The Thing About Starbuck


I found Starbuck today in Holy Writ. Well, Apocryphal Writ, anyway.

My father would have a fit if I said that to him. First he'd want to wash my mouth out with soap. Then he'd lecture me. And finally he'd tell me not to mention it again.

It's funny, because it's really his fault. I mean, reading through ancient texts looking for clues to Earth is not my idea of a fun way to spend time--even I'm not that dull, despite the rumors. But here I am, laid up with busted ribs and a leg even worse--lucky to be alive, Dr. Salik says--and my father decided I need occupation. And this is educational, spiritually uplifting, and potentially useful--a trifecta, in fact. He couldn't resist.

So, today I was reading The Seventh Hidden Book. Most of it is very dense, even soporific, but suddenly I hit this fifteen-chapter stretch of teaching parables, retellings of stories in the canonical Books. And I found Starbuck right smack in the middle.

And, no. I don't mean The Serpent...

My father's face when I told him what Starbuck had said, how The Serpent's the only one in that story who spoke nothing but the truth. I shouldn't laugh; it makes my ribs hurt. But our whole class suffered through an extra two centares of Religious Instruction a secton for the next semester, and I know it was over that remark, and it was pointless. So completely pointless. Starbuck has about as much faith in the Lords of Kobol as he does in... in... well, everything, just about. Meaning he doesn't take anything on faith. Anything at all. That's where his problems with the chain of command come in: you tell him he has to do what somebody says just because and you've lost him. Oh, he'll sit there and look attentive, but he told me once, a dozen yahrens ago, maybe more, "Just because I'm looking at you when you talk, don't assume I'm listening to what you're saying."

But the point is, Starbuck has the Books pretty well memorized. I think he had to learn them in the Orphanage. I know he wins bets off it. Plus, he's got the greatest collection of bad jokes based on quotes out of context. Harmless ones, like "Who's the shortest man in the Books? The jailer who slept on his watch." Or, "the best triad player--Joseh, who served in the Kobolian Courts." And dirty ones... I laugh when I hear them--they're funny--but I'm too much my father's son to ever tell them. And he can ties fundies into knots with his Book-learning... they usually walk off muttering something like "Diabolis can quote Writ for his own purposes."

Starbuck laughs.

I think The Serpent did, too. But I don't mean The Serpent. Starbuck's too essentially innocent to be The Serpent.

And he'd kill me if he heard me apply that term to him. And everybody in the Fleet would laugh their asses off--ok, there's a semi-dirty one: "Who's the most flexible man in the Books? The prophet who tied his ass to a tree and walked forty metrics...". And, yes, anybody who'd tell a joke like that... but still. It's the right word.

Oh, sure, I know. Most of the definitions of innocence pretty much let him out... "the state of not being guilty of a crime or offense", for instance. Starbuck's always guilty of some crime or offense, even if he doesn't get caught. Even if it hasn't been discovered yet. It's his way of life. "Harmlessness in intention" -- greyer, but he's totally capable of meaning somebody harm. Usually they deserve it, but that's a different thing. "A lack of experience of the world, especially when this results in a failure to recognize the harmful intentions of other people" -- I could die laughing at this one if it didn't make me want to cry. About the only thing he lacks experience of or has trouble recognizing is the good intentions of other people. "Ignorance of the serious consequences of something such as an act or remark" -- he's never ignorant of the consequences even though he generally doesn't give a damn about them. He can go all wide-eyed at the blink of an eye, feign ignorance like an award-winning actor, but he always knows... And then, of course, there's "sexual inexperience."

Sagan, laughing hurts.

But there's one more definition for innocence: "freedom from sin or evil". Now, that's Starbuck. Oh, I know, I know. I just said he was always guilty of some crime or offense. But crimes and sins aren't the same thing, not at all. Lots of things that are legal are condemned in the Books, and there are things the Books permit that the laws of many, if not most, civilized societies have made against the law. Like killing your children, for instance, even as a sacrifice. Or sealing with your sister.

And evil? Starbuck's as free of actual evil as any person I've ever known. Freer than most of them, me included. I have a darkness inside me that scares me sometimes. I can hate. I can hurt. Which is not to say that Starbuck can't kill, of course. He's a Warrior. He's killed more people... more Cylons, anyway, than he can count. But he rejoices in combat, goes headlong and gleefully... "he says among the trumpets, ha ha!, and from afar he scents the battle."

That's not it, by the way, though it describes him well.

There's no darkness in him. I think he'd disagree with me, by the way. He'd say he has his dark side. I know he's been hurt, I know the world has made him wary and untrusting. And, yes, in many ways--all of them minor, inconsequential--untrustworthy. He'll take your money and lose it in a heartbeat, leave one woman's side to sit down by another, con you out of your last drink. But he never breaks a promise, if you can get him to make one, and he'd give you the shirt off his back, and he'll never leave you in pain, and he'd die to save another life. His dark side is just where the sun isn't shining at the moment. It isn't a black hole, it doesn't devour the light.

In fact, he carries light with him. Not like a priest or preacher, not a conscious thing, not an attempt to spread goodness. He just is. Light.

And I'm not being blind, here. Sure, he's a royal pain. You want to smack him up the side of the head more often than not. He's exasperating. Annoying. Irritating. Get out your own thesaurus and make the list... they all apply. But...

Oh, but.

That's the thing about Starbuck. That "but". Everybody feels it. Even my father, whom Starbuck annoys, exasperates, irritates, and just generally drives straight up the nearest wall more than anyone else in the known universe, even my father loves him.

Starbuck makes you laugh. No matter what felgarcarb you're wading through, shoulder-deep, Starbuck can make you laugh.

Starbuck makes people happy just to see him. I swear, I've seen Tigh--the galaxy's only living heart donor--smile when Starbuck walks into the room.

It doesn't hurt that he's beautiful. And that's what he is. Not "handsome". Not "good-looking". Not "attractive"--though gods know he is that. But "beautiful". Not in an effeminate or androgynous way, no, he's male. All male. But beautiful, like a nebula or a sunset or a running equine or a snowfall. Flawless and golden and heart- and spirit-lifting. He jokes that he's "irresistible to woman, man, child, and beast". He is. Give him five centons and he'll have you eating out of his hand. The most mistrusting, worst-treated children on the Orphan's Ship adore him. Throw him in the lionets' den and they'd fawn on him, no angelic intervention necessary.

Which is not to say that he doesn't have his enemies. But to hate Starbuck you really have to be overwhelmed with darkness yourself. You know--the Darkness that hates the Light.

And it's not to say that he's not sexual. My sister, the poster girrrl for the "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" movement, went to bed with him--that's all I need to say about that. He's sensual and a hedonist and I hope you hung onto that thesaurus, though you can toss "predator" out the airlock. Starbuck never went after anybody who didn't know what they were doing--not evil, remember? Not even mean.

But that's not what I'm talking about. Starbuck is beyond, strike "beyond". Thank all the Powers That Be, he's anything but "beyond" that. What he is, though, is ... hmmm. Guess a thesaurus isn't any use if you can't even think of one word for it. He's other. He's more. He's else. He's beside, or outside. Especially the rules the rest of us live by. He's... frack, he's Starbuck.

He just makes you glad to be alive.

Especially when he's naked in your arms and that extra degree of heat is pouring out of every pore in his body, filling you with it, all the way down to that cold icy black core that keeps you so unbending, phase-shifting it (and you) from ice to a liquid that molds itself to his shape and then boiling, expanding so that you're more, so much more, than you were, and progressing to an incandescing plasma that is so filled with borrowed radiance that it can touch the light at the heart of the universe... and he's screaming your name and you are exploding into a glorious fireball with no darkness at all. That's when you know, just for a moment, precisely how unlike you he is. Exactly how great a gift he has, and is, and gives. What his Name is.

You can't hold it, of course, once you cool and shrink back to normal, back to the small, dark, cold, rigid person you are. You can't hold that knowledge any more than you can hold him. It's part of him, that no one person can hold him, even if he tries to give himself to you, even if he tries to stop being who he is. You can't and he can't and really you don't want him to. Not if you remember even a little of what you saw... There are some people out there who can't handle having seen that, but mostly, and everyone shakes their head at it, mostly Starbuck's lovers still love him. He can find a place to sleep on any ship in the fleet... and someone to sleep with, too.

That's part of it, too, part of the whole wondrous package. No matter how many others he's been with, he makes you feel like you're giving him something he's never had before.

Maybe you are. After all, don't they tell us every person is a unique child of the gods?

Which brings me back to The Seventh Hidden Book, and my theophany. It's the only right word, I think, though my father would disagree. Strenuously. Remember what I said about the soap?

It was the seventh chapter... seventh of fifteen hidden books, smack in the middle, and the seventh of fifteen chapters of teaching stories. I don't think that's coincidence. It was the story of the Cosmic Trickster; prank-player; untrustworthy; hedonistic; lazy; drunken; gambler; brave; generous... child of nature and the universe, touched by the divine... the story of a bird that stole fire out of heaven and brought it to humanity, charring its feathers black with the fiery gift. And again of an animal whose name I didn't recognize, some sort of wild and cunning daggit-like creature, who did us the same service, burning his mouth as he carried the coals. And again, a frog, bearing the precious burden on a back so damaged that never again could he live out of the cool water. And again, it was a man-like being, half-Other, who took pity on our benighted (literally) state and brought us light, and was punished for it.

See what I mean?

Our Starbuck.

Our very own annoying, exasperating, lovable and loving, brave and generous and loyal and lazy and pleasure-seeking Starbuck. Our own obscurely-origined, half-light, half-shadow, elusive, laughing, injured, incomprehensible Starbuck.

Our own Trickster.

Our own touch of the divine.

the end


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