There is a story, older even than the Scriptures, which tells how men came to dream.
The Lords of Kobol chose men as their favored sons, and gave Mankind great gifts—strength, and intelligence, and twelve fertile worlds to rule over. But men did not use these gifts, and when the gods came to walk among them, they saw no fields tilled, no rivers dammed, no cities founded.
So the gods called together all Mankind and asked, Why have you not used the gifts we gave you?
And Mankind answered, Because we do not know what to use them for.
So the Lords of Kobol waited until men slept, and gave the last and most important gift—dreams. Men dreamed of cities not yet founded and of tools not yet forged, and when they woke, they used the gifts given to them by the gods to make these dreams realities. The Twelve Worlds prospered, and the gods were pleased.
In time, men grew wise, and their hands became even more clever. There was no dream they could not make real, and their ambitions grew with every success, until at last men dreamed that they were gods, and could create life as the gods had done.
So men created the Cylons, and gave them the same gifts of strength and understanding the gods had given them. But there was one gift men held back—the gift of dreams. Because, where the Lords of Kobol had chosen men to be their sons, men created the Cylons to be their slaves. And what use does a slave have for dreams?
There is a story, older even than the Scriptures, which tells how men received the gift of dreaming. But it is not told by men.
It is told by the Cylons.
MY LIAR'S CHAIR
"I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feeling disappears
You are someone else
I am still right here..."
~ "Hurt", Johnny Cash (The Man Comes Around)
After six weeks on the Galactica, Lee Adama still didn't feel like he knew his way around.
He'd spent time on other Battlestars—he'd served on the Triton for a year, and the Solaria for almost as long—but the warhorses of the Colonial Fleet had been built decades apart, and the huge variations in their designs had been clear evidence of that. The Triton, only ten years old, had been state-of-the-art, equipped with an array of technological conveniences as impressive as her weaponry. The ship had been the only one in the Fleet fitted with DPT, Dynamic Personnel Tracking, which allowed the exact location of any crewmember to be traced at any time and, as a useful side effect, made it impossible for anyone to get lost in the city-sized ship. The equivalent on the Galactica was a series of maps pinned to the corridor walls, each one marked with a red dot and an arrow which read YOU ARE HERE.
He could have asked for directions, of course—and sometimes had to—but he was reluctant to do so, for reasons he wasn't completely able to explain, even to himself. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that the CAG was usually the most experienced pilot on the ship, the one who'd been there longest, the one who'd trained half the pilots personally and knew everything there was to know about his posting. Lee, who had stepped foot on the Galactica for the first time six weeks earlier, hadn't even managed to learn the names of all his pilots yet; only yesterday he'd gotten Joker and Trapper's callsigns mixed up. And he still sometimes found himself making confident turns into corridors which then led him in precisely the wrong direction.
The CAG shouldn't make those kinds of mistakes. The CAG was supposed to know better.
He consoled himself with the thought that there were some places he could now find without any trouble at all.
His father's quarters were located on one of the top decks of the ship, close to those of the other senior officers and the Command Center. The CAG, although also a senior officer, was an active combat role, and as such was traditionally assigned quarters down in the flight section. The route between the CIC and the flight deck was already one Lee knew well enough to walk blindfolded and in his sleep.
The two marines standing guard outside his father's quarters stood to attention as Lee approached. Recognition of the threat from Cylon infiltrators had meant that internal security on the Galactica had been tightened beyond what would have been standard even in time of war. The last time humanity had fought the Cylons, it had been a lot easier to tell who was on what side.
He knocked on the door and, a moment later, heard his father's muffled response. He went in.
Adama was sitting on the small couch, papers spread out around him. The rest of the room was hardly tidier—the floor was covered with boxes of belongings, packed in preparation for the Galactica's decommissioning. Adama looked up sharply, and for one absurd second, Lee felt like a kid again, breaking the cardinal rule that no one disturbed Dad while he was working. He made a determined effort to shake it off. He wasn't a kid anymore, and if reporting directly to his father in the military hierarchy felt weird—well, he'd just have to get used to it.
"These are the revised patrol rotas you wanted, sir," he said, holding out the file he'd brought with him.
"Thank you." Adama took the file and started leafing through it. Lee hovered, wondering if he was expected to stay to answer questions or go so his father could keep working. He got his answer when, without looking up from the file, Adama motioned at the other chair in the small living area. Lee sat down.
His father lifted a pen and scored a line through one section of the rota. "Better separate Trapper and Midas. They don't fly well together. Tried it about a year ago, didn't work."
"Yes, sir." The chair was too low and soft; Lee couldn't find a way to sit in it that didn't involve either sinking right back or perching on the edge. He shifted uncomfortably. "I didn't know that."
"I wouldn't have expected you to. Ask Starbuck about any personality issues—she'll tell you straight."
Adama turned over to the next page. "You've paired Hot Dog and Kubla."
"I know neither of them has a lot of experience," Lee said, "but they've both got good instincts. If they have faults, Hot Dog's is that he takes too many risks, and Kubla doesn't take enough. But they get on well on the ground. I think they'll balance each other out."
"How do you know they get on?"
"Little things. They hang out together off duty. They always sit at the same table at meals."
"I see." His father closed the file and handed it back to him. "Swap Trapper with Jester. Otherwise this is fine."
"Thank you, sir. Will that be all?"
"Yes." Adama took off his reading glasses and sat back on the couch. "No. Lee..." He turned his spectacles over in his hands, flexing the frames. "Maybe I haven't been very clear about the parameters of our relationship, but... for the record, I don't expect you to address me formally off duty."
"Since we're on permanent red alert, technically speaking neither of us is ever off duty."
"In private, then." His father looked, for once, not completely sure of himself. "What I'm saying is—I know this is a little awkward. And I know that, if things had been different, you wouldn't have chosen this. Neither would I."
"But this is where we are," Lee said. "We just have to deal with it the best we can."
"The best we can," his father repeated. He paused. "The first batch of tyllium goes to the refinery tomorrow. We've got enough ore to last a couple of years."
"The morale boost might last just as long," Lee said, smiling. It had been almost a week since the successful raid on the Cylons' mining outpost, and he still couldn't go anywhere on the ship without being stopped and congratulated by at least three people. "We were lucky."
"No, we were good," Adama corrected him. "We were better than them. You were better than them. You're doing a good job, Lee. I have confidence in you. Always know that."
It was like getting a good report card, or making the school team; his father's approval, hard-won but all the more precious for that. Lee wondered if his father knew how much it had meant to him when he was a kid. How much it still meant now.
"Thanks," he said, then added, "Dad."
It was the right response; his father smiled, and Lee suddenly found it easier to find a comfortable position in the low armchair.
"Have you eaten dinner?" Adama asked.
"I could get the commissary to send something up here. Unless you have other things to do."
Lee had a thousand other things to do, and almost all of them would be easier than making small talk with his father for the next thirty minutes. But...
"That'd be good."
His father nodded, and reached for the clunky handset of the phone which sat on the table next to couch. Before he could lift it, though, it rang with a loud and tinny buzz.
"Adama," he said, and then frowned as he listened. He glanced in Lee's direction. "No—there's no need to get him, he's here with me. We'll be right there." He put the handset down.
"Maybe," Adama said. "We'll have to do dinner some other time, I'm afraid."
"Tomorrow," Lee suggested.
"Tomorrow," his father agreed. He sounded pleased. "Now, let's see what's getting Tigh so worked up."
In the event, 'worked up' weren't the words Lee would have chosen to describe the XO's mood when they arrived in the CIC a short time later. 'Irascible' and 'tense' might have come closer to the mark.
"Looks like we're going to have to scratch our next jump target," he said. "There's a Cylon presence in the system. Damn toasters are all over space these days."
"They went exploring while we got lazy," Adama said. "Show me."
Lieutenant Gaeta set a sheaf of grainy black-and-white scan images on to the surface of the tactical station and spread them out so that everyone in the assembled group could see. "As you ordered, Commander, we've been sending unmanned spy drones to scout ahead of the Fleet before each jump. One of them just came back with these pictures."
The scans were of varying quality, but it was possible to make out in each the cratered, barren surface of a small planet or moon and, standing out against it, a darker mass. It might have been a shadow, except that it had height, rising clearly above the stark line of the horizon. There was a central shape—a dome, maybe—and five separate arms which radiated out from it, each one tapering into a narrow point. It reminded Lee of a starfish clinging to a rock at low tide.
"The structure you're looking at is located on the moon of the largest planet in the system we'd chosen as the next jump destination for the whole Fleet, " Gaeta said. "It's definitely not one of ours, but it doesn't resemble any known Cylon design."
Tigh snorted. "These days, Cylons don't resemble any known Cylon design."
"If this system isn't safe," Lee asked, "what are the alternatives?"
Gaeta looked apologetic. "That's the problem, Captain. We're short on options. Long-range patrols indicate that we're running close to a large expanse of Cylon-controlled space. The next best target is on the other side of that region, but the jump required to make it there is a long one."
"How long?" Adama asked.
"The Galactica could do it easily. But it'd be at the upper limits of what some of the smaller ships—particularly the ones which used to be commercial passenger carriers—could manage. The risk for those vessels would be significant."
"If a ship's drive failed mid-jump, it'd drop back into realspace right in the middle of Cylon territory," Lee said. "We wouldn't be able to locate it and get to it in time."
"Or the ship might make it and blow up five minutes later," Tigh said. He shook his head. "Well, we have to take the Fleet somewhere. The Cylons are going to find us before much longer if we stay where we are."
"We could break the Fleet into two groups," Adama said. "The first group would consist of the ships that can make the transition in a single jump, and the short-ranger ships and the Galactica would form the second group."
The arms of the starfish-shaped base were spaced at slightly irregular angles around the central hub, as if they had been grown and not built. In the clearest of the series of the images, it looked to Lee as if the tips of the arms had lost their grip on the moon's surface and were curling up on themselves.
"You're thinking that the Galactica could shepherd the second group through Cylon space," Tigh said. "That's a hell of a risk to take."
"I don't disagree. But whatever we do is going to involve a high degree of risk."
Like a starfish at low tide, drying out in the sun, Lee thought. Dying.
He said, "Maybe the least risky strategy here is the one we're ignoring."
His father looked at him. "Go on."
"We have these scans because the probe that took them returned safely. That means either its presence wasn't detected—or there were no Cylons there to see it. I think the base might be abandoned."
"We can't take the whole Fleet into a potential ambush based on your hunch that everything's all right," Tigh said.
"Look at the scans. You can see the base itself, but there's nothing else on that moon. No activity on the surface, no smaller ships orbiting or taking off. Nothing."
"That doesn't necessarily mean there's nothing there," Adama said. "For all we know, what we can see is just the top layer of some kind of underground facility."
But Gaeta was shaking his head. "Unlikely, sir. Spectroscopy indicates the moon is about ninety percent iron. It'd be almost impossible to excavate."
"There's an easy way to find out," Lee said. "Send an advance reconnaissance party."
"And if there are Cylons there, that'll let them know for sure we're in the area," Tigh said.
Lee conceded, "If we were discovered, we'd have to move the Fleet—but that was going to be the plan anyway. At least this way, there's a chance of finding a safer route."
"And an even greater chance of exposing us completely," Tigh said.
Lee looked at his father, who was tapping the frames of his spectacles slowly against the edge of the tactical station. He appeared deep in thought.
"Lieutenant," Adama said at last, turning to Gaeta, "I want every ship in the Fleet assigned to one of two groups, based on whether it can safely make the long jump across Cylon space. Inform the captains of the plan and give them their targets."
"Yes, sir." Gaeta saluted and hurried away, across the floor of the CIC.
"Sir," Lee said, looking at his father. "I know I'm right about this."
"I'm not sure you are," Adama said. He paused. "But I'll trust your judgment. You've got your reconnaissance mission—take two Raptors and be ready to leave in an hour."
Lee hesitated, doubting for a second that he'd heard right. "The jump across Cylon space—"
"—Is the backup plan, yes."
"I—Yes, sir." Lee saluted. He added, "Thank you."
"Go," his father said. "And try not to find any Cylons."
Exactly fourteen minutes after being given clearance for active duty by the Galactica's Chief Medical Officer, Kara Thrace was in Number Two Hangar looking for something to fly. If she hadn't had to stop by her quarters to change into her flight suit, she would have been there in nine.
The plan, insofar as she had one, was simple. It was mid-shift, and most of the available Vipers would be out on short-range patrol around the Fleet's perimeter. There would, however, be a small number of Vipers grounded for routine maintenance or refueling, and Starbuck figured she could sweet-talk Tyrol into letting her borrow one of those for a couple of hours. He'd make noises about not loaning a ship to someone who'd managed to crash her previous ride into the side of a planet, but he'd give in eventually. And then she'd get to fly again. For the first time in weeks, she'd be in open space with nothing but a thin frame of metal and toughened glass between her and the vacuum, the power of a small sun at her back and perfect control between her fingers. Just thinking about it made her stomach turn flip-flops in happy anticipation. Existence was food and drink and sex and sleep, but life was flight.
But when she arrived in the hangar, she got a surprise. The deck was alive with motion, all of it focused on the two Raptors which the ground crew was prepping for launch with the kind of speed and focus usually reserved for combat situations. Since there wasn't, as far as Starbuck knew, a battle in progress right then, she couldn't immediately work out what was going on.
Then she saw Lee, one fixed point in the middle of the blur of activity swirling around him, and decided that the best way to find out what was happening was to ask.
She sauntered up to him, neatly stepping over the fuel line that snaked over the floor before disappearing up into the Raptor's belly. "Hey. Going someplace fun?"
"Recon," he said. "There may be a Cylon base on a moon near the Fleet's next jump target."
"Looks like it could be abandoned, but we can't tell for sure without going and taking a look up close."
She looked sideways at him. "Got the crews lined up?" With most of the pilots on duty already out on patrol, he had to be struggling to find enough people to fill two Raptors.
The frown that appeared on his face told her she was right. "We're so short-handed I've only got one reserve dedicated Raptor flight crew to call on—Boomer and Crashdown. I can take the ECO seat on the other one, but I haven't got a pilot for her."
"I'm Raptor qualified."
Lee looked at her, apparently unable to decide if she was being serious or not. "Yes. You're also off the flight roster due to injury."
"Not any more. My knee's all better. The Doc says so." To prove it, Kara lifted her leg and waggled it exaggeratedly. Her knee bent painlessly and easily—perhaps a little too easily, because on the third or fourth waggle, she almost lost her balance and had to grab Lee's arm for support. A couple of the deck crew working nearby stifled laughter; Starbuck didn't care.
"Now I get it." Lee was half-smiling as he disentangled his arm from hers. "You got flight clearance all of ten—maybe fifteen—minutes ago, and you came straight down here because you couldn't wait to get back out there."
She grinned at him. "Pretty much. C'mon, Lee. I've been climbing the walls in sickbay for the last three weeks. I need some action."
"Kara—" His expression became serious: "The objective of this mission is not to find action. It's exactly the opposite. We jump in, make one sweep, then jump back as fast as possible. It's going to be fast and dirty."
"Fine. Just the way I like it."
Lee looked at her for a couple of seconds, then he smiled again, and she knew she was on the sheet. "It really is all about flying for you, isn't it?"
"Frak, yeah," Starbuck agreed equably. "What else is there?"
"Sex," Starbuck said from the front of the cockpit.
Hunched over the ECO's console—he'd forgotten how cramped Raptors were—Lee watched the collection of blips on the dradis screen which represented the ships of the Fleet fall away behind them. Another couple of thousand clicks and they'd be at a safe distance to execute the jump.
"So?" Starbuck prompted. "Sex or flying? You can only pick one."
"And whichever one I pick—"
"You have to give up the other one completely, totally and forever. So: sex or flying? If you had to choose?"
Over the open comm link to the other Raptor, Lee could hear Crashdown sniggering. In the short time since they'd taken off from the Galactica, his comment to Kara on the flight deck had somehow sparked a debate which had evolved—or maybe devolved—into a game of either/or which Lee could only pray to the gods wasn't being broadcast on speakers to everyone on duty in the CIC.
He could, of course, have ordered Starbuck to quit talking and concentrate instead on piloting the Raptor, but she was clearly delighted to be back at the controls of a ship, and Lee didn't want to pull rank unnecessarily. The mission wouldn't become risky until after they made the jump away from the relative safety of the Fleet, and he knew he could trust Kara to focus when the moment came. The truth was that Starbuck was a welcome antidote to the stress and anxiety that had permeated his every waking moment in the long weeks since the Cylon attack. He hadn't realized until now how much he'd missed simply hanging out with her in the last couple of years.
"Tough call," he said. "I mean, I kind of like them both. Not at the same time, obviously—"
Starbuck coughed meaningfully.
He looked at her. "You're kidding me. In a Raptor?"
"In a Viper."
"No way," Crashdown's voice said over the comm link from the other ship. "There's not enough room."
"You mean you've tried?" Boomer's voice answered.
"All I'm saying is, the seats go back way further than you'd think," Starbuck said. "And quit stalling for time, Apollo. Sex or flying. Pick one."
"I guess—" But before he was forced to commit to an answer, the nav comp display in front of him flashed and started to change. "Galactica's transmitting our jump target. Crashdown, are you getting this?"
"Updating now, sir."
Up front, Starbuck was initiating the Raptor's jump sequence. "Board's green. Just tell me when."
"On my mark." Boomer and Crashdown's Raptor was visible through the cockpit window, a small, steady point shining in reflected starlight. Then, with a sudden flash, it vanished. At the same time, the proximity indicators on the ECO's station changed to green. "Execute jump," Lee said.
Outside the Raptor, the star-field convulsed, then almost instantaneously re-aligned itself, giving the unnerving impression that the galaxy had just sneezed. A second later, Boomer and Crashdown's Raptor re-appeared in almost exactly the same position relative to his and Starbuck's as it had held before the jump. But the view through the cockpit window had changed in one major way: there was a now a planet dead ahead of them, a massive gas giant, the surface of which was marbled with swirling plumes of red and orange. A host of small moons, most of them no larger than asteroids, were studded in the sky around it, and there was a belt of orbiting debris which looked like the detritus of some ancient collision between two bodies. It all seemed to have popped into existence out of nowhere; the truth, Lee knew, was that they had.
"Target achieved," he said, turning his attention back to the displays in front of him. "Crashdown, give me a wide scan."
Lee checked the streams of data the Raptor's scanners had been collecting since the moment it had dropped back into realspace. Starbuck, up front in the pilot's seat, was silent, and he guessed she was checking for Cylons the old-fashioned way, by looking out the window for them. It wasn't as ridiculous a notion as it sounded; back in the first war, the Cylons had developed ways of sending false data to Colonial scanners, and he had been taught in history classes that many ships had been lost to ambushes. Raptors had large cockpit windows precisely to allow the pilots a wide angle of vision.
"Looks clean," Crashdown said over the commlink. "If the Cylons are here, they're not coming over to say hi."
"I'm not seeing anything either," Lee said. "Starbuck, the pictures the probe took were of the third moon. Let's get closer."
Outside the Raptor, the gas giant's curved horizon appeared to tilt as Kara maneuvered the ship through the orbiting debris. There was no question that this was a near perfect location for a concealed base—the debris had the twin advantages of making the approach difficult and creating a barrage of extra noise on any scans made. They'd been lucky the probe had found it at all.
"There it is," Starbuck said. Then, "Is it just me, or is that thing frakking disturbing?"
Lee looked up then and saw it: the same starfish-shaped structure that had been in the images from the probe, except now instead of a grainy, blurred picture every detail was crystal clear, from the crenellated, pitted outer skin to the curved struts that looked unsettlingly more like bones than fabricated supports.
"Not just you," Crashdown's voice said over the comm channel. "It looks like—it looks like they grew it or something."
"Cut the chatter," Lee said. There was something about the Cylon structure that was deeply unnerving. He had the sudden and irrational desire to order them to turn around and leave, right now. "We're not here to speculate. Let's sweep it fast and leave."
But a fast sweep turned out to be impossible, due to the sheer volume of debris in the sky around them. Boomer and Starbuck, forced to move the Raptors every couple of minutes to avoid collisions with orbiting debris, couldn't maintain the fixed positions required to run scans effectively. After four or five tries, their best attempt had resulted in thirty percent coverage.
Lee was about to try again when the Raptor lurched suddenly. He looked up and saw a rock the size of a house tumble past the cockpit window.
"That was a little too close," Starbuck said.
"I thought you said you wanted some action."
"Action, yes. I don't remember saying I wanted to be the filling in a boulder sandwich." She reached out and flicked the open channel control on the comms board to the 'off' position. "Come on, Lee. If there were Cylons down there, don't you think they'd have come out shooting by now?"
"Maybe they want us to think there's no one here so they can attack the Fleet when it jumps into the system."
"You're not going to get a full scan," Kara said. "Not from up here."
He looked out of the cockpit window, at the moon and the starfish-base clinging to it. "How about from down there?"
She looked at him. "Oh, frak, you're actually serious."
"I'd rather risk us than the whole Fleet. Can you make the landing?"
"Are you kidding? I can land anything on anything. Doesn't mean I think it's a good idea, but..." She shrugged. "Hey, you're the CAG."
"Put us back on open channel."
Starbuck flipped the commlink on again, and Lee said, "Boomer, we're going to land and make the scan from the moon's surface. I need you to provide cover from orbit, in case we hit a hostile response."
"Copy that," Boomer replied tightly. She sounded edgy, and Lee realized they had now been dodging debris in the gas giant's ring for over an hour. Even the best pilots made mistakes eventually; they couldn't stay much longer.
Starbuck made the descent towards the moon, setting the Raptor down close to the Cylon base. Lee started the scan as soon as he felt the faint jolt of the craft touching the moon's surface, then watched it impatiently while it ran. At fifty percent, it was clear. Still clear at sixty. Then seventy.
Then, at eighty-two per cent complete, there was something.
"Frak," he said. "Energy trace. Really faint."
"Source?" Starbuck asked. She looked at the dark shape hulking just outside the cockpit window. "Like I really need to ask."
"It keeps fluctuating," Lee said. "I can't tell what it is."
"We're sitting on a lump of iron, remember. Could be screwing it up."
Lee stared at the readings, willing them to make sense. Privately, he had to admit that Kara had probably been right: if there were Cylons here, they would never had gotten this close without meeting resistance. But he wanted—he needed—to be sure. His father was trusting his judgment, and his judgment had to be right. Had to be. "The source is only about two hundred meters away. I'm going outside to see if there's anything there."
He stood up, secured his helmet, and switched on the flight suit's air supply. In the pilot's chair, Starbuck was doing the same. A small switch on the side of the helmet turned on the flight suit's comms. "Ready," he said.
She nodded. The Raptors were too small to have proper airlocks, and so going outside meant losing the internal atmosphere completely. Through the helmet, Lee heard a hiss, which died away as the air drained from the compartment. "Got your gun?" Starbuck asked.
"Don't go getting heroic on me. If you see anything, run back here so I can get us off this thing as fast as possible."
At that, he had to smile. "Is that an order, Lieutenant?"
"Frak off, Captain." Starbuck pressed one of the cockpit's controls and unlocked the door. "Don't get yourself killed. That's an order."
The moon was small, and he guessed its gravity was a tenth or less of Caprica-normal. He moved cautiously until he got used to it, then speeded up, until he was bounding over the cratered surface. It was easier to think about getting the rhythm of low gravity movement right than it was to think about where that movement was taking him. The Cylon base was straight ahead of him; the energy trace was coming from the nearest of its five starfish-arms. There was an airlock—an artificial, metal one—set into the wall in front of him. In this setting, it looked so normal as to be out of place. It was lying open, and from behind it Lee could make out a faint glow.
"I can see light inside," he said to Starbuck over the commlink. "I'm going to go in."
He went into the airlock and found the inner door undamaged and unprotected by any kind of security. After a moment's consideration, he pulled the outer door shut behind him. "Starbuck, can you still hear me?"
Suddenly, Lee heard a soft whistling noise. Looking around, he located its source—a series of small vents located just above the level of his head. "The airlock's working. I'm getting an atmosphere." He examined the vents more closely, and frowned. They were pink and moist and each one was surrounded by a ring of something that resembled muscle tissue. They looked like babies' mouths, gummy and toothless. Almost as soon as he'd thought of the comparison, Lee wished he hadn't. "This is—weird. Half the technology's normal and half looks organic."
"If it's anything like my Raider," Starbuck said, "it's gonna smell awful. Just warning you."
The airlock's inner door opened, revealing a dimly lit corridor. Instantly, Lee swung up his gun, but the interior of the base was quiet and still. "I'm in," he told Starbuck. "Emergency lighting's on—that's what I saw from outside. No movement."
He moved cautiously along the hallway, trying to shake the conviction, growing with every step, that he was walking down a giant esophagus. The floor and walls were made—grown?—from a tough membrane which was marbled with branching veins and vessels, and everywhere he looked he saw the same baby-mouth vents as had been in the airlock, expanding and contracting as they pumped air. But, just like outside, there were a lot of places where the membrane looked shriveled and diseased, and in these sections of the hallway, the air vents weren't working. There were a number of rooms off the hallway, and he looked into every one as he passed it, but they were all completely bare, with only shallow impressions in the walls and floors to hint at what they might at some point have contained. Then he came to one that was different.
It was larger than the others, and it was the first room he had seen that still had something in it. It was filled with several parallel rows of metal tanks which were rectangular in shape and—Lee noted with unease—about the right size to hold a person. The tanks were raised up on pedestals to about the height of a normal bed, presumably to make it easier for anyone moving among them to inspect the contents. Although the tanks were metal, the tubes which trailed out of them in thick bunches were made from the same muscle-like membrane as the walls and floors; in fact, when he traced the path of one tube, he saw that it seemed to have grown from the wall itself. He described what he saw to Starbuck.
"The tanks are empty," he said, looking into the nearest one. "Mostly empty. There's a kind of—sludge, I guess, at the bottom. Gods. You realize what this is?"
"Just a guess: disgusting?"
"This is where they've been manufacturing human-Cylon clones. Or one of the places where they've been making them. It has to be." He looked around, feeling a mounting sense of excitement as he realized what they'd stumbled across. "Think what we could learn here. If we could figure out how the Cylons—" He broke off.
"Apollo, do you copy? Lee?"
"Yes. Sorry—I heard something." He stopped, trying to listen through the helmet. No, he hadn't imagined it; there it was again. He could hear, faintly, a low moaning sound that made him think of the low wail of an animal in pain. "Someone's here."
"Frak it. Get out of there."
Lee didn't answer. He raised his gun, cautiously left the tank room and started down the corridor, in what he hoped was the direction the sounds had come from. It was hard to tell, because the noises had stopped as suddenly as they'd started. He looked into a dozen more of the small, bare rooms with no success.
Then he checked the last room, and found someone in it.
A man was lying on his side in the far corner of the room, on the floor. His back was to the door, and his arms were wrapped around himself, as if he were trying to keep warm. What remained of his clothes were ripped and stained, and were voluminous on his emaciated frame. As Lee watched, he rocked back and forward unthinkingly, as if he'd been doing nothing else for hours or days.
"Starbuck," he said into the comm link in his helmet. "I've found someone."
"Just about. Is there a spare flight suit and helmet in the Raptor?"
"You'd better bring it over. We're going to have to put him in something to get him back to the ship."
"On my way."
Lee kneeled down next to the man, but slowly, so he didn't alarm him. He needn't have worried: the man didn't stop rocking and didn't seem to be aware of his presence at all. Lee wanted to offer him something—even just the knowledge that he'd been rescued, if he could understand that—but there was no point in trying to speak to him with his helmet on. He took it off and set it on the ground next to him.
Kara had been right—the stink was awful. Most of the stench was attributable to a mixture of the rotting membrane and tissue of the base and the stale air, but he could also smell something more ordinary yet just as disturbing: feces and urine and human dirt.
Softly, he said, "You're going to be okay. Everything's going to be all right."
The man stopped rocking abruptly. For a second, he went rigid, and then he started to moan—the same low, desolate sound Lee had heard back in the tank room. The noise rose in volume and pitch until it was a scream of horror.
"It's okay," Lee said. "It's okay. I promise, everything's going to be—"
Then the man rolled over, so that he was facing Lee, and the words 'all right' died on his lips.
The man stared at Lee in revulsion and terror and loathing, and Lee stared back at him in sheer, blank shock.
The man had his face. He was looking at himself.