Sam always had the feeling he was… different. When he discovered Pyramid, he thought that was the reason. Pyramid was his ticket out of foster care to college. After graduation, he went pro and was recruited in the first round to the Dionysis City Wildcats and on his way to the Intercolonial League and all the fame and fortune that went with that. Yet, it always seemed that something was missing.
For one moment, when he was on the championship team for Virgon, that niggling restlessness fell silent. But soon it came back, stronger than ever. He'd won a frakking championship and it wasn't enough. He tried to fill the void with alcohol and frakking anyone who stayed still long enough, but it all left him more hollow than before. He got traded, and suddenly, he was on the downward slope of his career, propping up the mismanaged Bucs, and still that emptiness lingered.
But then the Cylons attacked.
The instant he saw one of the Centurions, it was as if a switch flipped in his brain and he knew.
He was a Cylon. He had no idea how that could be possible, but he knew it was true, right down to his bones (and they were bones - he'd had two fractures and numerous x-rays to prove it).
But he still felt the anguish and anger of losing his home, and he could still fight and destroy the toasters. So even while he wondered who and what he really was, he fought them.
He got very good at sublimating his confusion into anger at the Cylons, and never had a qualm at killing them.
Six weeks after the attacks, Sue-Shaun and Ten-Point brought another group of refugees in to camp.
Sam held a water bottle in one hand, and started down the line to meet-and-greet. He shook hands with a woman and turned to the man next to her - he was a bit older than Sam himself, attractive though a little worn-looking with grey in his close-cropped hair, and a smile that seemed secretive.
"You're Sam Anders," he said eagerly, sticking out his hand. "C-Bucs rule! I'm glad to meet you."
"You too, mister…?" Sam said, and extended his own hand.
"Leoben Conoy," he answered.
Their hands clasped together, and Sam's heart seemed to drop into his stomach as the strangest feeling washed over him, like a breeze across his skin.
Leoben was one of them. A Cylon. Sam knew it, the same way he knew he was one. He stared into Leoben's eyes, waiting for the same spark of recognition.
But it didn't come. Instead the Cylon smiled, and he licked his lips suggestively, as if Sam were staring at him out of sexual attraction. Sam let go of his hand and stepped back.
"We're always glad to see new people, Mister Conoy. Welcome to the Resistance. Someday we'll kill all the Cylons and free our people," he said. It was a test, but Sam didn't know what to make of the answer.
Leoben didn't blink, but he wasn't exactly enthusiastic either. "I follow God's will," he said. The words were strange, but he seemed to believe what he was saying, given the fervor in his eyes. "He showed me the path to you."
Sam shuddered as he moved to the next person, resisting the urge to wipe his hand on his pants. As he spoke to the rest of them, his mouth was on automatic while his brain chewed on this new information.
A Cylon too.
He couldn't let one of the enemy stay in their hidden camp. But what if Leoben was like him, just as confused and ignorant of his true nature?
But Leoben didn't seem to know him. Did he have any answers? Was there a way to get them without exposing himself?
What was he going to do?
Sam put Joman on watching Leoben, and he waited. The Cylon seemed content doing the menial chores assigned to him and didn't seek out Sam, but Sam wondered how long it would last. The second evening when Sam sat on the steps outside for a cigarette (yet another bad habit he'd picked up -- it was odd and mysterious that smoking worked at all if he was actually some kind of machine, but it did), Leoben wandered up.
He sat on the top step next to Sam and looked out at the treeline. "You should keep moving. The Cylons will triangulate your position if you stay in one place. They're very methodical."
"Oh really?" Sam tapped the ash off. He didn't feel very methodical at all; in fact, most days he felt too emotional and wrecked if he thought about everything too much.
"They don't see the patterns, or they would know you're here already," Leoben murmured. "I see them though." He turned and cocked his head a bit to one side, regarding Sam. "Despite all your fame, you always thought you were supposed to be something more. You knew you had a destiny beyond all this." He waved his hand outward, indicating the camp and probably the Colonies altogether.
"You some kind of oracle?" Sam asked.
"This is not all that we are," Leoben murmured. "And it's not all you are."
Sam flinched and took a drag on his cigarette. "Well, I'm not going to be more here. Cylons frakked that up pretty good, didn't they?"
Leoben shook his head once. "No. You're right where you're meant to be."
Sam felt cold. Was it true? Had the Cylons put him here because he was supposed to be here? Was there some kind of plan? But how could that be? The Cylons couldn't have known the Bucs would be training up here rather than their facility outside Caprica City. No question the team would all be dead if they'd been there.
He stabbed out his cigarette. "I'm not that special," he muttered. "It was just luck."
"You don't believe that," Leoben admonished. "You believe you were saved for a purpose. And you were, Sam."
"For what?" Sam demanded, facing him. "What purpose?"
"Something glorious," Leoben answered. His eyes were shining and he seemed to believe every word. "The first time I saw you I read your pattern to the end, and I knew you would eclipse everyone else on this world. And I knew I was the one meant to show you the path."
For a moment, Sam looked into his eyes and he believed it too. He wanted to believe it - that all of this meant something good. But he knew what Leoben was, and he knew what he was.
It was all a lie.
He wasn't becoming more; he was becoming less.
He stood up, grabbing the pistol from the back of his belt and pointing it at Leoben. His thumb clicked off the safety and his hand was steady.
"You're a Cylon."
Leoben raised his eyebrows in surprise, but didn't deny it. "Does that matter?" he asked. "Everything I've said is the truth. Yes, I came to spy - I didn't expect to find you here. But now I know I have to show you your destiny."
"Why do you look human?"
"We evolved. All living things evolve. The creatures closest to God find their purpose much faster."
"You're machines," Sam retorted and his hand started to tremble. "Just godsdamned machines."
"We're alive. I have a soul," Leoben declared softly, staring at the pistol without any fear.
"You have a soul?" Sam asked, and his voice cracked. Gods, he wanted to believe that…
Leoben frowned at him. "I have a soul, Sam Anders, and I swim in the stream just like you. But unlike you, I know where the stream will take me. Kill this body, and my soul will be reborn in a new one."
Sam blinked away the confusion. He needed information, not mystical crap. "How many human-looking Cylons are there?"
"Twelve models there were, and Seven remain of the children of God." He paused and when Sam couldn't speak, he held out his hand. "I can show you the path, Sam. I sense your closeness to God. Our destinies are entwined."
Sam shook his head and stepped down to the ground, away, keeping the gun trained on Leoben. "No. You're just frakking with my head."
"Don't fear your destiny." Leoben stood up, and since he was still on the step, his eyes were level with Sam's. "There's no reason to be afraid."
"Shut up! You're a spy!"
"I can choose, and I choose you. You need me, if you're to do what you're meant to do."
"I'm not going to listen to you!" Sam pulled the trigger and Leoben fell backward, sprawled across the steps with blood blooming red on his shirt.
Leoben didn't look surprised. Instead his lips twitched into a faint smile and he whispered, "I'll see you again."
Sam lowered the gun and stared at the corpse. His own blood seemed like ice, not moving in his veins, and his head was pounding. Leoben looked dead; if he had a soul, it wasn't in his body anymore.
The door slammed open and Sue-Shaun rushed out, gun ready. "Sam! Are you --?" She nearly fell, realizing at the last second that there was a body sprawled across the steps, and her eyes flew up to his. "Sam? What the hell?"
"He was a Cylon," Sam answered tonelessly. "They look like us now."
And he almost said aloud, "They look like me. " Somehow that was very funny and he started to laugh, and he laughed long after Sue-Shaun's tentative smile had faded into concern.
He sobered abruptly. "He said he's going to resurrect somehow. We have to move before he can tell them where we are."
Stepping around the body, being careful not to touch it, he brushed past Sue-Shaun and went back inside to do his job and forget about lying, frakking Cylons.
But deep inside somewhere, he did the math.
There are five missing. Five he didn't know. That's what I am.
He grabbed onto that knowledge and held tight.
Kara wasn't one of them. He knew that before he touched her -- he knew it looking into her bright eyes when they were holding guns on each other.
When he was with her, all the questions and fear inside him went away. She was so enthusiastic, so physical, so unlike anyone he'd ever known, he couldn't get enough.
For the first time, he was tempted to tell someone the truth, but he knew she wouldn't understand. How could she? He didn't understand it himself.
But he'd grown skilled at ignoring the truth until sometimes he realized that days had gone by without thinking about it at all. He continued leading the resistance and killing Cylons without a twinge. He might be one of them by blood, but he was raised human. He remembered how Leoben had said he could choose, and so could Sam. Sam chose humanity.
A few days later, Kara had been taken, and in the middle of it, he found he wasn't the only Cylon to choose humans when one of the black-haired women Cylons found them and volunteered to help.
The truth of what she was breathed across his skin, and he didn't need to touch her to know. As before, she didn't recognize him. He wondered at that, why she didn't feel him the same way he could feel her.
After Kara was rescued and with Agathon, he wandered over to Sharon who was standing by the truck, alone. She looked a bit surprised that anyone would approach her.
"I have a question," he said. "We had a Cylon in camp before. He mentioned something about being reborn in a new body. What did he mean?"
She took a moment to answer, then faced him. "Our consciousness can be downloaded into a new body if this one dies. We carry our memories from one to the next."
He frowned. "So, you -- your thoughts and feelings, who you are -- don't die." He thought back to Leoben claiming he had a soul, and felt sick, because an immortal brain wasn't the same thing as a soul.
She nodded. "Right. Death is a learning experience."
He swallowed back the anger, but not the bitterness. "That's not true for humans. When humans die, they're dead, and their souls go on to the gods."
Her gaze, unsettling and dark, flipped up to his. "You don't sound like you believe in the gods."
"No," he answered and turned away. "The Lords of Kobol wouldn't have let this happen if they were real."
Her silence was answer enough.
He rubbed his arms as the breeze turned cold, even though he stood in the sun. "He also said there used to be twelve of you, but now seven remain. What happened to the other five?"
"The Final Five," she answered and seemed to be clenching her jaw. "We don't speak of them."
"We're programmed not to."
"You must know something. What do you know of them?" he pressed.
She gasped. "They're different." Then abruptly her eyes went glassy and she said through her teeth, "Not like us."
Then she shook her head and inhaled a deep unsteady breath. "That's all," she said and there was an unsettling note of plea in her voice. "It's hard."
"It's all right," he told her automatically, though it wasn't. Not at all.
They had been programmed not to think of the Five? It had to have something to do with how she couldn't recognize him as one of her own kind. But why? Who had done it and to what end?
Always questions and no answers.
When the chance came to go with Kara and take the Arrow to the fleet, something inside him seemed to be pushing for him to leave with her. But he didn't trust the feeling, so he shook his head and smiled, sliding his thumb across her cheek and her lips. "I won't leave my team. But you have to go. "
Kara opened her mouth to protest but then nodded. "I'll come back for you."
When he closed his hand around her dog tag, he thought it should burn him for being unworthy of the gift. But it felt like metal warm from her skin, and he held it as he watched her and Helo and his only example of what it meant to be a Cylon and friend of humanity take off into the sky.
If he died, would he resurrect too?
The question preyed on his mind in the quiet times: when he was cleaning his guns, when he was eating, when he was drinking… not when he was shooting toasters.
He was a Cylon; he knew that much. Cylons resurrected, according to both Sharon and Leoben. Therefore, he should.
Somewhere around there, each time he was on that mental treadmill, he would remember Sharon's voice saying the Five were different. Maybe he wouldn't resurrect if he died. Maybe death was as permanent for him as it was a human.
But… He knew his history - he remembered being a child. There were photos and videos and people who knew him back at least twenty years. Hilliard had played against him in the Intercolonial High School Tournament -- he still teased Sam that Picon had paid off the refs. That couldn't be fake.
Sometimes he wondered if his belief in his 'Cylon nature' was the delusion. He'd met people who had cracked, even a few so far gone in their grief and denial they'd become more dangerous than Cylons. Maybe this was his personal brand of not-dealing or punishing himself for surviving.
He didn't know, and in the end, what difference was it going to make? He was trapped on a Cylon-occupied world, fighting against an enemy that didn't recognize him and wouldn't stay dead. The outcome was inevitable.
So he killed them and waited to die. He'd find out the truth soon enough. At the rate the Cylons were cutting down the Resistance, he wasn't going to make it to the new year. His luck would only hold out so long.
When the explosion ripped through the garage, he expected either to not wake up at all or wake up shiny and resurrected. But instead he woke up choking on dust and dirt, with what felt like half the building on his chest. Worse, he knew he was near Cylons. His skin prickled with their presence so strongly it was hard to concentrate.
He wanted to stay quiet so they wouldn't know he was there, but he couldn't hold back the coughing or pained groan as the heavy block on top of him shifted.
"We'll get you out, hold on!" a chipper female voice called to him.
They took off the debris and pulled him out - an Eight and a Three. Strange, he looked at the Eight and even though she was identical, he knew she wasn't the Sharon he'd met before. "Thanks," he gasped out and curled over, hacking up concrete powder that felt like a paste coating his lungs.
Bending probably saved him from unconsciousness, when the Three kicked him in the head.
Blinding pain shot through him - everything went black shot through with sparks. He fell back again, and couldn't move even when he felt one of them wrench his gun free of his thigh holster.
Opening his eyes allowed the light to stab through his brain and his stomach heaved, but he pushed that away, seeing the Three had leveled his own pistol at him. "Frakking human. You know he set that explosion."
Another time, that might've been funny that she was calling him a human, but not when he was staring at the possibility of mortality at the wrong end of his own gun.
"Him? Why? There's no military value to that café," the Eight asked in evident confusion. She sounded like such a child, stuck in a war zone she didn't understand.
"Humans don't respect life like we do," Three added with complacent satisfaction, and he stared, stunned into momentary silence by the egregious claim, before bursting out in incredulous fury, heedless of pain or threat:
"Is that how you live with yourself? Pretend the twenty billion people you murdered didn't exist? At least I acknowledge I'm killing people. And you people come back, humans don't. So how can you even think the words 'respect life'? You don't. So go ahead, murder me too. Prove me right," he challenged hoarsely, lifting his head up and glaring straight at her.
Three gave a little shrug and smile that she didn't care, but the Eight grabbed the gun and the two struggled with it. "No, I won't let you kill him."
"Don't kill him," another feminine voice said, the sound rough, and he saw a Six sitting against a chunk of wall. Her gaze slid to the side vaguely, as though hearing something he couldn't. She had a wound on her head and blood on her pants leg, too. She didn't look well at all.
"Why not?" the Three demanded.
The Six turned her head back to the other Cylons and seemed at a loss for a moment. "We can interrogate him for his accomplices. He's no threat to us."
The Three seemed to buy that excuse and, after pulling the gun from the Eight, she leaned down, aiming it at him as if daring him to move. "That's a Colonial fleet i.d. tag." She ripped Kara's dog tag from him and moved back to the other Cylons to look at it. "Thrace, Kara. Is that your name?" she asked, with a taunting smile, knowing damn well it was a woman's name.
"Starbuck?" the Eight asked, sounding startled. He was surprised, too. How did she know Kara?
The Three swung the tag back and forth and he watched it, fingers itching to grab it back. She grinned, knowing he couldn't reach it. "She was on Caprica a couple of weeks ago, and escaped with the help of another Sharon."
The Eight looked from the tag to Sam and back. "If she gave him that, he means something to her."
"You have no idea," he muttered. Slowly he pushed himself upright and felt the side of his head gingerly. At least he didn't seem to be bleeding, even if it throbbed like a jackhammer in his skull. Kara's tag blurred in his vision and he blinked furiously to clear it, waiting for his chance. If he could pluck a pyramid ball out of the air for a steal, he could take his tag back.
Three snorted disdainfully. "How sweet." And she tossed it behind her like it was trash.
The dog tag fell near the Six, who picked it up and stared at it in her hand, looking strangely sad.
The Three sat down on a fallen piece of masonry and held up the gun, turning it about in the dim light. She purred at him, "Where are your accomplices? Your resistance base?"
"Frak you." He didn't want to confront her from the ground, so despite the ache in his whole body, he pushed himself to his feet. Fighting not to show the resulting dizziness, he leaned against the back end of a car. It had a "C Bucs Rule" sticker on it, and he hoped that was a good sign.
The Eight broke in asking, "Did you mean it when you said you know you're killing people? You believe we're people? So why would you kill people just talking in a café?"
He wanted to shake his head at her, but settled for saying, "My account manager's office was on the third floor of this building. But he's not around to get coffee anymore. That's why."
"Vengeance," the Three sneered. "That's all you want."
"Is that any different from you?" he retorted. "Isn't that why you're back? To avenge your loss of the first war? You didn't try to come back in peace. Instead you took it back with death and murder and blood. You don't deserve my planets."
The Six flinched and her lips parted as if he'd struck her. Well, he hoped he had. Gods knew if even one of them felt a little bad about what they'd done, he could die feeling he'd accomplished something.
"Oh really?" There was something dangerous in the Three's expression that sent a chill down his back. "Do you?"
She tossed the gun in the dirt halfway between them.
"What are you doing?" the Eight asked.
"Seeing what his words are worth. Come on," she taunted him, "take your vengeance. We're all unarmed. You can kill us and be out of here before the others come."
His lip curled in disgust. Human lives were really just a game to her. He narrowed his eyes. He'd played a lot of games, and this one might be higher stakes than most, but he wasn't an average player. The gun was too far and his balance too chancy, but she didn't have it anymore either. He could wait.
"Leave him alone," the Eight told the Three wearily, sounding sick of it also.
The Three sneered, without turning to look at her, "You think you're human, but you're not, and you never will be, Sharon. You're a broken machine, nothing more."
The name caught him by surprise. Did all the Eights go by the name of Sharon?
"At least I'm not a murderer," Sharon retorted. "I know right from wrong."
"You are a murderer," Three told her, and Sharon shut her eyes and turned away, looking distressed.
The ceiling groaned and he could suddenly hear more distant sounds of machinery. "They're almost here. What's it going to be, human?" Three asked.
With a strange urgency, the Six blurted, "We're dangerous. Sharon and I, we're celebrities in a culture based on unity."
Three and Sharon turned to look at her, frowning in confusion. He glanced at the gun, but Three was still too close.
But then the Six spoke some more and he forgot about the gun, listening and marveling at what she was revealing. "Our voices count. More than hers. More than others'. We're two heroes of the Cylon, right? Two heroes with different perspectives on the war. Perspectives based by our love of two human beings."
The Three laughed, sneering at her, "No, you're corrupted."
The Six ignored her, to focus on Sharon. "Jealousy, murder, vengeance-- they're all sins in the eyes of god. That's what you and I know. That's what they don't want to hear."
The ceiling groaned again and a shower of dirt and rocks came down. Three sprang up from her seat and toward the Six, to avoid another rock fall. Sam felt the car at his back shift and threw himself forward, as something behind him gave way and there was a roar of tumbling concrete.
When it stopped and he seemed all right, he got up to one knee and turned, looking for the Cylons.
Three was there, holding his gun on him again. "God loves me," she said and in her eyes, he read his death.
She never saw the Six come up behind her with a chunk of concrete and smash it on the Three's head. She went down, falling next to Sam, eyes open and staring.
Trying to breathe caught something in his chest, and he bent to cough again, holding his chest at the sudden pain in his ribs.
When he was done, Sharon was holding out her hand to help him up. Without hesitation, he accepted her hand and scrambled to his feet.
Six stood next to her, bloodied and limping. "You should get out while you can," she told him and held out Kara's tag. "Here."
As his hand closed around it, he wondered at this moment - Cylons helping him even though they thought he was human. "Thank you," he said. Then he licked his lips and offered, "I don't want this. I don't want to kill Cylons. I'm so tired of death …" He glanced down at Kara's tag, and the promise of something else that it represented, and murmured, "I wish there was another way. Something else than all of us drowning in our own hate and vengeance."
"Do you mean that?" the Six asked, astonished.
"Sure," he shrugged. How many Cylons had he killed? Dozens, hundreds maybe, but all he felt was a sense of weariness at the inevitability of defeat. He would fight them and he would die. "But it doesn't change anything."
Sharon and the Six looked at each other for a long moment. "Maybe that's not true," the Six murmured.
"Something needs to change," Sharon agreed. "We know the slaughter of humanity was a mistake. If we could get the others to see it too…"
The Six nodded slowly. She glanced away again, and in the dim light her hair shone like a halo. She smiled and his heart caught at how beautiful she was. "We need a new way to live in God's love. Our people need someone to show them the way. Someone like two heroes of the Cylon."
Sharon smiled back. "I'm with you," she declared.
They clasped hands, and something opened inside him, as if he had a glimpse of the future and he knew they were on the right path. Feeling strangely proud, he wished them, "Good luck."
"You, too," Sharon told him and offered him the gun, butt-first. He took it and kept it carefully pointed away from them. The ceiling made ominous grinding noises and he heard Centurions, so rescue was getting close. He turned and picked his way through the debris to where a draft was coming from a hollow area beneath a beam and a slanted chunk of broken concrete. Hopefully the fresh air showed a way out. It was better to try, than stay.
"Wait!" the Six said, and he turned back at the opening. "I just realized -- you're Sam Anders of the C-Bucs, aren't you?"
He nodded. "Yeah." He glanced at the car, and saw the back end had been entirely crushed by the last collapse and the bumper sticker was gone. "It feels like a million years ago." He turned back to the two Cylons and said, "You're doing the right thing. Don't give up."
As bright light from above suddenly filled the cavern, he ducked under the fallen beam and hurried out.
He came back from a scavenging mission to find a religious brother in camp. The man was sitting on a log, facing away from Sam, so Sam couldn't tell what denomination he served, but the brown coat and hat were distinctive.
Not that it mattered, because Sam knew instantly he was a Cylon. From across the field his body hummed with the knowledge.
This was the last of the seven that Sam had to identify. And this time, he felt danger. His heart beat faster and his palms sweated, even as he raised his gun and shot the Cylon in the back of the head.
"Sam!" Barolay exclaimed and stood up, reaching for her gun belatedly and then letting go. "What - ?"
"He was a Cylon." Sam nudged the fallen body over with his foot. There was enough of the face to see that he looked old. Strange. Perhaps he was meant to look grandfatherly and harmless.
But he hadn't been harmless, and somehow Sam had known that.
Looking at the empty eyes seemed to pull his own gaze to follow up to the sky.
The light was still orange, but the sky was blue again and stretched out high above, dividing the land from space. Kara was up there, somewhere.
His gaze dropped to search out each of his new team in turn. He spoke, mouth giving shape to something unexpected, "Our time here is almost over. We have to be ready."
Ten-Point frowned at him and the others looked curious, but only Hilliard, as the one who'd known him the longest, could ask, "Sam? Are you… okay?"
"Yeah, I am." That was a lie. He felt constricted, as if his skin was stretched too tight. Something strained to escape and he clenched his fists and tightened his stomach to hold it in. "But I -- look, I just know, okay? We're about to leave this rock. I don't know why I know this, or why it just hit me, but it did. So don't die and you'll make it out of here, okay? "
He stalked away, rubbing at his face and raking his hands through his hair, trying to scrub it out of his head. But the feeling remained, some new awareness pushing up through his body.
He went for a run, but that seemed to make it worse, like a balloon beneath his skin and a whisper he couldn't quite catch. Drowning it in alcohol muffled it somewhat.
Barolay dropped next to him where he sat alone in moody silence, staring into the little fire he'd built under the trees away from everyone else. She was the only one to approach him all evening. "Hey. What's going on?"
He stared at the flames and shook his head. "I … It's still there. It's like someone… calling me. A voice but it's inside, pushing at me, and I … " he trailed off, and she let the silence fall between them.
One heartbeat. Another.
"I can feel something's happening." He added softly, "It scares me." He knocked back another swallow of the cheapest liquor in the place and shut his eyes.
He was a Cylon, not human. So how could a machine know things like that? How could he be feeling these things, like he was trapped in a tight cocoon and trying to wriggle free?
Treacherously, his mind recalled Leoben and the promise of a glorious destiny. Complete bullshit. And yet… What if it wasn't?
Jean pulled up her knees and stared off into the forest for a few moments, before murmuring, "My grandmother was an oracle. It came on her late in life, after she'd had my father and uncle. I used to think she was a fraud, but I remember that last time…. She knew there was something coming. Something horrible. She took chamalla to try to find out what it was. She collapsed, screaming that 'they were coming home'. Over and over again. And then she died. The doctor said it was an overdose, but I think she was terrified."
He absorbed the words and then turned to her, a bit incredulous. "Is that supposed to help?"
She blushed and ducked her head, but said, chuckling, "Sorry. I just meant, you're not alone in this."
"I'm not an oracle," he said. "I don't think that's possible."
"You could have oracles in your family. You don't know much about them," she said, not knowing how right she was. "But one thing I know from Gram-- if you fight the visions, they fight back. They want to come out."
He scrubbed his fingers through his hair and pressed on his skull, hoping she was wrong and he could keep them in, but fearing she was right. "Gods, what's happening to me?"
"Priests always say in times of trial we find our own strengths," she murmured and patted his shoulder. "You lost yourself for awhile, Anders. Now, maybe you're finding out who you really are. "
He laughed once, bitterness like bile. He knew more than enough, but there was more to come, and worse. That much he knew.
Kara was late and the Centurions found them first.
Sam didn't realize they were found until the frakking shell fell right where Ten-Point and Joman were standing. One moment, they'd been laughing about nothing, getting their cereal from the pot, and the next there was an explosion and they were gone.
"TOASTERS!" he yelled and dove for the vague cover of a low cement wall, just as one of the cabins blew up, spraying shrapnel all over the frakking base. He returned fire, toward the metallic glints approaching from the east, through the trees.
Phanes was the next to get hit, from the wrong angle. "They're in the west!" he shouted. "Toasters!"
The warning wasn't enough when Tolliver went down, and Verdugo knelt to try to tend him and she got hit too, riddled with Centurion bullets.
They were getting surrounded. Sitting ducks, and the toasters everywhere.
He watched his resistance crumble like brown leaves that had hung on through autumn, but now winter had come to pull them to the ground.
Over and over again, as he fired his guns and reloaded automatically, the merciless thought beat at him -- he hadn't seen this. And by telling them rescue was coming, they'd gotten careless.
Now they were paying for his mistake.
"Anders!" Barolay shouted, breaking through the numb horror. She was holding a grenade.
He grabbed both of his and they threw together, trying to open a hole for the survivors to escape. Twenty years of Pyramid let them put the grenades exactly where they needed to, and he felt a surge of vicious satisfaction as the Centurions blew apart.
"Everybody! MOVE!" he yelled.
The survivors ran through the opening and into the forest.
They ran and ran until Yenmere gasped that he had to stop. Sam whirled around to check behind, and since they seemed clear for the moment, nodded. His heart was hammering too fast, and he couldn't draw a deep breath or let go of his gun, so his fingers were cramping on the trigger.
He counted how many had made it out. Barolay stood next to him, warily scanning their back trail for signs of pursuit. Gripkey. Hilliard. Yenmere. Iolanth. And himself. Only four of them were C-Bucs. On the day of the attacks the roster had been twenty-five, counting the coaches and trainers.
He wanted to swear, but nothing seemed strong enough.
"Anders?" Barolay asked. "Do we have a ride to catch or not? Because I want to get out of this hell hole."
Inhaling a deep breath felt like the air scraping his lungs, and when he tried to find that knowledge from last night, he couldn't find anything. "I hope so," he answered. "This way."
He took point again, jogging at a more sustainable speed and hoping he was right. Gods, let them reach some defensible ground, find a crate of ammo, or frak, maybe the Gods would just lean down and wipe all the Cylons off the Colonies, if he was going to ask for impossible things.
Ten minutes later, he stopped and threw up a hand for the others to get down as the feeling of 'Cylon' skittered across his skin. They weren't alone in the forest anymore.
A familiar voice called from the brush ahead, "You got a Samuel T. Anders there?" It was Agathon, Sam was pretty sure. Hopefully that meant he was feeling Sharon. He shut his eyes, as the rush of relief went through him. Kara had kept her promise.
Sam exchanged a glance at Hilliard, who shouted, "You got a Kara Thrace there?"
Sam called, "If you do, tell her she's late!"
Only seconds later, he had his arms around her and even though she had on some kind of body armor and a helmet, so it felt like he was hugging a statue, he just held her tighter. For the first time since she'd left, he felt that maybe everything was going to be okay after all. He wanted to breathe in her light, take it deep into the darkened, bruised parts of his soul. "Kara…"
When they parted, not letting go of each other, she looked behind him. "We should go get the rest of your people."
He shook his head once. "There aren't any others."
"Six?" she looked horrified. "That's all?"
He glanced away, into the forest. "Toasters found the camp this morning. I had twenty-seven last night. We're all that's left."
Her fingers tightened on his. "Oh gods, Sam…"
Hilliard broke in sharply, "And we've still got toasters on our ass. So if we could move this along?"
Sam pulled free of Kara and took a deep breath. "Yeah, let's get the hell off this rock." Karl and Sharon were standing together, and he frowned, wondering what had happened. She seemed different somehow.
He opened his mouth to greet her when suddenly her head swung upward and she shouted, "Incoming!"
The toasters had found them.
Holed up for a day in the broken walls of a fortress from the very early days of colonization, the silence started to get to him. Why weren't the Cylons moving on them? There was no reason not to … it wasn't like the Cylons had to worry about 'acceptable losses'. They could just throw Centurions at them all night long. If they wanted the Resistance alive, as Sharon suggested, they could use gas. Instead there was nothing, and it was making him anxious and restless.
Next to him, Kara agreed, "We need to recon and see what the frak they're up to."
"I'll go," he started to crawl away, but she put her hand on his belt, and tugged him back.
"Stay put," she ordered. "I didn't come all the way back for you to get your ass shot off because you're bored. Sergeant!"
The marine sergeant moved to her side to listen to the orders, and Sam watched. He hadn't really seen the military officer side of her before. He had to admit it was … attractive.
The marines crawled off into the forest, and Kara's gaze pinned him, noticing he was looking at her. "What?"
He bent closer and murmured, "You're hot when you're being all captain-y."
Not far away, Helo heard him and snorted. Kara smacked his shoulder with the back of her hand, but looked pleased, even as she told him, "Mind on business, Anders."
"It is," he promised and let his fingers slide back from her knee, teasing, before lifting them away.
Ten minutes later, the sergeant was back. "Captain. They're gone. We couldn't find toasters anywhere. I've sent the squad to widen the perimeter but they've definitely moved back from their previous positions."
Not quite believing it, Sam bounded to his feet and looked. For the first time he tried to actively use that sense, concentrating on Sharon and the feeling her presence left on him and trying to widen it out. But he had never been able to feel Centurions, anyway, and if there were other human-forms out there, he couldn't tell.
"Hey, pyramid-boy," Kara nudged him with her elbow, not gently, "you ready to get the hell out of here?"
He blinked and realized the rest of the group was on their feet, waiting for him. "Frak, yeah. I hate this place."
He joined Kara's Raptor, with Sharon and Helo, but felt incomplete when the door shut and he realized the rest of his people weren't aboard. Barolay, Gripkey and Hilliard especially -- it made him a little nervous they weren't there, like he'd lost them, too.
Sitting behind Kara, he watched as she spooled up the engines and Helo sat in the back, reporting, "Dradis is clear."
The Raptor lifted off the ground, and the other Raptors reported they were in the air.
"Still no toaster action," Kara muttered. "Where the frak are they?"
Helo added, "No baseships in range. That's weird, isn't it? They've got to know we're here by now."
"Swing closer to the Delphi landing port," Sam suggested.
She made a thoughtful noise and then decided, "All right, let's take a look. SAR squad, Starbuck, follow on me."
The Raptor turned and headed toward the valley. "No Heavy Raiders at the port," she reported. "No Raiders coming after us… Where did they go?" She turned around in her chair to look toward Sharon. Sharon shrugged - not seeming very interested in why the Cylons had apparently bugged out from the Colonies.
But Sam wondered … the Six and Eight in the basement. Maybe they had done this?
The Raptors cruised above Caprica and jumped to recon the other Colonies. They found a handful more humans and took them on board, but not a Cylon anywhere.
Picon had long since stopped being his home, but a sharp, painful nostalgia lodged in his heart when he saw it. He still remembered it, as far back as elementary school, the avalanche that wiped out Carathon Valley when he was thirteen, going to foster care… and he didn't know how much was true and how much was a lie.
He was glad the Raptor jumped away.
Stepping off the ramp and onto the floor of the Galactica, he gaped like the stupidest backwater mouse, until he realized what he was doing. He shut his mouth, reminding himself he used to play in the Coliseum every week and he was no stranger to big places. Even if this one seemed bigger and noisier than the Coliseum at game time. The dwindling roar of the Raptor engines, the excited talk, an old familiar song playing off in the distance… it all made such a din, it was hard to concentrate.
Kara grabbed his elbow and pulled him right up to two older men, clearly the ones in charge. She grinned. "Am I good or what?"
She introduced him to Admiral Adama and Colonel Tigh, and he answered the admiral with the expected cockiness, trying not to lay it on too thick.
When she reported the Cylons gone from the Colonies, Adama frowned deeply, and Sam added, "It's true. They've left."
"Where did they go?" Tigh wondered, but nobody could answer.
Sharon and Helo appeared at the top of the ramp, and Adama moved to greet them. "Lieutenant, Sharon. You did it."
She nodded briefly, her gaze somewhere else.
Adama seemed to soften for a moment, and told her, "Thank you." She didn't acknowledge it. He nodded to Helo. "Take her back to her cell. Leave off the restraints."
"Sir. Thank you, sir." Helo put an arm around her shoulders, and, surrounded by four marines, they left the deck.
Adama turned back to Kara. "How many did you rescue?"
Her eyes flickered to Sam. "Twelve, sir."
He caught the surprise on Adama's face, and had to agree. "Hardly seems worth it, does it?" Sam asked bitterly. "Yesterday they took out all but five of my team, and today they leave."
Adama didn't answer right away, and his wise eyes seemed to see far deeper than Sam wanted them to. "It turns out that Racetrack and Skulls made a significant find when they missed the first jump: a habitable planet. We may have found a place to settle."
Kara stared at him and repeated blankly, "Settle? To colonize? But sir, that's … We don't even know where the Cylons are."
"It's not my choice, either, captain, but it's an issue for the election. Baltar has decided to back the idea of settlement, and it seems popular."
Sam had been listening, trying to figure out what was going on, and the name caught his attention. "Baltar? Gaius Baltar?"
"You know him?" Kara asked.
He shrugged. "Met him. We were in the same photo shoot two years ago. I'm … surprised he's alive."
Considering Baltar had barely managed to tear himself away from the girls they were posing with long enough to shake his hand, Sam wondered that he'd kept himself zipped long enough to survive the attacks, not to mention campaign.
Kara snorted, "He makes a way, somehow."
"He does," Adama agreed steadily. "Make your way to quarters, Captain. We'll find a place for your crew too, Mister Anders. Welcome aboard."
Sam lingered until he could talk to the last five of his team and made sure someone came to take them to a place to sleep. After, he followed Kara, instantly lost in metal corridors that all looked alike.
Glancing up, she laughed at him. "You'll get used to it. C'mon, Sammy, I'll show you where I live and the showers. Because, man, do you need it." She wrinkled her nose.
"Sure, Captain Miss Smells-Like-Flowers," he retorted.
"Race you!" She sprang away like a deer, sprinting down the corridor, and he ran after. Every step he took seemed to take him farther and farther away from Caprica, shedding all the weight he'd been carrying, until he was laughing.
Sam cast his "Hell no to Gaius Baltar" vote on Galactica. He didn't know Roslin at all, but he for damn sure didn't want anyone as vapid as Baltar as president.
Then he and Kara settled into the rack room at the table with a bottle of ambrosia to listen to the broadcast of the election results.
As he'd settled into this new life on board and paid attention to the election, he'd become sure that settlement was the wrong choice. That gave him a constant low level of anxiety whenever he thought about the election, and that anxiety was now growing, as the fate of the fleet was being decided.
His foot twitched rapidly, as the results kept coming in, and Roslin and Baltar kept switching off the lead, but staying close.
Kara poured him a refill and shoved it across the table. "Here. The Fleet can't be so stupid as elect Baltar. They can't."
"Fifty thousand people used to fill their stadium when we'd play frakking Aerilon," he muttered, and his fingers turned the full shot glass on the table. The light splintered through the glass into little rainbows that went round and round. "That's fifty thousand people stupid enough to show up to watch us kick their ass over and over again."
She snorted, but it wasn't like she could argue. "Drink. And stop bouncing your knee before I stop it for you."
The announcer gave new results and Baltar moved into the lead. Sam lifted the shot and downed it, wishing he'd found cigarettes somewhere. Alcohol didn't seem to be helping.
By concentrating on not moving his leg, he didn't, but it was like an itch - he wanted to move it so badly.
Kara snatched the glass out of his hand and slammed it down out of his reach. "Cut it out."
He hadn't realized he was tapping the glass until she took it away. "Sorry."
He moved out of the chair, blowing out a long breath slowly to rid himself of the tension gripping his body. He'd never had pre-game jitters like this, and there was no reason to be so anxious about a stupid election when he'd just survived the end of the frakking worlds.
Going through his stretching routine gave him a way to move that would hopefully annoy Kara less, while he listened to the announcer McManus yammer on about nothing as everyone waited for more of the results.
He caught an appreciative gleam in Kara's eyes as she watched him. Playing to her salacious looks distracted him until McManus got another result that seemed to stun him:
"… That's 8,593 for Roslin… that puts her over the top…. She has retained the presidency…"
Sam let out another breath of relief, as the tension evaporated, leaving him feeling weak. "Thank the gods."
"Told you so," Kara said and poured him another shot. "To Laura Roslin, President of the Colonies."
He sat next to her again, and they clinked their glasses together before drinking,
But twenty minutes later, in the middle of kissing her, he pulled back at the surprising sound of McManus' voice on the speaker again.
"In a stunning turn of events, a recount has caught a tabulating error of over five thousand votes wrongly attributed to Laura Roslin. These votes should have been counted for Gaius Baltar. Which means… Gaius Baltar has won the presidency."
"No. That can't be right," he said, as that awful, sickening feeling tightened up in his gut and clutched cold hands around his heart again. He slid away from Kara and stood up, looking away as if he could peer through all the bulkheads to where the counting was going on. "No. Not Baltar. Not settlement. Not New Caprica."
Somewhere behind him, she sighed, "Baltar can't lead his way out of a sack, but maybe the planet won't be so bad. I saw the specs - the planet's cooler than Caprica, but liveable. And fresh air would be nice."
"It's wrong," he murmured.
"Yeah, probably. But we're stuck with it. I've heard a whole bunch of the pilots are going to resign and go down. What if we went, too?" she asked. "Get our own place where we can do whatever we want, when we want…"
She trailed off, and he retained enough awareness to realize she'd just offered something very important to her, and he had to be careful. So he bit his lip to stop the first instinctive rejection of what she was saying to frame his words, "That sounds nice." He turned and forced a smile. "I'd like that. But not here. Not this place. Not now."
Kara looked up at him, frowning. "It's not like there're a whole lot of options." She flashed a grin, trying to cajole him into a better mood. "Just think, we can be like the original colonists. We can make our own future."
But the more she said the more he knew it couldn't happen. He shook his head frantically. "No, no, you can't go down there to live. We need to make Baltar see that settlement is wrong… This can't happen."
Kara eyed him and demanded impatiently, "What's wrong with you?"
"I -- " He tried to forcibly calm himself, deep breathing, knowing she'd never believe him if he came off like a crazy person. He returned to his chair, and explained, "Back on Caprica, while you were away, I got this … premonition. Well, a couple of them, but I knew you were coming back the day before you came. I knew. And I have the same feeling now. I know if people settle this mud ball, it's going to go terribly wrong. We need to find Earth. Earth is where we need to go, not this hole."
He found his hands clenched so tightly his nails were cutting into his palms and his chest was heaving for breath, as if he'd been running.
And still it thrummed through his body - all wrong, don't do it, don't stop here, all wrong…
He grabbed the bottle off the table and drank half of it. His hands were shaking when he put it down. "I think I'm going crazy," he admitted softly, staring at the bottle, painfully aware of Kara watching him in silence. He almost said the other words, too, the "I think I'm a Cylon" words, but kept his mouth shut. Because he didn't think he was just a Cylon, no, he was a "special" Cylon - so frakking special he could see the future. Which was absurd. It was all in his head, some creeping insanity caused by too many months killing toasters and getting irradiated.
She swung a leg over his lap and straddled his legs, facing him. "Sam, you don't need to be crazy or an oracle to know this pit's a terrible idea. Everybody but Baltar and stupid people across the fleet know it."
"But they're going to do it anyway, and it's going to be a disaster," he muttered. He framed her face with his hands. "Gods, why'd you come back for such a frak-up?"
"I told you I would. And it was a good thing I did, since I don't think you would've lasted the day."
"No, probably not. So you came to my rescue," he breathed the words across her lips right before he kissed her.
Her mouth on his and her hands on his body made that strange anxiety disappear, replaced by a different kind of tension, this one welcome. He was eager to show her how much he appreciated it.
The moment he stepped on the ground of New Caprica, his stomach lurched with revulsion. He staggered into the Raptor as his chest seized up. This was a mistake. He shouldn't have come.
He tried to pull himself together before anyone noticed, taking a deep breath and trying to calm his pounding heart. Cold sweat broke out on his face and he shuddered.
… wrong, wrong, wrong…
The awareness beat at him, frantic wings inside his mind. "Please… I know," he whispered, closing his eyes. "There's nothing I can do… Please stop…"
It didn't stop. The skin of the Raptor was hot against his shoulders, but he pushed back against it, sinking, until he was crouched under the belly. Nausea roiled through his middle, until he wanted to gag and just breathing required all his attention.
"Sam?" Kara asked, suddenly crouched in front of him. "What's wrong? You okay?"
He pulled his eyes open and grabbed her hands, "I can't live here, Kara. I'm sorry… I thought I could. I thought that feeling had gone. But this place…. All I can feel is how wrong it is."
"Sam --" She tried to pull away, but he held on. Her fingers were cool and when he focused on where he felt her touching him, the wrong seemed to be more bearable.
And he kept going before she could say anything, "I know you said you wanted to come down here, and we could try to be normal. But I can't. There's something frakked up in my head. So I -- I will totally understand if you don't want to go back up with me, but ---"
"Samuel." Her voice cut right through his anxious babble. "Shut the frak up," she ordered him and shuffled awkwardly closer, so their knees touched. She ducked her head to bring it close to his, her eyes searching his for a long moment. "There is nothing wrong with you."
He started shaking his head in fierce denial and couldn't stop, until she pulled her hands free and took his face in her hands and stilled it. "Nothing. Okay? You're having visions. It happens. It's normal."
"Normal?" he repeated.
She chuckled a little and teased, "Well, maybe not totally normal. But then you've never been exactly normal, have you?"
He flinched, his mind going straight to that 'Cylon' place, but he knew she didn't mean it like that, and calmed down with a few gasping breaths.
When he settled, she nodded in satisfaction and dropped her hands to his legs. "There. Better? Do you want me to steal this Raptor and fly us back up to Galactica?"
His lips twitched into a smile, because she'd do it too. But this was the Ground-breaking ceremony and they -- especially Kara -- needed to be here. It was supposed to be fun, with dancing and a party to celebrate the founding of the new settlement. And as much as he knew with every fiber of his being that it was the wrong thing to do, it wasn't as if he had the power to change it. If the people didn't listen to Roslin and Adama, nobody was going to listen to him.
The Fleet was stuck here until something made them move. Maybe if he could get some better idea of what was going to happen, he and Kara could stop it or prepare to face it.
But in the meantime, he wasn't going to spoil Kara's fun. So he pressed his lips together and shook his head. "No, no stealing Raptors. The Admiral will be mad if we steal his ride. But Kara…" He grabbed her hand. "Tell me, what do you want? To come down here? Stay on Galactica? Ignoring my issues, what do you want to do?"
She bit her lip and he saw that serious, thoughtful woman he knew she was inside, under the brash Viper jock. "I want…" she started. "I see the appeal, you know?" she glanced out from under the Raptor, toward the crowd forming around the banners off to toward the sun. "A new start." She glanced back at him and smiled. "You convinced me of that, you know. I could give up flying for the chance to build a life here. I could. But now you've gone and convinced me it's doomed, so what are we gonna do?"
"Get ready," he answered her. "When it goes wrong, we have to be ready."
"Then I think you should learn to fly." She grinned. "You wanna be my wingman, Sammy?"
He stared at her, taken by surprise. "What?"
"I bet you'd be a decent pilot," she coaxed him and leaned into him, arms sliding up his arms and around his neck. "You have good reflexes and spatial sense, and you certainly handle your weapon well…"
"It's real hard to say no to you," he murmured, threading his fingers through her hair.
"Come flying with me," she urged softly, right before she kissed him.
The kiss lasted until Costanza stuck his head underneath the ship and shouted, "Hey, guys, ceremony's about to start."
Mindful that Hotdog could be a fellow pilot soon if Kara got her way, Sam didn't tell him to frak off. Kara had no problem doing it though. Snickering, he left, but the mood was broken.
She regarded Sam. "Can we go have some fun?"
He nodded resolutely, hoping he could ignore the wrongness of this planet long enough to dance with her. "Sure. As long as there's lots of booze involved."
Taking his hand, she pulled him out from under the Raptor and they went toward the gathering.
Alcohol, a dance and her by his side helped quiet the wrongness and by nightfall, he was feeling very woozy and light-headed. Kara was constantly laughing at him, even as she yanked him out of the way of things he didn't notice and tried to keep him upright.
Finally, he lost his balance and went sprawling, mostly on top of her when she tried to catch him. It was kind of cozy there, and he smiled at her. "Hi."
"You're so drunk." She shook her head at him, amused, and shoved. "Off, Sam, can't breathe." With her help, he managed to roll off her and stared up at the unfamiliar sky. There weren't many stars visible, but the space gases glowed a pretty green.
Next to him, her hand touched his head and started idly petting his hair. "Sam," she murmured, "what's going to happen?"
"Don't know," he shook his head, enjoying how the sky seemed to whirl around when he did that. "Don't know anything. Don't know what I am. Just know … you make it better. Not so crazy."
She poked him hard enough for him to feel it in the numbness. "I must be crazy, too," she muttered. "Gods, what am I gonna do with you?"
But she kept holding his hand, and he closed his eyes against the feeling that the sky might fall on him. When he woke up, dawn's light was shining straight into his eyes like a knife. He felt Kara cuddled behind him and he turned away from the sun and toward her to sleep again.
Now that so many crew had gone planet-side, the secondary rack room was deserted most of the time. He sat at the center table, a small cloth bag in front of him.
Sam opened the bag and the smell rushed out, earthy and green but with a tinge of foul and cloying. The smell clung to the back of his throat and turned his stomach, but he pinched some of the grayish green powder between his fingers anyway.
Gods, he hoped this worked.
He put the chamalla on his tongue and nearly spat it out - it was so bitter it turned his mouth instantly dry - but he let it dissolve and swallowed.
Nothing happened. He didn't feel any different. He waited, tapping his fingers impatiently. Maybe it wasn't enough. It wasn't as if he'd asked anyone about the dose when he'd gotten Gripkey to find him some in return for Galactica hooch.
Another pinch on his tongue, and this time, it hit him - the table seemed to jump away from him and the straight lines of the bulkhead supporters bent and wavered. He suddenly felt light as if he was going to float away, and the lights dimmed.
Gripping the edge of the table tightly, so he wouldn't fall off the chair, he shut his eyes.
"Show me something, damn it," he whispered. "Come on… this has to work."
"Frak. I need to know." He grabbed for the bag, fumbling across the table unable to touch it even though it was right there. A finger found one of the strings finally and he was able to pull it closer, even though it seemed like such an odd hand. Someone else's hand, maybe. Not his.
But that hand dove into the bag, scattering some herb all over the table, but enough to grab some in his fingers and put it in his mouth.
"Frak. Tastes like --"
His sight went black, and he realized he was floating in space. He thought he should be in a panic, but he wasn't - he was calm. There were stars all around him, the long white ribbon of the galaxy, and a cloud of ruby and orange gases like a cosmic flower.
Some stars were brighter than others, drawing his gaze, forming patterns -- an archer, a scorpion, but it wasn't until he saw a fish that he knew he was seeing the constellations that were the ancient symbols for the Colonies. As seen from Earth.
He looked past his feet and … there it was. Earth. The planet was huge, mostly blue and white with some green and brown, and it shone in the light of the distant yellow sun.
Earth. His heart ached at the beauty of it. He reached out a hand, as if he could touch it, hold it in his palm like a ball. He needed to get closer. But instead he got further away…. the great ball got smaller and smaller, pulled away from him, or he was being pulled backward… And he tried to scream in denial but he made no sound at all.
Something grabbed him then, and there was Galactica. Or no, it was the other ship. Pegasus. And it was exploding, blow after blow tearing it apart, all in terrible silence.
A Cylon Raider rushed past, chased by a Viper; the Viper's guns tracked right through him, and he flinched, expecting to feel the rounds hit him. Then space was gone and he was somewhere else. When he stretched out, he touched bodies -- there were bodies all around him with familiar faces, all dead and staring and empty: Jean, Gripkey, Cally, Roslin, pilots, all piled together without respect or caring, just thrown in a pit. He scrambled on top of them, to see shattered bits of wood strewn across bare dirt, and cloth rags blowing in the wind.
He saw nothing alive. But he heard a baby wailing in terror somewhere, and he took a step to search, but then everything changed again.
He was inside a warm humid place with cold sterile lighting. There were human-form Cylons crumpled on the deck, half alive and moaning in pain, drowning in their own blood. And then they all got up and ran into the walls, beating at the metal walls with their bodies until he wanted to scream at them to stop. Then they were gone, and instead he stood inside a grand stone building with an immense central column and a round opening in the roof. There were hundreds of the different models of skinjobs milling around him, and none of them saw him or noticed him at all. Yet despite the lack of attention, the crowd moved, and somehow he was in the front and stumbled into an open spot. There was a circular pattern in the floor, under his feet, and he seemed to recognize it, like a song he'd heard long ago.
When he turned back, all the Cylons were copy after copy of Leoben. As one they all smiled, and the one right in front of him said, "We've been waiting for you."
The circle on the floor dropped out from under him, and he was falling down a long dark shaft. The walls were alive, undulating in a sickening way. Then he realized the wall was full of snakes, curling around and over themselves. Two snakes, their skins gleaming in black and green, curled up his arms and caught him on either side. He hung there in their grip, knowing he would fall if the tight coils let go.
More coils spread to wrap his chest and waist, so tightly he couldn't breathe. He struggled but he was helpless in their tight grip. The snakes were lifting him up, raising him back toward the circular opening.
The light blinded him as he emerged. When his vision cleared, all he could see inside the streaming light was a little girl with serious dark eyes looking up at him. She held out her hand and he took it, her little fingers clutching his.
She said nothing, but his fear fell away, and he felt only peace.
A soft beeping woke him slowly, aware of a pounding headache that made him want to go back to sleep, but his head was waking him up anyway. His mouth tasted like something had died in there, and he tried to swallow, but his throat felt like sandpaper. He desperately needed something to drink.
Opening his eyes revealed the ceiling of the Galactica, and given the curtain to one side of the bed and the i.v. stuck in his arm, he was in the infirmary.
"Sam? You're awake?" he heard Kara's voice to the other side and turned his head slowly. She was perched next to him, her eyes red and shadowed with exhaustion.
"Hey," he croaked and cleared his throat trying to find his voice. She didn't seem too glad to see him awake.
Her lips tightened and she reached across and slapped him hard across the face. The headache flared into a burst of pain, and his cheek stung. What the hell?
"That's for being a frakking idiot," she spat at him, furious. "Do you have any idea how much of that shit you took? When I found you, you weren't breathing. If Gripkey hadn't told Jean, and she hadn't warned me, you might be dead, you frakker."
"I …" he thought he should say he was sorry, but he wasn't. He was too tired to feel much of anything. "I had to see."
After a moment, she heaved a breath. "And? What did you see?" When he didn't answer right away, she prompted, "New Caprica?"
"So much. I saw so much. Ships, stars, Cylons…" The images were tangled in his his mind, so many, but one stood out in blue and white brilliance. "Earth."
"I saw Earth, Kara."
"What did it look like?" she asked, something child-like in her curiosity.
His eyes felt hot with tears, as he answered hoarsely, "It was beautiful."
Her hand curled around his and she squeezed. "I'm glad," she murmured. "But Sam, no more. You can't do it again."
"But -- " he objected.
"No," she ordered, and her voice grew harsh, "You take that stuff again, and I will kill you myself. It's not worth it." When he opened his mouth to object that discovering Earth and finding out what horrible thing was going to happen was worth some risk, she shook her head once, glaring at him. "Not worth it," she repeated. "Not even Earth. Not when you almost died."
He subsided, knowing her urgency was coming out of worry for him, and he nodded. "All right." His voice splintered into a cough, and he asked, "You got water?"
She looked startled by such a mundane request and then reached for a cup with a straw. "Sure. Here." She held the cup even though he could hold it himself.
Then she relaxed and shook her head at him. "Only you would go overdose yourself on chamalla before we get the Admiral's permission to put you in uniform. What the hell were you thinking? Hopefully he sees you need something to keep you out of trouble."
Sam cleared his throat again and this time had some success, when his voice came out more normal, "Like it's worked so well with you?"
She grinned at him. "Just think what I'd be like without the uniform."
"The universe trembles in fear," he retorted dryly and lifted her hand to his lips, serious again. "You're always saving me. Thank you."
She snickered. "You seem to need rescuing a lot."
"Someday I'll save you again," he promised.
She left her hand in his and he closed his eyes, content to drift back to sleep with her beside him.
"Why do you keep coming to visit me?" Sharon asked. Sometimes she didn't even acknowledge his presence, but today she stirred and approached the glass and metal separating them. Her question wasn't angry or even particularly curious, but at least it was movement.
He shrugged. "You saved my life. I guess I wish I could do something to help you."
"You can't," she told him flatly. "No one can."
"Maybe not," he agreed. "But can I ask you a question?"
She folded her arms. "What?"
"How do you know you're not programmed to do something awful?" he asked. "Kara said you told the Admiral you knew you didn't have any hidden protocols. How can you know, when Boomer didn't know?"
She inhaled a breath and let it go in an impatient sigh. "Because I know what I am. I knew my mission."
"But how can you tell there's nothing hidden under that?" he persisted.
Giving him an odd look that made him wary, she explained, less irritably, "It doesn't work that way. We may be machines, but we're not stupid. If we know what we are, then we can fix ourselves and change the programming. We can choose," she said the last fiercely, as though trying to propel the word into his brain so he could get it.
He tried not to react, but something unknotted itself inside him. There was choice. There was free will, for Cylons, too.
"Much good it did me." After a moment, she added, more to herself, "I chose. And I got my daughter killed."
"No, you didn't. It's not your fault. You're grieving. I know what that's like," he murmured.
Anger now sparked in her face, as her expression tightened. "And I suppose your child died?"
"No. But I know loss. I was one of three who survived the Carathon Valley Avalanche disaster on Picon. Did you know that?" He didn't know it either, but he couldn't figure out how it could be false, with all the media coverage of his rescue. "I was thirteen - half the mountain fell on my parents, my sister, my whole town. I was buried in the rubble for eight days. After that I wanted to believe I was saved for a reason, that the Gods had saved me for something. Then I picked up a Pyramid ball and I thought I knew what that purpose was. I was good," he said with no false modesty. "For twenty years, Pyramid was my life. But it was never quite enough. I was always looking for something I didn't even know I'd lost."
During his story, Sharon drew closer and settled on the floor across from him, watching him with those dark, unfathomable yet beautiful eyes. She didn't prompt him, but she was listening.
"On the day of the attacks, I realized… everything had changed. I was different. It was like a switch turned on in me, and I knew."
"Knew what?" she asked.
He couldn't tell her everything - she might be an ally, but he couldn't be sure. But he could tell her the rest of the truth.
"I knew I'd found my true purpose. That first loss taught me how to deal with this," he answered and waved his hand around, meaning the rest of the fleet and his life after the Cylons had come. "I survived before, I knew I could do it again. So that's what I chose to do, to keep fighting even when it seemed so futile."
She shook her head, looking down, tears glimmering before her hair fell forward to hide her face. "And losing Hera?" she whispered.
He opened his mouth and hesitated, unsure of the right words, and her head snapped up, eyes now blazing, "What did you say?"
Jerking back from her sudden intensity, he answered tentatively, "Nothing."
"You did," she insisted. "You said Hera's safe. I heard you."
He shook his head, confused. "No, I didn't." But he could see from her face that he had. "Or at least I didn't mean to," he added hurriedly, as chills slipped down his back. On his feet before he could think about it, he told her, "I'm sorry. I don't remember saying that, but if I did, it slipped out. I'm really sorry, Sharon."
Hurrying to the door, he was almost there, when she shouted, "Sam!"
The leaden feeling in his chest almost kept him from turning around, but he figured he owed her that.
She was standing very close to the glass, with one hand pressed against it so hard her fingertips were white. "You know something about Hera. Is she still alive?"
He shook his head again. "I don't know. I shouldn't have said anything."
The only reason he didn't run out of the room was because he had to wait for the guards to open the door. But shame curdled inside him, and he wondered what the frak he was doing, giving hope to a grieving mother that her child might still be alive.
He started into the ambrosia the instant he got back to the rack room and didn't go see Sharon for a month.
"Oracle, Starbuck. Try to keep up, rook." Her voice on the wireless was challenging, and he took it up immediately, putting on the thrust to follow her.
"I'm not a rook anymore," Sam protested.
"You'll always be a rook to me, rook," she retorted and tried to lose him by going fast and looping, but he doggedly kept up. He felt clumsy compared to her, out here where she was so completely in her element, but he stayed on her wing more or less. She moved closer until he could see her grinning in her helmet. "Let's try something a bit harder, then."
She barrel rolled her Viper away and he turned quickly, nearly slipping into a spin when he over-corrected. "Frak." But he got it in gear, and soon was feeling more in the rhythm. Flying was nothing physically like Pyramid, but somehow felt the same, particularly when he was chasing her.
They were at the outer perimeter of the patrol zone, and even though he knew Galactica and Pegasus could hear them, it felt like he and Kara were alone in the universe.
Then abruptly he was alone. He looked all around, knowing she was close since he could hear her chortling with glee. "Where'd you go?"
Then the buzzer went off indicating someone had a weapons lock on him, and she said, "Didn't see that one coming, did you, Oracle? Tsk, tsk," she clucked at him.
"Damn it," he pulled the ship into a spin, trying to break the lock then hit the reverse thrusters, inertia throwing him into his harness. He'd feel that one tomorrow. Her ship coasted right across his canopy and he straightened to go right up her tail, in the reverse of what she'd done, crowing, "HA!"
Then she flipped her ship and they ended up nose to nose at four hundred meters. "Nice try. You're still dead, though. Oracle."
He shook his head. "At least I'm not 'Rookie'," he grumbled.
"I thought about it, but Helo got in first," Kara retorted cheerfully. She flipped the ship back on course again. "Form up and let's go."
He maneuvered to return to position on her starboard side, wiggling the Viper's wings at her.
She wiggled back and then promised, "I'll take you up on that offer when we get back."
"It's a date. In the shower," he added, thinking longingly of hot water after the long CAP.
"On the table," she countered.
"In the rack."
"Against the wall," she lobbed back, snickering. "If you're feeling up to it."
"Oh, you know it, baby. Anytime, anywhere."
There was another click on the line. "CAP, Galactica." It was Helo's voice, and Sam groaned aloud, knowing Helo was going to be a wet blanket. "Not to spoil the fun and all but ---"
"But that's exactly what you're doing." Sam sighed, making sure CIC could hear it. "Spoilsport."
Helo sounded amused. "There are things CIC really doesn't want to know about. So wait til you're back from CAP."
"Aye, aye, XO," Sam responded, mocking him just a little. He might be in uniform now, and even promoted to lieutenant last week, but he saw no reason to change his attitude much.
"Come on, even Helo can't spoil flying. Catch me if you can," Kara called out and her burners flashed brightly in his eyes, as the chase was on again.
Her Viper dove and twisted, and he copied her, grinning at her delighted laugh when he cut her off, but she slipped past him like a ghost. One of these days, he wanted them to go try the ice canyons in the far north of New Caprica and really challenge themselves.
He shuddered as an icy wind seemed to blow across his skin. He checked his suit and cockpit life support by reflex, and then another colder sense shuddered through him, and he knew.
"You lost me!" Kara taunted from far away. "C'mon, Oracle, catch up. You're not even trying!"
He lifted his gaze out to the stars. "They're here. They've found us."
"What are you talking about? Who?" But he didn't have to answer, as it became all too clear. Their DRADIS lit up with multiple contacts. "Lords of Kobol…" she whispered.
Right in front of them … four base stars. Practically on top of them.
She shook off her moment of horror. "Galactica, Starbuck. We have multiple Cylon contacts," she reported. "Four base stars. Raiders launching…"
After a moment, Helo ordered, "Starbuck, Oracle, back to the barn. Best speed."
"Understood," Kara answered and flipped her Viper back on a heading toward the ship.
Sam's scanner was solid at the outer range, there were so many Raiders heading their way. He could see them, so many…
His voice was hollow as his nightmare unfolded before his eyes. "Raiders lined up from here to hell…"
"SAM!" Kara shouted. "Move it!"
He snapped out of it, and turned to follow her, putting on all the thrust he had. But he didn't have to look to know the Cylon wave was gaining.
Galactica came into view, but it was still so far away…. The other ships started to blink out, as they jumped to safety, but the two battlestars stayed, and started to move into position to give the rest of the fleet cover.
Kara shouted, "FRAK!"
A Heavy Raider jumped in front of them, trying to cut them off.
"Break!" she called, and he did, as its guns lit up the blackness. He wrenched his Viper into a spin, trying to avoid the shots, but the ship came after him.
"Damn it!" It was still shooting at him, and he was evading, but it was right on his six. "Can't shake it."
"I'm on it," Kara said grimly. "On my mark, break one-four-six…. And three… two…"
Something whammed his ship and spun it out of control. "I'm hit!"
Fighting to get control again, he barely heard Kara call, "Got it!" A flare of light off to the left, told him the Heavy Raider was gone.
The universe stopped spinning and he set the Viper on a course back to Galactica. The Raiders were much closer.
Something beeped and turned red on his panel. He glanced down and saw the worst. His hands briefly trembled, but then stopped. He knew what he had to do.
Voice calm, he said, "My number two engine's gone and I've got a fuel leak."
Kara's voice snapped out, "Galactica, Starbuck. We need a SAR Raptor. RIGHT NOW." She paced her ship to his, a mother bird trying to cover a wounded duckling.
"You have to get out of here, before those things are on top of us."
"I'm not leaving you out here," she bit out angrily. "I can defend you long enough for Galactica to send a bird."
"From all those? Nobody's that good." He put his Viper into reverse to come to a relative stop and turned to face the Raiders. "I'll cover your escape. "
"Gods damn it!" she protested furiously. "No."
"It'll be okay," he promised. "But not if you die here. Go."
"But -- "
"Go!" He set his Viper in a reverse heading away from her and limping toward the Raiders. "Let me rescue you for a change."
The admiral's voice came over the wireless, "Starbuck, Galactica Actual. Return to the barn."
Her voice low and defeated, she answered, "Yes, sir."
Sam said to her, "This isn't the end, Kara." A new warning light appeared - an engine core temperature spike - and told him he was wrong. The other engines were about to explode. "Oh, frak me. Punching!"
He pulled the eject lever and the canopy exploded out of the way as the seat was shot into space.
His Viper went up in a fireball, a brief red and orange flower that died quickly in the endless darkness of space and the light of distant cold stars.
He heard Kara yell, "SAM!"
Wondering whether it would be kinder to let her know he'd survived the eject and was doomed to death by Cylon fire or suffocation, or let her think he'd been killed in the explosion, he hesitated but answered, "I'm here. Starbuck, I'm here."
"Sam!" she called again. "Oracle, respond. Sam, you frakker, answer me!"
His suit radio wasn't working; she couldn't hear him. More softly he said, "I love you, Kara. I always will."
He flicked the switch on his wrist to shut off the comm, so he wouldn't have to listen to her call for him. There was only the sound of his own breathing and his pulse pounding in his ears.
His chair had to be going at fairly impressive speed, but there was no sensation of movement at all. He could see the Galactica, gleaming in the light of New Caprica's sun, and some flashes of weapons fire exchanged with the enemy he couldn't see. Briefly he hoped that a Raptor might be heading his way -- if Sharon piloted, he'd know when she was close -- but then Galactica disappeared. He stared where the ship had been, trying to will it to come back. But space remained empty. The truth fell on him, heavy and slow. The fleet had jumped away.
If he turned his head, he could see the arc of New Caprica, tauntingly close with its atmosphere and humans on the ground. But he kept his gaze toward the stars and the glowing gases shrouding the system. Everything he saw was so far away …. He was less than a speck against the immensity of the universe around him.
He was going to die here, alone in the void.
Would he resurrect? Now that the Cylons had found them, was he going to wake up in a new body? He didn't think so, because surely if there were spare Anders bodies lying around on the Resurrection Ship, the Cylons on Caprica would have noticed.
But he found he didn't care. He wasn't afraid. He would be killed by the Raiders, who had to be close to his position by now, or he would die of suffocation when his air ran out. Either way he would die. He would wake up or he would not; he'd have a soul and would go with the gods, or he would not. None of it was in his hands anymore.
It seemed vaguely blasphemous to pray to the gods, when he didn't believe they existed, but he closed his eyes and murmured, "I don't know what I am, but I lived as a human, and I die as a human. I commend my soul, if I have one, to the Lords of Kobol. I pray for their mercy and guidance, and their protection for my friends in the fleet and on New Caprica." He thought about apologizing for being such a lousy human being when he'd believed he was one and for now even doubting that much. But if the gods were real, they knew all that anyway. And if the gods weren't real, confessing the rest didn't seem to matter. So all he said was, "So say we all."
The gods didn't answer, or if they did, it wasn't what he'd expected.
When he opened his eyes, a Raider was there, right in front of him. Its 'head' seemed large and its wings swept forward almost close enough to touch. He flinched and let out a gasp of surprise, grabbing for the sidearm strapped to his leg. But after a moment, he took his hand away. The Raider could've shot him from far away, and obviously had chosen not to. Was it curious about the lone human floating in space? Did it know?
The red sensor eye was bright when it went across him, then the light returned forward to fix on him. The Raider moved a little closer, matching his course and speed perfectly so it seemed they weren't moving at all.
He returned the look steadily, staring back into the reddish light. Was there some kind of connection? If he could just reach out somehow…. Was he really feeling its excitement or just imagining it?
No, it was real. The Raider had emotions, and he was feeling them, too. Because he was a Cylon. All his self-deception burned away in the light of that singular fire, and the truth he'd denied for more than a year was all that remained.
"I didn't want to believe it, and I still don't understand, but it's true, isn't it?" he asked aloud. "Nobody else knows, but you do." He laughed a little at the irony. "Well, are you going to shoot me, so I can wake up in a new body? Isn't that how it works? It would be better than suffocation…"
The Raider didn't shoot him and it didn't move away.
A moment later, he noticed more red flashes reflecting on the metal wings, and looked around to see that he was surrounded by Raiders. He could see six at least, all gathered in tight formation around him like a crowd of hungry sharks waiting to tear apart dinner. He shivered and his hand crept toward his sidearm, maybe to shoot at them, or maybe just shoot himself and get it over with.
The others backed off, widening their circle around him by at least ten meters, as if to say they meant no harm. He gasped out a breath, blinking because he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
He turned back to the one in front of him, which was still just as close, but now seemed more eager than threatening. He took two more deep breaths, calming down and keeping his gaze on the Raider. The communication deepened, and not only did the Raider not intend to hurt him, but he could feel its joy that he had finally returned home.
He wasn't sure whose crazy idea it was, but he knew what he was going to do. But he first warned the Raider aloud, "You can't tell the other Cylons what you know. You have to keep quiet, or I can't go with you. It has to be a secret."
The Raider seemed quizzical, not understanding why he would want something so wonderful kept a secret, but it gave a sense of agreement, and that told him he was safe to do this.
"Here goes nothing." Taking a deep breath and swallowing hard, he opened the release on his restraint harness and kicked free. His seat dropped away and he headed straight for the glowing light like a Pyramid ball heading for the goal.
He floated toward the narrow gap between the Raider's wings. With a frame of reference, his speed turned from theoretical to real, and the Raider got too close too fast. But his aim was true, and he hurtled between.
The metal skin of the Raider and the red light filled his vision.
He folded to let his legs take most of the impact, and hit to one side of the front intake, below the sensor slit.
"Oh frak!" he swore loudly as pain shot up his legs and then his hands, before his helmet smashed into the metal. And even though the breath had been knocked from him and his hands hurt like hell, he scrambled to find a hand hold before his momentum pushed him along the body and off the back.
He found the ridges where the wing joined the body and held on, pulling himself back into contact with the skin when his body tried to bounce away. With a bit of twisting, he managed to pull his legs up onto the wing.
Resting his helmet against its body, he breathed for a moment, eyes closed. His whole body throbbed, but he was alive. There was a faint rumbling sound under his ear, and he smiled tiredly to think it might be purring. "What the frak am I doing, hm?" he asked and freed one hand to rub it against the Raider's metal skin of the side of its head.
He slid a bit sideways as the Raider moved and lifted his head to see what was happening.
Light as a butterfly, the Raider banked in a turn, and he could see behind them, a formation of other Raiders as escort as far as he could see, red eyes sliding in unison.
His mouth dropped open and he felt light-headed. "This is crazy…" he whispered.
But it was happening anyway.
They flew on, until one of the base ships came into view, a gray spider gleaming with lights and windows. His heart was thumping and a bit of sweat trickled down his temple, but he held on to his ride and they kept going.
The base ship loomed hugely, blocking the stars. He looked in wonder at the graceful arms and shining lights. Some squads of Raiders hung in dock like strange spiky fruit on smooth grey branches.
His whole body hummed with the presence of Cylons. His enemy? His kind? Some frakked-up mixture of the two?
The Raider escort peeled away, as soon as he was on approach to a dock opening in the central stem.
The tiny ship flew inside, through a massive corridor that felt like being swallowed alive. And still they flew, onward, through more gates, past things that looked alive and other things that looked machine, and other things that looked unsettlingly like both.
Shudders wracked his body, as that sense of nearby Cylons gathered to a crescendo inside, and then faded away, overwhelmed or unneeded anymore.
The Raider slowed and floated down to land on a platform where Centurions waited.
There were also human-looking ones - two of the champagne-haired Sixes, a Sharon, and a Leoben. They were staring at him, surely a strange apparition in a Colonial flight suit riding a Raider. He opened the seal and took off the helmet. The Sixes and Sharon stepped back.
Four Centurions raised their arms in unison and pointed weapons at him.
The Raider beneath him screeched in warning, something high pitched and electronic and demanding, and Sam could feel it quivering beneath him, as it jumped a few feet up in the air.
"Stop!" Leoben called. "Stand down," he ordered the Centurions, who obeyed, putting up their weapons and standing still. He frowned up at Sam, and then gave a small contented smile. "Sam Anders. I knew you would come."
The Sixes shared a glance of recognition, and Sharon put a hand to her mouth in shock.
Sam patted the Raider, and it landed again. He rolled off the wing and onto the floor to stand in the strangely comforting safety in front of its head. Shooting pain went up his legs and he threw out a hand to catch himself, gritting his teeth. "I'm here," he called back. "I made a new friend."
"We can see that. How did you do that?" the Six in the black jacket asked, face furrowed in worry and confusion.
Sam shrugged. "I ejected; I was going to die. This one came to my rescue." Which was true, and then he lied: "I thought one of you must have sent him."
The skinjobs all shared another glance. "We didn't," the Sharon answered.
Leoben stepped forward. "I told you, you were special. And now even your eyes are opened to that truth. "
Sam met his gaze, and he nodded once. "I know what I've seen," he said, lifting his head to direct his words at all four of them. "I know your current path will lead to death and destruction and horror. I know it will cause more hatred between Human and Cylon, not less."
They looked troubled by his pronouncement, and then the Six in the blue shirt challenged, "How can you know that?"
He shrugged. "I know. I knew a year ago when people settled on the planet." Straightening he started to walk toward the Cylons, and every step sent stabbing pains through his ankles and up to his hips, getting worse, until he was clenching his jaw and his eyes were watering. He caught himself on a wing tip and lowered himself to the deck. "Frak."
Leoben was the first to approach, confidently walking up to him and kneeling at his side. "What's wrong?"
"I rammed feet-first into my new friend." Sam leaned back against the wing. "I think I was going too fast."
He rubbed at his legs, and Leoben's gaze flicked to his sidearm, a brief moment of doubt flashing through his expression. Sam fumbled with the holster, hands aching with the effort, and pulled out the gun by his fingertips, before sending it spinning away from him across the deck.
The Cylons all seemed stunned by his voluntary disarmament, watching the gun come to rest not far from a Centurion's foot. Then their eyes swung back to him, confusion and a little wonder creeping in to their faces.
"Something doesn't want me dead," he explained. "And I'm not here to hurt anyone."
"Why are you here?" Leoben murmured and his gaze was full of that same messianic light as when he'd seen Sam the first time.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "But I know I should be."
The Six in blue stood at his feet, looking down at him with her arms folded around herself. Her sister in the black jacket and Sharon knelt on his other side, across from Leoben. Sam was sitting on a base ship with a frakking Raider at his back, and he hurt every where, but he knew this was right. That empty feeling that had dogged his soul since childhood was gone, replaced by absolute certainty.
"This is where I'm supposed to be."
End of Season Two (redux). Next:
Not All That We Are 2: At the Labyrinth Gates
During the Cylon Occupation of New Caprica, Sam discovers his nightmare of the future draws ever closer, while Kara has trouble dealing with the present.