Part One

 

"Alarm," said Apollo.

Starbuck grunted and turned over, pulling most of the quilt with him.

"Starbuck. Alarm."

"I heard it." Starbuck sat up, punched energetically at his pillow and sank gracefully back again. "What d'ya expect me to do about it?"

"Get up. Go. Depart. Darken my bed no more." Apollo yawned widely. "And close the door behind you."

Starbuck rolled onto his back and sighed. "Why? Why do I have to go? I'm not on duty for three centars, I'm warm, I'm comfortable, I had some very hot sex last night and I'm…" he paused, raised the quilt and squinted south. "Yep.. Thought so. I'm horny. So why do I have to go, Apollo?"

"You know why," said Apollo, but there was the merest hint of interest in his tone. "And you're always horny when you wake up."

"Noticed, huh?"

"How could I miss it? You're usually waving it in my face."

"Trying to hint that you take advantage of it. You're awfully dim, sometimes, Apollo, and visual aids help get the message across. Look, why don't you just tell him about us? I'm sure he'll be cool about it."

Apollo shuddered slightly. "I told you that'll have to wait. When he's a bit older, maybe."

"How much older? He's almost old enough to claim his pension, for Sagan's sake. I know what it is! You're just trying to avoid the little father-son chat. Coward."

"Am not. I've got medals to prove it." Apollo absent-mindedly trailed one hand down Starbuck's chest, checking, the lieutenant supposed, to see how horny he was. Starbuck didn't protest. Not if it delayed him being sent out into the cold dark corridors to scurry back to his own quarters before Boxey woke up.

"You bought those medals in a penny bazaar," jeered Starbuck, wriggling in closer, invitingly. "You forget I was with you at the time."

"Oh yeah. Goldclusters, two for the price of one. Yours was the free one."

"Told you they were a bargain. Now, about facing up to your responsibilities and telling Boxey the facts of life -"

"Don't need to. Teachers are wonderful things. They did some human biology last sectar."

"Which bit?"

Apollo squeezed gently and Starbuck felt his eyes bulge slightly. He let his mouth dropped open into a round O of physical gratification, hoping that Apollo would succumb to the urge to kiss it. After all, kissing was a dangerous business. One kiss and the Lord only knew what they'd end up doing.

"This bit. Boxey was grossed out by the whole thing." Apollo's fingers smoothed down Starbuck's erection to fondle the testicles at the base. "He hasn't discovered girls yet."

"Their function and value, you mean?" Starbuck's breath was coming a little short.

"He sees them as a totally unnecessary piece of creation." Apollo leaned across and ran his tongue over Starbuck's lips. "Mmn You taste of stale beer. Love it." A centon to recover, then the captain went on, "They don't play Triad, they can't run, they can't catch, can't pitch, and they always complain about getting dirty."

"I don't mind getting dirty, Apollo."

"Just as well." Apollo pulled his hand away despite Starbuck's wails. "No, it's no good, Starbuck. You've got to go, so there's no point in us getting hot. I can't tell Boxey yet. He was upset enough when I admitted, under close cross examination from the little darling, that it was true that adults did that together."

"That?" queried Starbuck.

"That what you want and that what you ain't gonna get - just now at any rate." Apollo was ungrammatical, but firm.

"Oh," said Starbuck, sadly accepting the inevitable but willing to put off getting out of Apollo's warm bed for a few more centons. "So what did he say?"

Apollo grinned. "Well, it was pretty funny, really, although I don't know who was reddest, me or him. It wasn't that he was after information so much as reassurance. Like ‘Dad, you didn't ever do that, did you?' After I'd explained that, well yes, that's what adults do to show how much they love each other and that his teacher wasn't lying and that's how babies – including him – got made, he went into shock and asked me if I enjoyed it or whether I just had to do it."

"Tell!"

"I said that it was very nice, thank you," said Apollo, primly.

Starbuck stared in disbelief. " ‘Very nice thank you?' Sex is very nice? That's the best you can do?"

Apollo ran his tongue suggestively over his lips, almost pouting at his lover. Starbuck moaned at him, irresistibly reminded of what that mouth and tongue could do to him.

"See?" said Apollo, complacent. "Nice. Unfortunately, that's what grossed Boxey out. He thinks there's something unmanly about liking girls."

They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"Priceless. So, let me guess what happens next. Suddenly there's this major flaw in his otherwise splendid and heroic father, and you've fallen off your pedestal."

"Catapulted off, big time."

"Just as well. That much hero worship is downright unhealthy. Now the kind of worship I have in mind is very, very healthy." Starbuck reached for his captain with both hands. His preferred form of worship was decidedly tactile in nature.

"Gerroff!" protested Apollo indignantly. "That's my erection, thank you very much! Unlike you, I don't go around waving it in other people's faces hinting that they might like to take care of it."

"I don't need the hint. Come on, Apollo. If he's old enough to be asking you questions about sex, he's old enough to be told about all of it. Our kind as well as all the hetero stuff we've given up on." Starbuck propped himself up on one elbow. "Besides, if you're right about him not having any time for girls yet, he'll be delighted when you tell him you've seen the error of your ways and you only do that with me now and that it's very, very nice. Seriously, he's eight. Nearly nine. He can't be that innocent about life."

"Well, I'd rather he was innocent for a bit longer. I'll thank you to take your hands off my cock and get out of here before he wakes up."

Starbuck slid reluctantly out of bed. "I'm going to dump you for someone who's unencumbered with tender-minded infants. Geez! Why's it so bloody cold?"

"Energy conservation," said Apollo. "The heating comes on at a time when decent people get up."

Having an eight yahren-old son whose every sentence seemed to end with a question mark had blunted Apollo's grasp of rhetoric, as Starbuck told him – robustly and with profane emphasis. It didn't offend Apollo, and it at least kept Starbuck warm as he hurried into clothes that had ended up scattered all over the bedroom floor the night before. Fully dressed now, but still feeling sleepy and tousled, he leaned down for one last kiss.

"See you tonight?"

"I'll see you in the duty office in two and a half centars," said Apollo pointedly. Starbuck had been known to get back to his own quarters then doze off again. "But yeah - tonight."

"Good." Starbuck kissed him again, fingers tracing the line of Apollo's mouth. "Love you, Apollo."

"Love you too." Apollo ostentatiously snuggled down under the quilt.

"Unfeeling bastard," Starbuck muttered, and headed for the door.

He turned just for a micron and looked back yearningly. He and Apollo had been lovers for sectars now, but he still couldn't believe his luck. The sex was nothing short of incredible, but Starbuck got almost as much satisfaction, although less physical and more spiritual, in just looking at the god-damn beautiful face and knowing that Apollo was his. After almost fifteen yahrens of waiting and longing, Apollo finally belonged to him.

"See you later," he said with such longing in his tone that anyone with an ounce of decency and compassion would have invited him back to bed and offered to take care of that morning erection for him.

But military training instilled discipline and an acceptance of hardship and privation. All Apollo did was wave and disappear under the quilt, and Starbuck crept out into the main living area, crossing it as quietly as he could. It was just past six, but Boxey was known to be appallingly energetic in the mornings and often burst in on Apollo with the dawn.

Starbuck opened the door and glanced around. All quiet, and once out in the corridor, he headed for the turbo-lift and his own quarters, three levels down. He was in a hurry. The sooner he got home, the sooner he could deal with the little problem of the erection Apollo had summarily rejected, damn him.

And just to pay him back, thought Starbuck resentfully, I'm going to fantasise about someone else while I do it. And no, I don't know who. Anyone.

 

 

"You'll be late." Apollo swallowed the last of his tea, and scooped up the case of reports he had to take back to the duty office with him. Reading them had whiled away the time between Boxey's bedtime and Starbuck's arrival when the coast was clear.

"It's only maths," Boxey said with a shrug. "Hate maths. Why do I need to do it?"

"You want to be a Viper pilot, right?"

Boxey nodded.

"Then you need to do maths so you can navigate your way around."

"Starbuck says the computer does that for him." Boxey gathered his school things together with manifest reluctance.

Apollo watched tolerantly, inured to the mute appeal in his son's brown eyes. "And how often does Starbuck get lost?"

"Oh. Yeah. See what you mean." Boxey trailed after his father out of their quarters. "He says you used to do his maths for him at the Academy. Why won't you do mine?"

"Why should I?"

"You did for Starbuck."

"Well, just look at him, Boxey. Do you really want to end up like him? I did a very bad job of bringing up Starbuck, even allowing for the fact I was working with some very unpromising material. I never make the same mistake twice." Apollo grinned down at his son, wishing Starbuck was there to be outraged.

"He says he had a lot of trouble bringing you up, too. He says it took you sectars to learn to play Pyramid, and I'm faster than you ever were."

"My morals kept getting in the way of what Starbuck likes to describe as creative playing strategies." Apollo punched the button to call the turbo-lift.

"Cheating?" asked Boxey with a worldly air that was centuries older than his true age, and all of it Starbuck-instilled.

"Cheating," agreed Apollo.

"I don't cheat. Promise," said Boxey cheerfully as they stepped into the lift. "Hey, Dad, look! That's pretty cool. What is it? A bird?"

Apollo stopped dead, staring at the beautifully executed little drawing on the lift wall. His heart hammered and he felt momentarily sick. Stupid, stupid, stupid. After all this time he shouldn't let it bother him. It was a long time ago. Half a lifetime ago.

"Oh, I see it now," said Boxey. "It's an angel. Good isn't it?"

Apollo put a hand on Boxey's shoulder, to reassure himself about where and who he was. For a micron the little drawing had catapulted him back into a past he tried so desperately to forget.

"Dad?" Boxey looked slightly alarmed, disturbed by Apollo's stillness and silence.

Apollo touched the drawing carefully with one finger. The paint was still wet. Whoever had done this, whoever it was had such an odd taste in vandalism, had just gone.

"Yeah," he said at last, wondering why the vandal had chosen this particular image. "It's good."

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, and rubbed it across the drawing, smearing the paint. He rubbed harder, until it was no more than a featureless black mark on the lift wall.

"That's a shame," said Boxey. "Didn't you like it?"

Apollo looked down at the stained handkerchief, then crumpled it up into an ball, clenched in a hand that shook visibly. He took a deep breath, steadying himself.

"No," he said. "I don't like angels."

 

 

"Starbuck?"

"Mmmnn?"

"You awake?"

"Well, I could be," said Starbuck, getting very awake indeed. "If you're disturbing my well earned rest to offer me your body, then I most definitely am awake. Wide awake and raring to go."

"I can't sleep," said Apollo glumly.

"What's up?"

Apollo stared up into the darkness and his mouth twisted into a thin, bitter line. What indeed? How could he tell Starbuck why, even after a lifetime, the sound of the word alone was enough to make him feel sick at the rush of memories? That a drawing on the turbo-lift wall had the power to disturb a hard-won stability? He'd kept silent about this for fifteen yahrens. He couldn't tell Starbuck, not after all this time.

Angel. Sweet Angel .

"Nothing. I just can't sleep." He kept his tone light. "I thought you might have some way of getting me tired."

"Now then! That's a challenge eminently suited to a man of my outstanding talents. Lights, 15 per cent." Starbuck liked to be able to see Apollo when they made love. He raised himself up on one elbow and grinned down at his lover, the lighting in the room now dim and romantic. "Just what did you have in mind, gorgeous?"

"Well," Apollo said, slowly and thoughtfully. "I thought we might start by you kissing me - right here - " he indicated the little hollow at the base of his throat. He adored having Starbuck nuzzle and lick him there. For some reason it had a direct connexion down to his groin and always got him hot and bothered. "And then sort of work your way down below the equator and give me some head, just for starters. Then while I suck you I want those wicked fingers of yours inside my arse, getting me good and ready. And then I want you to fuck me senseless."

Starbuck considered the proposed itinerary, head on one side, expression serious. "Well - okay," he said after a centon. "But only because I'm not going to get a better offer tonight. Start kissing you…somewhere about here, wasn't it?"

He rolled over until he was lying on top of Apollo, pinning the captain down with his weight, and started with small, fast little kisses, kisses that barely made contact with the skin of Apollo's throat, kisses that were meant to tease. Apollo tilted his head back to give him unfettered access, giving himself up to the pleasure, losing himself in it, because nothing mattered at that centon except the feel of Starbuck's hot mouth on his throat and lips. He tangled his fingers in Starbuck's thick blond hair, pulling him tighter and closer.

Starbuck's chuckle was decidedly throaty and sexy as he moved on to phase two, the flickering little kisses roaming across Apollo's shoulders and chest.

"Starbuck?" Apollo was writhing now, making his own little noises of helpless pleasure, the little noises that always got Starbuck as hot as hell. "Starbuck, do you love me?"

Starbuck raised his head from the nipple that had been receiving some serious attention, leaving it taut and swollen, gleaming with saliva.

"I thought that we decided this morning that you're lousy at rhetorical questions?" He smiled down into the wide green eyes. "More than anything, Apollo. More than anything in the entire universe."

Apollo managed a slight smile in return. "Then I don't want you to fuck me senseless, Starbuck. Make love to me instead."

"My pleasure." Starbuck ducked down for a long satisfying kiss, then resumed his ministrations on the other, hitherto neglected, nipple, grinning as Apollo moaned softly.

Apollo's hands slid slowly down Starbuck's sides to run over the smooth buttocks. He parted his legs to hook them around Starbuck's waist, sliding in a hand to stroke along the sides of the rigid shaft that was pressing into his belly. A few more centons of that hot mouth and tongue anointing his body, and he wanted it so hard, so urgently, that he tugged Starbuck's head up before the lieutenant had got as far as his navel.

"Come inside me, Starbuck. Right now."

Another fleetingly puzzled look. "I'll hurt you, Apollo."

"Just take it slow and I'll be fine. I want you, Starbuck. Please."

Starbuck, still dubious, sat back on his heels and reached for the lube, coating his cock liberally. "Apollo…"

"Please," said Apollo again, needing to feel Starbuck inside him, needing to have Starbuck make everything else fade into silence. He lifted his legs up onto Starbuck's shoulders, shuddering slightly as he felt the head of his lover's hard cock press against him. He reached up to get one hand around Starbuck's neck and kissed him, the other hand reaching down between them to guide Starbuck home.

The kisses had long ago stopped being butterfly light and teasing. Now they were full, hot, hard and left them breathless as Starbuck pressed forward with a steady, demanding pressure. Apollo gasped softly as Starbuck slowly filled him, Starbuck moving forward gently, a tiny bit forward, half that distance back again, letting Apollo get used to the feeling. When he was sure Apollo was ready, he pushed forward in one smooth, steady thrust.

"Oh Lords." Apollo‘s voice was a thread, body rigid for a micron, back arched, then he sighed and relaxed.

Starbuck, eyes closed as he concentrated, moved with long, deep, deliberate strokes that had Apollo wordless, moaning, barely able to stroke himself as Starbuck, intent on a long, slow lovemaking, moved inside him.

Sometimes when they made love and he was on top, Starbuck would tease Apollo, pulling almost all the way out to make him almost whimper at the sudden loss, before plunging back to fill him again. That always ended in a frenzied, abandoned fuck that left them both exhausted. But not this time. He'd picked up on Apollo's need for something less wild and furious, something more loving and reassuring.

Apollo locked gazes with Starbuck as they moved slowly together, each deep thrust met by a surge from Apollo to get him in deeper, every thrust wrenching a groan from each of them.

"Gods, you're beautiful," whispered Starbuck, leaning down to kiss Apollo's parted lips.

Apollo, responding as if his life depended on it, took his hands off his cock to hold Starbuck closer to him, his legs slipping down. Knees bent outwards to make the maximum room, he pulled Starbuck forward to hold him tight, kissing him with such desperation that he could barely breathe.

"Harder. Harder, Starbuck."

Starbuck didn't reply. He didn't have the breath. But he picked up the pace a little, driving in a little faster, a little harder, pounding on Apollo's prostate now.

That was all it took.

"Apollo!"

Apollo gasped out as an unbearable wave of heat and pleasure, the almost-pain of orgasm, flooded over him. Starbuck was yelling and came first, shooting his load high up into Apollo's writhing, sweat-slicked body, thrusting himself in hard and holding it.

Apollo writhed, making sure that the head of Starbuck's cock pressed hard up against his prostate. It was all he needed to feel like he'd exploded, tightening his legs around Starbuck's thighs as he spasmed around the thick, heavy cock inside him, writhing to make it touch his prostate again and again as he shot onto Starbuck's stomach, the thick hot wetness forced between them where they were pressed up hard against each other.

Starbuck held himself very still for a micron, his head hanging, relaxing slowly. Almost sobbing for breath, he allowed his rapidly softening cock to slide out and lay down beside Apollo, pulling the still gasping captain into his arms.

"Impressive," he managed. "You came without me even touching you."

Apollo, chest heaving, smiled at him, sated, and touched his face.

"One of the best ever," he said drowsily, eyelids drooping. "Thanks, Starbuck. I love you."

Starbuck smiled and pulled him closer. "Love you too. Go to sleep, Apollo. Go to sleep."

 

 

 

"Shit!" Ensign Cree said furiously. "I don't believe this! Who the hell's done this?"

Ensign Meade, his partner in crime and sharer of the punishment an irate captain had handed out the day before for larking about on patrol when they should have been concentrating on watching for hostiles, came to join him at the store room door.

"What's wrong?"

"Look!" said Cree, glowering dramatically, and pushed the door open wide.

Meade looked past him in dismay. "Shit!" she said like an echo of his disbelief. "But how did this happen?"

"He'll kill us. He's due down here to inspect this in twenty centons and he'll kill us."

"No, he won't do that," said Meade, fair-mindedly.

"Then we'll just wish he'd killed us. He'll have us scrubbing out the turboflushes with nailbrushes."

Being female, Meade was infinitely more practical and sensible than her excitable wing mate. "He can be a bastard, but he's not unfair. Loads of people saw us cleaning this place out yesterday, and they'll back us up. But who'd do this? I didn't think anyone had it in for us enough to pull a nasty trick like this."

The captain, deciding that they needed tidier minds and tidier habits to help them concentrate, had come up with a punishment to fit their crime. Meade had suspected that Apollo had been looking for an excuse to get some of the store-rooms spring- cleaned. As a consequence, she and Cree had spent centars clearing out the storeroom on Beta deck where spare helmets, uniforms and evac suits had been kept in complete confusion.

"I don't know," said Cree, sulky now. "But that wasn't here before."

He nodded to the graffito on the wall, above a tumbled mass of uniform jackets.

"Never seen it before," Meade agreed, then sighed, remembering the painfully neat storeroom they'd left the previous evening. "I even sorted out the helmets by size," she said.

"What'll we do?"

"Go and tell him. It'll be worse if he gets down here and sees it first."

"I suppose." Cree pulled the door closed.

He trailed unhappily in Meade's wake all the way to the duty office, muttering to himself. Some of the suggestions concerning the physical peculiarities and likely parentage of the perpetrator of this "joke" would have shocked a less Cree-immune young woman than Meade, but she let him grumble on while she tried to work out who was so hacked off with them that he or she had tried to get them into trouble with the captain. The spiteful nature of the joke was what surprised her the most.

Once in the turbo-lift, Cree's grumbles died away into an apprehensive murmur. Apollo was generally deemed to be hard, but fair, and it didn't do to cross him: he could be very inventive, not to mention evil, where administrative punishments were concerned. The pilots liked and respected their Strike Commander, but it was a risky business getting on the wrong side of him two days running.

"That for the Skipper?" Meade asked, and Cree glanced up to see that they weren't alone in the lift. One of the elderly civilian mess stewards, Barnaby, was carrying a tray loaded with tea.

"It is." Barnaby smiled at the two young officers.

"Hope it's sweet enough to sweeten him," said Cree. "Hey, why does he get biscuits as well as you bringing him tea?"

"He is the captain," said Barnaby. "Privilege of rank."

"You lot just spoil him," said Cree. "Oh boy. Here we are. Who's on shift with him?"

"Starbuck, of course," said Meade, and they grinned at each other. "That's all right. He'll be on our side."

"And we'll need all the help we can get."

"Yes. Here let me, Barney." Meade rang the chime to save the old man from trying to reach for it, and as the door slid aside she and Cree exchanged fatalistic looks.

"Lords, all the domestic staff at once. Butler and both the housemaids." Starbuck didn't sound as if he was on the Ensigns' side, but his blue eyes were full of amusement as he watched them sidle in behind the steward.

Barnaby laid down the tray and carefully set out the cups.

"Well?" Apollo asked, looking up from the computer terminal. "I'll be down when I've had my tea. You don't need to escort me there to admire your industry."

Cree looked imploringly at his wingmate and stayed mute. As usual, he was leaving it to Meade to do the explaining. It wasn't that he was sexist or anything, he'd once said to her, ignoring her derision, but she was prettier than he was and anything that might soften the captain's wrath was to be welcomed.

"Thing is, sir, there's been a bit of a hitch," confided Meade.

"A hitch," repeated Apollo. His tone was not encouraging.

"Cree and me spent four centars clearing out that storeroom, sir. Honest. Lots of people saw us -"

"Mistake," said Starbuck. "Don't pull in your alibi too early. Lacks finesse and credibility, somehow."

"Ignore the lieutenant," said Apollo. "I usually do. So. Lots of people saw you working very hard, just like I ordered? That's gratifying for all of us. I get taken seriously, they have the pleasure of watching someone else do some work, and you two get to present me with a nice clean storeroom. So where's the hitch?"

"We just went back to check on it, sir, before you came down. Someone's been in and messed it all up again. It looks like they just threw everything around until it's worse than before."

Cree put in his bent cubit's worth. "It's not a locked store-room, sir. Anyone could get in."

"Not bad," said Starbuck. "That's so unconvincing it has to be true. Or brilliantly devious."

"Neither ensign has shown much sign of brilliance," Apollo pointed out, unkindly. He took the tea that the steward handed him. "Thanks, Barney."

"Then it must be true." Starbuck took his own cup from the steward and nodded his thanks. "As it happens, Captain, I passed by there yesterday myself and they were about half done. I remember offering them the benefit of my advice – " Meade remembered too, and glowered. Starbuck smiled back sweetly. "Doing a good job, too. Next time you punish them, could you assign them to clean my quarters?"

"I doubt if anyone could sin that badly." Apollo sipped the hot tea. "Okay, you two. Who've you pissed off? Apart from me, that is."

"I don't know, sir," said Cree. "The only thing we noticed was a drawing painted onto the wall. That wasn't there last night."

Apollo stiffened, the cup half raised. "What sort of drawing?".

"An angel, about so high." Meade held her hands about a foot apart. "Pretty thing, too."

Apollo put down his tea. "An angel?"

"With wings. And a halo," agreed Meade, wondering why Apollo looked so shocked.

"Definitely not a portrait of me, then," said Starbuck, cheerfully.

"No," said Apollo. "No. Nor of me."

 

 

"Something bothering you, Apollo?"

The captain had just returned from inspecting the wrecked storeroom and staring long and hard at the little angel picture. It was identical to the one he and Boxey had seen in the lift, and he'd looked at it for a long time, fighting down the sickness until he'd found some quiet and calm again. It was nothing. It couldn't touch him any more.

"I'm fine." He smiled at Starbuck and picked up his lukewarm tea. "Yeuch. This tastes disgusting, cold."

"It always tastes disgusting. It's the downside of being your wingmate that I have to drink the stuff." Starbuck gave him a considering look. "I'll call Barney and ask him to bring up some more, and some decent java for me. Was it bad down there?"

"Messy, but no real damage. I felt sorry for the kids. They were peeved."

"You mean you didn't make them do it again?"

"I'm not that evil. I asked a couple of the cleaning staff to sort it out."

"Sorry, Apollo, but if you're trying for most popular senior officer award, the position's filled. They all adore me."

Apollo grinned. "I'm content for a judicious mix of the younger ones being scared enough of me, but liking me all the same. That way they do what I tell 'em and I don't cop a laser bolt up my rear thrusters. That would be unpleasant."

"Depends what sort of bolt you were after," said Starbuck, and he leered at his commanding officer in an extremely unmilitary fashion. "You've got a very pretty rear thruster."

Apollo gave him a cool, unimpressed look. He was quite puritan in his behaviour on duty and expected the same from Starbuck.

"And the picture?" Starbuck went on. "Maybe it's the joker's calling card."

"Maybe. It's a very good little drawing, and I was quite impressed with it - then I realised it was a stencil. Hell, even I could be artistic spraying paint through a stencil."

"In a pig's ear. The only artistic bent you have, my love, is sexual." Starbuck grinned at his lover, the grin widening when he saw that this at least had provoked a faint blush on Apollo's face. "Aw, I love it when you go all pink for me."

"That's enough while we're on duty, Lieutenant," Apollo said very firmly.

"Although you're too dedicated to duty for your own good, Apollo. I can understand him - or her - using a stencil for speed, but it's an odd image to use."

"Irony is lost on you, it seems."

"Don't be snooty. You don't think this is the start of a campaign, do you? Someone relieving the tedium of space travel with a spot of disruption?"

"Probably," said Apollo, and God knew, he hoped it was something as essentially harmless. He sighed and sat back down at his computer. For a centon he stared blankly at the screen, aware of Starbuck's measuring gaze but trying not to react to it.

"Apollo? Apollo, if something's wrong you would tell me, wouldn't you?"

Tell him? No. He couldn't tell Starbuck. He looked up and smiled reassuringly, thinking how beautiful Starbuck was and how much he loved him, how little he could bear to lose him.

"Of course I would, idiot. But there's nothing wrong. Nothing at all."

 

 

Suddenly, it seemed, they had a plague of angels.

The Book of the Word, so far as Apollo could remember from his childhood lessons, had a lot to say about the plagues a vengeful God inflicted on humanity when they were cast out of Kobol. A plague of blood that fell like rain at least had some sort of apocalyptic feel about it, was suitably god-like in its severity. On the other hand, a plague of little insects that infested food and clothes and hair, biting and drawing blood sounded more like a blasted nuisance that a good spray of insect repellent could dispel; God slipping into impotency, relying on irritation rather than devastation. But a plague of unpleasant skin-eruptions and boils, well, that had always seemed to him to be a trivial kind of revenge from a petty little God inflicting humanity with a kind of permanent adolescent acne until, presumably, it repented; a God slipping into irrelevancy.

Apollo had lost his faith in early adolescence, and apart from his wedding to Serina, hadn't been inside a Kobolian chapel or opened the Book for well over fifteen yahrens. But his memory was still good. Inconveniently so, sometimes. He couldn't remember anything at all about a plague of angels.

Angels were, after all, supposed to be the good guys.

But over the next couple of sectons, angels were found all over the ship. They were everywhere. Sprayed onto walls, doors, lockers, in the mess hall, the ready room, even the Viper launch tubes, and on one never to be forgotten day, on the polished surface of the table in the Briefing room at the morning command meeting.

That was when official notice was taken of the plague that alternately amused and exasperated the Galactica's crew. The annoyance came from the acts of petty vandalism that so often accompanied the angelic presence. Missing uniforms or finding that all the Triad balls had been deflated was one thing, damage to essential stores was something else altogether. Whoever the joker was, he or she had little discrimination about how and where they perpetrated their little pranks.

Commander Adama had stared down at the angel, tastefully sprayed in silver paint at his place at the table in the briefing room, eyes cold and unamused. The rest of the staff meeting waited for the explosion, but all Adama did was give his son a questioning look. Apollo, pale faced but composed, had shrugged, and the Commander had made no more of it at the time, covered the offending image with his papers and got on with the briefing. Later he talked privately with Apollo and made a broadcast to the entire ship about the foolishness of such juvenile behaviour and the seriousness with which he would deal with the offender, when caught.

"Maybe," said Starbuck, "he even thought it would have some effect." He scratched thoughtfully at his nose. "It's a bit like being put on your honour at school," he said. "Owning up to cheating in tests or copying someone else's homework."

"In reform school?" demanded Boomer, incredulous.

"I wish they'd talk about something else," fretted Apollo, because everyone talked about angels, all the time, and it was becoming tedious.

Boomer shrugged. "There's not much else to talk about except Triad and wondering who Starbuck's romancing these days, and since the main Triad season has yet to start and Starbuck's being unusually coy about his love life, that leaves plenty of space for speculation."

Starbuck rolled his eyes and ignored the jibe.

"Idle speculation," said Apollo. "I should maybe have a few more storerooms cleared out and keep their minds occupied."

"You can't stop them talking about religion, Apollo," reasoned Starbuck. "It's an inalienable human right, remember?"

"You and Giles being obscene about where cherubs came from, is talking about religion?" Apollo raised an eyebrow. "I mean, given the androgynous nature of angels and archangels, I can only say that your discussion was extremely speculative about divine biology. Not what I remember from my childhood days in Chapel as being at the core of theological debate."

"More fun, though. I still say angels do it on the wing."

"Mile high club!" chimed in Giles and he and Starbuck sniggered.

Apollo and Boomer both snorted derision, and to Apollo's relief the conversation turned to something else and he got a little respite. Then IFB got wind of it all. There wasn't much else to report on, so a news crew was sent to film each manifestation. For a day or two, not just the Galactica but the entire Fleet talked nothing but angels.

It didn't help that it was obvious that it was the military being targeted. All the angelic activity was directed at the warriors or at the military areas of the ship, not at the technicians or places like Isometrics or Life Centre. It wasn't difficult to believe that someone had a grudge against the warriors. Despite the danger attached to their (often short) lives, the pilots were greatly envied, usually seen as privileged beings with better rations and living conditions than anyone else in the Fleet.

"I mean," said Lieutenant Greenbean, watching IFB's broadcast with disfavour. "We do take a few risks looking after the ungrateful bastards. They think we can do that on starvation rations?"

"I don't think that cuts a lot of ice on some of those ships," said Jolly, the reasonable one. "Some of them give unsanitary a bad name."

"Doesn't matter," said Apollo. "Civilians don't have much opportunity to get onto the Galactica, much less mount this kind of campaign. And the next person I hear talking about it will be sent out to scour the hull free of space barnacles. With a toothbrush from which I will personally remove all the bristles. Understood?"

"Oh yes, sir," they said in dutiful chorus, and watched his reaction with interest.

Seeing that Apollo, much he tried to hide it, was disturbed by the angels, one briefly held theory was that it was someone the captain had hacked off severely now extracting his or her revenge. Possibly someone he'd bounced off the warrior training programme - there had been some who hadn't made the grade and Apollo was ruthless about not allowing them to be put up to be cannon-fodder - was now trying to settle the score by causing havoc and general embarrassment. Apollo's reaction to this particular hypothesis had everyone within hearing wincing and protesting loudly that they hadn't heard this ridiculous theory, sir, and didn't know anyone who had, and no-one, sir, with a grain of sense would believe it was even marginally possible, sir.

Starbuck told Apollo that storm warnings were signalled all over the troopdecks that day. Apollo didn't care.

"I heard that the commander knows something about it all," said more than one willing believer. "There's some message in them that only he can read, something to help his holy quest to find Earth, and if we all just waited, the commander will tell us how they help him plot their route across the heavens to the haven he promised them - "

" –and, co-incidentally, maintain his grip on power," said one ambitious Council member to another, unfortunately (perhaps deliberately) in Apollo's hearing.

Colonial politics were always fun, especially when mixed with religion and Apollo was, eventually, prevailed upon to offer a stiff and insincere apology.

Apollo deeply resented any link being made between him and the graffiti angels. He and Adama had agreed that there was no way that this was anything other than a co-incidence, and he told himself often that his response was ludicrous. Angels were a fact of - well - not life, maybe, but of mythology, or something. He didn't own the exclusive rights on the word or the image. Coincidence. He was stupid to let it get to him.

And he was coping with it better. Perhaps the almost continuous exposure to the image was beginning to dull the reaction; perhaps the constant telling himself that it was nothing personal helped put things back in perspective. By the time that the pranks had ceased being a diversion and were becoming a real bore, he found now that he could look at an angel - sprayed above a pile of messed up weapons components, perhaps - and feel only a vague unease that was heavily overlaid with annoyance at the perpetrator of the pranks.

Until the image changed.

 

 

"Over here, Captain." Hallam, one of the group of techs clustered mournfully around a storage bin in one of the hangers on Alpha Deck, waved Apollo across.

Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer just behind him, walked across to join the techs. "Another one?" he asked.

Hallam nodded. "We keep some of the Viper spares in here, sir. The Angel's been at them."

"Don't call him that," said Apollo, sharply. He saw the surprised looks and tried to moderate his tone, to speak more normally. "Whatever he or she is, it isn't that. What have they done this time?"

Hallam held up a spare gryo unit. "Trashed," he said. "Maybe we can cannibalise some parts, but the unit's trashed. There's fifteen units in this bin that are in the same state, and we'll have to go over all the others to check them all. That's days of work. This is getting serious, sir."

"This is the first time there's been any real damage," Apollo said, puzzled. He took the unit from Hallam and examined it, seeing where the components had been bent and distorted and snapped.

"This isn't funny any more," Boomer muttered.

"It never was," said Apollo.

"Yeah, but now things are getting dangerous," said Starbuck. "I'm not one for stating the obvious, Captain, but our lives depend on stuff like this being useable."

"I know," said Apollo. "I know. It worries the frack out of me. What about the monitors? Did they show anything?"

"Security's checking it out. But it's unlikely. Although the deck itself's never quiet, in between patrols no-one has much call to be in a hanger and there's nothing but emergency lighting in here unless one of us is working or an alert's called." Hallam looked round gloomily. "It's normally semi-dark. I don't think the monitors would show anything in the shadows."

"And the Vipers?" Apollo looked at the starfighters hanging above his head in their immense storage racks. "He didn't get to them?"

"It's almost impossible to get to them in the racks, and moving them would attract attention. When we're parking them or the ground crews are readying them for take off it's noisier than the engine room in here. All that gear - " Hallam waved a hand at the overhead rails that moved the starfighters out into the main bays and the launch tubes. "Noisier than you could ever imagine, Captain."

Apollo nodded. "Just the same, I'll post orders about people double and triple checking on their pre-flight inspections. We'd better talk to Reese about extra security as well."

"Well, a gleam of light in the darkness. I could enjoy seeing those lazy bastards in Security having to do some work at last." Starbuck had all the warrior's traditional disdain for the Council Security Service.

"Who found it?" asked Apollo.

"A couple of the cleaning staff spotted his calling card and came and got me. When I checked and found the damage, I thought I'd better tell you."

Apollo glanced across to the two civilian cleaning staff who stood watching from a few metres away, and nodded. "We should call Reese. Security's been told to take official notice of it now. He'd better come and take a look."

"Much good that will do." Hallam evidently shared the warrior prejudice against Security.

"Maybe. Still, Council orders - and anything that catches this nutter is okay by me. Especially if he's starting to cause serious damage."

"We're sure that this is him?" asked Boomer.

"Usual trademark," said Hallam, and nodded to two of the other techs.

The lid of the storage bin had been pushed back on its hinges, up against the wall, when they'd arrived. The two techs lowered the lid. The angel had been sprayed in black paint.

But this time, despite Hallam's remarks about trademarks, there was a difference.

Apollo stared at it. It was the usual, now very familiar little angel, wings unfurled behind its shoulders, halo canted above the slightly bent head, beautiful face framed in rippling hair. But now there was an addition to the picture.

Apollo had always loved history. He knew the history of his people: the long exodus from Kobol, the founding of the Colonies and the long slow decline into a primitive, pre-industrial society where they'd forgotten so much of what the Lords of Kobol had taught them, and the equally slow climb back to the knowledge of their ancestors. He remembered that despite his dislike of the image, he'd been mildly amused, with all the cynicism that extreme youth held for "those in charge", when he'd discovered that during that Dark Age of ignorance, disease and dirt there had been one hot topic of debate in the churches and the just-founded universities where what little knowledge they had was preserved. Scholars wrangled and argued, not about technology or how to feed the starving when the crops failed or the need to teach everyone to read and write and lift them out of ignorance - but about how many angels could dance upon the head of a pin.

The angel staring back at him with its calm, unreadable face wasn't dancing on a pin, but one small foot was poised gracefully on the pointed tip of a letter.

The letter A.

 

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