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Beauty and the Beast

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When the cylons came again, thirty years after the last war and fifteen years since the Colonials had slid back into an unwary and determined denial, it took everyone but Commander William Adama by surprise. He had always known they would be back, had known from the moment he saw the half human atrocities that the cylons had abandoned on that desert moon a lifetime ago. Bill had been prepared, his ship still disconnected from networks, his crew kept pointed and sure by constant drilling, and his sons honed to razors from the moment of their respective births, weapons in his arsenal with analytical minds, sharp eyes and soft pilot hands.

When the half strangled yelp of a distress call from a remote outpost on the anniversary of détente was ignored by Fleet, Adama charted a jump, heart in his throat, steel in his spine and pilots fully scrambled. They were back. As sure as the nightmares that plagued his sleep and the resentment in his oldest son’s eyes, they were there; a baseship in orbit around the satellite, new and shiny and minus the scars carried by his own body, his own ship. Bill exchanged a weighted glance with his best friend and executive officer, Colonel Saul Tigh, another crumpled ex jet jock, another survivor from the old wars, no better man to have in a fight when he was off the booze. Tigh reached for the 1MC and stated the single word that Adama had ever found truth in, “Battlestations”.

* * *

“Let’s roll, Starbuck,” Major Daniel “Bulldog” Novacek barked to Lieutenant Kara Thrace, controlled urgency bleeding over the coms, across ramps, to the launch tubes. She listened to him as he switched to Tower, “Tower, Viper 236 and 145, request permission to launch.”

“Viper 236 and 145, position and hold.” Kara pushed her thrusters forward and taxied carefully up the ramp, her blood pounding in her ears. This is it. This is it. This is it. Frakking cylons. Cylons! Old Man had been right after all. Son of a bitch.

“Hanging tough there, Thrace?” Bulldog’s steady baritone flooded through her cockpit, interrupting the silent litany of the launch checklist running through her head over and over, a prayer offered to Athena on the eve of battle, and she loosened her death grip on the stick and throttle.

“Sir, yes sir,” she replied with enough brash, sarcastic ego to reassure her CAG and to remind herself that she was Kara Motherfrakking Thrace. She could almost hear him rolling his eyes.

“Viper 236 and 145, you are clear for launch,” and Kara started when she realized that Dee’s smooth voice had been replaced by the rasp of William Adama. “Bulldog, Starbuck, good hunting.”

The tube fired up around her. She ran her eyes swiftly over her instruments as she pushed her throttle to the firewall. Fuel Pressure – good, engine temperature – in the green, altimeter – set, gyroscope – holding steady. One last look to her wings confirming flaps up. She watched Bulldog’s catapult flash and he was gone. Kara took in a firm steady breath, braced for the G’s, saluted the shooter and was flung into the vacuum of space; into the first volleys of a new Cylon war.

* * *

“Turn them off! Turn them off, turn them off!” Captain Lee Adama sprinted through the startled silence of CIC, ripping network cables from the walls of the Pegasus.

He grabbed the 1MC with shaking hands and spoke loudly, in a rush, his words reverberating around the ship. “Disconnect all computers, all equipment, all platforms from any network you can think of. Battle stations!” He clicked off the mic, and turned. “Hoshi!”

“Sir!” The young man looked ill but was holding steady.

“Patch me through to Fleet Headquarters, priority Alpha.”

“Yes, sir!” Hoshi thrust the phone into Adama’s hand.

Lee didn’t even wait for the Officer of the Watch at HQ to identify himself, just plowed in, “This is Captain Leland J. Adama, Officer of the Watch on the flag ship, Pegasus. Command code Seven Two Whiskey Sierra Romeo. Disconnect the defense mainframe and disseminate a warning to all ships in the fleet.”

“Captain, this is not the time to –“

“Cylons!” Adama barked, “Do you think they can’t hack into it?”

“Captain--” The OOW was now sounding alarmed.

“Do it!” Adama shouted and suddenly, the phone was being pulled off his ear and thrown across the room.

“Captain Adama!” Rear Admiral Helena Cain shouted, “What the frak do you think you’re doing?”

“Sir,” he answered, jaw clenching, “You remember the war, remember how they disabled everything through our technology. One millisecond too late and our entire fleet will be rendered helpless. The way we’re networked together right now – ”

And Admiral Cain, never a woman to mince words or need unnecessary explanation once the point had been made, held out her hand imperiously, eyes never leaving the young captain’s. “This is Admiral Cain,” she spoke firmly into the phone that one of the crew had scrambled to retrieve for her. “Shut down the mainframe. Now.”

Moments later, a message on the all fleet emergency frequency blared over the radio and into the CIC “All Fleet, prepare for Mainframe Shutdown in 60 seconds, all Fleet prepare for Mainframe Shutdown in 60 seconds.”

Adama was wild-eyed and Admiral Cain looked at him appraisingly “Looks like that daddy-instilled paranoia just might have saved our collective asses,” she said.

The pilot just stood there, breathing, the fear laced adrenaline that had seemingly prompted his quick thinking now appeared to be locking his joints into inaction.

“Adama?” Cain asked expectantly.

“Sir?” Adama replied automatically, absently.

“Don’t you have a viper to fly?” She asked.

“Yes, sir,” he snapped and spun on his heel.

“Apollo,” she called before he hit the door and he turned on a dime to face her. “How about you show those toasters why the fleet is so eager to make you a test pilot.”

Blue eyes, suddenly icy, met hers and his lips turned up in an arrogant curve. Game face firmly on, Apollo saluted his CO sharply. “Yes sir.”

* * *

Kara almost lost her target when she heard the emergency call go out, cutting through her battle induced high. “Holy frak, Bulldog,” she breathed into their ship to ship channel as she pulled the trigger and watched the missile tear through the raider. They were fast. Faster than the simulators back in flight school had indicated.

“Thank the gods someone was thinking,” Bulldog replied and Kara let the implications of a cylon hack into the defense mainframe slide entirely out of her mind as she threw herself into the fight at hand. She felt the engine respond to her bump up on the throttle, rumbling through her feet as they pressed on the rudders. She consciously kept her fingers moving, pressing, playing the notes to a half forgotten song her father had taught her a long time ago, keeping loose, keeping supple. She concentrated on her breathing and slid back into the warrior headspace, where she concentrated on the opponents directly in front of her, spinning and swerving and dancing through debris and fighters, enemy and friendly alike.

Helo’s voice cut across her reverie, “Radiological alarm,” he said sharply. “They’ve got nukes.”

“CAG, get them out of there,” Adama said. “Galactica will take it from here. Gaeta – arm the warheads.”

Kara tamped down the will to keep fighting, keep flipping, shooting, running, flying forever and turned even as Bulldog said “All squadrons, you know the drill, disengage and get the frak away from that baseship.”

“Missiles armed, launch in 75 seconds,” Dee’s voice filtered through the frequency and the wing streaked back to the Galactica to get behind her, to let her shields save them from the blast and the shockwave.

“60 seconds,” Kara did a tight loop to see who was behind her, see if they needed help, but the vipers were coming hard and fast and the raptors were jumping out of range, so she pointed toward home and put the throttle to the firewall, Bulldog snapping at her heels.

“30 seconds.”

“Head count!” The CAG barked, and they rattled through quickly, barely pausing at the holes in the roster. Five were missing, but chances were they had died out there already. If not, they would shortly.

“5. . . 4 . . .3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .”

“Launch,” Adama said and Kara shielded her eyes as the nuke hit the base ship and flashed white.

“And the rest of the raiders?” Bulldog asked after the flash was gone and the baseship was breaking up into pieces before their eyes.

“Tear ‘em up,” Dee said.

The All Fleet frequency crackled to life as Kara, grinning ear to ear, was the first one out from behind the battlestar and racing toward the homeless raiders. “Fleet, this is Commander Adama, the nukes work.”

* * *

“You lied to me Gauius.” Baltar felt the fear rise, unbidden, to the surface at the calm quiet words. Touseled and naked and thoroughly shagged, the blonde woman who had shared his bed was suddenly setting off every survival instinct alarm he had.

“What are you talking about, darling?” he asked, trying to sound unconcerned, but he knew the panic had bled through when she started stalking toward him on hands and knees in a way that should have been sexy. He scooted away, skin crawling with the distinct tang of other, until his back was pressed against the headboard.

“The codes,” she said, still perfectly modulated, “You gave me the wrong codes.”

“I assure you, I did not,” Gaius protested. His heart was beating rapidly and he felt the fluttering onset of hyperventilation.

She stopped, inches away, and ran her hands over his face, petting him as if he was a dog she was fond of. “I believe you,” she said. And there was something close to regret in her eyes when she twisted suddenly, breaking his neck.

* * *

“SITREP, XO!” snapped Cain as she stalked across the bridge of her ship, watching the brutal choreography of an air battle unfolding in front of her eyes.

“Sir, we have four battlestars and their wings engaged with three base ships at present,” Colonel Jurgen Belzen replied.

“I can see that, Jurgen,” Cain said dryly, “what are we going to do about the three, nuclear armed cylon base ships hanging out over Caprica?”

“Our pilots have been doing a good job driving them together and keeping their fighters engaged – keeps the base ships from jumping away without them.”

“All battle stars, arm your warheads,” Cain said and opened the channel to the airwing. “Stinger, how fast will it take to withdraw all of the wings to behind the battle stars? We need to do something about those base ships.”

“About five minutes, sir,” Captain Cole Taylor replied.

“Do it. One wing at a time. We need to keep them occupied for as long as possible. She half listened as Taylor called out orders to the other wings engaged in the fight, calling Pegasus’ home first. It made Cain frown deeply at his blatant favoritism, but she didn’t countermand his instructions. There wasn’t time.

“Sir,” Hoshi called out in alarm “the base ships are arming their nukes. At this range, they will wipe out the entire city of Delphi.”

“Fall back!” Cain shouted into the pilots’ frequency,

“All wings pull back now!” She watched as the aircraft started to speed toward home.

“It will take another four minutes to get all squadrons clear. They are currently engaged at the very edge of the atmosphere to keep the raiders out,” Taylor said, panicked.

“CAG’s, we are out of time,” Cain said firmly. “Someone give me options. Can we get the Orion wing out before the base ships destroy Delphi?” No one answered. “Gods damnit!” Cain roared, “I’m not a pilot! Somebody tell me what’s going on out there!” Silence.

* * *

“We agree,” the Threes intoned, making the consensus unanimous among the models.

“So say we all,” One said mockingly, and the representatives moved to their individual consoles.

Four looked across the control room to Eight, “And you are prepared for your sister? She may be confused.”

“We are,” Eight acknowledged.

“We need to move now,” Two said sharply, “it’s the only way to salvage another chance.”

As one, the representatives closed their eyes and activated their consoles, “Coming on line,” Six said.

They spoke as one into the sudden stillness of the room, “Activate all models all locations. Plan Alpha Tango Foxtrot. Terminate.”

* * *

Gina Inviere frowned at the code she received from her sisters, “By your command.”

She clotheslined a Marine running by her in the P-way and broke his neck before taking his sidearm. Her eyes gleamed red into the startled face of a Senior Chief as she shot herself in the head.

* * *

Cavil’s eyes snapped open from where they had been closed in a show of devotion, “By your command.”

He rose from the kneeler and walked down the aisle, right out of the church. He pulled his pistol out of the pocket of his robes, a pistol that he rightfully should have been using on his sheep congregation, now cowering in fear in their pews. He swallowed a bullet away from prying eyes.

* * *

Sharon Valeri woke up and knew herself for the first time in her life, “By your command.”

In the close dark of CIC, her eyes flashed red and she raised her weapon and fired a single shot at Adama before turning it on herself.

The last thing she heard was Helo’s blurted cry of “Cylon!” before she was born again in a bath of viscous liquid, her family surrounding her.

* * *

“There’s no time. Nuke them now.”

Ensign Zak Adama, newly assigned to the battlestar Orion, knew that voice. Oh did he know that voice; the defeated resignation of it, the finality of tone and the absolute lack of inflection. He had heard it during the lowest points of his life and had found strength in it, even as he hated it.

And gods, was this going to kill Lee, haunt him for the rest of his life.

Despite the battle whirling around him, the count to missile launch winding down, Zak did a lazy half roll to see the Delphi shoreline, thinking of a time, a million years ago, when he and his brother had spent a weekend there trying to surf, flirting with red-headed twins on the boardwalk and watching the stars from the beach.

Ignoring all radio protocol, he spoke into the devastated silence on the frequency, imagining the other wings racing toward the shielding bulk of the battle stars, hoping that they made it out in time. “Lee.”

“Zak,” Lee choked out.

Zak kept his eyes fixed firmly on the water and away from the looming baseships, kept his mind on what he was dying for, and his heart with his brother. “Lee, it’s alright. It’s going to be okay.”

“Zak—”

The first memory of Zak Adama’s life was Lee’s voice telling him stories in the dark of their room about their father, the war hero. He liked the symmetry of it, liked the closing of the circle; his brother’s voice in his ear as he flew a viper above their home planet, watching the beach from the stars.

The world went white.

* * *

Lieutenant Kendra Shaw walked into the observation lounge at 0327 and finally found what she was looking for.

Lee, with his flight suit tied off around his waist and a hand pressed to the glass, staring out at the blue and green planet, half hidden by the smoky remains of base ship carcasses and Orion’s decimated squadrons.

She walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. It was cool to the touch where sweat had evaporated off hours ago.

“He’s dead,” Lee said.

“Yeah,” Kendra answered, tightening her grip, digging her nails into his flesh to ground him. There had never been softness between them, just the hard desperate edges of misfits bumping against each other in the dark. “You’re not,” she added.

“I want to be,” he said without inflection, turning his head to stare at her, the blue eyes familiar and hard and broken.

“Yeah,” Kendra said again. She pulled him toward her and harshly bit his lower lip in punishment for his words, for that thought even entering his mind, “I know.”

His hands raised and twisted into her hair.

* * *

It wasn’t until some time later, After the cylons had been destroyed and scattered, after networks had gradually been brought back on line and reliable communication had been re-established, after the security breach of the planets’ defense codes was discovered to have occurred a mere hour after the Colonies had deliberately crashed their own computers, after Admiral William Adama had been given a promotion, that people snapped out of their grateful hazes and began looking for answers. The single largest loss of life since the first parlays of the last cylon wars had occurred over the skies of Caprica, and, after the terrifying sight of raiders in the sky had begun to fade from their minds, the second guessing began. It seemed a completely useless sacrifice.

Kara Thrace accompanied Admiral Adama to the memorial service. She had known Zak slightly as The Admiral’s Other Kid when she was a flight school instructor, knew that he had failed his first check ride, but had gotten some remedial training and had turned into a decent pilot. He didn’t have Husker’s brilliant innovation or Apollo’s meticulous finesse, but he had been solid. And now he was dead and the Old Man needed someone to lean on.

Rumor was a vicious thing, as Kara had reason to know, and perception was seldom true but often taken as reality, so she couldn’t help but be made uncomfortable by the absence of a man she had never met: Lee Adama. She understood the need to lash out and lay blame at the thought of people, pilots, sitting like rubber ducks at a Picon fair, just waiting to be taken out by their own ships. 157 pilots. The mind boggled at the number. And yet, she was just tactician enough, just soldier enough, to not want to second guess Apollo’s judgment and Cain’s order. Given the circumstances, the knowledge on the ground, the fact that there had been no time to think let alone ponder. . . She didn’t like to second guess.

Admiral Cain had been adamant in her defense of Captain Adama, citing his thinking on disconnecting the mainframe that had saved them from unimaginable losses, citing the threat to the city of Delphi, a city with 6 million people living in it, but his father had been notably silent. It was people’s lives, not a numbers game. In the end, they couldn’t court martial Captain Adama because, as Admiral Cain had icily told the investigating committee, she had given the final order, but his fate was sealed in the court of public opinion. Fleet put him on a stop loss, ensuring that he couldn’t leave the military, and gave him orders, effective immediately, to be the sole keeper of the peace in a largely abandoned outpost in one of the vast jungles of Sagittaron, a bastion of criminal activity. The golden boy was grounded forever. It was the Gemenon Gazette that had finally, and with a kind of maudlin pride, told the tale of an arrogant loner who had made a preemptive decision that killed several squadrons of pilots and had murdered his only brother in the process.

Kara listened to the gun salute at Zak’s funeral, the Old Man’s hand firmly in hers, his other arm in a sling, courtesy of the cylon’s bullet in his shoulder, and sent a momentary prayer to the god, Apollo, asking him to look after his namesake, before turning her attention, nearly guiltily, back to the Admiral.

* * *

“Captain Lee Adama,” the compactly muscled man offered his hand.

“Phelan,” Phelan said, his eyes locked on the officer in front of him, waiting for an explanation for his unexpected presence in the smoke drenched club. Adama’s face was a blank mask; expression nothing but a pleasantry stretched across weary bones. He remained standing with his hand outstretched until Phelan shook it and gestured to the chair in front of his table. “So this is where they sent the infamous Captain Adama,” Phelan said conversationally.

“They figured I was only fit to play with the other animals,” Adama replied without concern.

“Hmmm,” Phelan said, pulling out a compact and cutting two lines of muse on the small mirror. “Are you here to tell me to cease and desist all illegal activity?” He asked, amused.

“I’m here to tell you that I won’t interfere with you if you don’t interfere with me,” Adama said. “Unless it’s something that’s truly offensive, I don’t give a flying frak what you do.”

Phelan considered the possibilities, a business man to the very core. He brought the small mirror to his nose and snorted a line. “Here’s the offer on the table, Captain,” he said. “I will hand you names of . . . associates who offend even my sensibilities for you to arrest – let’s say three to five names a year – and in turn, you leave the rest of us the hell alone.”

“Agreed,” Adama said, not blinking as Phelan offered him the remaining line of muse. He took the compact, holding it out nearly at arm’s length, studying the white powder on the glass. “Your working girls and boys aren’t coerced are they?” he asked.

“No more then the rest of us,” Phelan said. “We all have our own ways to survive circumstances, Adama. A situation that I’d imagine you understand better then most. May I extend my welcome to the neighborhood by one of our best professionals? On the house, of course.”

Adama brought the mirror under his nose and snorted the line in one smooth inhale. “On the house, huh?” he asked. “How about your two best professionals and a few hits of dragon?”

Phelan tilted his head in consideration. “That will be 100 cubits an hour for the extra body and 30 a hit.”

Adama looked at him with detached amusement. “75 an hour and 23 a hit,” he offered.

Phelan’s face split into a grin. He motioned his assistant to pour, watching amber hued alcohol splash into first his glass and then Adama’s. He took a sip and settled down to bargain.

* * *

“Admiral Adama,” Admiral Cain spoke coolly to the man standing in front of her desk at Fleet Head Quarters.

“Admiral Cain,” he acknowledged stiffly.

“There’s a . . . situation that we would like you to look into.”

“And what would that situation be?” he asked.

“Captain Adama has reported some unusual events around his post.”

“Why am I the one being given this assignment?”

“He’s your son, Bill. You haven’t seen him in five years.” Adama said nothing, Cain sighed. “He asked for you, said that you were the person to go to for suspected cylon activity. Skinjobs.”

“Cylon?” Adama asked sharply. “And you think he’s right?”

“I don’t know,” Cain said, “he wouldn’t give details over the phone.”

“No,” Adama said, “He wouldn’t.”

“Should I arrange for transportation?” Cain asked.

“No,” Adama said, “I’ll take one of Galactica’s raptors.

“Can’t believe you’re still on that bucket,” Cain said.

“Perks of being shot by a skinjob masquerading as a raptor pilot,” Adama smiled a little, “they put up with your eccentricities and keep battlestars alive long after their prime so you can still feel important.” So he could still have a home.

* * *

Adama stepped out of the raptor and into the oppressive, wet heat of the jungle. Before him was an ancient stone castle, large and silent, and rising out of the lush underbrush. Flowering vines had climbed the walls, leaving it covered in electric greens and hot pinks and bright oranges. The forest breathed around him, the wild call of birds and the rush of water from somewhere nearby. It looked like the building hadn’t been lived in for hundreds of years, and his heart clenched a little at seeing his son so isolated. The half hidden door swung open at his approach of its own volition, and Adama passed the enormous rose bushes standing sentinel and into the climate controlled coolness.

“Captain Adama?” He called out, taking in the wide open marble atrium, the enormous fountain bubbling in the center, the arch of the stained glass ceiling and then winced at the formality of address, not knowing how to make it right any more. It was easier when Lee was small, and he could bribe him with another story of viper heroism, grinning as the child’s blue eyes grew wide. “Lee,” he called this time. “It’s. . . your father,” he said haltingly.

“Hi Dad,” Lee’s voice floated down from one of the sweeping staircases, calm and cool above the splash of water on stone. Adama may never have been a particularly good parent, but he was a parent, and his son looked thin. And old.

Adama cleared his throat. “It’s good to see you.”

Lee walked down the stairs and stood in front of his father, eyes hard, spine rigid, practically at attention. “You too, sir,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”

“I should have come sooner,” Bill answered, meaning the apology that had crept into his voice.

“I didn’t ask for you sooner,” Lee said, mouth tight.

“You shouldn’t have had to,” Bill said. He stumbled to fill Lee’s deafening silence. “I had no idea the post was like this.”

“It takes some getting used to,” Lee said flatly. “I’ll give you some time to freshen up and then I can brief you; if that’s convenient, sir.”

“That’s fine, son” Adama said and rested a tentative hand on Lee’s shoulder but let it slide off as his son turned to climb back up the stairs without the slightest acknowledgement of the gesture.

* * *

“Captain Thrace.”

Kara Thrace’s head shot up at the voice. “Admiral!” she said, jumping out of the front leaning rest to her feet and striding to the bars with sweat rolling down her neck. She smiled brightly at the sight of Bill Adama, who was not smiling at her.

He sighed, “What did you do this time?”

“Assaulting a superior asshole, sir,” she said, but the grin slipped off her face as Adama continued to look at her with something like disappointment. “C’mon, Admiral, I’ve been working on that one most of the afternoon.”

Adama looked at her steadily. “I’ve got a job for you, Kara. Think your CO could spare you?”

“My CO would love to spare me, sir. What’s up?”

Adama looked over his shoulder at the guard, “Corporal, can you give us a few minutes?”

“Yes sir,” the Marine walked smartly out of the brig.

“Kara,” he said, his hand sliding though the bars to brush over her shoulder in greeting, “what is the reason behind all the fighting? Your FITREPS have been getting increasingly worse—”

“You read those?” she asked, angry at the intrusion. Embarrassed in a way she wasn’t used to, didn’t like.

“I read them,” Adama affirmed. “I like to keep up to speed on your life.”

“You ever hear of a phone? A letter? E-mail?” she demanded.

“You didn’t tell me what I wanted to know.”

“Maybe that’s because I didn’t want you to know.”

“Kara,” Adama sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. Kara stared at the pained expression and the lines spidering out from the corners of his eyes and wondered when the Old Man had gotten so tired.

“You were never a by the letter officer, but you weren’t a trouble-maker either. Baiting your peers? Assaulting your superior officers? Drunk and disorderlies? What has gotten into you? Since when did you want to sabotage your career, risk your wings?”

Kara wasn’t exactly sure how to answer. Introspection was a tricky thing for someone with her kind of a past, and the surface answer of complete and utter boredom wasn’t the entire truth of the matter. She knew how to lie, and lie well, but she had never lied to William Adama and wasn’t about to start now. “I’m restless, sir,” she finally said. “After the cylons came and went and I got stationed somewhere else, and—It’s just CAP after CAP with the same damn people every damn day.”

Adama’s face warmed, mouth turning up in the beginnings of a craggy smile. “Although this is not a productive way of showing it, you are a person who needs a cause.”

“A cause? Like Save the Whales?” Kara asked warily. The Admiral had been getting stranger in his old age – too much booze, too much Tigh. “

More like save the Colonies,” Adama grinned and her heart, her uninspired, unmotivated heart suddenly lurched out of its lazy beat and ratcheted up to partially interested. “You want in, Starbuck?”

“Sir, yes sir,” Kara grinned back.

* * *

“So. You and Adama,” Thrace’s voice was pitched uncharacteristically low as she slid into the chair next to Kendra and settled a tray on the table.

“Me and Adama what?” she asked, feeling the old hostility rising in her. People hadn’t bothered her about her friendship with Lee in a couple of years.

“Calm down, Shaw,” Thrace said with the smug amusement Kendra detested, holding out an envelope to her. “Special delivery. Came by the Admiral Express.”

Kendra took the envelope from her, glanced at the handwriting. A letter from Lee. “The Admiral Express? Are you telling me that the Old Man sullied himself by visiting his banished son?”

Thrace’s face darkened, “Watch what you say about the Admiral, Shaw. He’s been through a lot.”

“Yes, and Lee’s just been having a grand time living in the middle of nowhere with only the thieves for company,” Kendra snapped before getting herself back under control. “Thank you for bringing me my letter, Starbuck.” She looked at Thrace expectantly, waiting for her to saunter off to join another table, one full of laughing pilots, but Starbuck just took a bite of her sandwich.

“So, I’m going to be doing some covert ops with Apollo down in the jungle.”

Kendra poked at a browning lettuce leaf with her fork and said, “Lee’s a professional, despite it all, you play nice with him, he’ll play nice with you.”

She looked up and was caught in Thrace’s frank gaze. For once the blonde woman was exhibiting no signs of mockery or amusement. “What’s between you two, Shaw?” she asked. “What would make a straight arrow like you so loyal to the fleet’s whipping boy?”

Kendra paused, searching for the words that would encompass her relationship with Lee before answering, meeting Thrace’s eyes with her own. “He’s my friend. I trust him.”

Thrace tipped her head in consideration and, amazingly, stood up, seeming to be satisfied. “I’m going down there in the morning. If you want me to pass him a note, or whatever it is you kids do, I can carry it for you.”

Kendra watched in bemusement as Captain Kara Thrace and all her attitude strode out the door with a purpose, tossing a wave to the pilots in the corner and showing signs of being the capable officer she had been rumored to be five years ago.

* * *

“Captain Kara Thrace,” Kara said, standing within the improbability of a castle in the jungle, staring at the banished pilot, the Old Man’s son, Shaw’s friend, “reporting to kick some cylon ass.”

“Captain Lee Adama,” he said formally and walked forward. “Thank you for coming, Captain. I’ll show you to your room.”

Kara followed him up the curving staircase, sliding her hand along the worn white marble, painted with the jagged color of the stained glass above them. “What’s the situation on the ground? The Admiral wasn’t all that specific.”

“That’s because there aren’t all that many specifics,” Adama said as they walked down a long, sunlit hall hung with tapestries. “I believe that skinjobs have infiltrated the local Black Market and are the instigators of a sharp increase in gun running. It’s difficult to tell what’s going on; the government’s decision to classify the existence of cylons that look like humans has handcuffed me. Still, there are rumors about several sets of identical twins matching the descriptions of the known human looking cylons. It’s enough to warrant further investigation.”

“Absolutely,” Kara said, stopping in front of an ornately carved wooden door as Adama opened it for her.

“After you,” he said, the afternoon light flooding in from the windows catching clear blue eyes. She smiled in potentially predatory appreciation and entered the large room.

“Woah,” Kara breathed as she looked around at the enormous canopied bed, fire place and sitting area, all richly appointed in silver and blue. “Okay, really. What is this place?”

“The former winter palace of the Sagittaron royal family,” Adama answered. “I have no idea how it became a military outpost, other than the fact that it’s state owned,” he hesitated, then allowed, almost offered. “I got lost a lot when I first got here.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Kara said. “So, what’s next?”

“Next is that you’re probably a little tired and a lot dirty, so head’s over there,” he gestured to an adjoining room, “Dinner in a few hours okay?” Kara nodded. “Meet me in the front entrance at 1930 and we can talk more then. Good afternoon, Captain.”

“Thanks Apollo,” Kara said, slipping into the well known call sign without really thinking.

She watched him pause in the doorway, rigid shoulders becoming impossibly tighter before forcibly relaxing, a clear act of will. “You’re welcome, Captain.” He didn’t look back as he exited.

Kara dropped her bag on the floor, turning in a slow circle in the middle of the room. “You have got to be frakking kidding me,” she muttered before walking purposefully to the sumptuous bathroom to take a long shower.

* * *

Kara followed Lee through one improbable room after another, past walls lined with bright mosaics, paintings of scenes from plays and operas, tables inlaid with precious stones. They walked from one end of a lavish dining hall to the other, pushing through a heavily carved mahogany door into a surprisingly modernized kitchen where a small table was set for two. They sat down to eat.

“Invisible servants?” Kara asked. “Magic imps to wash your underwear and cook your meals?”

“I gave the imps the day off,” Adama said.

“That explains the lumps in the soup then.”

“I know you’ve been primarily eating in various battlestar messes over the past several years, but those lumps are traditionally called potatoes.”

Kara snorted. “Well its good, lumps and all. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Adama replied, still with the calm smooth voice and unaffected air. Kara kind of wanted to kick him. Or lick his nose. See what would break the cool politeness.

“So,” Kara said through a mouthful of thick bread, ladling more soup into her bowl,

“What’s the situation here?”

“Started with rumors,” Adama said, stretching his arms over his head briefly before settling in to tell the story. “Most things around here start that way. Talk about sets of twins and triplets in a sort of compound far out into the jungle. I thought it was another brothel – specializing in orgies or something like that. I don’t know. Didn’t pay much attention.” He stopped, and Kara could almost see him considering his next words.

“What made you start paying attention?” she prompted, patience not her particular virtue.

“About the same time that happened, the weapons flow into this town started increasingly dramatically. Lots coming in of all types, from 9mm to rocket launchers, and hints of a concerted effort being undertaken to acquire nuclear war heads.”

“Frak me,” Kara breathed. “Why didn’t you do anything?”

He looked at her mildly, “Doesn’t really work that way around here. I don’t have any back-up. Well,” he amended, “other than Phelan and his crew, but you have to have your shit together and favors on offer before you ask them for help. And at the beginning of it all, it was just separate pieces of knowledge, I didn’t put that the cathouse or whatever in the woods had anything to do with the weapons until I saw someone. A couple someones, actually.”

“Boomer,” Kara said flatly.

“I can’t really confirm it,” Lee acknowledged. “I only ever saw pictures of her and this one was dressed differently, hair was different too. I might have let that even pass, but then I saw the contractor from the Pegasus. Much blonder, but still, that cylon has an unforgettable face.”

“Well, hell,” Kara said. “This is a problem.”

"Yeah,” Adama said, “It’s why I thought I needed some help. I can handle most things on my own, but the powers that be did not in any way authorize me to reveal the fact that there were ever cylons who looked like humans. I can’t very well get Phelan’s help on this without telling him the whole story – I won’t put people in jeopardy like that.” He bit off the last of his words almost defiantly.

“Of course not,” Kara said pushing certainty into her voice, radiating bravado. “That’s why they sent me. Best shot in the fleet, outside the box thinker,” she grinned. “I’m all the back-up you’ll ever need, Apollo.”

She watched a small smile play across his face and he raised his glass of wine to her, “Then I’m glad to have you here, Kara Thrace,” he said.

She clinked his glass with hers, pleased, “Glad to be here, Lee Adama.”

* * *

Kara woke up to hot sun streaming through her window. She stretched and crawled out of bed, unused to the luxury of sleeping in, but Apollo had assured her that no one worth knowing was reachable before sunset and she needed to get the lay of the land. Apparently, there were certain ways to do things around these parts, and even though she generally chafed against restrictions, she wasn’t so stupid as to go in blind.

She stood in front of the window, staring out at the jungle, seeing the brash and beautiful jumble of color, barely held at bay by a ring of palm trees surrounding an enormous pool, Apollo swimming laps through the clear water. She pulled on a pair of running shorts and a sports bra and, after a few wrong turns, found her way out to the deck.

“Hey,” she said, when he finally came to a rest.

“Hi,” Apollo ducked under the water and pushed his hair off his face.

“Judging by your tan, it looks like you spend a lot of time out here,” Kara said, not bothering to hide her perusal of his biceps. She figured that if he didn’t want people looking they wouldn’t look like they did. The beaded water was really a nice touch. A warm sense of amusement rose in her when she saw him frankly appraising her bared arms, legs and abs as well.

“Nothing to do during the day,” he said, resting his arms on the deck and squinting up into her face. “So I generally hang around out here, eat, drink, whatever, until I head to the clubs for dinner.”

“This is an official post?” she asked. “I wish I’d been banished five years ago.” Kara knew it was a mistake the minute the words flew out of her mouth and she watched Apollo’s eyes ice over. She added quickly, trying to fix it, “You were in a bad situation and got a raw deal – they were wrong to punish you like this.”

Apollo smiled pleasantly, “Not a punishment at all, though right? Big house, sun, a pool. Excellent drugs and world class sex workers only a thirty minute drive away. It’s like vacation.” He pushed himself out of the water. “Take what you want from the kitchen. I’ll meet you in the entrance hall at 2000.”

She stared at Apollo’s retreating back, wanting to make peace, but not quite knowing how.

“Frak,” Kara muttered.

* * *

That night Kara joined Apollo at precisely 2000 wearing jeans and a red t-shirt, her knives safely tucked into her boots. Adama was wearing a black t-shirt tucked into BDU trousers. “Shouldn’t we be, I don’t know, more incognito?”

“The people we’re meeting tonight already know who I am. Phelan’s the closest thing to an ally I have around here.” Apollo said.

Kara felt wrong footed. She didn’t like the tension from earlier coloring things, lack of trust making a potentially dangerous situation more dangerous, but she wasn’t sure if bringing it up was going to do anything but make it worse. “So what’s the plan?” she asked, feeling vaguely like she had just completely wussed out.

“How do you feel about cards, Starbuck?” he asked, opening the front door and gesturing her outside.

“As in something to do by the pool tomorrow?” She walked out, turning to watch Adama lock the behemoth doors behind them.

“As in joining the nightly triad game at Boss Phelan’s establishment,” he swung into the driver’s seat of an open topped, no-doored jeep and started it up. “It’s his favorite way to appraise the new people in town. He does it on most first meetings.”

Kara clambered in and fought the urge to hang on to the edge of her seat when the jeep lurched forward onto a nearly invisible path into the jungle. “Is that what he did with you?” She asked.

“I was there to come to terms on a business arrangement,” he answered. “No cards necessary.” Kara nodded and listened to Adama’s run down of the usual players and how they fit into the Black Market, the compelling pull of society’s underbelly keeping her interest, helping her not think about the strange animal shrieks and the enclosing darkness of the forest.

* * *

For once, Kara found herself completely outmatched at the triad table. It wasn’t that she was the best card player ever, but she enjoyed the game and usually did better than average in the wardroom and the ready room. Fortunately, despite the obscene amount of wealth possessed by most of the people at the table, they were literally playing for peanuts. “We are business men, Captain Thrace,” Phelan had said to her. “Why gamble our money in cards when there are more interesting and profitable venues that can be invested in?” She had watched with narrowed eyes as Phelan had greeted Apollo with a smile and a warm embrace, had seen Apollo turn down the offer of muse and then dragon with a quick shake of the head and a completely unselfconscious, “Not tonight, I’m driving.” She had very nearly choked on her ambrosia when the house’s Madame had perched on the arm of Apollo’s chair and he had slung an arm around her waist in a friendly squeeze and continued to play one handed.

“I fold,” Kara said, the frustration bleeding into her game.

Phelan looked up in surprise, “You should have a pretty good hand, are you certain?”

Kara glared, positive that the deck wasn’t marked and that no one was standing behind her until the answer occurred to her. “You’ve been counting cards.” She shot an appraising look around the rest of the table, from the dark haired Aquarian woman who dealt in furs to Lee Frakking Adama. “You’ve all been counting cards. Isn’t that usually against house rules?”

Phelan grinned. “I am the house, Captain, and I say that you use all the advantages at your disposal, including your brain.” Kara had no idea if she could count cards and wasn’t in the mood to give herself a headache trying. “Now,” he said, and he must have given some sort of sign because the rest of the table was suddenly empty save for Adama and the woman on his chair. “Shevon,” Phelan said with amusement, “that means you too.”

“If you say so, Boss,” she smiled flippantly before pressing an open mouthed kiss to Apollo’s lips. “Will I be seeing you later?” she asked.

Adama shook his head. “Some other time.” Shevon faded into the background of the smoke filled club and Kara managed to keep her jaw from dropping.

Phelan pulled out three cigars, leaning over and offering the flame to light Kara’s. She took short shallow inhales until the tip was glowing and then relaxed in spite of herself at the taste and scent of good Caprican tobacco. “What brings you to our neck of the woods?” Phelan asked mildly. “You aren’t replacing our captain are you?”

“Not at all,” Kara said a little warily. She wasn’t sure what story Adama had given the boss, if any.

“She’s here to help me with a classified project,” Apollo said, blowing a lazy smoke ring. “I wish I could give you more information, but I can’t. We’re going to be doing some basic reconnaissance, some poking around in the supply chains, looking into the rumor of the compound out in the jungle, that sort of thing.”

Phelan looked at Adama sharply, “You aren’t putting my people at risk by not letting me in on this, Adama. We have a deal.”

“I wouldn’t do that, Phelan,” Adama said. “In fact, you are much better off not knowing the details. It’s safer for you and yours this way.”

Phelan looked at Adama appraisingly. “I believe you, Lee, but Captain Thrace is a virtual stranger.”

“I vouch for her,” Apollo said immediately.

“You?” Phelan said incredulously. “Forgive my disbelief, but you aren’t the trusting sort.”

“I’m not,” Adama admitted, “but Captain Thrace isn’t here to screw with your operation or take my place. She’s an accomplished pilot, has been trained for covert operations and was sent specifically by my father.” He held up a hand as Phelan spoke up in protest. “The admiral and I have many issues,” he said, “but he would not send someone down he couldn’t trust to watch my back. As Starbuck here is surely coming to realize, watching my back means keeping you happy.”

“Look Boss, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you do, I just want to complete our mission with minimal collateral damage.” Kara said, startled by the apparent friendship between the two men.

Phelan looked at her thoughtfully. “Now that sounds familiar,” he said, glancing over at Adama who nodded in acknowledgment. “May I buy you another drink Captain Thrace, or perhaps something stronger?” he asked, “Lee has already mentioned that he’s driving.”

“Another ambrosia would be great,” she said. Phelan gestured and a moment later Shevon appeared with a bottle of top shelf liquor before disappearing again.

“So, the mysterious compound” Phelan mused, going back to the conversation. “Don’t know much about it at all. Some of the residents of that place, or at least people we suspect are residents, attend the farmers market in the square every Saturday. I’d start there if I were you, even if it is a few days away. Be subtle,” he looked between the two of them, and Kara felt vaguely like she was being talked to be a stern teacher.

“I’m the soul of discretion, Phelan,” Adama said, slumping lazily in his chair with both legs sprawled out in front of him, smoke curling around him from his carelessly held cigar.

“You’re a blunt instrument,” Phelan said and then turned his gaze to Kara, “I suspect that you aren’t any more capable of subterfuge than he is.”

“Like Adama said, I’ve had training in covert ops,” Kara said, trying to keep the defensive edge out of her voice.

“Yes, well, you aren’t the sort of woman who blends,” Phelan said mildly. “Go home. Come back tomorrow for dinner, I’ll see if there’s any more information out there and we’ll talk about the art of invisibility.”

Dismissed, Kara and Adama rose from the table and walked out to the jeep. The cloying, humid air clung to her skin and she could occasionally see the stars through the canopy of the trees.

“How often do you go there?” she asked, breaking the silence once they were driving back towards the castle.

“A few times a week,” Adama said. “He’s my ticket into that world and I need to keep up friendly relations.”

“Friendly relations, like with Shevon?” Kara snorted.

“All I need to do to keep up good relations with Shevon is pay her,” he said.

“And the drugs?” she pressed. “It isn’t any of my business, but I got the impression that you’re into some pretty hard core stuff.”

“Occasionally,” he said, unconcerned. “Nothing that would affect my job.”

The frustration that this man elicited in her was sharp and visceral, a strange, unprecedented reaction to a stranger. “Damn it, Adama, you know better than that. This is a dangerous place with no real allies -”

“I realize that,” he said. There was a long pause where she could practically hear his hesitation. “I use sometimes, and it’s just easier to pay for sex then deal with a real relationship. I’m careful though. Now.” Kara remained silent, watching his profile in the faint light of the dashboard. “Kendra abuses me via email, Phelan throws me leads on real assholes involved in child prostitution and gun running and sometimes I go to the club and play cards or get high or pay someone to sleep with me. . .” He shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s a life.”

Before she could stop herself, Kara reached out a hand and squeezed Adama’s knee once before letting go at his puzzled expression. She knew all about losing oneself in the haze of alcohol and sex, trying to forget about broken fingers and broken hearts and long gone fathers and sharp, hateful words and drifting through life without a purpose.