Stopping At The Skin

The authority of any governing institution must stop at its citizen's skin
Gloria Steinem

"Do you, you know, ever feel trapped?" Apollo pushes his glass away abruptly, slopping a few drops of ambrosa over the rim. He watches the drops spread and coalesce on the tabletop and rubs the base of the glass in the little red pool as if he were trying to rub it into the hard surface.

"I thought we'd agreed we weren't going to talk about Athena anymore. In the interests of us staying friends, I mean. Because although I try very hard not to get caught by her, she's a persistent sort of girl, your sister." Starbuck takes a swig of his ambrosa. He looks tired and jaded. "Very persistent."

"I didn't mean Athena, specifically, although I guess it's not so far off. I meant trapped by other people's expectations."

"I try not to think about Athena's expectations. I have enough trouble with my own." Starbuck drains his glass and reaches for the bottle. "Which is why I'm sitting here getting steadily inebriated. What's your excuse?"

Apollo sighs and jerks his head towards the group of tables where some of the officers from Silver Spar are celebrating someone's birthday. Apollo doesn't know whose. No-one outside Silver Spar squadron cares whose and he has his doubts about those within it, too.

"They're having a good time," says Starbuck.

They are indeed. Silver Spar are raucous and laughing and having a great deal of loud fun. There are several people who seem to want to do a little one-on-one celebrating and if Apollo sees the couples sneaking out (and he'll do his best not to) he'll have to pretend to himself that they're seeking out a storeroom somewhere for a quiet game of chess or something (™ Starbuck, in one of his more sardonic moments). Sometimes Apollo hates being in command. It's as well he's developed selective blindness.

He scowls, suddenly envious and wishing for a game of chess himself. "My father wants me to have supper with him tonight. I have to be there in another centar. He wants to talk to me." He brackets the words talk to me with a pair of air quotes, hooking his fingers in savage emphasis.

"Oh." Starbuck's eyes narrow so he can focus on Sheba. "Hers or his?"

"Uh?"

"Expectations. Hers or his?"

"Both, maybe. I dunno. She's getting very friendly. She doesn't say much, but she looks a lot, if you know what I mean. I get a lot of dewy-eyed glances these days and little smiles that she thinks are sweet, and she keeps putting her hands on my arm and looking up into my face and laughing. I'm not totally oblivious, you know."

"Oh, I don't know," says Starbuck.

"Thanks," says Apollo, dryly, taking this as a reflection on his intelligence and social skills, just as Starbuck doubtless intends.

"I thought you liked her," says Starbuck. He's not looking at Apollo, still staring across the room at the Silver Spar party. "More than when she first got here, anyway, when she was still very Pegasus-y."

"She still is Pegasus-y. They all are. Just look at them!" Apollo watches Silver Spar for a centon. Sheba's in the thick of it, being Cain's daughter the way that the ex-Pegasus pilots need her to be. A realisation that if their roles were reversed he'd do everything he could to keep the Galactican flame alight, makes him a little more moderate and tolerant. He shrugs. "It's not that I don't like her, actually. She's okay. I just don't like her that way. I mean, I don't mind being friendly if she'd only stop wanting more than that."

Starbuck turns to focus on him. Apollo meets his gaze square on, and after a micron, Starbuck grins. "Okay. And the Commander?"

"He's starting to look smug." Apollo pauses, thinks about it. "No. He's looking patriarchal, like he's going to go all paterfamilias on me. Every time I've seen him the last couple of sectons he's been giving me this look, all sort of benign and indulgent. It's not a lot of fun, frankly, and I don't like it. I've got used to getting on without it."

"Well," says Starbuck. "Well."

"That's a lot of help, Starbuck. Thank you."

Starbuck shrugs. "You get on all right with him, really, don't you?"

"As far as it goes." Apollo tips a little more ambrosa onto the table and concentrates on grinding it into the surface. "It's a bit like this," he says, with a nod at the table top and the way the wine was fitting itself to the surface. "He's all sort of hard and impenetrable and he expects me to be the one to bend, to sort of mould myself around it all."

"That's way too deep for me," says Starbuck, shaking his head. "I'm not inebriated enough for that."

"I mean that he doesn't give much, Starbuck. He never has, as long as I can remember. He just expects me to."

Starbuck shrugs again. "He's the Commander, you're a captain. No prizes for guessing who's supposed to be the one to kowtow and obey."

"Yeah," says Apollo, quietly. "He never forgets that he's the Commander."

"He's the man in charge," agrees Starbuck. He scowls across the OC. Apollo knows that he doesn't like the way the Silver Spar people think and act, any more than Apollo does. Starbuck's less friendly with Sheba and Bojay, too. "Sometimes, you know, you just have to bend a bit more than he expects."

"What he expects – what he wants, anyway – is that I'll hook up with Sheba," says Apollo. "Only he won't put it like that. He'll think about it as consolidating familial alliances or securing the dynastic succession or something."

"Well, you can't do that, obviously," says Starbuck.

"Obviously."

Starbuck sighs. "You need to tell him."

"This is my father we're talking about here."

Starbuck sighs again. "Then all you can fall back on is that if you openly date Sheba, he'll have to court martial you for breaking the fraternisation Regs."

Apollo nods. "Yeah. Yeah, there is that." He glances over to where Sheba and the others are toasting the birthday boy. Or girl. "As long as I'm in the chain of command," he says, brightening. "Yes. That'll do."

"Or as long as she stays on active duty. She could resign her commission, I suppose. I'm working on the sexist principle that you won't resign yours."

"No. No, I wouldn't do that even if we weren't living in a constant military emergency. She won't either—she's more ambitious than I am. Anyway since we are living under a constant military emergency and need every Viper pilot we can get, nobody will be allowed to resign their commission. Ever. We'll all have to die in harness."

"I did think about it," confesses Starbuck. "That time when we met Chameleon and I thought he might be my father, remember? My brain shorted out, I think, and I had all these visions of this cosy little father-son thing going, until it turned out he wasn't after all."

"You should learn from my experience," says Apollo.

"Oh?"

"The father-son relationship can be a lot of things, Starbuck. But cosy isn't one of them."

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Apollo has always had a lot of doubts about serving on the Galactica. His mother, who was the only person he's ever come across who was skilled at translating his father into something approximating human (something Apollo himself is only patchily adept at), repeatedly said that his father's proud of him and is proud to have him on the Galactica, but Apollo has never been totally convinced. He always thought that the father-son thing would be strained, overwhelmed, by the Commander-Captain thing. And so far he's been right.

That there is a deep underlying affection between him and his father, he doesn't really doubt, but sometimes, since the Destruction particularly, it's seemed very underlying and very deep. So deep that sometimes Apollo thinks it's submerged so far he'll never be able to see it again. Despite what he says to Starbuck, trying to be cynical about it, he's sorry that he and his father don't talk very much these days – certainly they don't talk about important family things – and he's sorry that he no longer has confidence and trust enough to confide in his father and tell him about the things that are important to him now. He'd like to do something about it. Part of the problem is that Commander Adama and his father are sometimes inextricable, and he suspects that his father has trouble keeping the two in their separate compartments as much as he does, but until recently, until the last few sectars, he and his father had a reasonably good relationship. He'd like to get that back.

They were at their closest when Apollo married Serina and they both were able to forget the Destruction for a few centons, and even now Boxey has the ability to pull them together – his father's taken to grandfather-hood rather well and Apollo knows the old man loves Serina's son. They connect easily enough about work as well, because all modesty aside, Apollo knows he's good at what he does and his father – in his Commander Adama persona – appreciates having a good, imaginative Strike Leader who can safely be left to get on with protecting the refugee fleet. But the strains that grew after the Destruction, when Zac and his mother died along with countless millions of others, have got stronger in recent sectars and the father-son thing… well, it never was cosy, precisely, and now it's misunderstandings and silence and (he thinks) hurt feelings.

Apollo's clear-headed enough to know that a lot of the distance that has grown between them is due to grief and stress and overwork. His father has had no time to grieve for his dead wife and youngest son and far too much work to do to save the remnants of the Colonies and try and get the fleet to some sort of refuge on Earth.

(If Earth exists, and Apollo has his doubts about that, too, despite everything that supposedly happened to him on the Ship of Lights. But that's another doubt that he knows better than to voice out loud, except to Starbuck.)

And on top of grief and stress and overwork, religion sits there between them like a cancer. Apollo knows that his father is a good man, one whose faith has been his guiding principle. Apollo thinks – knows – that his father's disappointed that the experience on the Ship of Lights hasn't affected Apollo more, hasn't made Apollo's tepid adherence to the faith he was raised in more intense and meaningful: he'd hoped that it would make Apollo see the light, make Apollo more in his own image. Bottom line? He's disappointed in Apollo and Apollo doesn't like that. It makes him edgy and resentful.

Ever since Iblis and the Ship of Lights, they've been like two men in a dark room full of obstacles and traps: they each know the other is there, but to move towards each other is fraught with peril, risking mishap and disaster, and every step has calamity clawing at their heels. They're reduced to staring at each other across the space between them, trying to make out reality from the shadows.

Apollo wishes he could do something to resolve it. He thinks that's what his father's looking for, too. He's glad that they can still connect over Boxey and connect over work, even if they aren't connecting over anything else. But Apollo's more than a little worried that his father is looking to connect over Sheba.

Because, no. Just… no. That Viper is never going to fly.

A few sectars ago he refused to have a religious epiphany just because his father clearly considered one was called for. Now, he'll be damned before he enters into another uncomfortable, loveless marriage, just to please the old man.

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"It seems like a long time since we did this," says his father. "Too long." He offers Apollo more ambrosa.

Apollo briefly considers the merits of drinking himself into oblivion against the obvious pitfall of dealing with the consequent parental and commanderly outrage, and regretfully declines. "I had a drink with Starbuck before I came here," he says, "so I'd better not. I've got early patrol tomorrow."

Now that's a little manipulative of Apollo and shows just how good a teacher Starbuck is. He knows his father will be torn between an instinctive condemnation of Starbuck for once again being the cause of less-than-optimal moral behaviour in Apollo (or religious behaviour or upright or respectable or worthy or decent or whatever adjective that his father applies to describe his own high-principled approach to life), and appreciation for Apollo's sense of duty and the moral stance Apollo's taking regarding said duty. Apollo hopes that that the paradox is enough to quell any comment.

His father huffs slightly, but goes back to what he was saying. "I don't know how we got to the stage of rarely talking to each other off duty."

"There's so much work to do," says Apollo, "that there isn't much time for 'off duty'."

"It's getting better." His father pushes his glass over the tablecloth in little patterns. "It's been almost a yahren, can you believe that? The fleet's settling down."

Apollo gives it a micron's thought. A yahren – that sounds right. "I hadn't realised… yes, you're right. It is almost a yahren." He sighs. "I don't know which is worse: the fact that people are settling down and this is becoming normal for us, or how much our new normal is going to be upset on the anniversary."

"I'm hoping we can contain any difficulties around the anniversary. The Council's planning a restrained, reflective set of ceremonies to mark the Destruction."

Apollo ducks his head and grimaces. It wasn't that he was expecting a party, exactly, but he hopes he can somehow avoid the sort of decorous ritual that his father will delight in. He doesn't hold out a lot of hope of success.

His father goes on smoothly; "But we're planning for a lot of increased security, just in case, although I hope it won't be needed. It's only there as fallback if our outreach communications programme isn't successful. Naturally, we'd prefer that people took the time to count their blessings and fix their thoughts on higher things, and the training offered by the outreach programme will help ensure that."

"Outreach programme?"

"It's being going for a couple of sectars now. It focuses people's minds on positive things, to keep them less restive."

Apollo blinks, surprised. "You're trying to control what people think?"

"Well, not overtly, of course."

"Right. That makes it all just fine, then."

His father looks a little irritated. "It's about keeping the peace, and law and order, Apollo, nothing more"

"You are seriously telling me that the Council is trying to make people think the way it wants them to? That's quite worrying, Dad."

"Of course we're not going for some sort of sinister mind control! But I do think that we have the duty to keep order in the Fleet."

"I'm not arguing with that," says Apollo. "I'm as keen as the next man on a quiet life. I'm just not so keen on something that's a matter of appropriate behaviour being treated as something that's about appropriate thinking. And who's defining that appropriate thinking?"

His father's definitely irritated now. "Please stop talking as if it's some reprehensible social injustice, Apollo. All we're doing is a lot of work to help get the mood music right for this."

Apollo shakes his head. "I haven't noticed any outreach programme," he says. But then he hasn't noticed that the Council has sprouted a new Ministry for Propaganda and Right Thinking, either, or expected that his father would accept this felger.

His father smiles. "On the other ships, Apollo, not here. We have a lot of people working on it within the communities that are forming out there, within work groups and schools. We have to keep people focused on the good things – they're alive and we have a goal to work towards – and not let regret and grief get in the way of good order."

Good order. Good grief.

Apollo says, trying to keep his tone neutral, "And you don't think we need that here?"

"I'm relying on the innate discipline on this ship to see us through. That, and we're more focused than most on the task in hand, living in a very structured way."

"Mmn," says Apollo, thinking of some of the crowded refugee ships full of people whose main preoccupation must be to stave off boredom. Many of the ships' populations live on the fleet equivalent of welfare, with little or nothing to occupy them or divert their thoughts from the ever-present fear that they've been left behind. He thinks that whoever the Council has out there spreading sweetness and reason and light, has their work cut out for them.

"Do you think that there'll be problems here?" asks Commander Adama.

Apollo notes the effortless morph from fatherhood to commander and wants to yell something about Damn right there'll be problems here! But he treats the question with the serious attention he knows his commander requires of him. "I think that on the whole you're right in that we'll have discipline and the military mindset to carry us through. But we'd better not underestimate what people will feel underneath it all and the support they'll need to cope with it. We're warriors, not automata." He remembers Zac's huge grin and the whoop of joy his little brother had given when he'd agreed to let him take Starbuck's place on patrol with him, and something in his chest lurches with discomfort. "We all lost something, Dad," he says. "You know, there's not been a lot of time since it happened for people to really think about that. We've been too busy surviving."

"We'll hold a remembrance ceremony here, of course." His father takes a drink and forks up a mouthful of the artificially sweetened stuff that's doing duty for dessert. "I hope we can all attend as a family. You, Athena, Boxey and me."

Apollo hides another grimace, but in the scale of things, it's a small enough sacrifice to make. "I'm sure we can," he says, rather more heartily than he intends.

"Good." His father takes another forkful of dessert and adds, a little indistinctly, "I thought I'd invite Sheba to join us."

And there it is. The kicker. "She's not family," says Apollo, before he can stop himself, because, really, silence would be the safer option.

His father doesn't look at him directly. "I promised I'd take her into the family when Cain disappeared like that," he says. "If you recall."

It's too late for silence now. Apollo shrugs. "Did you mean it that literally? I just thought… me and Thenie both thought that you meant you'd look out for her, nothing more."

"I don't say things I don't mean, Apollo. You know that."

Apollo nods, because there's no arguing with that. "Yes."

But he has to choke down some resentment that his father thinks that he and Athena will be happy to have Zac replaced like that, without so much as a by-your-leave. There's still a big gap in Apollo's life where once his reckless little brother stood, and no-one – no-one – is going to fill it. He stiffens up and wishes he'd taken the ambrosa after all.

His father's giving him some sidelong glances. "I know that at the moment taking Sheba into the family can only be symbolic," he says.

"Uh-huh."

"But I hope that one day it's more than that."

Apollo's a little taken-aback by how unsubtle that is. His father isn't usually so… so inept. He says, before he can stop himself, "She's a little old to be put up for adoption."

"You know what I mean," says his father. "I would welcome that, very much."

Apollo shrugs and makes his face as impassive as he can. He can be unsubtle too. He raises his left hand and looks pointedly at the band Serina put there.

His father sighs his (doubtless temporary) defeat. "I'm sorry, Apollo. I realise that it's not yet a yahren since Serina… I just don't want you to cut yourself off from new possibilities, that's all."

"I'm not. There just aren't any new possibilities that interest me."

His father's mouth always thins right down when he's annoyed. Apollo notices how his lips whiten and thin. "It would make me very happy, Apollo, to see you – and Athena, of course – happily settled in life. I hoped that you were…that you could start thinking… that enough time had passed…"

Apollo has never heard so many unfinished sentences from his father in one single speech. He doesn't know whether it's the annoyance or a genuinely emotional attempt at bonding. He says, carefully, "I'm not totally ruling out marrying again in the future, Dad. It's just not an option right now."

After a centon, he gets a nod of acknowledgement. "I understand," says his father, a statement that Apollo seriously doubts is accurate. "I do understand."

To Apollo's horror, he reaches across the table and pats Apollo's hand.

"Just don't close yourself off, Apollo. Take some time to be with people." His father quirks a little smile at him.

"I don't spend all my time in work or locked away with Boxey, you know. I have a lot of friends and I spend time with them."

"Someone other than Starbuck and Boomer, then," he says. "You need a more varied social life, Apollo. One with possibilities for the future."

Apollo, who is quite happy in his current friendships and social life with its opportunities for chess-playing, and who is as happy about the future as a man can be whose job involves going out and getting shot at, doesn't know whether to laugh or weep. "What are you suggesting, Dad?"

"Well, only that I know how hard it can be to get some balance between the demands of work and friends and Boxey and find the time to build up some new relationships. If you ever want to leave Boxey with me for the evening while you take some time out for yourself and… well, you know I like having Boxey."

Apollo's had enough. He decides it's time for the Starbuckian defence. "Yeah, well, that's kind of you, Dad. Trouble is, I don't know who I could openly spend time with on this ship, in the way you're suggesting, and still stay within the Regs." He smiles at the arrested (and slightly offended) look on his father's face. "Will you still look after Boxey if I'm in the brig?"

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"Well, that went well," says Apollo, slipping into the seat at Starbuck's table. "Are you still sober?"

"No." Starbuck blinks at him. "You still single?"

"Uh-huh. We had a terrible discussion about what he thinks is my lack of a meaningful relationship with possibilities for the future. It wasn't pleasant."

"What does he know about your relationships?"

"Absolutely nothing and it's staying that way. I reminded him about the Regs."

"Did it work?"

"Well, he changed the subject back onto the sort of Remembrance service the Council's planning for next sectar, so maybe. Trouble is, I don't think I got a clean kill there. I think I may only have winged him."

"They're more dangerous when they're only wounded," says Starbuck, wisely. "You'd better have a drink."

Apollo sighs and glances at the Silver Spar table. They're still at it, carousing happily, although there are definitely fewer there than before. A chess tournament's started, by the look of it. Sheba catches his gaze and gives him one of those sweet smiles that so annoy him. He pretends not to have seen it. "Yeah. Maybe I'd better. Before the Thought Police get me."

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Apollo thinks that he only has himself to blame when the Commander takes advantage of the Day of Remembrance to call all the Warriors together to announce a change in the Military Code (aka, the Regs).

Commander Adama has a lot to say about the sadness of the past that they've all just been to Chapel to remember, but also, he says, he wants them to think about the future. He talks about their journey and admits, with a deprecating laugh, that no-one can know how long it will take to reach the safety of Earth. He mentions the basic human need to forge connexions and families, and how, in all conscience, he can't exclude the Warriors from that. "Two people won't be prevented from seeing each other simply because of a regulation that, in the circumstances we now find ourselves, does more harm than good," he says with an earnestness that has Apollo grinding his teeth with frustration. "Husbands and wives working together will make us stronger, giving us all a real stake in building our new society."

The Warriors are, on the whole, a little indifferent to the rhetoric, probably because the Remembrance services have been long and hard and they're still thinking about their losses. One or two look thrilled, Sheba being one of them. Apollo spends most of the time fixing his attention on his father and resolutely ignoring her shy glances. He takes a modicum of pleasure in the fact that he can stop pretending that half of the Warriors are rabid chess fiends – Boomer's been seeing Dietra since Kobol, he knows; Jillia and Allan have been an item for sectars; and Greg and Jared have been locking themselves into every damn closet on the Galactica for at least the last two yahrens. And they're just three of dozens of couples he's been conveniently blind to. At least he can now tell them all to get rooms and keep his conscience clear.

Starbuck, though. Starbuck catches Apollo's gaze, looks pointedly from him to where Sheba is listening intently and with a smile on her sharp little face that makes Apollo uneasy, and when he looks back at Apollo again all he does is grin and raise an eyebrow. Apollo thinks it's a shame Starbuck is several yards away. He would have liked to have taken out his frustration with a slap to the back of the infuriating Lieutenant's head.

"We'll have to observe some rules about how to deal with relationships that affect the chain of command," says the Commander, after the Warriors are dismissed and Apollo's joined him and Colonel Tigh to discuss the announcement. "We'll have to put in some checks and balances on the reporting arrangements for example."

"I assume this applies to everyone, sir?" asks Apollo, after they've agreed how this is to be done, and somehow he manages not to sound as sarcastic and angry as he feels. "I mean, you talked a lot about husbands and wives, but I'm—" He stops himself from admitting that he knows about the not-insignificant number of people who may not have an real interest in chess but who are certainly fond of storage rooms and closets. "I assume this applies to same-sex couples? I'm pretty sure that people will want to take advantage of the relaxation of the rules, and I want to be clear about what is and what isn't in scope."

The Commander's mouth twists. "I suppose it will," he says. "Given that such relationships aren't illegal."

He sounds regretful about that. Apollo straightens his shoulders, and wonders if he says anything, his father will change that law, too. "And, thankfully, the business of no-one but the two people involved," he says, although it's doubtful that the Commander would have added that rider. "It's a very enlightened policy change, sir, and will be very much welcomed."

"Will it?" says Tigh, amused.

"I think so, Colonel. Most people in the fleet don't think the authorities – either the Council or the military – should be regulating every single aspect of our lives. I'm all for minimal government." He gives the Commander a nod, wondering if this is going to call the Thought Police down on his head. "As little as we can get away with and keep good order, of course."

Apollo thinks sadly that he's not brave enough to be a true subversive. All the Commander does is give him a sharp look.

"With the proviso that as we've just discussed, you carefully examine any threats to discipline and refer problematic relationships to Colonel Tigh for advice."

"Of course," says Apollo, who won't do anything of the sort and all three of them know it. Colonel Tigh gives him a tight little grin and a nod, and Apollo knows he'll have no trouble from Tigh on this. The Colonel has, he knows, looked the other way when problematic relationships have come to light and let Apollo deal with them without interference.

"I suppose that the change will regularise several existing relationships," says the Commander, showing an unexpectedly human understanding. "We'll gloss over that, gentlemen, if it arises. It's always been a difficult rule to enforce."

"Yes," says Apollo. "I never bothered about it much, myself."

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"So," says Starbuck. "What are you going to do now? Your dad didn't take long to scupper your last defence."

"Yeah. I wasn't expecting that. I wasn't expecting him to revoke the entire regulation. You've got to give him credit for a neat move, there."

"He's an indulgent parent, obviously," says Starbuck. "What his little boy wants, his little boy gets."

Apollo snorts. "It's what he wants, not me. I'll just have to keep stonewalling him. It's worked so far."

"Managing his expectations, you mean."

"I try."

"And Sheba?"

Apollo sighs. "How am I doing at being oblivious?"

Starbuck purses his lips and looks thoughtful. "Pretty damn good, actually. Of course, it helps that you're socially inept anyway, so missing the signals she sends you is at least in character."

"So I'll keep being oblivious." Apollo leans back on his sofa beside Starbuck and relaxes. Boxey is staying at his grandfather's for the night and there won't be any interruptions. "Still, a lot of people benefit from the Regs change. At least they won't have to hide and skulk about in closets. I'm gonna take advantage of it."

"But not with Sheba?"

"Not likely." He puts a hand on the side of Starbuck's face. "After all these sectars, I still don't know if you can actually play chess."

"Don't be daft," says Starbuck, and kisses him.

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5096 wordsOctober 2008