(with apologies to Mr Dickens, whose greatness I freely acknowledge)

 

Yuletide Eve, Yahren 6762 Kobolian Reckoning

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country's done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail....

 

So was Commander Kronos.





Kronos's Ghost

Colonel Tigh couldn't think why he'd been reminded of Kronos so often, but the old man had been on his mind all day. Perhaps it was because Commander Adama was relaxed as the holiday approached and let the bridge crew relax along with him. They spent more time saying "Happy Yule!" than "Yes sir!" or "No sir!".

Kronos would never have allowed that. Now there was a commander who understood discipline! Adama was good, maybe the very best, and Colonel Tigh would have protested loud and long against any imputation that he wasn't proud to serve with him. But there was the difference between the two, in one word. As Tigh knew, you didn't serve with Kronos. You served under him.

Kronos had been a hard man. Not in any unreasoning, evil way, of course! But Kronos had understood how important it is in the military to be unswerving, to be unyielding, because to hesitate is to lose the battle. His hardness had been grounded in the Military Code. He had lived it and breathed it; it had been his mother, father, lover, children and home. Tigh had got on very well with him, in a respectful, distant kind of way. Kronos's strict adherence to the rules had given Tigh a strong and comforting sense of security. He'd always known exactly where he was with Kronos.

A lot of people weren't comfortable with the Kronos way of doing things, but Tigh liked it. It was admirable, it provided order, it was a neat and tidy way to live. Commander Adama had been heard to say that it was unimaginative. Actually, although Tigh would die before he said so to any other member of Galactica's crew, Adama usually said that the Military Code was there as a framework and there were times and situations where the Regs wouldn't help or have the answer. Tigh didn't agree. He didn't think he'd come across such a situation in all his long yahrens of service and he doubted that there was any situation that the Military planners hadn't anticipated and covered. He said as much to Adama, once, and all the commander said in reply was "Cimtar!", but Tigh argued that it was discipline and structure that had got them through that day. The colonel did not accept Adama's view that a blind and unswerving adherence to discipline and their political masters had got them into that mess to begin with, and if he'd disobeyed the President when all his instincts told him to, then the Cylons couldn't have jumped the Fleet and destroyed the Colonies.

But then, Tigh considered that they were there to follow orders and didn't see where that sort of speculation got anyone, even Battlestar commanders.

So, no, Tigh didn't see why he should relax discipline and procedures just because it was Yule Eve. And that was a principle that he made very plain to Lieutenant Starbuck when the pilot trailed up onto the bridge with some half-baked idea and a request for a donation to make Yuletide more festive for the children on the orphan barge.

"It's to get some presents for the kids, sir," explained Starbuck.

The lieutenant's face wore an expression the colonel found all too familiar, since he was used to beholding it whenever Starbuck was being reminded about military duty and decorum (once a secton on average if, like Tigh, you kept statistics and looked at the distribution pattern over the yahren). This was the expression of earnest, serious, artless innocence; the expression that had old ladies cooing maternally and young ones cooing for entirely different reasons which could certainly lead to maternity if they weren't careful; the expression that had the wary checking their wallet for leaks. Colonel Tigh, being of the wary persuasion and constitutionally incapable of a coo, put a protective hand over his pants pocket.

"Presents," repeated the colonel, repressively.

Starbuck was not of the repressible persuasion. "We've had a collection on the troop decks and the captain's given some of us permission to go across to the bazaar on the Equus and see what we can get for them. I wondered if the command crew would like to contribute?"

"Don't we pay taxes?" growled Tigh, wondering why Strike Captain Apollo had allowed this without checking with him first. Of course, he knew that where Starbuck was concerned, the captain was a perfect fool.

Starbuck blinked. "Well, not really, not any more," he said.

Now a portion of their meagre salaries, paid in New Cubits (known, familiarly, as 'nukes' – although not, of course, by the colonel), was retained by the Interim Government as a nominal tax to support the common services provided to the community. Starbuck knew that as well as Tigh did and he had the grace to look ashamed when Tigh reminded him.

"Isn't there an orphan barge?" asked Tigh. "Aren't there people - paid for out of that nominal tax, if I'm not mistaken - to care for these children, to see to their wants and requirements and needs?"

"Well – "

"Don't the orphans get all that the system can provide for them?"

"Sure, sir, they get the basics. But the orphan ship's not exactly bright and cheerful, and it's lacking in comforts and Yuletide cheer."

"Cheer!" said Tigh, seeing that the captain was slinking onto the bridge to take his stint of command duty. The captain avoided Tigh's gaze, trying not to be noticed. "Yuletide cheer! We're in a crisis situation, Lieutenant, in case you hadn't noticed it; under military rule. There's no room for cheer, no resources for it, no need for it, no call for it. The children will be adequately cared for. There's no need for you to do more."

"That's a no, then, sir?"

"Get off the bridge," said Tigh, "before I cancel your Yuletide leave."

"Yes sir," said Starbuck, saluting smartly.

At least he did as he was told. In fact he did as he was told so fast that Tigh didn't have the time to make the threat real. Instead, he watched the turbolift doors close on Starbuck and smiled, pleased with himself, with an improved opinion of himself for routing the usually nonchalant lieutenant. Of course, his victory left him with only one person to torment. Not one to waste an opportunity, the colonel beckoned Strike Captain Apollo over to the command dais, enjoying the look on his subordinate's face as he obeyed.

"I understand, Captain, that you've given Lieutenant Starbuck permission to swindle people out of their pay?"

"He's asking for donations, sir," said Captain Apollo.

"And you're letting him go Yuletide shopping?"

"I've given him permission to leave the ship, yes. He is off duty, sir."

"And your reason?"

"Reason? It's Yule, sir. It only comes once a yahren."

Tigh said, with such care that every word was sharp as a shard of glass, "I know the date, Captain. And you believe that the fact that it only comes once a yahren excuses lapses in discipline?"

"I don't think that this constitutes a lapse in discipline," said Apollo, and he stiffened right up, just like Commander Adama would have done, if Tigh had questioned his judgement like that. Genetics made the colonel despair, sometimes.

"You never do where Starbuck is concerned," said the colonel. "It's a bad example. It's bad discipline. It's poor command behaviour."

"Starbuck is my friend, but I make conspicuous efforts, sir, to be even-handed in that direction," said the captain, and the effort he was making to be meek and mild was equally conspicuous.

"Bah," said Tigh, because it was true and he didn't know just then how to counter it. "And I suppose you want the whole day off tomorrow?"

"It only comes once a yahren," Apollo said again.

"Well I want you up here," said Tigh. "8am sharp, Captain."

"There you are," said Adama mildly, from behind them. "Happy Yule, Colonel."

Tigh, having no better answer to make on the spur of the moment said "Bah!" again.

"Now, Tigh," Adama said, so cheerfully and indulgently that Tigh wanted to sneer but didn't quite like to in case of setting an unmilitary example for the junior officers. "You know that Yuletide does you good. Now, aren't you coming to join us in the family Yule dinner tomorrow night?"

Tigh thought he heard the captain choke, and was sorry to disappoint him by refusing. "Adama," he said, "just what good has Yuletide ever done to you?"

"Or me," said Captain Apollo, bitterly.

Tigh had to let it go, with Adama standing there beside them. That was a pity, but it was deferred, not forgotten.

"Well," said Adama, "Is that the right question? Don't you think we should be asking what good we can do for Yuletide?"

Colonel Tigh hated it when the commander was pious.

The commander didn't seem to notice. "Doesn't it warm your heart? Doesn't it make you feel more cheerful, more kindly disposed towards your fellow man?" Adama smiled, and Tigh could have sworn that the man's eyes were twinkling with something horrible, like benevolence. "It's a good time, Tigh; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time."

Tigh was sure he heard the captain snort, but when he turned around, Apollo was staring intently up at the main scanner screen above the navigation desk, face expressionless.

"I'm not a great one for religious holidays, Adama, you know that," said the colonel. "But thank you for the invitation."

"You always say that," said the commander and shook his head. "But I'll keep asking every yahren until you say yes. And I'll risk wishing you a Happy Yuletide, all the same."

This time Tigh caught the captain at it. Apollo was very definitely indulging himself in bitter and ironic laughter. It warmed Tigh's heart to talk to him about it, once the commander had gone back into his office. It made the colonel feel very cheerful and pleasant; positively festive. Upholding discipline and the Military Code always did, whatever the time of yahren.





The colonel's quarters were on the command level, of course, near those of the commander and other senior officers.

By the time he left the bridge and made his way home, the Galactica had already powered down for the night and the corridors were only dimly lit. Despite the gloom, he passed all sorts of undisciplined, rowdy revellers. Faint illumination came from the emergency lights along the middle of the corridor floor and the occasional wall light where crowds of crewmen and warriors gathered to make merry on very little, laughing and gossiping and playing. It was a good excuse for them to jostle Tigh, of course, and call Merry Yule to him, and then scamper away unrecognised into the shadows when he growled at 'em. They were fools, really, trying to take any sort of pleasure in such poor circumstances.

It was pretty cold, too, as the great ship cooled and the bitter chill of space seeped into every unheated corridor and storage compartment. The faint light was enough to allow Tigh to see his breath steaming in the chill air and his fingers were cold enough for him warm them, briefly, between his arms and his sides. By the time he reached the quiet, deserted command level, he'd paused more than once to stamp his feet to get the circulation going. Altogether, the corridor was gloomy and cold and shadow-hung, and he was looking forward to getting to his quarters, where warmth and his supper awaited him.

The chill murk had to account for the slight feeling he had... not dread, precisely. No, not dread. Perhaps discomfort. Used as he was to the drear dimness of the Galactica at night, he couldn't imagine why he felt anything out of the ordinary at all, even if having an imagination was consistent with military regulations - which, of course, it wasn't.

The nearest wall light was several metres away, and Tigh's door was in semi darkness. Kronos must have been way too much on Tigh's mind that day, because superimposed over the security panel to the right of the door Tigh could see Kronos's face, ghostly, glowing, the ghastly colour of a long dead crustacean. His eyes regarded Tigh with their usual expressionless calm, and the thin hair on his forehead stirred slightly, as if in some un-felt breeze.

Someone stumbled into the colonel. Tigh blinked, and the apparition was gone.

"Sorry, Colonel," said Starbuck and went on his way. To the captain's quarters at the very far end of this corridor, Tigh guessed. He'd had occasion to speak to Apollo before about his friendship with one of his pilots. It was not appropriate, not when Apollo was in command of the warriors. And Starbuck – well, Starbuck was one to take liberties. Give him an inch and he'd take a parsec.

But after one startled glance, Tigh let him go and stared instead at the security panel, taken aback by what he thought he'd seen there a centon before.

It was just a panel. Nothing more, or less.

Tigh shook himself, reminded himself about the Regs, keyed in his code and went inside, checking the wall behind the panel. He half expected to see – oh he didn't really know what he expected to see! The back of Kronos head sticking out, perhaps, the thinning hair curling down onto the dark command collar with its silver trim.

There was nothing, of course.





Tigh had eaten the meagre supper left for him by his steward and was deep in reviewing patrol reports when he heard it. He tilted his head at the noise in the corridor outside, startled. Not even at Yule would he have expected the merrymakers on the ship to disturb him by attempting to make merry on the command level. Crewmen, he'd noticed, usually disliked being reminded of their military duties while standing stiffly at attention.

"Time?" he asked the computer.

[Midnight]

The noise came again. He began to doubt that it was the crewmen he'd seen earlier on the other levels if only because a loud, clanking noise and another slow, loud step, like someone wearing iron boots, would have a very hard time sounding merry. Another step, and another, sounding down the command corridor towards Tigh's quarters, coming from the nearest set of turbolifts. Those turbolifts led down into the bowels of the ship, to the hot and airless hell of the main engine chambers.

Another ponderous step and It was outside Tigh's door. Barely breathing, unaccountably disturbed, Tigh waited a centon, listening. But the silence was huge.

He touched the intercom on his desk, and cleared his throat. "Who is it?"

The voice echoed like a hollow laugh in the grave. "Invite me in."

Tigh's breath hitched in his throat, He hesitated, but found his hand reaching to release the door lock. Not that It waited for that, whatever it was that was out there, talking to him. It didn't open the door, It walked right through it. The temperature in the colonel's quarters plummeted so fast that his breath froze between one micron and the next.

It was Kronos.

It was just like him: portly, grey, dressed in those long Kobolian robes he favoured, his back regulation-straight and ramrod stiff, marching across the room as if he was on a parade ground. But his robe and hair moved in some invisible wind, and Tigh, mouth open in consternation, could see right through him. Wrapped around Kronos's waist and trailing behind him was the longest and heaviest chain Tigh had ever seen. That accounted for the clanking noise then, the chain dragging along behind him.

Tigh looked more closely. The chain had things hanging off it that Tigh recognised: uniform buttons and medals, rolled up copies of the Military Regulations tied with wire, and he was sure he could see Viper spare parts and even laser power packs – all bouncing and clanking behind Kronos and weighing him down.

But Kronos was a dead as a door nail.

But unfortunately not as silent as the grave. He still had quite the bellow when he wanted to be heard. "Listen to me, unhappy man!"

"I don't believe in you!" said Tigh, averting his eyes quickly and saying it very loud and clear, to make sure It – he? - heard. "There's nothing in Regulations about you."

The Spectre – if that's what It was – was silent for a centon, then said, very mildly (for Kronos), "You don't believe in the evidence of your own senses?"

Tigh shook his head. "No. The slightest thing upsets them: the temperature, tiredness, indigestion. For all I know you're an undigested bit of protein substitute, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone mushie..."

Tigh thought that was rather smart (if unoriginal, but then the Regs didn't like or encourage originality), but old Kronos lifted up his hands and shook them in the colonel's face, and moaned most horribly. Frightened at last, Tigh fell out of his chair and onto his knees before the terrible phantom.

He held up his hands imploringly. "Commander! What do you want with me?"

The Ghost shook Its chain and sighed, mournfully. "Do you see this?"

"It's a very long chain," said Tigh respectfully. It definitely had a military look to it; cold, and hard, each link with a steely inflexibility about it.

"I suffer," said Kronos, tones even more hollow and sepulchral than before. "This chain is a symbol of my hardness of heart, of my adherence to the Military Code."

"You were always a strict disciplinarian, sir," Tigh said, admiring now.

"But that shouldn't have been all my business! Where was my charity, my kindness, my largeness of heart? Why couldn't I combine the military with humanity?" And the Ghost groaned terribly, an awful sound, raising Its hands again to wring them in despair. After a centon's sobbing, It resumed, "The chain you wear is fully as long and heavy as this, Colonel."

Tigh eyed the chain. "It is?"

"It is. Don't you feel it, man, dragging you down?"

Tigh swallowed hard. "I - er - I don't know."

"But you should know. It's your business to know!"

"Yes, sir."

"It's not too late for you. I've obtained a chance for you. It's not too late to repent."

"Repent?" said Tigh.

"You will haunted by three Spirits. Expect the first tomorrow when the computer chimes one; the second on the next night at the same time, and the third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Listen well to them. They will teach you to remember kindness and love and charity and what the spirit of Yuletide really means."

"Come on! Not that old chestnut!" said Tigh, astonished.

"Did you speak, Colonel?"

That tone had Tigh remembering discipline and respect immediately. He stiffened up to kneel at attention. "No, sir! Permission to speak, sir!"

The Ghost inclined Its grey, hoary old head.

"I wondered, sir, if this is - I mean, if you've kindly arranged the visit of these three Spirits to show me how to be a changed man, is it going to be like the old story, sir?"

The Ghost raised Its chain and shook it and groaned. "For your salvation, unhappy man!"

"But, sir, I don't want - I mean, sir, could you explain – I mean, all I'm doing is upholding Military Regulations. The way you always did, sir. I don't need to change my ways, do I? It's not as though I'm doing anything wrong – "

Kronos sighed, a sigh like a gale, and with the gale came the taint of fire and brimstone. Tigh trembled and choked down the protests he still wanted to make.

"That's an order, Colonel!" said Kronos sharply, in that hollow voice that echoed with desolation.

"Oh, an order," said Tigh, reluctant (for once) to obey an order. "Well, if it's an order, sir -"

It groaned again, and rattled Its chain again, and Tigh crouched right down, his face in the carpet and his arms over his head, suddenly more frightened than if the Cylon Imperious Leader was standing and groaning before him.

And then he remembered no more.






The First of the Three Spirits

Tigh woke suddenly, as if from a dream, to stare wildly around the room. All was quiet, all was still. It was very dark.

"Computer! What's the time?"

[The time is zero centars and ninety-seven centons]

Nothing. It was a dream, nothing more – although, it wasn't really seemly for colonels to dream. It must have been something he'd eaten at supper. The agriculturists swore that the additives they put into the hydroponics units were harmless but Tigh had his doubts, and having such absurd dreams seemed to bear out his suspicions about the chemical muck the scientists added to decent food. He sat up and punched vigorously at his pillows, before lying back and smiling up into the dark, relieved by the rational explanation.

Nothing. A dream. Nothing but a dream.

"Announce the time at one centar intervals."

[Complying. The time is zero centars and ninety-eight centons.]

How foolish to think that Kronos – Kronos of all people! – would object to the high standards Tigh set himself and those around him. Kronos would have done nothing but approve, Tigh was certain of that. Such nonsense to think that he'd be visited by spirits of Yules Past, Present and Future – he frowned as he tried to remember the old story precisely, but apart from the names of the three Spirits, he could remember little of it. Still he was sure it would be nonsense. Utter unmilitary nonsense.

He sat up again and waited. It was all nonsense, and as soon as the centar struck he would be able to prove that it was all nonsense and go back to sleep with a clear conscience.

[The time is zero centars and ninety-nine centons.]

He'd laugh about this all in the morning, he knew, and planned out how, the next day, he'd deal with a sulky captain who wanted to be elsewhere but who needed to remember what his Duty was to the Military and the people who the Military protected.

[The time is zero-one centars precisely]

The room flooded with light the instant the computer spoke. Tigh started up, choking off the cry in his throat, and found himself face to face with another strange phenomenon of a visitor.

He wasn't certain what It was, but It looked like a child, with a child's shortness of stature and a child's delicacy of frame. Its limbs and head kept fluctuating in and out of focus so here he saw an arm or a leg come out of the mist, part of the head, or a foot or a hand, but never the whole being. But he thought It was a child, dressed in a long white gown trimmed with holly and flowers, carrying a huge cone of a hat in one hand. It reminded him of Boxey, Captain Apollo's stepson, except that this small creature had a great beam of light springing from the top of Its head and Tigh didn't think that any power in the universe (not even the dead Kronos) could have got Boxey into a frock.

It regarded him solemnly for a long micron and beckoned to him with one hand. "Come."

"Ah," said Tigh, and cleared his throat. He was pleased at the calm tone he achieved. "You, of course, are the Ghost – "

" - of Yuletide Past," It finished for him, helpfully.

"I know. Look, I'm sure that I'm very grateful to Commander Kronos's intercession and all that, but as a piece of literature it never did do it for me, you know? It's a bit far-fetched, don't you think, haunting a man three times. Do we have to do this?"

"We all have our orders," said the child.

Tigh's shoulders slumped. He couldn't argue about that. "Orders."

"You always follow orders."

"Yes."

"Commander Kronos's orders," It said.

"Yes."

"Resistance is futile."

"Yes," said Tigh, and sighed. "So, if I remember rightly, you're here to show me the past and make me remember what it is to be cheerful."

"I am to be your Guide. Come." And the little creature reached out a thin, spectral hand and touched Tigh's own. Its fingers were icy.

The colonel shivered. He felt helpless. Nothing he knew of could save him – not where Kronos's orders were concerned - and just as he was, in his crisp and well-ironed Regulation pyjamas, he got out of his bed and allowed the Spirit to lead him where it would.

"I can't float through doors and walls," he said in a faltering voice as they neared the door of his sleeping quarters.

"Touch my robe," said the little Boxey-like Spirit. "No harm can come to you if you're with me."

Tigh clutched at a handful of fabric. "Where are you taking me?"

"Come," It said, again.

Tigh closed his eyes and followed. When, after a micron of screwing his eyelids tight shut, nothing appeared to have happened, he opened one eye, cautiously. He choked, gripping the Spirit's gown more tightly. He was outside of his quarters. He and the Spirit floated along the corridor, moving from shadow to shadow. He noticed, frightened, that his feet were several inches above the deck floor.

"No harm can come to you," the Spirit reminded him.

"While I'm with you."

"Yes," said the Spirit, sounding amused. "In the Yules of the past."

"Because there's nothing in the past to hurt me."

"I didn't say that," said the Spirit. "Hold tight."

They drifted through a corridor wall. Tigh held his breath, unable even to begin to imagine what it would feel like, his atoms sliding through the atoms of the metal wall, but before he could even speculate about beginning to panic, they were through on the other side and, if he had his bearings right, down five decks. He hadn't felt a thing. Not a thing.

"We're heading towards the OC," he remarked, priding himself on his calm.

"Yes," said the Spirit.

They passed a group of smiling, yet sad-eyed pilots, none of whom seemed to see them, despite the light coming from the little Spirit. Tigh glanced at them. Greenbean, Giles, Selim, Ricardo - Selim? But Lieutenant Selim of Green Squadron was dead, killed more than three sectars ago!

"When is this?" he demanded.

"I am the Spirit of Yuletide Past," said the Spirit. "This is a past Yuletide." The face, what he could see of it as it came in and out of focus, was pensive. "Last yahren, in fact; ten long sectars ago. This is the first Yule after the Destruction."

That explained the sorrow lurking in each pilot's eye, he thought. "Why this one? Why not one of my other Yules?"

"What difference will it make which one we visit?" asked the Spirit. "It is many yahrens since Yule touched you. You never celebrate Yule – "

"No," conceded Tigh.

"Never been one to believe in Yuletide cheer."

Tigh snorted. "Not since I grew up, no."

"Because there's no room for cheer, no resources for it, no need for it, no call for it."

Tigh said, feeling a little as if he were being reproved, "I said that earlier, to Starbuck."

"Yes." The Spirit sighed. "So we are not going to visit a Yule that you might find significant, because there isn't one."

Tigh frowned. "Aren't you supposed to find one? Isn't that your job, to remind me of carefree youthful joys before my heart crabbed over? To show me pictures of my childhood and my innocence, pictures of my dear departed Mother, until I weep with nostalgia for all that might have been?"

A spectral shoulder shrugged. "Not when I'm telling this story, no."

Even though he doubted that he could weep with nostalgia, Tigh stared. "That doesn't seem right – "

"How boring would that be? It's been done," said the Spirit, and Its Light flickered dismissively. "Instead, we're going to see someone else's Yule, to show you how the meaning of Yuletide transcends even death and disaster."

Tigh blew out a tiny, exasperated breath, feeling cheated. That sounded depressingly high-minded and romantic and, he was willing to bet, didn't even feature him as the main protagonist. When he looked around again, they were in a quiet corner of the OC.

"We will watch from here."

Tigh rolled his eyes. "Don't you think I get enough of them while I'm on duty?"

"Hush." The Spirit's eyes, dark caverns in the pale child's face, met his. "They cannot see us, cannot hear us. Watch and listen and learn."


Apollo slid into the seat next to Starbuck, handing the lieutenant a mug of ale. "All I can manage in the way of a Yuletide present," he said. "Cheers."

Starbuck smiled and clinked the mug against Apollo's. "Oh, I've got plans for something better than a mug of ale," he said.

"It had better be good," said Apollo, looking unaccountably flushed. "Between Boxey and the dear colonel, I'm thinking of cancelling Yule this yahren."

Starbuck frowned. "I don't see a lot of similarity between the two."

"It's being caught between two extremes. You know, I was sure this morning that the next person who wished the colonel 'Happy Yule' would end up being bounced out of the airlock – "

"I was running a book on it. A lot of people had money on Omega."

"He's too smart. He has to work with the colonel every day, poor bastard, and he knows better. Tigh's unpleasant enough at the best of times, but Yule brings out the worst in him."


"Unpleasant?" said Tigh, a little taken aback. "I just do my duty! What has being pleasant got to do with that?"

"Hush," said the little creature at his side. "Hush."


"I know that. That's why I had my money on you instead."

"I'm too smart, too," said Apollo, after a quick glare to register his resentment of the insult. "Besides, I'd choke if I had to wish him happy anything. I know I'm not that great a Kobolian these days but I do still celebrate Yule. You'd think the man could be a little more human at this time of yahren."

"I heard that he had his heart removed and an engraved copy of the Regs inserted instead."

Apollo snorted. "The man didn't have a heart to remove." He looked wistful. "If I wasn't bound to uphold the dignity of my superior officers I could tell you how I hoped the Regs were inserted - but I am, so I won't."


"I'll remember that!" muttered Tigh grimly and ignored the Spirit's gentle, deprecating sigh.


Starbuck laughed. "And Boxey?"

"Boxey is so excited it's like he's been plugged into the main power supply." Apollo smiled fondly. "He woke me at about three this morning demanding to know how many more centars it would be until Yule -"

"Why did he think you'd know?" wondered Starbuck, unkindly. "You can only count past ten if you take your boots and socks off."

"I'm an historian, not a mathematician. Historians don't have to be able to count." Apollo glanced at his chronometer. "We don't have long before we go to see him be an angel in the school play – "

"We? Whaddya mean, 'we'?"

"I booked you a seat and you're coming with me. And then we'll have all the excitement of trying to get him tired enough to sleep." Apollo smiled at Starbuck in a way that would have made Tigh nervous if he'd been Starbuck. "Children's party time."

"Oh, Lords. Well, you can try and tire the pair of us," promised Starbuck, and laughed at Apollo's expression. "Did you persuade Wilker to make Boxey's present?"

"I did."

"It's not another droid daggit, is it, Apollo?" asked Starbuck, anxiously.

Apollo flinched. "Only over my dead body!"

"If it's another droid daggit, there'll be a queue of people wanting to help you meet that criterion."

"With you at the head of the queue?"

"Of course. I'm always first." Starbuck preened complacently. "I got him the Good Book."

"The Beginner's Guide to Pyramid can hardly be compared to the Good Book, Starbuck. Not even in your warped universe."

Starbuck shrugged. "It has a better plot."

"But still ends in tears and sacrifice – usually me crying over the sacrifice of my pay." Apollo grinned, then sighed. "I hope I can get this right, Starbuck. It's his first Yule without his mother and it's not going to be the most festive, this soon after the Destruction."

"You're doing fine with him," said Starbuck. "He seems to be dealing with Serina's – well, you know, dealing well without Serina."

"He's only just six. Kobol already seems yahrens ago to him, I think. We had a bad few sectars at the beginning, but he's adjusting." Apollo grimaced. "He's used to single parenthood, after all."

"Then maybe you should give in to Sheba's hints and give him a new mother for Yule."

This time Apollo didn't just grimace, he twitched. "And one helluva Yule present that would be. Thank you, Starbuck. Even though I know you don't mean it, that just depressed every atom of Yuletide cheer out of me that the dear colonel left intact."

Starbuck smiled, and toasted Apollo with his ale mug.

"Seriously, it's not going to be that great a Yule," fretted Apollo. "I know we've managed to scale up hydroponics production so we'll all have enough to eat – you are coming to Dad's for Yule dinner tomorrow, still, aren't you? I promise to keep Athena off you - and we'll make an effort for Boxey's sake. He's not going to get much in the way of presents, though, poor kid."

"Compared to you when you were his age, you mean?"

"Uh-huh. I guess."

"I'll bet that you were spoiled rotten. I bet you got dozens of presents"

Apollo looked self-conscious. "We'd better go, if you're coming to the play. Drink up."

Starbuck obeyed, gulping down the rest of his ale.


"I might have known that there was only one kind of order that man would obey without arguing," said Tigh, finding himself drifting, with the Spirit, down the corridor behind the Galactica's two finest pilots. He felt, rather than saw, the little creature's reproving look and shrugged. If the all-seeing Spirit couldn't see Starbuck's essential lawlessness, what hope was there for any sort of appreciation of the difficulties Tigh laboured under?


"I'm not jealous, you know, Apollo," said Starbuck, as they crowded into a turbolift. "We didn't have a lot at the orphanage, but they made a big effort at Yule. We always had presents. They may not have been exactly new, always, but they were pretty good. " Starbuck gave Apollo a sly look. "Cleaned out of rich kids' closets, I'd guess."

Apollo's ears were red. "No-one's rich now," he said.

"Except," said Starbuck, so sententious that Tigh's teeth ached, "in the things that matter most: life and family, for example."

Apollo winced. "And when you clean me out at Pyramid. Then you're rich."

"I'd rather have life and the bits of family I get from you when you're cleaning out your metaphorical toy closet – ow! Apollo, that hurt!"

"It was meant to." Apollo pushed him into the small compartment the school was using as an auditorium and Starbuck had, perforce, to be quiet.

The room was already filling up with proud parents, but Apollo, with all the unconscious assumption of privilege that marked his class and upbringing, went unhesitatingly to the front. Starbuck followed in his wake, grinning. It didn't surprise Tigh to see that Apollo had reserved seats in the front row: that was the Adaman way of things. Indeed, the commander was already there. Adama didn't seem surprised to see Starbuck. Resigned, perhaps, but not surprised.


"I was in a play like this when I was Boxey's age," said the colonel suddenly.

"Your parents sat in the third row, five seats in from the left. You sang a solo."

"I was damned good," muttered Tigh, grateful that no-one could hear him, and winced when the Spirit laughed quietly.


Boxey did as well as most only-just-six-yahrens-old thespians. He gabbled his lines in a high-pitched monotone – smiling huge relief at his doting father and Starbuck as he delivered each short speech and waving at his grandfather in the middle of the big nativity announcement – and joined in the singing with more gusto than accuracy. He stolidly refused to dance, standing stock still and letting the other children cavort around him. He appeared to lose interest at that point, staring up at the ceiling until his classmates had finished making fools of themselves.



"I sang better than that," remarked Tigh, the critic.

"Your mother cried." The Spirit chuckled. "With pride, of course."

"She liked Yule," conceded Tigh.

"She made the most of any chance for happiness."

"She deserved to," said Tigh. "My father wasn't the easiest man to live with."

"He was a stern man," said the Spirit. "He valued order and neatness."

Yes," said Tigh, rather slowly. "She found it hard."


"Did you hear me singing, Daddy?" demanded Boxey, a tinsel halo hanging rakishly over one ear. "Did you, Starbuck?"

"Couldn't miss it, Tiger. I was impressed, particularly because there seems to be two theories about how to pitch the notes. I like yours best."

Boxey was immune to sarcasm, although his father looked wounded. "Are you staying for the party, Granddad?"

"I think I'll leave playing games to your father and Starbuck." Adama stooped to hug his grandson. "Don't play Pyramid with Starbuck if you want to keep the presents Father Yule is bringing you."

"It's not that kind of game! This is Fun!" Boxey tugged his father's hand and five centons later the captain was playing musical chairs and fighting with Starbuck for the last chair when the music stopped. Starbuck won, naturally.


"He's not very good at games," commented Tigh, his critical eyes on a pink-faced captain who was gamely attempting the Hokey-Cokey. The captain's son was almost wetting himself laughing and Starbuck wasn't in much better case than Boxey.

"You could do better," insinuated the Spirit, slyly.

Experimentally, Tigh put his right arm in, his right arm out, in, out, in, out and shake it all about...

He laughed. "I dare say," he said. "Better than Apollo, anyway."


They even played Blind-man's Buff. Starbuck was the blindfolded one, but Tigh was absolutely, morally certain that the lieutenant was cheating. Not even the most trusting and innocent soul in the world – and Tigh was far from that – could believe that it was merely chance that had Starbuck chasing Apollo all over the compartment. Starbuck avoided Boxey, other children and other parents, going after the captain with a relentless persistence that was almost laughable. Apollo dodged and hid, but Starbuck was always after him, hands outstretched. Tigh was shaking his head and laughing out loud when Starbuck's hands closed on Apollo's shoulders. The little Spirit laughed with him.

"Got you," said Starbuck, and under the obscuring blindfold, his mouth curved into a smile.



"He'll sleep," said Starbuck a centar or two later, leaning against the door jamb of Boxey's room. "Between the party and his first Triad lesson in the Rec Room, we tired the little darling right out."

Apollo pulled the covers up to Boxey's chin. The child was fast asleep. "I hope so." He joined Starbuck.

"He's doing all right, Apollo. You're doing all right - as a Dad, I mean. I knew you'd be good at it."

Apollo grinned and let the door slide shut. "I do my best," he said, modestly.

Starbuck's eyes were keen, watchful. "And are you doing all right the way he is? About Serina, I mean. It's your first Yule without her, too."

"Starbuck, I never had a Yule with her." Apollo shrugged. "But, yeah. I'm all right. You know, I love Boxey to death and maybe I married her – " He broke off, shook his head. "She's not going to be the ghost at the feast, anyway."

Starbuck nodded, his eyes still watchful. "In that case, do you want your Yule present right now?"

Apollo tensed. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure. I did what you wanted and I thought about it and waited, and I've decided. I know what I want, Apollo. Do you?"

Apollo nodded.

Starbuck smiled. He put his hands on Apollo's shoulders, the way he had at the party. "I caught you, in Blind Man's Buff."

"You cheated."

"If it gets me what I want, where's the harm in that? I caught you fair and square."

"Square, anyway. And?"

"I caught you, so I get to keep you."

Starbuck took one step forward and Apollo flowed into the embrace with a grace that surprised Tigh, given the captain's earlier attempts at dancing. The colonel's mouth dropped open and he blinked. That kiss would have reignited burnt-out stars.


"I knew it!" said Tigh triumphantly. "I knew they were fraternising! Conspicuous efforts indeed, Captain Holier-than-thou-Apollo! Now I've got you!"

The little Spirit sighed, and to Tigh's annoyance, the scene in front of him faded away just as he was about to get incontrovertible proof that Starbuck did have as many hands as an octopus had tentacles. At the very least, he saw that Starbuck had got Apollo out of his uniform tunic with a speed that could only be equated to that of light.

"Hey!" he protested.

"I don't think I can teach you anything more," said the Spirit, sadly.

"I was watching that! I need the proof – "

Tigh reached for the Spirit in protest and in the struggle that followed, Tigh realised that Its light was burning high and bright. He seized the high, pointed hat that the Spirit had been carrying all the while, and pressed it down upon Its head.

The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whole form; but though Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he could not hide the light, which streamed from under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground.

He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He gave the cap a parting squeeze, in which his hand relaxed; and had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.


The Second of the Three Spirits

Tigh woke suddenly and started up, clutching at his blankets, rucking them into an uncomfortable mass in his arms. He looked around, certain that he'd been woken just in the very nick of time, ready for the second of the three Spirits.

[The time is zero-one centars, precisely].

... And nothing happened.

Tense, wound tight as a spring, Tigh grimaced and hunched his shoulders and had slowly to relax them again when nothing approached his bedside. No sign of the Boxey-like child Spirit he'd tried to snuff out with Its own hat, no sign of any new Spirit either. Nothing. Nada. No-one, living or dead.

Well, maybe now that he had enough material to court-martial the captain into the middle of the next millennium, Kronos had realised that Tigh didn't need any more instruction? Maybe he was off the hook? Maybe he'd give up eating cheese and mushies for supper if every time he did, they gave him such absurd dreams?

Tigh huffed at the absurdity of the last dream. As if Kronos would protest at the imposition of military discipline! As if -

One more glance around and he was about to lie down again and try and sleep, when he because aware that the opaque glass doors that separated off his bedroom from the sitting room beyond were glowing with a ruddy light. A most unnatural, Spirit of Yuletide sort of light.

Tigh sighed, feeling most put-upon.

He thought about the impossibility of escaping Kronos's iron hand (for the first time, beginning to find the old ghostly commander's inflexibility distinctly tiresome and outrageously demanding) and got quietly to his feet. The moment his hand touched the door mechanism, a voice called him by name and told him to enter. Gritting his teeth – and with a grimace aimed at the incorporeal Kronos that couldn't possibly be considered as being within the Military Code – he obeyed.

It was his own sitting room, there was no doubt about it. It was his own desk, still covered with the patrol reports he'd been studying before supper, his own sofa with its small and hard little cushions, his own kitchen area where he made himself the occasional cup of tea. His. His own.

But it was absolutely hung with holly, mistletoe and ivy, each great garland wreathed with tinsel and laden with blown-glass baubles, reflecting back the light like so many little mirrors. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were great joints of reconstituted protein from the hydroponics tanks shaped into turkeys, geese, game, poultry, and long wreaths of sausages; and cakes and mushies of every colour and flavour, and fruit such as he couldn't believe the agri-ship could even grow any more: dates and apples and oranges.

Reclining on this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn.

"Lieutenant Jolly? What in Hades are you doing in my quarters?"

The Ghost merely smiled benignly. "Come in!'' It exclaimed. "Come in, and know me better, man!''

Tigh wanted to retort along the lines of deploring the sheer bloody cheek of the big lieutenant daring to invite him into his own living room, but there came the whisper of Kronos's hollow voice across his mind and he forbore.

"I am the Ghost of Yuletide Present,'' said the Spirit. "Look upon me!"

"Yes," said Tigh. "I know you! Although if I have anything to say about this, Lieutenant, you'll be on report until this time next Yule!"

The Spirit laughed, and Tigh felt his annoyance ebb away. He looked more closely at the Ghost, and the resemblance faded and it could be any old big, jolly, seasonal Ghost that sat there on a pile of reconstituted protein (and additives), spilling out light and cheer from Its cornucopia. He couldn't be sure that It really was Jolly. Although It was indisputably jolly.

"You're the Ghost of Yuletide Present and if we're still following the plot, you're going to show me scenes of cheer and joy?" Whether he wanted to see them or not, thought Tigh, but he kept the thought to himself.

"I am." The big Spirit got to Its feet. Not the real Jolly, then, because this Ghost towered over Tigh's head, a veritable giant, and if It hadn't magically raised the ceiling somehow, Its head and upper body must have been in the deck above. Which for anyone on that level, would have been quite the sight to see. "Come. Hold my robe."

Too defeated to protest, Tigh reached out and tangled his fingers into a robe that was made of the softest of green velvet, trimmed with white fur. Very festive, he thought, but despite his efforts to remain detached, he found himself smiling as the Ghost wafted them silently and invisibly, out into the long corridors he'd walked on his way home from the bridge. He was aware that the Spirit had shaken something from Its cornucopia over Tigh's head as they walked... drifted... whatever.

The corridors were still dark and cold – although Tigh didn't feel the chill – and they were still thickly inhabited by people congregating to greet each other, to laugh and to chatter, little groups meeting in the areas where the light fought back against the darkness. Like Tigh's earlier, their breath smoked on the cold air and more than one of them flapped arms and stamped feet to keep from freezing, but they were happy and laughing and alive. Tigh watched them and wondered again at their ability to take enjoyment out of so little.

"Such fools to take pleasure such poor things," insinuated the Spirit.

"They aren't doing any harm, I suppose," said Tigh, rather grudgingly.

"They work hard to protect the fleet and everyone in it," said the Spirit. "They deserve a little joy."

"I can't understand why they don't go to the Commissary or the OC or the Non-Coms Club if they want to make a racket," said Tigh. "They can get their joy there."

The Spirit laughed, softly. "Because they can do that anytime, and tonight it's Yule."

"That's no answer at all," complained Tigh.

"Do you want to send them on their way?" asked the Spirit.

Tigh hesitated, watching as two of his bridge sergeants, each carrying a pilot piggy-back, raced down the corridor from light pool to light pool, accompanied by shrieks and laughter and applause.

"They aren't doing any harm," he said again, at last, pressing back against the corridor wall as the two sergeants cantered past, breathing heavily.

The Spirit smiled and holding Its cornucopia high, shook it lightly, scattering light golden mist and glittering dust. Tigh could see the mist spreading quickly over the corridors. And if when the mist and dust had faded, the light was a little brighter, the faces were a little happier, the cheering a little louder and the laughter a little easier – well, Tigh was not the man to admit to it.

For a long time they drifted about the great ship, visiting the very Commissary, OC and Non-Coms Club that Tigh had mentioned, and in each place the Spirit raised the cornucopia and spread a little Yuletide cheer from it. People laughed louder where the Spirit passed, made jokes and played tricks. People enjoyed themselves, revelling in Yule.

They even, despite Tigh's misgivings, looked in on the Chapel Services. And if here the Spirit was solemn and restrained, yet Its voice was happy as It murmured the responses with the congregation. Tigh didn't really join in: the low pitched growling noise he made betokened a bass voice sadly out of condition and he soon gave it up, listening instead. The golden mist made the voices joined in hymn and prayer a little sweeter. Even Adama's, and, as Tigh knew, the commander couldn't sing a note. He, his son and grandson were rather alike when it came to musical ability.

Reminded at last of his lawful prey, Tigh turned to meet the Spirit's deep-set eyes.

He didn't have to speak. The Spirit smiled at him. "Come, then. It's almost midnight. I don't have much time."

Tigh's fingers caught at the robe again, and in the twinkling of an eye, they were in Captain Apollo's quarters. And Tigh had him, the sanctimonious captain. He had him bang to rights.

Starbuck scattered a line of kisses all up Apollo's throat, up the underside of his chin, along the jaw and cheek to land a little kiss on the tip of Apollo's nose before settling in to trying to find Apollo's tonsils with his tongue. Apollo murmured and moaned prettily, giving himself up to it, both hands locked around the back of Starbuck's head, his fingers carding through the lieutenant's thick blond hair. They were dead to the world, to Tigh and the Spirit, to anything except each other.

Until there was coitus interruptus of the most pressing kind.

"Why are you cuddling my Dad like that?"

Apollo jumped violently, but he was underneath Starbuck and unable to move much past a startled wriggle. All Starbuck did was disengage his mouth from Apollo's, and raise his head.

"I'm allowed to," he said. "I love your Dad very much."

"Oh." Boxey stood there, both hands cupped over his groin, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other. "Does Dad say that you can?"

"You'll have to ask him."

"Dad, why is Starbuck cuddling you?"

"Well, I kind of like it, Boxey," said the captain, still trapped underneath Starbuck and even more red-faced than his lover.

"Oh," said Boxey again. He did a little more of the bladder-control dance.

"The flush, Boxey," Apollo reminded him. "You'd better run."

"Uh-huh," Boxey agreed and did what he was told.

"Close," said Starbuck.

"What do you mean, close? We've been caught red-handed." Apollo freed himself.

Starbuck, of course, was unrepentant and giggling. Apollo tried to smooth a shirt that was seriously rumpled.


"More proof of the rumour that Starbuck has more hands than a very tactile octopus," noted Tigh.

Beside Tigh, the big Jolly Spirit sighed romantically, and lifting Its cornucopia, It shook it gently and spilled light and glitter over the domestic scene in front of them. "They too deserve a little cheer," It said.

Tigh felt a little nauseous.


Apollo though, relaxed. He stopped looking like a rabbit caught in a Viper's laser sights. "That's why I never let you kiss me in here before."

"I didn't mean that. I meant that we were close to having to mop up the floor. That boy's bladder is the best anti-sex device I've come across."

Apollo grinned and Starbuck took the opportunity to snatch another kiss.

"You don't seem too bothered for someone who was scared to tell him," Starbuck observed.

The Jolly Spirit shook out more glittery dust, and Apollo only laughed instead of wallowing neck-deep in guilt and angst. "I guess it's as good a way for him to find out as any. I'll tell him properly. Stay with me tonight?"

"Try and kick me out and see how far that will get you."

"Then we'll tell him." Apollo looked over to the bathroom door as his son reappeared. "Go back and flush it, Boxey."

Boxey sighed and obeyed, ducking back into the flush. This time they heard the water go. Apollo waited until Boxey charged back into the living room.

"Now go back and wash your hands."

"Oh Dad!" said Boxey, eyes rolling. He went back a lot slower this time, dragging his feet.

"Bully," said Starbuck, amused.

"Do you want him clambering all over you with hands he's probably managed to pee on? His aim's still a bit erratic."

Starbuck shuddered.

This time, Boxey was allowed out of the flush. He bounded over to the sofa and resumed his interrogation, standing over the lovers like some avenging putto in a sleep suit that, whilst as rumpled as his father's shirt, was at least rumpled from innocent child-like slumbers.

"What were you doing?"

"Nothing, really," said Apollo.

"Yes you were! He was kissing you! Why do you let him do that?"

Apollo shrugged. "It's kinda nice. I like Starbuck kissing me."

"Does it hurt? You were making a funny noise."

Starbuck choked.

"No," said Apollo, flashing his lover a glare. "It doesn't hurt. Starbuck would never hurt me, you know that."

"I like him," said Starbuck with emphasis, adding a sharp dig to Apollo's ribs to amplify the pointed vocabulary. "I think he's kinda nice."

"Are you getting Sealed, then?"

"Well, two men can't really get Sealed," said Starbuck, cautiously.

Boxey frowned at that. "But you were kissing him!"

"You heard him - he likes it. It's kinda nice, apparently. Me, I'd have gone for sublime or awesome or transcendent, or something like that. But, no. The most he can manage is that it's kinda nice. Sometimes I wonder why I bother."

Boxey fixed his father with his coldest hard stare, carefully copied from his grandfather in most commanderly mode. "I thought that people only did big sloppy kisses like that if they were getting Sealed and going to have babies and stuff, like you and my Mom. That's what you said, when she was going all pink and wriggling."

"When was that, Boxey?" asked Starbuck, but his eyes were shadowed.

"When I was little and Dad had his hands inside Mom's shirt, just like you did now."

Apollo's hand closed on Starbuck's. The shadow lifted from the lieutenant's bright blue eyes at the touch and he smiled. Apollo was a most fetching shade of scarlet.

"Starbuck and me aren't getting married, Boxey - "

"I sure as hell ain't ruining my girlish figure having babies and stuff," muttered Starbuck, but Apollo talked smoothly over the top of him.

" - but he is here with me a lot. He's going to stay here with me tonight and he'll be here to have breakfast with us in the morning."

"Why?"

"I'll be hungry?" Starbuck offered. "I'll have worked up an appetite by then, I do hope."

"Why is he staying?"

"Because I love him and it's what grown ups do," said Apollo patiently.

"And," said Starbuck, with a wicked little grin. "It's kinda nice."

"What is? Why?"

"Because it is," said Apollo "I'll explain it all to you when you get a bit older, but right now all you need to know is that Starbuck's going to be here, you mustn't come charging into my bedroom without knocking."

"Why?"

"And you need to know that I love him very much and he makes me very happy. You like Starbuck, don't you?"

"Uh-huh," said Boxey, looking from one to the other. "Is Starbuck going to live here with us?"

Apollo opened his mouth, then closed it and looked interrogatively at Starbuck.

"We haven't got that far yet, Boxey," said Starbuck. "Me and your Dad need to talk about it, and the fraternisation rules get in the way a bit. but I'd like that. It could be kinda nice."

Apollo smiled.

"Cool," said Boxey. "Is Starbuck your present from Father Yule, then, Dad?"

"I guess he is," said Apollo, and looked so soppy that his bones had to be melting.

Boxey beamed at Starbuck. "Cool. That's kinda nice."


"I wonder if Adama will think so?" said Tigh.

"Why should he not? They aren't doing any harm, are they?"

"Hmmph," said Tigh, unable to find any appropriate invective or give it any of his usual vim and verve.

"Yeah," said Starbuck, getting up to usher Boxey back towards his own bedroom door. "It is. And the sooner you go back to sleep and I can get your father on his own, the sooner I can give him his Yuletide present, and believe me, it'll be very nice."

Back on the sofa, Apollo stretched and tried to look sultry. "I'm looking forward to it."


So was Tigh. So it was with a cry of disappointment that he turned to the Spirit when, with one more shake of the cornucopia, the Spirit whisked them away and the captain's cabin faded into the golden mist.

"You've done it again," complained Tigh. "I wanted to see that!"

"You really don't want to watch," said the Spirit. "Really you don't."

"From the fatuous expression on Captain Apollo's face, I'm not so sure about that. Starbuck has quite the reputation for being kinda nice." Tigh hmmphed some more, put out, but really he was deeply chagrined to think that the captain had been carrying on with Starbuck for a yahren right under his nose and he hadn't seen it. He wondered what else he'd missed.

"I'm sure the captain thinks so," laughed the Spirit, and patted the cornucopia with satisfaction.

Something stirred near the Spirit's leg, moving under the heavy robes. Repressing his first (and vulgar) reaction, Tigh said, "There's something moving under your dress."

"Ah, this?" From the folds of Its robe, It brought two small children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They clung to the Spirit's robe, looking pinched and neglected. They were a sad contrast to the child Tigh had just seen in Apollo's quarters. These were unloved, uncared for, abandoned.

"What are they?" asked Tigh, taken aback to think that the children may have been there all the time. "Whose are they?"

"No man's children. These are the orphans, the forgotten ones in your fleet, poor things."

Remembering Boxey, Tigh shuddered at the contrast. "Can't something be done for them?"

"Isn't there an orphan barge? Aren't there people to care for these children, to see to their wants and requirements and needs?" said the Spirit turning on him with his own words until he flushed with mortification. "Don't the orphans get all that the system can provide for them?"

"Oh," said Tigh, deeply shamed.

The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.



The Last of the Three Spirits

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery .

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

Oh, man. Suddenly the memories of the last part of the old story became clearer; something about an old crone selling a shroud to the pawnbroker, something more about a death lamented by nobody... Tigh swallowed hard, feeling the goose-pimples rise all down his arms and sides and legs, and the little hairs on the back of his neck rose up. His heart thumped loud in his chest as the adrenalin rush hit.

His voice trembled. "You are the Ghost of Yuletide Yet To Come."

It didn't answer him, just waited. After a centon, the fingers of the hand held out to him bent, moved, beckoned him.

"I am getting the message, you know, about being a little too rigorous in applying the Military Code," he said, forcing his voice through a jaw that was locking tight with fear. "I appreciate everything Commander Kronos has done for me, and I really don't need to see more."

The Spirit beckoned.

"I can change," he said. "A little. Tell Kronos that I can."

The Spirit beckoned.

"Oh Lords," he said, and followed It.

The Spirit went silently before him, a hulking figure of darkness and mystery, menacing.

To the Officers Club first, where a desultory card game was taking place. Lieutenant Starbuck was conspicuous by his absence – Tigh tried not to imagine what Starbuck might be doing instead, since he was pretty sure the spoilsport Spirits were united in preventing voyeurism - so the game was both quieter than Tigh believed was usual and playing for stakes that were considerably lower than the Starbuck norm (which reputedly equated, roughly, to the gross domestic product of a small planet). Lieutenant Greenbean appeared to be winning.

The players were joined by Senior Lieutenant Boomer, deputy Blue Squadron leader, close friend and confidant (and, many said, secret banker) to Lieutenant Starbuck. "You heard the news?"

Greenbean nodded. "Yeah, but no details. It's true, then? When did it happen?"

"Sometime last night, I heard. Starbuck told me - he got it from Apollo, so it's true. They're going to make the formal announcement at ten."

Lieutenant Jaime of Gold squadron discarded a card. "What was the matter with him?"

"Dunno," said Boomer, leaning over Greenbean's shoulder and studying the cards. "I thought he'd last for ever."

"In my darkest moments, I feared he would." Greenbean pulled out a card and looked questioningly at Boomer. Boomer grimaced and Greenbean pushed the card back into the fan in his hands.

"It'll be good thing for Apollo," said the third player, Ensign Ricardo of Green Squadron.

"Guess so. I'd lose that one if I was you, Greenbean."

"Sure you would. And you're the Pyramid expert who Starbuck cleaned out so completely last secton that you've been selling yourself behind that stack of crates in the Alpha Bay ever since."

"Only on alternate days. Trust me. Discard that one."

Greenbean sighed and obeyed. A centon later, and Jaime claimed the pot. Greenbean scowled at Boomer.

Boomer shrugged. "I guess you get to use the crates on the days I don't."


The Spirit drifted on.

The beckoning hand trailed behind Its densely black garments like mist, thin fingers moving as It crooked them, invited Tigh onward; down, down, down into the bowels of the ship. The Galactica's engine room was cavernous, and hot as molten iron. The ceiling was so high as to be lost in shadow despite the glow from the immense proton engines, each one of them the size of a small hell. Tigh wondered if they were hells indeed, with all Hell's denizens trapped inside each photon chamber.

"Hot down here today," remarked one tech, bare torso streaked with sweat. "You hear the news?"

"Yeah. About time, the bastard. You got that radial torque adjustor?"

"Here."

"Thanks. Happy Yule, by the way."


The Spirit drifted on.

Tigh, resentful and feeling more nervous than he was prepared to admit, stumbled after It, not choosing to comment on the techs' strange, indifferent conversation. But even if he had chosen to speak, he had no opportunity: they were in the Life Centre in an instant, cool and bright in comparison. They stood in a corner of one quiet room in the corridor that ran from the Triage area. Doctor Salik stood at the foot of the bed, arms folded, looking down at the figure lying there.

Tigh craned his neck to see. He could see the shape under the thin sheet that covered it, the hills and valleys, peaks and shadows, all plain in the rather hard white light. The face was hidden, the sheet drawn up over the head, but Tigh could see the jut of the nose under the thin cambric, the folds across the cheekbones.

The Spirit gestured to the bed.

"Oh no!" said Tigh, shaking his head. "No. I've read the book, thanks. When you know the plot, it kind of loses its potency. No surprise factor."

The Spirit gestured to the bed.

"I'll pass," said Tigh. "Look, doesn't anyone feel anything at all about this? Aren't you supposed to show me a little real emotion here?"

The Spirit paused, and after a long silence, inclined Its head.

"A shame," said Adama, and he walked uncaringly through the Spirit to join the doctor at the bedside. "I'm glad there was no pain, at the end." He stood for a centon, head bowed, then brisked up almost immediately. "I'd better go and find Apollo. Thank you, Doctor."

"That's it?" Tigh watched Adama leave with some dismay. "That was a bit perfunctory! I've known the man for yahrens!" He looked back at the Spirit. "Some real emotion, with depth to it, was what I had in mind. Can't someone manage that?"

Again, the Spirit inclined Its head. It turned, the thin hand beckoning Tigh to follow It.

The Spirit drifted on.

Tigh followed, with only one backward glance at the shrouded figure on the bed.

Doctor Salik turned away, face indifferent. "Well," said the doctor, philosophically. "Can't win 'em all, and he's not much loss."

"Hmph! And what price his Hippocratic Oath now, then?" muttered Tigh, but soon forgot the doctor in the realisation of where they were heading. He hurried to catch up the Spirit. "Hey!"

The Spirit paused.

"Do I have to see them every time?" demanded Tigh. "Every single time? Past, Present and Future?"

The Spirit drifted on.

Tigh scowled after It. "I'll take that as a yes, then."

Boxey was nowhere to be seen, and for that Tigh could only be thankful – he'd reached his cute kid quotient for this Yule some considerable time before and dreaded the consequences of overload. Apollo was on his own, sitting on the long sofa with a book in his hands. He looked pensive.

Well, he looked pensive for about five microns, perking up in an annoyingly sentimental way when Starbuck burst into the room, more lit up than a Yule tree festooned with fairy lights.

And that, thought Tigh, was a very apt image, since the pair of them were obviously camper than a pair of Father Yule's elves.

Beside him the Spirit turned Its head and the hidden face regarded him silently until he repented the thought and made a sort of deprecating grimace that he hoped indicated that he hadn't meant it. The Spirit turned back to the scene without Tigh seeing even a glimmer of eyes in the darkness under Its hood.

It annoyed Tigh that he'd been distracted like that, because he'd obviously missed the first kiss: the two lovebirds were well into their second. Maybe their third.. Apollo was now sprawled on the sofa, legs wide and Starbuck between them, and both of them were writhing in a way that made Tigh feel that his uniform was getting a bit tight. He found himself trying to breathe for them, since the pair's glued-together lips appeared to have achieved a vacuum seal.

Starbuck broke the clinch eventually and raised his head, his eyes shining. "It's wonderful, wonderful news! Aren't you pleased?"

Apollo was grinning like a loon, as if he didn't have a functioning brain cell left. Which given Starbuck's reputation and the foolish way Apollo was looking at his lover, was entirely possible. "It's great," he agreed enthusiastically. "Except – "

"Except what? I thought you were looking a bit down when I came in. You're supposed to be happy and celebrating!"


Tigh leaned forward, waiting to hear the captain express some regrets at inheriting a dead man's pair of shoes – he had no problem in working out that they were talking about Apollo's promotion to fill Tigh's place. Adama would have seen to that.

"It has its downside, you know, Starbuck."

"You're kidding. No-one's going to miss the old bugger and you deserve it!" Starbuck kissed Apollo, one great smacking enthusiastic kiss that had gusto and a great deal of conviction behind it. "Not to mention that you'll be able to do something about that stupid fraternisation rule and I can move in with you!"

"Still," sighed Apollo, looking pensive again.

Tigh warmed towards the young captain. Of course Apollo felt it. He was a well brought up, sensitive young man, and for all his blind spots when it came to the lieutenant currently lying between his legs grinding their groins together, Apollo was a conscientious and efficient officer. Tigh had been training him, personally, for just such a day – although to be honest, he'd intended Apollo to take over from him on the day he took over from Adama. This wasn't quite the same, but still -

"You should be thanking the Lords, rejoicing," said Starbuck, starting those fast little kisses along Apollo's jaw that the captain appeared to like.

"I am, I am! But I can't help being a little sorry, in the circumstances."

Starbuck drew back and stared. "What in Hades do you have to be sorry about? You can't miss that bastard?"

Apollo sighed. "Well, I'm really sorry that I'll have to give up flying, Starbuck. It's a bit of a blow, to be honest."


Tigh gasped as if someone had flicked him with icy water, or as if at the touch of one of his Ghostly companions. Beside him, the Spirit turned that faceless head to look at him. Before him, the two younger officers were laughing (Apollo apparently having been diverted from his regrets) and getting into a state of undress that decidedly constituted a breach of military order. He decided the previous two Spirits were right: he really did not want to see them on parade.

"I said to show me some emotion!" said Tigh, furious.

The Spirit gestured to the sofa, but Tigh turned his head away quickly. He had already seen more of Starbuck's nether regions than was consonant with his notions of military decorum.

"Not that sort of emotion! Some real emotion about me!"

The Spirit gestured again at the sofa.

"You mean that's it? That's the most anyone feels about me dying, Apollo regretting that he'll have to give up flying because he has to take my place? Well, that's hardship! That's suffering!" Tigh had to stop to breathe, his chest felt so tight. "That's just not on, do you understand? It's just not right!"

He threw one more indignant look towards the two moaning men on the sofa, only to notice that they'd vanished, and he and Spirit were back in the Life Centre. Instead of two horny warriors getting sweaty, the only sight was the silent, shrouded body on the bed.

"Oh," said Tigh.

The Spirit gestured at the bed.

"No, it's okay. I've got the message. It's my fault that I won't be much missed."

The Spirit inclined Its head.

Tigh blew out an impatient breath. "And if I don't change, this is what will happen, isn't it? I'll die, and no-one will care." He glanced around. "But it's not too late, right?"

The Spirit remained silent, brooding.

"Right?"

Tigh waited. The Spirit brooded.

"Right?" demanded Tigh at last.

The Spirit brooded some more and turned away. Thoroughly exasperated, Tigh leapt after it and caught at it.

"I'm supposed to have another chance!" he shouted, closing his hands on Its heavy, black robes.

In his agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty, and detained it. The Spirit, stronger yet, repulsed him.

Holding up his hands in a last prayer to have his fate reversed, he saw an alteration in the Phantom's hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, and dwindled down into a bedpost.





The End Of It All

Yes! and the bedpost was his own. The bed was his own, the room was his own. Best and happiest of all, the time before him was his own, to make amends. He could live in the past, the present and the future and keep Yuletide in his heart.

"Mmn," said Colonel Tigh, after a few centons contemplation over the events of the night, and he knew what he had to do. He got himself ready for duty with even more than his usual care.

He was on the bridge exactly on time as the dayshift started. Apollo was, of course, late and Tigh was (metaphorically) hugging himself with anticipation at the thought. He pretended not to notice when the captain sneaked onto the bridge at last, and when he did look up and their eyes met, the captain was doing an almost convincing impersonation of a man who'd been there all the time.

Tigh smiled.

The captain blenched.

It was enough. Tigh allowed the duty period to pass without comment, and when Apollo was finally giving his report prior to leaving for the Yule dinner he was (belatedly) going to be spending with his father and family – oh, and Starbuck, of course – he only smiled again when he leaned forward and said, quietly, "Don't be late again, Captain. I don't really want to have to take notice of it on Yule Day."

Apollo flinched. "I – I only wanted to see Boxey open his presents," he said.

Tigh's smile broadened. He noticed that the captain was close to whimpering. "I know. But just be careful, all right? Don't be late tomorrow."

"I – er, I won't, sir."

"Good. Now, you know, I think I'll take your father up on his offer and join you for Yuletide dinner. Lead the way, Captain!"

The captain blenched.

They had to pass Tigh's quarters on the way. The colonel glanced at the security panel as they passed – the captain unaccountably silent and morose on such a joyful day - but it was just a security panel. Nothing else could be seen. It made Tigh smile all the wider and for some reason Captain Apollo hunched his shoulders even more markedly than before.

"He would come," said Apollo when he got inside his father's door and everyone was staring at his companion. Apollo gave his father a hard look. "You did ask him."

"I ask him every yahren. My dear Tigh, I'm delighted to see you here at last!" Adama looked delighted too – which was more than could be said for the rest of the company – but Tigh remembered that not even Adama had shown much in the way of sorrow at his untimely demise. Now, though, Adama caught Tigh's hand in a warrior's grip and shook it warmly. "Delighted!"

Tigh smiled.

The captain, the captain's son, the captain's lover and the captain's sister all blenched.

Tigh smiled wider and returned the welcome. He kissed Athena's pale cheek, patted Boxey on the head ("Dear little boy! Magnificent boy!" he said, in passing, noting that Starbuck was having to repress the captain's protective paternal instincts and even then Apollo snatched Boxey out of reach as soon as he could), and shook Starbuck's and Apollo's hands. Apollo held Boxey safely behind him with his free hand, putting himself between his son and Tigh. Tigh was touched.

"Merry Yule!" he said, happily.

Even Adama started. "I'm delighted to see you, Tigh," he said again, leading them all to the table where a huge pile of reconstituted protein had been shaped into a turkey that was almost as big as Boxey. "But I'll admit that I wasn't expecting it. I'd given up on you ever joining us!"

"I'd have been sorry to miss such a hearty welcome," said Tigh, noticing that the captain kept Boxey safely on the other side of him and Starbuck, and that Apollo was looking as eagerly at his turkey as if it were a plate of iridescent green glop. Even Starbuck looked nervous.

Tigh filled his plate and tried not to think about additives. He was keenly aware that every eye followed each move he made. "The thing is, that I had something of a life-changing experience." He looked from Starbuck to Apollo. They stared back at him, eyes wide. "Last night. It led me to re-evaluate a few things."

Ashen-faced, Athena accepted his offer to pull a Yuletide cracker. She winced at the snap when it went. Tigh won, of course. The paper hat was red, which was fine for his colouring. Yellow, he thought, made the captain look a little washed out although the blue one Starbuck wore matched his eyes.

"Really?" said Adama, sniffing delicately at the ambrosa. "What sort of things?"

"Important things. I realised that I'd maybe put too much emphasis on just following the rules." Tigh raised his glass in toast to Adama. "As you say, they're really better viewed as guidelines."

"Excellent!" beamed Adama.

Everyone else stared open-mouthed. Except Boxey, who wasn't interested.

"Especially one rule. It does seem to be getting in the way of some people's happiness, and while I can see it was useful once, there's so few of us left now that maybe we ought to do something about relaxing it. After all, desperate times may mean that we employ desperate measures to deal with them. Perhaps it's time to think of something else other than the Regulations."

Adama raised an eyebrow. Athena made a funny little noise, like a kitten that had just had its tail trodden on. Apollo spluttered in his ambrosa, Starbuck absent-mindedly handing him a napkin. Boxey ignored the stupid grownups. They all (apart from Boxey, who was wading through his turkey) stared at Tigh in consternation.

Tigh savoured his ambrosa, remembering all the three Spirits had shown him - all that they'd allowed him to see before getting too puritanical, anyway. Now that their illicit relationship had been drawn to his attention, he did notice that the captain and the lieutenant were sitting rather closely together. He gave them an understanding glance. Both men tensed, visibly.

"What rule would that be?" asked Adama.

Tigh didn't answer directly. "I could always see the point of it when we were serving here for a few sectars, or a yahren, and then had families to go to. In those circumstances, inappropriate relationships -" He smiled kindly at Adama – "What used to be called "passionate friendships" back in the Academy, remember? Well, they were inappropriate and dangerous, particularly between officers. But now – well, this fleet is all the home we'll ever have. If two officers are together, want to have a relationship -" he floundered with the euphemisms for a micron, then shrugged. From the terrified expressions on Starbuck's and Apollo's faces, they'd got the message. " – well, there's not much point stopping them, is there?"

Adama and Athena followed Tigh's gaze.

"The rumours about Lieutenant Starbuck appear to have a firm foundation," said Tigh. "As Captain Apollo can verify."

"Wha - ?" said Athena, and as she glared at her brother, she looked less like a kitten than a harpy who'd had her prey snatched from her talons."You and Starbuck?!"

Adama stared, the wine glass in his hand tipping up and spilling onto the white tablecloth. "Apollo! You and Starbuck? Together?"

Boxey looked up from his turkey. "It's all right, Grandpa. Dad says it's kinda nice, kissing Starbuck."

Tigh sighed happily, job done in a way he thought would please the three Spirits. He wasn't so certain about Kronos, but he had to make a start somewhere. Unbidden, the mot juste came to his lips, the words needed to round off the old tale. He looked from Apollo and Starbuck's red faces to Athena's fury and Adama's shock, and sighed happily.

He raised his glass in a toast. "God bless us, every one!"

 

For Alice. December 2005