When all was said and done, Apollo had really had no idea why the ensign was in the room at all. The alien searchers -- as human as they, but hailing from neither the long-dead Colonies nor Earth, or so they had claimed -- had hand-picked the Warriors who would make up part of the search team. They had pored over the requested selection of personnel files, looking for just the right set of characteristics that would help them find their missing fugitive, reading each one with thorough care. One would ask a pertinent question here: How is she in close-quarters combat? Another would make a comment there: I like this one; he has prior S&R experience, too. None would ever tell Apollo exactly what it was they were searching for among his Warriors, though; even their tall dark-haired and dark-eyed leader had shrugged and said simply that he'd know it when he found it.
"Who exactly is this man you're looking for?" Apollo had asked, a bit more belligerently than his father would have approved, perhaps, but then the Old Man had chosen to sit out the tedious bits, hadn't he?
The aliens had traded looks around the table.
"A dangerous man, a criminal responsible for hundreds of innocent deaths where we come from," the larger blond man had answered. He had a deep mellow voice, soothing had Apollo been in a mood to be soothed.
"A criminal with access to technology that would allow him to by-pass our sensors and stow-away on one of our cargo shuttles?" Apollo asked scornfully. "A shuttle coming back from a trade mission, at that. Do you have any idea how carefully we go over those things even before they're allowed to dock?"
"We do, Captain," the leader had assured him. "Your security protocols are not at fault. This... person was able to secure very sensitive technology from one of our military R&D labs. It would, unfortunately, allow him to pass undetected through your entire process."
"He's military, then."
The dark head shook. "I didn't say that."
Apollo sighed in exasperation and ran a hand over the back of his neck. "Then he's a scientist?"
The aliens exchanged wary looks once more.
"Can you at least tell us his name?!"
"I'm sorry, that's classified," the leader had said wearily. "There's really very little we're able to tell you about our quarry. What we can will be revealed in the briefing."
Apollo had thrown himself into his seat almost petulantly. He was stuck here in this room going over his own Warrior's files with three aliens who wouldn't tell him what they wanted except in the vaguest of terms when all he really wanted was to be back in Life Center, at Boxey's side where he belonged. He rubbed at the incipient headache in his temples.
The woman, Jamie, had laid a warm hand on his arm and he'd looked up, unguarded for a moment.
"It won't be much longer, Apollo. We'll let you get back to your son, soon," she said, understandingly.
He had stared. He hadn't told them about Boxey's collapse that morning, the sudden coma into which his small son had fallen from no discernible cause. As worrying as it had been just from Apollo's perspective, the collapse of a second child aboard the Gemonese Freighter had Salik and his medical personnel almost frantic to find the cause. They wouldn't say that they were afraid of contagion, but the worried glances passing between grey faces over the two small life-support pods had spoken in a language of their own.
"How do you--"
She had smiled gently. "Some one must have mentioned it," she had said dismissively. Her broad, flat accent made her Colonial Standard somewhat difficult to understand. "I must have overheard."
"Right." He'd eyed the three of them. "Does this have something to do with whoever this is we're looking for?" he had asked with rising agitation. "If you know something about what's happened to those two kids--!"
The leader had sighed and rubbed at his eyes.
"We don't think they're in any real danger, Captain," he'd admitted grudgingly.
"Really? Well, that's certainly reassuring," Apollo had said acerbically. "And it would certainly be news to their doctors! Why in Hades didn't you say you knew something about--"
"Troy," the big man had said softly, interrupting Apollo's warm-up to hand a final file to his leader.
"That's it," Troy had said after a cursory glance at the contents. "These are the ones we need, Captain. I'd appreciate it if you could summon them immediately -- and we'll want you, there, too, along with the Commander, of course." The lean man had smiled then, the first smile Apollo had seen from him since he'd stepped aboard earlier that day. It was a thin cold travesty of a smile, more of a bitter twist to his mouth. "Don't worry. It'll all be over soon."
Apollo hadn't found that assurance particularly comforting. Nor had he found the list of briefing participants particularly enlightening. He could understand Boomer and Starbuck, they'd both participated in this sort of thing before. Bojay did have that Search & Rescue assignment on his record, so he could understand him, as well, and Cassiopea was a medtech, but the ensign was another story. He'd only graduated from the Academy a few sectons before and was still in shake-down. He hadn't any special skills and hadn't proven himself particularly adept at anything besides taking tests, so far as Apollo was concerned.
Now, the briefing under way, the boy seemed as mystified by his inclusion as the rest of them. He listened, wide-eyed and painfully alert to Troy's description of the fugitive they'd come to track.
"The man we're looking for is considered to be extremely dangerous. He's highly intelligent, well-trained and in command of a small army of men and women we call Hunters. He's using technology he stole from our military Research and Development labs to try and shape our world to fit his own designs."
"What are these Hunters?" Adama asked gravely.
"Assassins," Troy answered succinctly. "They hunt down and kill the people he wants 'removed from the equation,' as he puts it. Very often, the hunted have no idea they've been targeted. As my friend told the Captain earlier, he's responsible for hundreds of deaths on our world."
"A colleague of ours is supposed to be on his way here with word of their latest attempts," the other man added. He glanced at the computron strapped to his wrist. "He's late," he said acidly.
Jamie had drifted to the rear of the conference room, her back to the proceedings, arms wrapped around herself as if cold. She turned back to them at the sound of her husband's deep voice.
"Dillon, you don't think something's happened?"
"I hope not," he answered grimly.
Apollo leaned forward. He'd thought since the first time he'd heard it that the name Dillon sounded familiar. He'd heard it recently. He just couldn't place it.
"You say he's using these Hunters to 'try and shape your world.' How does plotting the deaths of random innocents accomplish that?"
Troy gave him another of his thin smiles.
"I never said they were random, Apollo. Just that they weren't aware that they'd been targeted. Each of the individuals this man has targeted are in a position to make great contributions to our society. They simply haven't fulfilled their promise. He kills them before they can."
Something beeped and Troy pulled back the sleeve of his jacket to peer at his own computron.
"He's made it," he said over his shoulder to the others.
Jamie spoke up again. "My people have a saying, Apollo. To nip something in the bud. Stop it before it truly begins. That's his strategy."
Adama gave her a sharp look while murmurs rose around the briefing table.
"And just how does he select these... targets?"
"Yeah," Starbuck chimed in. "How can he know who is going to make a major contribution to anything before they do?"
Apollo shook his head incredulously. "He'd have to be able to travel in time!"
Troy gazed at him silently. Apollo stared back.
"You've got to be kidding me!" Boomer said softly into the pregnant silence.
At that moment there was a soft sound in the room and the Warriors all stood, weapons drawn, as young man stepped seemingly out of thin air.
"No, it's alright," Troy said quickly. "It's the colleague I told you about. Zee? Did you get to them?"
The young man was barely more than a child, Apollo noted with a small frown, in his late teens at best. He carried a pack on his back and another bundled against his chest. Something fairly large was wrapped in a blanket and cradled in his arms.
"I got to two of them, Troy," he said softly.
Troy gathered the larger burden into his arms and gently laid it out on the conference table. He pulled back the wrapping and Cassiopea, the first to see it, caught her breath.
"A little girl! She's just a baby!"
"She's four, actually. I practically had to pull her out from under the Hunter's hand," the boy called out. "He'd already gotten to her parents."
"She's the reason you're here, Cassiopea," Troy said. "Her and the other one."
"The other one!" Cassiopea exclaimed.
He turned back to the boy, who was being helped out of the front harness. He pulled a baby of about fifteen sectars out of the harness and laid the little one on the table next to the dark-haired girl.
"Don?" Troy asked, voice tense.
The youngster raised stricken eyes to him. "I'm sorry, Troy. I couldn't get to him in time. I tried, I really did."
"Did you?" Troy said, voice hard.
"I did," Zee repeated earnestly. "They got to him first, and then the unit only had enough energy left for this trip. I'm sorry!"
Adama's imperative call broke into their conversation. "Are you telling me that these children were two of this man's targets?"
"You can see why he's been so successful," Dillon said. "At this age, they don't put up much of a fight."
"How could you possibly know about it if he's hunting them through time?" Starbuck asked, skeptically.
"We didn't for a long time," Dillon answered. "The three of us had been making periodic trips back into the time stream, trying to locate... the fugitive. We came back from a trip and someone we all knew had disappeared. We could remember him because we'd been out of the time stream, but no one else could."
Troy's mouth thinned and he turned away from the group for a few centons.
"Some one you knew," Apollo said, watching the man's reaction.
"My partner," Troy said roughly. "Dr. Donald Mortenson. I kissed him good-bye in the morning and by the time I got back he... As far as anyone but the three of us were concerned, none of it had ever happened."
"This is personal for you," Apollo said.
Troy looked up at him.
"Yes," he said softly. "Very."
"We found out that the time stream had been diverted," Jamie took over the narrative. "In that reality, little Donnie Mortenson had been murdered when he was ten years old, along with his parents and younger brother. The murderers had never been caught. The only odd thing about the crime scene was the word 'Orion' scrawled on the wall of the children's bedroom. In our mythology, Orion was the name of a famous hunter who never missed a target. Once we knew what to look for, we found others as well, with different mythic or legendary names attached, all famous hunters. Atalanta, Diana, Herne, Quatermain, Nimrod... There may be others as well, but these were the ones we found more than once. We think it's how he keeps track of his kills. When the name of a Hunter is found, he knows it's one of his. They went back centuries."
"Good Lord," Adama said softly with a shake of his head.
Cassiopea looked up from her medical scanner. "Sir, these children are comatose, like--like Boxey and that little boy from the Gemonese Freighter! The readings are identical. I need to get them to Life Center."
Adama nodded his approval and she hurried to call for medical assistance.
Apollo ran a hand over his mouth. "Same as Boxey," he repeated softly. He stared furiously at Troy. "Is he responsible for --"
It was Zee who answered. "No. At least, not directly."
Dillon laughed humorlessly from his position near his wife. "I don't know. In an oblique way, perhaps."
Zee swung around to face him. "Dillon--"
"Stop," Troy said abruptly. "We don't have time for this. Zee, get your equipment set up."
The other two exchanged embarrassed glances and set their incipient quarrel aside.
Zee moved to a spot between Troy and Dillon and pulled the pack off of his shoulders. He pulled out a few pieces of electronic equipment, odd and unfamiliar enough that Apollo's fingers itched to touch them. A view screen powered up with an almost sub-aural hum.
Ensign Xavier's voice brought his attention back to the meeting.
"Seems to me, all we've got is time. How are we supposed to catch someone who can be literally anywhere or in any time? He's unstoppable."
The young voice caught Troy's attention, too, and he smiled a bit more warmly than Apollo had seen from the man before. He moved to stand behind the ensign's chair and laid a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Well, you see, Ensign Xavier, that's our problem. We tried stopping him once before by simply showing up whenever we could predict he'd be, and we caught him once that way. He escaped custody, though, and we don't know the identities of every Hunter he's recruited, so there's no real way to predict their movements. He's become much more subtle."
"So, how do you plan on stopping him?" Apollo asked. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the larger man casually moved in behind Troy and the ensign. There was something odd about the scene unfolding before him, something that had his hackles raised and he half-rose from his chair in response. A quick glance told him Adama was also on alert, the other warriors not certain but wary as well.
Troy laid a second hand on the young pilot's other shoulder. The boy jerked and looked up at him, confused.
"By nipping it in the bud," Troy said quietly.
He was fast. Dear God, but he was fast and by the time Apollo had launched himself across the span of polished wood between them, the boy's neck had snapped with a grisly sound and Ensign Xavier's body slumped against the table between them, head lolling sickeningly.
There was a flash of light and Apollo hit an invisible barrier that seemed to pass through the surface of the table just short of where the ensign's body lay. He saw another flash of light as someone else's body impacted with the barrier, then heard the shrill hum of a laser pistol being discharged against it as well and to no more effect. He rolled quickly along the edge of the barrier and dropped to the floor to take stock of the situation, drawing his own weapon as he fell into a crouch, ignoring the exclamations and shouted orders sounding out around him.
The dark-haired alien woman stood against the far wall, hand over her mouth and eyes wide, her husband's arms supporting her. As Apollo watched, the big man pulled her around and buried her face in his own chest.
Zee had paused, hands poised over one of his devices. He shook himself and rose to cross over to the ensign's body and calmly checked for a pulse. He frowned faintly and pulled a hypospray from his pocket and sprayed the contents into the ensign's neck. The background noise fell silent.
"Is he done?" Troy's voice was strangled. He was standing white-faced and grim to one side, hands out to his sides as if he didn't want to acknowledge they were a part of him.
Zee glanced back at him calmly. "He is now."
Troy nodded and turned away. He walked two or three steps before falling to hands and knees and retching onto the floor.
Zee stepped back to his equipment and made a few adjustments.
"It's ready, Troy," he called out. "The timer's set. You've got precisely fifteen centons from the time I hit this button before all this equipment becomes slag and the force field comes down."
Troy nodded and raised himself back up from his corner. "Alright, do it."
Zee pressed a button and looked up at Troy.
Apollo shouted again as Troy drew a weapon from the pocket of his jacket and shot the boy between his wide hazel eyes, then turned the weapon on Dillon and Jamie as well.
Troy turned and faced them again.
"Captain Apollo, you should go to Life Center," he said and his voice cracked. He cleared his throat.
"Go!" Troy snapped. "Your son will be waking up soon."
Apollo rose and took a step towards the barrier, staring in shock. "How could you know that?"
Dark eyes raised to his. Serina's eyes, he realized with a shock.
"Boxey," some one -- Starbuck, perhaps -- gasped out, but Apollo's head was already shaking slowly from side to side. He reached out a hand towards the force field as Troy raised his weapon once more and placed the muzzle against his own temple.
"Go to Life Center, Apollo," Troy repeated.
"Apollo. Go on," Adama had crossed the room and pulled on his son's arm, urging him back and away from what they both knew was about to happen.
Troy waited until his father cleared the door.
"Commander Adama," Troy said and the older man looked back sharply. "'By any means necessary.' Mission fracking accomplished, sir," he said caustically. "You get a do-over. Don't frack it up this time."
He pulled the trigger.
"We've done the DNA tests three times, Adama," Salik said softly.
He looked back into the room where his four young charges were playing while Apollo sat with them, Boxey cradled in his lap. The boy wriggled and slipped from his father's grasp to run across the room with the other boy, a small strawberry blond named Dillon. The baby rocked himself to unsteady feet and tried to toddle after them, only to land back on the floor on his well-padded rear.
The little dark-haired girl watched the boys from where she stood, the corner of her blanket firmly in her mouth and her hand fisted in the leather of Apollo's flight jacket. Jamie hadn't let the captain out of her sight since he'd walked into the room and called her by name, crouching down to her eye level. She couldn't understand anything else anyone said and no one else spoke her language, but she clung to Apollo stubbornly all the same, howling disconsolately if anyone else tried to take her off his hands.
"There's no doubt," the doctor continued. "Those children are all genetically identical to our deceased guests."
"Including Boxey," Adama said, resigned. It wasn't a question.
"Yes," the doctor said.
Adama sat down on one of the hard chairs.
"I'm just going to sit for a while, Doctor."
"Of course, Adama," Salik said softly and moved away, allowing the commander his privacy.
Adama reached into his pocket and pulled out the small piece of paper he'd recovered from Troy's body. A two dimensional likeness was printed on one side. Troy, happy and smiling, and another man looked back at him. The other man was older than Troy but still handsome with dark curls and laughing blue eyes. There was a scrap of beach just visible behind them.
He took a long look at the man his grandson would never meet and slipped it back into his pocket.
Children's laughter wafted through the door and the words of a dying man rang in his ears.
Don't frack it up this time.