Part Two

 

"What's bugging the skipper so much, Starbuck?" asked Jolly. "I've never seen him this antsy."

Starbuck put down his fork and took at a pull on his beer. He shrugged. "I don't know."

The faces around the table in the Commissary showed varying degrees of disbelief.

"I don't," protested Starbuck. "Much to my surprise, he doesn't tell me everything, you know. Can't think why."

"Couldn't be something to do with your essential untrustworthiness, could it?" murmured Boomer.

"That was below the belt," said Starbuck, wounded.

"That's where you're most untrustworthy." Boomer was dry as the desert. "Below the belt."

"It this get-at-Starbuck day or something?"

Jolly grinned. "More like cheer-up-Apollo day. This angel thing is getting to him."

Starbuck hit high protective mode. He was as anxious about Apollo as any of them, more so, but the captain was a very private person, remote. He knew how much Apollo hated to be talked about and how much the speculation would annoy and upset him. Starbuck had to offer them something to explain Apollo's odd behaviour.

"He's getting worried about the way these incidents are aimed at us. He was really pissed off about the Viper spares yesterday. You know Apollo. He takes the whole captain thing very, very seriously. We're his responsibility and he worries enough about us without some maniac trying to sabotage our fighters."

"That's true," agreed Jolly.

Apollo might be Adama's son and sometimes difficult, and his temper was semi-legendary, but there was one thing on which all his troops were agreed: he took his responsibilities seriously. He could be relied upon to do everything in his power to protect his troops, from everything ranging from the Management up on the command deck to Cylon fighters. He agonised over every one of their losses, and every pilot in the squadrons knew that if they went down and there was any chance at all that they'd survived, Apollo wouldn't go on without them. Inevitably, pilots had been killed, lots of them, but not one had ever been taken, and remained, a prisoner. If you were alive, the captain would come for you.

"He's always serious," said Greenbean. "But he looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders at the moment. Any ideas for cheering him up?"

"One or two," Starbuck said, and grinned at Boomer, who ignored him. "But if we're keeping it clean, we could always let him take it out on some willing opponents in a Triad game."

"Oh-oh," said Bojay. "Apollo, in the mood he's in, is downright dangerous on the Triad court. He's competitive enough without that."

"Say what you mean, Boj. You mean he plays rough."

"I mean that he plays like he's waging all out war even when he isn't antsy. If you're going to let him take out whatever's bothering him in Triad, Bucko, you aren't talking about willing opponents. You're talking about human sacrifice."

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few - or in this case, two," moralised Starbuck.

"It's all right for you," Giles reminded him. "You play on his side. You're safe."

"Unless I drop a shot," said Starbuck. "Then I'm dead meat. Come on, guys. It'll be fun."

"Fun! Annihilation is fun?"

"Well, yeah, if you're on the winning side. C'mon. There's two teams sitting here right now - why not toss for it?"

"Do you know the old saying about turkeys voting for Yuletide, Starbuck?" demanded Bojay, but they consented to the tossing of a cubit between him and Boomer for the honour of taking on the captain and letting him beat them until he was in a better humour.

"Capstone." Bojay made the call, and breathed easier when the coin landed right way up, the incised pyramid peak gleaming in the light. "Thank you, Lord," he said fervently.

Starbuck laughed at the resigned expression on Boomer's face and Giles' look of panic. He glanced at his watch.

"Our shift ended half a centar ago but he'll still be in the duty office, catching up. C'mon, Boom-boom. Let's go get him."

"We'll go get the ringside seats," said Jolly. "Just try not to splash your blood too far, Boomer."

"I don't feel too well." Giles looked around the Commissary. "Farewell, cruel world."

 

 

"A triad practice will make you feel better," said Starbuck. "I can coax, you know. Very prettily." He fluttered long, dark-blond eyelashes at Apollo.

Apollo appeared to be unmoved. "Is that the best you can do?"

"Not at all, and you know it. But it's the best I ought to do with Boomer only two feet away. He was very delicately brought up was Boomer, and we wouldn't want to disturb his sensibilities."

"I'd rather you didn't," apologised Boomer, as if sorry for causing them inconvenience. "Save it for the bedroom later."

Apollo looked him, then accusingly at Starbuck. The lieutenant went pink about the ears.

"He guessed, Apollo. Honest. I never said anything."

"I saw him sneaking out of your quarters one morning last secton and made him tell me," said Boomer. "I knew he was up to no good."

"Oh, he's good," said Apollo, grinning despite himself.

"I know," said Starbuck with becoming modesty. "The best."

"I dare say," said Boomer. "Anyway, I won't talk about it. It's your business, no-one else's, and I know how much you hate gossip."

"Especially if it's about me. Not bothered?"

Boomer grinned. "No. Except I don't know what you see in him."

"Nor do I, sometimes." Apollo turned his attention back to his beloved. "And why do you think I need to feel better?"

"Come on, Apollo. Something or someone tripped your gloom mood circuit sectons ago. You've been pretty heavy weather ever since."

Apollo frowned, wishing he was able to hide things better. He took evasive action and changed the subject. "Why Triad? It's well out of season."

"You look so sexy in the gear," said Starbuck. "It turns me right on."

"Oh great." sighed Boomer. "I'm going to get spread all over a Triad court so you can get horny. Thanks, Starbuck."

"I'm always horny. The sexy triad gear is merely a bonus. Come on down to the Court and take it out on Boomer and Giles. They're just dying for a beating."

"Starbuck exaggerates. But he did convince us that we would be immolating ourselves for a higher cause, and that anything was worth it if we succeeded in cheering you up."

"Lords, am I that bad?"

"Yes," they said in unison.

 

 

Giles was waiting at the locker room door.

"And why haven't you prepared yourself for the sacrifice?" Starbuck asked cheerfully, then caught Giles' expression. "Oh shit."

Giles shrugged. "We've had another visitation, skipper."

Apollo had allowed himself to be cheered up, touched by the concern his friends were showing, and he'd even been laughing on the way down to the Triad court, enjoying one of Starbuck's more outré stories. His smile died away. He closed his eyes for a micron, as if denying what they'd be looking at in a centon or two.

"Let's see it," he said. He followed Giles into the locker room.

Several warriors were gathered around one of the bank of lockers : Jolly was there, Bojay, Greenbean. Apollo's heart thumped as the adrenalin hit. His locker was in this bank.

"Mine?" Apollo asked.

Bojay turned to greet him, looking oddly excited. He nodded. "The bastard's trashed it, Apollo. Shredded your gear."

For a centon Apollo stared at the locker in shocked silence.

"Hell's teeth," Starbuck muttered, behind him, taking in the extent of the damage.

There was nothing of the joke about this, but something infinitely more menacing. Whoever had done this had indulged in extravagant, wanton damage, exulting in the destruction.

The door had been wrenched to one side and was hanging crookedly on one hinge. Apollo's gear had been literally torn to rags. Gloves, boots and helmet had been slashed with a knife. The angel, still balanced with serene indifference on its letter A, had been sprayed in gold paint on the inside of the door. Apollo touched it gingerly. Almost dry. Only the merest hint of gold on his finger tip.

"Shit," said Apollo, unable to think of anything more profound to say. "Who found it?"

"We did, skipper, when we came in to cheer Giles through his last centons." Jolly tried to lighten the atmosphere.

"Why the hell's this guy getting at you, Apollo?" asked Bojay.

"Who the hell says it's got anything to do with me?" Apollo shot back.

"That looks a bit pointed," said Bojay, with a nod to the trashed locker. "And it's not standing on the letter B."

Starbuck was sweetly acidic. "B is for bastard, is that, Bojay?"

"Leave it, Starbuck." Apollo looked Bojay in the eyes. "If this is aimed at me, Bojay, how'd you explain the damage to the Viper spares? Seems a bit indiscriminate to put a dozen of you at risk on the off chance that one of those spares might get loaded into my Viper at some point."

Bojay shrugged. "I didn't mean anything, but it's one hell of a coincidence, Apollo."

"Life's full of ‘em." Apollo held Bojay's gaze until the lieutenant looked away.

"And the A could mean anything," said Greenbean. "Not least, A is for angel."

"Sure," Bojay said, uneasily. "Sorry, Apollo. I honestly didn't mean anything."

"And A is for apology," Starbuck's eyes were hard and unfriendly. "Nice one, Boj."

Bojay reddened but said nothing. Apollo turned his back on him and kept his attention on the locker.

He looked more carefully at the torn and shredded gear, very aware, despite not looking at them, that all of the warriors were watching him covertly. Some with sympathy mixed with curiosity; Bojay watching with malicious interest, looking for an opportunity to needle; Boomer and, especially, Starbuck watching him with loving anxiety. All of them had to be wondering what this was about and what he knew. Bojay wasn't the only person to think that Apollo knew something about the angels, something that he wasn't telling.

And he thought he did know. He thought that he did understand what was going on. Despite everything Adama could say and had said to him in reassurance, he agreed with Bojay's assessment. This was aimed at him. Right between the eyes.

A is for Apollo.

And, as Greenbean had said, A is for Angel.

Sweet Angel.

All the other incidents had been bad enough, but this was different. He recognised that the destruction of his gear had a kind of malice about it that the other angel-attacks, irritating as they had been, had lacked. And it wasn't just because it was his stuff that had been trashed. It was the way it had been trashed. He looked thoughtfully at the knife marks and shivered. He wondered if this was a warning, an indication that things were getting less whimsical, more serious, more threatening.

Not that he could feel more threatened than he did already, not if this was who he thought it might be. He'd call it a ghost from the past, but this ghost had never been left in the past. It had been with him for a long time, for sixteen long yahrens. As was the way with ghosts, this one had faded in and out, not always there. These last few sectars with Starbuck he'd barely thought about it, its voice and presence dimmed until he'd begun to think he was free of its haunting presence.

He touched the angel again with a gentle finger. Well, the ghost evidently wasn't having any of that and was determined to be right back where it belonged. In Apollo's mind and memories. Malignant and waiting. Crippling him.

"Could one of you get Security?" was all he said.

"I've already called them, Skipper," said Jolly. "Reese said he's sending Sergeant Castor down."

"At least Castor has a brain cell or two," muttered Boomer.

Jolly nodded. "He's okay. Damned shame about this, Apollo. You want me to rustle up some kit for you? Nothing much of mine would fit, but we could see what we could do."

The smile Apollo gave him was warm. As ever, Jolly's unfailing good nature was comforting. "Thanks, Jolly, but I don't think I'll be playing tonight. This has put me off a bit."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Giles look heavenwards and gave silent thanks for his unexpected deliverance. He managed a grin at their attempts to lighten the atmosphere for him.

"In that case, I'll head back to the OC," Bojay said to no-one in particular.

No-one in particular took much notice of his departure, but once the door had closed behind him, Starbuck gave it a cool glance.

"Tosser," he said, succinct and pithy.

Jolly laughed. "You used to be friends once," he reminded Starbuck.

"That was before he got the transfer to the Pegasus. He could always be a pain, but serving with Cain did something to him. He's a wanker."

"But one we're stuck with," Boomer pointed out.

"Short of marooning him," suggested Greenbean.

"Don't put temptation my way," Starbuck pleaded. "I fail real easy."

Carefully and gently, Apollo put the slashed boot he was holding back in the locker. "I'm going to need a new kit," he said in a perfectly normal tone. "That's going to be a bother."

"Like Jolly said, we can put one together for you, Apollo. You and me are the same size. You can use my spares."

"Next time maybe."

"It'll do you good to play, and it'll show the bastard he can't win."

Apollo looked at him, then grinned reluctantly, pushing away - again - all that he was feeling about the angels. "I distinctly felt a button being pressed there."

"As long as the programming works," Starbuck grinned back, ignoring Giles' anguished looks. "We on?"

Apollo thought about it and nodded. "Can I borrow your helmet, Jolly?"

"All yours," said Jolly and went to get it.

"My boots should fit you," said Greenbean and went to his locker.

Apollo pushed the locker door shut, the expression of distaste on his face very obvious. He caught the look Starbuck gave him. "I'd rather not look at it. I don't like angels."

"Angels are supposed to be the good guys," observed Giles.

Jolly was back with the helmet. "And that?" He nodded towards the locker.

"Maybe they don't play Triad in heaven," said Greenbean. He offered Apollo a pair of boots.

"I just don't like them." Apollo took the helmet and boots, and smiled his thanks. He was grateful, and not just for the loan of the Triad kit. He was lucky. They were a good bunch, supportive and loyal.

"Giles is right, Skipper," said Jolly. "The bad guys are the ones with horns and tails."

"Yeah," said Boomer casually, very busy not looking at anyone. He was very, very busy not looking at either Starbuck or Apollo. "Way I hear it, Captain, the one you really have to look out for is the horny little devil."

 

 

If there was one thing on which Starbuck prided himself, it was his kissing technique.

He'd honed it over yahrens of practice and it was, quite rightly, semi-legendary. He'd been known to reduce a lover to incoherence with the way the little kisses he scattered over skin and nipples teased and stimulated; or the way he closed his lips over theirs, exploring their hot, eager mouths, cutting off breath and thought; bringing a dizzying warmth with his moist, hot tongue, making his lover moan with need and delight.

Apollo hadn't seemed immune before. Apollo liked kissing. In fact, Apollo was damned enthusiastic about kissing, and he'd always taken any and every opportunity to verify that there were no conditions in which the Starbuck magic wouldn't work. He was quite devoted to the project and Starbuck, after a moment's indignation that anyone could even begin to conceive of a circumstance in which his magic failed him, had realised that Apollo's experiments had side effects. Beneficial side effects. Enjoyable side effects. Hot and horny side effects.

Lots and lots of kissing.

So he was enthusiastic about Apollo's science project, happy to continue testing the empirical evidence that he was the very best at what he did; always had been, always would be. The magic never failed.

Until now.

Starbuck raised his head from Apollo's right nipple. He'd spent some considerable time working his way down, kissing and anointing every square inch of skin on the way, paying special attention to the bruises Apollo had picked up in what had turned out to be a tough and energetic friendly Triad game. He'd licked them, brushing his lips over Apollo's skin, and nibbled gently on the taut little nipple until it looked red and swollen, slick with saliva.

By this stage Apollo should have been writhing, hands working on Starbuck's cock or rubbing sensuously down his buttocks, or pressing his own cock up to stroke the sensitive area between Starbuck's legs. Apollo's fingers were in Starbuck's hair, it was true, but it was half hearted, mechanistic; and he was almost still, rigid with something - fear? Starbuck couldn't tell what it was.

Starbuck sat up, watching as the absent expression on Apollo's face sharpened into a guilty awareness.

"Excuse me," said Starbuck. "I'm working my butt off here making love to you. Do you think you'd like to join in? Some sort of reaction would be nice. At the moment it's like kissing a block of wood."

Apollo flushed. "I… I'm sorry, Starbuck."

"You are really going to have to tell me what's bothering you."

"Nothing is. I'm tired, that's all. It was a rough game."

"Only because, like now, you were thinking of something else." Starbuck abandoned any idea of lovemaking, and lay down beside Apollo. "Okay, Apollo, it goes against the grain but I'm going to be patient and coax the problem out of you. ‘Course I'd rather bounce your head off something hard to knock some sense into you, but that might wake up the child and explanations are so tiresome. Tell me."

"I'm just tired. That's all there is to it." There was an edge to Apollo's voice.

"I was politely brought up so I'll bite back the various disbelieving monosyllables."

"Please, Starbuck," said Apollo. "Please leave it."

Starbuck rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. His heart was pounding painfully, and he felt his stomach tighten. "Do you want me to go?"

There was the merest hesitation.

"No Of course not. But, I'd rather we didn't have sex tonight. I'm sorry. Please, Starbuck."

Starbuck looked over at him, not hiding his hurt. "Don't close me out, Apollo. I know that these angels are bothering you. Tell me why."

Apollo visibly hesitated. "Not tonight. Maybe later. I just need a bit of time, Starbuck."

"It's nothing to do with me? Nothing I've done or not done?"

"Nothing at all. It's.. it's something else entirely."

Starbuck gave him a long look. Apollo looked so distressed, that the lieutenant decided not to press it. "As long as you still fancy me, really," he said and was relieved when that won a faint smile. "All right, Apollo. That's enough for tonight - I know when I'm beat. But I love you, you know. I've never said that to anyone before, and I mean it and you're my whole world. I'm not going to let you get away with this for long. You're getting me worried."

Apollo evaded that. "I love you too. And I'm sorry, Starbuck."

"Don't be sorry. Trust me. We'll talk tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay." Unmistakable relief that he wasn't going to be pressed for an explanation now.

Starbuck stroked Apollo's cheek with his finger. "Love you, beautiful. Lights out."

The bedroom lights dimmed, and Starbuck turned to gather Apollo into his arms. "Good night," he said.

Apollo said nothing, but let Starbuck hold him. And for a long time they both lay silent and wakeful in the darkness, Apollo thinking of the Lords alone knew what and Starbuck agonising over the salty tears he'd tasted on Apollo's face when he'd kissed him goodnight.

 

 

"Reese told me about your Triad kit getting destroyed yesterday. I'm sorry about that, son, but please don't let it get to you. It can't have anything to do with you. It's just a co-incidence."

"Is it?"

"It has to be. These incidents are random, Apollo. Apart from the vandalisation of your locker, none of them have been directed at you personally. It's all been storerooms and Viper parts, nothing personal."

"And the letter A?"

"Could mean anything. Have you looked at the dictionary recently to see how many words begin with A? Apollo, no-one knows except you and me and I don't think either of us are running around the ship with spray paint cans. You've never told anyone?"

Apollo shook his head.

Adama was surprised. "Not even Starbuck?"

"Especially not Starbuck. I couldn't bear it if he found out. He'd never speak to me again."

Adama looked at him thoughtfully. They were having lunch in Adama's quarters, something they rarely did. Adama was always careful not to seem to favour Apollo at all, and on duty they maintained a proper professional distance. They seldom socialised during the working day, but Adama was anxious enough about the effect the angel incidents were having on his son, to bend the rules a trifle.

"I doubt that," Adama said now. "It can't make a bent cubit's worth of difference to anyone who loves you, son. Especially the way Starbuck loves you."

Apollo flushed slightly. "Oh. You know?"

Adama smiled, wondering how in heaven's name Apollo thought he'd pulled the wool over his eyes. "I just got tired of waiting for you to tell me. Until this all started, I'd never seen you so happy. It didn't take me long to realise the cause."

"You don't mind?"

Adama shrugged. "I don't deny I'd rather that you'd settled down with someone like Sheba and gave me lots of grandchildren - " He smiled at the look Apollo gave him. " -but if Starbuck's what you want, Apollo, I'm okay with that. All I want is for you to be happy."

"I would have thought that Boxey's enough grandchildren for anyone," Apollo said dryly. "He's more than enough son for me. You were as traumatised as I was when he had those biology lessons."

"It brought back memories," explained Adama, and was relieved to see Apollo laugh. "At last you know how I've felt for nearly thirty yahrens."

Apollo grinned and Adama smiled back, wondering if there was ever a time when you stopped worrying about your children, no matter how old they got. He was desperately proud of his son and all Apollo had achieved against the odds, loved Apollo and his sister dearly, but both were a cause of as much anxiety as joy. This spate of incidents was really upsetting Apollo, stirring up memories of a time that had almost destroyed him. Adama worried that his son wouldn't be able to cope, worried about what he'd do if Apollo lost it.

"I'm glad you're okay about it," Apollo said, shyly. "It just sort of happened. I never thought I'd …." He paused, and put down his fork, unable to go on.

"This is different," Adama said reassuringly, understanding what his son couldn't say. "I know. I was surprised myself."

"It is different with Starbuck. I couldn't imagine it with anyone else."

Adama nodded. "I think you should tell him."

Apollo hesitated. "I'll think about it, Dad, but it scares me, telling him."

"I know, but I think you owe it to him, Apollo, if you two are serious about being together."

He could see the indecision in Apollo's expression. The evasion that Apollo adopted as a technique for dealing with it, didn't really surprise him.

"I just wish I knew what it was all about. I know I'm being stupid about it, and it can't be aimed at me. Like you said, no-one knows but us."

"No."

"I mean, it's not as if there's anything in my records that someone might have got hold of."

"One of the advantages of the family doctor being a good friend. Jerry did us a good turn there, making sure that nothing was recorded."

"Just as well. I'd never have got into the Academy." Apollo gave him a bitter little grin. "Maybe I shouldn't have if I can't deal with this joker without getting paranoid."

"You aren't paranoid. It's only natural that it should remind you, but please try to keep it in proportion, Apollo. It can't really be anything to do with you, so try and relax. Now, finish your lunch. You don't look as if you've eaten properly in sectons."

"I haven't been eating much," Apollo confessed, trying to get down some of the food.

Another pang of anxiety. They'd been there, long ago, dealing with the eating disorder that Apollo's stress brought in its wake. Adama watched his son carefully, promising himself he'd keep an eye on Apollo, he'd watch for the pressure points. "Or sleeping?" he asked.

Apollo suddenly seemed distant and withdrawn. "I don't mind sleeping. It's the dreams I can't handle."

 

 

The head steward prided himself on the way he kept the Officers Club. It was a lot smaller than the entertainment centre he'd managed before the Destruction, but it was better than being stuck on one of the crowded civilian ships. A helluva lot better.

A sectar into the Fleet's long journey to Earth and, it was hoped, safety, the Galactica's command staff had reviewed the disposition of staff on the huge battlestar. A number of people had found themselves pitched out of comfortable, easy, not to say on occasion, lucrative, little numbers and into what Captain Apollo had smilingly told them were real jobs, jobs befitting their rank and expensive military training.

The sergeant who'd run the Officer's Club and occasionally manned a laser gun turret when there was call for it, found himself sitting in his gun turret on a permanent basis and a civilian stepping into his shoes. The sergeant bewailed the change, but Callan, the lucky man who'd inherited his mantle, had soon seen that there were great advantages in living and working on the Galactica.

He had been one of the first to volunteer when civilian workers were called for. His living quarters on the Galactica were undoubtedly better than on the Tiegan, the small freighter on which he'd made his escape from the Colonies. He was a little surprised - and disappointed - to find that the rations weren't much better or more plentiful that on the civilian ships: only the pilots were on extra rations to ensure maximum operational efficiency. But on the whole the move had been a good one. He had a job he enjoyed, one at which he excelled, and he directed his staff of bar and mess stewards with an almost military efficiency. Within sectons, his talents had been recognised and the Quartermaster, occupied mainly with making inadequate rations stretch further than they ought to, handed over responsibility for the newly-recruited cleaning and general maintenance staff as well.

Callan enjoyed his responsibilities. He was a man whose tidiness of mind was semi-legendary, a neat precise little man whose appearance and character were completely in harmony. He kept the Galactica as clean as it was possible with a grey, utilitarian warship, and his stewards provided a sterling service to the officers.

But his pride and joy was the OC. After much coaxing he'd persuaded Captain Apollo to authorise a limited refurbishment, and the room was now as good as he could get it with the limited resources available. It always gave him a sense of pride and achievement when he walked in to open the bar formally at ten every morning, and he could look around his little empire.

Except the morning that he walked in and found that the OC had been visited in the night.

 

 

"I'm not sure that I really want to go and look," Apollo said, resisting Boomer's invitation. "I've seen enough angels, thank you."

"Apollo, these are all over the OC."

"So what?" Apollo turned resolutely back to reading the latest patrol reports. "I've enough work to do here."

"Ignoring it won't make it go away."

"Look, Boomer, this guy - we'll assume it's a guy, okay? - this guy's getting off on watching us all run around, wringing our hands and wondering who he is. Running down to the OC and getting agitated is just pandering to this nutter's thirst for sensation. Well, I'm fed up with it. I won't play his stupid game anymore."

"Apollo, everyone's down there," said Starbuck quietly. "They're wondering and worrying, and I think you need to do something about that, even if you don't want to go for any other reason."

Apollo threw the report onto the desk in disgust. "Why the fuck can't you all leave me alone? I am totally pissed off with these bloody angels!"

"Yeah, we guessed," said Starbuck in a tone he kept carefully neutral, but he was watching Apollo anxiously.

Apollo didn't meet his lover's eyes. The Triad game had been three days before and although Starbuck had come as usual to Apollo's quarters every night since, he might as well have stayed in his own. Apollo couldn't tell him what was going on and hadn't been interested in making love either. He knew Starbuck was hurt and confused. He was sorry about it. Very sorry.

"They're freaking you out, Apollo," Starbuck went on. "And there's no point in you yelling at me. I'm not the one with the cans of paint. You can be as antsy as you like, but you can't expect it not to affect the troops. They take their cue from you, Captain, and you're not handling this any too well. They're getting spooked now. When it comes to Viper parts getting trashed and your gear getting slashed - no-one's missed the fact the guy used a knife for that - they stop thinking it's a joke and worry if the next thing he sticks his knife into will bleed all over the flightdeck. It's your job to deal with that."

That made Apollo look at him. "I do not need you to tell me how to do my job, Lieutenant!"

"Someone has to." Starbuck held his gaze. "It may as well be me. You need to handle this, Apollo. You need to go down there and say something and get them feeling that everything's under control, or they'll get really spooked. You can't just ignore it."

The fact that he knew that Starbuck was right did nothing to improve Apollo's temper. "Oh all right!"

Starbuck stood firm. "And you can't go down there and throw a tantrum."

"Shit, I know that, Starbuck!"

"Good. Now take a deep breath, take a firm hold of your temper, put me on report for insubordination, promise you'll forgive me later, and let's go soothe the troops." Starbuck gave it his most winning smile.

Despite himself, Apollo grinned at that archetypal Starbuck speech.

"That's better," Starbuck approved. "You know, Apollo, I'm really very good for you. Who else can charm you into a good temper?"

"And without your usual blandishments," said Apollo, taking control of himself.

"Not with old Boom-boom here. Wouldn't want to scare him."

Boomer shuddered. "Waaay too late for that, old buddy. Next time you want to commit suicide, leave me out of it."

Apollo raised an eyebrow.

Starbuck offered a kindly explanation. "He means that you have a bad temper, I take too many risks and he doesn't want to be collateral damage. Want me to come with you?"

Apollo sighed and nodded. "Call Core Command and tell them where we're going." He said little more until they were in the turbo-lift on the way down to the OC, two decks below. "How many, did you say, Boomer?"

"Eleven. And this time, some sort of message. It says..."

"Don't tell me," Apollo said, who was certain that he knew what it said and would rather have time to prepare his reaction. "Let it be a glad surprise."

Boomer grinned. "Okay. Not that it anybody so far knows what the hell it means, but at least he's making it clear that he's trying to say something to us."

"You mean that all these incidents have been his attempts to get a message to us?" Starbuck asked, interested.

"I'd say so." Boomer sounded thoughtful. "Incidents like this are never as random as they seem. I mean, it's not like the Eastside where I grew up, where vandalising something was a way of filling in the time between bunking off school and starting your career in the juvenile detention centre. There we're talking social deprivation on a big scale, and no-one respected anything that smacked of authority or the establishment. We'd smash up anything. This guy's different. I think he's carefully choosing his targets, getting maximum effect."

"Hasn't he ever heard of the comnet?" demanded Starbuck. "All he has to do is dial the right number and say hello. How'd the old adverts have it? Oh yes - it's good to talk ."

"Not as exciting, though. And he's probably jacking off on the excitement," Apollo said, as they stepped out of the lift and started down the corridor.

"Maybe that's part of it," agreed Boomer "But wait till you see the OC. This has to mean something to somebody."

They could hear the buzz of conversation several yards away from the OC. Apollo took a deep breath, and walked in, flanked by his two friends. There had to be about eighty pilots clustered around the latest angels, at least half of whom ought to have been at their duty stations on the troop decks two levels above. One of them spotted Apollo.

"Captain on deck!" she yelled, coming to attention and suddenly looking very conscious that she shouldn't be there at all.

An abrupt silence fell, then all the pilots scrambled to each side, giving Apollo free passage to the centre of the room. Apollo spared them a quick glance. Starbuck and Boomer were right. The troops were restless.

"At ease," he said, and stood still, looking at the angels on the walls.

Two blocks of five black angels, each standing on the tip of a letter; a gold angel, twice the size of the others, acting as kind of divider between the two groups. The gold angel was sprayed onto the wall directly above his own customary seat at Blue Squadron's table.

Apollo read the message that had been left for him. It was just as he expected, and somehow the lack of surprise allowed him to manage the sick terror that surged into him. Only for a micron did he think might lose it before pride stiffened his back. He was right, then, and Adama was wrong.

Now all he had to do was wait. There was nothing else to do.

Callan bustled up to him. "Captain, can you believe it?"

Apollo pitched his voice a little louder than normal, intended to carry to all the watching pilots. "A bit over the top, I think. If he didn't like the décor, why not just say so?"

"What does it mean, do you think, sir?" asked Bojay. He was back to watching Apollo avidly, the way he'd watched in the locker room.

Bloody Bojay. Typical of Bloody Bojay to try and needle him. Apollo gave him a cool, contemptuous look.

"It means that we'll have to redecorate the OC again," he said, momentarily enjoying the chagrin on Bojay's face at his lack of reaction. "It's a shame, Callan, after all your hard work to clean this place up. The angelic decor in a place like the OC's just a touch out of place, don't you think? Given your usual clientele, this joker is a poor judge of character."

He looked around at the pilots. They were all watching him, and some of the tension was already draining away. There was some laughter, strained it was true, and Starbuck gave him a satisfied little nod.

"Couldn't they just have complained?" sighed Callan.

Apollo shrugged. "Where's Security?"

"On the way. I called them when I found it."

"That gold angel's right above your seat, Apollo," commented Bojay, coming back in for another pass at the target.

Apollo had the shields up, ready for it. Bojay was so bloody predictable. He abandoned his first sarcastic You don't say! Did you think I'd been struck blind or stupid? and opted for an approach that wouldn't give Bojay any satisfaction at all.

"So I see. At least this guy's not a total washout when it comes to recognising my sterling qualities and angelic temperament." He glanced around, noting the grins. "I'll ignore the sniggers, ladies and gentlemen. But there's really nothing to see here, and we'd better leave this to Security. The less we interfere, the faster Security can catch this guy. And I'd strongly advise you all not to take any more notice of what this man's up to. He's getting off on the buzz and he'll get bored if we ignore him. I'd like you to ignore him, and I think it's time you all returned to your duty stations."

The sniggers were choked off immediately and no-one would meet his eyes. His father, thought Apollo, would be proud of him. Only Adama could have delivered a reproof with more gentle devastation and the fact that Apollo went into commander mode, rather than just yelling, reinforced the message. It was almost amusing to see them scuttle towards the door. He hadn't realised the human face could achieve so many shades of puce.

"Squadron leaders remain behind, please," he added.

He waited until the pilots had filed out. Apart from Boomer, who wasn't at fault here, his squadron leaders stood in a little group: Bojay, Kyle, Drake, Sheba, Gillian, Dietra. He let them stew for a centon or two, staring at them until one after another, they stiffened to attention.

"Good," he said, when Bojay and Drake finally cottoned on and followed suit. "I thought that I'd have to order you into something resembling a military stance, and that would have annoyed me."

He kept them at attention while he walked slowly over to the painted angels. He walked the entire message, touching the stencils every now and again. Dry, this time. Whoever this was had done this centars before.

By the time he got back to his officers, they were as red-faced as the newly-departed troopers. Apollo faced them, deciding to channel his father again. It got results.

"I do understand that everyone is getting concerned about the number of incidents we're getting now, that this joker's beginning to get at them. But I expect better from you that you lead them in a stampede down here to gawk at the man's handiwork and allow them to leave their duty stations." He looked them up and down, keeping the tone hard and calm. "I expect you to have the sense to know that this joker's getting his buzz from having the warriors running round from incident to incident and the best way to get him to stop, is to stop reacting."

He watched them squirm for a centon or two. He glanced at Starbuck, whose smirk disappeared the instant he realised Apollo was looking at him. Starbuck's left eyelid fluttered closed in a wink, but Apollo was serious about this, deadly serious.

"And I absolutely expect you to show some discipline and restraint. It's called leadership. Try and remember that, because if something like this ever happens again, I'll conclude that leadership is a skill that you are lacking and I'll remove you from your commands until you do remember. Am I understood?"

He got muttered agreement, voiced in varying tones of mortification and resentment. Even Bojay was squirming.

"Good. Dismissed."

He took the salutes with a nod and turned his back on them, not bothering to see them go, returning his attention to his message. In stark contrast to his mood when Boomer had told him about this, he felt calm, slightly detached, as if he was watching this from a vast distance away, standing silent and watchful, waiting for the next move.

"I thought you might like this, sir," came a voice at his elbow.

Apollo stirred and looked at Barnaby. The steward was holding Apollo's usual mid-morning tea. "Thanks, Barney." He glanced at Starbuck and Boomer. "Starbuck, you'd better get back to the duty office. You off duty, Boomer?"

"Nope. Due on patrol in twenty centons. I'd better get ready." Boomer could take a hint when he heard one.

Starbuck hesitated, came close. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly.

"I'm fine. I'll see you later. We'll talk later."

Starbuck nodded. "All right. Take care."

"Stop worrying." Apollo watched them go, then turned to Callan. "When did you find it?"

"When I opened up at ten." Callan looked around sadly. "I don't know who could get in here, Captain. Only me and my staff have the codes."

"Apart from Command and Security who can override all codes," Apollo said thoughtfully.

"You don't think it was one of them?"

"I don't think anything at all. It's safer." Apollo was rueful. "What time do you lock up?"

"By the time the cleaning staff have finished in here it's usually about two. They lock up when they're finished. I trust them, Captain."

"Eight centars. You can spray paint an awful lot of angels in eight centars."

Plenty of time to send simple messages like this one. The guy didn't need to write a book to get his message across. Callan nodded, glum about all the work he'd have to get through to remove the angels.

"As soon as Reese has checked it over, get it cleaned up as best you can, Callan. I'll post orders keeping the OC off-limits until 18.00: that should give you enough time."

"It'll be quickest to paint over them. The place will smell a bit."

"It usually does, and not with anything as wholesome as paint." Apollo handed Barney his empty cup. "Thanks, Barney. I needed that." He took one more look at the beautiful gold angel decorating the wall above his chair, and sighed slightly. "I'd better go. Call me if anything turns up."

He walked slowly along the corridor and into the lift. The doors slid closed.

{{State level.}} the computerised voice activation system invited.

Apollo said nothing, staring blindly at the closed lift doors. The unnatural calm was ebbing away and he was feeling increasingly sick.

{{State level.}}

"Level six."

The turbo-lift surged upwards, heading up to the heart of the huge Battlestar. Apollo backed into a corner, needing to feel something safe and solid at his back, suddenly shaking and insecure. Just as suddenly, he needed some time to think, to be on his own. If he went back to the duty office, Starbuck would be waiting, would be expecting some sort of explanation…

He lunged forward and punched the emergency stop button. The turbo-lift came to a sudden, bone-jarring stop between floors, and even though he was prepared, Apollo was thrown off his feet.

"Oof " was all he managed as the breath was driven from his body. He lay still for a centon or two, winded, half welcoming the pain as something substantial to worry about, something less tenuous than a ghost.

{{Emergency stop.}} the computer announced, just in case he hadn't noticed..

Still wheezing as his lungs fought for air, Apollo rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.

"Hold here."

Silence.

This was a safe place. No-one could get in at him, he couldn't get out, not until he ordered the computer to resume the ascent. This was safe, secure, and silent. Above all, silent.. No voices except the one inside his head. Not the voices of those who loved him and worried about him. No Adama to talk to him in carefully measured tones, advising, loving, reassuring. No Starbuck, more emotional than Adama, just as loving and anxious. And not the one who hated him, either, and was trying for the second time to destroy him. Not the ghost who still haunted him.

Apollo lay on the floor, staring up. But the problem was that the other voice was speaking by other means. He didn't need to hear it.

Instead, the images were there, his mind's eye painting them across the turbo-lift's plain grey ceiling, a sequence of black and gold angels hovering serenely above him spelling out the message, each black angel balancing on a letter with one dainty foot.

Apollo lay there for a long time, ignoring the hardness of the floor under his back, ignoring the calls on his communicator from Core Command, ignoring the calls Starbuck was making to try and locate him.

Instead he stayed in the safety of the turbo-lift, filtering out everything but the message, staring up at the ceiling, fighting down the sickness and trying not to admit to himself how afraid he was.

The angels looked down serenely, always there in his mind and memory, spelling out the message. Spelling out the message that only the ghost could send him.

Sweet Angel.

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