the relevant files out, and she flipped Racetrack's open idly. A lot of it she didn't understand- pictures in shades of blues and greens, data, and notations that looked like file names. There was also a medical report from Cottle, and as Laura flipped further, a detailed file signed by Tigh on Racetrack's service. She glanced at the door, but Topher hadn't yet returned. She turned back to the file.
She'd known that Racetrack and her ECO Skulls had discovered New Caprica, and she knew that the woman was a fierce pilot. But the brief notations of search and rescue missions, combat missions, and triumphs… Laura had forgotten that Racetrack had been with Boomer when they'd blown up that basestar right before Bill was shot. She'd forgotten that Racetrack had found Lee Adama after the Blackbird had been destroyed. She'd fought during the Exodus from New Caprica, the battle of the Ionian Nebula, and every battle in between. She'd shepherded ships to the algae planet, and been on the basestar during its jump. She'd found Raptor 718, although too late. Laura closed her eyes. So much service, so much good done… all to end in this.
"Pretty impressive, huh?"
Laura opened her eyes to see Topher standing in the door, watching her. "Yes," she said. "For all that I work closely with the military, sometimes I forget just how much they each do in their day-to-day lives."
Topher blinked. "Oh. I meant the brain scans," he said, coming over to Laura's side and flipping back the chart. "Racetrack's got a pretty nifty brain," he said. "The neural networks are a little sharper than some of the others." He pointed to the one of the pictures, where there was a network of lines traced over a photograph of a brain. "See?"
"Mmm." Laura didn't, but then, she didn't expect to. "Neuroscience is not really my area of expertise."
"Yeah. I forget that. Want a chip?" Topher extended a bag to her. Laura's eyes widened, because in the bag were real potato chips.
"How did you get those?" she asked, completely shocked.
Topher just shrugged, without the grace to even look embarrassed. "I had a stash. I've made them stretch."
"Yes, but…" Laura decided not to argue and took the chip. She crunched into it, savoring the saltiness. It was stale, but it was also the best thing she had eaten since the food supply had been contaminated. Topher grinned at her and put the bag on the table.
"Only because you're the President and could flush me out the airlock," he said with a short chuckle. He pulled the three files to him and opened them up. "We're doing good," he said, taking another chip and crunching it. "We're seeing excellent responses to the imprinting processes, and no damage is being done to the architecture of the brain. Frankly, that's standard, and I would have been surprised otherwise." He shrugged carelessly, waving it off. "I think Captain Chiseljaw there wants to have a few words with you about Gaeta, but they just have to do with the leg."
"Captain Chiseljaw?" Laura asked.
"Yeah, well… does that man ever smile? Normally it wouldn't bug me, but I swear having him around and doing the stern Saggie impression is really distracting."
"Get used to it," Laura sighed. "Is he a problem?"
"No, no. You get used to his type when you muck around in the nefarious gray regions of the soul; you know that. He's just one of those." Topher sighed and moved the files aside. "Anyway, we've been doing a little… extra credit if you will. Colonial Scout, always be prepared. And I've got some imprint descriptions for you to look over, for slow days when you don't have ideas right off the top of your head. These are ready to go any second for Narcho and Racetrack, and would take five minutes to patch in the leg stuff for Gaeta."
Laura took the sheaf of papers and began to leaf through them. "Neonatal surgeon, physical therapist, psychologist… frak, there's enough work for a platoon of psychologists," she sighed. "Priest?"
"Not that many experts in scriptural interpretation left." Topher said with a shrug. "Especially when you consider how many divisions of religion there are."
"Glassblower?" Laura asked. "Lens grinder?"
"Glasses," Topher said. "It's a very definite skill. Takes years of practice to get it right. Adelle pointed out that lots of people in the Fleet probably need new glasses. Could even make your Cyclopean Colonel there a glass eye."
"Fertility specialist," Laura continued. "Navigator…"
"That was Captain Chiseljaw's suggestion," Topher interrupted. "He said that Gaeta was the best navigator left alive. But, even if you need someone to do some fancy astral calculations, I'm guessing you don't want Gaeta back quite yet."
"I think that would be unwise," Laura murmured. Those were all fantastic ideas, but the next files left her perturbed. "Economist? Social policies expert?"
"Yes." Adelle was standing in the doorway. "I don't mean to be a critic, Madame President, but let's face it. Most of our current politicians have no political education whatsoever. Especially now that the Quorum of Twelve has been replaced with representatives from each ship, organized by a former Viper pilot." Adelle's voice was stern, but she smiled benevolently to take the sting from her words. "Of course, I'm not blaming him," she continued, coming closer. She was carrying two cups of hot tea, one of which she handed to Laura. "He's done an reasonable job with what he's got. But the fact is, Lee Adama is still learning the ropes and could use a… teacher."
"Oh, right. That's another thing," Topher said, leaning in before Laura could counter. "All of these personalities… one of the things we're making standard is for these people to be good at explaining what they do."
"Teach a man to fish," Laura muttered.
Topher snapped and pointed a finger at her. "You got it," he said. "Anyway, just look these as a sort of catalogue. These imprints are on tap, ready to go, in addition to more customized work."
Laura sighed. "Political commentary aside, these will be very useful. Thank you."
"Ah, but don't thank me yet," Topher said. "I saved the best for last."
"Which one's the best?" Laura asked. "They all look fairly impressive."
Topher's grin widened. "The best one isn't for the Actives, President Roslin. It's for you."
For one terrifying moment, Laura's heart stopped. "You're joking," she said.
"He's not, but he doesn't mean it in the way you'd think," Adelle said. She pulled up a stool and sat down on Laura's other side, her motions graceful. "The Agency has a history on Caprica; I've explained that to you before. And as I've explained numerous times, although a high percentage of our engagements were sexual in nature, that was far from all that we did."
"We had a client… I suppose this should be confidential but he's dead now, so it hardly matters… a client who had lost his wife very shortly after she had given birth. The client employed us to provide a mother- a genuine, maternal figure- for his newborn child. Not remarkable in itself, but the client requested that the child be breast-fed."
"But the Active?" Laura asked. "I'm assuming she hadn't just delivered, or you wouldn't be telling me this."
"Not at all," Adelle said, smiling proudly in Topher's direction. "When designing the imprint, Topher was able to alter the Active's brain in a way that induced lactation."
"Alter her brain?"
"Yeah," Topher cut in, his eyes lighting up. "I was able to use the neurological stimulants of the imprinting technology to cause physical manifestations, sort of like the psychological concept of psychosomatic symptoms." Laura blinked, and Topher sighed. "Basically, with a little tweaking and twitching, you can program the human brain to control the body. We do that with muscles already- that's easy. But there's more that the brain controls, like glands and organs. It has to be done very carefully, but… I figured out that you could program the brain to do all number of things. Lactate, control physical responses to stimuli, teleport," Adelle fixed Topher with a glare, "well, if anyone would have any fun, anyway," he muttered. "Or fight disease."
"Like a placebo effect?" Laura asked.
"Nope. Like a change-the-glands, change-the-body effect. The brain isn't just a think tank- it controls the other organs. A little tweaking and you could start changing how other organs function… and actually have them fight the disease."
"So you're saying…" Laura trailed off, because her brain couldn't wrap around what they were saying. But Adelle leaned in, a smile on her face.
"It hasn't been tested, Laura," she said, "but it's a distinct possibility that we could cure your cancer."
The whistle blew, and Tom stepped back from the line gratefully. His back was aching and his fingers were raw, and he was filthy. He wished he could complain, but he knew better. At least he had his mind and his freedom, as limited as it was.
He joined the others trudging towards the showers. He hated the showers- big, gang-like arrangements that reminded him far too much of prison. But the stench of tylium and sweat was overpowering. He entered and stripped off his stained undershirt and the pants that had been ruined by dust and ripped fabric. For all that his suit had been in good shape (relatively speaking) when he stepped on the Hitei Kan, it now looked just as bad as the clothing that the rest of the workers wore.
Most of the workers on his shift were headed to the dining hall now, but Tom decided to go back to the room he was currently occupying. It wasn't one of the original bunk rooms intended for the crew, but rather a room that had been intended for storing unrefined tylium that had been converted to a dorm after the attacks. It had been hosed down to get rid of the worst of the smell, but a faint odor still clung to it, giving Tom a constant headache. Rather than using cots, the newer Hitei Kan workers had gotten their hands on parachute fabric, most likely from one of the military vessels, and had made a slew of hammocks that hung from the grated ceiling of the storage room. Tom found his and collapsed into it.
The room was quiet, relatively speaking. Someone was snoring, and a couple was talking in low voices, but for the most part, everyone living in this room was currently in the dining hall. He put his feet up into the hammock and folded his hands behind his head, closing his eyes.
"Tom? You in here?"
He sighed and opened his eyes. "I'm here, Asok. What's happening?"
"Paper's here," Asok said, approaching Tom's hammock. He handed Tom a copy. It had been recycled so many times it felt like it would disintegrate under his fingers as he opened it.
"Some days, I don't know why I bother," he sighed. "It's not like Roslin's going to be announcing this technology any time soon."
"True." Asok sighed. "According to Dale, there have been no other mutineers spotted on Galactica. Just Gaeta, Edmondson, and Allison." Zarek raised his eyebrows at the use of last names as opposed to callsigns, and Asok nodded. "I'm trying to use their names," he pointed out. "Callsigns might be a sign of affection in the military, but they sort of dehumanize soldiers to civilians. I think that's something we need to remember; whatever Roslin his having these people do, they are still human."
"Can't argue with that." Tom scanned the headlines. They were as grim as always, although at least two tried to put a positive spin on the farce of being allied with the Cylons. It was frustrating to look at the news and not be in a position to do anything about it. He turned the page.
The article that made him sit up with the red warning lights going off was inconspicuous as best. In fact, Tom had read it because of the headline: "Research on Improving Algae Flavor Successful." The idea of anything turning that slop even slightly more edible was something that would appeal to every living soul in the Fleet.
"What is it?" Asok asked.
Tom pointed to the blurb. "'Simple modifications to the equipment'" he read aloud. "'Performed by food scientist Jeremiah Canton.'"
"Simple modifications? We've been living off algae for almost a year, and simple modifications to the equipment are able to improve the flavor?"
"I'll believe it when I taste it," Asok said sourly. "Although if that was all, why so… oh. Oh. I see."
"Damn it!" Tom slammed the paper down. It wasn't a very impressive gesture, slamming it into his lap, but it made the point all the same. "This has got to be Roslin. It's got to be. But I can't find out, because I can't get off this damn ship!"
"And even if you could find out, getting the word out would be difficult."
"Difficult, maybe," Tom said, waving it off. "Not impossible. I published from prison."
"Where they knew where you were. They could allow it then, because you were already in their custody," Asok argued. "But now, publishing could lead them right to you, which puts you in their power and makes you one of those doll-things." Asok sighed. "What you need is someone that already has a voice and access to the publishing industry, who has been outspoken enough about Roslin that you could trust them, and that it would not be seen as suspicious for them to be investigating."
Tom thought for a moment, and then the answer hit him. He began to smile. "What?" Asok asked. "What is it?"
"You are a genius," Tom answered. "I know exactly who we need."
Helo waited outside the head. He'd learned that getting Gaeta to use the head before he had the imprint wiped from him again was the easiest way to deal with that awkwardness at night. He didn't mind when Dr. Stevenson or Tim Reynolds or Kevin Shanks or Dr. Bill Hoffstader, which was who Gaeta was today, asked him for help. But Gaeta in that helpless state, where he was confused and couldn't handle his own handicap… that made Helo intensely uncomfortable.
"All right," Gaeta said, pushing the door open with his shoulder and emerging, leaning heavily on his crutches. "I'm exhausted. You mentioned something about a treatment, Captain Agathon."
"Right. A treatment." That was another thing that freaked Helo out- he always expected Gaeta to fight him when he said something about a treatment. But it never failed, no matter who was in Gaeta's body today, the prospect of a treatment was always met with a calm acceptance- even to the point of anticipation. But Gaeta just sighed and limped on his crutches along beside Helo. His arms were shaking, though, and there were dark circles under his eyes.
"You look tired," Helo ventured.
"Three surgeries in a day when I still should be recovering will do that to a person," Gaeta snapped. The thing about Dr. Hoffstader was that he was a young, brilliant gastrointestinal specialist from the same general area as Gaeta himself. He didn't have some of the peculiarities that had defined the other personalities that had inhabited Gaeta's body, and with this one, it was really hard to forget that the person next to him wasn't Gaeta. But Dr. Hoffstader softened. "That was uncalled for. I apologize."
"It's all right."
"You must be exhausted as well. You were working while I was in surgery."
"Yeah." There had been a refueling mission and a meeting with Showboat and Starbuck, going over the new drills for the squads, and another meeting with the Six that was serving as the Cylon CAG. It had been exhausting, but next to three surgeries, Helo was feeling a little insignificant.
He opened the door to the imprint room. Topher looked up and waved. "You guys are back early."
"I see you're all in your jammies and ready to be tucked in," Topher said as Gaeta sat down in the chair. He entered a code and Gaeta sat back, closing his eyes. The blue light of the halo began to glow, and Topher looked at Helo. "What's that all about?"
"It's just easier," Helo snapped. "Look, I've been meaning to ask… would it be possible for me to go over to Galactica for the night? I'd really like to see my wife and daughter."
Topher blinked. "You've been staying here all this time? Wow." He shrugged. "Just tell Victor or Sierra so if he needs help, they can help him. If nothing's gone wrong the past two weeks, it should be fine."
"Thanks." It felt like a load off his shoulders. But Topher just shrugged and went back to what he was doing. A minute later, Gaeta sat up.
"Did I fall asleep?"
"For a little while," Topher answered.
"Should I go now?"
"If you like."
Gaeta struggled to his feet, and Helo jumped in to help him, grabbing him by the arm. "All right," he said, "let's get you to bed."
"Yes," Gaeta said. "I am tired. Sleep would be nice."
Helo grit his teeth and suppressed a shudder. "Come on then," he said, leading Gaeta down the hall. Gaeta was silent, but pleasantly so. Helo opened the door and they saw Racetrack and Narcho sitting on the floor at the low table, eating dinner. Victor and Sierra were sitting on the couch very close together, engaged in quiet conversation. They looked up when Helo and Gaeta entered.
"You look exhausted," Victor said, albeit kindly.
"He is," Helo began, and then realized that Victor had been talking about him. He sighed. "Yeah. Listen, I cleared it with Topher already, but would you guys mind keeping an ear out for Gaeta tonight? I want to go back to Galactica. He's headed to bed right now."
"I am," Gaeta said. "I need to sleep."
"Sleep is good," Narcho offered in a dull voice, and hearing all the color and life gone from his voice cut almost as bad as hearing Gaeta. Helo prayed frantically that Racetrack wouldn't speak.
"It is," Sierra said kindly to Narcho, and then turned back to Helo. "That's fine. Once he's in bed, he's no trouble at all. Same as my boy here." Her expression was extremely affectionate as she looked at Narcho. He didn't smile back at her, but there was something in his posture that indicated he would, if the Actives really smiled.
"Great." Helo just wanted out of this freak house now. He lead Gaeta through the sitting room and back to the small room of racks and helped him get settled in bed, leaning his crutches where he could get to them for easy access and helping him take the prosthetic off. The stump looked swollen and raw, and Helo took a few minutes to spread the cream that Cottle had given Gaeta on the skin.
"Thank you," Gaeta said. "That feels much better."
"Yeah, well, get some sleep." Helo pulled the blanket up for him. "And if you need anything, call for Victor or Sierra, okay?"
"All right." Gaeta closed his eyes.
Helo straightened up, and with one last look at his charge, beat it the hell out of there.
It was late, and Laura was completely drained of energy. Laura had to admit that Helo had amazing arms. She leaned on one as they made their way through the Galactica in silence. She supposed she should be the one to keep the conversational ball rolling, but the truth was that she was exhausted. Helo didn't seem to mind.
"Good night, Captain," she said, when they reached Bill's quarters.
Helo nodded solemnly. "Good night, President Roslin." He saluted and then headed off. Laura opened the hatch and entered Bill's study.
"Captain Chiseljaw," she said, shaking her head.
Bill looked up from his desk. "Excuse me?" he asked, brows furrowing.
"It's what Topher calls Helo- Captain Chiseljaw. I know I shouldn't laugh, but as I think about it, Topher is right. Does that man ever smile?"
"You've seen him smile," Bill said, with a grim smile of his own. The smile faded immediately. "What is it?"
"What's what?" Laura asked, trying to sound innocent.
"Cut the crap. Something's going on. I can see that."
Laura sighed and sat down on the sofa. "You're not going to like it."
"What have I liked since we found Earth?" Bill asked bitterly. "Hit me."
"I want to be clear on something," Laura said carefully. "I have made my decision about this. I am not asking you what you think. But I do want you to be aware of it, so if I start acting like I'm not myself, you will know why."
The lines on Bill's face deepened. "You're right I'm not going to like this," he said.
"No. I've been talking to Adelle and Topher, and they told me about some experiments that they did on Caprica. Experiments where they were able to change how the body functions by changing the programming of the brain. They told me of an instance where they were able to force lactation in a woman that had never been pregnant. Apparently, this technique is very powerful."
"You're looking to make wet nurses?" Bill said with a frown.
"That's actually an interesting concept, but no. Topher thinks that he can program a human brain to convince the body to fight cancer."
"Topher also thinks he can change the color of the sky and invent time travel," Bill said gruffly. "I've never seen anyone with such a conceit in their work, except Baltar."
Baltar. Laura smirked. "He cured my cancer once," Laura said wryly, "why shouldn't we try again? He is brilliant, Bill. Beyond what anyone in this Fleet except Baltar can imagine."
"So I'm going to do it."
Bill's face hardened. "No, you're not."
Laura arched an eyebrow at him. "Would you care to repeat that, Admiral Adama?" she said, a hint of steel in her tone.
Bill heard it and backed off a bit, but that bullheaded expression was still on his face. "It's not a good idea."
"You don't even know what it entails."
"I know it means putting your brain in the hands of those people."
"You did it to three of your men."
"That was different. They mutinied." He leaned in. "Do you trust them that much, Laura?"
"No," Laura admitted. "But I don't have much to lose."
"The diloxin was buying me time, Bill, not curing me. You know that."
"I do." The bitterness on his face cut her to the core, and Laura forced herself to still look at him, instead of looking away. "That doesn't change anything."
"No, it doesn't," Laura agreed. "The fact is that I am dying. And the further fact is there is nothing Doc Cottle or even the top oncologist Topher can pull out of his data banks can do to stop it. There is no miracle this time, and I've outlived my last one. We both know I have a matter of weeks. What can they take from me?"
"Those last few weeks."
"It's worth the risk to me." She reached out and cupped his cheek to take the sting from her words. "I'm not going to die from this. The worst it can do-"
"Is take your mind completely."
"It won't. There's a chance, yes, but Topher says he's never had that happen." Laura sat back. "The worst that can happen is that I lose a day or two of the few I have left on a treatment that doesn't work."
Bill grimaced. "That's not the worst that can happen. What if they alter your mind in ways you don't want? Look what happened to Sam." His face hardened further. "Look what we've done to Gaeta."
"That's one of the reasons you need to know," Laura said. "If I start acting strangely, you can take measures."
He nodded. "And the other reasons?" he asked, and she could tell he didn't like any of this.
She smiled. "You know them."
He slipped his arm around her shoulders, and she sighed and leaned into him. "I do," he agreed. Laura closed her eyes and rested her head on Bill's shoulders, hoping that she'd remember all of this tomorrow.
Helo nudged the hatch to his quarters open silently, half wishing he could wake Hera but knowing that Sharon would kill him if he did. Fortunately, a lifetime on spaceships had rendered Hera a fairly sound sleeper when she wasn't having nightmares, and she didn't even stir as Helo entered. Sharon looked up from the book she was reading and smiled.
"I am," he said. She got off the bed and came to him and he embraced her gratefully. "How're you?"
"Can't complain," Sharon said. She glanced over at Hera. "I was glad when she went to bed tonight, though."
"She missing me?"
"You're doing what you have to do," Sharon answered with a shrug, which was a yes. Helo rolled his eyes at her. "How's it all going?"
"All right." Helo stripped off his duty blues jacket and tossed it into the laundry bag. "Oh, God. The clean laundry- has it been that long I've been at this already?"
Sharon shrugged. "I was going to get to it, but-"
"No, don't. Sit. You've had Hera all day," he insisted, pulling the laundry up and beginning to fold. "Besides, I just need to do something normal for a while. That's why I took the night off."
"Is it that bad?" Sharon asked.
"It's crazy. I mean, during the day when he's off doing… whatever they've got him doing, that's not so bad. Although, let me tell you, it's really crazy to hear Gaeta with an Aerelon accent, or talking at length about car racing."
"The guy he was two… no, three days ago. He was really into drag racing. If he wasn't working, he was talking about it. Anyway, the days are fine. It's after Topher wipes the imprint away."
Sharon looked down at the blanket, picking at it awkwardly. That sort of hesitancy was unusual for her, and Helo set the pair of pants he was folding down. "What?"
"Bullshit. I know you, Sharon."
A little smile played around the edge of her lips for a moment, but faded fast. "All right. It's just… do you really think that what Adama and Roslin have done to Gaeta is right?"
Helo blinked. "You were all for executing him after the mutiny."
Sharon's face turned steely. "I still am," she said sharply. "But there's a difference between an execution and this sort of slavery. Gaeta deserved to die for what he did. But what they're doing… it's playing God."
Helo shrugged. "I don't like it. Believe me, Sharon, I really don't like it. But he's been saving lives- lives that might have been lost without the expertise that Topher's got in that computer of his."
"That doesn't make it right."
"What do you want me to do?" Helo asked. "Tell Adama to stop making surgeons and weapons experts and flight engineers?"
"You've done it before."
"There's a big difference between killing off an entire race and compromising one soul."
"Three souls," Sharon contradicted, but Helo shook his head.
"Narcho and Racetrack were given the option. They agreed to it."
"How does that make the loss of free will any better?" Sharon asked. "It's like programming a sleeper agent!"
"Something you are really frakking qualified to comment on!" Helo retorted. He saw the look on her face and softened. "I'm sorry. That was unfair."
"It's all right," Sharon said stiffly.
"Look," Helo said, when the silence between them had stretched too long. "I don't like it, okay? But what's done is done, and it's not so black and white. And they don't seem to be gung ho to make any more Actives, okay? Let's just let this one go."
"All right," Sharon said. She thought of what the three of them had done, what they'd almost cost Sharon herself, and nodded stiffly. "All right," she said again.
She didn't even dare to think about Tom Zarek.
"So Laura's really going to do this, huh?" Saul said, taking the drink Bill offered him.
"She won't listen to any other arguments," Bill sighed.
"Well, guess I can see why. Doc says there's nothing else he can do for her. Still," Saul mused, "not sure I'd want to put my brain under that halo."
"You're sure," Bill grumbled. "You've had the option."
"Yeah. I know." Saul considered the liquor in his glass as he slumped in his chair.
"Can't say I blame you," Bill muttered. He swirled his own glass and changed the subject. "Hoshi calm down yet?"
"Huh?" Saul looked up. "Oh, yeah. He's not happy about it, but he wouldn't be happy if you shot Gaeta and Allison, either, so can't really help that. Scuttlebutt has it he got rip roaring drunk with Starbuck the night I told him, and hasn't spoken to much of anyone since."
"Yeah. Less trouble that way, I guess." Saul sighed. "CIC's getting harder to run, though. We're down Dualla and we're down Gaeta. And with Helo unable to fill in, we're really getting down to the wire."
"Kelly should be a help. Move him over to tactical, as long as it doesn't require navigation."
"All right. What are you going to do for a navigator?"
"Hoshi and Thornton do well enough for now. If we need someone else, we'll make one."
"Right." Saul finished his drink. "You go over those reports from Sam and Tory yet? What they remember from Earth?"
"It's been interesting," Bill admitted, "but not overly useful. They haven't given us the golden lynchpin that lets us undo the Cylons."
"If anyone's given us that, it's the Cylons themselves when they handed us the Resurrection Hub."
"I know," Bill muttered. "I guess I'm expecting too much. This technology isn't the answer to all of our prayers."
"No," Saul said, thinking of the slim hope it offered Laura, "but maybe it is the answer to some of them."
Playa Palacios- sat down across from Tom, crossing her arms and raising her eyebrows. "You're not armed." It wasn't a question.
"Pat me down, if you like."
"Funny." She'd thought it was an innuendo.
"I wasn't intending to be," Tom sighed.
She looked at him. He'd gone without shaving, and his beard was coming in unevenly, and his hair had gotten a little shaggy. His clothes were in terrible shape, and he'd lost weight with the physical labor. "No," she admitted, with a bitter sort of smile, "I guess you weren't. But you can't blame me for asking."
"No." He was unapologetic. "But I did what I had to do, and you're safe. Shooting you will accomplish nothing right now."
"Right. Because you're a revolutionary, not a murderer."
"You mock me, but it's true."
Playa smirked. She looked good, although her suit was worn and her skin was pale and her hair was lank and lifeless. "So, Tom," she said, sitting back, "you have my attention. Why exactly am I here?"
"How much did they tell you?"
"Enough that I'm intrigued, although I find it hard to believe that Roslin has a technology that can change people's brains."
"Do you believe she'd use it if she had it?" Tom asked, leaning forward.
Playa snorted. "Of course."
"It's not just changing someone's mind," Tom said. "It's changing the essence of who they are. Putting skills into them, putting a new person into them."
"So I gathered. But the question is what do you want me to do about it?"
"Get the information legitimately and run it. The Fleet deserves to know what kind of technology is here, and what measures the President and the Admiral are taking."
Playa frowned. "And how do you suggest I stay out of the airlock myself?"
"Because Laura Roslin isn't that kind of tyrant," Tom said. "I will scream against her as loud as I can, but I do believe this- Laura does what she does because she thinks it is best. She can't see the aristocracy she is building and she can't see the folly of her decisions, but she is making them because she believes they are for the best, and they protect people."
"I doubt she'd have such a charitable opinion of you," Playa said, raising her eyebrows. She frowned. "I don't understand what you're trying to do."
"That's because you don't believe me when I say I'm not a tyrant, either."
"Yes, well, forgive me if you killing eleven Quorum members makes me a little skeptical of your good intentions."
"It's not about power," Tom insisted. "It's about freedom."
"Right. I've heard this speech from you before." Playa sighed, crossing her legs. "All right. Let's get down to business. You want me to research what Roslin's doing and put it out there for everyone to see. Before, I wouldn't have had to ask, because the payoff would be obvious. But you're not Vice President any more, and no matter what you do, you will never, ever be in power again. So what are you getting out of this?"
"The ability to live my life and show my face without having to worry about having myself erased," Tom said. "If she wants to kill me, she's welcome to try. But I will not live without my mind, and I will not let others live like this. I don't know about Narcho and Racetrack, but Gaeta didn't chose this."
"Why do you care?" Playa asked, frowning. "Not to sound callous, because I know you two were friends on New Caprica, but you don't really strike me as the white knight type."
"Because you protect the man you're with. Felix Gaeta and I went into this together, as partners. That's reason enough."
"Don't believe me if you don't want to. But it's the truth." Tom leaned forward. "Playa, come on. You know me. We've worked together or against each other for a long time, in the Fleet and on New Caprica. There's a lot I do that people don't agree with, but there's one thing I don't do unless I'm desperate, and that's beg." He slid out of the chair. "Please. You've now got the satisfaction of bringing me to my knees, which is something Roslin never had. You run with this, you see I'm right, and you'll have the satisfaction of bringing her to her knees as well. Please, do this."
Playa nodded tightly. "All right, Tom. I'll look into it. But if I find out that you're lying to me, I'll tell the President where you are, and you'll be out the airlock in a matter of seconds."
"If you tell the President where I am, you'll find out that I'm not lying." He got back up into his chair. "I won't be out the airlock. I'll be worse than dead."
"I don't like this," Bill told Laura.
"You don't have to like this," Laura replied, her voice even. "I don't like this." She settled into the imprint chair. Bill didn't want to let go of her hand.
"It will be fine, Admiral," Adelle said, her smile reassuring. "The worst that will happen is this won't work."
"Eh, actually there is that zero-point-two chance that her entire brain could go klabooie," Topher put in. "Or the one percent chance-"
"Topher, that's enough," Adelle said sternly. "President Roslin, would you like a sedative?"
Laura's hand tightened around Bill's. "I think so," she said to Adelle. "Yes. That would be best."
Adelle nodded to Topher, who hustled around with a syringe and injected the contents into Laura's arm. Laura smiled, then turned to face Bill. "It will be all right," she told him, her voice already growing heavy.
"I know," he lied.
The imprint room looked so different today. The lighting seemed softer, and there were no marines. There would be no handler; Laura would be reimprinted with her own personality, her own self. Topher began inserting the needles, and the lump in Bill's throat grew.
Adelle nudged him. "This will take a while, Admiral. If you want to come back later-"
A stern expression passed over Adelle's face. "I assure you, Admiral, she will be safe with us, and I am sure you have other things that need to be done."
"I will wait." Bill glared at her.
"Ya-hah! Watch it!" Topher protested. "You're likely to kill somebody with that thing!"
"Topher, that's really not necessary. Admiral, suit yourself," Adelle said. "Are we ready?"
"Hovercats are a go," Topher said, securing the last needle. "We're ready."
"All right. Go ahead."
Bill swallowed, and Topher began.
Athena was piloting today. Helo usually liked that; working together was a nice way to spend the day. But today, with the three Actives and the other two handlers- Actives themselves- in the Raptor, disapproval was radiating off her strongly, and Helo was content to sit in the ECO chair, far away from his wife.
Gaeta was sitting in one of the bucket seats, a clipboard in his lap. Today he was Brian McPhearson, a mechanic that was an expert in fast repairs of sensor equipment. Racetrack was Annie Kereal, and Narcho was Gray Kelly, both of whom were highly skilled in actually doing the delicate extraction and replacement of the parts that needed to be repaired. The Demetrius had sustained some damage that was thought to be irreparable on Kara's mission. They'd been limping along with the glitches in their sensor systems, but it would be far better for their navigation components if those glitches were fixed. Gaeta-McPhearson- whoever was going over the mission with the other two. Helo couldn't help noticing that Gray Kelly listened to McPhearson a hell of a lot more attentively than Narcho had ever listened to a Galactica CAG.
Sierra smiled at Helo. "Have a good night at home?" she asked.
"Yeah. Thanks again," Helo said, ripping himself out of his thoughts. "I forget. Have you met my wife Athena?"
Sierra smiled. "Not in person, no, but of course we know who she is." She leaned forward. "It is very nice to meet you properly," she told Athena.
"Likewise," Sharon bit off.
Helo didn't so much sense that Sharon wasn't in the mood to talk as pick up on her waving huge red signal flags. "How long have you and Victor been together?" he asked, to distract Sierra from Sharon.
It worked. Sierra's smile deepened, and her eyes got a little bit of a dreamy look. "Since not long after the attacks," she said. "We both worked for different outposts of the Agency, and we met when we were going to Virgon to present the technology there. But it felt like we'd known each other so much longer."
"The annihilation of humanity does tend to do that," Helo murmured, but Sierra shook her head.
"No. It was even before that. As soon as we sat down on the Persephone… I looked at him and I just knew. Tell me, Captain, do you believe in love at first sight?"
Yeah, but was it first sight when you sat down on the Persephone? Helo wanted to ask. How long have you two been Actives at the Agency anyway? Were you in love then? Before you became Actives? But he knew he wasn't allowed to ask any of that. He kept his voice casual as he said, "Yeah, I guess."
"Well, I didn't," Sierra told him.
"Me either," Victor put in. "My parents went through a messy divorce when I was thirteen. I swore I wouldn't get involved in that crap."
"Are you going to get married?" Helo asked. Sierra and Victor exchanged glances.
"We're still working on that," Sierra said. "Despite his vows never to marry," she toed Victor playfully, "Victor's determined to have a ceremony blessed by the gods."
"What can I say?" Victor said with a shrug. "I grew up in Edessa, on Gemenon. I went to temple from as early as I can remember."
It wasn't what he said that made Helo look away, swallowing hard. It was that he believed it. It reminded him all too strongly of Boomer telling him about Troy. He remember that she cried- she frakking cried- when she told him about her parents dying in that mining accident.
There weren't many places to look in a Raptor, especially since he really didn't want to see Sharon's expression right now, so he glanced back over his shoulder at their charges. Gaeta was putting the clipboard away, and they were all laughing about something. He leaned a little closer, and heard Racetrack saying, "Frak, remember the time that Grayson got his tool belt caught on the relief valve? He nearly steamed his cock off!" The guys both laughed.
"Gods, I thought that Hansen was going to have a fit," Narcho laughed. They were talking so naturally that for a moment, Helo found himself wracking his brain to remember who the names belonged to. But they were people that had never been on the Galactica.
Gaeta was laughing, but he was also looking out the front window. As they approached the hangar bay, he scooted forward a little to talk to Helo.
"You said there's a pilot who can get us up close to the ship, right?"
"Yeah. I'll be doing that."
"You're sure you're good and steady? I don't want my guys getting stranded out there- or crushed."
"I'm good." Helo felt like he should avoid it, but he couldn't. "I'll get us right up against the Demetrius."
There should have been a reaction. After all, that was the damn ship that Felix had lost his leg on. That was where this entire mess had started. But Gaeta- McPhearson- didn't even blink. "Okay. Good. This is going to be hard enough, and the last thing we need is to lose someone because the pilot can't keep his hands steady. Got it?" He smacked Helo on the arm with his clipboard, but the gesture was friendly. He settled back. "So this is Galactica, huh? Never been on it before."
"Right," Helo muttered, grateful that Athena was landing now. "Well, she's something."
"Yeah." Fortunately, as the Raptor glided in, Gaeta opted to struggle with his crutches instead. Helo breathed out, watching as the deck crew bustled around. As Sharon turned off the Raptor, she glanced back over her shoulder. "Don't even say it," he muttered at her.
"Apparently, I don't need to," she said with a humorless smile.
He helped Gaeta off the Raptor first, and then Sierra and Narcho jumped down after him. "So, is there time for a tour?" Narcho began, as Racetrack followed. "I'm with MacPhearson. This isn't an opportunity-"
Helo saw Sierra move in a flash of copper hair. She pushed Narcho down to the floor, and then spun, her leg flaring out in a crescent kick. To Helo's surprise, a pistol went flying out of a knuckledragger's hand, skidding to a stop twenty feet away. Sierra attacked the shooter, her fighting vicious and proficient.
Another crewman- Patricks, Helo remembered- lunged in. He went straight for Racetrack, his hands closing around her throat. Victor was right beside her though, and brought a powerful elbow down on Patricks' neck.
"There's Gaeta!" The shout came from very nearby, and Helo turned his head just in time to see the flash of a gun in the hands of a tall crewman. He dove at the shooter, knocking him over just as the gun went off. They rolled together on the floor, Helo grappling with the man until his hands were pinned to the ground. He looked up to take stock of the situation. Sierra was on the ground, covering Narcho with her own body, and Victor had pulled Patricks off Racetrack, who was now huddled against the Raptor, and had him facedown on the floor with his arms locked up behind him. Athena was standing over them all, her gun drawn as she scanned the faces of the people watching them. Most of the deck crew had frozen.
"They should have died," the crewman that Helo had pinned ground out. "You're really protecting them, Agathon? After everything they did? After all the people on this ship that died?"
"I'm following the Admiral's orders," was the only thing Helo could say. "And you're going to be doing the same." He looked up. "Someone get some marines down here!" he shouted. "I don't care what you think about these three," he growled at his prisoner. "You do not open fire on the deck!"
The crewman wasn't remotely repentant. "They deserved to die, Agathon. They're mutinous scum, and by protecting them, you're doing the same. Of course, I would have expected that out of a toaster lover and a-" Helo headbutted him, and the crewman went unconscious beneath him. He got to his feet. "That goes for the rest of you, too," he said, looking around the deck. "If I find out anyone else was in on this…."
He strode over to Gaeta, who was sitting in the Raptor. His face was a chalky sort of gray, and his hand was clapped over his cheek. "What happened?" Helo demanded, removing his hand and seeing blood. "Frak." He put the hand back. "Keep pressure on it. I think it's just a graze, but… can you talk?"
"I don't know," Gaeta began, and winced. "Yeah. Hurts like hell, but nothing's shattered."
"Damn." Helo looked back over his shoulder. The marines were coming in. Sierra got off Narcho, who struggled to his feet, and there was blood soaking through his shirt at the shoulder. Racetrack looked unharmed. "We'd better get you to sick bay," he told Gaeta. "Nar- I mean, Gray, too."
"All right," Gaeta agreed shakily. "Annie!" Racetrack looked up. "Get us prepped, will you?" He looked over at Sharon. "Can you give them a hand?"
"I can do that," Sharon said neutrally.
"Thanks." Gaeta tried to smile, but hissed as it pulled at the cut on his cheek. He tried to struggle to his feet and then sighed. "I think I'm gonna need some help."
Both wounds were superficial. Gaeta's cheek wound was exactly what Helo had suspected - a graze - and although it required stitches, it didn't take long. Narcho's shoulder was a puncture wound from when Sierra had pushed him down to the ground and he'd landed on a bit of scrap metal. The metal had hit bone, not organ, and the damage was minimal.
Colonel Tigh came down as Ishay was finishing up on Narcho. "Everything still under control for the Demetrius repairs?" he asked.
"We'll be behind schedule, but yeah. McPhearson here was telling Racetrack's alter-ego to get the prep done while they got sewn back up." Helo gestured with his chin at Gaeta. "Where's the Admiral?"
"Busy," Tigh said shortly. "I'll make sure he hears about this." He sighed. "We should have anticipated this. Hell, we did anticipate this. We shouldn't have gotten so sloppy."
"Yeah, well, only so many marines left," Helo said a little bitterly. He glared a Gaeta, who was joking with the nurse who was putting on his dressing. The nurse looked extremely confused.
"Well, take 'em back up the long way," Tigh said. "People won't expect you to go that way. I can dispatch a marine or two, but-"
"I think we'll be okay with me and Sierra." Helo nodded to the woman sitting in the waiting area, legs crossed and reading a magazine from four years ago. He lowered his voice. "You should see her fight, Colonel."
"Yeah. She could take on half the marines and win." Helo frowned. "Somehow, I doubt that's who she really is."
"Makes sense, I guess," Tigh was pretending to be casual, but Helo could see that his brain was working. "Guess if I was going to custom build a bodyguard of sorts, I'd put something like that in, too."
"Did you know about it, sir? The fighting?"
"No, but I also didn't ask." Tigh sighed. "Get them back to work, Captain."
"Yes, sir." Fortunately, the medics were finishing up. "Come on," Helo called. "We're going back a different way."
As they walked through the corridors of Galactica- slowly, to accommodate Gaeta's pace- Narcho kept asking questions. It set Helo's teeth on edge, because while the questions were all innocent (how did they section off civilian versus military sections of the ship? Did this class of battlestar run with the DD-836 engines? Where were the gun batteries located and who ran them?), they were all questions that Narcho knew the answers to. Narcho did, anyway, but Gray Kelly didn't. He had to keep reminding himself of that fact.
He turned the corner sharply and headed down the Memorial Hallway. Helo had gotten so used to the site that he could close off his consciousness as he walked through here, but after half a hallway he realized he was walking alone. When he turned around, he saw Sierra, Narcho, and Gaeta all looking at the walls, their eyes wide.
"My gods," Sierra said softly. Her throaty voice sounded hoarse and choked. "I know everyone is dead. I've known that. But to see this… to see this representation…."
Narcho put a hand on her shoulder. "Yeah," he said quietly.
Gaeta was navigating the corridor, studying the faces as he moved along slowly. He stopped in one spot where a candle burned and bowed his head. Helo came close enough to hear him mutter a prayer to Zeus. It was always a shock to realize just how much he still thought of the man standing in front of him as Gaeta, even when presented with solid evidence that he wasn't. Gaeta never would have prayed, to Zeus or any other god.
There were footsteps, and Helo braced. But as the intruder walked in, Helo realized that although his charges were physically safe, this was far, far worse. A third of his way down the hall, Lieutenant Hoshi stopped, lit a candle, and then got down to his knees in prayer.
Helo exhaled. Maybe they could sneak by. Maybe Hoshi would be so lost in memories he wouldn't notice them. Maybe-
"Oh, frak," Gaeta said, as a crutch clattered to the floor. "Captain Agathon, would you mind…?"
Hoshi's eyes snapped open and he got to his feet.
"Don't," Helo warned, holding a hand up at Hoshi as if to ward him off. "Just turn around and go back to your prayers, Hoshi. Don't do this to yourself."
But Hoshi's eyes were fixed on the two men. Gaeta didn't even notice, still struggling with his crutches. Narcho did, but his expression was mainly sympathetic. Could this day get any worse? Helo wondered, and then decided he didn't want an answer.
"Sorry to disturb," Narcho apologized to Hoshi. Or, more accurately, Gray Kelly did, as Helo had never heard Narcho apologize for anything. He noticed the stricken look on Hoshi's face. "Hey. You okay?"
"Yeah. I…" Hoshi was looking directly at Narcho now. Helo was vaguely aware there was some personal connection between the two men, but he couldn't remember what it was. "It's just…"
"I can believe it," Narcho said. He looked at the wall. "Which one is yours?" When Hoshi just stared at him incredulously, Narcho shrugged. "That's what you're here for, right?"
"Right." Hoshi went over to the wall and pointed to a picture that was pinned low. Narcho knelt down to take a better look.
"Beautiful kid," he said after an appropriate pause. "And your husband?"
The connection came back to Helo suddenly. Not just his husband, he realized. Your brother. Narcho was looking at his own brother and he didn't even recognize his face. Helo wanted to scream. Hoshi just nodded silently, his mouth pressed into a nearly invisible line.
"What are their names?" Narcho asked gently. "I'll pray for them."
Hoshi closed his eyes. "Julie is the little girl," he said. "Matthew was my husband." He opened his eyes and looked directly at Narcho. "Julie and Matthew," he repeated. Helo could tell he was willing those names to bring some memory back. But Narcho just clapped a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
"I'll pray for them," he repeated, and there was such sincerity in his voice that Helo had no doubt that Gray Kelly would pray for Julie, and Matthew.
It was Sierra who spoke up. "We've got to get moving," she said softly. "We're behind schedule enough already."
"All right." Narcho extended his hand to Hoshi. "It was nice talking to you." Hoshi just nodded, but he squeezed Narcho's hand so tightly that the skin around his fingers turned white. Narcho smiled sympathetically and disengaged himself, and then continued with Sierra down the Hall.
"Eric," Helo said. "McPhearson. Let's go."
"Hmm? Oh, I'm sorry." Gaeta snapped back to reality. To Helo's relief, Hoshi didn't say anything, even though he obviously couldn't take his eyes off Gaeta. "It's just… you look at these pictures and there's just a story behind every one, you know?" He sighed. "I just…" he reached out and touched one. "I wish I could…" he shook his head, snapping himself out of it. "You're right. Let's go." He limped by Hoshi without another word.
Helo was relieved. The last thing they needed was some sort of scene where Hoshi tried to convince Gaeta that they knew each other, that they meant something so much more, et cetera. Hoshi knelt back down as they left, and Gaeta was focused on the process of walking. But when Helo looked back at the picture that Gaeta had touched, his blood turned cold.
Gaeta had been staring at the picture of Dee.
"Thank you for the report," Bill said quietly, glancing back over his shoulder. The worst was over. He couldn't see her through the closed door, but when he'd stepped out, Laura looked like she was just peacefully sleeping in the chair now. "The repairs on the Demetrius?"
"Successfully completed, sir," Helo said. "The crew is waiting in the Active room until you're ready to wipe them." He got that look he got on his face when he was about to say something he knew Bill wouldn't like.
"I heard about the attack on the crew," Bill said, thinking to intercept him. "Tigh passed the news on to me."
Helo nodded, his face unchanged. "Sir," he finally said, "we ran into Lieutenant Hoshi in the Memorial Hallway."
"Frak." Bill sighed. "How'd Hoshi take it?"
"All right. He's upset."
"He would be. Is that all?"
"No." Helo took a breath. "When we were in the Hall, Gaeta was looking at a picture for a long time. It was Dee."
"I don't know. I didn't comment. And after we left the Hall, Narcho commented that there was something about Hoshi's voice."
"Sir, Hoshi's a Communications Officer. Tell me you wouldn't still recognize the voice of anyone who ever called you home. And add to that the fact they're brothers-in-law…."
"It could still be coincidence."
"Keep an eye on it." Helo nodded. "You're dismissed."
"Yes, sir." Helo left, and Bill reentered the imprint room.
"Everything all right?" Adelle asked him quietly.
Bill nodded, his eyes on Laura. "You know, you haven't mentioned a handler."
"Because she doesn't need one," Adelle said. "A handler's primary purpose is to protect our Actives, and to get them back when their engagements are complete. Since we're just altering the President's physical state, there's no need for her to have a handler. She will be Laura Roslin once we are done, she'll just have a brain that's modified to fight cancer."
Bill nodded. The truth was, he wasn't sure if he believed it. But when the procedure was finally over and Laura sat up, she didn't ask the customary did I fall asleep? Instead, she looked around her wonderingly. "Is it done?"
"Yup, it's done. You are now a living, walking medical experiment, and hopefully my greatest triumph," Topher said, slapping his hands together. "Go in peace, may the road rise to meet you, cure cancer and all that."
Laura shook her head, and then her gaze landed on Bill. "I'm exhausted," she admitted, "but I'm here. Let's go home."
Chapter 6: Something Sacred Taken Out of My Soul
"I don't believe it," Cottle said, staring at the images. "It shouldn't be possible."
Two weeks had gone by since Laura's treatment on the Persephone. Bill's heart surged in hope. "What is it, Doc?"
"The cancer is receding."
The world stopped, and then lurched into high speed. "You're joking."
"You ever know me to joke about a diagnosis, Admiral?" Cottle asked. He took a deep drag off his cigarette. "The blood tests are coming back with improved carcinoembryonic antigen and CA 15-3 counts. We did a scan, and we're seeing other signs of improvement as well. It shouldn't be possible- I have never seen a case this advanced go into remission, spontaneous or not. But all the data I'm getting is pointing to precisely that."
Bill stared at Laura incredulously. She, however, was radiant and luminously peaceful. "I don't believe it," he said.
Cottle turned his attention to Laura as well. "You said you've been experiencing improvement in energy level and your sleep, am I right?"
"And decreased bone pain as well," Laura added. One eyebrow quirked up. "Although I believe your exactly words were psychosomatic and placebo."
"Look, if we keep getting data like this back I'll gladly eat my words and grovel at Brink's feet. But you can't blame me for being skeptical about this idea."
"No, I can't," Laura admitted.
"Well, then," Cottle closed his file. "Keep thinking yourself into a state of miraculous recovery, and we'll do more tests in a week's time."
They left the infirmary together, Laura leaning on Bill's arm. It wasn't so much for support now; he could feel the strength in her body and her steps. He smiled.
The halls of Galactica still had that edgy, near-death feel. Bill's euphoria dimmed as they stepped into the rest of the ship, with the flickering lights and sputtering power. Laura noticed it, too.
"It's too bad Topher can't put the Galactica in his chair of the gods," she said.
"Chair of the gods," Bill laughed. "Don't let him hear you say that."
"I'm almost dreading telling him about what Cottle said," Laura admitted.
Bill looked around. The resin that the Cylon crews were painting on had a strong, organic smell to it that reminded him strongly of the algae planet, and the color was all wrong. It wasn't everywhere, but he saw patches of it here and there, on uniforms, on the floor, on tools, like a movie mystery where the blood was highlighted in each scene. "I hate to say it, but he's offered the Galactica a bit of an extension."
"I know. Tyrol keeps requesting Tim Reynolds back for a while. But expertise isn't what we need."
Bill didn't want to think about it. The parts, the materials… all of it was beyond their reach. He looked away from the ship and back at the woman who might be saved. "At least the drives are doing better, although it's the hull…" he shook his head.
"We need to find something soon," Laura sighed. "Has Hoshi had any luck finding a K class star?"
"He's found two, but the scouts we've sent out haven't found any habitable planets."
"Do you need a navigator?"
Bill thought about that, and to his surprise, there was a pang of longing at that question. I do, he wished he could say. I need Gaeta back, like he was before all this. The thought shocked him, because he'd never thought of Gaeta that way- never realized he thought of Gaeta that way. He shoved it away angrily. "Don't know that a navigator could help," he grumbled. "It's not that Hoshi can't do the job, it's that the equipment can't."
"Story of our lives," Laura sighed.
"It is," Bill sighed. But the idea that Laura might heal and survive… he felt a surge of energy he hadn't felt since Earth. "I'd better get back to work."
Laura smiled. "Me, too. I'll see you later."
Later. There would be a later. Bill smiled, and for once, it didn't hurt to kiss her goodbye.
All three recon teams had come back from their searches for habitable planets. Kara supposed she should be grateful about that.
The human team of Snowbird and Quarry was easy enough to deal with. Kara liked them. The Cylon team was a little harder, but Kara could work with them, especially since it was a Six and an Eight. The Active team of Racetrack and Narcho, who today were being called Bravo and Tango, freaked her the hell out.
She lay on her rack, looking up at the ceiling. There were pictures taped there, some of people living, some of people dead, and some of people caught in between. She heard the hatch open, but didn't bother to look to see who came in.
Her heart lifted a little, even if she didn't want to admit it. "What, Lee?"
"I was over on Galactica for a meeting. I thought I'd stop in and say hi."
"Hi," Kara said, not looking at him. But at the same time, it was good to hear his voice, and she couldn't deny that. With all this confusion, Lee was one thing that remained a strange sort of solid. "Have a seat," she offered, scooting over.
He awkwardly slid into the rack with her. He looked uncomfortable in his suit and was unsure where to put his shoes, as if it really mattered. Then he folded his arms behind his head. "Any luck with the planet recon missions?"
"Nope." Kara sighed. "One planet was almost habitable, but almost doesn't cut it, does it."
"Almost like New Caprica?" Lee asked.
Kara shook her head. "Almost like Gemenon's moon."
"Yeah." She sighed. "Figures, though, that that was the one that Bravo and Tango were sent to."
"Bravo and Tango?"
"Racetrack and Narcho." Kara snorted. "If we really want a habitable planet, they ought to just put Racetrack back in herself and send her out with Skulls."
"You know we can't do that. Besides, Dad said that Racetrack really wanted to do this."
"I was joking, Lee. You know? About how Racetrack and Skulls seem to find everything?"
"Frak," Kara sighed. "Everyone seems to have lost their sense of humor these days."
"Look who's talking," Lee said. He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, and Kara kept staring at the pictures. "How are things with Sam?" Lee finally asked.
There was a way Lee could have asked it that would seem bitter, or catty, or like he was looking to get in her pants. He didn't ask it that way. He asked it like a brother, like a friend. Like he cared. Kara relaxed and leaned into their contact, her head nearly on Lee's shoulder.
"Weird," she admitted. "He remembers us some, but it's not real clear. Of course, if I could make some of it unclear, I would," she admitted, rolling her eyes. "Frakking lucky bastard on some of it."
"Yeah." Lee obviously didn't know what to make of it. But then, Lee hadn't been down on that craphole known as New Caprica.
"I know I should be grateful. I could have lost him. But the Sam that's there now… it's not my Sammy. It almost is, but it's not, and I don't know what the frak to make of it. I think I've lost him anyway."
"Hey, you asked," Kara said crossly.
"I know." Lee was looking at the pictures. "Hey, what's this one?" He pointed to a picture of Narcho with Hoshi's little girl, laughing at the camera while the little girl clung to his neck from behind. When Kara didn't answer right away, he said, "The guy looks a lot like Narcho."
Kara sighed. "The guy is Narcho. I don't know. It's something I got from Hoshi and never gave back to him. I know I should, but if I can avoid running into the bastard, I do."
"Why do you have it up?" Lee asked. "It's Narcho."
"Yeah, I know. But he's still a pilot."
Kara struggled to explain. "If Adama had shot the bastard, I wouldn't put his picture on the wall, but someone would have, you know? Showboat or Washout or even frakking Hoshi himself. But he's not dead, so he can't go on the wall, and he's not alive. He's just… getting lost."
"That explains Racetrack over there," Lee muttered, pointing to a picture of Racetrack and Skulls that inhabited another corner. "Gaeta up here, too?"
"No. He's not a pilot." Kara was clear on that. She turned over though, and found the packet of pictures that she still had from that night. "But if you see Hoshi, give him these. He'll want them back."
Lee flipped through the photos, lingering on the one of Hoshi embracing Gaeta, both of them laughing. He didn't comment though, just shuffled the pictures back into a neat stack. "I'll get them to him," he said. Of course he would. She closed her eyes.
"Kara?" Lee asked, wrapping a companionable arm around her shoulders. "Are you okay? I mean, I know Earth left a lot of people… lost," he finally settled on, "but you seem to be…."
Kara didn't open her eyes. "I'm all right, Lee," she lied. "I'm managing. It would just be nice if something would make sense, you know? "
"I know," Lee agreed, and she could hear the honest grief in his voice. "Believe me, I know."
"Well?" Topher spread his hands out, like he expected Laura to twirl around. "What's the verdict?"
Laura couldn't even mind his theatrics. She spread her hands in response, grinning. "Doc Cottle says the cancer is receding."
"I knew it!" Topher said triumphantly. "I knew that if I reversed the translobal polarity and adjusted the-"
"Politician in the room," Laura said with a mock sternness in her voice.
"Right. Sorry. I just get a little excited when I'm crossing the lines between boy and god." Topher grinned and rubbed the back of his neck. "So, who are we creating today?"
"I don't know," Laura confessed. "The team worked late last night, and they finished what I'd planned for today. If nothing else, we can go for some psychological counseling, I suppose."
"Ah, shrinks. That's always a popular choice," Topher agreed. "We can pull out Chris Novak, the child psychologist, or Kiera Senning, the post traumatic stress disorder expert. I like her- she's a sci-fi buff. Or we could go through the catalogue."
"Let's see what else we might come up with," Laura agreed. She sat down beside Topher, watching as he scrolled through the imprints. Name after name filed by her.
"So these are all the imprints? Or the scans that you have?"
"These are the imprints," Topher said. "Very few of them are unmodified. They're all conglomerations of people that we scanned."
"Do you have all the scans?"
"Of course." Topher looked at her. "Why?"
"Just… my first aide. Billy Keikeya. I just remembered… he told me that he thought he'd been scanned back when he was in college."
"Well, let's find out," Topher said agreeably. He typed in the name, and a file appeared. "Want to take a look?"
"Would I understand any of it?" Laura asked.
Topher clicked on it, and the file sprang open. There was a picture- Laura stared at it. Billy looked so young. "How old was he when this was done?"
Topher pointed to the birth date. "Nineteen, it looks like," he said.
"Did you do it yourself?"
Topher snorted. "Definitely not. Not these. These were done by the grunts. Low level things, you know? We use most of these scans to flesh out the personalities. Although," he rapidly entered something into the computer, "yeah, it looks like Billy here has been flagged on a few other things. Diplomacy, negotiation… looks like he's even been used a few times."
"Really." Laura wasn't sure how she felt about that. "In one of our Actives?"
"Nope. Once on a counseling engagement, and once on a sexual one." Laura stared at him, and Topher misunderstood her horror. "See that?" he asked, pointing to the diagram of the brain. "There's a strong tendency towards empathy and non-aggression. Meaning, basically, he's what the female of the species- erm, male, in this case- call sweet."
"You sent Billy out to have sex with some man?"
"No. I took that portion of Billy's personality and combined it with…" Topher peered at the screen, "the sexual prowess of a Tommy Grator, the intelligence- or lesser amount of- of a Grant Thomas, and a few other little dashes and smidgens of people."
"Have you ever sent an Active out with a single personality?"
Topher studied her. "If you want, I can put Billy in one of our Actives."
She hadn't even thought of it, and the realization jumped through her. "You could do that?" she asked, her voice sounding strange in her ears.
"Well, yeah, but it would be the Billy from this scan," Topher said, tapping the screen. "So it would be a nineteen year old Billy."
Billy. Laura closed her eyes, picturing him. Even in the years- gods, had it really been years? – since his death, his face hadn't faded in her memory. But she forced the picture away. Billy had been twenty four when he died, not nineteen.
"No," she said reluctantly. "That's all right." Then to take her mind off the image, she said, "I wonder if there's anyone else in there that might have family in the Fleet."
"Well, let's find out," Topher said. "Start giving me names."
It was meant to be a silly game, just to get the idea of Billy coming back out of her head. Laura started with the names of the Quorum, and as she expected, no matches came up. There were millions of scans in the computer, but billions of people in the Colonies. The coincidence was in the realm of the possible, but not the probable. When she ran out of the Quorum names, she started going through the military.
Thrace. Agathon. Taylor. Costanza. Tigh. She worked through them, and except for "Taylor", which generated four matches, none of which gave any indication if they were related to the pilot, none of them came up with anything.
"Adama," Laura said, just for a laugh.
"Adama," Topher repeated, entering the name.
A match came up.
Laura leaned in. "You're kidding," she said. "It's not that common a name. Who is it-"
"It's a Zak Adama," Topher said. He shrugged. "Any possible relation?"
"Zak Adama?" Laura asked, her voice weak. "Yes. That's the Admiral's son."
Tom looked at the paper in frustration. "It's been two weeks, and you still haven't published anything!" he complained.
Playa was unruffled. "I haven't gotten anything that I can prove yet. You wanted this done right."
"That never stopped you before," Tom muttered. Playa glared at him, but Tom just glared back. "Don't tell me you never… embellished… for the sake of circulation."
"Because circulation wars matter right now?" Playa asked incredulously. "Everyone reads the paper. It's one of the only things to do. And we only have the resources for one paper. Circulation is a thing of the past, Tom." She sighed, leaning back in her chair and playing with the ends of her hair. "One thing about this whole mess," she said sourly. "News is news again. But I can't run this story until I have some sort of proof. All it will do is force Roslin deeper into her hole."
"You'd think someone would notice."
"People on Galactica do, as far as I've been able to tell," Playa said. "But my access to Galactica is extremely restricted. I've been working the contacts you've given me for all that I can, but they are too low level to provide me with much. Who else can I try? The big guns, Tom."
"I've given you all I can-"
"Who helped you escape the Persephone?" Playa asked.
"I've told you I can't tell you that. It would put her at too big of a risk."
Playa huffed with frustration. "Then give me someone."
"Karl Agathon. Helo. He's shadowing Gaeta."
"I keep telling you, he's too deeply in the Admiral's pocket," Playa said. "He won't talk."
"He's the one who flew us over there to become Actives," Tom insisted.
"Did he have a co-pilot? Or an ECO?" Tom didn't answer. Playa sat back. "I see." She sighed, rubbing her forehead. "All right. Let's try a different tactic. Who on the Galactica might care? Are there any personal ties to any of the three Actives?"
"And you call yourself a reporter?" Tom muttered. He caught Playa's glare and reined himself in, reminding himself he had no power here. "Sorry. Racetrack and her ECO were close…"
"Hamish McCall is on the Astral Queen," Playa reminded him, revealing that she'd at least done some of her homework. She frowned. "But that's interesting that Edmondson is an Active and McCall is not." She scribbled a note to herself. "What about Narcho? Noel Allison?"
"I didn't know him well at all. He was Gaeta's choice."
"All right. Gaeta, then. I know you knew him." Playa's expression softened a little bit. "I remember seeing the two of you talking all the time on New Caprica."
"Mm." There were even a few nights that Playa had joined them, early in the administration when the job of being Gaius Baltar's press secretary wasn't a logistical nightmare. "The problem is, most of his friends are dead or on the Astral Queen. He didn't- wait." A name came back to him, one Tom had deliberately avoided. "Louis Hoshi."
Playa looked up from her notes, an expression of surprise on her face. "The Communications officer with the stick up his ass who seems to enjoy cutting off calls?"
"That would be the one."
"Great," Playa sighed. "How close was he to Gaeta?"
"Felix could have done better," Tom said sourly.
Playa's grin was knowing. "Right. But he's still active duty?"
"Now that I think about it, I remember Gaeta talking about wanting Hoshi protected. He wasn't top tier and it was obviously important to Gaeta, so I didn't give it much thought. I would guess that he didn't even know what we were planning."
"All right." Playa wrote the name down, underlining it. "I know you're frustrated, Tom," Playa said, closing her notebook. "But for what it's worth, we've made progress."
"Right," he said sourly.
"We have," Playa said. "I might not be able to convince anyone else yet, but with the research I've done, I believe you now."
"Well," Tom said, slightly gratified, "that is something, isn't it?"
Helo blew across the cup of coffee he was carrying, trying to balance two others in his other hand. He caught sight of Victor heading for the docking bay with Racetrack, Racetrack with her hair tied into a low ponytail and consulting a series of charts. "What sort of specialist this time?" Helo asked Victor, handing him one of the cups of coffee.
"Psychologist," Victor said, taking an appreciative sip. Victor and Sierra were the only two people that Helo had met that actually liked the algae coffee. Apparently Topher had rewired their brains to think it tasted like the real stuff. "She's headed over to the Galactica to deal with PTSD stuff."
"Great." Helo sighed. "This Keira Senning again?"
"I am standing right here," Racetrack said sternly. "It's nice to see you again, Captain Agathon."
Helo shuddered. Racetrack smirked, and then went back to her charts. "Sorry, Dr. Senning," he said. He was beginning to get why Topher didn't like using repeat imprints; it was eerie that she remembered him. Easily understood, but eerie.
"Come on, Victor," Racetrack said sternly. "I need to be over there at 1000 hours, and already we're running behind."
"You okay?" Victor asked Helo as he and Racetrack left.
"Yeah," Helo said. "You just have no idea how weird it is to hear her worry about time." He continued down the Persephone's now familiar halls until he spotted Sierra sitting outside the imprint room on the floor, her knees up to her chest.
"I brought you coffee," he said, handing her the cup.
"Thank you." Her smile was grateful.
Helo sat down on the floor across from her. "Who are you getting today?" he asked.
Sierra held up a pair of wire-rimmed classes. "Chris Novak again." She smiled. "I rather like him."
"Yeah." Another repeat, and a good one. Chris Novak had such a sensitive, gentle air about him that if he wasn't really Narcho, Helo would bring Hera to him instead of to the psychologist over on the Inchon Velle. "Can't blame you there."
"What's on your schedule for the day?" Sierra asked, leaning her head back against the wall.
"Don't know yet." Helo shifted. "Wouldn't mind a nap."
Sierra smiled, but the smile faded quickly. "Captain Agathon, can I ask you something?" Helo shrugged. "Has Playa Palacios been asking for you?"
"The reporter? Not that I know of, but the press has to go through the proper channels with the military." Although now that Helo thought about it, he had seen her around three times when his work had taken him off the Galactica. "Why? Has she been talking to you?" Sierra nodded, and Helo growled. "If you want, I can-"
"Put the fear of the gods in her?" Sierra said, with that deep throaty laugh. "Captain Agathon, that's hardly necessary. You don't think that the Agency has us trained to deal with reporters? I know you probably imagine that anyone who gets in too deep would be neutralized, but it's really much more efficient to redirect people. Not to mention much more legal."
Helo flushed. "I'm sorry. I just assumed-"
"Yes, I know." Sierra's smile was kind, but a little superior as well. "You can't help it. You're one of those white knight personalities. That what makes you such an excellent handler, you know. At least right now," she amended. "You'd probably end up being a pain in the ass back on Caprica."
"A pain in the ass," Helo sighed. "Not the first time I've been called that."
Sierra shrugged. "Some handlers get very attached to their Actives," she explained. "Too attached. And then some engagements become too much for the handler to handle." She stretched her legs out in front of her. "But with the assignments these days, there's really not that much potential for entanglement, unless the Actives are given a dangerous assignment. But I'm sure you're used to that, sending pilots out into combat."
That was a thought that Helo had been avoiding. So far, Gaeta had been given assignments that were dangerous in the wrong hands, merely risky in the right ones. His handicap made it very difficult to give him anything more. But he wondered if the day would come where Adama decided that Gaeta's death would do more good than his life. Helo could order Gaeta into a position like that. He wasn't sure he could order the person inhabiting Gaeta's body to die, knowing that Gaeta's soul wouldn't be able to follow. He was about to say something when the door to the imprint room opened.
"Someone please tell me you have my glasses," Narcho said, coming out. "And a cup of coffee."
"Right here, Dr. Novak," Sierra said, extending the glasses. "We'll get coffee over on the Zephyr."
"Thank the gods." Narcho sounded relieved. He put on the glasses and blinked, looking around him. "Captain Agathon," he said, smiling. "How's your daughter?"
"Doing fine, Doctor," Helo said. He glanced at his watch. "I should go back and see how Gaeta's doing."
"Take your time," Topher said, poking his head out of the door. "We're not quite ready for Gaeta."
"You're not ready yet? What are you doing in there? Making the Herculean Hero?"
"No, but that's a really good idea," Topher said. "If I just… well, I'll have to play with that. But I need time to put the leg patch into today's imprint.."
"All right," Helo said. He took one more gulp of the algae coffee and then headed for the Actives' room.
Victor or Sierra had helped Gaeta get up and dressed; he was now sitting at the low table, eating a bowl of algae. "Hey Felix," Helo said as he entered. "How's the leg doing?"
Gaeta looked up. "It is a little sore," he said. "It itches."
"Well, finish your breakfast and we'll take a look at it, yeah?" Helo said. The one nice thing about Gaeta in this blank state was he would actually give an honest answer when asked about his leg. It was about the only nice thing about Gaeta in this state. Helo sighed.
"Have a good night?" he asked. Gaeta looked up and nodded, and Helo sat down at the table, setting his cup of coffee down. "Galactica's been busy," Helo said, partly just to hear someone talk. "They're doing repairs like crazy. I told you about the hairline cracks in the Galactica's hull, right?" Gaeta just blinked at him. "Right. Hoshi's still asking me about you, though." He braced for some sort of reaction to the name, but Gaeta gave him none. "You know, that's just frustrating," Helo said. "The man is in still love with you, even after everything you did. You could at least pretend to remember his name."
"I'm sorry," Gaeta said neutrally. "I shall try to remember next time."
"I know you can't." Gaeta went back to eating, and Helo looked down at the table. "I do wish you could, though," he said, more to himself. "I wish I could talk to you again. I wish I knew if I could have stopped you. If there was something I could have said… even if it was just sorry you got screwed over. I can't say I made the wrong choice, because I didn't. And you knew that and I knew it, even before the Demetreius got back to the Fleet. And I know you followed me of your own free will. I don't even know what I could say, except maybe just to ask how you're holding up and give a shit about the answer."
He stared at the table in silence, trying not to let his mind walk down the paths of how things could have been different. Because when all was said and done, what Felix had done was mutiny and it had cost hundreds of lives. He had nearly executed the Admiral. If he had been successful, the Fleet would have split in two, potentially costing even more lives.
But he was Gaeta. He knew all this, and he must have worked through the costs, and decided that the benefits were worth more. And he'd left Hoshi out of it, because he knew the consequences. That was one thing Helo didn't doubt at all.
But why Hera? And why send Gage and Vireem, of all people, after his family? He'd understand it better if Gaeta had just ordered the three of them shot in the head.
"You know what the worst part is?" he asked. Gaeta shrugged. "I feel like I'm starting to forgive you. I shouldn't. You put my daughter in danger, and there is no world in which that will ever be okay. And Sharon's right. All this life saving shit you're doing… it's not you doing it. It's whoever they put in your body. You're still in that wedge, hating the Admiral and thinking that you're completely justified in everything you did. But I can't look at you and forget that you're not really a person, you're just the blow-up doll that everyone said Sharon is. And she's not…" he rubbed the palm of his hand with his forehead. "And you don't understand any of this, do you?"
"I try my best," Gaeta told him seriously.
"I know you do," Helo muttered. "I know. Finish your breakfast, and we'll take a look at your leg."
The Kimba Huta was the second stop on Sharon's run for the day. The cold storage was not completely useless; certain algae products still required the cold to avoid spoilage. She climbed out of the Raptor, waiting for her contact to meet her. She leaned against the Raptor, arms crossed, watching.
"Lieutenant Agathon?" She turned to see Playa Palacios approaching her. Sharon stiffened automatically. "Do you have a moment?"
"I…" Sharon looked around for the woman who normally met her. Late. Of course. "What do you want?"
"I just have a few questions for you," Playa said.
"You need to go through the Military Press Office," Sharon said. "I'm not authorized to answer any questions right now."
"This is off the record," Playa tried.
"There's no such thing." Sharon glanced at her watch. "I need to meet-"
"Gia O'Dell? She's going to be delayed by fifteen minutes."
"Then I'll wait in the Raptor," Sharon snapped.
"It's about the mind-wiping technology that Roslin has in her possession," Playa said. Sharon didn't react. "Tom Zarek wants to thank you."
Sharon spun. "He told you?"
"No, but it wasn't that hard to figure out." Playa's smirk was triumphant. "Do I have your attention, Lieutenant?"
Sharon grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the Raptor. "All right. You have my attention. What do you want?"
Playa was unflappable. She looked Sharon straight in the eye. "Look, I know you can't go on record and say you helped Zarek escape. But you did, and there's a reason for that."
"It's not support for Zarek," Sharon said through gritted teeth. "Believe me."
"I never thought it was. Zarek's telling the truth about this mind-wiping technology. You don't need to confirm it- I already know."
"Then what do you want?"
Playa sat down in the bucket seat. "Three things. One, I want to get over to the Persephone. Two, I want to meet with Lieutenant Hoshi. And three, I want access to the Astral Queen to talk to Hamish McCall."
"What are you trying to do?" Sharon asked. "Put Zarek back in power?"
"No," Playa said, very definitively. "I couldn't care less what happens to Zarek. But people deserve to know about this. Katres once said that the press is the watchdog of democracy. Laura Roslin needs to be held accountable for her actions."
"Look," Playa snapped, "my agenda isn't so much your concern as the fact that I know you helped Zarek escape, and I know where he's hiding. I know you don't give a frak about Zarek himself, but if you don't help me, I'm in the position to make things very uncomfortable for you."
"The Admiral trusts me," Sharon said. "Why would he believe you over me?"
"He might not," Playa agreed. "Shall we go find out?"
He wouldn't believe Playa. If the Admiral was going to ask questions, he should have asked them a long time ago. In fact, Sharon suspected that on some subconscious level the Old Man knew, but had let her get away with it because he wasn't comfortable with this scheme himself. Just like when the Demetrius had returned, and he hadn't asked many questions. Just like after Dee committed suicide, just like after Racetrack brought back that Raptor of corpses, just like in the aftermath of the mutiny, when nothing had changed. He wasn't going to ask… unless he was forced to.
"All right," Sharon sighed. "I can't get you on to the Astral Queen, but I can take you over to the Persephone, and tonight I'll take you to Galactica to talk to Hoshi. But how much you get out of him is entirely your problem."
Playa smiled. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
"Who do we have today?" Helo asked Topher as the blue light glowed around Gaeta's head. President Roslin was sitting at the desk watching, her chin on her hand.
"We have John Cassidy, a higher up in the Sagittaron Relief Organization," Topher said.
"The Sagittaron Relief Organization?" Helo asked, looking at Laura.
"Since the team finished the repairs ahead of schedule, we didn't have anything planned for the day," Laura explained. "I thought that someone who worked with distributing supplies to a destitute area might have some relevant experience."
"I see," Helo said. He looked over at the chair, and Gaeta sat up. He looked at Helo, blinking.
"I would prefer a different ride, if you don't mind. As much as I appreciate everything the military has done for us, I really do not care to interact with them."
Laura sighed. "You couldn't have taken out the fundamentalism?"
"Hey, you're the one that said Sagittaron," Topher said with a shrug.
"You're right," Laura said, rolling her eyes. She looked at Gaeta, now John Cassidy. "I respect your views, Mr. Cassidy, but the military is the only form of transportation available, and we have a lot to do. All of my documents are over on Colonial One."
"Fine." Gaeta- or most definitely Cassidy- rolled his eyes. "If we must."
"We won't need you too much today," Laura told Helo as they walked through the halls together. "In fact, I think this engagement might go better without your presence."
"Yeah, I'm getting that impression."
"But what?" Helo asked.
"You're thinking something, Captain Agathon."
The funny thing was, he had been. "I'm just a little concerned," Helo admitted.
"You taking political advice from one of their Actives," Helo said.
"I'm taking political advice from someone who has years of experience dividing up resources on a war-torn planet," Laura corrected.
"Yeah, but what if they've programmed him to give you their own agenda?" Helo asked. "I know it sounds crazy, but-"
"Hardly crazy," Laura said, tightening her grip on his arm. "More naïve. I take advice from dozens of people a day, Captain Agathon, and every last one of them has an agenda. That's a large part of being President, is prioritizing agendas."
It was a good thing she wasn't looking for validation, Helo thought, because right now he didn't quite trust himself to speak. He led her to the Raptor, unable to argue or to agree.
Playa Palacios was wearing a very low-cut shirt. Kara sat at a table watching her, drinking and wondering sourly if she'd raided the President's wardrobe. If she had, she hadn't chosen one of the better tops.
It was the appeal of a train wreck, Kara supposed, that made her watch in the first place. Playa was leaning over slightly, fingering the fabric of her top unconsciously. She was obviously trying to either get laid or get a story illegally, and figured that flashing a little skin would be the best way to her goal. Which might have worked, if the man sitting opposite her wasn't Louis Hoshi. Scuttlebutt said Hoshi had never quite outgrown the theory that girls had cooties. Hoshi was sitting as far back from her as he could get, and was obviously agitated.
Playa didn't look overly happy either. As Kara watched, she crossed her legs and leaned in, arguing about something vehemently. Hoshi shook his head angrily, and then pushed away from the table. He moved to get up, but Playa stopped him. Whatever she said to him turned his face white, and he sat back down heavily. Playa patted his hand, and then stood up to leave. Hoshi sat at the table, still pale, staring down at the tabletop as Playa walked out.
Kara shrugged and turned back to her own thoughts, that source of amusement and distraction played out. She was drawing patterns in the condensation on the table when someone slammed a glass down in front of her.
"Tell me the truth," Hoshi said, bracing his hands on the table and leaning down to be face to face with her. "Did Adama give Felix a choice?"
"How the frak would I know?" Kara said. "I'm not the Old Man."
"You sure as hell know him better than I do, being one of his kids." Scorn dripped from Hoshi's voice on the last word.
"Jealous?" she asked, just to get under the bastard's skin.
"Frak, no. I don't need a surrogate father figure to prop me up and cover up my mistakes. So answer my question, Thrace. Did the Admiral give Felix a choice?"
Kara shrugged. "You really think I'm going to answer that, Hoshi? Even if I knew?" He grabbed her by the shoulders, and Kara jumped up and threw his hands off. "Get the frak off of me!"
"What does it matter?" Kara shouted. They were attracting attention now, but she didn't care. "He frakking mutinied, Hoshi! If there was any justice in the world, he should be dead! You should be on your knees kissing the Admiral's feet if you're so worried about your precious Gaeta!"
"He can't even remember his own name!" Hoshi roared. "That's ripping someone's soul out of their body!"
"Well, take it up with the Admiral, then, not me!" Kara roared back. "And get the frak out of my face! I've got enough problems without worrying about some shit that tried to take over the ship! Give me one good reason why I should care about a thing that Gaeta did!"
"Because you were his commanding officer when he lost his leg!"
"Because he was mutinying then, too! So stop blaming all your problems on me and have the balls to take it up with the Admiral yourself! At least Gaeta did that. Get the frak out of my face." She pushed him aside and stormed out of the bar.
Playa was standing right outside, smoking a cigarette.
"What the frak!" Kara reeled back. "What did you say to him?"
"The truth," Playa said, not asking Kara what she was talking about. "Adama didn't give Gaeta a choice about becoming an Active."
"And how the frak would you know about any of this anyway?"
Playa arched an eyebrow. "I have my sources," she said mockingly.
"Get out of here," Kara snapped. "Before I tell the Admiral you're in a restricted area and he has you removed. Who let you down here, anyway?"
"My press credentials," Playa said matter-of-factly. "If you'll excuse me, Captain, I have a story to write. But you might want to ask the Admiral about his methods of justice." With that, Playa headed down the hall, leaving Kara staring after her.
"How'd it go today with the relief worker?" Bill asked, settling beside Laura on the couch.
"Exhausting," Laura admitted.
"Wasn't it worth it?"
"It was," Laura said, "although I had to listen to a lecture on my former use of diloxan and how the mind is a myth and the body is a temple for the spirit."
"Oh." Bill had the temerity to look amused. Laura fixed him with a mock death glare.
"Well, we're short Gaeta tomorrow, at least for the morning," she said. "Mr. John Cassidy refused to meet with Cottle for a physical exam, and Cottle didn't have time to make it over to the Persephone to do the exam after hours. And he insists on examining Gaeta's leg before he does anything else tomorrow. He says that Helo's been making enough noise about the swelling that it's probably best if Gaeta stays off it for a few days."
"Well, make sure you send him over someone cooperative in him," Bill said. "Injury is one thing, but refusing to see a doctor due to a superstitious, outdated belief…." He shook his head. "I would have loved to hear what Helo had to say about this."
"There were some mumblings about karma," Laura admitted, unable to miss the dark humor in the situation. "But tomorrow-"
A knock on the hatch cut her off, and Bill rose to his feet. "Come in," he ordered.
The hatch opened, and Kara Thrace appeared. "I'm sorry for interrupting, sir," she said, standing at attention, the picture of a Colonial soldier. But a flick of her eye acknowledged Laura sitting on the sofa as well.
"What is it, Captain Thrace?" Bill asked, responding to her professional demeanor.
"I just found Playa Palacios in Joe's," Kara said stiffly. "I don't know what she was doing there, but she knows about what you're doing with Gaeta. And I'm guessing Racetrack and Narcho as well."
"Zarek," Laura sighed, disgusted. "It was only a matter of time before he found someone who would believe him."
"Who was she talking to, Captain?" Bill asked.
"Lieutenant Hoshi, sir. I don't think he's the one that told her, though. She looked like she was trying to get information out of him."
"I'll talk to Hoshi," Bill muttered.
"Sir? She told Hoshi that you didn't give Gaeta a choice." She paused. "Is that true, sir?"
"Mr. Gaeta gave up any right to a choice when he committed mutiny on this ship," Bill growled.
For a moment, Kara looked like she would argue, but she swallowed whatever she was going to say back and simply said, "Yes, sir. Sir, Narcho and Racetrack-"
"They were given the choice, along with twenty-seven other mutineers. They're the only two who accepted."
Kara nodded. Laura could see that she believed him; the numbers just didn't add up otherwise. "That's all, sir," she said finally.
"Thank you, Captain. Let me know if Ms. Palacios comes snooping around again."
"Yes, sir." Kara saluted and left the room. Bill sighed and sat back down next to Laura.
"We should have seen it coming," Laura said.
"Lee did," Bill said grudgingly. "He said there would be ships willing to hide Zarek."
"It's going to be a press nightmare," Laura mused, her mind ticking through possibilities already.
"No it won't. It's a military decision."
"Which won't make it any easier for the public to swallow. However, the only aspect we weren't prepared for was someone finding out it was involuntary on Gaeta's part. But that's manageable." She frowned. "We have enough evidence to demonstrate that we intend to use this technology in a way that best benefits the Fleet, and pointing out that Gaeta's crimes should have condemned him to death should quell all but the most ardent of dissenters."
"Except that there's still an entire ship out there willing to hide Tom Zarek."
"Right," Laura sighed. "You know, I really hate it when Lee's right."
"All right," Topher said the next morning, clapping his hands together. "No work assignment today, so I just put an… interesting new personality into Gaeta."
"Interesting how?" Helo asked suspiciously. "It can't be more interesting than a Sagittaron when we need to do a medical exam."
"Hey. That was not my fault," Topher said. "Roslin's the one who asked for that imprint."
"Well, who have we got today?" Helo asked.
"Well," Topher rocked back and forth on his heels. "All anyone specified today was 'cooperative', so it really could be anyone, right? And I looking through the scans, I found a name I couldn't help ignoring."
"Who?" Helo asked, ready for the Herculean Hero or whatever comic book creation Topher had managed to conjure up.
The blue light of the imprint chair went off, and Gaeta sat up. Topher's eyes lit up with excitement and a little mischief. "Captain Agathon, have you ever met Zak Adama?"
Helo's mouth dropped open, and he stared first at Gaeta and then at Topher. "You're joking."
Topher shrugged. "Not really. He was there in the imprint files. He's still a student at the Academy, although I'm kind of baffled why he wants to be a Viper pilot with some of his stats. I've put in the current patch to bring him up to speed."
"Does he know-" Helo began.
"That I'm in someone else's body?" Zak said. "I am sitting right here- I can hear you. Yeah, I know. So you're Helo. Kara talked a lot about you."
"Yeah," was all Helo could think to say.
"So. We going over to the Bucket to see this doctor of yours?" Zak, Gaeta, whoever, eased himself off the chair. "Because my leg is killing me."
"Very open and honest," Topher inserted. "I thought that would be helpful."
"Great. Yeah. Very helpful," Helo said sarcastically. "Don't let your father hear you call it the Bucket," he said. He frowned. "Did you take something from Narcho?"
"Just a little bit, to compensate for the fact he's a pilot and hasn't been around Adama this whole time," Topher said. "He won't commit mutiny."
"Good to know. He'll just throw the Admiral for one hell of a loop. What the frak are you thinking? Put someone else in there!"
"I can't change it that quick unless it's an emergency- you know that. That was the problem yesterday. This doesn't qualify as an emergency," Topher said smugly.
"Right." Helo rolled his eyes. "Well, come on, Zak. Let's go." He reached out and helped Gaeta to his feet. "You're gonna hear about this one," Helo warned Topher.
"That's the problem with art," he heard Topher say as they left the imprint room. "Everyone's a critic."
"So what are you going to do?" Saul asked Bill. They were walking to the infirmary. "Hoshi's glaring daggers at you."
"Let him," Bill muttered. "He's not going to do anything to endanger the Fleet. Besides, it was a military decision."
"All right." Saul was going soft, Bill thought. There was a time he wouldn't have given a shit what a lieutenant thought about an order. He didn't particularly like the order either, but it had to be done, and the decision to use the imprinting technology had unquestionably done a lot of good for the Fleet. "What are you having the Actives do today?" Saul asked.
"Racetrack is on medical duty and Narcho is still doing child psychology. Gaeta's supposed to be off his feet. I'm not sure what Laura decided on today." They opened the doors of the infirmary and walked in. It was quiet, so it was easy to hear Gaeta's voice.
"So the blonde says, 'If you liked that, try the sausage!'" Gaeta laughed at his own joke. "Ouch. That definitely hurts. You're not laughing, Doc."
"I've heard that one several thousand times," Cottle said. "What about this?"
"FRAK! Sorry, Doc, but that one really-"
"There's some nerve damage and some infection. You need to stop clawing at it."
"I know. But it just-"
"Helo, you're going to need to help him with it. I'll give you a salve that will help with the irritation and speed the healing of the skin. Three times a day, at least."
"Yes, sir." Helo was standing against the wall, arms crossed. He noticed Bill and Saul approaching, and to Bill's surprise, he got the hard-jawed expression that meant that he was nervous and drew himself to attention. "Admiral. Colonel."
Cottle nodded, although there was a grim look on his face. Gaeta turned around, and his eyes lit up wonderingly. They fixed on Bill for a long time, and his mouth curled into a smile. "Dad?"
"Excuse me?" Bill wondered if the implant had broken Gaeta's brain. But Gaeta was sliding off the table and fumbling for his crutches, and Cottle's face grew even more serious. Bill glanced at Saul in confusion, but Gaeta was coming straight for him.
"Dad," he said, clapping Bill's shoulder, "it's me. Zak."
"You're joking." Bill took a step back, and Gaeta nearly fell. "This is a joke."
"It's not a joke, sir." Helo put in. "Topher found a scan of Zak in the bank, and put him in Gaeta."
"How would there be a scan of my son?" Bill demanded.
Zak shrugged. "It was easy money," he said. "A few hundred cubits. Just enough for an engagement ring." He grinned. "Helo told me she said yes."
"Kara?" Bill asked, his lips bloodless.
"Yeah, Kara. Helo says she's on the Galactica. I can't wait to see her."
Gaeta's face darkened. "I know," he said. "But I still want to see her. And Lee."
"This is impossible," Bill managed.
"Frankly, I find it a lot less impossible than other things I've seen Gaeta do since you started this freak show experiment," Cottle said. "But you're the only one who's going to figure it out for sure."
"How much more do you have to do?" Bill asked Cottle.
"Give me a half hour to finish this and show Helo some new exercises I want Gaeta to do. I also want him off his feet for the next two days."
"All right. Come to my study when it's done," Bill ordered Helo.
"Yes, sir." Helo didn't look happy at all.
"Come on, Bill," Saul tugged at his arm. "Let's go." Bill hadn't even realized he'd been staring at Gaeta, searching for traces of his son in his eyes.
He paced the study, angrily, back and forth, his footsteps sounding loud in his own ears.
The picture was on his desk, him and his boys. He picked it up, staring at the little boy that had such a huge smile. He set it down again, shaking his head.
The hatch opened, and Helo held it as Gaeta struggled in. Bill immediately moved to assist him, and Gaeta smiled up. "Thanks," he said, as Bill led him over to the couch to sit.
"We're all right, Captain Agathon," he told Helo. "You're dismissed to tend to your other duties."
"But sir, is that wise? If you-"
"Is he armed?"
"I think I can protect myself against an unarmed crippled man. You're dismissed."
"Yes, sir." Helo saluted and left.
Bill turned to Gaeta. "You've got a lot of talking to do."
"I figured." Gaeta settled back, draping one arm against the couch. It was a casual position, and one Bill never would have imagined Gaeta settling into in front of him. "You want me to start reeling off memories? Like how you took the training wheels off my bike when I was six, and I fell two days later and wouldn't speak to you for a week? Or the first time you took me up in a Viper, just me, and I sat between your legs as you flew and you let me try to steer? Or how you used to carry me upstairs and read Vinnie the Little Viper, and I'd sit on your lap and play with your watch?"
"Why?" Bill said, beginning to believe it already. Each one of those memories stabbed into his soul like a knife. "Why did you do this?"
Gaeta shrugged and spread his hands; a gesture that Bill did know, but not from Gaeta. "I didn't really know what it was for," he admitted. "They told us some gibberish about studying brain waves for surgery, and that anyone who participated would be paid. A couple of the guys did it and said it was no big deal, and they felt fine after, so I figured that it would be an easy way to pick up some extra money. Kara and I were getting serious, but I was still in Academy, so…" he shrugged. "Like I said, it paid for the ring." He smiled. "She really said yes, huh? Did we ever get married?"
"No. You died before you could."
"In the Cylon attack?" Zak asked, wincing.
Of all the things that Bill ever had to do, telling his own son how he died was not one he'd imagined. "You died in a training accident," he said stiffly. "On Caprica. Six years ago." He gave the date.
Zak did the math. "A few weeks after I bought the ring," he said sadly. "It's really weird to know you're dead."
"I imagine it is."
"Dad," he leaned forward, "do you believe it's me?"
"I'm starting to," Bill said.
"What can I do to convince you?"
The naked pleading in the voice was almost too much to bear. If Bill closed his eyes, if he didn't see Gaeta but listened to Zak….
"Just keep talking."
The walk from the hangar bay to the Admiral's study didn't seem nearly as long as it did a few weeks ago. Laura was certain she made it in less time, and only stopped to rest once. Still, she arrived at Bill's study with no small amount of relief.
To her surprise, Helo was sitting outside the hatch, knees updrawn and working on some paperwork, chewing on the end of a pen. "You look like a college freshman whose roommate just put a sock on the doorknob," Laura said with a grin.
Helo didn't smile back. If anything, his face got darker. "Just waiting for the Admiral, sir."
"Sitting outside his door?" Laura glanced at the closed hatch. "Who's he in there with, Helo?"
Helo's expression darkened even further. "You don't know?" he asked.
"Would I ask if I did?"
"He's in there with Gaeta."
"I assumed that," Laura said, her patience starting to strain. "What's the imprint?"
For a moment, the whole world stilled. "What?" Laura asked, her voice sounding loud and distinct in her own ears. "What did you say?"
"They imprinted Zak Adama onto Gaeta." Helo said, struggling to his feet. "You didn't know?"
"On the contrary. I knew that…" Laura shut her mouth angrily. "I'm going in," she informed Helo.
"Yes, sir." Helo stepped aside willingly, and some part of Laura acknowledged that Helo was extremely unhappy about this development as well. She pressed the combination and opened the hatch.
As soon as she saw Bill's face, she knew that they were in trouble. The lines of worry had smoothed, and his eyes were shining in a way she hadn't really seen since Earth. And Gaeta's face was animate and alight as well, and it looked like he had been crying. She stood perfectly still, for once completely unsure as to what to say.
"Laura." Bill was struggling back into his Admiral persona, despite the emotional turmoil. Laura took a deep breath and sat down, laying a hand on Bill's arm.
"I know," she said, her voice low and even. She looked at Gaeta. "You're Zak Adama?"
Gaeta straightened. "Yes, sir."
It made her skin crawl to do it, but Laura extended her hand. "Laura Roslin, President of the Twelve Colonies. It's a pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant Adama."
Chapter 7: The Way To Make It Back Someday
They met in Levi's quarters: Tom, Asok, Danny, Dale, Marissa, Levi, and Playa. Playa had a series of notes spread out on the table before them.
"The big news first," Playa was saying. "I was able to speak to Adelle DeWitt."
"Really? I knew you were good, but I didn't expect that." Tom was impressed.
"Don't get too excited," Playa said. "She didn't admit to the technology being used now. However, she did tell me about the Agency on Caprica."
"That's something," Danny pointed out. "Proving the technology existed at all will make it easier to convince everyone."
"True," Playa said, tapping her pen against the table. "However, proving it's in use now…"
"There are three Actives," Marissa said with a scowl. "And they've interacted with others-"
"And that's your trouble," Playa sighed. "Look," she said, addressing Tom, "I understand your point about free will. But the fact is, everything we've seen these Actives do has benefited the Fleet. If Laura Roslin was making hookers and sex toys, you'd have an easier time rallying the troops. But everything we've got evidence for… she's making doctors and psychologists and mechanics and soldiers. They even made the algae taste better. How are you going to fight that?"
"It's a matter of free will," Tom said. "If she gave these people a choice, that's fine. I don't like it, but if there's honestly been a choice, I guess…" he struggled. "No! They didn't have a choice! All their choice has been taken away. No one is really in a position to make a free and informed decision with the state of the Fleet being what it is- there is duress every place you look!"
"Right," Playa said, well accustomed to Tom's tirades from long days on New Caprica. "Anyway, I'm pulling together a piece on the Agency on Caprica. The only thing is, that will give Roslin the heads up that we're on to her."
"She's not stupid." Tom said. "She knows that already."
"Good point," Dale said. "The word on Galactica is that rumors are dying down into fact."
"What do they think of it?" Levi asked. "After all, they know the Actives best."
"They don't think of it much," Dale said. "Anna says that everyone has sort of moved on. The truth is, most of the people that would care a lot are on the Astral Queen, not the Galactica."
"Did you talk to Skulls?" Tom asked Playa. "He's the best one to tell us if Racetrack and Narcho made a choice."
"Unfortunately, Sharon Agathon claimed she didn't have clearance to get onto the Astral Queen."
"She might be right," Tom admitted grudgingly. "She's a pilot. They don't usually have the right clearance. The one that might have a shot at getting us in there is Hoshi."
"Come on," Marissa said, "a CIC officer is not going to help you. Not one that you claim is in Adama's pocket."
"He might," Dale said, tapping the chart that Playa had made. "He's Gaeta's partner, right?"
"Actually, he's more than that," Playa put in. "He's Noel Allison's brother-in-law." She turned her attention to Tom. "Give him some time. I don't think his loyalty to the Admiral is as assured as anyone thinks it is, himself included."
"What do we do in the meantime?" Asok asked. "Standing idle only lets Roslin increase her power, and all the while the Cylons modify our ships and make themselves at home in our Fleet."
Playa looked from face to face. "You're really serious about this?" she asked. "You really want to take Roslin out of power?"
"I killed the entire Quorum," Tom said harshly. "Did you think that was a joke? This alliance with the Cylons must come to an end."
Playa's face hardened. "I'll see what I can do about getting you on the wireless," she said.
Laura had never met Zak Adama, but she had no reason to believe that the person now inhabiting Gaeta's body was anyone but Zak Adama. She knew the scan existed, and as Bill and Gaeta talked, it was clear that the memories were genuine.
Of course, that only made everything even harder.
Helo was seeing it, too. As Bill and Zak talked, Laura moved closer to him. "Will you be able to get Gaeta out of here?" she asked quietly.
"Yeah. Zak won't be the problem… I don't think." Helo frowned. "Let me put it this way- it's never been a problem before." His frown deepened. "I don't know if this imprint will fight me at all because of the personal connection. But the Admiral…."
"Right." Laura was about to say more when there was a soft knock on the hatch.
"Bill? It's me."
Tigh. Laura realized where he must have been a split second before Lee Adama stepped in.
"What's going on?" Lee asked.
Gaeta fumbled for his crutches. "Lee?" he pulled himself to his feet. "Lee? Is it really… what the frak are you wearing?" he began to laugh incredulously. "I thought for sure I'd see you in a pilot's uniform, or tanks, or even just civvies. But a suit? You're joking, right?"
"I'm not- Zak?" Comprehension dawned fast in Lee's eyes. He swung around to face his father. "This is Zak?"
"This is Zak," Bill confirmed.
"No. No. This is a joke. This is a- no. Zak's dead."
"So everybody keeps telling me," Zak muttered. "I wish you'd all stop rubbing it in, although from what I gather, I seem to be the lucky one."
Lee turned around to face Laura. "You did this?" he asked.
"No," Laura said stiffly. "I did not."
"Not me. We just wanted someone who would cooperate with Cottle after yesterday's Sagittaron aid worker. This is all Topher."
"This is unbelievable." Lee sat down slowly, shaking his head. "Absolutely unbelievable."
"I have to agree," Laura said. Bill shot a glare at her, but she ignored him. "Colonel. Captain. Perhaps we should give the Adama men some time alone."
Her word was law, and Tigh and Helo followed her out without protest. The hatch closed behind them, and Tigh made a face. "Think it's wise to leave them alone with him?"
"It's what we're going to have to do," Laura said firmly. "I need to go over to the Persephone, and you two are coming with me."
"What I don't understand," Zak said, "is why you did this." He gestured at himself.
"Why we made Actives?" Bill said. "It's really helped the Fleet."
"No. Why you brought back me," Zak said. "I mean, what would you need me for?"
"You even have to ask that?" Bill said, his voice rough.
"Yeah, I do," Zak said, "because what you're doing – the Actives - makes sense to me. But I'm not the kind of person you should be bringing back. You've got plenty of pilots, and I'm not someone that can save lives. That's not false modesty- it's just that's what I am. I'm a pilot."
"It's a valid question," Lee agreed. His face was still pale, and he was playing with a little figurine that sat on the table. "Not that I'm not glad to see you," he amended hastily. "Or hear you. Or whatever it is. But why did you do it?" he asked Bill.
"I didn't," Bill admitted. "It was an accident. Luck. Gods. Whatev-"
"Gods?" Zak snorted. "Since when do you believe in the Gods?"
"I didn't say I did," Bill said. "But I no longer dismiss the possibility."
"You," Zak said, eyes widening. "You're finally understanding faith?"
"I've always understood it," Bill said. "I've just never had it."
"Right," Zak said. An awkward silence descended for a moment. Then Zak cleared his throat. "What about Mom?" he asked. "Did she make it off?"
He already knew the answer; Bill could see it in his face. But the tenseness in his shoulders and the way his fingers twitched meant that he was still hoping against hope that she did. "No," he said, before he could dwell on it. "Most people didn't."
Zak deflated, but he nodded. "Yeah. Guess I'm lucky that you two and Kara made it off." He turned to Lee. "How… how was Mom?"
"Good," Lee said stiffly. "She was going to get married."
"No. Someone she met later."
It took Zak a minute to process that. "What about you?" he asked Lee. "Did you ever marry?"
"After the attacks," Lee said. "Her name was Dee."
Zak brightened at that news. "Can I meet her?" he asked, leaning forward.
Lee's face went stony. "No. She's dead. She committed suicide."
The words hit an unhealed would deep inside of Bill, and he closed his eyes, trying to shut out the image of Dee under that sheet, and the damage the gun had done. Of all the failures he had racked up on this trip, Dee hurt the most. The guilt threatened to rise up and consume him, and he pushed it back down ruthlessly and opened his eyes.
Zak was crying.
Bill stared. It wasn't noisy sobs, or even anything overt. There were just silent tears tracing their way down his face as he struggled for something to say to Lee. Lee looked worried as well.
There was something about the way he said it that didn't sound like Zak at all, and it hit Bill again like a maglev train that this was Gaeta. Gaeta, who had been Dee's best friend for years, who had served as Dee's witness when she'd married Lee. Who had sat a long, lonely vigil outside the morgue, some little memory reminded him in a whisper.
"I'm sorry," Zak said, wiping at his face. "I mean, it's horrible news, and I'm really sorry to hear that, Lee, but I don't know why I'm…" he stared at his hands, and then shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said more firmly.
"Thanks," Lee said, sounding as shaken as Bill felt.
The man in front of them was all Zak again, with straight shoulders and a cocky smile forcing away the sadness in his expression. "I have an idea," Zak said. "If we can get a wheelchair, maybe you can show me around. I never did get stationed on a battlestar. I'd love to see it."
Once, Bill had dreamed that both his boys would be officers in the Fleet, serving on battlestars. And here they were, Lee and Zak, on his ship. He felt himself smiling- really smiling- and he nodded. "We'll get a wheelchair," he said, and his heart lifted at the look in Zak's eyes.
"Wait for me here," Laura ordered Helo and Tigh. "If I'm not back in a half-hour, come looking for me." They both saluted.
Laura strode through the halls of the Persephone. The effect was slightly marred by the slower pace she needed to move at, but there was no mistaking a very crucial fact: the President of the Colonies was pissed.
Adelle's private quarters were next to the Actives' room. Laura threw the door open without knocking. Adelle was sitting at a desk in a small room, writing something out in longhand, her hand supporting her forehead. The tiny room was neatly arranged, with a thick, beautiful comforter on the bed and a nearly-empty bottle of perfume glistening on the dresser. The light was not as harsh in this room as it was on Colonial One or Galactica, and a small tea service sat on the end table.
"President Roslin," Adelle said, rising to her feet gracefully. "How lovely to see you. To what do I owe this intrusion?" The words were polite, but Laura could hear the steel beneath her tone.
"I gave very explicit orders that Zak Adama was not to be loaded into an Active," Laura said.
"So you did," Adelle said, with a touch of a smile. "I hadn't realized that you were operating under the perception that you were giving us orders."
Laura had expected something like this, but it still was disarming to actually hear it. Nevertheless, her blood burned with the promise of combat, and she crossed her arms. "I am the President of the Colonies," she said. "And this was done in conjunction with the Admiral of the Fleet. I was not aware that we needed to be more explicit."
Adelle shrugged. "Technically, I could say I don't recall voting for you. However, I did, when you ran against Baltar." She smiled, a very cold expression. "I am not a philanthropist, President Roslin. I am a businesswoman. And yes, the Agency worked for the Caprican government on numerous occasions. Our work is impeccable, and as you might imagine, our rates are extremely high. We don't do our work because it entertains us, Madame President. This is business."
"Business," Laura said. "You are the one operating under interesting presumptions, if you think that anything in the Fleet is 'business as usual.'" She looked around the room again. Although there were small luxuries, Laura suspected that Adelle had them because she had never been down to New Caprica, not because she was a trader on the black market. "What are you hoping to gain from us? You don't show the signs of someone buying into the decadence-at-the-end-of-the-world lifestyle."
"No, you do have a point," Adelle said with a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "If I presented you with a bill, there wouldn't be enough cubits left in the Fleet to even cover a fraction of that. And it wouldn't matter, because cubits are merely scraps of shiny metal these days. But once we arrive on a planet, there will be more that will be of interest and use to me."
Adelle moved to pour tea. Without asking, she poured a cup for Laura as well. The water steamed as she poured it into the cups, and the scent of algae with a hint of cinnamon filled the air. "I realize, of course, it does leave the government in a very uncomfortable position," Adelle said, sitting back down and crossing her legs. "Please, Laura, sit." Laura sank into a chair. "And believe me, I do understand your discomfort. It's not a position I would much like to be in. Unfortunately, not knowing what sort of planet we will end up on makes it very difficult for me to be specific."
"Be specific anyway," Laura said firmly. "I'm not unreasonable. You have done humanity a great service so far, and you do deserve to be compensated for it. But you can understand the fact that I don't like favors being held over my head when I hold so many people in my hands."
"No, I do appreciate that." Adelle settled back. "While our economic system is in turmoil and there's not much in the way of comforts to be had at this time, I would expect that once we find a habitable planet, I would be able to secure suitable housing as soon as possible. I do despise camping, and the sooner that I have indoor plumbing and a hot shower, the happier I will be. And the same goes for Topher, Victor, and Sierra."
Laura eyed her suspiciously. "That can't be all."
"Hardly," Adelle laughed. "But asking for plum work assignments will be unnecessary. All four of us will be able to work any job we wish; you would be a fool to assign minds like ours to simple drudgery."
Laura couldn't deny the truth of that. "You're not asking for a position in the government?" she said. "Given how many political and social experts you've worked up for me to examine, I can't help thinking that you might have a leaning in that direction."
Adelle arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps," she said. "It depends on what sort of planet we find and who is in charge. Frankly, if we find another New Caprica, I want nothing to do with it." She smiled. "Laura, please relax. Whatever I ask for, I doubt it will be something you will not willingly give. Not after what you've given others."
For a moment, Laura almost found herself smiling. But then she remembered what she'd left in Bill's study, and she steeled herself again. "And Zak Adama?" she asked.
Adelle shrugged. "Isn't there anyone who died that you'd like to see again, after your pet Cylons destroyed the world? I know I certainly have a list. When Topher told me that that was indeed the Admiral's son…."
"Out of the kindness of your heart?" Laura asked suspiciously. "You just informed me that you are a businesswoman."
"An exception that proves the rule," Adelle said. "I wouldn't have agreed to it if I'd had a specific imprint."
Laura took a sip of tea to disguise her thought process. She wasn't naïve enough to believe Adelle wholly, that imprinting Zak Adama onto Gaeta was a simple, innocent act of magnanimity. DeWitt had an agenda, but Laura couldn't figure out how exactly Zak would play into whatever agenda she could fathom.
"Do you anticipate any problems with removing Zak Adama from our Active?" she asked.
Adelle looked so surprised that Laura judged her reaction genuine. "Of course not," she said. "We have done this before. We've had one or two instances where the person imprinted on the Active tried to evade being taken back and led the handler on a merry chase, but in this case, with Gaeta at a severe physical disadvantage, I don't anticipate any problems."
That was a small comfort. Laura sighed. "All right," she said. She put her tea cup down firmly. "I want Zak Adama out of Gaeta's body by nine o'clock tonight."
"Of course," Adelle said. "Just make sure Helo has him here by then."
Laura nodded and stood up. "Thank you for the tea," she said stiffly, and then let herself out before Adelle could do so.
"I don't like this," Saul informed Helo.
"You think I do?" Helo leaned against the wall, checking his sidearm.
"As if we don't have enough problems. We don't need ghosts," Saul growled.
"Ghosts." Helo put the gun down. "Yeah."
He had that voice going, the one that meant he was questioning an order without actually saying it. "What? You think it's anything else?" Saul asked.
"No, ghosts is a great way of putting it," Helo agreed. "It's just…"
"It's just what?" Saul. "It's not Gaeta in there. You know that."
"I know, sir. I'm the one that sees him without the imprint." Helo sat down on the Raptor. "Can I ask you a question, sir?" Saul didn't answer, and Helo took that as consent. "Are you ever going to get your memories back?"
"Wasn't sure about it, but now there's no way in hell," Saul said, after thinking for a moment. "You see the look on Roslin's face? She didn't order this imprint. And I know Bill didn't, either. You think I'm going to trust my brain to these two after that?"
"Can't say I blame you," Helo said glumly. "It's just… Gaeta used to be a friend of mine."
"Which is why he locked you and your family in a cell and would've killed you all without a second thought."
"After I told him I wasn't going to save his leg."
"He's a soldier," Saul said. "That's what happens during war. Sometimes people get screwed."
"I know." Helo's response was cross, and Saul was sure he was thinking of Hera. Not that he could blame him. Everyone had their demons these days; Gaeta and Helo weren't anything special. Helo retreated into a moody silence.
Saul glanced around small workspace where they were waiting. The Raptor didn't actually dock inside the Persephone, but rather on a bay outside, joining up with the airlock. They were waiting in what qualified as the deck on the Persephone, a small workplace with two tool benches and a small parts locker. This entire mess with Zak was making him twitchy, and he knew it. Bill didn't need this shit, especially if it just drove him deeper into the bottle. Of course, no matter how this turned out, it was too late. The damage was done.
Saul sighed and checked his watch. Fifteen more minutes. He wished he could shake the feeling that this entire operation was falling down around their ears.
Five minutes later, Laura Roslin appeared, an odd mix of agitated and satisfied. "All right," she said. "I told Adelle she's got until nine tonight to get Zak out of Gaeta's body." Helo looked up at that. "Now let's get Zak away from Bill."
"You really think she's going to do it?" Saul asked.
"Yes. I do." Laura spoke with a determined confidence. "Let's go."
There were glares as the made their way around the Galactica, and it took Bill a few moments to remember why. The rest of the crew wasn't seeing Zak; they were seeing Gaeta. He ignored them and continued on, pushing the chair.
"Gods," Zak sighed, reaching out from his wheelchair and touching one of the battered walls. "I would have loved a chance to serve on one of these things. Even one as old as Galactica."
"You should have seen the Pegasus," Lee put in from beside him. "Now that was a ship."
Zak frowned. "Funny thing is, I did," he said.
"Topher made a few patches for the imprints," Bill explained to Lee, "so they remember what's happened since the Colonies and don't get lost in a panic attack when they realize what's happened."
Lee nodded, but Zak wasn't really listening. Instead, he looked back up at Bill, smiling the mischievous smile he'd always given before he asked for something he knew his parents would refuse. "So, is there any chance a nugget can see the CIC?" he asked. "Or doesn't being the Admiral's dead son come with any privileges at all?"
"Maybe we shouldn't," Lee said. "You saw how he reacted when we said…" he mouthed the word Dee at Bill. "The CIC was Gaeta's world."
"Come on, big brother," Zak teased. "I promise I won't touch anything or blow anything up."
"We can do it," Bill said. "We won't go in; we'll just stand in the door."
"It's a bad idea," Lee muttered, but he didn't object any more.
"Just wait," Zak said. "I fully intend on using my privilege to see where the Quorum meets next. And the pilots' ready room. That's a place I never got to go. I think I-"
He said more, but Bill wasn't hearing it. This had been a bad idea, and the reason why was coming down the hall right now, and then stopping in his tracks.
"Sir," Hoshi said stiffly, his eyes on the man in the wheelchair. "I wasn't aware you were bringing a new navigator in."
"Oh, I'm not a navigator," Zak said easily, with his characteristic friendliness. "I'm Zak." He extended his hand. "Zak Adama."
Hoshi stared at it, and then looked up at Bill. Then before anyone could say a word, he spun on his heel and headed the other way down the hall, as fast as he could without running.
"Frak," Bill said.
"What happened?" Zak asked.
"Dad, this is a bad idea," Lee said. "Too many other people in there are going to react to Gaeta. Let's just go to the ready room, put everything in order, and get Helo."
Lee was right; some level of Bill acknowledged that. But he looked down at Zak, looking up at him with confusion but excitement and gratitude, and the pull of that was too strong. He put his hand on Zak's shoulder. "This is my son. I have a chance to put our family back together, even if it's just for a little while."
"By tearing another man's family apart," Lee pointed out.
Bill snorted. "That family was torn apart when two of them mutinied," he pointed out. "That's not my fault."
Lee looked down the corridor Hoshi had disappeared down. "Someone should talk to him."
"So go ahead."
Lee glared for a long moment angrily, then spun and walked away, his fists clenched at his sides. Bill stared after him, anger rising. He found himself reaching for the flask he kept in his jacket.
"You know," Zak said quietly, before Bill could pull the flask out, "I know I'm not real."
"What?" He looked down at the man in the wheelchair.
"I know I'm not real. I feel real. I know I'm me, and I feel like myself. But when I look in the mirror- and I have seen a mirror- that's not me looking back. And I know it. Even sitting right here… I want to go through that door, and I have no idea why. I don't give a frak about the CIC." He looked down at his body, and then back up at Bill. "Who am I?"
"You're Zak. You're my son." Zak's eyes stayed fastened on him, and Bill sighed. "His name was Felix Gaeta. He was my tactical officer, until he committed mutiny. He took my ship."
"And your ship has always been the most important thing to you," Zak muttered, looking away towards the CIC door. It was Gaeta talking again, Bill knew it, but it cut deeply.
"No. It hasn't." Bill put his hand on Zak's shoulder. "But I've been made aware it seemed that way." He sighed. "You wanted to see the ready room?"
"Yeah. Let's go there instead."
Bill nodded and took the wheelchair handles, turning them away from the CIC. But as he headed down the hall, Gaeta looked over his shoulder one more time.
"What do you think?" Sharon asked, kneeling down beside Figurski.
"I think the whole damn thing is ready for the junk heap, Lieutenant," Figurski said, sighing with frustration. "But I think we can replace the fuel lines and that will help for a bit. You've got a lot of coke built up in there."
"Great," Sharon sighed heavily. "Do we even have fuel line left?"
"We're out of the polymeric stuff," Figurski said. "But I think I can rig you something from stainless steel tubing. It won't last as long- the steel tends to catalyze the reaction- but it will keep you flying for a little longer."
"Let's do it then," Sharon agreed.
Figurski nodded, and then looked up. "You looking for me, Lieutenant?" he asked the intruder.
"No, actually. I'm looking for Lieutenant Agathon." Sharon recognized the voice before she even turned around, and closed her eyes. It had only been a matter of time, she supposed.
"Lieutenant Hoshi," she said, standing up. She turned around to face him and almost drew back at the expression on his face. His eyes were angry and his lips were pressed together so tightly that the skin around them was white. "What do you need?"
He glared at Figurski for a long moment, until Figurski muttered something about checking the supplies and disappeared. Then he pulled her against the Raptor. "I need to see Zarek."
Sharon's eyes narrowed. "And what makes you think I know anything about Tom Zarek?"
"Playa Palacios." Hoshi spat out. "She said if I wanted to see him, you'd take me there."
"Because a reporter is an authority on what I have clearance to do. Why should I do something like that?"
"Because you frakking owe me," he snapped.
Sharon blinked. "I owe you?" she demanded. "I've barely spoken to you. What the frak could I owe you?"
She expected him to say something about Gaeta's leg and Helo not making the jump back, or even her forcing the mutiny on the Demetrius. Instead, he just pulled back. "I had a daughter, too," he told her. "Back on the Colonies."
It wasn't the kind of thing that should matter, and there were a million things she could have said. But as she looked at the naked pain on his face and felt the guilt shoot through her, she knew it mattered. It mattered more than any other argument he could have prepared. "We'll need a launch code."
"I've got one."
"I won't have anything to do with Zarek. He nearly killed my daughter."
"Fair enough," Hoshi said. "All I'm asking is to get there."
Sharon nodded. "All right. Get in."
The ready room was empty. Zak's face lit up as they entered it, and he looked around like a pilgrim in a temple. Bill watched him, remembering that long-gone thrill of reporting to the ready room for the first time. Zak took control of the chair himself and wheeled around, looking at the podium, the displays, and the front row of chairs. He touched the leather reverently.
"It's too bad I can't take a Viper out," he said softly. He looked down at the half-leg in disgust.
"You don't have your wings yet anyway," Bill reminded him.
He didn't have to think of what Lee had said, about his expecting his sons to follow him into the cockpit; the thought had been in his soul the entire time Zak had been in Gaeta. "What would you do now that you've lost your leg?" he asked, when Zak fell silent. "If you could do anything?"
"Go to medical school." Zak's answer was immediate but casual. "I could get the Fleet to pay for it, I'm sure, and then maybe serve on a battlestar or whatever." He wheeled himself to the podium. His face didn't hold any resentment; it was hard to tell if this really was a backup plan, or if it was a dream that was being squashed to follow in his father's footsteps. But Zak changed the subject. "I'm kind of surprised to see Lee in a suit and not a jock smock."
"He's done his share."
Zak glanced up at him. "His share? He's the Vice President of the Colonies, essentially, from what you've told me. That sounds like Lee's been doing a lot more than his share." Bill didn't answer. "Vice President," Zak said, shaking his head. He gripped the edges of the podium. "I always knew Lee would go far."
"He used to be CAG," Bill heard himself saying. "And Commander of the Pegasus."
"Wow." Zak looked dazed at that. "That's just… the funny thing is, I remember the Pegasus, and I know about it, but…" he shrugged. His hands tightened around the podium and he pulled himself to standing, looking around. He smiled. "What a view," he said. "This is what you and Lee and Kara see… this is what I would see… if things were different…" He ran a hand down the smooth wood. "I know this view," he said, so softly Bill could barely hear him. "I've never been here, but I know it. When you said flight runs in the Adama blood… that you're not a man until you get your wings… you were right." He looked at Bill, his eyes wide. "You were right."
"No," Bill said. "I wasn't."
Zak snorted. "Right. Then why do I feel like I've been here before?"
Because that's where Gaeta would stand to brief the pilots on missions. The knowledge flared in Bill's mind before he could push it away. He told himself he was being paranoid, but between Zak's reaction outside the CIC and to Dee's name, he was having a very bad feeling about this. Zak's fingers tightened around the podium, and Bill realized he was in pain. He moved forward and grabbed his arm, helping him to sit.
He'd touched Zak twice before this, but now, with his and around his arm, he realized how strange this felt. Zak had been bigger, taller, broader than Gaeta. "Let's go down to the hangar deck," he said, pulling his hand away once Zak was seated. "To the Vipers."
Zak's eyes lit up. "Sounds great."
The Raptor was uncomfortably silent. Sharon was grateful; Hoshi's revelation had left her deeply unsettled, and she really didn't feel like talking about it. She remembered that day, when her raider had swept over Caprica and the Cylons thought that they were gaining freedom and justice. She'd thought they were gaining freedom and justice.
"Why did you do it?" Hoshi asked suddenly.
"We didn't know better," Sharon said through clenched teeth. "We didn't understand what life really was, how variable it is. I didn't understand."
Hoshi blinked at her. "I didn't mean that," he said. "I meant why did you help Zarek escape?"
"Oh. Because tampering with a soul is a line that should not be crossed."
"You believe in souls?" he asked, surprised.
"Yes." She looked straight ahead. "And no matter what Zarek's done, he has one. Gaeta, too."
Hoshi swallowed hard. "I don't expect you to ever forgive Zarek," he said bitterly, "but you were friends with Felix. Are you forgiving him?"
Sharon's heart hardened. "He put Hera in danger," she said sharply. "You've lost your child. Do you think you can ever forgive those that threatened them?"
"There's your answer." He didn't say anything, and the words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. "The question is, do you forgive him?"
"I don't know," Hoshi said. "I owe it to my uniform to say no. I owe it to Julie and Matthew to say yes."
"And Felix? What do you owe him?"
"The chance to make up my own mind, face to face. The chance for him to defend himself."
"Guess I can't argue with that," Sharon admitted, and they flew the rest of the way in silence.
Kara was working on the drill schedule when Lee opened the door of the conference room. "What is it, Lee?" Kara asked tiredly as he came towards her. But her exhaustion disappeared as she saw the look on his face.
"It's Zak," Lee said with no preamble.
"Zak?" Kara asked, furrowing her brows in confusion. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"You'd better come with me. I'm serious, Kara. You're not going to like this."
Then why haul me into it? Kara wanted to say, but her legs were already moving. "What's going on?"
"Zak was on one of those imprints for the Actives," Lee said. "I don't understand it all, but the managed to resurrect Zak."
"You're frakking kidding me," she said, stopping in her tracks for a moment. Lee didn't stop, and Kara caught back up to him quickly. "The Old Man ordered this?"
"No. It was just done. But Zak's in Gaeta's body."
There was something so inherently repulsive about that that Kara found bile rising in her throat, but she quickened her pace. "Where are they?"
"I don't know. I left them outside the CIC."
"Let's find them. Now."
The Raptor docked on the Hitei Kan. "He's on this ship," Sharon said. "But you're on your own. I'll come back for you in two hours."
"Thank you." Hoshi climbed out of the Raptor. "I mean it. I know this is a big risk for you."
Sharon nodded, and he lifted a hand.
"Hoshi," she called as he started away. He stopped and turned. "I don't know what to say," she said. "'I'm sorry' doesn't even begin to cover it."
He nodded stiffly.
"What planet did you live on?" The words were difficult and tasted bitter.
She closed her eyes. "I know it doesn't make things right, but I was stationed on Caprica. I've never set foot on Scorpia."
Hoshi nodded, his face tight. "Thank you."
Sharon watched him disappear into the Hitei Kan, and then started the Raptor. She had the uneasy feeling she should have stayed.
The look on Zak's face as they entered the hangar deck was everything Bill had ever wanted it to be. It made him forget, just for the moment, that Galactica was in her final days and made him remember the first time he'd ever set foot on a battlestar, and the sight of the Vipers lined up below him. They looked down from the catwalk together.
"Gods." Zak breathed the word, reaching out and gripping the railing. "What I wouldn't give to…."
"Which one is Kara's?" Zak asked eagerly, leaning forward like a child pressing his nose to the glass.
Bill was about to point it out when someone grabbed him by the shoulder, and he whirled around to face Kara herself.
"Tell me Lee's wrong, sir," she said urgently. "Tell me that Zak isn't in there." She pointed angrily at Gaeta, her eyes blazing.
Bill didn't answer right away. Instead, he looked over her shoulder to see Lee standing there, arms crossed, eyes dark.
"I had to tell her," he said. "She deserved to decide if she wanted to see him or not for herself."
"It's really true?" Kara turned to look at Zak, who was looking up at her with confusion. "Zak?"
"Kara." Zak turned the whole chair around. A smile began at the corners of his mouth and then spread like a sunrise over his features. "It really is you." He laughed, and then looked up at Bill. "And you said she really said 'yes'?" But the joy that Bill expected was marred by something else. Zak seemed to be scanning Kara for something, but Bill couldn't see what, if anything, was causing him to do so.
Kara drew back. "You're not Zak," she said, shaking her head.
"I am." Zak was trying to rally. "I can show you. You remember the time we climbed to the top of the acropolis and sat on the steps of the Temple of Nike and looked down over the city, and you said that the thing about flying was you couldn't see the lights like that from the cockpit? Or when we went to my great-uncle's grave and I sang that song that he used to sing me when I was a kid?" He began to sing. "Alone she sleeps in the shirt of a man, with my three wishes-"
"Stop!" Kara ordered, her face white. Bill couldn't breathe. He'd forgotten that "My Three Wishes" had been Larry's favorite song, and to hear it sung again, but by Zak, in Gaeta's voice…
The world began to spin.
"Don't sing that again," Kara warned, her voice taut. "It's not that I don't…" she shook her head in frustration.
"Kara," Zak tried, wheeling closer.
"Stay away from me," Kara said angrily, stepping back. She looked at Bill. "You're really not seeing a problem with this, sir?" she demanded. "Put Gaeta back in his own body. Let him go, lock him up, shoot him- do whatever you have to do. I'll pull the trigger if you're too much of a coward to do it yourself, sir. But this… this thing… this is not Zak."
Bill's jaw tightened. "It's not cowardice that's kept me from shooting Felix Gaeta. It's necessity."
Kara just shook her head.
Lee stepped up. "This isn't Zak, Dad" he said, pointing at the wheelchair.
"You've heard him. This is Zak." Something was eroding inside him, and Bill clung to it more tightly to stop it from happening. But Kara grabbed his shoulder.
"This is just a memory, sir!" she said, gesturing angrily. "It's a frakking good one, yeah, but it's a bunch of zeros and ones downloaded into Gaeta's brain! That might be a personality or a history, but it's not a soul."
"I've got a baseship of Cylons who would beg to differ with you," Bill said harshly. "And I'm sure Sam would, too. Besides, after everything that Gaeta's done, he deserved to die."
"After everything Gaeta did, he did deserve to die," Lee said firmly. "He might have committed mutiny, but he served the Fleet seven years before that. He got information to the Resistance on New Caprica. He's fought in battles and not questioned your orders for years. And he surrendered. In the end, he realized he was beaten and he surrendered, instead of costing more lives. He deserved to die, and to be at peace. Kara's right, Dad. Whatever is in that wheelchair is an agglomeration of Gaeta and Zak, and that's just… it's not right."
Lee turned to Zak, who was watching him open-mouthed. "I'm sorry," he said stiffly. "I know that you think you're really Zak. I've seen enough of these imprints to know how this works, and yeah, as far as you know, you areZak. But you're not, and I can't do this. You died six years ago, and as much as I hate it, I'm at peace with that." When Lee looked at Bill, his eyes were wet and he shook his head. "I can't do this, Dad. You're on your own."
Kara didn't need to say anything. The way she spun on her heel and left before Lee even finished speaking said it all.
Zak sat quietly, head bowed, and Bill stood beside him, hand on his shoulder.
"What are you going to do about it?" Kara demanded as they walked through the halls.
"What am I going to do about it?" Lee asked, surprised. "This is my father and Roslin. What makes you think I can do anything about it at all?"
"You're Vice President. Make Roslin see reason," Kara said.
Lee stopped suddenly, turning to face her. He looked tired and strained, worse than he'd looked in a long time. "Look," he said, "I can talk to Roslin, but she does have her reasons, and you've got to admit, they've been pretty good ones."
"There have been good outcomes," Kara had to concede. "But a soul-"
"Souls are superstition," Lee snapped. "Or religion. You don't know that there is a soul, not the way you mean. And that," he pointed back down the hall at the hangar deck, "if anything, it's a copy, a simulation… an avatar. It's a collection of data loaded into an organic matrix. But it's not a soul."
"Want to bet yours on that?" Kara shot back, shaking with fury. She wanted to reach out and grab Lee by the shoulders, to shout at him what she'd seen on Earth, to make him see. And he must have seen some of it, because his face softened.
"Look, I'll take to Roslin, okay? But I don't know that I can make her listen, and I don't know what else I can do."
"Yeah. You do that," Kara said. She stormed off. Lee might not be able to help, but she had an idea there was someone on this ship that would listen to her. She just had no idea where to find him.
"Hey, Zarek!" Marissa called out over the noise of the line. "There's someone here to see you!"
Tom pulled away from the line, wiping his arm across his forehead and leaving a sooty streak, he was sure. But Marissa's stance and grim smile promised some sort of action.
He didn't recognize Hoshi at first. The man had actually had the common sense not wear his uniform, and he stood awkwardly, waiting for Tom to come over, his hands shoved in the pockets of a worn pair of jeans. He looked extremely uncomfortable, but as Tom got closer, he could see resolution etched into Hoshi's features.
"Lieutenant," he said graciously, extending his hand as if Hoshi had come to his office on Colonial One. "How can I help you?"
Hoshi stared at his hand for a long moment with an expression of disgust, then took it and dropped it quickly as if it would contaminate him. "You know why I'm here," he said without any preamble. "I want Felix and Noel and Racetrack out of whatever they're doing."
Interesting that he included Racetrack as well. As far as Tom knew, there was no personal connection between Hoshi and Racetrack. He made a note of it, and clapped Hoshi on the back, pushing him more than guiding him away from the lines and to a more isolated corner. "We're on the same page, then," he said. "But just so you know, if Adama finds me, then you can kiss any chance of getting any of them out of this slavery goodbye."
Hoshi shot him a disgusted look. "I'm aware of that," he snarled. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here to begin with. So let's cut right to the chase. What do you need from me?"
No bullshit. Tom instinctively recognized that prose would be wasted on this one; he didn't need justifications, just marching orders. "We need to talk to Hamish McCall- Skulls, I believe- over on the Astral Queen."
"Done," Hoshi said. He glanced at his watch in an automatic sort of gesture. "I'll be here with a pilot at 2200 hours tonight. We'll have one hour."
"Make sure it's someone you can trust," Tom cautioned.
Hoshi's withering glare spoke for itself.
"There is something else I want to know," Tom said. Hoshi raised an eyebrow. "What's Racetrack to you? I get Felix and Narcho, but Racetrack?"
"She helped me save Felix," Hoshi said shortly. "I owe her one."
"Could have paid her back by being on our side," Tom muttered. "You refused to follow us. Interesting that you're so willing to put your neck on the line now just because you owe her one."
Hoshi blinked. "I didn't refuse to join you," he said. "I was never given an option."
Of course. Tom should have realized that. The weeks on the Hitei Kan were throwing him off his game. "What would you have done?" he asked. "If you'd known what we were doing?"
Hoshi shrugged. "I honestly don't know," he said. His face fell back into harsh, determined lines. "But I know what I'm doing right now. 2200 hours, Zarek."
"2200 hours," Tom agreed.
"She looks different," Zak said quietly.
"What?" Bill looked down at him.
"She looks different. Kara."
"She's just upset. She'll come around."
Zak shook his head. "That's not what I mean, Dad. She looks older. Her hair looks different and she has new tattoos and there are lines…" he broke off in frustration. "The last time I saw her was yesterday. Which obviously wasn't yesterday, but it was yesterday for me."
You'll get used to it. Bill opened his mouth to say it, and then the realization washed over him. Zak wouldn't get used to it. He stood there for a long moment, staring at the man watching him.
As if summoned by the conversation, Helo appeared. He glanced at Bill apologetically, and then turned to Zak. "Zak, it's time for your treatment."
Bill waited with bated breath, but Zak just nodded. "Yeah. I could use a treatment." He began to follow Helo.
"Wait," Bill said. They both stopped. "I'll come with you."
I'm sorry that I wasn't there more when you and your brother were growing up. I'm sorry you felt so alone. I'm sorry that you never went to medical school, and I'm sorry you never told me. I'm sorry that Lee had to shield you, and I'm sorry I trusted your mother. I wish your death had been different… I wish your life had been different. I wish you'd had everything you wanted. I wish you hadn't died, and taken a part of me with you.
All words that went unsaid as Bill stood in the imprint room, flanked by Laura on one side and Helo on the other. He watched, his face stony, as the blue light glowed around Zak's head, but this time he was able to hold his son's hand as he died once again.
"Destroy the imprint," Laura told Topher quietly. "And this time, it's an order."
"Yes, Madame President," Topher answered.
The hand in Bill's went slack, and all traces of Zak faded from Gaeta's face. Laura's fingers fumbled for Bill's and she squeezed, but she said nothing more.
The light faded, and Gaeta sat up. His face was empty and pleasant, and Bill looked away.
"Did I fall asleep?" Gaeta asked.
"For a little while," Topher answered.
"Shall I go now?"
"If you like."
"Here, Gaeta." Helo stepped in, extending his arm, and Gaeta reached for it. Helo helped him to his feet. "Lean on me," he ordered gently. Gaeta obeyed, and Helo helped him from the room. As he passed, Bill imagined that he could see a flash of Zak in Gaeta's eyes, just one last time.
Topher cleared his throat. "The imprint is deleted," he told Laura.
It was the right thing to do, he knew that. But Bill still didn't trust himself to speak.
Hoshi smelled like tylium. Kara noticed it as she backed him against the locker. "All right," she said, slamming her hand against the metal, "we're not playing games."
"Never was a game, Captain," Hoshi said, glaring back at her. "What do you want?"
"I want in."
"In on what?"
"I know you're planning on bringing this imprint project down. There's no frakking way you're not by now."
"You think I'd tell you if I was?" Hoshi asked incredulously. "How stupid do you take me for, Thrace?"
"I might think you're a moron, but the Old Man doesn't. If he wanted a mole, he wouldn't send me. He'd send one of your Pegasus buddies. You think he'd believe you'd tell me a damn thing?" Hoshi didn't answer, but the expression in his eyes wavered. Kara snorted. "The only thing I'd trust you to tell me is directions to the nearest airlock."
"And why the frak would you want to help? What's in it for you?"
"Because it's Gaeta. And the only way I'd go against the Admiral over Gaeta is if the Old Man was wrong. He's wrong."
Hoshi's eyes narrowed as he considered her. Finally, he nodded. "2145," he said. "Be on the hangar deck with a Raptor. I'll have a code."
"You frak me over, and you will pay. Even if I'm dead, I will find a way to sic a Two on you."
It was an empty threat, but it made Kara's skin crawl anyway. She shook her head in disgust. "Never thought I'd say this, but gods, did Gaeta find someone perfect for him. 2145. See you then, Lieutenant."
Chapter 8: The Moment of Truth and the Moment to Lie
Stepping on board the Astral Queen was almost like coming home. Tom smirked at that thought, not remotely unaware of the irony. Of course, home for him had never been chicken soup and bedtime stories anyway.
The Astral Queen had been significantly modified from its original usage, with two of the three prison bays now converted to living quarters. The bars of the cells had been covered with cloth, sheet metal, plywood, cardboard… whatever the residents could find to make private rooms. They weren't large, but they were better than what a lot of the Fleet had. It had been one of the first things Tom had done when he was elected Sagittaron representative, especially as the population of the Astral Queen made up about a fifth of the people he represented. He'd never been so grateful he'd done that as he was now, when Hoshi and Thrace returned with Krells, the former convict now serving as the warden of the remaining prison section.
"Zarek!" Krells said, grinning ear to ear as he stuck his head into the Raptor where Tom and Playa were waiting. "Good to see they didn't kill you, you frakking bastard! Should've known they wouldn't get their hands on you. Come on out!" Krells' eyes landed on Playa, and then flicked away, disinterested. Tom climbed out of the Raptor, looking around the deserted docking bay.
"Good to be back, Krells," he said, shaking the man's hand with a warm, encompassing grip. He wondered if his own room was still available, and if his belongings were still there, or if they'd been divided up among the inhabitants. He really wouldn't mind another change of clothing, or the comforter from his bed. "How have you been?"
"About as shitty as the last time you were here," Krells admitted, but cheerfully. Hoshi and Thrace were watching warily, Thrace's hand drifting down to her gun, Hoshi standing straight like a good little military boy. "Had a bunch of toasters aboard playing with the FTL drives. Made me sick, to see 'em crawling over the old girl."
"Yeah." Tom didn't realize how much he'd grown to love the Astral Queen itself until he heard Krells say that. "Know what you mean."
"Should have shot Adama sooner, Tom. And Roslin. Then you might have had a chance. Come on- I've got a room set up."
"All right," Tom said, climbing out of the Raptor. This part of the ship was largely deserted, being a high security area. But instead of leading them into the cell block, Krells led them up the stairs and to a small conference room.
"Don't want you going through the block," he explained, when he caught Tom's questioning glance. "Too many birds might see you, and be willing to work a deal with Adama. Most of us would still follow you to the grave instead of that shit, but when you've got someone sitting in a cell…."
"Right." Tom rubbed his forehead to disguise the expression on his face. The idea that he was at risk here… he'd known that. He'd settled on the Hitei Kan because it was a smaller, more tight-knit ship, and the chances of his whereabouts leaking out were far less. But that didn't mean he liked it.
Krells showed them into the small, dingy room that was used for parole hearings. Thrace immediately took up guard at the door, and Hoshi began inspecting the room for surveillance devices. Playa settled down at the table, flipping her notebook open.
"I'll go get McCall," Krells said, bowing out and leaving the four of them alone.
"You have any luck getting an interview with Roslin?" Tom asked Playa, his voice sounding loud in the room as they waited.
Playa frowned. "Her office hasn't so much as returned my calls the past few days, so no."
"Think she knows what you're after?"
"I'm sure she does, but I don't think that's all of it. Hamilton and McManus haven't heard from her for a few days, either. She may be back on her diloxan treatments."
"I'll ask Layne Ishay if you want," Hoshi volunteered. "She'll tell me." Thrace muttered something about traitors and gutless fraks, but both Hoshi and Tom ignored her. Fortunately, Krells opened the conference room door and Skulls came in.
"Take whatever time you need," Krells said, shrugging as he shut the door.
Tom had met Skulls several times before they had attempted to take over. He looked relaxed, wearing clean tanks and pants and looking as well-fed as anyone in the Fleet did. Tom grinned to himself. He thought Krells might be a little more appreciative of his view than Adama's.
"Mr. Vice President," Skulls said, not looking at Thrace.
"They treating you okay?" Tom asked.
"Bored out of our skulls, but can't complain too much," Skulls said. He winked. "Getting really good at triad."
"Sounds like you're really suffering," Thrace snarled. "Real fine fate for a traitor."
"You forget," Skulls said, siting back, "like twenty-five other ships, the Astral Queen was on our side. They might hate us on Galactica, but they don't here." He turned back to Tom. "Is this about that Agency program?"
Tom leaned forward. "So you do know about it?"
"Yeah." The last traces of humor drained from Skulls's face. "They gathered a bunch of us up and told us that if we would volunteer for this program- have our minds wiped and be anything they wanted us to be- we'd have a clean slate on Earth."
"So they asked for volunteers?" Tom asked, his heart sinking. This wasn't going to help his cause.
"Essentially," Skulls said with a snort. "I mean, really. Once they find a habitable planet, what do they think they're going to do with us? Let us sit on our asses, eating their work? If the Admiral was going to airlock us, he would have done it. Once we're on some planet, everyone's going to have a clean slate." He frowned. "What are they doing to them? Roslin promised that they'd be taken care of."
"As far as we can tell, they are," Playa said.
"Not the rumors I heard on Caprica," Skulls said darkly.
"No." Playa inclined her head. "In all the research I've done for this story, I've found absolutely no evidence of her using the Actives for sexual purposes, which doesn't surprise me. Roslin is ruthless, but she is not cruel."
"Hmm." Skulls didn't seem to completely believe her, but he relaxed a little.
Playa picked up the questions. "Only Margaret Edmondson and Noel Allison accepted this offer, am I right?" Skulls nodded. "Did anyone else even consider it?"
"Nah." Skulls sat back, crossing his arms. "Are you crazy? Look, you think a lot of us wanted to mutiny? I didn't go against Adama because I wanted to. I went against him because once there was a time he gave a shit, and he did what was best for the Fleet. He used to be the kind that would make you follow him to the grave and kiss his feet for the opportunity. But now, all he can do is coddle his favorites, drink like a fish, and play nice with the toasters that nuked our asses."
"Hey," Kara stepped forward, "that's the Old Man you're talking about."
Skulls didn't flinch. "That's right," he said. "That's the Old Man I'm talking about. And that's the problem. You get that, Starbuck?"
"Enough," Tom snapped. "You said some of you," he said. "They didn't ask all the mutineers?"
"Yeah, only about thirty of us. Look, Gaeta had to work with what he had, right? So some of us were in it because we really had a problem with the way things were being run. But others… we had a lot of assholes just looking for a fight, especially after Earth. Lot of Pegasus fraks that-"
"Watch it," Hoshi warned.
Tom rolled his eyes. "Oh, sweet Lords of Kobol. Is the entire military like the three of you? If so, how the hell did we manage to survive this long?" He fixed Hoshi with a glare and then gave Thrace one for good measure. "You two keep the wounded honor and the editorial comments to yourself, got it?" He turned back to Skulls. "So it was just the men and women of principle?"
"Something like that."
Tom rubbed the bridge of his nose. This wasn't helping at all. Roslin couldn't manage to take a shit without looking noble.
"Now let me ask you something," Skulls broke in before Tom or Playa could speak. "When they made us this deal, we were told that you and Gaeta were both in custody, and they made you the same deal. They told us Gaeta took it, and you were still considering it. So what the frak is going on?"
"Wait, you were told that we were offered the same deal?" Tom asked. That piqued Playa's interest as well.
"So Gaeta didn't agree to it?" Skulls didn't seem all that shocked. "Didn't seem like him. Although, if it's true what they told us, and you don't have to think…"
"You'd really give up your freedom?" Tom asked. "Your free will?"
"Like I've got it to begin with?" Skulls asked bitterly. "Of course, they haven't come back and offered the deal again. Hard to believe they only wanted three Actives."
"Six," Playa said. They all looked at her. "When I talked to Adelle, she told me there were six Actives."
"Gaeta, Racetrack, Narcho…" Tom counted.
"Two of theirs from the Colonies. A man named Victor and a woman named Sierra." Playa frowned. "I take that back. I'm not sure… she said that six were intended. She might have meant for the last one to be you, Tom."
"She name names?"
"Get the last name," Tom ordered her. "All right. What I need to know is how much this means to you. If we could rely on you…"
"You already got me in here once," Skulls said, but he was grinning. The grin faded though, and he leaned in. "Listen, if Racetrack needs me, I've got her back. You know that."
Tom glanced at Thrace, and he saw her nod slightly. "All right. We'll be in touch."
"You think that was worth it?" Hoshi asked, confused, as they made their way back to the Raptor.
"Just because he didn't give us the answer we didn't want to hear doesn't mean it wasn't useful," Tom pointed out. "It's good to know what angles we can't attack Roslin on. Damn woman is near impenetrable." Thrace snickered, and even Hoshi cracked a smile. Tom rolled his eyes again. "Really? Matters of free will and you two are making sex jokes at my expense?"
"You led a mutiny, killed the Quorum, and cost the lives of almost a hundred and fifty souls on Galactica and you expect us to worship at your feet?" Hoshi shot back, the smile gone.
"I see your point," Tom conceded, noticing that Playa was hiding her smirk behind a hand. "Come on," he said. "Let's get back before someone catches us and we're finished before we start."
All traces of Zak Adama were gone from Gaeta. Helo supposed he should be happy about that- Helo was happy about that- but it made his nightly job more difficult.
"Okay," he said, in a voice of false cheerfulness as he supported Gaeta and helped him pull up his pants. "Let's take a look at that leg."
"All right." Gaeta sat down on the closed toilet, and waited patiently as Helo got out the salve and knelt down in front of him.
"This is gonna sting a little," Helo warned him. "You've really done a number on this." The prosthetic had rubbed the skin raw and even just looking at he stump turned Helo's stomach. But he scooped up a big dollop of salve and began to rub it on. Gaeta hissed, but didn't complain.
"Gods, what a day, huh?" Helo asked. "Zak Adama. That one's going to haunt me tonight, you know. Admiral won't sleep much either." He kept rubbing, Gaeta's skin rough under his hands. "It's weird. It's not like they did a damn thing to hurt you. In fact, that was probably physically the easiest assignment you've had since this began. And I know you won't even remember this later. You probably don't even remember it now."
Gaeta just gazed at him quizzically.
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Helo finished rubbing the salve on and ran his hands under the water. "So why can't I shake the feeling that what they did this time was so wrong? Huh, Felix?"
"I don't know," Gaeta said.
"Of course you don't. Come on," Helo sighed, slipping an arm around Gaeta's back. "Let's go do your exercises before you go to bed."
The question stayed with him as he helped Gaeta through his routine and then into bed. It wasn't helped at all by the sight of Narcho coming in with Sierra.
"Come on," Sierra ordered Narcho. "Into bed."
"Of course." Narcho clambered into his bunk. Sierra smiled affectionately and patted his blanket. "Good night, love."
Helo got Gaeta settled and then followed her out into the sitting room. "Sierra," Helo said. "Can I ask you something?"
"Of course." Sierra poured herself a glass of water.
"You were a handler back on Caprica, right?" She nodded. He knew she hadn't been, but she thought she was and that was all that mattered. "You ever have an, erm, engagement that bothered you? That you thought was… wrong?"
"Of course. Especially in my early days. It takes some time to get used to the idea that the mind and the body are separate entities," Sierra said. "I'm only surprised it took you this long to have a moral crisis over it. You need to have a certain… moral flexibility."
"Yeah, well." Helo refrained from pointing out that the crisis had been there. "What did you do? How do you handle it?"
Sierra frowned. "You just do," she said. "When you keep see them coming back and erased, and keep seeing that what they do honestly has no effect on them…. If it's something morally dubious, they always give them a personality to compensate for that."
"But what about the effect on other people?" Helo asked.
"I never thought about it," Sierra said. "We generally don't accept engagements that are malicious in nature. It makes it much easier for the government to pretend you don't exist if you aren't running around killing people all the time."
"Yeah." He sighed. "Maybe I'd have an easier time if Gaeta had agreed to this."
"He didn't agree?" Sierra asked, her face darkening.
"No. He… they were going to kill him anyway, and decided to do this."
"Well, it's not the first time." She misinterpreted Helo's look of surprise. "We've been in this ship for four years. You can't possibly believe that Victor and I haven't had a an opportunity to look into some of the more interesting records?"
"Right," Helo laughed, although it wasn't funny. "That moral flexibility you were talking about. They did it on Caprica?" Sierra nodded. "Who?"
"The name doesn't matter," Sierra said, her voice hard. "Most of the Actives were there of their own free will, but at least one of the records indicated that there were people who were forced."
"Criminals?" Helo asked.
"Oh." Helo wasn't sure what to say to that, and Sierra wasn't offering any more information. "I'd better get home," he said lamely, picking up his jacket. "See you tomorrow morning, Sierra."
"It wasn't the last time, either," Sierra said.
Helo froze. "What?"
"It wasn't the last time." He turned back around, and she looked upset. "Narcho. He changed his mind at the last minute, and they made him an Active anyway."
"I'm not. I was there." Sierra's voice shook a bit. "He started to protest and they gave him a sedative, just enough to get the process started. And later, he was screaming."
"I see," Helo said, feeling sick.
"It shouldn't bother me. Someday, we'll find a place to live and they'll put him back in his own body and he'll be unharmed. I've seen it enough times to know that. In fact, he'll even be a little better off. A lot of people became Actives to give themselves time to heal from some grief without having to feel it. But even in the tabula rosa, he still has nightmares, and that gives me nightmares."
"Frak." A thought occurred to him. "Sierra, is Narcho the only one who has nightmares? Or do Gaeta and Racetrack have them too?"
"Racetrack doesn't," Sierra said.
Helo clenched his jaw. "I see," he said. He just wanted out of there. "I've got to go before my ride gets here. I'll see you later." Sierra nodded, and Helo hurried out the door.
People forced on Caprica. Helo didn't even want to think about that, although he could believe it. Especially after what they'd done to Gaeta… and to Narcho. If Sierra was telling the truth about Narcho… it was enough to make even Helo wonder if someone else would be next. But if they were going to, they would have. He pushed the conversation out of his head and hurried towards the Raptor.
Sharon was waiting for him. "Hey," she said, taking one look at his face, "what's wrong?"
"Have I told you how much I hate this job?" Helo asked, climbing into the Raptor.
Sharon didn't smile. "What happened this time? I thought this was supposed to be an easy day."
Helo waited for the Raptor doors to shut before he told her. "They put Zak in Gaeta's body. Zak Adama. Can I ask you something?" He didn't bother to wait for an answer, because of course it was yes. "Cylons download, right? It's all data to encrypt experiences and memories and everything else. So the mind and body are pretty much separate."
"Right," Sharon said, her brows furrowing.
"So where does the soul fit into that? Is that stuff that's downloading… is that your soul?"
Sharon frowned, but it was in thought. "No," she finally said, but not definitively. "It's a consciousness. It's what you said- memories and experiences and thoughts and opinions and everything else. But I think the soul… I don't know. I should be saying yes. Cavil would say- well, no. Cavil would say there's no such thing as a soul," she said bitterly. "But some of the others would say yes. That's our soul. And maybe it's a piece of it. But I don't think the soul can be compartmentalized as easily as the body or the mind."
"They told me Gaeta's in that wedge, sitting on a shelf," Helo said. "But every now and then… I thought it was just coincidence at first, but… I think he's still in there, Sharon. I think he's still in there and he's fighting to get out."
Sharon looked straight ahead, concentrating on her flying, her knuckles white. Helo was sure she was going to say something about what Gaeta had done, and all the harm he had caused, and Hera. But what she said shocked him.
"I know. That's why I let Tom Zarek go."
"You let him go? Sharon- that's… if the Admiral ever finds out-"
"Yeah, well, he's not going to at this rate," Sharon snapped. "Gaeta was right about one thing- the Admiral isn't paying a lot of attention to what's going on in people's minds. He should have figured it out a long time ago."
Helo sighed, rubbing his forehead. "I want out," he heard himself saying. "I can't do this anymore, Sharon. But I can't leave the military. It's who I am, and I still need to…" he shook his head in frustration.
Sharon swallowed. "I know where Zarek is, if you want to know."
"I don't," Helo said. He chewed his lip. Gaeta forced into this. Narcho forced into this. Racetrack may have even been as well… he didn't know what to believe anymore. And to tamper with, to imprison the soul… It was wrong. He sighed. "But if you do see him, tell him where I am. We've got to get them out of there."
Sharon nodded. "We will."
Laura had almost been dreading going into Bill's quarters, but at the same time, she knew this was where she needed to be. She took a deep breath and pushed the door open. She was not at all surprised to see Bill sitting at his desk, staring at the picture of himself with his two young sons, and a drink nearby.
"How are you?" she asked quietly.
Bill didn't answer for a long moment, then put the picture down facedown. "I'm all right," he said. "How are you? How are you feeling?"
"Tired, but improving," Laura admitted. As trying as the day was, she did feel like it was a little easier to meet the impossible demands of it. She picked up his drink and took a sip. "So. That was Zak."
"That was Zak," Bill said. He smiled a little. "That was definitely Zak." She waited for him to say more, but Bill just turned the picture back over to look at it again. "You know, there was a while there… I didn't even see the body he was in. Just him."
"I know." Laura firmly reminded herself that Bill hadn't ordered Topher to do this, and let herself feel sympathy. "It was him. Even I knew that."
"Mostly." Bill looked up at her. "Gaeta's still in there, Laura."
Laura frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Zak told me a couple of times he felt a pull he couldn't understand. Into the CIC, at the podium in the ready room… he sang the song Gaeta sang in the infirmary, but that really was a coincidence. It really was my uncle's favorite song, like he said." Bill shook his head. "But when Lee told him about Dee, it hit him. Hard."
"It's a sad story," Laura said neutrally.
"Zak never met Dee. Gaeta was her best friend."
Bill sighed, rubbing his temples. "Topher told us the original personality is entirely erased. There shouldn't have been anything like that left."
Laura sat down on the couch "I also understand that certain emotions have a basis in biology. As Adelle explained it to me, the mind continues to process some of the more painful and difficult elements, even without the consciousness directing it. She told me that many of the Actives that came to her had some trauma in their recent past that they were trying to forget."
"Actually, did you know that Victor was military?"
Bill looked up. "You're joking."
"I'm not." She could see his interest rising. "He was a marine involved in the Rigel Offensive. The maneuver he was commanding went wrong, and he's suffered from post traumatic stress disorder ever since. Adelle did mention that whatever personality is inhabiting him, he always flinches at the sound of gunfire."
"I thought so. And you know that's why Narcho and Racetrack accepted your offer."
He nodded. "What's Sierra's story?" he asked, finally leaving his desk and coming over to sit with her on the sofa.
"I'm not sure," Laura confessed. "Adelle only told me Victor's. But I can see where she would view Victor's as… less personal than other situations might be." She sighed. "I was thinking that, now that over three weeks have gone by, it might be time to make a few more Actives. More prisoners might be willing to accept our offer now that we can show them what we're having Actives do, and some civilians might welcome the chance to escape from their lives for a bit. But after today, I'm not so sure."
"This was an anomaly," Bill said.
"This was an indication that I can't trust Adelle and Topher as much as I thought," Laura corrected sternly.
She had thought that Bill might argue, but he nodded. "I have to admit, it shook me today, to hear Gaeta under Zak." He frowned. "It reminded me just what we're playing with. I don't regret what we've done, but we need to proceed with caution."
Laura sat back. There was something different about Bill… no. There was something the same- the same as he'd been before Earth. Not completely. Not totally. But there was an echo of responsibility and strength in his eyes and his bearing. "You're taking this better than I thought you would," she said.
"I'm taking this better than I thought I would," Bill admitted. "But… even though it wasn't real, even though it was just a memory of who he was… I got to see Zak one last time. That was something I didn't get before."
That melted her a little bit. "Did you get to say everything you wanted to say?"
Bill laughed a little. "Never was much of a believer in the things I never got to say," he said. The edges of his mouth turned up. "But I got to say goodbye." Laura wasn't sure what to say to that, but Bill actually picked up the silence. "So, Madame President, who do we have joining us tomorrow?"
"We have an overhaul of some of the worn out medical equipment over on Inchon Velle tomorrow," Laura said. "Cottle's been asking for it, and he pointed out that it keeps Gaeta off his leg. The day after is a medical day." Laura sighed. "I almost envy them all. I have the Quorum, a meeting with the Director of Children's Affairs, the Distribution Center… the list goes on." Bill laughed as she groaned. "Not to mention I've got Playa Palacios knocking down my door for an interview."
"Can't put her off any longer?"
Laura turned serious. "No. That piece on the Agency on Caprica in the Fleet News was a big red flag. We have to address this now."
"If they object to doctors and scientists and mechanics, frak 'em," Bill said, sounding suspiciously like Saul.
"I think I need to be a little more delicate than that," Laura said, but couldn't help smiling. All in all, this day was ending up far better than she'd thought it would. Maybe she'd been wrong, and having Bill talk to Zak did far more good than it did harm. It was certainly true about the rest of this program. She relaxed back into the couch, smiling to herself, especially as Bill managed to smile at her. She wasn't actually going to thank Topher for disobeying her orders, but maybe she wouldn't make any more of an issue out of it, either.
Hoshi wasn't a bad ECO. Not that Kara really needed one for such a short flight, but he might as well make himself useful. And she couldn't fault that he'd gotten them a launch code again.
"How are you doing this without Adama noticing?" Kara asked as they flew out of Galactica's hangar bay.
"Adama doesn't notice much of anything these days," he said. "It's Tigh I have to get around." Kara snorted at that. "And I made a trade with Anna Sian in the CIC. I'll get her out on leave to her boyfriend on the Hitei Kan if she gave me a code without questions. She thinks I've got a new boyfriend myself and I don't want to talk about it because Felix was so recent." He looked far too pleased with himself.
"You really trust her?" Kara asked, flipping a lever.
"It's not the first time Anna and I have traded favors," Hoshi said. "The whole frakking ship is falling apart anyway. It's not like you had any trouble getting a Raptor."
"I'm CAG," Kara reminded him. "And a flight instructor. Which reminds me, you're going to fly back."
She had the delight of seeing Hoshi's eyes widen in terror. "What?"
"How do you think I got this Raptor? I told them I'm teaching you to fly."
His expression was a cross between impressed and disgusted. "I don't have to tell you that's brilliant, do I?"
"As long as you skip over the 'look, we don't like each other, but we've got to work together' speech," Kara said.
Hoshi snorted. "Wasn't planning on making it."
"Good. Then get up here."
Explaining the components and controls took the rest of the short ride over to the Hitei Kan, and erased the awkward, tense silence. It also took Kara's mind off the fact that what they were doing was treason. She didn't want to imagine what Adama's face was going to look like come that inevitable moment when they faced each other. But this was what was right. Kara knew that more certainly than she knew anything else these days.
She knew it again when they faced Tom Zarek. They were in the small study of the captain's quarters, and Zarek was flanked by Playa and a tall woman that Kara remembered he identified as Marissa.
"Exposing the technology is off the table," Zarek explained after Kara and Hoshi sat down. "Roslin is granting Playa an interview tomorrow, which means that she's come up with some defense that makes her look like a saint. We missed our window of opportunity on that one."
"If we even had one," Hoshi said. "When Tigh explained it to me, I kept my mouth shut. Someone who doesn't give a shit about the people involved isn't going to object, once they know that Roslin and Adama aren't stealing sleeping children and mind-wiping civilians."
"Right," Zarek said, looking a little disconcerted.
"Guns blazing, then?" Kara asked.
"Guns blazing," Zarek agreed. He pulled a sheet of paper to him, gesturing at some notes. "Now, the key is Topher, not Adelle. Topher's the one who can get the Actives back into their own bodies." He glanced at Hoshi. "Is there any chance you could work out the equipment?"
"Probably not," Hoshi said. "I'm good with computers, but not that good. I might be able to do it with enough time, but we're going to be in a rush."
"That's what I thought. All right. So no one shoots Topher." He tapped a photograph that Playa had obtained. "In fact, once we're in the imprint room, no shooting at all unless we have to. I don't know what kind of equipment is in there…" he turned to Playa. "Do you have any idea of the layout?"
"No. Adelle didn't actually show me anything."
"All right then. No shooting in the imprint room, or we don't get the real people back."
"What about Skulls?" Kara asked. "Are we getting him out?"
"What do you think?" Zarek asked Marissa.
"You'd better," Marissa said. "Look, you've got a lot of people on this ship willing to speak out for you. But if you're down to a firefight… there are people who are going to be willing to pick up a gun, but they won't do you as much good as a soldier. Especially since you're going to need a small, precise force."
Zarek nodded, and even Kara had to admit there was good logic in that.
"We don't have much information on Topher," Playa said. "But it seems like the simplest method to get him to what we want is to threaten to shoot Adelle."
"It's the most powerful," Zarek agreed with a frown. "But we need to make sure he knows we're not joking."
"It's you," Kara pointed out. "Less than a month ago, you shot the entire Quorum. I don't think he'll have any trouble believing it."
"She's got a point," Hoshi muttered darkly.
"We could still use a plan B," Zarek said, although the annoyance was showing on his face.
"Adelle is very protective of her other two Actives, Victor and Sierra," Playa suggested. "A threat to one of them might be-"
"We'd be better off without them there," Hoshi broke in. "I heard some rumors about how they fight."
Kara had heard the same rumors and was about to argue that they were the ones in the military, but then realized that her companions in this were a man in his fifties or sixties, a reporter, and a bridge bunny. Avoiding a fight might not be the worst idea of the day, even if they got Skulls out of prison.
"When are we going to do this?" Hoshi asked. "I know this sounds childish, but I need to know ahead of time so I can swap shifts with someone in the CIC and get Skulls out."
Kara groaned. "No wonder you and Gaeta hooked up," she said, and was a little gratified to notice Zarek snickering as well. But Hoshi did have a point, and Kara was enough of a tactician to know it. "Night would make the most sense," she said. "The Actives are about the Fleet during the day, but they're all at the Persephone every night."
"They're also in their blank state," Marissa pointed out. "You wouldn't have to have Topher wipe whoever they are first- he could just put the personalities back in."
Zarek nodded. "Right. Forty eight hours?" he asked. "That gives us time to make sure that everything is in place. We're only going to have one chance to do this right." They nodded, and the meeting began to take the feel of breaking up.
"Thrace," Zarek said, as the others began to disassemble, "can I speak to you?"
Kara pushed down the wave of revulsion and nodded. "Go out to the Raptor," she ordered Hoshi. "You'd better review what I told you, because there's going to be a quiz on the way back." She followed Zarek over to an isolated corner. "What is it?"
"I have a job for you," he said quietly, "and it's one that Lieutenant Hoshi can't know about."
Kara wasn't sure she liked the sounds of that. "What is it?" she repeated.
"I seem to remember hearing you're a pretty good shot," Zarek said. Kara nodded confirmation. "If it looks like we've lost and they're going to take me alive, I want you to shoot me."
"Shoot me," Zarek repeated, his face hard and bitter. "Shoot me, and then shoot Gaeta. I'd rather be dead than live like that, and I know Gaeta would, too. Hoshi won't do it- he's too soft. You will."
"I will," Kara said, reluctant to admit that her respect for Zarek had just gone up a tiny bit. "I'll do it."
"Thank you, Captain." Zarek looked at his watch. "You'd better get back to your ship. Contact me if you need me."
"Right," Kara said. She shuddered. Increased respect or not, this was the last thing she wanted to do, throwing her lot in with this man. Too bad it was the only thing she could do that would make a difference.
Bill had never liked politics, but these days he hated addressing the Quorum even more. Lee's idea of a representative from each ship had been good in principle, but the execution still needed work. It was too crowded, with too many inexperienced voices and too much chaos. He was grateful to retreat to Lee's office after briefing them on a search for a habitable planet, the Cylon alliance and the technological steps forward, as well as avoiding questions about the final Cylon.
Lee's office was small, with the same worn desk and chair that Tom Zarek had used. Lee had confessed that that bothered him, but there was no place for sentimental gestures anymore, with resources being so tight. A desk was a desk, and this was what he had at his disposal. There was a small picture of Dee off in one corner and almost hidden by a stack of papers, just like Lee still wore the broad silver band on his finger. Bill looked away from the picture. Dee's face was still hard to see.
The framed military insignia hung on the wall, along with a few other pins that Lee had kept from his military service. Bill smiled and touched them gently. There were also a few pictures of the pilots hanging, as well as a picture of Lee and Zak in their flight suits, grinning from ear to ear. That picture didn't hurt as much today.
There were papers pinned to a cork board behind the desk. Out of habit and instinct, Bill drifted over to look at them. Meeting schedules, policies, regulations… most of it was the driest reading imaginable.
A small picture in the corner caught his eye. Bill bent over to study it. It was a faded, crumpled photograph of Tom Zarek standing with Felix Gaeta. It was obviously taken on New Caprica, and the two of them were standing close together and smiling, Zarek's arm draped over Gaeta's shoulder.
"Well," Lee said, coming in and slapping his hands together with what seemed like genuine cheerfulness. "That went well, don't you think?"
"Why do you have this up?" Bill demanded.
Lee blinked, and then peered at the picture. "Oh. That. It was here when I moved in, believe it or not. It was the only picture Zarek had."
"Would have thought you'd take it down by now," Bill grumbled.
"I did," Lee admitted. He looked at the picture. "Then Kara said something…" he trailed off for a long moment. "She said that Narcho and Racetrack… they're not dead and they're not alive. They're just getting lost. They didn't belong on the Memorial Wall yet, but if they were dead, they would, because of everything they've done before. And the same is true about Zarek and Gaeta." Bill's feelings must have shown on his face, because Lee sighed. "Look, I'm not suggesting we hail them as heroes. Just that they deserve to be remembered."
Bill just grunted.
"While we're on the subject…" Lee began, "what are you going to do with Gaeta once we find a planet?"
The question caught Bill off guard. "I hadn't thought about it. I suppose it depends on what sort of planet we find."
Lee frowned. "I thought you told the other mutineers he accepted the same deal they did."
"That's only thirty people that heard that." Now that he said that, he realized… he frowned. That was how this whole mess started; because he didn't like the thought of killing Gaeta. Gaeta had been one of his kids. Not a favorite, not one of the ones he was closest to, but one of his kids nonetheless. "I don't know," he admitted.
Lee made that face where he wanted to say something, but had decided to keep his mouth shut. Bill decided to change the subject. "Have you seen Kara since yesterday?"
"Briefly," Lee said. "She was… upset."
"I'm guessing that's an understatement."
Lee shrugged. "Can you blame her?" He shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked on the balls of his feet. "She had no real idea it was coming."
"Neither did either of us." Bill moved away from the wall. For some reason, he was heavily conscious of the picture of Dee on the desk. "She'll handle it."
"I know she will," Lee said. "I'd just rather she didn't die again while her mind is stuck on this." But he relaxed. "Kara will be okay, Dad. She's made it this far, and through a lot worse. I'm more worried about you. I mean, it was Zak."
"I know it was Zak," Bill said, a smile touching the corners of his lips. "That's why I'm fine."
Sharon pulled off her BDU jacket to reveal a brown top, and then tied a scarf over her hair. It wasn't much of a disguise, but as long as people weren't staring at her too closely, she might blend in. She slid out of the Raptor and headed out of the hangar bay.
Once she was inside the Hitei Kan, she realized she had no clear idea of how she was going to find Zarek. Asking was largely out of the question. She ducked her head down, because a wrong inquisition could lead to questions that would blow the whole thing right here and now.
"Excuse me, ma'am?" Someone caught her by the arm, and Sharon stopped. When she looked up, she saw that the person she'd bumped into was a young man with large eyes and bright red lips, and half of one arm missing. He recognized her and recoiled, but then his eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"
"Who are you?" Sharon countered.
"Danny Noon." His eyes narrowed. "You're the Eight from Galactica, aren't you?"
"How could you possibly know that?" Sharon asked.
"Why else would you be here without a small army of marines? We're a tylium refining ship, not a tourist attraction."
Sharon studied him. She remembered the story, remembered that he'd been dragged off Galactica yelling that he wasn't familiar with heavy machinery. They'd heard about the arm very soon after, but not very loudly. An amputee who felt that those in power were responsible for the loss of his limb… she had a damn good reason to think he'd trust Zarek. "I'm looking for Tom Zarek."
"Can't say I know where he is," Danny said, a little too casually.
She leaned in, even though no one was paying attention to them. "I'm the one that brought him here," she hissed. "You can tell him I want to see him now."
Danny wavered. "Are you unarmed?"
"No. But if I wanted him dead, I wouldn't be skulking around on this ship myself. I would just tell Adama where he is, and that squadron of marines you expected would be over here in a flash."
He blinked. "Come on. I'll take you to him."
Sharon followed Danny into increasingly more crowded areas. "You must really have him hidden," she said, glancing around.
Danny looked surprised. "Not at all. He works on the lines like the rest of us."
An entire ship of people willing to hide Tom Zarek. Sharon wasn't sure she wanted to think about that. She set her jaw and followed him through the narrow corridors until they came to a room with lines of hammocks.
"Tom?" Danny said. "You've got a visitor. The Eight from Galactica."
"Right." Zarek got out of a hammock. With the beard and the ragged clothing, Sharon almost didn't recognize him. However, he extended a hand to her with the same assurance that he'd had as the Vice President of the Colonies. "Lieutenant Agathon. What can I do for you?"
"All right," Sharon said. "I said that all I'd do is get you away from that tech, but that's not enough anymore."
"What changed your mind?" Zarek asked, raising his eyebrows.
"I changed my own mind," Sharon snapped. "It's gone too far. And Helo agrees with me."
Zarek's eyebrows rose almost to his hairline. "Really? That's fascinating. Please. Come in." He gestured towards the room. "We need to talk."
The Actives' room was designed to be calming and peaceful. The lights, the soft music, the small recirculating fountain… Helo thought that if he didn't have to deal with the Actives, it would be as peaceful as intended.
Narcho and Gaeta were sitting at the table eating breakfast. Sierra was sketching something. When Helo glanced over her shoulder, he saw it was a drawing of Narcho. "That's really good," he said, fully impressed.
Sierra smiled up at him. "Thanks. It's not much, but-"
"No, it's really good. Did you ever think of going professional?"
Sierra's smile slipped a notch. "I think I used to think of it. Before I joined the Agency."
"Why'd you join?" Helo asked. He wasn't sure he'd get a real answer, but he was curious as to what answer their handlers would normally give.
"The money," Sierra said simply. "I wasn't making much as an artist- no one ever does at first."
"Yeah, I think you have to be dead to be a success," Helo said dryly.
Sierra laughed. "I guess," she said. "But I needed rent money, and I followed an ad in the Caprican Daily." I didn't really know what it was for, if you want the truth. I'd never even heard of the Agency. Not really my sort of circle."
"Yeah. Same here. Did you start as a handler?"
"No. I started as a secretary, actually," Sierra said. "Or something like that. It's quite an operation, really." She sighed. "You should see the setup they have for the Actives there. It's beautiful." It should have sounded wistful, but it wasn't; it was a grudging admission.
There was a knock on the door, and when Helo looked up, he was extremely surprised to see Adama standing there. "Sir," he said, rising to his feet. "Is everything all right?"
"Everything is fine, Captain," Adama said. He looked uncomfortably at the low table where Narcho and Gaeta were still eating. "Where's Racetrack?"
"She had surgery booked early his morning," Sierra explained. "She and Victor are already over on the Inchon Velle."
"That's right." Adama looked uncomfortable.
"Narcho and I can go, Admiral," Sierra said courteously. "We need to be in the imprint room in a few minutes anyway. Topher won't mind if we're early."
"No. Actually, I wanted to talk to you or Victor. I have a question for you," Adama said. "Do the Actives ever remember parts of their lives?"
Sierra's eyes flared open. "What makes you ask that?" she demanded, in a voice that made Narcho look up, a vaguely worried expression on his face. She noticed. "It's all right, baby," she murmured. "Don't worry. Finish your breakfast." She turned back to Adama. "I apologize," she said, her voice lower but the calm a thin veneer for the tension. "Why do you ask?"
"Yesterday, I managed to spend a good deal of time with Gaeta," Adama explained. "I know Gaeta and I know Z- I know the persona he had in him extremely well. He did some things that… that person would never have done."
"What do you mean?" Sierra asked.
"How he reacted when he heard that a woman he'd never met was dead, how he reacted to certain places on the ship… One of the memories he reached for…. It's not overly specific, but it was Gaeta's best friend, the place he worked, and a song he sang when he lost his leg. Very defining aspects of him."
"Did you tell Adelle?" Sierra sounded sharp.
"Not yet. I expect a patting down."
"And that's what you'd get," Sierra said. "I don't really know."
"I suppose it is possible." She looked at her watch. "If you'll excuse us, Admiral, we need to be at the imprint room. Come on, Narcho. It's time for your treatment." Narcho obediently followed as she left. She didn't storm out, but it was clear she didn't want to be in the room.
"Wonder if she remembers anything about who she was in the past," Bill murmured.
"I don't know," Helo said, frowning. "She hasn't said."
"Do you expect her to?"
Adama looked uncomfortable. "Have you seen any other signs that Gaeta is Gaeta?"
"I don't know, sir," Helo admitted. "I know him well enough that it's easy to be reminded sometimes. It really depends on the person in his body. Some of them have been a lot like him, at least in a superficial way."
"Mmm." Adama was watching Gaeta, who was still focused on his breakfast. He seemed extremely unconcerned that Adama was in the room, which, before or after the mutiny, was something that Helo never would have suspected of Gaeta. "Still hard to believe it," Adama said quietly.
"Hard to believe what, sir?" Helo asked.
Adama looked at him, and then sat down on the soft chair that Sierra had abandoned. He sat awkwardly, his knees on his elbows, his fingers laced together. His hand drifted up to his jacket, lingered for a moment, and then dropped back down. "Hard to believe that he mutinied," Adama said finally. "If there is someone I never would have expected it from, it's Gaeta."
Helo sighed. "It's been on my mind a lot, too, sir."
"He never was ambitious-"
"Are we talking about the same Gaeta, sir?" Helo asked.
Adama considered that. "All right. He never was after power for power's sake. He wanted to earn his way to Admiral, or to a division head. But I never saw him as someone who was after personal power. Not like Zarek."
Helo couldn't argue that.
Adama was lost in thought, staring at Gaeta. "I know he was different after he lost his leg. But to commit mutiny… to take the ship…" his voice was so hard and bitter on those words.
"Do you think you could ever forgive him, sir?" Do you think you'll be able to forgive me, after I do what I'm going to do?
"I don't know. Could you?"
"I've been thinking about that a lot," Helo admitted. "In all the time I've known Gaeta, he's always done what he thought was right, even when it cost him personally. Like with the election, or on New Caprica, or on the Demetrius. What he did wasn't right, but I think he really thought it was."
"That in no way justifies what he did."
"I know." Helo looked at Gaeta, who was still ignoring the conversation. "So I can't forgive him as a soldier. But as a friend… I think maybe I could."
"Your capacity for forgiveness has always been astounding," Adama said, standing up. "That's not a compliment, Captain."
"I didn't take it as one," Helo said. He looked at his watch. "Narcho and Sierra should be done, sir. We need to get to the imprint room."
"All right. I'll see you at 1000 hours for a briefing."
"Yes, sir." Helo watched Adama go, and his throat closed. He'd had some crazy hope that he'd be able to convince Adama right now, and they wouldn't have to go through with this, but Adama didn't seem like he was going to give in. He sighed. "I don't know if I could ever forgive you," he told Gaeta. "It really depends on what you'd say. Guess we're going to find out soon enough, aren't we?" Gaeta just looked mildly confused. "Yeah. Oh well. Come on. It's time for your treatment."
"She's a Cylon," Marissa said disapprovingly after Sharon left.
"I know," Tom sighed. "But I think she's sincere. And I don't have a choice."
"You do," Marissa insisted. "Throw her out."
"I can't if I want this to work."
"Excuse me, Tom?" Danny Noone was back. "There's a call for you."
"Frak." Tom stood up and hurried out of the room and to the phone. "This is Zarek," he said brusquely.
"Hoshi. We've hit a small snag."
"There's a drill scheduled on Galactica at our meeting time." Hoshi sounded cool and unfazed as he spoke. "My absence from the CIC would not just be noted, but could be extremely problematic."
"You're worrying about loyalty to frakking Adama at a time like this?" Tom demanded incredulously.
Hoshi's voice went from cool to cold. "No. I am worried about my pilots and the utter lack of competence of any of the other Galactica officers who would take my place. I need to be in the CIC. And Thrace needs to be there as well. I've arranged with our contact that we can pick up our shipment early."
"I've also alerted Thrace as to the change in plans. We're all set. Unless you have some tightly scheduled government business that must be seen to at that precise moment, sir."
"Frak you," Tom muttered.
"Should I tell the others?"
Tom frowned. "We're on a need-to-know basis at this point, Lieutenant." He remembered their newest recruit. "Except that you need to give a heads up to Lieutenant Agathon."
Dead silence for a long moment, then, "Aye, sir. Confirmed?"
"Confirmed." Tom hung up the phone.
Twelve hours earlier. Less time to plan, but less time for leaks, as well. Tom decided to look on the bright side.
Despite her worn clothes and lank hair, Playa still held herself as a professional reporter, aware of her appearance and demeanor. Laura had to respect that about her. It was a gesture that said no matter how bleak things got, there was still a reason to make an effort. There was still hope. Laura hadn't really expected to see that in Playa, just because of the rather adversarial relationship she had with the press, but she was grateful for it. They sat in Laura's office on the same side of her desk, glasses of water between them. She remembered a time she would have had something more to offer a reporter, but these days it seemed more courteous just to offer water than the algae, even if the taste had improved.
"I am curious," Laura said as Playa sat facing her in her office, "as to how you even heard about this program."
Playa smiled. "Madame President, surely you know word about this had gotten out."
"Of course," Laura said, inclining her head. "The Actives have been on civilian ships, and the sudden appearance of new skilled surgeons alone would raise questions. I'm just wondering what aroused your curiosity first."
"I believe it was when I saw Lieutenant Edmondson on the Monarch. I remembered her face from the documentary on Galactica, and hearing her called Rain Ambrose was a little odd. I simply followed up from there."
"I see." Laura had the vague impression Playa might be lying, but she couldn't figure out why she would.
Playa consulted her notepad. "How long have you known this technology is in the Fleet?"
"Adelle approached me before New Caprica. Billy was still alive. We weren't comfortable using the technology at the time. However, since Earth, humanity's situation has gotten desperate enough that the benefits of the technology vastly outweigh the detriments."
"You don't sound that all that certain."
Laura blinked. "I don't? That's interesting, because I assure you I am."
"I see." Playa jotted something down on her pad. Laura frowned. But before she could say anything, Playa spoke up again. "I assume that I can get exact figures on what's been done from someone else and not waste your time. However, I've done enough research to know that the presence of three Actives has affected this Fleet greatly, particularly in medical aspects. Why haven't you made more?"
Laura relaxed a little. "Part of it is the cost. Money, naturally, is not an issue. But the process does require a substantial amount of energy, especially the initial imprint process, which lasts six hours. We only have one person in the Fleet who understands the technology well enough to operate it. And there is also the matter of spare parts; if something goes wrong or needs repair, this is a very highly specialized piece of equipment. I don't know if we could fix it, so we can't afford to overburden it."
"I see. And then, of course, there's the labor. I understand that three of the Actives in the Fleet are criminals."
"Mutineers," Laura corrected.
"I believe that in the military, they're considered the same thing," Playa said. She took a sip from her glass of water.
Laura sighed. "They are. But let's be honest. The men and women who mutinied…" she swallowed. "They did so because they were desperate. They believed that the alliance with the Cylons was a mistake. They believed… they believed that the Admiral and I had failed in our leadership." Playa was watching her with wide eyes, very still. "The people that are serving as Actives did not mutiny because they were violent or sadistic or reveled in the conflict. Mr. Allison, Ms. Edmondson, and Mr. Gaeta all did what they did because they thought it was what was best."
"I see. You said three of the Actives." Playa leaned forward. "There are six in the Fleet."
"Six? There are five," Laura corrected her.
"Adelle told me six. The three from Galactica-"
"And two of their own." Laura wondered if there was another Active that Adelle was hiding from her. She picked up her glass of water and took a sip, as much to hide her confusion as from thirst. "Their Actives currently assist our own," she said, hoping to distract Playa. "They retain the same personality, and from what I understand, have retained it this entire trip."
"Interesting," Playa said, in a voice that clearly indicated it was not. "And the sixth?"
"Perhaps Adelle was referring to the offer we extended to Tom Zarek." Laura swallowed hard. Her stomach was starting to turn over, and she was starting to feel a little dizzy. "Is it warm in here?"
Playa regarded her with concern, and then pushed the glass of water towards her. "I apologize, Madame President. I don't want to push you past your physical limits."
"No, I've really been much better recently," Laura said, and it seemed like she was talking through molasses. "It just feels very… what were we talking about?"
"The sixth," Playa said. "Who is the sixth Active?"
"I don't know," Laura admitted, and the room was now spinning.
"You don't?" Playa asked, and Laura could swear she was smiling. "You should. You're slipping, Madame President, if you don't realize the sixth Active is you."
Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong, and Laura realized that when she saw Racetrack, Narcho, Victor, and Sierra all come into the room. "What's going…."
Playa turned to Narcho. "Dr. Grayson," she said, "I think the President needs your help."
Laura wanted to say something, but the world went black.
Chapter 9: No Navigator to Find My Way Home
"All right. You want to give this a shot?" Kara asked.
"You're joking, right? We're on a rescue mission, and you want me to fly us over?" Hoshi looked incredulous.
"Right now we're just on a shuttle mission," Kara said with a shrug. "Take the controls." It wasn't so much a request as an order. Hoshi heard the tone and slid into the pilot's seat.
Kara expected him to be timid about it. There was something about Hoshi that just seemed that way, like he was too gentle and uncertain to have the balls when the pressure was on. But to her surprise, as soon as the controls were in his hands, he got that blank, focused look she suspected he had in the CIC, and while his flight wasn't perfectly smooth, it was worlds better than she expected it to be. Maybe this wouldn't be a total disaster after all.
"Not bad," she admitted.
"Noel tried to teach me once," Hoshi said. "A long time ago. Said I didn't have any feel for flying. He might be right, but then," he flicked a quick smile, "Noel is a really, really bad teacher."
The thought of Narcho training nuggets made Kara snort involuntarily. "I take it he wouldn't have been teaching your kid to drive," she said.
"Oh, gods, no. Although we did joke that we'd have him around when Julie went on her first date. I'm sure Matthew and I would have thought no one was good enough for her, but Noel… Noel was one of those boys your mother warned you about."
"Momma didn't warn me about anything," Kara muttered.
"Yeah, well, Noel always said he didn't want Julie meeting a guy like him." Hoshi laughed a little.
"Whatever. All right. You think you can do this docking?"
"Might need a hand," Hoshi admitted. When she looked, his knuckles were white.
"I'll walk you through it."
Their approach was anything but smooth, and Kara had to practically climb into the pilots' seat herself to keep Hoshi from killing them both. They skidded to a stop in the Astral Queen hangar bay in a shower of sparks, and Kara sat back in relief as Hoshi leaned forward over the controls. "If this frakking stunt doesn't land us in the brig, we've really got to work on that," Kara informed him.
Hoshi didn't answer. He just took a few deep breaths, and then got up and started out of the Raptor. Kara followed him, swallowing hard. It had been much easier to think about teaching flying than what they were really here to do. They walked through the halls, both of them stiff and official, even though they'd both worn civilian clothing instead of duty blues, like that would somehow make it not dishonoring the uniform.
"You meant it," Hoshi said suddenly.
"I meant what?" Kara asked. At least they didn't have to walk past the cells. She didn't think she wanted to look at all those faces, people that had betrayed the Admiral and their oath. Not right now.
"What you said, about still teaching me to fly."
"Yeah. I did. If you want to," Kara added. "Narcho's probably right, you'd probably be shit as a pilot, but I could at least teach you to land without taking out the whole floor."
"Why?" Hoshi asked bluntly.
"Frak, Hoshi, I don't know," Kara snapped, because at least you don't bug me about everything was not something she would say. "It's not every day I offer my services to bridge bunnies. So shut up and take it, all right?"
"All right." He kept staring straight ahead, but Kara thought she saw him smile.
Krells was waiting for them, talking with Skulls. As they got nearer, Skulls laughed at something Krells said, and Krells chuckled as well. The sound of Skulls' laughter bothered Kara, not because he was laughing, but because it reminded her of a time that she would have been laughing with him.
The laughter faded as Kara and Hoshi approached though, and Skulls' face fell into serious lines. "We ready?" he asked.
"We're ready." Kara tossed him a gun. "Let's go do this thing."
"Good luck," Krells said, and then patted Skulls on the back. "I'll pray for you and your friend."
"Thanks," Skulls said, and Kara realized he was really worried about this. With good cause. For the first time, she realized that if they failed and the Admiral was mad enough, he'd be likely to put them all in that chair. The thought made her blood run cold.
"Come on," she ordered the two men. "We've only got one chance to get this right. Let's go get our people back."
Gaeta was quiet. Or, more accurately, Brother Argyros was quiet. He was sitting in the Raptor next to Helo, fingering his crutches and staring out at the stars.
"You all right?" Helo asked him.
"Do you believe in the Gods, Captain Agathon?"
Helo cleared his throat. "I believe in God."
"Ah. It's funny. I can look at these stars, at these ships… and I can see the Gods. But when I talk to people, when I hear what they say about each other, and what they do to each other… that is when I wonder."
Helo glanced at him from the corner of his eyes. "I take it that it was a long day?"
"It shouldn't surprise me that no other brothers of my order survived. But it still does." Brother Argyros sighed. "To hear the grief of the faithful…." He rubbed his forehead. "I should be grateful that I've only endured what I have." He made a face at his lower body.
"How did you lose your leg?" Helo asked. It wasn't a question he'd ever been able to ask one of Gaeta's avatars before. Either they'd been too defensive, or it had felt too personal… or his own guilt had stopped him from saying anything. But this personality was much more open.
Brother Argyros didn't flinch at the question. "I lost it on New Caprica," he said. "The Cylons…"
"I see." Interesting that Topher had programmed him to believe it had been the Cylons, and not faulty equipment or the result of a disease or anything like that. Helo wondered if all of the people Gaeta had been had lost their leg to the Cylons. Fortunately, the Persephone was coming into view. "Almost have you home."
"Good. I'm tired," Brother Argryos confessed. "And my leg does hurt. And I keep thinking about all those lost souls…"
"Everything will be all right," Helo murmured, almost unthinkingly.
Gaeta looked at him. "Now that you're here."
The words drew themselves out of Helo, like he had no control whatsoever. "Do you trust me?"
"With my life," Gaeta said, very seriously. Helo cringed, but Gaeta looked back out the window, the peace of Brother Argryos on his face. "I'll be glad to have that treatment you mentioned."
"Right." And hopefully, it's your last one.
He was tense as he docked his Raptor at the Persephone. He looked at his watch. Hoshi and Starbuck should have gotten Skulls out of the brig by now. He couldn't believe they were really going to do this, but maybe they'd get lucky. Topher wasn't exactly a morally upstanding citizen, but he really did love Adelle. And he wasn't a warrior; he'd buckle. With any luck, this would be a quick, easy operation.
Helo was pretty sure he'd used up any luck he had a long, long time ago.
"All right," he said, offering Gaeta his hand. "Let's get you in."
"I appreciate it," Gaeta said, leaning heavily on Helo. His hand closed over Helo's, and for what felt like a small eternity, Helo stared down at it. He saw their hands conjoined in a handshake each time he met a new person, when they'd been imprinted on each other as handler and Active, when Felix had begged him not to let Cottle take his leg, when he'd come aboard the Galactica for the first time. The images flashed through his mind in the time it took to blink, and then Gaeta pulled his hand away.
They made their ways through the halls of the Persephone, Gaeta leaning on Helo's arm. "Listen," Helo said suddenly, "I hate to ask, but do you have time for one more confession?"
There was a flash of exhaustion in Brother Argryos's eyes, but it was just a flash, and compassion replaced it. "All right, Captain."
They found themselves in the conference room across from the imprint room. It was tiny and surprisingly empty, but it seemed appropriate. "What can I do for you, my son?" Brother Argryos asked, once he was seated.
Now that they were here, Helo was wondering if this was the best idea. But he sat down across from the brother and looked at his face.
He remembered Felix from the days before the attacks, when he'd worn his hair short and never had a button misbuttoned or a smear on his shoes. He'd had a gleeful smile then, even if it rarely showed itself, and he'd been young. Competent, professional, decisive, and confident, but young just the same. Now the man across from him had longer, wild curly hair, streaked with gray at the temples. There were lines by his eyes and wrinkles in his clothing, and the exhaustion and despair seemed to haunt any personality that inhabited his body.
"I have a friend," Helo heard himself saying. "Felix. He's been a friend for… God knows how long. I don't." Brother Argryos nodded. "We weren't the best of friends. We weren't always real close and we'd go days without really speaking, but we were friends."
"Is he dead?"
"No. But we were on a mission together… trying to find Earth. And everything went wrong. We thought the captain… we really thought that she'd gone over the edge. That she wasn't commanding rationally any more, and that she was putting us all at risk. And so we tried to remove her from command. And when we tried, Felix got shot.
"He lived. It was just a shot in the leg. But we were on a sewage ship and light years away from the Fleet, and we were chasing clues towards Earth. I had to make a choice- a chance at Earth, or get Felix back to the Galactica in time to save his leg. I chose Earth."
Brother Argryos looked down at his own leg. "I can see where that would be a difficult decision," he said neutrally.
"I don't regret that decision," Helo said. "I did what I had to do. I can handle that. But what I do regret is how I handled everything after." He looked Gaeta right in the eyes. "I never went down to sickbay to see how he was doing. I never told the Admiral what had happened. I never offered to help, or offered comfort, or even frakking apologized. I just acted like he didn't exist, because it was easier than facing my own guilt. I left him alone, and I kept turning away because when I looked at him I didn't see my friend- I just saw how I had failed him. And he just….
"Racetrack told me what they found on that Raptor that he was on. That they found five doses of morpha. He was an addict."
"All amputees are moprha addicts at some time," Brother Argryos interrupted. "It is a highly addictive drug. Do not blame yourself for that."
"But I should have seen it. I should have known. And then when Dee shot herself… do you know what I thought?" he asked. "I thought someone should have stopped her. Someone should have seen what she was going through. And even though I was in the Raptor with her, even though I saw her that day… I think I still blamed Felix. He was her best friend. He should have seen it coming. He should have stopped it. And all the while I blamed him, and all the while I kept doing the same damn thing to him. I kept not seeing it coming. I kept not stopping it. I kept ignoring him, and in the end, he mutinied."
Brother Argryos sighed. "I'm not granting you innocence," he said, "but you are being far too hard on yourself. We do not control the actions and the lives of others. We all do what we choose. We all have our own agency. It is the greatest gift that the gods have given us- our free will. You might have seen it, and you might have argued with him. But he might have gone ahead and done it anyway."
"But what I've done now is worse," Helo said, rushing on. "I was angry after the mutiny. Very angry. He attacked my wife and daughter, and he attacked me. And when the asked me to help take away his agency, his free will, I said yes. Because I was angry. Yes, I had orders, but I've stood up to orders before. I should have said something. I should have done something before I reached this point, where the only thing I have left to do is to go against the Admiral."
Brother Argryos sighed. "Orders. This is why I dislike the military, even though I comprehend the need for it. Because you must follow them, and so often, following orders can destroy a person's soul. I don't even want to think about what other horrible orders you've had to follow during this war."
"It's not usually like that," Helo said.
"No, I imagine it's not. But this is one of the times where it is."
"I'm not looking for advice," Helo told him. "I know what I'm going to do."
"Then what are you looking for?"
"The chance to say I'm sorry." Helo slid to the edge of his chair and took Gaeta's hand. "What you did… it was wrong. I'm still angry at you for it. All the lives you lost, all the pain you caused, how close you came to destroying the Fleet and what's left of humanity. But what I did back to you wasn't right, either, and I'm sorry. And whatever happens tonight, I want you to know that. And I know you won't, not really, but it was something I had to say."
"I see." And as much as Helo wanted to believe there was a flash of acknowledgment and pain in Gaeta's eyes, there was nothing. Only Brother Argryos. "You are obviously sincere in your feelings. I truly hope that you have a chance to put it right in this lifetime."
"Yeah, well, I hope so, too," Helo said, rising to his feet. The clock was ticking and he needed to get Felix back into that tabula rosa state, hopefully for the last time. "Come on. It's time for your treatment."
"Right. That treatment." Brother Argryos struggled to stand, and Helo leaned over to catch him by the arm.
When they opened the door to the conference room, they found Adelle and Topher right outside. "Captain Agathon," Adelle said. She was surprised, but she covered it well. "I didn't realize you were back."
"Yeah, well, we got back early," he said. "And Brother Argryos is ready for his treatment."
"Yes. I'm sure." Adelle looked directly at Gaeta. "The seeds of the tomato grow into plants."
"What?" Helo asked, but Gaeta suddenly snapped into attention as best he could.
"Have you secured the perimeter?" Gaeta asked. "Are we ready to go?"
"Ready, Major," Adelle said, a smile toying at the edge of her lips. She handed Gaeta a gun, and he dropped one crutch and took it.
Helo's eyes widened. "What the frak is going on?" he asked. He turned to Topher, who shrugged.
"It's a nice little trick we had up our sleeves," Topher said, in a voice that sounded more like he was bragging than remotely ashamed.
Adelle nodded at Gaeta, who turned and aimed the gun at Helo. "Hands above your head, Captain. And on your knees."
"Wait a minute. I-"
"I said NOW!" Gaeta roared in a voice that must have rang through the CIC when he took over. He cocked the gun. Helo looked to Adelle and Topher. Adelle's arms were crossed, and all the amusement in her face was gone. But what made Helo shiver was the serious look on Topher's face as well. There was no humor, no good nature, nothing. Whatever this was, Topher was just as serious as Adelle.
Helo sank to his knees. Just a few minutes, and the cavalry would be here.
"Keep him there," Adelle ordered Gaeta. "Until the others arrive. We only need a few minutes."
"I'll go get them. Topher, get the chair warmed up."
Adelle disappeared into the Actives' room, and Helo held his breath. And somehow, he wasn't surprised when she emerged with Playa Palacios. What was a surprise was that they had Laura Roslin between them, bound and struggling.
Tom sat in the back of the Raptor, his knees almost up to his chest, gripping his gun. They were approaching the Persephone from a different angle this time, but he'd know that small, inconspicuous ship anywhere. He shoved the memory down and braced himself, checking his gun.
Next to him, Athena was chewing on her lip. He didn't really like the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder with a Cylon, but they needed all the help they could get. And even Tom had to admit that if there was a Cylon in the Fleet he should trust, it was this one. If nothing else, Felix said that she'd had nothing to do with New Caprica and been in her own prison cell for the bulk of it.
Gods, Adama was the king of Stockholm's Syndrome if he could inspire loyalty in a woman he locked up for over a year.
Skulls had his head tipped back and his eyes closed, and up front the comedy duo of Thrace and Hoshi were arguing. Playa and the crew from the Hitei Kan had all bailed out on account of supposedly being unable to fire a weapon; Tom suspected they just weren't willing to die for this. Which was fine- an uncommitted fighter was more of a liability than an advantage- Tom knew that. He just couldn't help wishing he had a little more coherent of a group.
"Something's wrong," Thrace said suddenly. "What's that Falcon X-5 shuttle doing here?"
Tom leaned around and saw the shuttle already docked. It was one of the older shuttles used by civilians among the Fleet. He glared at Hoshi. "You were supposed to make sure the schedule was cleared," he snapped.
"I did!" Hoshi shot back.
"Then why the frak is a shuttle docked here?"
"He made sure," Thrace interrupted. "If Hoshi's going to frak us up on this mission, it's not going to be through organizational details, okay? It means either they've got visitors or they know we're coming."
"If they know we're coming, they're not going to make it so obvious they're waiting for us," Skulls pointed out. "They'd hide the shuttle."
"Unless they don't care," Hoshi said. He pulled his gun out and checked the ammo. "You heard about how their Actives fight, right? And what's to say they didn't do that to Narcho and Racetrack?"
"Well, we're here," Thrace said. "You guys want to back out?"
"No." Hoshi and Tom said it together. "Come on," Tom ordered, leaning forward. "Let's go forward. There's really no other option."
"Right," Thrace sighed. "Fight 'em till we can't."
"So say we all," Tom muttered, and cocked his own gun.
The first thing Laura saw when they pulled the bag off her head was Helo kneeling in front of her, and the second thing she saw was Gaeta, holding a gun on him. She struggled for her composure, and with a few deep breaths, found it.
Take stock, she ordered herself firmly, and forced herself into something resembling calm.
They were on the Persephone, that much was clear. Laura knew these hallways all too well. She was in the corridor with Adelle's room to the right of her and the open door to the imprint room right in front of that. The imprint room was flanked by four people: Sierra, Narcho, Victor, and Racetrack. All four held guns, and all four looked alert and at the ready. Laura stood still.
There was a woman on either side of her. Playa and Adelle. Her jaw clenched. They weren't holding her very tightly, but with the cramped space and the four guards with guns, Laura was pretty sure they didn't need to. She wasn't going anywhere.
"Let's get moving here," Topher said from the door of the imprint room. "Unless the plan's changed and the idea is to make her brain go 'splody after all. Cottle's going to catch on that she's not over on the Inchon Velle pretty soon."
Helo looked up. "What the frak are you planning on doing? You can't make the President an Active!"
"We don't have to, Captain Agathon," Adelle said coldly. "She already is."
"What? No. That's not possible." Helo looked at Laura. "How could that be possible?"
"That's not relevant right now, Captain Agathon," Laura said coldly, inwardly kicking herself for ever agreeing to this. But then, if she hadn't, she'd be that much closer to dead by now. She glared at Adelle. "Is this your idea of payment?"
"If you'd like to call it that, yes. I prefer to think of it as fixing the democratic system." Adelle's expression was cold. She arched an eyebrow at Laura's confusion. "What did you think we were going to do? We are in the business of giving people what they need, and what they need is an end to the alliance. What they need is an active President who-"
"Drop the gun, Gaeta."
Adelle snapped around, and when Laura looked, Sharon Agathon was standing in the hall, gun trained on Gaeta. Tom Zarek, Kara Thrace, Louis Hoshi, and a tall man that Laura belatedly realized was Skulls were ranged behind her, all holding guns as well. A wild flare of hope surged up inside her. There might be a way out of this after all.
"Drop the gun, Gaeta," Sharon repeated, taking a few steps closer. Narcho and Racetrack both had guns trained on her, but aside from a flick of her eyes to the side, she barely seemed to acknowledge them.
Helo was watching his wife. "Sharon, don't. He doesn't know who he-"
"Frak that," Sharon growled, and Helo's eyes widened. He lunged up and shoved Gaeta against the wall, just as the gun went off. They both fell to the wall, and Narcho fired at Sharon. Fortunately, Sharon had ducked at the last minute, and the bullet embedded itself in the wall.
"ENOUGH!" It was Topher that roared it. "I keep telling you people that guns near the equipment is a bad thing! I am a frakking genius, why doesn't anyone ever listen to me?"
Sharon was scrambling towards Gaeta and Helo, and when Laura looked, she saw that both of them were on the ground. Gaeta was unconscious, but it was Helo that was bleeding.
"Karl!" Sharon was on the floor.
Kara glanced at Hoshi, and turned around and began to run. Laura would bet everything she had she was calling in reinforcements.
Adelle reached the same conclusion. "Stop her," she ordered the Actives. Narcho and Racetrack took off after her, and Hoshi, seeing Kara outnumbered, took off after them, making a wild dive and nearly catching Racetrack. Unfortunately, she evaded him, and he ended up almost bouncing off the wall.
Tom glanced over his shoulder as the four of them left, scowling. Laura couldn't read his face. His gun was still raised, still trained on Adelle. Victor and Sierra still had their guns on him.
Adelle smiled. "All right. Why don't we all listen to Topher and put the guns away? Captain Agathon is already hurt, and that's enough for one day."
"You first," Tom growled.
Adelle nodded at Sierra and Victor, who lowered their guns warily. Tom put the gun up for a minute in a gesture of surrender, and then moved to where Helo and Gaeta were lying on the floor, stepping around Sharon. He barely spared a glance for Helo, but bent down and checked for a pulse on Gaeta. That was when it hit Laura: he was here for Gaeta.
He wasn't here for her at all.
A gun fired, but the bullet missed. Kara kept her eyes firmly in front of her and kept running through the twisting halls. The Admiral had to know what was happening to his pet project, what they were doing-
Narcho launched himself and tackled her, and Kara hit the floor heavily. She was trapped under his weight, but his hold was weak. She squirmed to turn over and managed to get a punch off into his face, hoping she broke his nose. His head snapped back with the force of her fist, but he was still bearing down on her too heavily to for her to get free.
"What the frak are you doing, Hoshi?" Kara shouted. "Having a tea party with Racetrack?"
There were a few answering grunts and the sound of flesh on flesh right nearby. Kara managed to push Narcho off her enough to get her foot braced on his solar plexus, and then pushed. Narcho staggered back, colliding into Hoshi and Racetrack, knocking her off balance enough that Hoshi could break free. He stumbled towards Kara, trying to staunch the flow of blood down his face.
"I think the bitch broke my nose," he complained, as they started running again.
"I am never going to let you live down that I had to save you from getting your ass kicked," Kara said. The adrenaline was coursing through her and they were almost to the airlock now. The hall came to a tee, with a corridor off to the left and another off to the right, and the airlock port right there. She could see it, and once they were there, they'd get the Admiral and he'd-
A gun fired, and there was a shower of sparks as the small control panel for the airlock burst into flames.
"You'd better be able to fix that," Kara growled at Hoshi.
"Right. I didn't exactly bring a tool kit on a rescue op, Starbuck. But wait! Maybe, if you have some chewing gum and some tin foil, I can jerry-rig the capacitor to the drive feed and maybe we can short the frakking thing open!" He shook his head in disgust. "What do you think this is? A bad TV show?"
"You can't do anything?" Kara demanded.
"I've got a frakking army knife on me." Hoshi dug it out of a pocket. Kara had seen army knives before- hell, she had one herself- but Hoshi's wasn't standard issue. It had three times as many gadgets and attachments as anything she'd ever seen.
The doors to the rooms on the Persephone were actual doors, not hatches. Kara shot the lock on the nearest one and flung it open. It barely covered them. "Get your ass in gear then!" she shouted. Racetrack fired, and they both ducked. "Do it, Hoshi!"
"One miracle, out of my ass," he muttered. "It would help if you could stop them SHOOTING AT ME."
Kara took aim. Racetrack and Narcho had managed to pull open another door and taken cover. She waited until Racetrack poked her head out and then fired.
"You're not trying to kill them, are you?" Hoshi muttered. "The point was to get their minds back in their bodies."
"Don't worry," Kara said, "they'll be in one piece."
"Forgive me if I don't find that overly comforting after what happened to Felix on your ship. FRAK!" He jerked his hand back, shaking it in pain. "We'd be better off shutting down the circuit. At least then I won't electrocute myself doing this."
"That's it!" Kara said, her eyes widening. "Shut down the circuit! If we shut down the power to this floor of the ship, the secondary systems will kick in enough to keep everyone alive, but they won't be able to work that damn imprint chair."
"Which is what we need them to do." But Hoshi ducked behind the door with Kara. "We can't get the Actives back in their bodies without power."
"But we'll stop whatever they're going to do to Roslin. Thirty cubits says they're putting her in that chair."
Hoshi nodded. "You're right," he admitted. "If they wanted her dead they would have shot her already. This is a J-12 class transport. The main power grid should be two levels down." He looked around. "There's a staircase at the end of that hall there,"
"Let's go. On the count of three." Hoshi nodded and put his gun up. "You run, I'll cover," Kara ordered him firmly. "One… two… three."
Hoshi ran for the corridor and Kara followed, firing back as Narcho and Racetrack began chasing them. Hoshi flung the door open and yanked it shut as soon as Kara got through, and then used one of the attachments on his knife to do something to the lock.
"They teach you that in Colonial Scouts?" Kara asked.
"Right up there with how to tie a hitch knot and singing songs as we made s'mores," Hoshi said, thundering down the steps. "Come on. Let's go."
Gaeta was alive. Tom breathed out a sigh of relief, and then stood back up. It looked like Helo had been shot in the shoulder, but he'd live. He turned to more interesting matters.
"All right," he said, addressing Playa, "start talking."
Playa remained cool. "Separate interests, Tom. I didn't sell you out." She frowned. "Weren't you supposed to be here later tonight?"
"Plans changed," Tom said coldly. "But it does bring up a new question. What the frak are you doing to Laura?"
"Like you'd care?" Playa asked. "You wanted her dead."
"I tried to kill her," Tom corrected. "There's a difference. Her death only would have served a purpose- I would have taken no visceral satisfaction in it."
"Look, all very interesting, debating the moral grays and all that," Topher spoke up, "but again. Cottle. President. Inchon Velle. As in, he's going to figure it out and the Admiral is going to send in the cavalry. I might be good, but there are laws of nature that even I haven't figured out how to break. So let's move it."
"No," Tom said. "You're not putting her in that chair." He was down the rest of his force, but he nodded to Skulls, and Skulls grabbed Victor, putting his gun to his head. "Now, you're going to listen to us. Let her go. And then Gaeta, Narcho, and Racetrack. Back in their bodies. Now. Or we will shoot Victor."
"Oh, calm down," Adelle snapped. "I'm surprised at you, Mr. Zarek. I thought you'd be all for this."
"No." Tom shook his head. "No one should live like this."
"Plenty of people have," Adelle said, "including the Delphi Representative and the Caprican Secretary of State. Not that it matters much any more." She smirked. "Most of their life has been their own. They aren't zombies, Mr. Zarek."
"A matter of opinion."
Adelle glanced down the hall, frowning. "Look, Mr. Zarek, as Topher has mentioned, we are on a rather tight schedule here. And I have absolutely no wish to see Victor dead. This might be the end of the world, but I am, at heart, a business woman. So here's what I'm offering. You let us go about our business, and once we're done we will return Mr. Gaeta to his body and let you and him go."
"What about Mr. Allison and Ms. Edmondson?"
"Ms. Edmondson is off the table. She was quite enthusiastic. Mr. Allison… considering what I'm giving you, I'm going to have to say no."
"What if you had another Active?" Skulls asked. Tom stiffened.
Adelle arched an eyebrow. "You're not mutinying against Mr. Zarek and turning him over to me now, are you?" she asked, a mocking lilt in her voice.
Skulls snorted. "Hardly. I've just been thinking a lot about what Racetrack said. I didn't like the idea at first, but now that I've seen how the whole thing goes in practice… I'm tired of remembering. I can't stand the nightmares and the pictures and the wall and everything we've lost… I can't stand any of it any more. Just sign me up."
He wanted to be an Active. Skulls had agreed to come with them not to save Racetrack, but to join her. Would have been nice if he'd mentioned this information a little sooner.
"I am not in this business for fun, Mr. McCall," Adelle said, frowning sternly. "I do not derive my satisfaction from the process of making Actives, but rather from giving them purpose. And, of course, from the money I am paid. Since money is meaningless, I am looking for other payment."
"I didn't think you were getting enjoyment. I was just suggesting swap me for Narcho. It's all the same, isn't it, for the stuff you're having us do."
Adelle considered. "I see," she finally said. "All right, Mr. McCall. Your offer is accepted. We'll release Mr. Allison from his contract as well."
"There's still the matter of Laura Roslin," Tom said, glancing at her. Laura was still pale, stiff and taut and poised for action.
"There is. But if you don't stop us, Mr. Zarek, we'll give you the one thing you want more than anything," Adelle said.
Tom shook his head. "I would not take the Presidency this way."
Adelle smiled. "I wasn't talking about the Presidency, Mr. Zarek. But I think our goals are very similar. All of us," Adelle gestured vaguely, "have supported Laura Roslin for a long time. But just before Earth, she stepped over a line that should never have been crossed. And since Earth…. The end goal, Mr. Zarek, is not to destroy the President, or even to change her too much. The end goal is to end this alliance for good."
Tom's breath caught. Of all the things… It hit him hard, like a sucker punch to the gut. "The alliance with the Cylons?"
"Of course. What did you think? We were more than ready to follow you when you were trying to leave the baseship behind. When we imprint Laura Roslin, we will imprint her with herself, but with a few important changes, including how she feels about this alliance."
"And the Admiral?"
"If there's anyone that can convince him, it's Laura Roslin."
Tom was silent for a long moment. Everything came to a crystal clear standstill, and he looked at Laura. Laura, who had in some way defined his life ever since the Cylons attached. Their eyes met, and he realized his thoughts were showing on his face.
"This is where you're supposed to say you're not like me, and that you'd never let me live this way," Laura laughed bitterly.
Tom didn't smile. "No, Laura. I'm exactly like you. I'll do what I have to in order to get what I want." He stepped back, putting his gun up in the air. "Go ahead," he told Adelle. "I won't stop you."
"Good. Topher, give the-"
A gun clicked, right against Adelle's head. "He won't stop you," Sierra said, "but I will."
Kara and Hoshi stared at the bank of breakers. "Tell me you can figure this out," Kara said, "because this is not my strong point."
"Of course not. It's not a phallic symbol that blows things up," Hoshi said. He stepped closer. "And yes, I'm aware that a little creative restructuring of that sentence makes this situation very humorous."
"I have more class than that," Kara muttered, offended that she hadn't thought of it first. She crept to the door. The banging sounds had stopped. "I don't think it's going to take them long to figure out where we went."
"Doesn't matter," Hoshi said. He had his knife out and was doing something to the panel. "Give me a minute and…. there. That should do it." There was click and a low hum, and then a few lights came on. He slumped against the panel. Kara glanced over her shoulder at him.
"Don't relax too much. We still have to get through to the Admiral. We need to find a phone, although the Raptor wireless-"
"Don't even think about it." The click of a gun sounded, and when she turned back around, Racetrack had the gun in her face. "Back up," she ordered, "and put the gun down."
"You, too," Narcho ordered Hoshi, who'd set his gun down to work. Hoshi sighed heavily and raised his hands slowly, and Kara swore to herself.
"And why do you think-" Kara began, but she was cut off as Racetrack took a step forward and delivered a stunningly fast crescent kick to Kara's hand, knocking the gun out and sending it spinning across the floor. It came to a rest against the wall across the room, but Kara was staring at her hand. There was no way Racetrack should have been able to do that. Not from what Kara remembered of her. She sighed and raised her own hands in surrender.
"Sierra…" Adelle's voice was taut. "Do you trust me?"
"With my life," Sierra ground out. Of course, Laura realized, it made sense that Adelle would be Sierra's handler. "But trust doesn't matter this time. You are not making another unwilling Active." But her gun was shaking, and she was sweating. There was conflict here, Laura realized, and it wasn't a guarantee what would win; programming or the real Sierra, whoever she was.
"Gaeta was a criminal," Adelle said coldly, obviously realizing the same thing. "And while you get all self-righteous, consider that she was the one that ordered it."
"The blame doesn't matter!" Sierra shouted. "I don't care who the frak did what! I just want-"
The lights went out.
Laura tensed, but the gravity and the air didn't change, and the little emergency lights along the hall floor lit up. The primary power had been turned off, but the backup systems stayed on. Kara. She was sure it was Kara. She closed her eyes for a moment, grateful.
"What the frak!" the annoyed shout came from the imprint room, and Topher came out. "They're not here yet, are they? And what did I say about the guns? Everybody put the guns down!"
"Nobody's doing anything right now, Sierra," Adelle said through clenched teeth. "The chair won't work without power. If you shoot me, it won't change anything. If you shoot Topher, no one- you, Victor, Gaeta, Narcho, or Racetrack- will get back to their selves." She stepped away and turned around slowly. Sierra was still holding the gun, but her hand was shaking. "Put the gun down," Adelle said hypnotically. "Everything will be all right."
"Now that you're here," Sierra said, but her voice was trembling so hard it was almost impossible to understand her.
"Do you trust me?" Adelle asked.
"With my life."
"Good." Adelle gripped her wrist firmly and lowered the gun, then took it from Sierra's hand. She put the safety on and tossed it to Topher, who caught it awkwardly.
"Don't know what good this is going to do me," Topher muttered. "Unless the power comes back on before Adama gets here, we're frakked."
"Narcho and Racetrack might still get the power on."
"With the imprints I gave them?" Topher muttered. "Not likely. But I guess there's always a chance for a miracle."
"So do we shoot them?" Narcho asked Racetrack.
Racetrack shook her heads. "I'm not so sure I want to. They're military."
"How can you tell?" he asked, like whoever he was had worked with whoever she was before and knew she was good at picking these things up.
"Look at their guns. Look at his knife. And ten cubits says," Racetrack came close and slid her fingers under the ball chain on Kara's neck. "Yup. Dog tags. I've got a K. Thrace. Who have you got?"
"L. Hoshi." Narcho's brows furrowed as he ran his fingers along the edge of the dog tags, and then to a silver ring. "So if we aren't killing them, what are we doing?"
"We need the power back on," Racetrack said. She studied the banks. "Got any ideas?"
"Nope. But Hoshi here is the one that turned it off. I say we convince him to turn it back on."
Hoshi gulped, and Kara suddenly had a bad feeling about this. If she was going to create a soldier, she'd make them ruthless enough to get information from an enemy, and that couldn't be good.
"Noel, wait. Don't do this," Hoshi said.
"Noel? My name's not Noel."
"Who am I talking to, then?" Hoshi said. When Narcho didn't answer, he sighed. "Look, if you're going to torture me or whatever, I at least should be able to know who's doing it."
"I'm not going to torture you," Narcho said. "At least, not much. You look like you'd break pretty quick anyway."
"So give me your name."
"Do I know you?"
"You don't know him," Racetrack scoffed.
"Yeah, but his voice…." Narcho turned back to Hoshi. "I swear to the gods I've heard your voice before."
"He's the communications officer on Galactica," Kara said irritably. This whole thing was getting ridiculous. "Of course you've heard his voice."
"Like I know what goes on on the Galactica?"
"You're a pilot!" Kara couldn't help saying. Narcho and Racetrack looked at each other and both started laughing.
"At least they're funny," Racetrack said.
"We have met before," Hoshi told Narcho. "Can I show you something?" He moved his hand to his pocket. Narcho started forward menacingly. "It's not a weapon," Hoshi said. "Swear to the gods, it's not a weapon, okay? It's just a picture."
"Is it a girl?" Narcho asked. Then he snapped his fingers. "I know. You were on TV on the Colonies. You were in that show C.H.O.M.P."
"No." Hoshi pulled out the picture and showed it to Narcho, deliberately angling it so Racetrack could see as well.
"That's you," Racetrack said, surprised, nudging Narcho. "And you. No wonder you know him." She looked back at Narcho, waggling her eyebrows. "You frak him or something?"
"No! No way! I didn't… I'm sure of it. I think." He looked at Hoshi. "We didn't. Right?"
"Right. Trust me, we didn't. The first time we met, you told me a rodent had crawled on my head and died."
"Seems fair enough," Narcho muttered, looking at the picture. "So that's you, I can see that, and that's me. Who's the other guy and the rugrat?"
"Matthew." Hoshi pronounced the name solemnly. "And the little girl is Julie."
"Matthew and Julie," Narcho repeated.
"Matthew and Julie." Hoshi was willing him to remember.
That was when Kara saw it. For the most part, Narcho's posture hadn't changed. He wasn't acknowledging that he knew these people, wasn't getting any closer to Hoshi. He still held the photograph like he was looking at a stranger's vacation pictures. But the hand that was holding the gun- now at his side- was clenched so tightly the knuckles were white.
Narcho shook his head angrily. "Look, I don't know what you want me to think about this. Yeah, this guy looks like me- a lot. But it's not me. You and me… we've never met." His face contorted. "But I swear I know your voice."
"That's because we've known each other for twelve years. You introduced me to your brother. You were the best man when we got married. You were there when we brought Julie home. You stayed up with her all night once just so Matthew and I could get some sleep, and when we came downstairs you were asleep, with her sleeping on your chest. You were over for every major holiday that the Pegasus was docked, and we were family. We still are family. You're the only brother I've ever known."
"I don't even like kids," Narcho muttered, but he was staring at the picture. "But her face…"
Kara couldn't believe it, but it seemed like Hoshi was getting through. He saw it, too. His eyes lit up and he took a cautious step forward. "And for six years," he continued, "I've called you home." Narcho's head shot up, and Racetrack even reacted a little to that. "Come on home, Noel. It's time to come home."
"Oh, come on. You've got to be-" Kara began, but Hoshi held up a hand sharply, and she stopped.
"Come home," he repeated. "It's time to come home."
He was begging, it was in the expression on his face and his stance. But his voice didn't sound that way at all. It was the same voice Kara had been hearing for the past month in her ear… even longer, if she flew off the main shift. It was smooth and steady, the strong, calm, confident voice she heard in every battle and every CAP anymore. "Come on home," Hoshi repeated, and Kara felt it- that strumming joy in her own soul of being called home.
"I don't know what you want me to do," Narcho whispered.
"Put the gun down," Hoshi said. "Put the gun down and we'll go upstairs and get this mess sorted out."
Narcho hesitated, and then gently placed the gun down on a bank of breakers.
"Hey!" Racetrack said. "What are you doing?"
"I can't shoot him," Narcho said. "I don't know if I believe any of this, but this is frakked up and I want it sorted out." He looked away. "I'm ready to go home."
"That's…" Racetrack shook her head. "That's ridiculous," she said, but without the heat Kara would have expected. "That's-" She was cut off by the sound of boot steps.
"Frak!" Kara dove for her gun. Hoshi picked up his own, and Narcho snatched his back up. All four of them braced for the door, waiting as the boot steps grew louder. As Kara heard that there were more than just a few, she began to relax. And when an entire squad of marines appeared, led by Tigh, she put the gun down entirely. "Took you long enough to get here, sir."
Tigh looked at them with confusion. "What the frak are you all doing down here?"
"Turning the power to the second tier off, sir," Kara answered. "Or, more accurately keeping it off."
"It's already done?" Tigh turned back to a marine. "Well, that makes our job easy." He looked critically at the four of them. "Take them all up under guard, but it's Narcho and Racetrack you really have to worry about." He frowned. "But keep a good eye on these two, too. They've got a hell of a lot of questions to answer."
Kara sighed and put her hands on her head, and followed the marines and Tigh out.
They all heard the boots before they saw the marines. Laura straightened up, and Tom and Adelle found themselves exchanging panicked glances. The darkness made it hard to see, but Tom was pretty confident there was an expression of vindication on Laura's face.
"I will shoot myself before I let you put me in that chair," Tom told Adelle. "And I will shoot Gaeta, too, if he's not put back in his body."
"Everybody drop their weapons." Adama's voice was strong and powerful as boomed through the hall.
The marines tried to fan out, failed, and took their positions. One stood over Helo and Sharon, both of whom were still on the floor. One trained a gun on Playa, another on Adelle and Sierra. One had a gun on Topher, who immediately put both hands up. And three had their guns on Skulls, Victor, and Tom. Adama moved forward, Lee puppydogging at his side.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't shoot you all," Adama said.
"Because the highly sophisticated equipment is in the next room and if you damage it, everyone's stuck exactly where they are?" Topher suggested.
"These are trained Marines at close range, Mr. Brink. They're not going to miss."
"Oh." Topher shrugged at Adelle. "Then I've got nothing."
"Because execution without due process of the law is murder," Tom said. "You know that. You're a lot of things, Admiral, but you are not a murderer."
"You've had your trial," Adama began, and Tom braced himself, his heart pounding but his breath coming slow.
"Wait, Dad. You can't do this. Not until you know what they were doing." Lee pushed his father's gun arm down. "Because there's no way Tigh got down there and turned the power off already. Something else is going on here."
Adama looked around. Even in the dim light, Tom could see the doubt forming on his face. Between all the guns that were out, Sierra still trembling in anger, the face-off stances, and Laura standing in between Playa and Adelle, and Gaeta and Helo down, it was clear that there was no simple story here.
More marines approached before Adama could say anything else, and he turned to see the intruders. These led by Tigh, and they had Narcho, Racetrack, Thrace, and Hoshi, hands all on their heads. It was the sight of Thrace, her chin stuck out defiantly as she looked at the Admiral, that seemed to make the Admiral understand.
"Kara," he said. "What have you done?"
"I'm sorry, sir," Thrace said, her hands still on her head but her chin held high, "but there wasn't any other choice. I know what you were doing did a lot of good, but it was wrong, sir. You can't mess with people's souls like that."
"It's not a soul," Topher piped up. "It's a complicated program of data downloaded into an organic matrix that… nobody cares about right now, so I'll just shut up," he petered off, looking around. "Can I just say that if you shoot me, nobody knows how to operate this equipment?"
"Nobody's shooting anybody," Lee Adama said, taking a step forward. "Not right now. Let's just get everyone back in their bodies, all right? Then we'll sort it out from here."
"No." Adelle's voice was stiff. "Not yet."
"What do you mean, not yet?" Lee said.
Adelle raised her chin. "I want immunity. Or at least that clean slate you've been talking about. For everyone here."
"Immunity? You were about to program the President's brain!" Lee snapped. "Your life is a pretty good deal."
"Not good enough," Adelle said. "Nothing in life is all that fair, is it, Mr. Adama? And neither is this. If you want these Actives back in their bodies, I suggest that this entire matter get swept back under the rug. After all, I'm sure Ms. Palacios would have some very interesting things to say about it in the Fleet News. Particularly how becoming an Active was involuntary on Mr. Gaeta's part."
"You have no proof of that," Adama said.
"Oh, no?" Adelle asked. "You don't think we tape these sessions, in case something goes wrong and we need to figure out what it was?"
The Admiral wavered. Tom himself wasn't sure if he was terrified of Adelle, or admiring her greatly at this moment. "I could order this entire lab searched and-"
"That's only if it's still in this lab, or on this ship. There are a lot of places that someone could hide a disk of data, Admiral."
"And how do we know this disk even exists?" Adama asked. "How do we know you're not just making it all up?"
"That's a risk you're going to have to take, isn't it, Admiral?" Adelle said. "But you know the truth, and so do some of your crew." She gestured towards Kara and Hoshi, and then Lee. "Guilt is a powerful motivator, Admiral."
Adama didn't respond.
"All right," Laura said, stepping forward and taking control. "This is what we're going to do. Adelle, Topher, Victor, and Sierra will be granted immunity. All Actives will be returned to their own bodies. Mr. Zarek and Mr. Gaeta will be imprisoned on the Astral Queen. Admiral, I will leave it to you to deal with the rest of your people as you see fit. Then all copies of the imprints of living people will be destroyed, and the imprint technology will be disabled, but not destroyed. A crucial piece will be given to Galactica for safe keeping."
Adelle nodded. "I think that can be arranged."
"It will be," Laura said. She glanced at Adama. "Am I right?"
"That's it?" Tigh asked, surprised. "That's… it's not that simple."
"It can be, and it is," Laura said firmly. "Now someone please get Mr. Gaeta and Captain Agathon to a medical bay. Unless one of you all is secretly a doctor at this moment?" she asked, looking around at the Actives. "No? All right then."
Tom looked down at Helo. He was pale, but he was also struggling to his feet, despite the fact that Sharon was trying to make him stay seated. Gaeta moaned, stirring. Tom exhaled slowly.
"Marines, take Mr. Zarek to the Astral Queen," Laura said. "Before I change my mind. And get the power back on. We have work to do."
Tom looked back down at Gaeta one more time, watching as he opened his eyes. He didn't say anything, just nodded. Gaeta smiled- just a small, fleeting smile, and Tom smiled back.
"Come on," a marine said, prodding him in the back with a gun. "Let's go."
Tom put his hands on his head and obeyed.
Chapter 10: The Last Truce We Ever Came To
The blue light glowed, and then went off. Racetrack sat up, looking around curiously at the assembled people. "Did we find it?" she asked eagerly. "We found a planet?"
Bill steeled himself. "No. But the project is over."
"Wait, what? You said that when this was done I would-"
"We had to end it for unforeseen reasons. Thanks to your service, you have an option. You may return to your cell on the Astral Queen, or you may accept a dishonorable discharge from service and join the civilian Fleet."
"What's the difference?" Racetrack muttered. "Either way you just sit around doing nothing." She looked up at Bill. "Skulls still in the Astral Queen?"
"He's headed back there now, along with Zarek."
"Back there? Was he an Active?"
Topher leaned in. "Remember, Admiral, as far as she's concerned, she was just made an Active. She has absolutely no recollection of the past month."
"I'm sure Skulls will have his own explanation," Bill told her.
Racetrack's shoulders slumped. "I'll go there, then," she said. She was so angry- he could see it in every line of her body "I wasn't supposed to wake up until we found someplace. That was the deal."
"The deal had to change."
Victor extended a hand and helped Racetrack out of the chair. "You don't remember me," he said, "but it was a pleasure working with you."
Racetrack stared at him like he was insane, shrugged, and headed for the door, where two marines were waiting. "Well, let's get this over with."
"We'll do Narcho next," Topher said. "Gaeta's going to be the tough one."
"Why?" Laura asked.
"Because no time has passed," Bill realized. "He's going to come out right where he left him." He turned to where Hoshi was lurking in the door, watching the entire process with wide, horrified eyes. "Get back to the ship."
Hoshi straightened. "Sir, I really think-"
"No. Do you want him thinking that you were in on any of this?" Hoshi shook his head. "Wait with the others." Hoshi obeyed and disappeared from the door.
"He could have stayed for Narcho," Laura said quietly.
It hurt to have to say it, but Bill knew it was true. "Narcho changed his mind at the last minute. This one isn't going to be easy, either."
"I see," Laura said coolly.
He ignored her gaze and stared forward. Sierra helped Narcho to the chair. There was a genuine affection in her touch, like an older sister for a younger brother, or more accurately a babysitter for a favorite charge. Bill held his breath, waiting for that moment when this stranger was gone and the pilot that had served under him sat up again.
"I thought it was dangerous to swap imprints this quickly," Laura said quietly to Topher.
"Dangerous," Topher agreed, "not undoable. It's the kind of thing where if you do it once, no harm's going to come of it, but if you keep doing it, it has a cumulative effect on the Active's brain."
Laura made a face, but she didn't press the issue.
The blue light glowed around Narcho's head, and Bill braced himself. As the light went off, Narcho began to twitch.
It was Sierra who lunged in, grabbing his wrists. "Don't fight it baby," she was murmuring. "It's all right. It's all right."
Bill remembered the firing squad and his ship stripped away from him, and set his jaw.
Narcho's eyes flared open, and he began to struggle in earnest. "It's all right," Sierra kept saying. "It's all right. It's over. It's all right."
He stopped fighting. "Now that you're here," he said, and then added, "what the frak? Who are you? I don't know you- get off me."
"It's all right," Sierra repeated, but Narcho didn't answer her. He just glared, and then softened a little as she retreated a little. Sierra smiled sadly, and then pulled all the way back.
"What happened?" Narcho began shaking. "The last thing I remember you were strapping me into a chair and I was telling you I'd changed my mind and then everything got all fuzzy and…" he shook his head. "You really did it, didn't you? You really took my mind and my memories and… how much time has gone by?"
"Narcho." It was Laura that spoke up. "Lieutenant Hoshi is here. Do you want him?"
"Louis?" Narcho blinked. "He-"
"He had nothing to do with this project, but he has been extremely concerned for your safety." Laura flicked a glance at Bill, warning him not to argue. "If you would like to speak with him, that can be arranged."
"I… Yeah." Narcho ran a shaking hand through his hair. "I think I… yeah." He looked relieved.
"They can use the conference room across from this one," Laura told a waiting marine in the tone of an order. The marine nodded and extended his hand to Narcho. Narcho ignored it and got to his feet himself. He passed Bill, not looking at him, his shoulders hunched and his fists clenched. Bill couldn't look at him.
"That's it. Just Gaeta left, then," Topher said.
"What about Victor and Sierra?" Laura said, steel in her tone.
"No," Sierra said.
Laura raised an eyebrow. "I'm not sure it's up to you to decide. You aren't actually-"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Topher said, holding up his hands. "Ixnay on the abbinblay, okay?"
"What?" Laura asked flatly.
"We have a procedure for dealing with situations like this," Adelle said firmly. "We will discuss it later." Laura fixed her with a glare of death, but Adelle just met it evenly.
Laura sighed. "Fine. We'll discuss it later. Let's get Gaeta back in his body." She turned to a Marine. "Go get him."
The minutes ticked by, and Bill's mouth went dry. He didn't look at Laura, even though the back of her hand was comfortingly against his. He couldn't even say that this experiment was a failure, because it wasn't. Too many lives have been spared, too much work had been done… and he'd gotten to see Zak. One more time, in a strange sort of way, but he'd gotten to say goodbye to his son.
"I thought you needed Helo here," Lee said when the Marine returned with Gaeta, helping him into the chair. Gaeta looked tired, and like he was still woozy from the blow to his head.
Topher overheard Lee's comment. "Not really," he said with a shrug. "We won't be able to fully erase the Active-handler bond, but it won't really matter. The handler is there to keep the Active safe, and the Active is programmed to trust them and to respond to the stuff about treatments, but…" he shrugged.
"But if Gaeta's not an Active," Lee began.
Adelle broke in. "Gaeta's still an Active," she said. "They all are. They all will be, for the rest of their lives. There is no way to undo the Active architecture within the brain. Which is why, I presume, President Roslin wants the equipment dismantled and a few key parts stored out of reach, am I correct?"
"You are correct," Laura said coldly. Bill focused his gaze on Gaeta, because as hard as that was, it was easier than to think of Laura in that chair, and the price she had nearly paid for a cure. The marine helped Gaeta sit, and the chair reclined.
"Will he be all right?" Adelle asked Topher quietly.
"I'll run a quick diagnostic first," Topher muttered back, "but I think so." The chair hummed, and Bill looked at the man lying there. He saw all the people he'd been, flashing through his mind so quickly he barely had time to process them. All of those people – real, agglomerations of real people, dead people - all of them had one more chance to live, to make a mark on lives, and all of them were gone forever now. The blue light faded, and Gaeta jerked awake, screaming. The scream was raw and terrified, and Bill found himself moving in, pinning Gaeta's wrists down.
"It's all right," he said. "It's all right, Lieutenant. Calm down. Calm down." And for a moment, Gaeta was his kid again, and one of his kids needed help.
The screaming began to fade, and Gaeta looked up at him, terrified. "What are you doing to me?" he asked, his voice a hoarse whisper. "I thought you were going to kill me. I mutinied. You won. That's what…" he looked around, seeing the assembled people, and blinked. "Where's Tom?"
"Zarek is headed to the Astral Queen," Bill answered. Remember what he did, he reminded himself as his hands softened on Gaeta's wrists. Remember who you're dealing with. He's not the officer you knew. "And so are you. This experiment has ended."
"Experiment?" Gaeta asked. "You were strapping me down and there were needles and…" he shook his head angrily. "You experimented on me?" he demanded. "What the hell just happened?"
The momentary trust that had been on Gaeta's face fled, replaced by the hate and disappointment that Bill had seen in the CIC. He drew back, all of his own affection draining as well. "You're lucky you didn't end up in front of the firing squad," he said coldly. "You deserved it."
"I was ready for that," Gaeta said. "I was willing to risk it." He looked around at the people in the room again, his eyes lingering on a marine. "Is that where we're going now?"
"It should be." But that was why they had done this in the first place. Gaeta deserved execution, and part of Bill wanted to give it to him. But when all was said and done, Gaeta was one of his kids. He could have done it then, but now the anger had faded just enough that he couldn't. "But it's not. There's a difference between revenge and justice. If I'd shot you then, it would have been justice. But now, after what we've all done…. You're going over to the Astral Queen until we find a habitable planet. Then you're on your own."
Gaeta just nodded. He was overwhelmed, Bill realized, still trying to sort out what had happened. But his next question was a surprise.
Adelle stepped in. "Admiral, if you would allow me, I think that I should take it from here. There are procedures that are best followed in helping Actives acclimate to life after their contracts are up."
Laura put a hand on Bill's arm and gave a subtle nod, and Bill stepped back. "All right." He turned to Saul. "Stay here and make sure they don't tamper with him any more."
Bill left the imprint room, Laura following him. When they entered the conference room across the hall, he drew her into his arms, relief flooding him. "When you didn't show up on the Inchon Velle…."
"I know," was all Laura said. He held her close, her head on his shoulder, her arms around her neck, and he was grateful that she was alive and intact. They stood together for a long moment.
"You're really granting immunity to Adelle and Topher?" Bill asked, pulling away.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to let that go," Laura said with a tight smile. "Yes. I am."
"Bill, my cancer is going into remission. This isn't forgiveness," Laura said, with an arched eyebrow, "but it is practicality."
"I see. And Playa?"
"Playa is too public of a figure," Laura sighed. "She can't disappear, and we can't lock her up without saying why. And I don't want anyone knowing about the fact that I have the Active architecture."
"There isn't any other way around this, is there?" Bill sighed. "How are you going to keep her quiet?"
"Release the name of the fifth Cylon and give her an exclusive."
That would probably do it. "This is going to be a mess, isn't it?" Bill said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"We always knew that," Laura said. "Come on," she said, lacing her arm through his. "Let's go sort this out."
Helo's hand was warm in hers. Sharon touched the skin gently, rubbing it between her fingers. He opened his eyes, slowly, the lashes fluttering.
"Hey, sleepy head," Sharon said, squeezing his hand. "Welcome back."
"How much trouble are we in?" Helo groaned, putting his free hand to his forehead. He glanced down at his shoulder and winced in pain.
"Not as much as you'd think," Sharon said. She sighed. "I'm not sure the Admiral has the patience to sort everything out."
"I'm not sure he can afford to sort everything out," Helo muttered. "Losing you, me, Starbuck, and Hoshi? When we're so short handed already?" He groaned again. "What about Gaeta? And Narcho and Racetrack?"
"They're back in their bodies, and all of them are over on the Astral Queen, along with Zarek." She frowned. "Gaeta wants to see you. I've heard he's not too happy."
Helo winced. "Can't blame him. What about Zarek?"
"He's alive," Sharon said. "But I think only because Adama can't shoot him and not shoot Gaeta." She frowned. "Speaking of shooting…"
"Let's not, okay?" Helo said. "I get it, Sharon. So do you."
"All right," she said, although it didn't erase any of the guilt. But she swallowed it down and firmed her grip on Helo's hand. "It's over."
"Yeah," Helo closed his eyes. "I guess it is."
He didn't open his eyes again, and Sharon wasn't surprised. Cottle had warned her that the pain killers would make him drowsy. His breathing evened out and the lines on his face smoothed away as he fell deeper into sleep. Sharon leaned over and kissed him gently, and then got up to leave. She was flying extra CAP shifts from here until they found a new planet.
Bill looked over Cottle's report. Helo would be out of the infirmary in three days, but would require a lot more time before he could pilot. That was an inconvenience Bill didn't appreciate. The news about Laura was better; her cancer was continuing to improve. Cottle noted that the only time he'd seen cancer retreat faster was when they'd given Laura the infusion with Hera's blood. The Actives- Racetrack, Narcho, and Gaeta, Bill corrected himself firmly- were no worse for the wear, although Cottle had included an extremely stern note about Gaeta needing time off the leg. Well, he'd have all the time off it he wanted sitting in a cell on the Astral Queen. Bill still wondered if he'd done the right thing on that one.
There was a knock at the door. "Come in," Bill said, not looking up. He read the last few paragraphs and then initialed it, and then looked up to see the intruder. Lieutenant Hoshi stood in front of his desk, stiff and silent.
"What do you need, Lieutenant?" he asked.
Hoshi's face was unreadable. "You asked me once, if I had known what Felix was doing, would I have mutinied."
"I did?" Bill asked.
Hoshi shrugged dispassionately. "Someone did, anyway. But anyway, the answer is no. I wouldn't have."
"All right." Bill blinked in confusion. "So what-"
"It would have broken my heart, but I would have blown the whistle. I understand why he did it, believe me. I've lost too much to the Cylons to be comfortable with this alliance."
Bill sat back. "You've never voiced an objection."
"Because you're right. As much as I hate it, as much as I do not want to so much as see anyone who murdered my husband and child, you're right. We need this alliance. I understand that. Felix- and Noel- did what they thought they had to do, but it was wrong. But so was what you did, sir."
"I'm not listening to ethics lectures from a lieutenant, especially one that served under Admiral Cain," Bill growled.
Hoshi didn't even flinch. Instead, he reached up and unpinned the insignias from his collar. "I'm not lecturing, sir. But I can't serve under you any more. That's all." He extended his hand, but when Adama didn't take the pins, he put them down on the desk. "Consider this my resignation."
He could argue. He could insist that this was desertion, and that it was punishable by imprisonment. But Bill just picked up one of the pins. They were junior lieutenant pins, he realized, even though Hoshi must be near forty and was an extremely competent officer. "Where are you going?"
A slight smile touched Hoshi's lips for a moment. "I hear the Hitei Kan is down a line worker. I'm going there." He hesitated. "Sir, I can't serve. But if you do need me… if there's a mission or you find Thornton can't handle the navigation or you can't get Felix to do it… that's where I am. If it comes to that, I will serve humanity. But I can't serve you."
Bill stood, and Hoshi held his ground. It was the look that must have been on his face when he insisted Saul let him go after Gaeta in that Raptor- the calm, quiet strength that they'd relied on in the CIC. He extended his hand.
"Good luck, Louis."
"Thank you. Good luck to you, as well, Admiral." With a nod, Hoshi turned and left the room.
Bill sat down heavily and picked up the insignias again. It was insubordination, it was desertion… it was a betrayal of its own. And yet… The quiet dignity and respect of the gesture was confirmation that he'd done the right thing in not executing Gaeta.
Bill smiled grimly and bent his head down to get back to work.
Shuttle duty was not Kara's idea of a good time, but she knew damn well that she was lucky that she'd just been drawing a hell of a lot of extra shifts, rather than cooling her heels in the brig or being demoted. She was readying her Raptor for the next round when she saw Hoshi approaching. He was wearing jeans and a sweater under a worn leather jacket, and he had a bag slung over one shoulder.
"What's all this?" Kara asked, hopping down from the wing.
Hoshi extended his hand. "Never thought I'd say this to you, but I thought I should say goodbye. I'm done."
Kara didn't even have to ask why. "The Old Man know?"
"I handed in my resignation in person." He looked around the hangar bay. "Feels a little strange not to be military, but I'll get used to it."
"Where are you going?" Kara asked.
"That's on my run. Get on in."
Oddly enough, she was glad when there were no other passengers, just a load of rudimentary medical supplies that Cottle was sending over. "You want to fly?" she asked Hoshi.
"If you'll help me land."
Kara undid her restraints and scooted over. "Come on, then."
Hoshi grinned at her and squirmed into the pilots' seat. "That's one thing I'll always regret not doing," he said. "Getting my wings. Felix and Noel will never stop lording it over me."
"I don't know. A 'remember that time I saved your guys asses?' should shut them up pretty well," Kara pointed out. She looked out at the Fleet and snorted. "They'd better appreciate what you did for them."
Kara couldn't tell if he was focusing on flying or ignoring the statement. "You don't think they will?"
"I think they will. I just… it's going to be tough for a while."
"Do you still love him?" Kara heard herself asking. "Even if he's become something you didn't think he was? Something you always thought you'd hate?"
Hoshi glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, but Kara just stared straight ahead. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "But I did love them both. And that matters enough that I owe it to them both to find out if I still do or not."
"But do you think you do?" Kara pressed.
"Yeah," Hoshi finally said. "I probably do. Okay. We're coming into the Hitei Kan now. Unless you want me to tear the bottom off this Raptor, I could use some help."
"Okay." Kara moved over so she could take the yoke with him. "Let's avoid the metal flying this time, okay, Sparky?"
Hoshi grinned at the callsign, and Kara couldn't help smiling herself. Together, they guided the Raptor into the landing bay, and although the landing was bumpy, it was worlds better than the first time. They unloaded the medical supplies together, and Kara recognized Zarek's crew waiting for Hoshi. She nodded to them, and Marissa raised a solemn hand back in acknowledgement.
Hoshi picked up his bag. "Well," he said, extending his hand, "thanks. For everything you did."
"I didn't do it for you or Gaeta," Kara said, "or even Narcho or Racetrack."
"Yeah, I know," Hoshi said. "You did it because it was right. And that's why I'm saying thanks." She took his extended hand, just briefly. It was enough.
"Oh. Before I forget." Kara dug in her pocket and pulled out two wrinkled pictures and put them into Hoshi's hand. "This one's yours. Could you give the other one back to Racetrack when you're over on the Astral Queen? I'm sure she'll be happy to get it."
"I can do that." He slipped them into his pocket and then picked up his bag.
"See you around, Sparky," Kara called as he headed towards Zarek's crew.
Hoshi looked back over his shoulder and grinned. "Yeah. See you around, Starbuck."
Kara watched as Marissa extended a hand to Hoshi, and Asok took the bag he'd been carrying. For a moment, she envied him, but then she reminded herself there was no reason to envy anyone in this frakking Fleet. With a deep breath and squared shoulders, she stepped back into her Raptor.
Laura stood in the imprint room, arms crossed, watching as the chair and the computers were carefully dismantled. Adelle stood beside her as Victor and Sierra followed Topher's instructions.
"You know," Adelle said dryly, "it never fails to surprise me that someone as brilliant as Topher can be so inarticulate when it comes to telling people what box to put things in."
Laura snorted slightly, and the marine nearest to her raised an eyebrow. There was certainly truth in what Adelle said, as Topher kept getting frustrated and repacking the boxes himself, but Laura didn't want to be amused. Not after what they had done.
"I wish I could trust you that the wedges with Victor and Sierra's original personalities were lost on Caprica," she said.
Adelle shrugged. "They don't want to go back to their original selves. They've already coped with the Cylon annihilation once; neither of them are eager to do it again."
"Besides, you don't want Sierra remembering exactly what you did to her."
"Not particularly, no," Adelle said in a clipped tone. "It's a much more complicated story than what you're envisioning."
"I'm sure." She was, but she found it difficult to believe that she would support it. Especially back on Caprica, when humanity had options.
Sierra leaned over and helped Victor with a box. As she did, he looked up, his face lighting up at the sight of her, and Sierra kissed him playfully on the nose. Adelle's face softened a bit as she watched them. "Besides, they're afraid they might lose each other. Would you take the last connection that someone has left these days?"
"I'm sure that if you asked Louis Hoshi, he'd have a very definitive answer for you," Laura said. She sighed. "Is that why you put Zak Adama in Gaeta's body?"
"If it was, it was successful," Adelle said, looking straight ahead. Laura knew that was all the answer she was going to get.
They watched the progress in silence. Laura's shoulders were tense, and she would be glad when this particular chore was finished. She stood stiffly until the last box was taped.
"I know you probably don't want to hear this," Adelle said, watching as the marines began taking the boxes out, "but it has been a pleasure working with you, Madame President. And I do think the program was a success."
"It was," Laura had to admit. "The program did improve the state of the Fleet, and it did save my life. But don't push your luck any more."
When Laura left the Persephone, she was quite sure she'd never return.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Sharon asked as she docked the Raptor in the hangar bay on the Astral Queen.
"Positive," Helo said. "Although you'd better stay here. They're not very friendly to Cylons, or to the uniform."
"And what are you going to do?" Sharon grumbled, looking pointedly at Helo's sling. "We should have listened to Cottle and waited-"
"This couldn't wait," Helo said firmly. "It's waited long enough."
"Three days," Sharon muttered, but more for the form of the argument.
Helo leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I'll be back in an hour."
As he walked through the halls of the Astral Queen towards the cell block, he couldn't tell if he imagined some internal tug, or if it was real. For the last three days, it felt like a part of his soul was missing, severed off, but it might just be the feeling of unfinished business.
Krells greeted him. "I'm taking you down to the cells," he said neutrally. "That doctor from Galactica wants Gaeta off his feet as much as possible."
"All right," Helo agreed, deciding that pointing out he was walking around with a bullet hole in his shoulder wasn't going to win any sympathy votes.
He was right. As they walked down through the cell block, Helo noticed a lot of open cell doors, or places where inmates were clearly visiting each other. Seelix, Skulls, and Racetrack were playing triad in one cell, and Twofer and Snake Eyes were playing some version of pyramid with a crumpled up piece of paper in the walkway between cells. He did notice that Narcho was alone in a cell, lying on the bed and staring at picture he was holding. Helo hurried on.
Gaeta's cell was far down; nearest to the head and the dining hall, Helo realized. His suspicions that this was an honor were confirmed when he spotted the worn comforter Gaeta had on his bed, and three books on the bedside table, plus the one he was lying on his bed reading. Helo leaned against the bars.
"Hey, Gaeta," he said softly.
Gaeta didn't look up.
"Gaeta," Helo said again. "Felix. How are you doing?"
Helo sighed. "Look, I imagine you're probably pretty pissed at me right now-"
"You think?" Gaeta asked sarcastically. "After what you helped them do to me?"
"They told me that if they didn't do this, it was the firing squad!" Helo protested. "And it's not like you did anything bad. Do you know how many lives I saw you save this past month?"
"So you're saying I should be grateful that they took my mind and my free will away?" Gaeta asked incredulously. "Because I saved lives?" He snorted. "That's like telling a rape victim it wasn't rape because he had an erection."
Helo frowned. "Maybe it wasn't right," he said, "but it saved your life."
"Like there was anything left in mine to be saved."
"Fine. I'll go tell Hoshi that."
That got a reaction, albeit a small one. Felix winced, and his hand trembled a bit. "Don't tell Louis I said that," he said softly.
"I won't," Helo said. He leaned more heavily against the bars. "Damn it, Felix, I didn't come here to fight with you."
Gaeta finally put the book down. "Then what did you come here for?" he asked. "What can you possibly say that makes taking away my free will justifiable?"
"I was protecting you."
"I didn't need your protection then," Gaeta growled. "Where was your protection when I did need it, when I asked you to save my leg?"
"You know why I couldn't-"
"Yeah, I know why. But don't give me this bullshit-"
"Bullshit? I've got a frakking hole in my shoulder from when I pushed you out of the way of my own wife's gun!"
Gaeta went pale. "You're lying."
"You really think so?" Helo asked. "You really think this thing is for show? Or didn't anyone tell you about that part? Yeah, Felix, maybe I frakked up. Maybe I was in on this, because that's what I was ordered to do. And maybe I shouldn't have just blindly followed orders. But after what you did to me and my family, after what you did to Galactica… yeah. I wanted a little revenge, damn it. Just like you did. But believe me, I didn't get it."
"And I'm supposed to feel bad about that?" Gaeta asked incredulously, sitting up. "Sorry I didn't die while you were protecting me," he said sarcastically.
"How can someone as smart as you are be so frakking stupid?" Helo asked in frustration. "We've been friends for a long time, Felix. Do you think I liked seeing you that way for long? Do you think I liked watching other people living in your body? That's why I joined up with Zarek in the end. I wouldn't have stopped Adama from killing you, but I should have stopped him from doing this. That's what Sharon did, and that's what I should have done, too. You want to know what I came over here for, Felix? I came over to say I'm sorry."
Gaeta closed his eyes. "I don't know what you want me to say to that right now."
"I don't know, either," Helo said. "I guess you don't have to say anything. But I had to."
Gaeta nodded, and a long silence stretched out between them. Finally, he asked, "Is there any luck on finding a new planet?"
"Tell Adama… tell him that if he wants to bring over some star charts, I'll see what I can do in locating a few more systems to check out."
"I'll tell him." Helo sighed. "Everything's going to be all right, Felix."
Gaeta's head snapped up. "What did you say?" he asked in a strangled voice.
"It's going to be all right."
"Now that you're here," Gaeta responded. "Oh, gods, Helo… what…?"
But the script was still active in some way in Helo, too. Maybe it was the routine, maybe he just needed to know, but the words came out of his mouth. "Do you trust me?"
"With my life," Gaeta responded. "I mean, I don't- Karl! What the hell is going on?"
Helo reached through the bars. "It's going to be all right."
Gaeta sat up, leaning forward, extending his hand. "Now that you're here."
"Do you trust me?"
"With my life."
Their fingers touched.
"It's going to be all right," Helo whispered. Not as part of the script, but genuine reassurance. He leaned forward just a little more, his good shoulder pressed hard against the bars, and laced his fingers lightly through Gaeta's. "It's going to be all right." He felt tears coursing down his own cheeks, and Gaeta was crying, too.
"It's going to be all right."
Gaeta's fingers tightened on his. "Now that you're here. Don't say it again. Please. Every time you do, it's like…"
"Yeah," Helo agreed. He squeezed one more time, and then withdrew his hand. They stared at each other for a long moment. "Should I go?" Helo finally asked. Gaeta nodded. "All right. But listen. If you need anything, or if you just want to talk about it… call over the Galactica, all right? I'm working comm, so you don't even have to go through anyone. We both frakked up, Felix. And I'm sorry."
He waited for Gaeta to call after him, to apologize, to forgive him, but he didn't. But when Helo made his way to the second floor and looked down through the grating, he saw Gaeta lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, his eyes wet in the harsh light.
"It took you long enough to get down here and gloat." Tom was slumped at the table in the small conference room with his arms crossed and flanked by two armed guards when Laura walked in. He had managed to shave, but his weight loss was still obvious under the clothing he wore. He didn't look good, and she couldn't help but feel a little smug.
"I've been busy," Laura said. "I'm sure you've read the papers."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Yes. Playa must have been over the moon to get an exclusive with Ellen Tigh. Is that how you've kept her silent?"
"Nicely played." Tom seemed genuine. But then, he always did. It was his specialty. Laura sighed and sat down. "I have to admit," Tom continued, "I'm a little surprised we're not having this discussion in an airlock."
"Don't tempt me."
He leaned forward. "Why not, Laura? Why are you letting me live? We both know you could kill me, and by all the rules, you should kill me. What's stopping you? It's not sentiment. You're not the sentimental type."
Laura smirked. "You know me, I'll give you that. And I know you. You went onto the Persephone to rescue Gaeta, knowing perfectly well that you were likely to die. You even went so far as to have Kara Thrace promise to shoot you if it looked like you'd be captured."
Tom's face was dark. "I won't live like that."
She couldn't say she blamed him. But Laura wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of saying that. "You're a martyr, Tom. You would give your life for some vision that you have in your head, for what you consider the oppressed and the powerless."
"I want my death to have meaning," he conceded.
"And someday, it will," Laura promised. "There are a lot of reasons I could give you that I'm not forcing you out an airlock right this minute, but the truth is, someday you might be useful. We're still at war, and there's going to come a time that we have to send someone on an assignment that we don't want to send them on. Someday, I'm going to need a martyr, and on that day, I'll need you."
Tom leaned in. "I'll tell you what, Laura. You come to me with a way to take the Cylons down, and even if it costs me my life, I'll do it."
Laura smiled. "I'll hold you to that, Tom." She stood up. "Enjoy the Astral Queen. You're here until we find a new planet or you die, whichever comes first."
"It will haunt you, Laura," Tom called as she left. "What you've done. To Racetrack and Narcho and Gaeta. What you tried to do to me."
"Of course it will, Tom," Laura said, "and I'll live with it. Just like I've lived with everything else I've done. It might not have been right, but it was best." She smiled. "Like you said, you and I are a lot alike. I'll see you later."
Her heels clicked as she left him in the room.
Chapter 11: Epilogue: The Truth In Who We Are
Tom's cell was across from Felix's. He appreciated that, and he knew Felix did, too. They were given two hours a day to visit, and Tom found a great deal of comfort sitting in the same cell. They talked about New Caprica; about the plans they'd had there, about the way they'd both envisioned the society they wanted to form, what they'd done wrong. They talked about the Fleet, and about the mutiny. Surprisingly, they never argued about the details of why they failed there. Funny that they could have that peace about their plans then, but not about New Caprica.
There was peace here in this cell, and the feeling of rest. They weren't alone, either. Krells was extremely lax with most of the mutineer prisoners as long as they behaved themselves, considering them closer to heroes than criminals, so they were both a part of that little society. Narcho, in particular, found his way over to Felix's cell frequently. Felix said that they had become good friends shortly after New Caprica, when it had been easier to be accepted by the Pegasus crew than Galactica's. Tom suspected there was more going on, having a lot to do with Louis Hoshi's frequent visits to the Astral Queen, and the relationship that was slowly being reconstructed. Felix didn't talk much about it, but Tom noticed that he smiled more often and more easily, and the light was returning to his eyes.
He had his own visitors, as well. At least one of Marissa, Asok, Danny, and Dale frequently hitched a ride when Hoshi came over to the Astral Queen. It surprised Tom a bit, and truthfully, touched him deeply. His previous experiences with imprisonment involved the world forgetting about him, at least on a personal level. Of course, this entire incarceration was different than anything he'd known before.
He was sitting with Felix and Noel and playing a half-hearted game of cards when the PA system blared to life. "Listen up," Krells said, his voice slightly distorted by the electronics. "We've got a call in from Galactica. Hera Agathon, the half-Cylon, half-human child, has been kidnapped by a Cylon agent, and Adama is calling for volunteers for a rescue mission. According to what we've been told, this is probably Galactica's last mission; the ship is falling apart, and they don't expect to return. It sounds like a suicide mission to me, but it also sounds like a chance to stick it to the Cylons. In an hour, I'm going to open the cells, and anyone who wants to volunteer can step on out. There's no reward… just sounds like if you're ready to die and want to go out fighting, here's your chance."
"What a speechmaker," Tom laughed.
"Nothing on yours, that's for sure," Felix agreed. "Not that it matters."
Tom wasn't surprised. He'd known Felix would go. It was exactly the noble, idealistic type of mission that would appeal to Felix; no soul left behind.
He was a little surprised when Narcho lit up a cigarette. "Guess we should smoke 'em if we've got 'em, huh?"
"You're going?" Tom asked.
"Frak, yeah. Hera's just a kid. If the Cylons had Julie, I'd want to kill anyone who didn't go after her." He looked up from his cards directly at Tom. "The big question is, are you going?"
Someday, I'm going to need a martyr, and on that day, I'll need you. Tom grinned. "Was there ever a question? Come on. We've got an hour to kill. Let's finish the game."
Kara docked the shuttle at the Hitei Kan, who'd reported they had two volunteers. She didn't recognize the one, and she wasn't sure if she was surprised to see the other.
"Wasn't sure if you'd come with us, Sparky," she said, as Hoshi climbed into the Raptor. "Now that you and Gaeta have been making up. You've got something to live for."
Hoshi shrugged. "Got something to die for, too. I'm coming." He was still in his civilian clothing, and no longer clean shaven.
"Told you the beard would look good on you," Kara said smugly, unbuckling her straps and scooting over. "You want to fly us in? This time it really is the last time you're going to get the chance."
Hoshi grinned at her. "You'd better believe it."
Bill was not surprised when Racetrack was the first person off the Raptor from the Astral Queen, and he wasn't overly shocked at any of the others, either. Clean slate, genuine desire to save Hera, a chance to take something from the Cylons, idealism… the reasons for going were clear on each person's face. And he wasn't surprised at how few volunteers there were from the civilian ships, either. What did surprise him was when a Raptor came in from the Persephone, and Topher Brink climbed off.
"I'm not going," Topher said, holding up his hands as Bill approached. "Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not going. It's just… I had an idea."
"What's your idea?" Bill asked.
Topher glanced over at where the prisoners from the Astral Queen were congregating. "Yeah, I kind of thought those three would go," he said. "Look, there's no time to make more Actives, but what I can do, if they want, is give them a sort of… boost."
"You know how if you play a video game, you can drink a potion for extra dexterity or strength or whatever?" Bill looked at him blankly, and Topher sighed. "All right, I get it- you don't play video games. But the concept really isn't that hard. If they want, I can up their reaction times or reflexes or… or whatever. They'd still be themselves, just with a little something extra."
He didn't like it, but Bill realized that this time, it wasn't his choice. "Ask them," he said, grabbing Topher's arm and practically pushing him over to the Actives.
Narcho stepped back in what almost seemed like alarm. Racetrack looked interested when she saw Topher, and Gaeta's face remained completely neutral. Haltingly, Topher explained.
"Better reflexes and reaction time?" Racetrack said. "Sign me up. I'm willing to die for this, but damn, if I don't have to, or if I can take out more toasters when I go, I will."
"Over my dead body," Narcho said flatly.
"Your call," Topher said, shrugging.
"Mr. Gaeta," Bill said, before Gaeta could answer, "a word."
Gaeta looked at him curiously, but followed as Bill led him off a little ways. He was struggling a little less on his crutches, Bill noticed. It made this a little easier, because it made it easier to put the past few months out of his mind.
"Mr. Gaeta," Bill said, slowly unpinning the insignias from his collar, "myself, Colonel Tigh, and Captain Agathon are all going, as is Major Adama. I need someone that I can trust to lead this Fleet."
Gaeta paled, but then nodded resolutely. "All right," he said. "Put me in the chair. Make me someone you can trust."
"Before all this, I would have said that you already are. And in a lot of ways, that is still true." Bill closed his eyes for a moment. "What I need to know, Mr. Gaeta, is if you can treat our Cylon allies fairly, if you can work with them."
Gaeta inhaled. "It won't be easy, sir."
"I know. You'll have help." Gaeta looked at him quizzically. "I'm sending Hoshi with you. A good XO keeps an Admiral in line. Between the two of you, I know you'll do the right thing."
Bill held out his hand, waiting patiently until Gaeta disengaged his own enough from the crutches to take the stars. "Good luck, Admiral Gaeta."
Gaeta managed to salute. It was awkward and nothing like the textbook salutes he used to snap off, but it was genuine, all the same. "Good luck, sir."
Get it as deep into the Colony as you can, and then set it off. Run, if you want. That's what Laura had said, but Tom saw it in her eyes. The real command was that he had better die. The nuke wouldn't take out all of the Cylons. It wouldn't even take out all of the massive structure that was the Colony. But it would take out a hell of a lot of Cylons, and it would vastly reduce the threat. Tom couldn't ask for more than that.
Seven marines helped him carry the nuke in, and Baltar had rigged it with a trigger that he said even a moron could operate. They worked their way through the twisting corridors, mechanical in structure but organic in nature. The Colony was an alien world, and it made the hairs on the back of Tom's neck stand up. It was really the last place he wanted to be. Thank the Gods it was the last place he was going to be.
"Are you sure about this?" Sharon asked. Tom was surprised that she had agreed to accompany him in this deep, but he knew that if they found Hera, she'd be gone. "You could trust the remote."
"No, I can't." Tom shook his head. "This is too important."
"I always was good at blowing things up" Tom said with a grim smile. "This time, it might make a difference."
"I hope so," she said solemnly. She looked around, and he could see the anxiety in every line of her body. "This ought to be good." She gestured to the marines, who set the nuke down.
"Good luck finding her," he said.
"Thanks. Good luck to you, too."
"Thank you." Tom smiled. "Believe me, this is the right death for me. It's exactly what I would choose."
"Not to mention it will piss off Roslin and Adama if people have to hail you as a hero for destroying the worst of the Cylon threat," Sharon observed wryly.
"Well, I won't complain," Tom said. "You'd better go."
Sharon nodded. There was no sentimentality, and she didn't linger. She just gestured to the marines and took off, leaving Tom alone.
He set his watch.
Adama had said he'd know when to set the nuke off, but if he had to, do it earlier. Give the Fleet as much a chance as possible. But somehow, no one seemed to know he was down here in this lonely, empty corridor. He had a gun in his hand, but it sat quiet and unused.
The time ticked by.
He had meant what he'd said to Sharon, and he had absolutely no regrets. In fact, for the first time in years, his soul was at peace. He had no reservations, no regrets. This was what he was meant to do.
His walkie talkie sprang into life.
"Laura. Are they on board?"
"They are." She hesitated. "This is your last chance, Tom. Set the remote and run."
"You want to trust it will work that way? Or that no Cylons will find it?"
Silence. Then, "Thank you, Tom."
"It's the right thing to do."
"It is. I just wasn't sure you'd know it."
Tom smiled. "Of course I do, Laura. This is one time when 'right' and 'best' are actually the same thing."
"We're jumping in five, four, three, two…" he could hear someone else counting behind her, and then the walkie talkie went into static.
Tom knelt down and entered the combination. He watched the numbers count down, and as it reached the end, he smiled.
This was his choice, his life.
Then there was only light.
Earth. It spread out below them, blue and glistening like a gem set on black velvet. Even from the observation deck of a broken battlestar, Helo could see the beauty. Hera clung to his neck, and Sharon smiled at him.
"Come on," Sharon said softly. "We're going to be late."
"All right." He handed Hera back to Sharon and picked up his cane, working slowly through the halls of Galactica. The halls were empty. "I know they need to decommission it and use it for whatever plan Sam and Galen came up with down on the planet," Helo said, "but it still seems wrong."
"It does," Sharon agreed. She set Hera down, and Hera walked between them, smiling and holding Sharon's hand. "But I suppose we'll get used to it. Especially once we're down there."
It was peaceful, although in a melancholy way, as they made their slow progress through the halls of Galactica. Helo felt like he could hear ghosts around him, whispering their good-byes. But as they passed an open storage locker, Helo frowned. That was one ghost he could do without.
"Do you know what happened to the parts for the imprint chair?"
Sharon's expression mirrored his. "I don't," she admitted. "I know they put the chair back together before the mission, to give Racetrack those amazing reflexes…" she trailed off for a moment, shaking her head. If Racetrack hadn't accepted those alterations, she would probably be dead. But between Zarek's nuke and Racetrack's final shot, the Colony had been destroyed. "But I don't know what happened after that."
"Hopefully we'll never find out." It was all Helo could say. It was all he had time to say, as they were now on the hangar deck, and pilot of their Raptor was waving to them.
"How'd you pull this honor?" Helo asked as he drew closer. "Last Raptor out, Sparky?"
Hoshi grinned. "Had a passenger going up, too," he admitted. And for some reason, Helo wasn't at all surprised when he saw Gaeta standing beside Hoshi. "Go ahead," Hoshi said quietly. "Athena and I can load up."
"You just like being smug that you're cleared on a Raptor now," Gaeta said, rolling his eyes affectionately.
"Only for shuttle runs," Hoshi said, in a way that was meant to be dismissive but still glowed with pride. His face turned sad, though, and he touched the spot where his dogtags hung. Helo had seen the tags with the ring, and he knew that now Narcho's wings were added, as well. Hoshi turned to Sharon. "Mind if it's just us loading?" he asked. It was stiff and overly polite, but it was real.
Gaeta inclined his head to Helo, and started away from the Raptor. Helo followed, limping. As Gaeta realized what was happening, he stared for a long moment, and then began to laugh. At first, Helo didn't see the joke, but as they tried to get a little further, he couldn't help laughing as well. Soon the two of them were nearly doubled over, laughing until tears streamed down their faces.
"It shouldn't be this funny," Gaeta gasped.
"I know," Helo agreed. "But it is."
The laughter finally petered out, and Gaeta wiped his eyes. "How's Hera doing?" he asked awkwardly.
"Good," Helo said. "She still has nightmares, but she's doing good." He limped over to the wall, and then sat down. He looked up at Gaeta, and patted the floor beside him. Gaeta made a face and half-slid, half-squirmed down the wall to sit beside him.
"We're going to need help up."
"Yeah, well, my wife and your… what is Hoshi, anyway?"
"Fiancé, I guess," Gaeta said.
"Really? That's great."
"Thanks. Listen, I've got a lot to tell you." Gaeta's face turned very serious. "It's stuff I haven't ever told anyone, and… I don't know. I think if I told you and Sharon, maybe I could work through a lot of it. But the first part of it is I'm sorry."
"You're sorry?" Helo asked, just surprised that Gaeta was saying the words.
"I am. I put your family at risk. I did a lot of things that… I'm not sorry I did them, but I'm sorry that I really felt that I had to do them."
"I see." All the humor was gone now, from both of them, and Gaeta was really struggling to talk. Helo couldn't blame him; he was struggling to listen.
"Nothing bad was ever supposed to happen to Hera," Gaeta said, not looking at Helo. "I put her in that cell because I didn't want her separated from Sharon. Sharon needed to be locked away, and if she was separated from Hera, she would fight to get to her. I knew that. I know that doesn't change anything- it doesn't change what I did to you and Sharon and what I did before and after… but I want you to know that I never wanted to hurt Hera."
"I know," Helo said quietly. "You came to rescue her. That's the only way any of this makes sense. But what do you mean, what you did before?"
Gaeta didn't look at him. "It was New Caprica. There was… there was an Eight…" He shook his head. "Look, it's probably better if I tell you about it with Sharon and Louis around, and no Hera. I kind of wanted to do it up here, because I thought maybe I could just leave it here, but I guess that was just symbolic anyway, you know?"
"Especially since Galactica's coming down to the ground. Come on. Let's get our other halves to get us to what feet we have left, and get down there ourselves." Helo frowned. "Hoshi won't kill us landing, now that Starbuck's gone off someplace and can't help him, will he?"
Gaeta shrugged. "Actually, his landings have improved a lot lately," he said. "Starbuck always did have a knack for instructing nuggets."
Helo braced his back against the wall, and by some miracle, managed to stand up. He leaned over and offered his hand to Gaeta.
"Everything's going to be all right," Gaeta said with a smirk, "right?"
"Right. Now that you're here."
"Do you trust me?" Gaeta asked.
"With my life," Helo answered honestly. He clasped Gaeta's hand and hauled him to standing. "Come on," he said, as they leaned on each other, trying to regain their balance, "let's go home."