One : Culture Shock

 

"Are we there yet?"

Boomer took a very deep breath and grasped hold of his patience with both hands. His companion turned on his sunniest smile.

"Sorry, couldn't resist," said Starbuck. "It's just that when you invited me to join you on this little expedition, you didn't mention that there was so much walking involved. I signed up to be pilot, not a ruddy pedestrian."

"This is the Eastside, Starbuck. The transport links are a little more sparse than what you're used to in the fancy parts of town."

"I'm not disagreeing, I'm complaining. Mind you, it's a very interesting place."

"Interesting."

"Well, it is." Starbuck looked about him, at the crowded street market where half the produce for sale was unidentifiable and most of the people were immigrants from the other colonies. "Colourful."

"Well, thank you, Starbuck, for that insightful contribution to multicultural understanding."

"I'll be more culturally diverse when I've eaten," Starbuck assured him. "Is there anything edible around here?"

"Quite a bit," said Boomer. "How rich are you?"

Starbuck shrugged. "The Government pays for my bread and board and books. The pitiful amount left over barely covers my clothes."

"And your card playing," murmured Boomer.

"Well, yeah, so I make a bit on that. Not a lot, since most of the cadets are as tight wadded as you are, but a bit. Enough to pay for cheap forays into the exotic Eastside with you. Emphasis on cheap."

"I get it. If you want enough left to play with at the clubs tonight, lunch is - "

" - on you. Thank you, Boomer! You're a generous man and I'm sorry I suggested otherwise."

Boomer choked momentarily, then laughed, helpless in the face of a piece of perfect Starbuckian timing. "I was going to say as cheap as you are, but all right, Starbuck. I'll buy your lunch."

"That was easy," said Starbuck.

"I'm too kind hearted."

"And you have a salary, which is more than I do."

"And I pay taxes, which is more than you do. We'll be eating Leonid, then. I haven't had a decent curry since I left home. My parents told me about a few eating places that they remember from when they lived around here. We'll go find one of them, all right?"

Starbuck nodded. "I don't think I've ever eaten Leonid food before."

"If you had, you'd remember. See those?" Boomer pointed to a heap of bright scarlet pods on the stall they were passing. He snapped out a hand to grasp Starbuck's wrist, stopping the cadet from touching them. "No, don't touch them! Not without gloves." He grinned into the wide blue eyes meeting his. "Touch them and then touch your eyes or mouth, and you'd have burns that could leave you blind or take your lips off. Nobody touches them without gloves. We'll be eating some for lunch."

Starbuck stared. "Why?"

"Because it's what Leonids do."

"I mean, why do you eat things that will hurt you back?"

"Leonids are very brave."

Starbuck drew in his next breath in a little whistle of appreciation. "Is it a sort of ritual of manhood thing?"

"Well, you might say that, although my mother and sisters might not agree with you." Boomer angled his way across the market and back out into the main thoroughfare, Starbuck trailing in his wake. "Don't worry. Cooking the peppers takes out all the toxins - mostly, anyway. If they're prepared properly."

"You know, I signed up and I knew I get shot at by the Cylons one day. I never thought I'd be killed by a mis-cooked scarlet vegetable, before a centurion even has a chance to take a pop at me. Thanks, Boom-boom."

"Put it down to widening your cultural horizons. You Capricans are shockingly risk averse when it comes to food."

"It's just that we have enough to worry about with the Cylon Empire trying to wipe us out without additional anxiety over whether our plates are loaded with peas with attitude." Starbuck followed Boomer across the street. "There's another one."

Boomer glanced at the young man – little more than a teenager, really - sat huddled up against a closed firedoor beside one of the shops, the tattered blanket around his shoulders all that stood between him and the mid-Decimus chill.

"This is a poor district, Starbuck," he said, as he had the first time Starbuck had pointed out one of the beggars to him. "There's a lot of kids like him."

"Yeah."

There was a handmade notice propped up against the boy's knees, scrawled on a piece of cardboard torn from a packing box.

"Hungry and homeless," read Starbuck. He stopped briefly as they passed and added a few coins to the meagre collection beside the notice. A pair of dulled blue eyes met his for a micron before flickering away.

"He'll spend it on Shadow," warned Boomer.

Starbuck shrugged. "I know, but... well, maybe there's something to be said for orphanages, after all."

Boomer hesitated. "I guess there is, at that," he agreed and turned back. He added a few more coins to the pile.

Starbuck turned pious. "Do you think that now we're into sharing what we have with the less fortunate, we'll have to start going to church as well?"

"Any more of that and I'll be sick over your shoes. Do you want to eat now?"

"There's loads of eating places. Which one do you recommend for my manhood ritual?"

"Dad said this one was always good. I don't really remember it much." Boomer shepherded Starbuck inside a café that was gloriously warm compared to the crisply cold streets. "You'll like it. Trust me."

"If I die, you and Apollo can have my worldly goods between you."

"I guess that's fair. One Pyramid pack each." Boomer slid onto a bench. The table was clean, mostly, if a little worn around the edges. He was quite impressed by the number of knife marks in the mellow-toned wood and the initials and (mostly obscene) words carved into the surface.

"He lives around here somewhere, didn't you say?" Starbuck picked up the menu. It was stained with scarlet and yellow in places, mostly from curry sauces. He sniffed at the stains experimentally, his nose wrinkling.

"Canal Street, I think he said. I don't know which house, although we could go looking if you like."

"It'll fill up the afternoon," said Starbuck. He waited until after Boomer had greeted the enormous proprietor and negotiated them some extra time to study the menu and had commented (when the man had drifted away again) on the state and girth of the man's apron. "How does he get to have every secton-end out of the Academy?"

Boomer smiled. "Me and Apollo have real jobs and pay and, God help us, taxes. You're a trainee. Work it out for yourself."

"Oh. The grown-up thing."

"That's about it. I virtually had to sign you out, you know. I'll probably have to sign you back in, in triplicate, certifying you as unharmed and returned as per state at withdrawal."

"Not if I get to the clubs, I won't be," said Starbuck. "He never says that much, but he's Sealed to someone, isn't he? Apollo, I mean."

"He mentioned a partner, once," conceded Boomer. "I don't think that he's actually Sealed though." He thought about it. "Alice? That might have been her name. Or Alix, maybe. I can't really remember. Like you said, he doesn't talk about his private life much."

"And yet he's had time to get to know us," said Starbuck. "Two whole sectars."

"And to know you is to love you." Boomer cocked an eyebrow at Starbuck and added, kindly, "I just saved you the trouble of saying it, Bucko."

"Maybe he's just not the confiding sort," said Starbuck.

"Maybe." Boomer flourished the menu. "Now then. How much translation do you need?"

Starbuck peered at all the unfamiliar names on the menu. "What's that?" he asked, pointing.

"Hot."

"And that?"

"Hot."

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