"Every people, the proverb has it, loves its own form of violence."
Clifford Geertz, "Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight"
"And what kind of games do they play where you come from?"
"Games that would amaze you. Games of life. Games of death."
Conversation between Sheba and Count Iblis, War of the Gods, part 1
Apollo lay gasping. When the final buzzer had sounded, he'd simply collapsed where he'd stood, heedless of the crowd and his fellow players.
His sympathetic teammate nudged him sharply in the ribs with a booted foot.
"You gonna live?"
Apollo glared up at him.
A second form blocked out the overhead lighting.
"Nice game, Captain," Rohr said politely in a voice vaguely reminiscent of the grinding of tectonic plates.
Apollo waved a gloved hand in the direction of the mobile continent he'd been bouncing off of for the last two centars of play. It seemed to be acknowledgement enough for Rohr, who moved off to console his teammate on their loss. Apollo tilted his head back and shook the sweat-soaked hair from his eyes to double-check the scoreboard to confirm that he and Starbuck had actually won this one. They had.
Starbuck eyed his friend with concern. This was supposed to have been an easy game for them. Civilians rarely had the hand-to-hand combat skills necessary in the early stages of a match period. The civilians in question, Brennan and Rohr -- a pair of teamsters from the Gemonese freighter -- had had other ideas. They'd devised a simple but very nearly effective strategy for winning this match -- take Apollo out of it. Starbuck was light and fast, but Apollo was their high-scoring player. If they could take out Apollo, Starbuck would have had to rely on Apollo's alternate and it was fairly common knowledge that Sgt. Cholla had been chosen less for his ability to play Triad than for his amiable acceptance of the fact that he'd very likely never have to do so in an actual game. Rohr had slammed into Apollo the instant the ball had made it's regulation second bounce on the arena floor and had pretty much stayed on top of him for the entire match, remaining barely within the limits of acceptable play. Apollo had been forced to spend more time watching his back than watching the ball and if he hadn't gotten in a final lucky shot the match might very likely have ended in a tied score.
Starbuck reached out a hand and pulled Apollo to his feet.
"You know, we've got to come up with a plan for dealing with these guys. Next time, they might get lucky," he scolded.
Apollo gave him an irritable glance. "I thought you were the one who didn't like to worry about things that might happen," he sniped.
"Not usually, no, but this is Triad," Starbuck said huffily.
"What do you think of your chances in this next match?" Adama asked casually. As he talked, he scrolled through the report on the data pad Apollo had handed him.
Apollo eyed his father warily. Adama had little interest in Triad as a rule. He didn't like the crowds and noise. Though Adama would be loathe to admit it, Apollo knew that crowds left his father feeling drained and spent; he avoided them when he could. Truth be told, Apollo didn't care much for that aspect of the matches, either, but while he was on the court the game took all his attention. It was only after the match that he really noticed anyone else was there. It was always a bit of a shock when he came out from under the spell and the great mass of sound that was the assembled crowd finally hit him.
"It's just a preliminary scrimmage. The real play won't start for another couple of sectons. Jaro and Tyr are reasonably seasoned players but not really in our league. Starbuck and I are just going to use this one to try out some new strategies," he responded.
"Good, good," Adama said absently. He glanced up at his son as he handed back the data pad. "They're Libran, you know. I've made a small wager with Sire Loran."
Apollo winced. So much for his insignificant scrimmage game.
Triad uniforms were something of an anachronism, a hold-on from more than a thousand yahrens before, when the Caprican game was first catching on among the recently reunited Colonies. They were something akin to a compromise between Caprican players and those from other Colonies. The brevity of the uniforms hadn't provided much in the way of protection, but had supplied the players with some measure of certainty that their opponents wouldn't try to solve disputes in the time-honored Caprican way -- with one of the long sharp stilettos that had once commonly graced both the uniforms of their warriors and the clothing of even the most planet-bound civilians. A player couldn't hide a weapon if there was no reasonable place to put it.
Of course, that hadn't stopped the more intrepid of the Caprican champions of the day from trying. Spilled blood had been part and parcel of Triad matches for as many generations as they could remember. They didn't see why a few off-worlders with queasy constitutions should keep them from enjoying the opportunity to collect the tracing of scars that marked a truly fine Triad player and set him off from the dilettante. If there was to be no reasonable place to hide a weapon, they had considered it a mark of Caprican honor and ingenuity to be able to find an unreasonable one.
"Give it to me, Apollo," Starbuck ordered, hand outstretched between them. He shifted slightly to cover their activity in case one of the other players milling about in the locker-room noticed them.
Apollo gave him a bland, disinterested look.
"Give you what?" he asked.
"I'm serious. Give it to me now," Starbuck hissed. "I swear to God, Apollo, if you get us disqualified..."
Apollo sighed and started the ritual protest that he knew Starbuck expected.
"You know I only carry it for luck. It belonged to my great-grandfather. He was a planetary champion--"
"And he gave it to you himself before you won your first regional meet," Starbuck recited from memory. "You've carried it in finals games ever since. Not while you've played with me, you haven't, and you're not going to this game, either. Give it to me."
Apollo sighed and, with a glance to confirm they weren't observed, slid the thin flexible sliver of clear tylenium out of it's housing in the waist band of his uniform. It was a lovely thing, incised with scroll-work along the centerline that widened to incorporate Apollo's family seal at the mid-point. Mindful of the razor-thin edge, Starbuck took it with a glare and slipped it back into its case in Apollo's duffel bag and slammed the locker door shut.
"I don't know why you keep trying," Starbuck said softly, turning back to the bench to adjust the tension on his boot. "You've never slipped it past me yet. And, in case it's escaped your notice, we haven't done too badly without it."
"That orphanage school didn't do you any favors hiring that Arian coach," Apollo complained. "You have no sense of tradition."
"At least I know the rules," Starbuck shot back. "It's almost time, we'd better get moving."
"Right behind you," Apollo said and gave the right-hand chest strap a little pat, just to reassure himself that the Triad blade his great-grandfather had actually given him, the plain one with the scratches and slightly nicked edges and missing tip, was still safely tucked away in its custom-made slot. Just for luck.
Apollo rolled to one side, gasping. He looked over at Starbuck and ran one hand along the sweaty chest. He could feel Starbuck's heart pounding.
Starbuck caught Apollo's hand in his and intertwined their fingers. He turned his head and met his lover's eyes for a micron before stretching slightly for a light kiss.
"Told you we didn't need luck," Starbuck said softly, still breathless. "Not us."
Apollo grinned at him, his usual worries parsecs away for a few centons as he rested in this rented billet. A few corridors away, their victory party was probably still in full swing, although it was doubtful that any of their guests were in a condition to wonder where the champions were. He carded a hand through Starbuck's damp hair.
"No luck at all," he agreed softly.