… and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms.
Of Plymouth Plantation
William Bradford

 

 

First Splinter : Ice Burn   

(Mapping the Genome)

You are ice and fire, the touch of you burns my hands like snow
Amy Lowell

"Do you think it will snow?" asks Starbuck

Apollo pauses in the difficult task of tugging off a glove with his teeth (he's found that the thickness of the gloves makes getting them on and off a bit of an issue, but since the extra effort is infinitely preferable to frostbite, he perseveres).  "Inside the ship, d'you mean?"

Starbuck nods.  He has a woollen hat pulled down over his ears and his hair's sticking out under the edges of it in a way that would make Apollo laugh if he wasn't worrying that his own looks just as ridiculous. 

"It's bloody cold enough," he complains, reaching up to pull the hat down further.

Apollo knows it's cold enough.  His breath steams in the air and on the other side of Apollo's desk, Starbuck is sitting huddled in his chair, so swaddled and rotund that Apollo suspects he's wearing every piece of clothing he possesses.  Starbuck's nose is red and his eyes watery.

"No," says Apollo, dredging up the patience he's learned when dealing with Boxey.  "I don't think it'll snow inside the ship."

"Just wondered," says Starbuck.  "I mean, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that we've developed our own internal weather system, is it?"  He meets Apollo's stare and grins lopsidedly.  "All right, it is.  But still.  I miss snow."

"You'll have to go on missing it."  Apollo tries his computer terminal again, but the power's still out.  He tugs on his glove again.  "Look, I'm going to go down to engineering and see how they're getting along—"

"Control freak."

"—and then I'm going up to the Bridge.  Go and check on the troops for me, would you, and make sure no-one's frozen to their Viper controls or anything, and then you're off-duty.  I'll meet you at home in a centar, after I've handed over to Boomer."

"You're coming off duty as well, are you?" asks Starbuck, a note of cynical disbelief in his tone.

"There's been no sign of the attackers for two days, Starbuck.  The Commander thinks we're out of their space now and can take the time to regroup."

"I know that," says Starbuck, patiently.  "You explained all of that to us two centars ago when you downgraded the squadrons to yellow alert.  If I sound surprised, it's because at times like this you normally have to be kicked off duty by the Commander when he gets fed up with you being all noble and too damn dedicated for your own good or when you fall over when the stims run out.  Whichever annoys him the most at the time."

"He's already ordered me off duty."  Apollo swallows his resentment at effectively being told that the squadrons could get on without him for eight centars.  "I've got to do this check and then I'll be home."

"Is that right"?  Under the improbable woolly hat, Starbuck's face brightens and Apollo has to suppress the urge to kiss him.  They're still on duty. 

It isn't a flattering hat.  Apollo wonders whether or not to tell Starbuck that he has the wrong-shaped head for pull-on woollen hats.  It makes him look like his head is shaped like a bean. 

A very nice bean, of course.

"Well, then.  I'll get the bed warm," leers Starbuck.  The sexy come-on's a little spoilt by the sniff he gives an instant later and the unpleasant honking noise he does into a handkerchief. 

"You do that," agrees Apollo, trying not to find it simultaneously repulsive and endearing.  "Try not to do it by sneezing all over it, though."

"It's not my fault that I have a delicate constitution and I'm ailing from the cold."  Starbuck gives one last honking snort into the handkerchief.  His cheeks are flushed when he looked up.  "I'll probably warm it with my fever.  I think I'm sickening for something."

"Go get something to eat and go to bed, Starbuck," says Apollo.

He gets a wave of the hand in response as Starbuck struggles out of the chair.  Apollo watches as Starbuck waddled to the door, trying not to laugh in case Starbuck catches him at it.  There's no denying that wearing three pairs of trousers doesn't do a lot for Starbuck's normally svelte figure and plays havoc with any attempt at a slinky, sexy gait.  Apollo fears that it's reflection on his own sad lack of morals, character and principles that even the waddle makes him think longingly of that warm bed.  It occurs to him that there's also no denying that he's sadly indiscriminate when it comes to Starbuck.  Something about Starbuck saps all his moral fibre.

Apollo can only be thankful for it, whatever it is.

 

He catches up with the group of Aegyptan and human engineers in the second power relay station.  They're gathered around Kam-Ahtes-ur-Amon, listening to his careful instructions.  Apollo leans against a bulkhead and listens in, trying to make sense of how far they've come in repairing the battle damage.

"Sekhet," says Kha-nes-akhat from behind him.  Kha bows a respectful greeting when Apollo turned his head.

Apollo nods acknowledgement.  "I don't want to interrupt," he says.  "How are they doing?"

"They've fixed one power relay station," says Kha-nes-akhat.  "You'll have noticed the difference in the heat levels."

Apollo stuffs both gloved hands into his pockets.  "My sister always says I'm an insensitive lout, Kha, and oblivious to everything going on around me.  I can't say I've noticed anything of the sort."

"It's cold, Sekhet, but not nearly as cold as it might be.  There's just enough power seeping through to keep the temperature at just below freezing.  Without that we'd be looking at the temperature equalising between inside the Galactica and out.  You really wouldn't want that."

Apollo grimaces.  "It's pretty cold out there," he concedes.  The metal of the bulkhead is cold under his shoulder, penetrating even his thick, padded clothing.  He glances at the wall, seeing the tiny little coruscations as the lights reflect and refract through the ice crystals forming there.

"Absolute zero," says Kha, with relish.  Apollo can’t see Kha's smile, of course, but he can hear it in his voice, even through the mild distortion of the lion-head mask.  "Very cold."

"You’re such a cheerful person to have around.  Any idea how long before they're finished?"

"Kam-Ahtes said at least three days.  There's a lot of damage along this side of the ship."

"Yes," says Apollo. 

There's no urgent work, or Viper flight, or Starbuck in his silly hat to distract him now.  He hunches his shoulders against the threatened shivers and closes his eyes for a micron.  Flashes of the last two days play out against his eyelids like a demented vid, a montage of attacking ships swooping down on the Galactica and the fleet, of the explosions along the Galactica's sides as she took the brunt of the attack, the Brandenburg exploding into a shower of gold sparks, thankfully after they'd managed to evacuate the surviving refugees and crew.  It's been a miserable two days already, and Apollo is just grateful it hasn't been worse. 

He wonders if this is what his life will always be: fear and cold and danger, lurching from crisis to crisis and trying to keep the fleet together and moving, always slightly hungry and tired and God! sometimes so bone weary with the relentless struggle to keep going that he just wants to lie down and let it all wash over him, letting himself freeze into stillness.

There's a value attached to living, he thinks, and some days, after the battles and the deaths and in the cold spaces inside his head, he wonders if he's in negative equity yet.

"There's a lot of damage," he says.

Kha's hand, as heavily gloved as Apollo's own, rests on his arm.  "Yes, there is.  And yet we're still here, Sekhet."

They may live behind masks, his people, but they are not blind and they are indomitable.  Apollo nods.  "Yeah."  He takes a deep breath, remembering who and what he is.  "Yes, we are.  Battered, but still here."

The hand on his forearm squeezes infinitesimally and releases him.  "I was looking for you to tell you that the last shuttle has left with non-essential personnel.  Your sister and the child will be safe on the Usermaatre with Lord Seti."

"At least they'll be warm.  The rest of us just have to pretend not to feel the cold."  Apollo pushes himself away from the wall, wondering if he's imagining the cracking of ice as he does so.  There's a definite shadow on the wall where his body heat has melted the sheen of frost.  "I'll head up to the bridge to relay this to the Commander.  You know, I'll be glad when they've fixed the power and can get comms back up again.  I'm spending all my time running about being messenger boy."

Kha snorts.  "Keeps you warm, doesn't it?"

"Ha," says Apollo, managing a grin and going forward to greet Kam-Ahtes and get a full report.  "I prefer Starbuck's methods, thanks.  Much more fun."

 

It takes him slightly more than a centar to get home, by the time he climbs the emergency ladders all the way up to the Bridge, reports Kam-Ahtes' progress to his father and Colonel Tigh, tests the restored shields and weaponry (which, to his relief, are finally working), regrets that he can't get comms back on line yet to speak to the Usermaatre and Boxey and his other father, climbs down to Deck 7 and gulps down some wonderfully hot soup in the Commissary (heated with a laser, something that Apollo finds appeals to his sense of irony), chats briefly with old Sire Anton who's also seeking comfort there, leaves Anton and climbs down farther to Deck 18 and the Duty Office to hand over to Boomer and then climbs up fifteen decks to his quarters.  By then he's sweating from the exercise and his knees ache.

His quarters are almost dark, only one emergency light glimmering in the ceiling like an anaemic glow-worm, and as bitterly cold as the corridor outside.  His breath steams every time he breathes out.  There's just enough light to grope his way across the room towards the bedroom door without falling over the furniture and he moves as fast as he can, intent on getting into bed where, please the Lords, Starbuck and at least some warmth waited. 

The bedroom's just as cold as everywhere else.  Every blanket they possess, including the ones from Boxey's bed, are piled up on their bed and Starbuck's nothing more than a mound under the covers, not even his hair sticking out.

Apollo hesitates at the side of the bed, deeply reluctant to get out the layers of clothes that are at least less cold than the air around him.  He drops his gloves onto the floor and takes a deep breath, nerving himself.  He sheds everything as fast as he can get each garment off, stripping down to a tee and shorts.  It takes less than a centon, he reckons, and he's still shaking with cold by the time that he burrows under the covers.

Starbuck mumbles something and reaches for him.

"In a centon, Starbuck," he says, jaw tensed against the shivering.  "I'm too cold."

"C'mere," says Starbuck, wrapping warm arms and legs around him like an octopus.  Starbuck has found some longjohns from somewhere, the lucky beggar—he won't let on even to Apollo where he found them—and he's wearing them in bed, along with a sweater and socks.  And his hat.

"You do know," says Apollo, "that even on you, this get up isn’t sexy?"

He gets a brief press of lips against his cold mouth in greeting.  "Frak sexy," says Starbuck, and Apollo thinks that's entirely the point.  "It's too damn cold to be naked and I hate sleeping in wet long-johns."  He yawns.  "We'll just have to cuddle, instead.  Share body heat."

"Well, if that's all I'm going to get." says Apollo, disappointed. 

He makes himself relax, forcing muscles that want to tense up and shiver into a laxity instead, that he tries to persuade himself is because he's warm and slipping into a sated sleep.  Starbuck settles against him, sighing.  Slowly Apollo starts to thaw, little tendrils of warmth creeping up his spine and curling around the back of his neck the way that Starbuck's hand curls around it when he kisses him.  Starbuck doesn't touch his neck tonight.  Instead hands fist in his tee, reaching for the skin that Starbuck likes to touch when Apollo's moving slowly against Starbuck, their mouths and bodies joined and Starbuck's hot breath mingling with his.

Starbuck turns slightly and throws an arm over him.  Starbuck's fingers rub little circles over Apollo's forearm and he makes a contented little snuffling sound that makes something in Apollo grow warm with tenderness.  Starbuck raises his head, eyes still shut, and his mouth moves down the line of Apollo's jaw while he murmurs nonsense in a voice thick with sleepy pleasure.  The warmth jags down to Apollo's groin like fire.

He turns his cheek to bury his nose in that ridiculous hat, and knows that this is his life, the fear and cold and love and light and heat and Starbuck, and that he's come home and he wouldn't change an atom of it.  He closes his eyes and lets Starbuck warm him.

 

 

 

 

Second Splinter: Bitter Kindness                                               

(Mask Sequence)

Thou art all ice; thy kindness freezes
Shakespeare   Rich. III

Earth in winter is colder than you expected.

"Although I don't know why you should think that," remarks your father.  "I don't suppose that you have any real memory of Caprica."

"It has been nearly sixty yahrens," you concede.  You hold back the protest that you remember quite well, because first this is your father, who's remote enough without retreating into silence if contradicted, and second, in all honesty you aren't sure that you do remember.

You look on as your father tucks the blankets more securely around Starbuck's thin frame.  Starbuck feels the cold badly, even in the warm room that you set aside for your fathers when you bought this house and the land; his old man's hands tremble and, whenever you touch them, his fingers are chilled and thin.  Starbuck usually laughs it off, but he's spent too many days recently huddled over the fire, trying to warm flesh that's too thin to hold the heat.

"Perhaps," you say, "we should have settled further south to give Starbuck the chance to build his strength before spring.  We could have come back with the warmer weather."

"Like birds," says your father, surprising you.  His hand rests still on Starbuck's bony shoulder, his long smooth fingers gently kneading it, and his head is canted to one side as if he's listening to each shallow breath. 

You smile, remembering the assimilation programme your father initiated and the centars everyone spent watching vids about this planet, to better integrate themselves unseen into the population.  To the inhabitants you and the rest must be unmistakeable foreigners, but not quite as foreign as you actually are.  You hid your origins the way your father's hidden the Galactica and the remnants of the fleet out beyond the ringed planet you now know as Saturn, fearful of overwhelming a people who, to your chagrin, were technologically centuries behind the Colonies.

"Yes, like birds.  I never knew before that birds did that."

"I'm not sure that they did on Caprica."  But your father sounds doubtful, as if after sixty yahrens he can't remember Caprica very well either.  The Mask is on his belt, so he can't tap into the Galactica's databanks to check.  Your smile widens, since that at least leaves your father as humanly imperfect as everyone else.

" 'Pollo?" murmurs Starbuck.

"Here," says your father, instantly, his hands reaching unerringly for Starbuck.

As ever, you marvel at how little his blindness truly hampers him.  The old man clutches at your father's strong hands.  Starbuck's hands betray his age, with thin papery skin stretched over the bones and the spotty discolouration that the yahrens have brought.  There's a great rush of sadness, choking in your throat; you remember the brash and bright young man who breezed into your life sixty yahrens ago, now felled by age and disease.

Starbuck won't see spring, and your father knows it as well as you do.

You walk over to the big picture window, giving them some privacy and trying to shut out the soft murmur of their voices.  Across the meadow, white and bitter with hoar frost, work has come to a halt on the house being built for your fathers.  You can see it against the gathering dusk, the wooden skeleton starkly black against a sky that's a queer shade of midnight blue.  There's more snow on the way, you think. 

Starbuck chose the site.  When you came to a landfall at last, after so many yahrens (years, you remind yourself, years, not yahrens) wandering the stars, Starbuck had wanted something that was rooted into the earth, binding you to your new home.  Starbuck knew that the fleet would never journey again.  Starbuck knew that you needed roots.  He chose the side of the meadow facing the distant, snow-laden mountains that hold up the pale sky.  But Starbuck will likely never live in it, although the old man enjoys watching the work and offering what he describes as constructive criticism but what your father says, tolerantly, is rank interference.

Your father is rarely remote when it comes to Starbuck.  For a long time, you've known that Starbuck is the only one who can really touch him.  You know that you can't, not now.  You lean your forehead against the glass and it's cold against your skin as you think back to a time when you could, when you could reach him too, when your mother was there.  You can’t remember much about her but a shape in your memory and a fall of soft, long hair; all the memory of how she looked comes from the holopics your father kept.  But you do remember that she laughed a lot, and that she was never more happy than when the young and handsome Captain Apollo came to visit, and you—still Boxey, then, your own name forgotten—laughed in your turn when Apollo caught you up and hugged you and the big void in your life was suddenly and most satisfyingly filled. 

Starbuck's dozed off again. 

You straighten up, catching a glimpse of yourself reflected darkly in the window glass, seeing the room behind you in a mirror of ice.  Your hair's silvering now, you notice; not surprising when your own grandson is almost as old as you were when you were still Boxey helping your mother to persuade Captain Apollo that he wanted you both.  You watch the reflection of the father you found and loved so much coming towards you.  He looks just the same as he did when he caught up a young boy and made your mother laugh.  He's untouched by time.  There's no age on his face, no frost on his hair.  The age and frost live in his eyes.

Your father's hand drifts towards his belt, you notice, and you have to force back a grimace when the reflected Mask's tentacles writhe over the hand in a caress.  You've always hated that thing.  Your father smiles at the Mask's touch.

"You'll go when he does, won't you?" you say, abruptly, turning to face him.

"Yes."

You nod.  You should feel angry, you think.  You say, slowly, "When you came back from being made a Lord, or whatever it was that they did, I thought that you came back… well, I know you came back for Starbuck, of course you did, but I thought that you maybe came back a little bit for me, too."

Your father's expression doesn't change.  "I did," he said.  "I did."  His smile is a slight thing, despite the kind, almost gentle tone and you can see only a little warmth in it. "But you don't need me now, Troy; you haven't for yahrens.  You've got a life of your own, you and your family.  And I can't stay.  I don't belong here anymore."

"No," you say, and you feel dull and heavy.  "You haven't for yahrens."

You both know that only Starbuck has held him here.  The thin smile on your father's mouth doesn't waver.  "I know."

"Apollo?" says Starbuck.

Your father crosses the room in an instant; even the most tenuous touch of the Mask allowing him to move with confidence.  "I'm here," he says, taking both the frail hands in his.

"I wondered where you were," murmurs Starbuck, sleepy and faint.

"I'm right here," says your father.  His hand settles against Starbuck's face.  "I'll always be here with you, Starbuck."

You turn away and look out across the meadow to the half-built house and the snow-capped mountains beyond.  You wonder why the outside world is blurred.

 

 

Third Splinter :  Slanted Light                                              

(Phoebus Redux)

                                                                                            There's a certain Slant of light,
                                                                                            Winter Afternoons—
                                                                                            That oppresses…
Emily Dickenson

Every blade of grass, every bare branch, every dry dead stem was white, glittering with a frost so deep that it hurt the eyes where the thin sun caught it.  The air bit into Apollo's chest with every breath in and condensed into little puffs of steam every time he breathed out. 

"You'd think it snowed up here last night," he said.

"I know," said his father.  "But it's just frost.  It's thick, though."

"I didn't notice it, down there."  Apollo stopped to catch his breath and nodded towards the whole of the Eastside spread out before them.

"This place is pretty high up," conceded Adama, pausing beside him.  His grip on Apollo's arm tightened.  "You could have driven up, you know."

"Not very traditional."  Apollo flexed fingers that were growing numb, even inside his black gloves.  His cheekbones ached from the icy air pressing against his face.

"Maybe not.  But I'm willing to sacrifice tradition when it comes to your health.  Alex certainly wouldn't mind.  He never struck me as being what anyone could describe as a traditionalist."

Apollo nodded; that was certainly true.  "I am, though," he said.

His father sighed.  "There's no mistaking whose son you are, I suppose."

Marcus and Kes were with Alex on the path ahead of them, drawing slowly away, walking carefully on the icy gravel.  Apollo could hear someone's voice carrying clearly on the crisp air, giving instructions to keep them all balanced.  He looked away quickly, resentful of the injury that forced him to follow.  He glanced behind them, instead.  His mother hung onto one of Jerry's arms and one of Zac's, both of them keeping her steady.  Athena plodded along valiantly at the rear, scuffing her boots against the thick ground frost; she looked up and smiled at him and he managed a faint grin in return.  She was pale and looked chilled.

"We'd better catch up," he said, and made the effort to get going again, ignoring the pain in his chest and side but grateful nevertheless for his father's arm.  If with every step he took he leaned more heavily, his father didn't complain.  His family had been nothing but supportive since he'd been injured.

"It's very pretty here, actually," he said.  "All black and white and silver.  I like it."

"Is that why you chose it?"

"Alex chose it," said Apollo, with a fond glance at the group ahead of them.  "He likes old places and this place must be centuries old."  He nodded towards a blackened statue caught in a mesh of ivy, leaves that should have been dark green glittering silver instead.  It was almost unbearably beautiful and he had to speak against a sudden lump in his throat.  "It doesn't look real, though.  More like a stage set."

"For some romantic melodrama that needs ruins and snow," agreed his father, readily.  "It's theatrical, all right."

Apollo glanced down at his dress uniform.  "It's like the Guard."

"Theatrical?"

"Monochromatic and stark and relentless."  Apollo stopped again, putting his free hand on his aching chest.  "Sorry.  Give me a micron."

"There's no rush."

"No," said Apollo.  "Alex will wait."

Jerry appeared on his other side.  "All right?"

Adama answered for him.  "He's just winded, I think."

Jerry snorted.  "On this hill?  What else do you expect?"

Adama sighed.  "I do think that Alex might have chosen somewhere flatter."

Jerry eyed the steep road winding up the hill between winter trees and dark statuary wreathed in pure white leaves.  "Alex never chose flat anything in his entire life.  It's too damn late to change now.  Take your time, Apollo.  How's the pain?"

"There."  He grimaced.  "I'll manage."

"You'll also ride back down again, without argument."  Jerry's cold fingers closed over Apollo's wrist.  "Your pulse is faster than I like."

"It's a steep hill."

"And here's me thinking it was more about you discharging yourself from hospital too early."  Jerry released him.  "And against my advice, I may add."

"There wasn't exactly any choice."  Apollo breathed in slowly, trying to ease the tightness in his chest and feeling the icy air burn.  "Let's get it over."

Jerry patted his arm and fell back, returning to Apollo's mother and taking her arm again.  Zac took his place, coming up and offering Apollo his arm.

"We don't want you falling over," he said, his usual ebullience frosted over.  A muted, more grown-up Zac was a strange creature indeed and Apollo didn’t know quite what to make of him.  It wasn't natural.

The others were waiting at the top of the hill.  Marcus gave Apollo an anxious, searching look and exchanged glances with Jerry that Apollo pretended not to notice.  Instead he came to a halt beside Alex, hoping he could get through this.  He needed Alex's encouragement and support, but Alex was silent.

His father shifted his grip, putting his arm around Apollo's shoulders.  Zac took a deep, trembly breath, his fingers tightening on Apollo's.  It took a micron or two for Apollo to free his hand.  He laid it on Alex.

Alex didn't want speeches or reminiscences here—and besides, it had all been said in the Eastside before they'd set out—so no-one spoke.  They just waited for Apollo to step back and nod.  Zac took their father's place to help Apollo stay upright while Adama went forward to take the place that should have been Apollo's.  Athena was close behind him, keeping the bitter wind off him; he felt her hand, tentative at first, rubbing small comforting circles on the small of his back.  His mother slipped her hand under his arm and squeezed it; her eyes were wet.  Apollo watched it all, too cold both inside and out to think or feel very much.  She would have to do his crying for him.

When it was over and his father rejoined him, gently shouldering Zac to one side to take a grip on him again, Apollo allowed himself to be guided away, towards the hover-car that had followed them slowly up the steep road.

"He always thought I'd be the one to leave him, you know," he said.  "And sometimes I worry that I did, when I let Fee slip away from me."

"When you what?"

"When I let Apollo come back, I mean.  I wasn't quite his Fee anymore."

His father looked troubled, as if he wasn't sure what to say.  "I think you'll always be Fee, Apollo.  A little bit of you, anyway." 

Apollo shook his head.  "No," he said, and it was like someone softly closing a door, closing him off from Alex.  "Fee's back there with Alex.  I think I'll leave him there."

 

 

Fifth Splinter: Frost Fair                                       

(Anointed Sequence)


If you are going to walk on thin ice, you may as well dance
Anon

"You’re with me, Starbuck," says Apollo.

Starbuck's eyebrow rises at the peremptory tone.  "I know that.  But I thought we were leaving off telling the world until Boxey was old enough to—" he hooks his fingers into a pair of savage air quotes "—understand and accept your alternative lifestyle.  Personally I think you're just scared of what your father's going to say, but what do I know?"

Apollo stares at him until Starbuck shrugs.  "I meant," says Apollo, speaking slowly and carefully, as if to the mentally impaired, "that you're coming with me on this mission."  He pauses and adds, thoughtfully, "I'm not sure I'm worried about my father so much, but do you want to be the one to tell Athena?"

Starbuck takes a micron to consider that.  He wonders if his face whitens as much on the outside as he feels it does on the inside.  "No," he concedes.  "I hate to say this about your sister, Apollo, but she can be a bit intimidating when she loses her temper."

"I seem to remember that she got you and Cassie with the Viper tube cleaning system," says Apollo.  "She believes in direct action."

"I was always pathetically grateful that the blast with the steam purge lasted only a micron.  Getting out of the tube sopping wet and dripping with detergent was bad enough without getting steam burns in places where I'd never be able to put a medical dressing."

"Way I heard it, you did have a few steam burns in unmentionable places and the nurses were queuing up to apply the bandages."

"You've had every opportunity to see the scars," insinuates Starbuck.  "And are they there?  No.  You sister is scary, but she's not mad enough to commit grievous bodily harm."

"Until she finds out about you and me."  Apollo is gloomy, but justifiably so.  "Then I think it'll be murder she goes for.  Look, she and Boomer are getting awfully friendly.  You persuade him into marrying her and it'll be safe for us, too."

"You mean sacrifice him."

"It's for a good cause.  And in the meantime, you're coming with me and Boomer to Heladas.  Seems that there's a special interplanetary trade fair going on down there at the moment, and the Council's decided to send a delegation.  We need a driver for the shuttle."

"What you mean is that they're going on a shopping trip.  Oh no, Apollo.  You can fly them there.  You don't need me."

"Ah, but I do.  I'm the military attaché for the meeting.  I'm going to be too busy being militarily diplomatic to worry about such mundane things as flying shuttles.  You're drafted.  Go get your things together."

Starbuck scowls.  "I am not a bloody taxi driver!"

"You aren't thinking this through, Lieutenant.  We're going to be on Heladas for about three nights.  Nights away from this ship.  Nights away from Boxey, who will happily go and make his grandfather's life hellish for a few days.  Nights away from the Regulations."

"Right," says Starbuck, kicking himself for being slow.  He grins and nods.  Three nights with Apollo sound pretty damn good, and well worth carrying a Councillor's shopping bags for.
 
"Yeah, right."  Apollo smiles back.  "You aren’t usually this slow, Starbuck.  Someone must be wearing you out."

Starbuck frowns, though.  "You'd normally do anything to get out of a trip like this.  What gives?" 

He gets an annoyed look in response and Apollo's good humour melts away before his eyes.  "Let's just say that I'd rather go shopping than be reminded every few microns of my religious duty," says Apollo, sour as vinegar.

"Ah.  Cantor and his priests looking for another revelation from you, huh?"

"I wouldn't mind so much if my father would just leave it be.  They had me reciting those bloody co-ordinates again today and all Dad can say is that I should—" and here Apollo uses some air quotes of his own and they're just as savage as Starbuck's "—open my heart to the High Priest because he can offer me spiritual comfort as I come to terms with what happened on the Ship of Lights.  I don't need to come to terms.  I don’t know what the hell happened and I can live with that.  What I can't live with is the priests turning me into some sort of prophet for them."

"They never bother with me and Sheba much.  Thankfully."  Starbuck smirks.  "Guess I'm a lost cause.  Morally, legally and, above all, sexually."

He's delighted that it restores the good humour and makes Apollo laugh.

"Thankfully," says Apollo, and smiles. 

 

"How thick d'you think this ice is?" wonders Boomer, stamping against it hard.

"Don't do that!"

Boomer grins.  "Calm down, Bucko.  They've got an entire fair set up here and there's thousands of people.  I think the ice can take one little tap from me."

"That's a supposition based on no empirical evidence whatsoever.  Stop it."

"Scanners say it's a least two feet thick, Starbuck," says Apollo.  "What's got your long-johns in a twist?"

"Apollo, when I do vacations I do beaches, pretty girls, sun, bikinis and pretty-coloured drinks in glasses with little paper parasols.  I don't do cold or snow or lakes so frozen that people put trading fairs on them.  I'm a hot weather sort of hedonist, all right?"

"You'll look like hell in a bikini," says Boomer, thoughtfully.  He passes his gloved hand over his eyes.  "And I could have done without that mental image, thank you.  It's going to come between me and my peace of mind all day."

For no reason that Starbuck can see, since the Council members are off being feted and wined and dined and the three of them are technically off duty, Apollo appears to remember that he's the Captain and decides he has to assert his authority.  "I'd remind you, gentlemen, that this is an official mission.  Please try for at least a modicum of professionalism.  And that means we leave all speculation about Starbuck and bikinis until we get back to the Galactica, but when we do get back, we expect to see it.  In the OC.  With the possibility of holopics.  Right, Boomer?"

"You're the boss," agrees Boomer, who's a compliant little soul at heart.

"When we let you be," concedes Starbuck.  He waves an arm around to draw their attention to the hundreds of little trading booths and cheapjack stalls, and (Boomer's estimate is probably right) the thousands of people milling about buying and selling.  And most of what they're buying and selling is unrecognisable.  "But the point, if we can keep to it, is that every alien civilisation we come across is as crazy as… as the craziest thing ever.  These people have an interplanetary market set up on ice.  On ice, Apollo!  They've got an entire trading fair set up on a frozen river.  That's just bizarre."

"More like a bazaar," says Boomer, and he and Apollo snigger.

"You know," says Starbuck, exasperated with the pair of them.  "If I just happen to stick my foot out and you two slip on the ice and fall on your arses, I'm just going to stand here and laugh."

 

"The hotel is carved out of ice and snow," says Starbuck, stunned.

It is, too.  The walls are built from blocks of ice and gleam a cold greeny-blue, the hotel lobby is filled with ice sculptures and the chairs are cast (or carved?  Starbuck isn't sure which) from ice.  There's a bar carved from ice , and the Heladasians serve up a clear, almost tasteless liquor that kicks like a mule and comes in glasses that are made from ice.  There's even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling.  Knowing his luck, it's probably made from ice as well.

Starbuck isn't sure whether to be admiring of or horrified by the myriad forms the Heladasians can create from frozen molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.  He's beginning to feel a little beleaguered by the stuff, though, and would give a lot, right then, for a pale pastel drink with a paper umbrella.

"No," says Boomer after a drink or two. "I'm from Leo. Leo was a tropical paradise, and while I don't mind a day wandering around an ice fair and drinking lots of mulled wine to keep me warm. I draw the line at sleeping on a block of ice. I'm going to sleep in the real hotel across the street where there are real beds and, you know, real heating."

"This place is an experience though, Boomer," says Apollo

"Not one I want, and  and not even fur sleeping bags are enough to make me stay here,  You two can do whatever you like. "

Starbuck is outraged. "What sort of friend are you?" But he's already distracted by the thought of Apollo and fur and Apollo and Apollo and fur…

"The fair weather kind. See you in the morning."

"That was very tactful of Boomer," observes Apollo, not doing anything to dissuade Boomer from leaving and giving Starbuck what can only be described as a come-hither look from the corner of his eye.  "Or it would be if he knew about us."

Starbuck's pretty pleased about the come-hither look, but as dubious as Boomer about a bed carved from (wouldn't you know it) ice.  He thinks about what he'll be doing in that bed.

He thinks first about kissing Apollo.  To be honest, he's been thinking about kissing Apollo pretty much all day, ever since the shuttle left the flight deck, so he's keyed up and so ready for it, he's aching.  He licks his lips to moisten them, a sort of checking that the tools are ready for action. 

He'll kiss Apollo's mouth first, of course.  He likes Apollo's mouth.  Apollo has a very nice shaped mouth and a full bottom lip that the Lords just made for nibbling on until it's kiss-swollen and juicy.  And then, as he's undressing Apollo he'll kiss as much warm skin as he can reach—always coming back to that luscious lower lip and keeping it at its best—and he'll especially kiss Apollo's neck, because Apollo loves that, and he'll lick and lick at the little hollow at the base of his throat, because Apollo really loves that.

And when he has Apollo naked, he has all that soft, warm skin to kiss again and lave and smooth over with his cheek, touching and kissing and using his fingers to tingle and soothe.  Apollo loves that too.  And then he'll suck on Apollo's nipples, teasing with gentle teeth because Apollo really, really loves that and has been known to tell Starbuck so.  Very loudly and with writhing.

And all the time he's kissing, his fingers will be smoothing and stroking; down along Apollo's sides, sliding over those slim hips, starting at Apollo's knees (he likes Apollo's knees) and dragging softly up the inner thigh to grasp the beautiful cock, and it'll be hard and straining and just begging Starbuck to lick and kiss and suck.  And while he's doing that he'll get Apollo ready for him.

And then.

And then.

And, probably, then again.

"You know, Apollo," says Starbuck, wriggling uncomfortably in pants that are suddenly waaaayyy too small, "I think there's a real danger we'll melt that damn bed."

"Starbuck," says Apollo. "I'm counting on it."

And he smiles.

 

 

                                       January 2009