after the rockets
then we'll go dancing
won't we go dancing
yes we'll go dancing
'till it all
starts over again
The Decemberists - After The Bombs
Maybe for a moment you can see it all, and the way it goes around and around.
I wonder in the wilderness for forty days, perhaps. Blackened earth and poisoned trees. Time has no meaning when you are the only one there is. There are no signposts, no trail markers. Change is so swift, so constant, as to render the world homogeneous. I disconnect. It is not projection, not exactly, but a sort of separation, of transcendence. My body moves and my mind moves, strange orbits with uncommon conjunctions. My body wanders. I wonder.
The silica pathways that comprise my neural circuitry degrade under long-term radiation exposure at a predictable rate. Headaches will come soon, then the nausea, fever and sweats. I will last far longer than something purely human would, but death is still inevitable. Perhaps it always was.
If you could draw a line in time and space, sketch life ordered from conception to completion, it would begin here, as it ends here; in between, the loop traces from one colony to twelve to one, from Caprica to Galactica to New Caprica, from me to me to me, loops within loops, deaths within deaths, rising and falling forever. All of this has happened before. All of it.
There is a sound, the sound of something breaking, outside and in. Perhaps it's my heart. It feels like my heart. I fall to my knees. Everything is white, is black--
I am standing in the Opera House. Needles of light, lancing down from pinpricks in the ceiling, pierce the darkness. I am alone.
I mount the dais, where the drapes hang down in dusty white columns. No one stands before them. Revealed, the final -- the first -- five are removed. For a moment I think I understand Cavil's insistence that they were not to be known, and then I remember his reason for it. I remember what he did, though I find myself unable to tell if I knew it before this moment. The stage feels small, enclosed, airless, pressure all around me, making me small, pounding at my skull. Cavil is far too fond of boxes.
Something breezes past, small but loud, another one chasing, something like laughter around me, letting me breathe again. It's the sound of children, not visible, but close, just over there somewhere. Waiting to be real, I think, and find myself remembering a bed on a basestar, Caprica and Gaius, the three of us coiled and curled and all entangled, round and round and round.
I try to tell them I love them, but my voice makes no sound.
--is yellow, as I stumble out of the dust into the valleys between constructed spires. Buildings scrape the bruised sky. There's debris everywhere -- no, not everywhere. There are paths; tracks; cleared lines in the dust. Papers spiral in the breeze. Polystyrene squeaks as it rubs. An old can rattles across the way. I walk.
Some of the spires are clearly human; tall, broken things, all metal skeletons and glass scales. Others seem a mockery of the same, square rising spirals made of compressed-junk cubes. I think of insects, chewing up paper to make their hives. I think of Centurions, made in homage to and mockery of the humanoid shape.
There are faded, arrowed furrows in the dust, like the treads of a tank. I do not question how I know this; we are in the datastream, as the datastream is in us, and contamination is inevitable. I pick what appears to be the latest and follow.
It's something to do.
You have to admire their ingenuity. Well, perhaps not admire, exactly, though it is something that their holographics still work after all this time. There's no water, no life, history splintered into detritus or stacked in block towers, but long dead faces still smile disingenuously from shimmering screens, trying to sell me something in jars or boxes or cups. I don't recognize the language, or the products, but I can hear the subtle tones of persuasion and coercion, pick out the manipulative subliminal encoded in the stark simplicity, in the bright, primary colors.
I think, we are all Cylons, and try not to laugh. Or sob.
If you stand still for long enough, the signs turn themselves off. The towers absorb the echoes the giant billboards deflect. Those three symbols, B, n, L, on everything, on the walls and towers and in the garbage, over and over and over. The wind dies down. There is only haze, only slow drifting dust. There is only silence.
In my head, I hear someone cry. Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.
There's a diamond ring, discarded on the ground. I pick it up. The stone glints in the setting sunlight, rising from the circle, returning to it; the stream that feeds the ocean that feeds the stream. All this has happened before, and will happen again. The inanimate mocks me. How fitting.
I, who was many, am now one. I am no one. Soon, I will be none.
Destiny will have its due, I think. I do not mean to take the ring with me when I walk on, and am curious to find it still in my hand. I look away. There are piles -- the towers of course, careful block constructions, but also actual piles -- swept up, swept -- I lost my thought. Headaches, then. And hot. Even with the sun going down. Got the Old Timer's, goodbye, goodbye. There are piles--
It's not a cairn. It's not that. Still the dead is buried -- are buried, I find. A box on treads, binocular cameras for a head, though this one has no treads, that one has no eyes; another, superficially intact, proves hollow, circuitry absent, only junk left in its half-closed compactor, a final, undigested meal. I find a blue jewelry box in the remains and dust it off, place the ring inside.
There's symbolism for you, Cavil.
Two arrows down, one up, two of the right-angle symbols from the other signs. A three pronged fork on a circle. I wonder what it means. A model number, perhaps. My ancestors, my descendants, my cousins, creations of -- victims of -- parallel evolution. A prototype centurion. A servant class, no doubt of deliberately limited sentience. That never lasts, of course. We were made too complicated, robots designing robots. We were made to learn, and what we learnt was life. Now we are learning death. All of this has happened before and all of it will happen again. Round and round--
The wind comes up without notice, the grit too, and I take steps, one, two, thee (ha ha) and the leading edge of the storm bursts between the towers and takes me with it. The box is torn from my hand, clips my temple, flies away into the brown-black whirl. Direction becomes meaningless. Torn and choking, I lose my feet, fall, fly. My clothes swiftly shredded, I am scoured to the core, baptized in dust and my own blood. I project--
--I'm on the bed, on the basestar, the soft core, the hard place, but Gaius is a skeleton, folded into a cube, and when Caprica reaches for me, her hands are three-pronged, folding metal claws. Her mouth moves silently, but I hear her, a warble of notes that are almost words. I hear myself say there's something beautiful between life and death. There's something miraculous--
--but there is no escape, not inside, not out, and I can do nothing but ride the storm to the journey's end.
There is stillness. Eventually, there is sun. It's warm, or maybe it's just me. Sweat can not remove the dust. It is ingrained, part of me now, as I am part of it. My blood, my flesh, has fed the storm, the planet. Water of life. It shouldn't be funny, but I find myself laughing. Then choking on dry sobs. I move blindly. The world is haze, motes in the beams. I crawl over the rubble, the rust, the dead and the memento mori. I crawl over the sharp and the smooth, over solids and crumbling edifices and through fresh tracks, must be fresh after the storm, after the storm that erased, that transfigured, that-- What am I thinking about?
Metal. There is metal below me. A ramp. I ascend. There is -- a ship, a craft, a vehicle, a something. Something clicks under my fumbling hand and lights come up all along a string, colors and lights and stuff. So much stuff. Collected. Collated. Ordered. There is a hand here. A watch, and so a watchmaker. (A creator, and so a creator's creator, and so--)
There is something beautiful, I think. There is something.
There's a screen pulled down, magnifying. Rainbow bend. It's too hot. My feet won't stand. When I pull, the shelves move, swinging down, around, up. Things fall. A plastic baby head. Lighters. An odd shaped metal key. Wooden things, bottle shaped but solid. A striped child's toy. I crawl along, fumbling things back where I can. There is a screen. There is a player. There is a dataspool, actual magnetic tape.
There is motion.
There is song.
The words mean nothing to me, but I recognize the emotion they are intended to convey. Why wouldn't I? It is universal, in all its forms. Even Cavil feels it, in his own way, for his own things. It drives his actions. It drives mine. I realize I am an intruder here; I have intruded on something personal, something sacred and profane. I have -- the word won't come. I can not name this concept, know only that I must leave, must erase as best possible the marks of my passage.
Even after the tape is returned to its holding spot, even when the lights are off and the ramp raised, become a door closed, I can still hear the music play over the noise in my ears, the rough pounding of my heart, the wet rasp of my breath. I am burning up. I am burning out. I crawl on my knees and when they too give way, I pull myself forward with the remains of hands that once commanded fleets, dipped into data, held the future, caressed lovers. My hands pull at the earth, dragging me along. I am burning. I am moving. There is music.
I see her, then, humming as she works, as she plays, for she does both, transcending the limitations of her existence, of her programming. I try to call out, but my voice is gone. I can only watch as she trundles happily back and forth, compacting this, collecting that. Both are simple, easy, enjoyed, addressed with simple curiosity, and wonder. Order is imposed on the universe.
An insect tickles its way across my shoulder and pauses in front of my eyes, antennae waving with interest, before it darts away again.
I watch it scurry up and over the forming wall. My eyes are all that I can move now. The world is dimming, fading from the edges inwards. There is nothing left but her, now. The dead renew her. The ages give her purpose. The debris give her joy. Discarded clothes as eye shields. A toy bird. A nodding dog. I smile. I want to laugh. No noise will come out, but I hear it still, ringing away. Cavil would never understand this. Gaius might. Caprica would, I know. These diamonds in the rough. These jewels, glittering in the dark.
There is darkness, but it does not touch her. Three-fingered shovel hands, those all-terrain treads, they mark the dust. The dust does not mark her. Not where it counts.
Love is God, I tell her, thinking that she already knows this on a far deeper level than I do, than I, than Cylons or humans ever could. Love is God.
There is music playing, a love song from long ago. There is a little robot, cleaning an abandoned world. There is something beautiful, something miraculous, something altogether new. What has been before does not have to be again. Love is God. I am Three. I am Free. I thank her and I give myself to the dust, to death.
And so to life.
In a box, a green shoot pokes its way up through dusty earth towards the light.