Dr. Zee closed his eyes against the transmitted image of the blue and white planet turning serenely. He had known from the beginning that this part of his plan wouldn't please his guardian and had glossed over it, revealing it slowly and only as necessity dictated. He'd delayed as long as he could, but since the last intelligence reports from the long-range scouts, there was no time to wait. It simply couldn't be avoided any longer. His eyes opened and he watched Adama's angrily pacing reflection in the darker portion of the viewscreen. The commander stopped abruptly and Zee turned to face him.
Yes, it was very much the Fleet Commander in evidence in the cold piercing gaze. Dr. Zee had only rarely had to face the Commander in his young life. As his guardian, Adama was quietly affectionate, proud of his ward's accomplishments, and often indulgent, if Zee were really truthful. He wondered if that was the Adama Captain Troy knew in more private moments, as well. The Fleet Commander, however, was not inclined to be indulgent at the moment. Adama took three steps toward him, towering over the boy. Zee straightened further and pulled his hands behind his back to hide the tell-tale trembling, unconsciously adopting a parade-rest stance.
"How long have you been planning this?" Adama asked softly, his voice a deep baritone rumble.
Zee's skin prickled with a sense-memory of the distant thunderstorm he'd witnessed one night during one of his rare visits to Earth. Flashes of lightning had lit up the dark clouds over the hills that ringed Paradise Valley that night and the thunder had rolled almost continuously, a deep rumble that he had felt as much as heard. Even the damp air had seemed to have an electric feeling to it, like a living thing, wild, exotic and potentially dangerous. It had been mesmerizing for a fourteen year old boy raised all his life aboard starships. He suddenly understood why the Colonial Warriors -- even Adama's grandson, Troy -- jumped to attention so quickly at the sound of that low voice. Adama shouted when he was irritated; this low rumble signaled danger.
The boy-scientist opened his mouth to answer, then closed it. His throat was suddenly too dry to speak and he swallowed once before trying again.
"We have known since we arrived that Earth is not sufficiently advanced to..."
"Enough!" It was more a rough exhalation than a word. The sound hung in the air between them for long microns. Adama resumed his pacing then stopped and turned to face his ward once more. "I won't allow it!"
Zee blinked in surprise. He honestly hadn't expected to hear those words. He'd heard Adama make that pronouncement before, once when he was eight and Captain Troy had devised a foolhardy plan to raid a Cylon listening post in a tricky area of space. The men had forgotten the boy's presence and argued fiercely, and Zee had been a bit frightened until Colonel Boomer had unexpectedly started laughing. He explained that he hadn't heard that particular phrase in yahrens; oddly, he said it had brought back good memories. The men had stared at the colonel for a moment, then continued their discussion in more civil tones.
Adama had still rejected the plan and rightfully so -- Troy's plan had been dangerous and clearly flawed -- but that was different. Zee's plan was neither. He had put much thought and research into this idea. He truly believed that this was the best course of action left to them. Had he not, he would never have approached the Council. Adama had agreed to everything up to this point, to have him reject the last phase out of hand was unthinkable. The Council had already approved this final stage, but if the Galactica's commander wouldn't allow his shuttle to launch, there was little the Council or anyone else could do about it.
"What in all the wide heavens made you think for a single instant that I would agree to this...this..." Adama shook his head in either frustration or denial, Zee wasn't certain which.
Zee took a deep breath. "This will work!" his voice rang out, louder than he'd intended and broke high on the last word. He winced in embarrassment. "I've been working on improving the targeting with the data collected by Captain Troy and Lieutenant Dillon on their last few trips into Earth's past. I can plot the fleet's exit time for exactly fifteen Earth years in the future. That should be long enough for the seeds we've planted to have begun to grow. Yes, it's a different method from the one we've used to travel into the past, but --"
"That's not what concerns me!" Adama roared.
Zee stared at his guardian, bewildered. "We've fooled the Cylons this long, but we won't be able to hide much longer. Adama, you saw Lt. Corwin's report even before I did - they're starting to turn back looking for us. If they decide to look too closely at Earth, we won't be able to protect her. They'll destroy everything on the planet. Once the fleet is through the wormhole, they won't be able to get a fix on us. We'll be...I can show you the data...
Adama shook his head and strode towards the boy once more. His large hands closed gently but firmly on the thin shoulders as he crouched to look into Zee's eyes. "Can you show me the data on how a fourteen-yahren-old boy is supposed to survive all alone on that planet?" He rose and shook Zee's shoulders gently. "That's what worries me, child. I won't allow it. I can't."
"But, the vessel with the equipment has to be on this end to anchor the wormhole. It won't work otherwise, and someone has to be there to operate it."
"Someone else. A warrior."
"I'm the best choice, Adama," Zee stated reasonably. "If something goes wrong, someone will need to be there to keep the wormhole stable. I know the equipment intimately. I wouldn't be able to train someone else quickly enough. Besides, if someone were to be left behind, when the fleet arrives at it's destination, that person will have aged fifteen years. I'm the most logical choice."
Adama's heavy eyebrows raised. "Oh, are you?" he responded archly. "And how did you determine that?"
Zee shrugged. "I'm the youngest. If the worst happens, I'll still be in my prime when the Fleet returns."
"Dr. Petros is quite young for his position," Adama reminded him, but Zee was already shaking his head.
"Dr. Petros was just sealed last secton. It's best this way, Adama. I don't have a family to disappoint."
Adama stared at him and Zee's heart lurched oddly. He'd never seen such a sad expression on his guardian's face. He looked suddenly old -- an odd thing to notice about a man who was well over one hundred yahrens old already, but somehow Adama had never really seemed old to Zee until that moment. Then the expression was gone and the Fleet Commander was back with a vengence.
"Your request is denied, Dr. Zee." The Commander turned to walk away, his back rigid.
"Wait." Zee thought quickly. "I - I could perhaps set the equipment on a timer." Adama paused and turned and Zee continued quickly while he had the Commander's attention once more. "I would still need to be on the vessel almost until the last minute to make the final calculations, but then I could take the life-pod and return to the Galactica before the last of the Fleet enters the wormhole."
Zee held his breath while Adama considered the compromise. This desperate gamble really was their last true hope, they couldn't continue on the way they'd been for the last thirty years and surely Adama knew that as well as Zee. The answer was not assured, however; the Caprican Warrior was notorious for his obstinence.
At length, the Galactica's Commander nodded slowly. "You will take Captain Troy with you," he said decisively.
"He'll make certain you get back safely," Adama answered calmly. He turned once more at the door and added gently, "That, my young friend, is not open to discussion."
"I thought the idea was to bring Earth up to speed technologically," Jamie Hamilton commented.
Dillon sighed. "It still is, Jamie, but the timing is a critical factor."
"The fleet needs help now, Jamie," Troy added, turning away from packing up the last of the Fleet children's Earth clothing in preparation for their return to the Fleet. He paused to look across the field to where the children were taking their leave of the Alonzo family. Hector and his wife and children were good people. Troy was sorry he'd have to miss seeing Chris and Gloria grow up. "Even with what we've been able to do, the changes will take time. Do you honestly think your world is ready for interstellar refugees? Or the Cylon Empire?"
"So what happened to not meddling with Earth's past?" she asked hotly.
"Technically, we're not," Dillon chimed in. "We're meddling with Earth's present. That's what we've been doing all along."
"Oh, sure, that's what you say. How do I know you aren't really from the future anyway?"
The two men turned to stare incredulously at their friend.
"Well, you could be," she snapped.
Troy shook his head and muttered, "I'm not even going to answer that."
Jamie fumed for a few minutes more as the men silently stowed the kids' gear in the shuttle's cargo compartment.
"So tell me again why I'm being left behind? You promised me an exclusive, remember? Film at eleven?"
Troy's lips curled in a slight smile. The reminder of their "deal" with the reporter was an old joke between the three.
"I wish we could bring you, Jamie," Dillon commented softly.
The decision to leave Jamie Hamilton behind in the current time had hit Dillon harder than anyone had expected. The big warrior wasn't particularly quiet, but did tend to keep his emotions to himself. Only Troy was privy to the growing attraction his friend had been nurturing towards the Earth woman. Dillon hadn't even gotten around to discussing the subject openly with Jamie herself and now, well, it was a moot point, now. Troy was frankly worried about him. Troy slammed the compartment shut with a bit more force than necessary and turned with a grin, hoping to dispell the increasingly gloomy atmosphere.
"You'll still get your exclusive, Miss Hamilton," he teased.
"Yeah, in fifteen years!" she sniped back. She dug in her pocketbook and came up with a pack of cigarettes. She had barely gotten one lit when Dillon pulled it from her mouth and tamped it out. "Hey!"
"We'd like you to be here when we get back, Jamie," the big man lectured in what Troy thought of as his best school-teacher voice. "Y'know, Dr. Salik analyzed these things -- they're pure poison."
She glared at Dillon for a moment, then launched herself at him for a tight hug. When Troy started to back towards the exit, she reached out and snagged his sleeve and pulled him forward, too. "God, I'm gonna miss you guys," she sniffed. She leaned back and swiped at her damp eyes. "Damn it, look what you made me do," she accused.
Dillon pulled her to his chest once more. "We'll miss you, too."
Troy's communicator buzzed at that moment and he quickly stepped outside. "Troy."
Captain, this is Core Command. Your departure has been moved forward. Prepare to rendezvouz with Galactica in 25 centons. Report directly to Command.
"Acknowledged, Core Command." Troy frowned as he slipped the sleeve of his jacket over the communicator and returned to the shuttle. He banged on the bulkhead twice before entering and pretended not to notice that his friends were still moving out of their embrace as he stepped into the compartment. "Dillon, we've been moved up. We've got 25 centons before rendezvouz with Galactica. Better get the kids in here and settled."
Dillon glanced up at his friend's distracted tone. "What's up?"
Troy shook his head, then shrugged. "I don't know. Jamie..."
She reached out and touched Troy's shoulder, then rose on her toes and planted a sisterly kiss on his cheek. "I know. Thanks," she said softly, then there were children hopping aboard and she turned to pass out goodbye hugs and kisses to the little ones before quickly leaving the shuttle and moving out of range to allow them to take off. She stopped and turned when she heard the engines engage. She raised a hand to wave one last time, then hastily shielded her eyes as the shuttle's launch kicked up the dirt, leaves and debris in the area. By the time her vision had cleared, they were gone.
"We should be getting to the pod," Troy commented.
Zee tossed his companion -- his babysitter -- a sullen glance, and the captain winced. He knew Dr. Zee was a boy -- hell, they'd shared a compartment briefly before Troy had graduated from the academy and moved to the batchelor warriors' quarters -- but this was the first time that he could remember Zee acting like the adolescent he was. It was...awkward.
Troy sighed as he watched the scientist's hands moving over his equipment. He recognized stalling when he saw it. Zee would tweak one instrument, move to another then return the first to its original setting.
The captain combed one hand through his dark hair and sighed again roughly. "Listen, Zee...It's not that he doesn't trust you..."
"Oh, no," the boy muttered in an uncharacteristically sarcastic tone. "It's just my judgement he doesn't trust."
Troy frowned again at the tone. There was something familiar about this exchange, but it took him a moment to grasp what it was. When he did, the realization startled a laugh out of him.
Zee's blond head snapped around to stare at his foster-brother furiously. "What?"
Troy laughed again then gentled his tone at the rising flush on the boy's normally pale face. "Zee, Dad and I had this exact same argument when I was - well - maybe a little younger than you are now."
Zee scowled. "It's not the same," he said dismissively.
"No, it never is," Troy murmured. This last couple of days in his company had forced Troy to come to a realization. All this time, living in the same household with the fleet's young adopted castaway, Troy had never really noticed that Zee was, in many ways, just a boy. He'd allowed himself to get caught up in the attitudes of those around him, seeing only the alien scientist, not the child. His father had been right, Troy admitted with a twinge of conscience. He resolved to take this new understanding back with them when they returned. It was time Dr. Zee was given the latitude to act like a teen-ager from time to time and Troy would be the one to see to it he did. The next few years should be fun.
Finally Zee had to concede that it was time to set this plan in motion. Galactica and the rest of the Colonial Fleet were warned to prepare for the jump and the timer was set.
"So, when this is all over, I'm supposed to meet Dad for dinner on the Celestra. Why don't you join us? We can hit the Academy Triad courts while we're there. Little one-on-one game?" Troy suggested casually as he made ready to disengage one of the science vessels five small life pods from it's moorings.
The suggestion seemed to catch Dr. Zee off guard. "Why?" he asked. "I don't play triad."
Troy smiled a little. Zee's tone was genuinely puzzled. He glanced up and caught the boy's eye. "Trust me. The physical exertion will help."
"I haven't seen Commander Apollo for several sectars," Zee added diffidently. "I'm not certain..."
"He'd like to see you," Troy answered.
Zee frowned a little and chewed his lip, glancing at Troy from the corner of his eye as he settled into his seat. Finally Troy was rewarded with a small smile, the first he'd seen from Zee in a while. "Perhaps so," the boy conceded, then ducked when the warrior reached out and touselled his hair.
"There you go. Then later, Dillon and I can introduce you to the wonders of locker room talk."
Zee glanced up at him again in confusion. Troy just laughed.
Outside the portal, the wormhole swirled into existence. "Oh, showtime!" Troy muttered turning his attention to the task at hand.
The tiny vessel lurched then shuddered violently.
"Was that supposed to happen?!" the pilot snapped.
Dr. Zee was already wrestling with his seat restraints and dove for the door of the pod. "No, something's wrong!"
"Zee!" Troy grabbed for the scientist and missed by a hairsbreadth. "Zee, get back here!"
The boy was tossed to the floor as the vessel lurched again and for an instant his stomach rebelled as the artifical gravity flickered and then stabilized. He scrambled to his feet and lurched for the control panel. Outside, the wormhole fluxed sickeningly.
"No, the wormhole's destabilizing! Something's interfering with it. I have to compensate!"
Part of the fleet had already disappeared into the energy stream, the rest were committed. The wormhole fluxed again and one of the ships nearest the fluctuation bloomed in a bright explosion for a second before the vaccuum extinguished it. Zee's fingers flew across the controls and the wormhole settled again. He glanced over his shoulder at Troy.
"I don't know how long I can hold it."
"Damn it, Zee! We have to get off this ship!" The warrior grabbed the boy's arm and drug him towards the open pod.
The vessel lurched again and tossed to one side. Troy lost his grip on Zee's arm and slammed into the open life pod hatch while Zee clung to the bolted-in control chair.
The warrior didn't answer and Zee was out of time.
"Computer! Emergency protocol! Disengage life pod Alpha!"
There was a pause before the computer's voice responded. Life pod Alpha disengaging.
The airlock doors hissed briefly and the tiny life pod streaked away, it's automatic pilot setting course for the nearest Colonial vessel as programmed. Seconds later, the wormhole flashed once and collapsed. The Colonial Fleet was gone.
In the end, she'd just gone home, back to her job, back to her life. Now, days after the shuttle had made it's exit from Earth's atmosphere, Jamie Hamilton sat on the tiny balcony of her apartment, arms loosely wrapped around her knees, and studied the stars. There should have been some sign, she thought. A flash of light, a thunderclap, something. Something to signal the end of this amazing chapter of her life.
When the telephone rang, she almost didn't answer it.