"Are we sticking together?" asked Cree, taking one of the headsets Boomer handed out.
"Blue always sticks together," said Boomer. "Got your laser? If you can use one, Jolly's handing out laser rifles as well."
"Can we join you, Boomer?" It was Jordan, Apollo's ground crew chief and a tech that Boomer had met before. Hallam.
"Glad to have you along." Boomer handed them headsets. "We're all tuned into 124.6."
Hallam took the laser rifle Jolly handed him. He grinned at the quizzical look Boomer gave him. "I was a ground assault trooper long before I became a tech, Lieutenant. I can handle it."
"I bet. We can use that sort of experience, Hallam. Thanks for volunteering."
"I've not been here long and I don't know the captain well, but I like what I've seen. And Jordan's recommendation means a lot. Glad to help out."
Boomer looked gratefully at the grizzled ground chief. "Thanks, Jordan."
The big man shrugged. "I've headed his crew for five yahrens, Boomer, ever since he got here. He's the best, bar none."
"Yeah," said Giles, and sighed. "We think so too."
Hallam snapped the energy pack into place on his rifle. "How big is each unit going to be?"
"A dozen or so, I guess," said Boomer. "We're waiting on word from Reese. We'll be moving soon, I hope. The tracer's been stationary for a few centons now and I think they've got a lock on Apollo's position."
"What's this guy want with the Skipper anyway?" Cree asked. "I mean, Apollo must only have been a kid when this guy went to prison. What was it all about?"
They all looked at the boy's fresh-faced innocence and sighed for how old and cynical he made them feel. And they all welcomed the diversion from their thoughts and their anxiety about Apollo. The captain had been gone for over a centar now, and God alone knew what might have happened to him. And as was the usual way with warriors before a battle, they hid their apprehension for Apollo and for what the next centars might bring, in jokes and black humour.
"How old is this child?" asked Hallam.
"Young," Greenbean said sadly. "Very young."
"I'm not that young!" protested Cree. Then the cubit dropped. "Oh. I didn't realise… I mean…." He went pink about the ears.
Meade, beside him, looked exasperated. "Can I have a wingmate that isn't a babe in arms?"
"I'm older than you!" said Cree, stung.
"As well as being infinitely more intelligent, women are always more mature than men.".
"Always?" asked Boomer.
"An immutable law of nature." Meade looked across to where Starbuck talked to Adama and Reese, and sighed. "What's more to the point is the other news. So, it's true about Starbuck and the Skipper?"
"It is," shrugged Boomer.
There was no hiding it now. Not after that good bye. No-one knew if it was Bojay, alone now in the duty office, or the security people who'd spread the word, but most of the people waiting on the Alpha flightdeck for the signal to move in, seemed to come with the knowledge already, as if some strange form of psychic osmosis was at work.
"I knew he had to be getting some when he didn't come down on us about the storeroom," said Cree ingenuously. "I didn't realise it was Starbuck, though."
The older pilots hid their grins. They'd had their suspicions, but then they were all older and wiser than Cree.
"Apollo's a very private kind of man, Cree," warned Jordan. "He doesn't like being talked about."
"So get it over with now," Jolly advised, shouldering the last rifle.
Meade was wistful. "Half the women in the Fleet will be crying into their pillows tonight," she predicted.
The rest of Blue squadron's male pilots grinned at her.
"Honey, Starbuck never really belonged to any of you," said Giles.
"You know him, Meade. ‘Love them and leave them' has to be encoded in Starbuck's DNA somewhere," was Greenbean's contribution.
"Yeah. In all the yahrens I've known him, he's only ever been faithful to Apollo," agreed Boomer.
"Actually, now I come to think of it, he's always revolved around Apollo," added Jolly.
Meade's eyes rolled heavenwards at their obtuseness. "Not just for Starbuck, stupids. Look, Bucko's handsome and charming and a lot of fun, and yeah, there'll be a lot of red eyes for him tonight. But there'll be just as many for the captain."
For Apollo, who was always shy and quiet around women, who never flirted, who wouldn't know charm if it was wrapped around his knees and tripping him up, who never had the sort of affairs for which Starbuck was famous, who had probably never broken a heart in his life?
"Of course for Apollo!"
"Our Apollo?" Boomer asked, just to be certain. "The Apollo who's our captain?"
"He's just as good looking as Starbuck, and those green eyes are amazing, and he's dark and sort of brooding and melancholy and sssooooo romantic and sexy." Meade sighed heavily, looked at their uncomprehending faces and shook her head in disgust. "You lot have no idea at all. I know which one I'm crying for tonight and it ain't the blond."
She stalked off to discuss the latest news with the only creatures guaranteed to share her own rational views about it: Bree, Regan, Sheba and the other female pilots.
"I've never thought of Apollo as romantic and sexy," wondered Giles.
"I'd have said you had the wrong equipment for it, until the news broke about him and Starbuck." Greenbean grinned. "I've spent yahrens trying to act like Starbuck in the hope some of it'll rub off, and now I find I've been wasting at least fifty percent of my time. Depressing."
Cree frowned. "I'll never understand women."
"The boy's growing up fast." Jolly checked the powerpack on his rifle, shouldered the gun, ready.
Giles sighed. "Joking apart, we'd better stick close to Starbuck," he said, and they nodded understandingly. Starbuck might just need his friends that night.
Youth, however, was untroubled by apprehension and had its mind on other things.
"If I spent ten centons a day staring into a mirror practising brooding, do you think that one day Meade would think I was sort of melancholy and romantic?" asked Cree.
They looked at him and chorused a unanimous response. "No."
Cree sighed. "Thought not." He looked over to where Starbuck and Adama were staring over Reese's shoulder at the computer screen that Castor was using. "Who'd have thought it, eh? Starbuck and the Captain, I mean. Amazing. You know what?"
"What?" Jolly said, indulgent, as ever, with the young.
"It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘getting Starbucked'."
Drop down to 20 at staircase 35, fifty metres ahead.
Apollo sighed. For the last half centar, he'd been up and down between the three storage decks, always working his way aft towards the stern of the ship. But Todd seemed determined to keep him moving, obviously checking to make sure that Apollo had obeyed instructions and come alone.
Apollo ran to the stairs along corridors so gloomy he could barely see more than a few feet ahead. Every ten metres or so a dim light glowed in the corridor ceiling, hardly making any impression on the heavy darkness. The torch Jolly had found him was invaluable. The storage decks were every bit as cold, too, as Reese had warned.
Apollo barely noticed either cold or dark. Every thought was on Boxey and the awful danger he was in. Apollo was as clear-sighted as Starbuck about what Todd wanted, and he knew that he would be fighting for his life, but all that mattered to him was that he got Boxey out. Please the God he no longer believed in, that he got Boxey out unharmed and untouched. Please God.
You should be on 20 by now.
Breathing heavily Apollo dropped the last few feet and keyed in Here .
Good. Now down to 21 and wait.
Apollo scrambled back onto the ladder and down to the lowest deck within the Galactica's massive hull. There were only a few metres of armour plating between him and space, and normally he'd have enjoyed the chance to explore a part of the ship he didn't know. But now he had no energy to spare to think about it. He stepped out of the tube that held the ladder, and waited, his eyes on the little screen in his hand. He leaned against the access door, where it was lit by the dim emergency lighting panel above his head, tucking the torch into his jacket pocket.
Silence. Waiting. Knowing now that Todd was close, watching from the shadows. Almost time.
Something glinted faintly as it caught the light, arcing through the air to drop at his feet with a metallic clatter that made him jump back a foot. He looked down. Binders.
"Hello, sweet Angel." The voice came out of the darkness to his right. "I'm glad to see you're still as submissive as ever."
"Learn patience, Angel. I did. I learned patience in the penal colony on Rigus where you sent me. Take off your jacket. Let's be sure you aren't armed or wired or carrying anything you shouldn't be."
Apollo shrugged quickly out of his flight jacket and tossed it to one side, thanking Reese for his foresight in attaching the false pin to his battledress rather than the flight jacket.
"Open the tunic." Then when Apollo obeyed and then pulled open the thin pressure suit underneath: "Oh, pretty as ever. I'll get to know how pretty later, won't I, Angel?"
"Anything you want, if you'll let Boxey out of here. Anything."
"Oh I'll take everything I want, Angel. Put on the binders and hold up your hands to show me."
Apollo stooped to catch up the binders. Standard security issue, as far as he could see: two metal bracelets with about four inches of chain between them. He snapped the binder closed on his right wrist, then on his left, and held up his hands.
"Good boy," said Todd, approving.
Apollo forced back the memories of that voice and those words. Sometimes, when the child had been particularly skilled and responsive, drugs dulling resistance, the man had said that, strong hands holding the thin abused body he was thrusting into. Sometimes.
"Please, Todd. Let me see Boxey."
"But of course." Todd stepped out of the shadows, a laser in his hand.
Apollo stared openly, trying to see any resemblance at all between this unremarkable man and the ghost from his past. At thirteen, Apollo had been small for his age, and skinny, only shooting up like a weed a yahren or so later until he was as tall as his father. The Todd of his memory had always bulked large over the child Apollo had been, a strong man, stocky, muscular despite the life of drugs and drink.
It was little things that Apollo could remember best, that sometimes invaded his mind and dreams. Brown eyes that had reminded him of the hard wet pebbles on the seashore near his home outside Caprica City; the peculiar little patterns of hair in the curls on the wide chest; the way that when the big hands had knotted into fists Todd had always tucked his thumbs protectively into the curled fingers, as if afraid that he might damage them against the boy's defenceless body; the broad, flat fingernails; the taste of ambrosa and smoke on the tongue forcing its way into his mouth as a hot wet precursor to the hard cock that would force its way into his body.
This wasn't the Todd he remembered, the Todd who'd towered over him and who'd had the strength to pull a kicking, struggling thirteen-yahren old into his room, force him over the arm of a chair and rape him. This was no longer the man who had physically intimidated him into acquiescence, and after centars of painful sex had forced him to swallow the little white pills that had left him too drugged and dazed to fight any longer. And too drugged and dazed to care, even when it had been Todd and a friend or two, or the complete strangers Todd had rented him to.
This was a middle-sized man, smaller and thinner than Apollo remembered, as white-haired as Adama was now but without the Commander's straight backed military posture. Todd's shoulders bowed in a stoop and he walked with a slight limp. He didn't look much like Apollo's memories at all. Only the eyes were the same. They were still as hard as wet, sea-washed pebbles.
"You've changed," Apollo said at last. He frowned, wondering whether he'd seen this man about the Galactica. There was a faint familiarity, no more.
"Enough so that you never noticed me around. I've been here a long time, watching you, for almost two yahrens now." Todd smiled, came closer, hefting the laser in his hand. He caressed Apollo's cheek with the laser barrel. "And you're still so very pretty, sweet Angel. So very, very, pretty."
The laser barrel traced around Apollo's mouth and Todd leaned forward, his tongue following the path of the laser, licking down Apollo's cheek to run greedily over the lips. He held the laser out of reach with one hand, sliding the other into the loosened tunic.
Apollo stood very still, unresisting, passive, not reacting. Todd could do anything he liked, as long as he hadn't touched Boxey.
Anything at all.
"Well, maybe we should go and find your little cherub." Todd's hand ran up Apollo's smooth chest, and once more caressed the side of his face. "It's very nice to see you again, Angel, but this isn't the time or place for dalliance."
He took a step backward and gestured down the corridor. "Walk four paces ahead of me, walk when I tell you to, stop when I tell you to. Understood?"
Apollo nodded. He shrugged to get the shoulders of his tunic back into place. Todd had pushed them back slightly to let his hot tongue trail across the sharp little bones and into the hollow at the base of Apollo's throat. Apollo had not let himself react, and now deliberately shrugged back into the tunic. Todd only laughed.
"Let's go. Straight ahead, Angel."
Apollo started off down the corridor. Seeing Todd again hadn't scared him nearly as much as he'd expected. Perhaps the contrast between the memory of brute strength and power and the reality of stooped late-middle age had laid that particular ghost. Except, of course, from Boxey's perspective, Todd would still be stronger and more powerful. Apollo closed off that thought rapidly. He'd find Boxey and get him out. That was all that mattered. Finding Boxey and getting him out.
Obediently, Apollo swung into the corridor. Under direction, he took the next right turn, the second left after almost two hundred metres. They were moving further and further aft. Apollo had never really thought before how vast this ship was. Finding Boxey might not be too easy. For a centon, he thought wistfully of Muffet. The droid, now deactivated and stored in a box under Boxey's bed, would have helped. He wished he'd had the sense to think of it earlier.
"Stop. The door ahead of you, Angel."
Apollo reached for the door control, then paused. "Boxey?"
"Inside." There was amusement in Todd's voice again.
Apollo pressed the door control, and stepped into the murkily-lit, low-ceilinged storeroom. More crates and boxes, and sitting forlornly on a crate, a very welcome sight.
Boxey looked up as the door opened. For a micron he stared, his expression scared until he realised who it was.
"Daddy!" The screech of delight should have been heard all over the ship, and Boxey hurtled forward to throw himself onto Apollo. "Daddy!"
Apollo couldn't get his arms around his son properly, not with his hands in the binders, but he did the best he could in the circumstances, his relief so great that he was almost dizzy.
"Are you all right?" He was on his knees in front of the boy, his hands cupping Boxey's face. "Are you all right, little son? He hasn't hurt you?"
Boxey shook his head. "He just left me in here in the dark, and I'm cold and I wanted you, Dad." Boxey leaned up against his father, immeasurably comforted just by Apollo being there, with all a child's instinctive trust that nothing bad can happen with your father there to protect you. He looked over Apollo's shoulder at Todd, lounging in the doorway. "I'm glad you're here, Dad."
"We both are Boxey," Todd smiled unpleasantly. "Now we can all have some fun."
Apollo ignored him. "He hasn't touched you at all, Boxey? Not done anything you didn't like?"
Todd laughed. "Lords, kids aren't that innocent, Angel. No, I haven't touched him. I haven't fucked him the way I used to fuck you. I thought we'd wait until you got here. I always perform better with an audience. You should remember that from all those threesomes we used to enjoy."
Apollo stiffened for a micron, sick with terror. He got to his feet and turned to face Todd. "Please let him go, Todd. You've got me, You've got what you wanted, and I promise I won't resist. Anything you want, Todd, but please let Boxey go."
Todd smiled and shook his head. "Naw. Don't you think I know what it'll do to you, watching me with him? You're the one had me labelled as a paedophile, Angel. I might as well live up to it."
"For God's sake, he's only eight!"
Todd shrugged. "So?" He took a step backwards. "I'm going to leave you two in here for a few centons while I check that our mutual friends in Security weren't tracking you somehow. Use the time to explain a few facts of life to him. Tell him what you and Starbuck do in bed, Angel. Then he won't be too surprised later."
"I won't let you touch him," Apollo said steadily.
"You can't stop me." Todd grinned, and the door closed.
Apollo heard the lock close.
"Dad?" Boxey said, quiet and scared still. "Dad, why's Darus done this? Why's he locked us up in here?"
"Darus?" Apollo was looking round the store room for something, anything, to use as weapon. "You know him?"
"Sometimes he cleans our quarters. I've talked to him, sometimes."
"Cleans our quarters?" So was that where he might have seen Todd? Todd was one of the civilian cleaning staff? Apollo pushed that thought away. "Is that what he calls himself? His real name's Todd."
"Is it?" Boxey was indifferent to that. After all, his real name wasn't Boxey. "What does he want?"
"He doesn't like me much," Apollo said, half distracted. "Shit. I have got to get you out of here."
Nothing. Not one fucking thing in the entire bloody storeroom that he could use to try and protect Boxey. But there had to be something,. There had to be! He couldn't let Todd carry out his threat and rape Boxey. He had to do something to get the child out of there. He scanned the room again. Crates, boxes, walls blank but for a ventilation shaft. Apollo's eyes narrowed, calculating. He could reach the grille with his bare hands, but all his tugging and punching at it wouldn't shift it. He needed to kick it in.
He had to do it. The shaft would be too narrow for him to use it himself, but it was the only way to get Boxey out of there. He might just do it if he could shift that crate up against the wall…
"Help me," he said, and got his back against a crate. "Help me push this to the wall."
Boxey joined in willingly, but his slight strength was no real help. Apollo, sitting on the floor, dug the heels of his combat boots up against another crate and pushed back hard, straightening his legs and pushing against the stationary box. The crate he was pushing moved a little, then a little more. He only had to move it a foot or two. Just another foot…
Close enough. Dripping with sweat from the exertion Apollo scrambled up and onto the crate.
"Stand behind me and stop me falling off this thing. I'm going to kick this grille in and you'll need to help by holding me steady. Okay?"
Boxey nodded, very quiet and very frightened now.
"Ready?" Apollo asked, on his back on the crate. It wasn't perfect but it was all the purchase he could get.
With Boxey leaning hard against his shoulders, Apollo kicked viciously at the grille. How long did he have? How long before Todd came back? He had to hurry, had to hurry…He had to get Boxey out of there. He had to….
At the third kick the grille tore away from its mountings, and he was able to bend it back out of the way, not even noticing that he was tearing his hands on the jagged edges. Breathing heavily, he pulled Boxey up onto the crate beside him.
"Listen to me. I want you to get inside that hole and crawl as fast and as far as you can." Apollo's bound hands tugged at the fake pin in his collar. He pinned it into Boxey's tunic. "This is a special pin, Boxey. It has something hidden in it to help your Grandpa find you. Don't lose it."
"I won't," Boxey promised.
Apollo pulled the other pin free. "But this one's mine. I want you to look after it for me, to go with the one I gave you when your mother was here, remember?"
That pin was still one of Boxey's greatest treasures. He nodded, round eyed and solemn.
"Good. Now, get in that shaft and start crawling. If you come to a junction, turn right or left."
Apollo didn't want to scare the child by saying "To get out of the direct line of fire if he shoots at you". Instead he brushed back the rough brown hair. "It's an order, Boxey. I don't have time to explain. Keep crawling until you've counted to a thousand, and don't turn back, no matter what you hear, okay? Even if he shouts after you, or you hear yelling, don't you come back here. Promise me!"
Boxey nodded, so scared now that the tears were very close. "I promise. Word of a Caprican."
It was the catchphrase Adama had taught Apollo all those yahrens ago, when, Starbuck said, the commander had corrupted his son with too much of a sense of honour and fair play. It was a standing joke in the Adama family and, scared as he was for his son's safety, Apollo smiled at Boxey's solemn assertion. Boxey smiled back.
"Good. Then I want you to find a place where you can see out into a room like this one. Wait there until your Grandfather, or Starbuck or Boomer comes for you. They won't be long. Don't you come out for anyone you don't know. Okay? In you go."
"But he'll be mad and he might hurt you," said Boxey uncertainly.
For a micron Apollo looked into eyes so like Serina's that his breath caught in his throat.
"It'll hurt me even more if you're still here when he gets back." Apollo hugged the child as close as he could, feeling how much the boy was trembling. He helped Boxey scramble up into the ventilation shaft. "Love you, little son. Now get going and start counting."
He watched as Boxey wriggled away to relative safety.
"Don't lose those pins!"
"I won't," Boxey promised, his voice muffled. "Sixteen. Seventeen. Dad, should I go right or left here?"
"Which ever you want."
"I'll go left, because you're left handed."
Apollo grinned at that sort of logic, knowing what Boxey was really saying. "That's good. And remember, only come out for Grandpa or Starbuck or Boomer. All right?"
"I promise. I'm scared, Dad."
"I know. But everything will be all right. Get going and wait for Grandpa."
The sounds of Boxey's progress grew fainter, and Apollo sat on the crate, leaning his back against the wall, straining to hear for as long as he could. He leaned his head back, and grinned up at the ceiling, so relieved that he was almost light headed. Boxey was safe. Apollo knew that as soon as Boxey stopped moving, his father would move in. They'd find Boxey. It might take a centar or two, but they'd find Boxey, and his son would be safe.
Maybe there was a God after all. Maybe there was.
"We're on our way. The Commander's coming with us." Starbuck joined Boomer and Blue Squadron.
"Twenty one." Starbuck shouldered the laser rifle, and he had Apollo's laser as well as his own. He looked quietly desperate, and Boomer knew just how terrified the lieutenant was.
Adama, coming across the flightdeck, was unarmed. "Ready?"
Starbuck nodded. "We're ready."
"Reese is taking a contingent of security guards down in turbolifts 15 and 16 and will work his way back aft. We'll go from here. We should meet up just where the tracer is."
"What about the rest, sir?" asked Boomer.
"They'll be held in reserve in case we need to start searching levels 19 and 20." Adama carried another small hand-held computer. "We've loaded these with schematics. I'll navigate."
"I can help, sir" offered Jordan. "Most of the deck crew can find their way round down there. It's mainly us who use them."
Adama nodded gratefully. "Let's go, then. How many are we?"
Starbuck glanced behind them as they headed for the turbolifts. Mostly members of Blue squadron : Boomer, Jolly, Giles, Greenbean, Bree, Regan, Cree and Meade, with Jordan and Hallam.
"A dozen, including me and you."
"Let's hope that's enough," said Adama.
The turbolift doors opened on deck 20, into a world of shadows and half darkness. The deck was bitterly cold, and more than one of the warriors paused to do up the fasteners on their flight jackets, grateful for the extra warmth that the pressure suits under their battledress gave them. Adama and Jordan conferred together over the screen.
"This way." Jordan pointed. "There's a staircase ahead that will bring us down on 21 only a couple of hundred metres from the tracer signal."
They followed him as quietly as they could, Adama and Starbuck immediately behind him. The rest came in single file, Hallam bringing up the rear. The stair was only metres away, and before he opened the side access hatch to the tube that held it, Adama turned to them.
"When we get to the bottom, we'll be very close. As quiet as you can make it, please."
Starbuck was the first to swing onto the stair. He moved fast, the laser rifle slung over his shoulder. At the bottom he carefully opened the access door and peered along the dark corridor. After a centon, he looked up and signalled them down.
"All quiet," he said softly, as Adama joined him, Jordan close behind.
As the last of the team stepped off the ladder, Starbuck started off down the corridor, Adama at his shoulder, flitting from shadow to shadow. For a man his age and size, the commander could move with surprising quiet and stealth. He'd had quite a reputation as a warrior, had Adama, and not just as an ace pilot. He'd led more than one successful ground raid, and, as Hallam noted quietly to Boomer, hadn't forgotten how to move in enemy territory.
Because although this was Adama's ship, this was definitely enemy territory.
Starbuck put out a hand and stopped Adama. The team came to a silent halt behind them.
"Something up ahead," Starbuck breathed, seeing again the flicker of movement in the corridor ahead, and for a centon they waited tensely, hardly daring to move or breathe. Then he sighed and relaxed, seeing the black security uniform. "Reese."
They moved forward quietly and openly, meeting Reese at the next intersection.
"Down there." Reese waved his laser towards a door that blocked a short corridor leading from the junction.
Starbuck checked his rifle, aware that everyone else was doing the same. He watched as Sergeant Castor moved quietly to the door, and pressed himself up against it, listening. Castor attached a tiny microphone to the door and moved back.
"Nothing. The tracer's behind there somewhere, but I can't hear anything," he said quietly, after checking what the mike was relaying.
"What's behind the door?" asked Reese.
"Storeroom, about fifteen metres by fifteen, no other exits," said Jordan, looking up from Adama's hand-held. "A fair size, but not so big that the mike wouldn't pick up movement or voices."
"Do we move in?" Reese asked Adama.
Adama hesitated only for a micron. If they'd called this wrongly and burst in on Todd, Apollo and Boxey could get hurt or killed... "We go in."
Reese nodded and gestured to Castor to move forward. Followed by a half dozen Security personnel, the big sergeant returned to the door and, with infinite care, operated the lock. The door slid open silently, and Castor slipped inside, followed by the security guards. Reese and Adama moved to the door, Starbuck treading on their heels. Adama could feel the Lieutenant's fear and impatience. He shared them.
The big storeroom was full of crates, piled high in the middle of the room. But nothing else. As Adama and Reese stepped in, Castor loomed up in front of them.
"Nothing," he said in disgust.
Adama looked shocked. "But the tracer?"
Castor took the small sensor from his belt and pointed it at the walls, revolving slowly. "Coming from over here," he said.
They walked slowly to the other side of the room, skirting the crates. No other door, no other entrance. Nothing.
"I don't understand it," said Adama. "A room on the other side of this wall?"
"Must be. I thought this was too easy!" His voice rose, and only Adama's hand on his kept him calm.
"I know," said Adama.
Castor frowned at the sensor, took a step backwards and looked up at the wall. "There!"
A ventilation grille, barely half a metre square, two metres above the level of the floor.
Adama reached up to it. "Apollo?" he called softly into the grille. "Apollo?"
There was a slight rustling sound, then a frightened voice. A child's voice. "Grandpa? Grandpa, it's me."
"Boxey!" The relief rang in Adama's voice. "Where are you?"
"I'm here, Grandpa. Please get me out of this place. Please…" They could hear that the child was crying. "Please. Dad said you'd come for me. He made me come in here and I want to get out."
Apollo. Boxey had at least seen Apollo.
"Two centons, and we'll get you out," said Reese, signalling two of the security guards forward. One had a crowbar, and forced open the grille.
"Out you come," invited the other guard, holding out his arms, but Boxey scuttled backwards.
"My Dad said I was only to get out for Grandpa or Starbuck."
"For frack's sake!" muttered Reese in disgust, a man who usually preferred children to be obedient and quiet.
Adama replaced the guard at the shaft opening. "I'm here, Boxey. Come on. Let's get you out."
Boxey obediently wriggled to the opening and reached out for his grandfather, hooking his arms around Adama's neck. Adama took a step backwards, pulling Boxey out of the ventilation shaft and carrying him over to a crate. He sat down with the sobbing child on his lap, rocked him comfortingly. One of the security people faded out to spread the good news that Boxey, at least, was safe.
"It's all right," Adama said repeatedly. "It's all right. You're safe now".
Starbuck dropped down from looking forlornly down the shaft. Nothing. It was futile. Apollo couldn't have used the shaft anyway: only a child could have. He went across to Adama and squatted down beside him, putting a hand on Boxey's shoulder.
"All right?" he asked Adama.
"I don't know. He's freezing." Adama shrugged out of the long, sleeveless over-tunic he was wearing and wrapped the shaking child in it. He tilted Boxey's head back and spoke with all the authority of the commander of Galactica. "That's enough crying, Boxey. I need to talk to you now."
Boxey gulped back another sob and nodded.
"That's better. The man who brought you down here, Boxey, did he hurt you? Touch you?"
Boxey shook his head. "That's what Dad asked me. No. He didn't hurt me." His lip trembled again at the mention of his father. "I want my Dad."
"Oh God, so do we," said Starbuck. "Where is he, Boxey?"
"I don't know." Boxey waved a hand at the grille. "Way back there somewhere."
"Is he all right?"
"I don't know," And Boxey was very close to tears again. "I'm scared Darus'll hurt him. He tied Dad's hands so he can't fight back."
"Don't cry," said Adama and Boxey fought to stop the sobs, but nothing could stop the tears welling up in his eyes.
"But Daddy was scared! But my Dad fights the Cylons and he saved the fleet and he's the best pilot ever! Why's he scared?
"He – " Adama paused, shrugged. "He was scared that the man would hurt you. Tell me what happened."
"Darus left us alone and Dad forced open the grille and made me get in. He told me to keep on crawling and only come out when you came for me, or Starbuck or Boomer did. He said I wasn't to go back no matter what happened."
"He gave you the tracer?" Reese asked
"Daddy gave me these." Boxey turned so that they could see the rank insignia pinned to his tunic glinting in the dim light. Both of the insignia from Apollo's battledress collar, the fake pin and the real one. "He said it would help you find me, and that I'd better keep this one of his to go with the one he gave me when he gave me Muffy, a long time ago when I was little."
Starbuck and Adama looked at each other, both seeing the other's fear and anguish. Apollo was down here somewhere with a man who hated him, unarmed, helpless. And they had no way of finding him.
"Cree, you and Meade take Boxey back up top. Athena's waiting for him in Life Centre."
For once Cree nodded and didn't argue with Boomer's orders. Even youth could be intimidated by the cold and the dark, and if he'd not thought about the implications of this before, he was thinking about them now. The Skipper was a prisoner down here somewhere, and things didn't look good. Not good at all.
"If you're quick, head back to the Alpha bay and join one of the other groups. Kyle and Janna are leading the other two Blue contingents - see if you can get with one of them. Any group really. It won't matter."
"What's the quickest way up?" asked Meade, practical as ever.
Jordan looked at the schematics. "Turbolifts, about fifty metres that way."
"We'll escort them," promised Castor. "I know where we are."
"Thanks," said Boomer.
He touched the man on the shoulder, awkward with it. Warriors were seldom kindly disposed towards Security. He turned quickly when Adama came out, still carrying Boxey. Starbuck was trailing along behind, face downcast.
"Hi, tiger," said Boomer, ruffling Boxey's hair in a way guaranteed to equally ruffle an eight-yahren-old's dignity. "You okay?"
Boxey sniffed and nodded. "Are you going to find my Dad?"
"Damn right we are," Boomer said, radiating confidence. He looked at Adama. "I've spoken to Thenie, sir. She's waiting in Life Centre for him and she and Cassie will keep him there until it's all over. They'll make sure he's all right."
"I don't think Todd touched him," said Adama. "He's not hurt, just scared. Who's taking him up?"
"We will, sir." Meade stepped forward. "Me and Cree." She smiled encouragingly at Boxey.
"Can't I stay with you and Starbuck?" asked Boxey, twisting his hands into the overtunic he was still wrapped in. "I want to find Daddy."
"No. And that's an order. I need you to go and take care of your aunt and Cassie for me. Okay?" Adama let Boxey down onto his feet.
"Okay." Boxey took the hand that Meade held out to him although recently he had been scorning such babyish things as having his hand held. "You'll find him, won't you Grandpa?"
"I promise," Adama said gravely, stopping down to hug him. "Just as soon as I can." He waited until Boxey left with his heavily armed escort, and turned to Reese.
"I know," said Reese, before the commander could speak. "Where do we start?"
"Three levels. They could be anywhere on these three levels." Starbuck's tone was dull, despairing.
Reese frowned, nodded. "If it was me, I'd move him as far away as possible, as fast as possible. I vote for level nineteen and we work our way down."
"All our resources?" Adama shook his head. "I don't like that."
"This is a bloody big ship, sir. We're talking thousands of square metres on every deck, hundreds of store rooms. They could be anywhere. We need to block every lift and stair, and search every level thoroughly."
"That could take centars!" protested Boomer.
"It will take centars," Reese agreed. "What choice do we have?"
"Apollo doesn't have centars. Todd's not exactly going to be thrilled about losing Boxey."
"He lost Boxey almost a centar ago. It could already have happened. We can't tell."
Starbuck flinched visibly. "I don't like it. I think that he'll expect you to come to that conclusion, and he's still down here somewhere, on 21, waiting for you to go running off two levels. He'll have more than one place prepared, and there's a thousand places he could hide Apollo, places close to where he had him and Boxey, and where it's not so risky moving him as it would be taking him to a different level. I think they're still here."
Adama closed his eyes for a micron. No-one envied him. Everyone was at him again to make decisions, choices, that if he chose wrongly could cost him dear. They could cost him his son. None of them wanted to be in his boots.
"How many people do we have?" he asked.
"About two hundred."
Adama nodded, made up his mind. "Split them. Get enough to cover every staircase and turbolift. You take level 19, put Castor in charge of those on 20. I'll stay here. We search each deck simultaneously, Reese. I think Starbuck's right. If Apollo's still alive, I doubt he has the centars we'd need to do each deck separately."
Reese nodded, not bothering to argue. "We need to do this systematically. Start aft and work forward?"
"We're closer to the stern," said Jordan, reading from the schematics. "Makes sense to start aft, I suppose."
"Then let's get to it," said Adama. "I've a promise to keep."
Starbuck gave him a sad little smile. "Yeah, I know. Word of a Caprican."