After the world ends, Leoben Conoy starts to make sense of it.
He isn't sure why he's been spared. None of them are, packed tight in their fragile ships and shivering to themselves when over their homemade radios Commander Adama acknowledges the senselessness, acknowledges that lingering feeling that maybe those who died were the lucky ones. Leoben sits near the radio antenna, watching the hundreds of faces around him identical with fear, and feels lucky, lucky to have been midair on his way to a tech conference, lucky to be breathing, lucky to stare out a little ship window and see hundreds of stars identical with light and think, Life here began out there. He thinks it over and over, a mantra given sudden dazzling meaning.
So he buys a copy of the Sacred Scrolls off a woman more than happy to exchange it for an extra tube of toothpaste. He reads them with a flashlight during the arbitrary nighttime cycles aboard the ship. He reads that all of this has happened before, and Leoben looks around his cramped little bunk with wry skepticism for a moment, but he's comforted. During the arbitrary days he fixes broken com-links, bumps his memory back to his university years and fixes computer glitches without upgrading or rerouting or anything that will make a single solitary network new and vulnerable. The civilian captains come to know his name, but Leoben is never called to the Galactica. The real experts are there; the unimportant work, he supposes, is left to him, and he smiles a wry skeptical smile to himself over a keyboard. Leoben reads that the gods lift up those who lift each other. Leoben reads that the gods help those who help themselves. Leoben does his work well and keeps to himself and wonders where among the comforting kernels of scripture wisdom he will find his own truth.
At his dedication ceremony as an infant on Picon, Leoben was given to the Lord Hades. He used to wonder what his parents had been thinking. Now he thinks of staggering unimaginable numbers and finds it easier to pray.
Everyone mourns in their own way. Leoben's parents were at home on Picon; he doesn't like to hear about the severity of those attacks. There is a woman who sleeps in the next bunk down, older, lovely in her own way, willowy and blonde. She hardly seems to know where she is from one moment to the next; she puts on her makeup like a ritual; and one day she is simply gone. Leoben never knows her name. He reads that all of this has happened before and all of it will happen again, and just as the first line in the Sacred Scrolls has unfolded into a galaxy of hope since the world ended, this line does too. If all of it has happened before, the first Cylon war is a lesson, and the exodus from Kobol is a lesson, and every rote recitation Leoben learned as a child has meaning. He deletes every cancelled meeting and unimportant note from the electronic stylus his mother gave him on his birthday, and he begins refilling its isolated insides with every pattern he can find in the Scrolls. The most basic tenet of faith, he writes: This is not all that we are.
Panic sweeps the fleet in waves, a breath in, a breath out, every time the Cylons attack and are evaded. It must be terrible for anyone with a weak heart. Leoben finds it soothing, adds it to his pattern: constant change, recurring terror. There is something to be said for the predictable, and human fear of the unknown is nothing if not that. Gossip sweeps the fleet in waves too: Roslin is dying, Roslin is a prophet, there is no Earth, they're going to die, they're going to be saved. Leoben listens and wishes that the sacred texts were a malleable database, something with acknowledged life, a place he could watch the cycle of history in realtime.
He dreams sometimes of a wrecked and broken world under a steel overcast sky with the steel skeletons of buildings being lapped by dead waves. He wakes and stares into the dark and thinks that even if he understands the patterns he doesn't have to like them.
An upsurge of fright: somehow it slips from the military into the public intelligence that the Cylons are able to look human, that an ordinary-looking man was a robot inside and blew his electronic innards out as an act of terrorism, that no one is safe. Leoben knows he'll be suspected at once: he's good with machines, he's quiet and odd and friendless. But no one comes for him. Riots break out, a roster for testing appears, and Leoben is left alone. When he's called, Dr. Baltar tells Leoben he's human. Leoben looks into Dr. Baltar's eyes and Dr. Baltar is missing, trapped in a different conversation, a brilliant mind turned inwards on itself under the application of pressure. Leoben chooses to believe him, and thanks him, and goes.
Terror melts into terror, one crisis dissolving into the next. Leoben fixes navigation systems and reads the Pythian Prophecy, beginning a slow memorization of the words. Political tensions play out in a parody of meaning. Leoben is called onto a ship to examine what her pilot fears may be a faulty FTL drive, and patches into the Galactica to talk his way through it with a friendly lieutenant, and feels a flash of camaraderie for the faceless voice. Rumors of Kobol filter down into the fleet. Leoben lights a candle for his parents and looks at all the smiling individual faces pressed flat to the walls, wondering if Cylon faces are among them, wondering if they'll stay in this hall when they're known. He finds he hopes so.
The day comes when one of Commander Adama's trusted officers shoots him, sliding into her programming, playing out a story. The news is received with typically poor grace, and the scrambling madness that follows before Adama's recovery barely gives Leoben time to think on it. In stolen moments, he thinks about programming and free will as mutually exclusive entities, thinks about them as being one and the same, and realizes that if every individual Cylon is built with the same core programming and released to grow and learn, the difference between it and true human is a mere question of wiring. This is a revelation worthy of any other Leoben has experienced in the Sacred Scrolls. He wants to talk with Lt. Valerii, but the decision's taken from his hands.
He wants to talk with President Roslin, but that will never be tenable, especially not with her in the Galactica's brig, especially not with her gone to Kobol, especially when on her return the pattern picks up, spiraling into new disasters. Leoben hears filtered events: Admiral Cain's cruelty, plans to attack the Cylons first, deaths upon deaths until Leoben is tempted to go straight to those in charge and demand they cycle back to sanity. He doesn't, of course; he's as caught in the patterns as everyone else.
Then they discover Lt. Thrace.
The whole fleet knows Lt. Thrace. She's saved their collective asses more times than anyone cares to count, faced down hundreds of Cylon Raiders, stalled them dangerously when now-Admiral Adama has refused to leave her behind, fetched the Arrow of Apollo for President Roslin, all of it crazy and heroic and very much in the service of the human race. But somehow, somehow, Lt. Thrace is like Lt. Valerii, a sleeper agent, caught out, and no one knows what the frak to do. It's Starbuck. She can't be a Cylon.
She is, and Leoben knows this pattern. He lies in his bunk with a dead world behind his eyes, half-drifting, feeling inevitability pulling them on with the inexorable force of a river, and he blinks his eyes open in the dark. Distrust and destruction are the driving force, yes, but pushing back against them, against the current, are the people like Laura Roslin and Kara Thrace. This is not all that we are. For a moment Leoben feels suspended, held outside the meaning he's made in a place of complete freedom, and he knows what to do.
In the arbitrary morning he catches a flight to the Galactica, and quite calmly requests to see Lt. Thrace. He's not surprised when he's told she's in the brig and can't be seen. He asks again, without defense, tells them he's weaponless, has no recording devices, simply wants to talk. One of the uniforms he's speaking with, a young man with curly hair, suddenly focuses on him. "Hey, are you Leoben Conoy?"
"Yes," Leoben agrees, in face of the evidence.
"Lt. Gaeta," the young man says, and shakes his hand. "I helped you with that FTL problem a while back. I'll see what I can do, okay?"
Leoben appreciates that the kindness of strangers persists beyond the end of the world. He squeezes Lt. Gaeta's hand in thanks and waits while strings are pulled before he's led down endless halls and given to a room partitioned by bars and monitored by a camera eye far overhead. Leoben thanks his escort and is left alone.
Kara Thrace is young and beautiful and moves like a panther, rolling over when she sees him and sitting up with insolent slowness. Leoben doesn't know how long she has to live. "And you are?" she asks.
"Leoben Conoy," Leoben says, and holds out a hand for her to shake, because a willingness to touch her has to speak louder than any number of words.
She's unimpressed. "Nice shirt," she says, and in the time between his glancing down at it and looking back up at her, she's moved from the cot to a few inches from his face. "So what'll it be?" she asks softly. "I don't think they'd let you come to kill me. They haven't killed that Sharon yet either."
"I'd heard," Leoben acknowledges.
"On the other hand, I was a bastard before I was a machine," she goes on cheerfully. "So, y'know, now they have an excuse."
He shakes his head. "I just wanted to see you," he says, and this truth cracks through her bravado into real visible emotion, a maelstrom of fear and fury. He doesn't step back from the bars. "I've wanted to see you since you found the Arrow of Apollo," he adds. "This is nothing. It changes your cells without changing your insides."
"It's something all right," Kara Thrace tells him bitterly. "It's the frakking brig." But the fury and fear have abated into determination without loathing, and she gave him none of the slantwise looks Leoben so often receives for articulating his thoughts straight from his mind without translation. "What are you gonna do, spring me?"
"That would be illegal," Leoben points out, a touch wryly, and draws a bitter little smile from her. "They won't kill you," he tells her. "You won't die before the Galactica falls, and if it comes to that there's no hope for any of us."
"It doesn't pay to sound so sure of yourself," Kara says, but she doesn't tell him he's wrong. She wraps her hands around the bars, knuckles nearly grazing Leoben's cheekbones, and leans forward a little, not quite a challenge. "How come you know so much?"
"I see the patterns," he tells her calmly, and watches her little twist of disbelieving smile. He doesn't tell her that one day she'll be here for him, that one day the Cylons will offer surrender, that one day there will be a here and they will have come from out there again. These are the tenets of his unsubstantiated faith; he knows that Kara Thrace is the sort of woman to say Whatever gets you through the day and go tearing off to Caprica for their salvation. She's built from synthetics and circuits and he can feel her breath on his face.
He presses his palm to hers before he goes, and can't read her expression.