It was only a few hours since Gaius Baltar had spoken to God for the first time. Since he had fallen to his knees, praying and whimpering to be delivered from evil, so he might devote the rest of his wretched life to doing good. Oh yes, Gaius hadn’t forgotten his sacred vow just yet. He still fully intended to see it through, even though the Six in his head was already teasing him; insisting that his latest whim would be forgotten before the evening was spent.
But as Gaius stepped from the shuttle craft he felt strangely determined. Yes; from now on he would pledge his every waking moment to doing good turns for others and repenting for his unspeakable failures...
“Or at least that’s what you’ll do until the novelty of your salvation wears off and you find something else to amuse you...” cooed Six, her voice a silky whisper.
“Hush now,” he coughed, trying to block her voice out his mind.
Gaius had just returned from the Colonial One following his exoneration ceremony. He turned a corner, heading swiftly for the pilot’s mess where he hoped to enjoy a game of triad and a few tumblers of ambrosia before retiring to his quarters. He passed by the entrance of the CIC; consciously slowing his pace. Sure enough Gaius heard the rhythm of sharp orderly footsteps following briskly behind him. He came to halt, folding his arms.
“Doctor?” said the polished little voice.
Gaius turned to face his assistant, gracing him with a smile.
“Lieutenant Gaeta…” he returned smoothly.
Gaeta’s eyes were brimming with expectation. The young officer always seemed to glow in Gaius’s presence. “I was just wondering what time I should swing by your lab to complete the dictation for your cylon detector report. The Commander says that he wants it finished by the end of the week.”
Gaius pursed his lips, tipping his head to one side. He was considering that if his new vocation was doing good things for others, he really should start with Gaeta.
“Are you off-duty, Lieutenant?” he asked coyly.
Gaeta’s eyes flicked to his watch. He tapped it with his finger.
“Um, well, I have to return to the bridge for the early morning watch, but…I suppose I have a few hours to spare before rack time.”
“Excellent!” Gaius trumpeted. “Those lovely people on Colonial One have treated me to a bottle of ambrosia…compensation for my ghastly ordeal. I thought I might crack it open in the mess over a hand of triads. Would you care to join me, Lieutenant? It seems only fitting since you were my preserver.”
Before Gaeta could dismiss the invitation or check his watch again, Gaius took him by the arm and marched him towards the mess hall. There they found Boomer, Racetrack and Crashdown huddling around a smoky table; counting their chips, squinting over their cards. Boomer glanced over her shoulder.
“Hey!” she smiled. “Look who’s out of the brig…”
Gaius revelled for a moment in the claps, whoops and shoulder pats that he received as he joined their table. Earlier in the day these same pilots had been scowling at him in the corridors; suspicion and distain flaring in their eyes. But Gaius saw no need to hold any grudges against them now that God was smiling on him again. He put down his cubits, uncorked his ambrosia and treated each of the little freeloaders to a shot.
“Now, now…” Gaius hushed them, taking off his jacket, “Save your applause for Mr Gaeta here. He was the one who believed in me and cleared my name when the rest of you thugs would’ve seen me flung from the nearest airlock.”
“Yeah.” Crashdown snorted a laugh. “Sorry about that, Doc.”
“To Gaeta, then…” said Boomer, raising her glass.
They clanked their cups together above the tabletop, toasting his name. If it had been him, Gaius would have taken the opportunity to make a speech, but Gaeta just nodded bashfully and gestured for them to continue with their game. He wasn’t playing a hand himself. He rarely did. Most of the time he would just take out his pocket notebook and dutifully scribble down their scores. It seemed that Gaeta enjoyed the statistics of triad far more so than its bluffs and gambles.
What a quaint and peculiar fellow, Gaius thought, shaking his head.
Gaius had to admit that before now he had found Gaeta to be an exasperating presence. Ever since he had boarded the Galactica the young officer had been a pesky shadow following him through the halls, babbling endlessly about biogenetics and cheerfully reciting their orders for the day. In the lab Gaeta was full of eagerness for a project Gaius was finding sinfully boring. He never thought he would take a liking to the lad, but now he was seeing him in a whole new light. It’s remarkable how you can warm up to someone after they save your life.
Gaius was surreptitiously topping up Gaeta’s tumbler every time he moved his hand away from the brim. The alcohol was slowly loosing him up. Gaeta’s facial muscles, which were so tight and expressionless when he was at work, became elastic and adorable after a few drinks. He began to smile easier; his eyelids grew droopy. Gaius decided he was really rather sweet. He gasped elaborately as Gaeta unfastened the collar and cuffs of his uniform.
“I hope we aren’t corrupting you, Lieutenant?” Gaius teased.
Gaius offered him a cigarette, which Gaeta fumblingly accepted and sparked up with his military issue lighter. He coughed a little after his first inhale.
“Not at all, Doctor,” Gaeta insisted. “I guess I needed a night off after all this worry over the Godfrey woman and the photograph. The report can wait till tomorrow.”
Crashdown broke wind at their table, inspiring Racetrack to punch him in the arm and Boomer to howl uproariously. Gaius rolled his eyes and ignored the pilot’s vulgar antics, leaning in closer to speak with Mr Gaeta.
“You need more than one night off, Lieutenant,” he said, waving a finger like a chiding parent. “Honestly. They work you too hard in the CIC. You’re in the prime of your youth and you must try to enjoy yourself, even on this desperate mission of ours. If you don’t, I swear that I will be fearing for your sanity. So while you’re working as my assistant you are under strict orders to have fun every once in a while, is that clear?”
Gaeta gave him a shy appreciative nod. Gaius felt his throat tightening. He was only just realising how much Gaeta reminded him of Adrian. Adrian Bauer, his old lab assistant on Caprica; one of the few people who Gaius could claim he had ever been a good friend to. Adrian was a bright lad with the misfortune of being born on the poor colony of Gemenon. Gaius had been moved by his letters and helped him to acquire his visa, sensing a kindred spirit in the young man. They had worked together for three years before the attacks. As with Gaeta, it had always been a struggle to get Adrian out of the lab and along to social gatherings. The first time Gaius had set Adrian up with a girl the sentimental fool had married her within two months. Yet in a strange way Gaius had envied him. One time he had sulked to Adrian that he would never have a family of his own. In the enduring spirit of friendship Adrian had asked Gaius to be Godfather to his first child. His family were the sweetest people that Gaius had ever known; he never would have done anything to harm them.
Gaius still visited Adrian’s photograph in the halls of remembrance. It was the only one of those pictures that Gaius didn’t feel was glaring at him and blaming him for what had happened. He was surprised how much he missed the man; his helpfulness, his wholesomeness; even his tedious efficiency. And yes, sometimes Gaius liked to believe he really was the great man who dear Adrian had admired so thoroughly.
Gaius sighed to himself, before fanning his cards on the tabletop.
“Prince high red,” he announced. “Yes, I’m terribly sorry. I just can’t help myself...”
The pilots muttered curses under their breath, throwing down their own hands while Gaeta shook his head, marvelling. Gaius quickly collected up his jacket, his bottle and his cubits, deciding not to push his luck any further...well, with the cards at least.
“Thank you for a profitable evening, as always,” Gaius smirked, pocketing his coins. “Now if you’ll excuse us, Mr Gaeta and I have some important top secret cylon detector business to discuss. Shall we, Lieutenant?”
Gaeta cast a haughty glance at the table as if he was expecting the pilots to be jealous of his confidences with the famed Doctor Gaius Baltar. Crashdown snorted and Boomer yawned while Racetrack was already reshuffling the deck. Gaius had been toying with the idea of getting Gaeta laid tonight, but he wasn’t sure that either of the girls would care for him. Besides, it had hardly escaped his notice that Gaeta only had eyes for one person at their table. Gaius had suspected for a while now that his young assistant’s interest in him went beyond friendship and scientific aspirations. It went without saying that Gaius did not return his affections in the same way, but still…he didn’t mind courting them, if only for tonight.
“Technically speaking, they’re not robots,” Gaius rambled as he and Gaeta walked the halls together. “If they were, then we could screen our cylons with the simple use of a metal detector. No, from what I can glean their race is almost entirely organic. Their brains are their control centres, their veins are their circuitry and their hearts pump blood the same as our own. I ask you, Mr Gaeta; aren’t we all organic machines? Well now, we insist the cylons are different; they are programmed killers...as if our own military aren't conditioned in their minds and bodies to perform much the same brute tasks…”
Gaius was certain there was an intelligent lecture somewhere in this rant. It was slurred by the alcohol he had consumed, but Gaeta was still hanging off his every word. He decided that he would be better off lightening the tone.
“Your friend, Dualla…she could be a cylon agent.”
Gaeta frowned, his brow creasing, not realising that he was being mocked. “Doctor, I…I’ve worked with Dee for over two years. I can’t see that…”
“It’s her eyes,” Gaius explained with a sly wink. “They’re too green. She doesn’t blink often enough.”
Gaeta exhaled, shaking his head. It seemed he was slowly falling in with Gaius’s odd sense of humour or simply allowing for his eccentricities. He came to a sudden halt in the corridor, gesturing to a large metal door.
“These are my quarters, Doctor...” he said.
“Ah…right…” Gaius returned, nodding. “I don’t suppose you would be interested in…in coming back to my room for a night cap?”
Gaius waved the unfinished bottle of ambrosia at him, temptingly. He really had no idea what he was planning to do with Lieutenant Gaeta once he got him back to his quarters. He would do good things, he expected. He was a novice to this redemption business, but his instincts and desires were steering him in this direction. Gaeta blinked in surprise and then winced, looking down at his watch again.
“I...I really must be hitting my rack, Doctor,” he insisted. “I’ve an early watch tomorrow, there’s the next jump to calculate, I really need to…”
“Yes, I understand...duty calls!” said Gaius, still nodding. “Well, I’ll just pop in for a drink in your room instead then. That’s no trouble is it, Lieutenant?”
Gaius didn’t wait for a response, but turned the wheel and pushed open the hatch. He deflated a little as he found himself in a cramped dormitory room with some dozen bunks imbedded in the walls and nothing for privacy but a set of thin black curtains. He had forgotten that the junior officers had no private berths. Two young crewmen were already sleeping in their racks, so Gaeta indicated for him to keep his voice down. Gaius politely turned his back while Gaeta slipped out of his uniform.
His eyes scanned the bunk space beside Gaeta’s locker. The bed sheets were immaculately clean and smoothed. The surrounding walls were bare of posters. The shelves just above the pillows were neatly stacked with books; tech manuals, navigation charts and study guides in Biogenetics; many of which contained Gaius’s own essays. Aside from his reading materials, there was a single framed photograph of a middle-aged couple. His parents, Gaius decided. There were no other personal affects. A copperplate tag under the bunk told Gaius the Lieutenant’s first name was Felix.
“Is there anything else, Doctor…?”
He turned to see Gaeta stripped to his vest and shorts, looking ready to turn in for the night. Out of his uniform his body was smooth and trim. The room's shadows fell into the soft angles of his face. He was handsome in a curious way. Gaius took a breath and glanced over to his left. Six was reclining on one of the empty racks, smiling lasciviously and stroking a finger over her red skirts. Evidently she was intrigued to see how far he went with this.
“Go ahead, Gaius…” she purred, fluttering her eyes. “I’d love to watch.”
Gaius shook his head, ignoring her and forcing a smile.
“I really am…very grateful to you for rerunning those security checks,” he repeated in an earnest whisper. “I owe my life and my reputation to you, Mr Gaeta. If there is anything that I could do for you in return, then…”
Gaius inclined his eyes to the bunk. Gaeta followed his stare, his face pinched with confusion. Six was giggling at them from across the room.
“Oh, you noticed my books…” said Gaeta, misreading the glance. He lowered his head, flushing with embarrassment. “Well, I guess if we were back on Caprica I might have asked you to autograph them for me...” He shuffled, awkwardly. “I suppose that…it’s fairly obvious that I…I’ve always admired your work, Doctor Baltar. It’s enough of an honour to be working alongside you. Back when I was in college I never would’ve dreamed of having such an opportunity. It…it’s the one good thing that’s happened for me.”
Gaeta raised his head, looking for a response, maybe fearing that he had said too much. Gaius swallowed. It seemed that the lieutenant’s feelings for him were mostly hero-worship mixed in with a hint of a boyish crush. His vanity had led him onto other assumptions and, well, there had been nobody else for him to seduce while Lieutenant Thrace was still confined to sickbay. Gaius quickly worked to amend his intentions.
“Come now...” he soothed. “This idolatry has to cease, Mr Gaeta. We’re colleagues as far as I’m concerned. What’s more, you are my friend. In fact, I think that today has established you’re the only true friend I have in this fleet...”
His words had started out as flattery and reassurances, but Gaius felt a wincing in his heart as he realised the truth of this last statement. Gaeta was indeed the only friend he had now; the only one who existed outside his visions and delusions. He realised that he had wanted to secure Gaeta’s friendship and his loyalty. Even whilst trying to fulfil his holy vow he was slipping into his old selfish ways. But he still wanted to do something good for Gaeta. Maybe he had already done it? Gaeta’s eyes were full of stars for him. Adrian lived again in those eyes.
“I’ll say goodnight then, Lieutenant…” Gaius concluded with a nod, patting his arm and turning towards the door. “See you again tomorrow, I expect.”