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All the Poise of a Cannonball

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She told Jean not to go. She knew Sam was a lost cause, and "Athena", hell, she might enjoy a trip back home. But Jean, who kept mostly silent during their attempt to take the stinking ship back, had gone all crazy and resigned now too. They were loading that Two into the raptor -- calling him the prisoner seemed like a joke by now, seeing as how he had Starbuck's ear from the word go. "Stay put or you get a bullet," said Jean. To Seelix she said, "I'm going over with them."

Seelix said, "The frak you are." Jean was the only woman on this ship who ranked lower than her, she knew that much. Her official role on the Demetrius was galley cook, with a side of standby mechanical skills she picked up fixing ships as a kid. "What are you gonna do over there, make 'em breakfast?" Seelix would hate herself for this any other day; she knew what it was like being talked down to by some pissed-off Viper jock. But this seemed like a good day to be pissed off.

"You know I can hold a weapon."

"Yeah, you and your little sidearm against a damn baseship."

"Just thought you should know," Jean shrugged, like it was the end of the discussion. She said a few other things, that she wanted to be there when it went down, whatever it was. "If it's a trap, at least I know I did something," was the argument, and Seelix could accept her being a hero if she wasn't being such a stupid one. You never let them take you inside, that was basic. She was too close to Anders and Starbuck, that's what Seelix was really thinking. "It's Kara," Jean said, like she didn't know how else to explain it. She called her by her given name a lot. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for her. And Sam. Sharon, even."

"Well, they're working pretty hard to get you dead now."

"It's done. I'm going." Seelix was arguing with a wall, paper-thin defenses but stubborn as solid rock. Taking Starbuck and the toasters on faith. Seelix didn't know what to feel about it, really. Like when you think of yourself as a child, believing there are fairies in your closet and pretend-laughing at dirty jokes. And then you get to know the world, and there's a little part of you that's angry at that kid now, feels ashamed of her. And the rest is almost jealousy.

-----------------

The mission was destroying the Resurrection Hub, which meant the mission was taking the aid of these skinjobs and their ridiculous jumpsuits, and having Helo get snippy with them if this provoked any doubts or sarcasm. The mission was sitting in her Viper with all the controls dead and being pulled forward like a ragdoll, basically hoping the machines inside the machines in front of them would keep their end of the deal. Which they almost did.

There was a hiccup in the mission, right before they got their bearings, before the shooting started. People didn't really talk about it afterwards, but Seelix knew everyone felt it. It was fear that was so blinding and all-consuming it didn't even feel like fear anymore. Like her body was hollowed out and replaced with nothing else but the fear.

She said something before they got back to the fleet... actually, before they got taken hostage, marched into a holding cell adjacent to an airlock, and nearly executed one at a time as a testament to just how brilliant this new Alliance was shaping up to be. Before that. Seelix confronted one of them about the slip-up. She even picked out the right one, asked around for the Six with that seal number on her plane, still wearing that charmingly fascist fashion statement and no helmet. Actually tried to have a civil conversation with it.

"Hey," she said. "You were my buddy back there?"

The Cylon gave a short glance around, as if questioning why she was being talked to, before turning back to her. "Excuse me?"

"You were dragging my ride," Seelix clarified, indicating a nod toward the ships. "Hardball."

"Right." She had all her attention now, curious like a kid with a science project, back when kids had science projects. "You fly very well," the Six offered with canned graciousness. "You're synchronized, adaptable. You shouldn't talk so often, though -- your signal's insecure, everyone can hear it. That and you're paranoid about friendly fire when you're nowhere near it."

Seelix set her eyes on the floor and tried to cut her off. "Yeah, listen-" Getting pilot lessons from this thing was frakking with her head too many ways to count.

"We were lucky to have you," the Six went on. Like she sensed a problem and changed up her tone just slightly -- flattery or something. "Everything's changed now," she said. "Destiny brought you here to help us."

"Look, that wasn't okay!" Seelix interrupted finally. "You were supposed to release 100 clicks out, not 30."

The Cylon tilted her head. "You were afraid," she said -- it was a statement, a realization maybe. It wasn't an apology. "You thought something went wrong. Maybe we'd really take you prisoner."

"Uh, it crossed my mind, yeah."

"But we didn't," she finished with a coy, knowing smile. A tone like, Don't you feel silly!

"No, you didn't, but you scared the frak out of me, and what if I took my hands off the controls?"

She smiled again. She had eyes like a priest. "That didn't happen. You recovered more alert, more focused than seconds ago. They had less time to catch on and prepare a defense. You had less time for human error. All that in seconds." A beat, and she added something that sounded just momentarily like guilt. "You had less time to turn on us. If you were going to."

"You wanted to be first, right?" Seelix muttered.

"'Hardball' only showed up on the radio four months ago," the Six said coolly, and she flinched. "You're new, and scared, and you make mistakes. I've been flying much longer than you have, believe me," and Seelix was trying -- honest to gods, she was trying so hard, not to think about where she was flying all that time. It didn't matter out there, it didn't, brothers in arms and all that. She tried to make herself believe these things, just once, just once because she was alive and that hub was in ashes and they'd only lost one so far. It was a good mission.

"Look, whatever," she offered desperately, "just frakking TELL me next time you want to change the plan, okay?"

"Our plans are always changing." Seelix let out a laugh that sounded too much like a sob. She shook her head and fixed her tongue to the roof of her mouth to keep from screaming. "There was so much less room for error that way," the Six was saying, "We ran the calculations. It did us all a favor. You just can't allow yourself to see that."

Seelix closed her eyes. "I don't make mistakes," she said.

"You were very good," the Six agreed. "We enjoyed flying with you."

She squared her shoulders. "I don't make mistakes," she repeated. "Eight kills in two weeks before 'destiny brought me' over here says you're full of shit. I did it covering my own ass and Longshot's, so if you want to pull some toaster seniority rank on me, maybe your little raiders should've learned how to frakking aim."

Seelix saw something drain from the Cylon's face along with her smile, instantly. "Our raiders are gone," she said sharply, her voice strained and disgusted on the word. Like she lost a brother. "We're not getting them back," she said with bared teeth and burning eyes, over the godsdamn ships. Over those zippy little terror wings, worth more in the balance right now than entire planets, than everyone and everything Seelix ever loved. "Do you know what we've done for you?" the Cylon said. "What we did today? We lost millions of lives. We lost so many lives we could've had."

Good, Seelix thought. Good, good. Am I supposed to cry? She said nothing. She said, "Guess that means if you pull something like that again, I can kill you for good."

The Six trembled for an instant and then narrowed her eyes into knives. "I'm going to pray for you," she said. "It's astonishing how insensitive you are."

-----------------

She couldn't bother to cry or show much emotion for Jean. She mostly felt numb, and dimly self-righteous that she made the right call staying behind. She should've locked her in a container, she thought. Her and Matthias now. Pike soon. They never should've been there.

"Some of theirs are dead too," Anders told her. He was staring far away. "The one that did Barolay. And another one, a Sharon. She... bled out." He rubbed his hands together compulsively and touched his face. "They don't download anymore. I mean, I think... supposedly they end up in a box or something."

Seelix couldn't guess why he was telling her this. "How could you bring them back here?" she muttered finally. He was a crap wingman. She liked him.

"It wasn't my call." She didn't trust this. It was his doing they didn't drag Starbuck and her psycho finger-paintings back as soon as she started losing it, and it took every ounce of mercy left in her not to remind him of that right now. ("Sam," she told him once, "I know you think that's your wife..." and he stormed away. Those were the last words spoken between them for a week.)

"How'd it die?" Seelix asked between her teeth. "Barolay's skinjob. That the one that bled out?"

No, Anders tells her, one shot to the head. Another toaster had to pull the trigger, he was tweaking so much. Still was. "Shame," she said. She started to leave, except he called out to her.

"Hey," he said, "I, uh... I think I should..."

"What?" She was exhausted. She thought maybe he'd say he was sorry, and she could tell him to frak himself and then take pity on him and they'd figure a way out of this.

Some words anxiously rolled around his mouth for a second or two, and then he suddenly shook his head and laughed, like he was telling some secret joke to himself. "Nothing," he said, relaxing. "It's- forget it. I'll tell you later."

He never told her anything later.

After Demetrius, she went to the head and sat down on the floor of her shower stall and let the water run over her forever. They end up in a box, she kept thinking. That's where we used to end up. There's no ground to put the dead in anymore. They had to adjust their religions, tell themselves it was just as well to send them out into space in sheets. That the gods could still find them there, and find their fathers and nieces and college roommates incinerated in some trash heap back home. Find Jean on the baseship, whatever they did with her.

It was bullshit, though. She'd known this since Kobol, standing over Socinus while his lungs collapsed. He came up with her and Cally in basic, and his mother was a housecleaner, and he did an amazing impression of the XO. Chief put a needle in his arm, and then everyone stood around looking useless and limp. Seelix smudged the tears and dirt deeper into her face. She was thinking about his soul. She said, "We have to bury him."

-----------------

Dee was in the morgue, and she'd be out the airlock probably, after the next funeral. She bought Gaeta a drink, bought him three drinks. She did the same after whatever they pulled him out of on that raptor, even though he barely touched them. Maggie sat with them at Joe's, and Seelix kept trying not to think about all the blood, and she kept trying not to think about Earth and Chief and Anders, and she kept trying not to wonder how Jean really died, or Cally. She kept trying not to think about Gaeta on his knees in an airlock.

She was so sorry now. She wanted to tell him over and over, every day, and especially right now, alcohol blurring her common sense. She wanted to blame Tigh for manipulating the rest of them, like they always do, but thinking back she wasn't sure she would've done any differently. They all got what they deserved one way or another. Not Gaeta, though. She never should've thought he was one of them.

In the corner of the bar, two Eights were twisting their hair and laughing at something on the wall. Another stood nearby a little more cautiously, analyzing the crowd like a bodyguard. "Gods," Seelix said, slamming her glass on the table. "Are you kidding me?" She turned to Gaeta for some kind of reaction, but he wouldn't look over at them. He stared at his drink without touching it, rocking a little.

She thought she saw something knowing in Maggie's eyes, a second before she cleared her throat and forced a dry smile. "Hey, this place is shady tonight," she said. "You guys want to go?"

Seelix felt something holding her in her chair, paper-thin and rock solid. "I don't know," she said. "I don't want us to go."

Maggie glanced over at the skinjobs again, feigning boredom and disinterest. "There's gonna be a fight over there. Not yet. Give it an hour."

"First couple of guys'll just get kicked out for trying. Gotta be nice." Gaeta said nothing.

"Ten cubits says a broken arm. Three against one and they're Cylons."

"Enough people in this bar to take 'em," Gaeta said suddenly, so quietly it took a moment to register.

"Finish your drink," said Maggie, pretending not to hear him, which Seelix understood was its own kind of conspiracy. "Come play pyramid-shoot with me."

Anders was a godsdamn superstar on that machine.

Seelix felt her own voice rising higher. She hoped she wasn't drunk. "Y'know, I heard you got on Starbuck's ass this morning," she was saying. "I wish I was there." Gaeta lifted his eyes and smiled at her a little. It looked false -- not mean, but false. She tried to replay the first Starbuck/Gaeta showdown in her mind as if she was divorced from it, a speck on the wall feeling pity for him instead of egging the crazy bitch on. "It'd be funny if I was there," she pushed ahead before she could stop herself. "It'd be... be kinda like this other time." Gaeta's smile faded, but nothing really hurt or bitter replaced it, not toward her.

"Don't," he said. Just this self-conscious recognition. As if he felt guilty for her.

Maggie downed another shot and announced she was leaving, promising vaguely to talk to Skulls. Over in the corner, Seelix saw one of the Cylons had coaxed some schmuck at the bar into giving her his jacket. For no reason at all. He did it.

"I don't blame you for anything," Gaeta told her. "I understand now."

"So. What are we gonna do?" It wasn't rhetorical. She'd heard he said some other things that morning too.

He looked her over again, came to a quick conclusion about her. "Make a list of people you trust," he said. "Pilots, people from the deck-"

"Felix, it's a short list," she blurted with a humorless laugh. They took this from her. The weight of it made her eyes sting.

He said, "I know."

-----------------

Jean worked a water treatment plant on New Caprica, the times of the day when she wasn't a revolutionary. Practically forced labor even before the Cylons, really, but it was worse after. She went radical before Seelix did, officially, moving weapons and gathering chemical bombs when Seelix was just hearing rumors. (Chief acting all protective of her then, saying that she had to be sure before he let her in on anything -- she took it as a new-father chauvinist thing, but she doesn't know anymore.)

The night they were alone, Jean was playing with a rope to keep her hands steady, her eyes fixed on Seelix's gun. They were trading war stories. Seelix told her about Kobol and the endless jumps and the fire. Jean told her about Sue-Shaun and the Farms and the bodies lined up with a bulldozer and burned. She said, "They're doing that here, you know. You never see the bodies."

Seelix studied her carefully, tried to breach the topic they started on again. "Which one was it?" she asked.

"I don't frakking know," she said. "They're all the frakking same, aren't they?" She was shaking. It wasn't fear. Foremen and visitors at the plant had been making comments about her hair almost daily now. "It's such a beautiful color," she mimicked one of the blondes saying. "It's amazing it's natural. Like they know a frakking thing about natural."

A Five or something, the one with the awful jackets, went as far as grabbing a fistful of it and saying she ought not to be working in a place like this. She played pyramid, didn't she? She should go to the social events sometimes, go make friends. She had good genes, he said.

Seelix felt a switch go off. Alert and focused, more than seconds ago. There was a weird déjà vu even then, like she was watching this from some point in the future when they'd lost even more, when maybe only one of them had survived this, and they would need to remember what defiance was.

She told Jean, "We'll cut it off."

Jean pulled a knife from her kit, but Seelix had scissors to even it out. She did her own afterwards, watched a full matted ponytail drop to the ground and kept cutting. She brought out a half-broken mirror to survey their work. It felt like a beginning.