Chapter VII


Apollo played with a vengeance, as if his concentration had narrowed to one single thought, that of defeating Starbuck in their triad solo match not merely of taking the victory, which the captain was quite capable of doing, but of defeating his opponent. To the other man's astonishment, he occasionally crossed the boundaries of friendly competition. Apollo himself couldn't recall when he'd ever played such a wild, almost vicious game, but he didn't try to stop. The ache in his skull seemed like a warning of worse to come, but he tried to ignore it or wish it away. Grimly, he only pushed the game farther and faster and more furious. It drained some fierce energy from deep within, some disturbing emotion and sense he was unwilling to acknowledge any other way.

Those watching the match knew Apollo well enough to recognize a change from his usual style, but not well enough to realize the wild, unpredictable play might indicate something wrong; they enthusiastically applauded each quick move and countermove, while Starbuck tried vainly to match the pace. After watching for a while, however, and seeing how nearly brutal the captain was at times, there were a few murmurs of concern.

"Enough!" the lieutenant finally gasped after a rib block that left him on the floor for several microns. "I concede!"

Apollo danced away.

Starbuck glared balefully at his friend's satisfied expression.

"Good thing this wasn't a competition match!" Astarte commented to Orestes. "Apollo would've killed him."

"If this had been a real competition match, the officiator wouldn't have let Apollo get away with half of that stuff!" Orestes muttered back. It was supposed to have been a friendly game, just between two pilots testing each other's skills, with a handful of friends cheering them on for the fun of it. Apollo certainly hadn't played it that way, and Orestes was just a bit concerned about his half-brother's current condition. When had Starbuck ever conceded defeat and walked away from anything?

Apollo strolled out of the triad court to be greeted by Electra and several of the others all out of uniform and enjoying what passed for furlon on the Pegasus. He'd earned his victory drink.

Starbuck was left sitting in the middle of the floor, still trying to catch his breath. As Orestes and Astarte entered the court he suddenly pulled off his helmet and threw it against the far wall.

"What in Hades was he trying to do?" Starbuck demanded of thin air, running his fingers angrily through his dripping hair. "He played meaner than Ortega ever did, worse than Boomer during that game Iblis goaded us into."

"What?"

Starbuck threw off their helping hands and got to his feet. Ignoring their attempts to talk to him, he stomped off to the turboshower.

* * * * *

"So much for friendly competition!" Cain hit the switch and cut off the transmission from the triad court. Their watching the game hadn't been intentional; the commander had accidentally engaged the screen with a swipe of his swagger stick, making a point. The match had been so keenly intense that he, the colonel, and the doctor had been caught up in watching Apollo and Starbuck play.

"That's all you've got to say about it?"

Cain half-smiled at his exec's question. "Well, I could note that we now know which is the better man."

Kleopatra frowned uneasily; her commander's comment had a snide edge to it, but she wasn't going to pry in that direction. There was more at stake here than anybody's petty personal feelings. "Apollo doesn't play that way, he never has. I think the stress is getting to a lot of the men. This could just be another symptom."

"Why does it sound like you've been talking to Helena?"

The dark woman glanced at the pale blonde medic. "Because I have. She came to me with this in the hope that we could persuade you together...."

"We survived two yahrens in deep space after Molecay; why are our warriors suddenly having so many problems now?" He leaned back in his seat.

Helena joined the conversation, continuing the argument she'd begun before the game distracted them. "Because after Molecay, we first thought the Colonies were safe, that the treaty was true and we would soon be at peace, and we were excited about that. And we still had Metus and the rest of our medical staff to keep their eyes on the emotional state of our people. There was no urgency to getting home. After the Destruction, we didn't know anything had survived until we heard about the 'rebel fleet' and discovered Apollo and Starbuck the first time.

"I admit I'm no psychologist; I can only go with what little I know about the human psyche. But it's obvious to me that the worst of this began after that meeting, when we knew something of our people survived, but we were apart from them. The pilots knew our people were in jeopardy, fighting just to stay alive. They wanted to be with the fleet, but they accepted your orders, your decision to fight from the outside. But it began then, the depression, the stress not suddenly now, as you suggest. Finding the Delphians and facing the Cylons gave us a reason to be here, but it didn't make it any easier.

"After our second meeting with the Galactica and the fleet, we'd met the aliens. And we didn't see Cylons for a long time, until this listening post you're so obsessed with...."

He started at that, but kept his mouth shut while she continued.

"We know there are aliens out there. We know there are Cylons out there. The Delphians are gone. The growing feeling is that we're not carrying through on a mission we're abandoning what's left of our people."

"Cain," Kleopatra interjected, "I have to agree with Helena. We ought to go back to the fleet and stay with them! Not just for their sake, but for ours."

Cain was on his feet and at the port in one quick motion, staring outward.

"Our people need it all of our people." Kleopatra watched him closely. The swagger stick, held behind his back, was still. The commander almost seemed to be standing at attention before the stars.

He finally spoke slowly. "Kleopatra, Helena, I care about our people all of them, here and aboard the Galactica and in the fleet. But...."

"Why can't we go back?" Helena demanded.

He faced her, but Kleopatra spoke before discussion could become argument.

"What does a warrior do when he's lost the war?" the colonel asked softly. "History tells us he can fight on and die. Or he can save what's left and plan to fight another day. That's what you did at Molecay, Commander; that's why we're still here now. Cain, the fleet is what's left...."

"And you no longer feel that our being here will help them survive to find sanctuary and to fight another day," he stated flatly.

"Don't put words in my mouth. Yes, I personally would be happier if we were with the fleet. But I obey you, as I always have. You're ... well, you know what you are, as a man and an officer and a warrior. But it's gone beyond that simple obedience. If we lost our crew to insanity, what good are we doing them or anybody else? We're running out of options."

His mouth tightened.

She pointed at the screen. "Take a good look at life center's recent medical files, what symptoms our people are reporting. And remember the game we just saw. Think about Apollo he's been with the fleet 'til now, he's had family and friends to stabilize him. It's hitting him. It's hitting all of us."

Cain had to stare at the empty screen for a moment; it was better than facing either woman or more arguments he couldn't counter. "I'll think about what you've said," he finally conceded.

"That's all we ask."

* * * * *

Apollo and Starbuck ran into each other in the turboshower dressing room. Apollo, fully dressed, stepped around the lockers; Starbuck, half-dressed and moving slowly from a number of sore spots on his anatomy, was sitting on a bench struggling with his boots. For a moment they just stared. The captain nodded slightly, then slipped past the lieutenant to disappear outside.

Starbuck rose in shock, mouth half-open with what he'd intended to say hanging in silence. He took a step after his erstwhile buddy but another man interposed himself.

"Starbuck?" Orestes queried.

"Forget it!" he shot back.

"What's wrong? Starbuck, little brother, tell me...."

It was the "little brother" that got him. He slumped to the bench. "I don't know, Orestes. He's acting so...." He threw his arms out in confusion and shook his head. "I hardly see him anymore, except when we're on patrol together. And if he's gonna be treating me like he did today, I don't wanna see him very often!"

Orestes observed a pair of matching bruises on his left ribs. Taking that, several skinned knuckles, and the wince when he moved his arms, he knew Starbuck was indeed in some pain. "Maybe you better hit life center, get checked out."

Starbuck shook the suggestion off.

"Hey, triad gets physical sometimes not like today, I know, but sometimes players get hurt. It's not like you'd be stirring up any trouble. Just say you took a bad fall...."

The younger man looked skeptical, then smiled ruefully. "Okay. I could use a little attention, I think...."

"Celeste, Tamyris, Pele, Lygia, Sapphire, Twyla she can patch up your bruises, anyway...." Orestes deadpanned.

"Enough!" Starbuck struggled into his second boot. "You wouldn't happen to be looking for a new triad partner, would you?"

"Yeah, right. We'll take on the whole ship. What about Apollo? Weren't you two going to pair up against Trent and Rissian? Besides, teamed with me, you'd wind up playing against Apollo again. Think you'd survive?" The offer disturbed him, but Orestes tried to treat it like a joke.

"I get enough abuse from my enemies, don't need it from my friends and teammates too!" he finished emphatically, snapping the final clasp of his boot.

"You're serious."

"Yes."

The silence lengthened.

* * * * *

"Are you all right, Apollo?" Electra asked curiously.

The man next to her on the couch sipped moodily at his chalice of Edric's latest concoction. Preoccupied, he didn't even seem to notice she'd asked him a question. His free hand circled in a tense pattern on the slim crossed ankles resting over his knee.

"Apollo?" she repeated, frowning.

He finally focused on her. "Hmm?" His demeanor and attitude changed in a micron. The shadow seemed to lift and vanish as the slight frown disappeared from his brows.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, why?" He seemed as puzzled as she.

"Well, the way you played triad today if I didn't know you both, I'd've thought you were up against a mortal enemy, not one of your best friends. And you've been so quiet and brooding I thought maybe you had one of those headaches again."

Apollo shrugged and made a face. "Well, maybe a little one. But it's gone. Or maybe I shouldn't have told you that," he added with a sideways glance and a smile. "I like your 'treatment' better than the potions they pour down my throat in life center."

His hand moved up her leg suggestively. Electra knew she ought to pursue the issue, but there was something charmingly irresistible about the handsome captain when he played coy. When he leaned forward to kiss her, she decided to let the matter go for the moment.

* * * * *

Sheba moved furtively through the ship, glancing around to be sure she wasn't followed. With the heavy ear protectors, she couldn't have heard footsteps if someone was behind her. She didn't meet anybody on the upper decks above the main engines; most of the area was reserved for storage and equipment needing little maintenance or direct monitoring. Few people could have stood the direct noise and vibration for long.

She reached the ladder to the celestial observation dome and hesitated, staring up at the closed hatch. Was this the right thing to do? Was she imagining things? Maybe it was desecration, maybe she didn't belong here, maybe she ought to leave....

A small hand touched her shoulder tentatively; she nearly jumped through the hatch. Whirling, she met Cassiopeia's shocked expression with a warrior's fighting crouch. That provoked a backward leap from the med tech.

The two women stared at each other for a few centons, then Sheba pointed up and began climbing the ladder. When they were both in the safety of the dome, she dropped the hatch, sealed it, and took off her ear protectors.

Cassie took hers off too, shaking her head to loosen her hair.

The small chamber was as Sheba had left it when she fled even the dylinium panels still blossomed open like flower petals. Cassie's blue eyes tracked Sheba's stare as she nervously studied everything.

"Sheba," she finally asked, "what exactly are you looking for?"

"I'm ... not sure...."

After a few more moments of silence, Cassiopeia asked again, "Why did you tell me to meet you here? What is it you wanted to talk about?" Something eerie was pricking at her skull, a funny little buzzing that she couldn't identify, pinpoint, or explain. Instead, she shuddered, still watching Sheba with a worried expression.

"You do feel it! I'm not imagining things!" Sheba sounded relieved. Her shoulders relaxed as if some weight were gone, but almost instantly tensed up again.

"Feel what?" she brazened, trying to deny it.

"He's here."

"What? Who's here?" Cassiopeia couldn't help glancing around quickly, almost expecting somebody to jump out from behind the control station.

"Apollo." Sheba's voice was hushed.

"What?"

"Well, his spirit, anyway. This was where he always came, remember? When he wanted to be alone or to think? I came here a few sectons ago, thought I could use it too. But his presence here.... He was here, somehow."

"Apollo's dead...."

"I know that. But not all of him. Some part of him is here...."

Cassie stared at her for a long moment. "Are you trying to tell me you think Apollo is ... haunting this chamber?" she demanded in disbelief.

"You said you felt it too...."

She found herself shivering again.

Sheba walked around the control panel. There was little to see within the chamber, much more interesting sights beyond the clear dylinium, but her attention focused completely on the small room.

"I've never thought about ghosts...." Cassie began, but her voice died. The tingles grew stronger almost as though they were a personal message to her.

Her friend's voice was awed and almost reverent. "Warriors think of them. Almost every ship I've ever been on or heard of has had some story of a crewman or pilot or someone close to the ship staying aboard after their ... death. The Galactica has the devil's pit, where they say you can meet the engineers and pilots who refused to leave when they died. The Pegasus is older than the Galactica; she has her places too, the billets that are storerooms because things happen there and no one will live in them; the one launch tube.... We know about them, we just don't think about them. Is this where Apollo's going to be? It's fitting, somehow. I wonder if he minds us being here?"

"This chamber was abandoned long ago." Cassie's voice was none too steady at the direction Sheba's thoughts were taking. "If someone was going to haunt it, it would be one of the astronavigators who used it. Apollo wouldn't.... He just wouldn't."

"Why not?" Sheba's preoccupation deepened. "I wonder where Starbuck's chosen haunts are...."

Cassie couldn't help thinking that little laugh was almost demented.

* * * * *

The throbbing was less intense than it had been in the past, but it was somehow more pervasive, spilling through every cell in his skull. This was no migraine. It was everywhere, and it left him feeling as though he were viewing the world and his own actions from a detached perspective, from the dark and far side of an echoing cavern. His body almost moved of its own accord.

Something planted itself in front of him. His head tilted and his eyes raised to see Lt. Jolly standing there.

"Captain, I'd like a change of assignment."

"Oh?" he asked distantly. "I thought I already did that. You're no longer flying with Greenbean."

"You did," the big man confirmed. "But I'm not interested in flying with Bojay or Giles either."

Boomer tried to think of a response from the far end of the tunnel he was in. "Why?"

"I'd prefer to keep that personal, sir," Jolly snapped back.

"You know, for a man who used to get along with everybody, you don't get along with anybody these days," Boomer noted.

"Never mind, Captain. Don't trouble yourself. I'll talk to Captain Nestor." Boomer saw a look of complete disgust on the other man's face for a micron before Jolly whirled and stomped away.

He shrugged, never noticing the grave looks from the handful of warriors who had seen the "discussion." They moved away uneasily, glancing back at their captain with great concern. Boomer was left alone in the corner of the officers' club.

It hit him like the flood from a broken damn. Everything in his skull exploded at once and he almost screamed, would have, but for something that hit his throat first and strangled every sound stillborn. When the rush of pain had gone, he knew exactly what he had to do. With the assured stride of a man on a mission, Capt. Boomer abandoned the OC.

* * * * *

Adama needed to get away. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be anywhere he could go. And no one was willing to let him go if he could find a place. Tigh continued to resist promotion. When he tried to carry out his threat to resign and give someone else the Galactica, the Council had categorically refused his resignation. That is, Siress Tinia, new president of the Council, had turned him down. It had been a shock; he had never anticipated that the men and women who seemed to spend half their time finding ways to usurp his authority would ignore a chance to retire him without a fight it was as though the thought of being without him gave them all a sudden case of cold feet. Disregarding his pride, he had gone to Tinia afterward, privately, to demand reasons and ask her to reconsider. She had turned his plea against him.

"Adama, the fleet is in a state of uneasiness right now. The possibility of Cylons being near, perhaps those aliens as well, concern for the Pegasus and the Delphians, our recently missing pilots, changes on the Council. We couldn't accept your resignation, Adama. We need you for stability."

His protests that most of those concerns were now sectons and even sectars old and likely forgotten by most of the populace was shunted aside. Tinia turned steady brown eyes on him and repeated her words.

"We need you, Adama. Stay, please. At least for now...."

Determined woman that she was, when she chose to be, Adama knew he wouldn't budge her from that stance. Leaving Tigh in charge on the bridge he was doing that more often these days he fled to what seemed his only sanctuary and his prison. Back in his quarters the commander's quarters he found Athena helping Boxey with his instructional period reinforcement lessons.

"Ah, how good to see my family...." He extended his arms for a hug from the small boy, but received only a strained smile from his daughter. "Athena? Is something troubling you?"

Other than the obvious?

"I was hoping to talk to you, Father." She glanced significantly at her nephew.

"Boxey," Adama said, ruffling the boy's brown hair and stopping to pat the head of the mechanical daggit he was never without, "go finish your instructional assignments. You aunt and I have something to discuss."

"Something about warriors?" he questioned brightly.

A quick glance at Athena. She nodded, once.

"Yes."

"But I'm a warrior! Father said so, before...." Sudden confusion and pain crossed the child's face and he reached for his daggit. "Okay, Grandfather."

"It'll only be a few centons, Boxey. Then we'll go as I promised...."

A dubious nod.

The warriors moved away to stand next to the situation update computers at the entrance to the commander's quarters.

"What is it, Athena?"

She took a moment to organize her words, and Adama almost expected her to change her mind. Then she drew a long breath and began in a low voice. "Father, I remember what Colonel Tigh said when Apollo and Starbuck disappeared. That maybe they could be with Cain again, because we don't know where Cain is or what he's doing. Do you think there's any chance of that? That they could all be alive somewhere?"

He had to shut his eyes to control his emotions. The old pain was suddenly an open wound again. "No, Athena. I don't believe there's any chance of that," he replied heavily. "I can't believe it. I can't live expecting that kind of miracle."

"Could they be prisoners of the aliens, like Apollo and the others were before?"

A shudder ran through him, chilling his heart. "I doubt there's really any chance of that. The aliens had them for sectons then. It's been longer than that again since our people ... disappeared. What would be the point?"

She persisted. "But could it be possible? We still don't know what they wanted from us."

"I pray it is not so."

"You would rather Apollo and Starbuck were dead?"

"I believe it is what they would prefer," he admitted starkly.

She winced.

"Why ask this now, Athena?" he inquired more gently when she seemed unable to speak again. He touched her face; she felt cold.

"I just saw Sheba and Cassie, Father, on their way to the Rising Star...."

"Yes?" He knew what the situation had been between those five Apollo, Sheba, Cassie, Starbuck, and Athena usually friends, but not always easily, sometimes tense with arguments and jealousies; they were a rich texture of brothers and sisters by blood or bonds of duty, friendship, love, rivalry.... What did it matter now?

"They came from the celestial observation dome. They were shaking and scared. Father, they said they felt Apollo's presence there. They think he's there, somehow, in some way."

Adama's face went ashen.

"And they've gone to the Rising Star to look for Starbuck."

He couldn't stop the shudder.

"Father," Athena whispered, "do you believe in apparitions? Ghosts? Could Apollo's spirit be there? And Starbuck's? That's where Apollo used to go, he took them there once, told them about it. That's where he used to hide when he needed to be alone. They think that's why he's there now. Could it be...?"

"I ... don't know...." He had never considered it. He knew the stories of haunted ships, haunted quarters. He was sensitive enough and had been trained well enough to know there was something to it, that life beyond death was real and could sometimes be sensed. But he had never thought to seek his son either of them, or his wife or anyone else he loved that way, to find a place where he could feel their spirits.... He went cold to his heart, understood Athena's pallor and chill. He might never be warm again.

"If you don't think there's any chance of them being alive, it must be ghosts. What else could explain it?" She sounded desperate, as though she wanted any certain answer. The commander knew then that she had continued to nurse some hope for Apollo and Starbuck's return, but this could be the death knell of that hope, to accept their spirits only as being present.

"Athena...." He tried to smile.

"I've tried to believe they could come back!" Her breath caught in her throat; she began to sob.

"Is my father coming back?" a small voice demanded out of nowhere.

Adama and Athena glanced down and realized Boxey had edged close enough to hear them. The boy stared up at them with a mutinous expression in his young eyes.

"Boxey...." Adama had to kneel next to him.

Athena leaned against the wall with a sigh. She crossed her arms and closed her eyes, shuddering.

"No!" Boxey pulled away. "Is my father coming back?"

"I.... Boxey, that's beyond our knowledge...."

"Is he a ghost?" His lip quivered.

Adama reached for him again; again Boxey pulled away.

"It's not fair! Mother went away, and she stayed away. I was sad, but I didn't cry, I tried not to. But when Father goes away, and I'm sad and I cry, he comes back. But he never stays! He goes away and comes back and goes away again."

"Boxey...."

"And I hate it!" he suddenly yelled. Tears welled up in his eyes, ran down his smooth cheeks. The mechanical daggit growled in sympathy. "I hate it when he goes away! I don't like being sad! And then he comes back and goes away and makes me sad again! I don't like it! If he's just going to go away again I don't want him to come back! I don't like being sad and I don't want to be sad again! I don't want to cry again!"

A very shocked Adama finally captured his sobbing grandson, pulling him close. He heard Athena begin to cry too.

"I don't want him to come back again! He'll just make me sad...."

Adama groaned in emotional agony.

Sagan, give me wisdom....


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