Suddenly free of the thick, nourishing birthing gel and even her own body, she floated up and over the downloading site. There was only the briefest flash of pain - that split second when one life ends and another begins, and then it was gone, replaced by a weightless, airy sensation. Looking down, she saw her former self lying there, motionless and cold in the large dark chamber.
This was something new. All the other times, she'd gone immediately from death to that bright and mysterious place in between, where she'd always been just one step away from touching that thing she could not quite grasp - the answers to all her questions. Always before it had ended much too quickly, each time cut short as she rose up in the birthing tub, gasping for air and gagging on the gel. Never before had she first glimpsed her own dead body.
She remembered the hands all over her, touches meant to comfort and soothe her back into consciousness, but they only made her skin crawl. Each time had been torture, not only because with each death, the coming back to life was more difficult, but because each time she had to endure the smarmy and superior attitudes of the others, fawning over her and cooing in her ears, pretending they were there to ease her way back into their miserable existence.
She knew better. None of them were glad to see her. Sycophants, all of them, each one sucking the life out of her in an effort to get closer to that thing she held -- the power. It was a power from God, she was certain, setting her apart from the others. She'd always been different from them -- more focused, harder, smarter, more resourceful, one step ahead of the game.
In the end it had been her downfall, as she became more and more vulnerable and dissatisfied, seeking something more than the mechanical life they lived, always searching for answers that eluded them, and trying to emulate the humans they loathed so. No, D'Anna Biers had never truly been one of them. She'd always existed in the neutral zone -- fitting in with neither humans nor Cylons.
Looking around the chamber, she saw others. So many others, it boggled the mind. Immediately recognizable were all the other copies of herself, all of them languishing in tubs much like the one from which she herself had just risen. She was momentarily overcome by horror, much more so for her other copies than for herself. Watching them floundering and then slowly drowning in that substance which would otherwise propel them to life, she had the compelling desire to swoop down and save them all, but found herself unable to move. She took a deep breath and forced a measure of detachment, watching in fascination at the spectacle below her. Sadly, no living Cylons were in sight, all the copies of herself left to die alone in the sterile darkness.
Then the most amazing thing happened. As each copy breathed its last, it rose up, swirling around her in an ethereal fog, then slammed into her chest with an electric jolt. She could feel each copy, diffusing with her own substance, melding with her. With each new joining she was pushed higher, up toward the ceiling, and something else happened - she felt stronger and more complete, as if a part of her she had always been missing were suddenly found, rounding out all the confusing spaces inside her.
As the last copy wove itself inside her, she arched her back and threw her arms out to the sides, tossing her head back as a current of pure energy coursed through her body. She felt suddenly, wondrously, more alive than ever before. Something touched her forehead -- one soft and somewhat sensual stroke to her skin, and then she felt a pair of lips against her ear, a voice that was at once quiet and thundering washing over her like a warm rain shower. "Now you are whole." She wasn't sure if she heard it outside her body, or if it came from within, but the message was clear. She had a new and higher level of understanding, and intuited that always before she had been many and scattered, but now she -- they -- were one.
A pinpoint of light spiraled and circled in the air before her, then grew and began to take form, becoming long and solid, until a familiar face appeared -- Six, though which Six, she was not entirely certain. They spoke not a word, for none were yet needed. Her friend radiated goodness and light, projecting calmness and a sense of well-being over D'Anna until she relaxed and let go, hovering there in mid-air over the roomful of tanks below them.
"I --" She paused, collecting her thoughts, grateful she was able to speak aloud. "I'm dead? For good?"
"Dead to what was before, but very much alive to what will be. Come with me." Six smiled and took her hand. D'Anna resisted, tugging away from her, unaccustomed to being led by anyone. "Relax. It's me, Caprica Six. I'm not like the others."
"You're a copy, one of a legion, just as I was." D'Anna frowned, resisting further as Caprica took a firmer hold on her, twining their fingers and brushing a thumb against her skin. "I'm not so easily tamed," D'Anna snorted.
"Don't we all know that." Caprica laughed lightly, her eyes twinkling in the low light. "Alright, we'll take it more slowly. You have questions? Many, correct?"
"That's an understatement." D'Anna nodded toward the still-occupied tubs below her. Some of the bodies she recognized as copies of Cylons she knew, and others were strangers. "What gives with all of them?"
"Sometimes just a copy becomes flawed and is boxed, other times an entire model goes bad. Such was the case with you." Caprica winked at her. "But not all of us see that as a bad thing. As you are already learning, complete termination is the path to further evolution."
D'Anna grew sober, taking in the information and digesting it. It was true -- she felt a new strength and completeness, as if the fragmented cracks of her psyche had been filled and sewn back together. Still, it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough, and she focused again on the mysterious tanks below them. "What about the strangers? I've seen seven Cylon models and many of those down there aren't one of them."
"Only seven?" Caprica tilted her head, a knowing smile tugging at her lips.
There was that one moment, D'Anna acknowledged, right before her final death, when she'd seen the face of another, though human or Cylon, she could not tell. In truth, she'd seen fuzzy faces of what were possibly all five remaining Cylon models, but only the one had been clear. "She's the key?"
"Perhaps. But come with me." Caprica tugged at her hand once more.
"I said -- I'm not that easily tamed." Shades of the former D'Anna surfaced, and she felt her own face harden, as she jerked her hand free, crossing her arms over her chest. "You didn't answer my question. What of the ones I don't recognize?"
"Think about it, D'Anna. From where do we, as Cylons, get our information? How do you know who you are, where you came from? What have you been told?" Caprica waved a hand in the air and suddenly they were no longer in the ominous chamber, but sitting on a lush green hillside, overlooking their former home city as it once was, before the fall of the planet Caprica.
As D'Anna peered over the scene below her, shadows of times gone by passed before her eyes -- a copy of her getting off the subway, heading for her job as anchor at Fleet News Service. Much less complicated times when all she had to do was blend. And wait. Then the call came down to take cover or get off the planet, and life as she had known it changed forever. No more carefree days for her. She had been transported from life among the humans -- life she'd come to enjoy, if she were honest with herself -- to life as one of many copies of herself, aboard a ship of many other Cylons. If one could call what they led 'life.'
"We learn from each other," she answered slowly, the truth dawning on her, even as she spoke. "We've passed along myth -- truth -- speculation. We came from God, didn't we?" She searched Caprica's face, which remained neutral. "Didn't we? Or maybe we don't know where we come from at all. We certainly don't know exactly how we came to be. It's like the blind leading the blind. We don't even know who all of us are, yet."
"Now you're on track," Caprica encouraged her. "Go on."
D'Anna lay back in the thick, green grass and closed her eyes, thinking. Truthfully, they knew very little, and she often felt as if they were making it up as they went along. Even if they all came together in mutual shared thought, there were more questions than answers. How could they be adults if they had never been children? How did they get from the moment of death, back into the birthing tub? How had Sharon managed to break through that barrier and conceive and bear a child with a human? A baby no less, not a full-grown adult. What would it be like for that hybrid little girl to grow up and know what it was to live a full life?
On a level, she hated Sharon for that. Sharon, the younger and more flawed model, had done what none of the rest of them had managed to do, despite countless attempts and experiments. When all was said and done, it was not science or technology that had created a Cylon-human hybrid. No, according to Sharon, it was love that created the child.
And what, exactly, was that?
It was something they threw in her face. That's what it was. It couldn't be replicated and it couldn't be synthesized. It was a prize, dangled just out of reach, just as every other piece of the puzzle had been. Even Caprica had taunted her with it -- lording it over her, telling her that she'd never understand her or Sharon because she had never loved. As if she were somehow flawed. Weren't human traits vulnerabilities? Weren't those the real flaws? It had been their greatest deterrent in reaching their goals, that they, as machines, could still falter and commit all the seven deadly sins the humans did. She herself had felt the raw emotions -- anger, greed, lust, and pride.
That one, most of all.
Wanting what Sharon had. Wanting what the humans she so despised had. Wanting to be more. To know more. To understand things she felt certain someone, somewhere, was hiding from her. And in her quest to find human love, she'd succumbed to the final two sins - gluttony and sloth -- lazing around in bed all day with Caprica and Baltar, partaking of fine food and drink, while engaging in more lust.
Lust, not love.
Love was still elusive, wasn't it?
There certainly was no love lost between her and Baltar. The only reason she allowed him to live was because he was useful, bearing knowledge that none of them had, but desperately needed, if they were to beat the humans to Earth. If not for that knowledge, she would have tossed him out the airlock long ago -- a favorite and effective human method of execution. It would be a fitting end for the traitorous coward Baltar had become, perhaps always had been. Loyal to neither the humans nor the Cylons, he was a pathetic excuse for a man, out for only his own self-preservation and pleasure.
He'd lied to her and told her he loved her with all his heart. And she had almost fallen for it, wanting to believe that maybe she could experience what Caprica and Sharon had, after all, perhaps even bear a child as Sharon had, if it were true that love was needed to create one. His proclamation had come out of the blue, in a moment of torture, and she'd been both fascinated and dumb-founded by it. But it had turned out to be just another of Baltar's dithering, babbling bits of nonsense -- something he blurted out while out of his mind, which was often. The man seemed to see and hear things at times, a sure sign he was well on his way down the road to madness. Besides, she'd discovered that love was not something she could force herself to feel, especially for Baltar.
No, Baltar was no friend to her, much less a lover. Only one had seemed to show her the slightest bit of compassion -- Caprica. Caprica, who was warm and vulnerable -- more vulnerable than either D'Anna or Sharon. Caprica, who had dared to love a human and yet remained true to her Cylon nature, unlike the laughable Athena copy of Sharon, who deceived herself into thinking she could be one of the humans. Caprica made D'Anna feel things she'd never felt before, as only two Cylons could feel them.
In those times when they had come together, and especially in the times when they were alone together, Baltar removed from the picture -- those were the times when D'Anna had been able to completely drop her guard and experience the myriad of confusing, wonderful sensations Caprica evoked in her. In those moments when their bodies merged and Caprica touched her deeply, D'Anna dared to imagine she might be loveable, after all.
Even in the everyday things, Caprica alone had managed a smile for her, a touch on the arm in times of trouble, or a word of encouragement. Yes, now that she thought about it, Caprica was different from the others. No one had gotten inside D'Anna the way Caprica had.
She opened her eyes and turned her head, looking up at Caprica, who was still seated beside her. "I have an answer and another question. My answer to your question is, we -- the Cylons -- know almost nothing about our origins, and without further evolution, we never will. And my next question for you is, why and how are you here with me, now?"
Caprica turned and leaned over, pushing D'Anna's hair back off her face and stroking her cheek. "Your answer shows great evolution already. As for your question --" she held out her hand. "Come with me?"
D'Anna studied the hand -- the long elegant fingers and skin she knew to be soft and warm. This time there was no grabbing and no demanding. It was an invitation. She could lie there in the proverbial dark, or she could take a risk and follow Caprica into the unknown. The charms of the city below her faded away. This was not a time to look back, but ahead. She reached out and grasped the hand offered her, feeling it wrap solidly, yet gently, around her own. "Alright."
As they joined hands, they were carried away on a warm stream of air, through a dark tunnel toward a bright light. The light seemed small at first - a tiny round orb, but it grew in size and intensity, pulsing and churning like a great liquid ball of fire. D'Anna was neither afraid nor alarmed, but merely curious, an increasing sense of well-being surrounding her and propelling her forward.
She looked over at Caprica, who returned her gaze, and they both laughed. "I've never been this far before," Caprica remarked in wonder. "I believe I have you to thank for it."
"What do you mean?" They reached the end of the tunnel and the orb now appeared to be a large sun or a star, shining down over a vast, beautiful valley full of swaying trees and babbling waters. Their flight came to an abrupt end, as both their feet landed solidly on the ground.
"You committed suicide, over and over again." Caprica studied her and D'Anna nodded. "With each death you got closer and closer to this." She swept her arm out in a wide arc at the vision before them. "I've done what you did but once. I've seen their faces, too, even spoken with them. They told me about this place, but this is the first time I've seen it. Besides, unlike the others, I don't have to die to transport myself to other places. I can simply will myself somewhere, and make it so. It's necessary, for what I do."
"What, exactly, do you do?" D'Anna grew agitated, despite the beauty before them.
"I'm the gate -- a messenger between creations and worlds. But you, you my friend, are the first to cross over to this place -- no Cylon has been here. At least none of the current models." She smiled, and as D'Anna looked around, she saw a familiar figure striding toward them.
"Where is 'here'?" As far as she could see was nothing but a peaceful vista, teeming with life. The contrast with the cruel, Spartan world they'd come from was almost overwhelming, and she had the desire to simply sit down and breathe, and let all the ugliness wash away.
Caprica drew closer. "Welcome to Paradise." Her lips brushed across D'Anna's cheek.
"Hello, D'Anna." The approaching figure reached them, joining them on the hilltop. She could have been Starbuck's twin, and D'Anna looked down, remembering all the horrible things the Cylons had done to Kara Thrace.
"I'm so sorry," she repeated her words from the temple, for this was the face she had seen. It was the last thing she had expected, that Kara was presumably a Cylon. "If I'd only known."
"I'm not a Cylon." The Kara copy touched her arm, brushing it with one fingertip. "But I am number One."
"But -- how?" How could she be number One and not be a Cylon? Yet more mysteries, piled on top of so many other unknowns.
"I'm here because I'm dead -- at least dead to life as you and the humans know it. You can call me Kylie. I was a clone of Kara. My grandmother was one of the five priests to the one whose name is not spoken. The priests have always been, in one form or another. We are, each of us, human and Cylon, born over and over again. The difference is that one day we -- the humans -- reach this place, the next plane."
"But how are you number One?" D'Anna persisted, her skin prickling unpleasantly in anticipation.
"At the dawn of time, the five priests took part in the creation of the humans, but they grew greedy, wanting more -- perfection of their creation. The creator never stops creating. There are both old souls and new. As the priests discussed their next creation, they turned to the most ancient soul of all. On Earth, she was known as Eve. The ancient texts were manipulated by a patriarchal religious sect -- the Roman Catholics. Eve was first, not Adam, both created side by side from the nourishing soil of Earth. She was the soul they wanted as the basis -- the yeast, if you will -- for the next level. But my grandmother protested fiercely."
"Why?" D'Anna watched curiously, as Kylie shivered, gathering the white robes she wore more closely around herself. A light breeze ruffled her hair, raising her bangs. Kylie looked down at the ground, her toes wiggling in what appeared to be nervousness.
Finally, she looked up, smiling sadly. "Because that soul was living under her own roof."
"Kara," D'Anna guessed, and Kylie nodded. "What? She wasn't willing to sacrifice one of her own for the cause? How refreshing, coming from a human." D'Anna snorted.
Kylie's features hardened. "No, she wasn't, and what's more, she told the others if she had to give up her own flesh and blood, each of them did, too."
"That's how we got the five," Caprica interjected. Glancing at Kylie, she continued. "None of them were willing to give up family, but they were willing to clone family members. So Kara was cloned and Kylie was born. But the five priests meddled with the DNA, especially those parts that determine brain function. The clones were born telepaths. It was a step toward what the five were trying to achieve -- oneness of thought among their creation -- an attempt to extinguish those things that lead to war and differences."
"But two things happened," Kylie picked up the story. "First, all clones die someday. I myself died in a transporter accident. And what they had created could not be passed on. We, the clones, were and are all sterile, a side effect of the manipulated DNA. To keep up their achievement, they would have to clone us over and over again. As they began to do that, some of the traits they sought to produce resulted in other not-so-desirable results. As they achieved true oneness of thought, human emotion diminished. Further clones of me and other humans were, frankly, boring creatures, void of feelings."
D'Anna could sense it coming -- a truth she had been way too close to touching, so many times. "So they stepped up the experimentation a notch? Crossed Cylons with humans?"
"Crossed clones with Cylons," Kylie corrected her. "Technology had reached two key levels that made them able to conduct their next round of experiments -- mechanical and electronic components could be integrated within the human body, and it had become possible, at the moment of death, to capture the mind/body functions of a person and reconstruct them, including any integrated mechanical parts. Not only could the physical be captured and brought back to life, but the memories and personalities could be as well. It's why Cylons must be within a certain range of a birthing chamber to be downloaded. There is a chip within each copy that, at the moment of death, triggers replicaters back in the birthing chamber -- all their molecules are literally deconstructed and transported to a birthing tub, where they are reconstructed."
"So Cylons are copies of humans, after all?" D'Anna felt as if everything the Cylons had ever believed had only made fools of them all. "That part was a lie?"
"No." Caprica reached across, touching her face. D'Anna closed her eyes at an unfamiliar gentleness. "Remember all those strangers in the tubs?"
Pale blue eyes fluttered open. "Failed experiments?" A few tears tracked down D'Anna's cheeks. "Left to die because they were flawed?" She searched the two faces before her, seeing the silent truth in her statement.
Kylie looked up, toward the sky and took a deep breath before continuing. Her eyes were forlorn and hollow. "The five moved on from using clones, and took what they considered to be the best of two technologies -- they could replicate human tissue and create 'human' bodies from scratch, including emotions. They could also take the components of the original Cylons -- the Toasters -- and integrate their strength and abilities, including their ability to communicate without speech, and meld that with the test-tube human tissue."
"But there was a flaw in the Y-chromosomes of test-tube Cylon-human hybrids. The male Cylons were still sterile, and so Cylons couldn't reproduce. The priests could not be bothered with constantly starting at the test tube level. Thus the multiple copies, the replicaters, and the trigger chip -- it's why we're always re-born as adults," Caprica finished the story.
"So all our experiments to reproduce and improve within our own race are in vain? We're nothing more than toys of the priests?" D'Anna began to pace back and forth. It was so unfair. They had always believed God was on their side -- that they were superior -- special -- living on a higher level of existence. In the end they were -- "Just like the humans."
"No." Caprica approached her from behind and touched her shoulders, and D'Anna turned to face her. "The priests never counted on one thing. God took pity on us. Despite all efforts to program us, we do have free will -- free thought. And we have something more. We have individual emotions. It's why I'm not exactly the same as Shelley Godfrey or Gina -- why Athena can turn her back on the Cylons to live with the humans while her copy, Boomer, loathes her for it. It's why you are so, so strong, while your other copies lingered in the background."
"But I wasn't complete until all my copies merged. Isn't that what you said?" It was all so frustrating, and D'Anna was still in the dark as to who she was.
"True. You're the first to achieve this level, the first to reach complete integration of all your copies." Caprica held out her hand and D'Anna hesitated only a moment this time, before taking it. She allowed Caprica to lead her back to Kylie.
"Why me?" D'Anna's voice shook, her lower lip trembling. She wasn't sure she wanted to be the first, and she was especially uncertain she wanted to be the only Cylon in Paradise. In fact, she suddenly realized there was no place she could imagine being, and find happiness. "I want to go back."
"You can't go back." Caprica rubbed her back in a consoling gesture. "You've been boxed."
"We're not sure exactly how it happened," Kylie spoke thoughtfully. "But the only way you can cross into Paradise is if you have a soul."
"But Cylons don't have souls," D'Anna responded helplessly. "How? -- "
"You do have a soul now, because you learned to love. The only reason Sharon and I haven't come to this place yet is because we are still needed where we are. Sharon's daughter Hera needs her, and my duties as the gate are unfinished." D'Anna felt fingers twine with her own once more, and Caprica raised their joined hands, brushing a kiss across D'Anna's knuckles. "You fell in love with me."
"I -- " It hit her with unexpected force, and D'Anna dropped to her knees, covering her face with her hands. Was that what that was? Those feelings of jealousy each time Caprica showed feeling for Baltar? The sense of protectiveness she felt each time Caprica wanted to go into the dangerous places with them? That indescribable warmth each time she thought of Caprica, each time Caprica smiled at her, and each time they touched.
A keening noise rose up from her gut and then her throat, escaping her lips and drifting away on the wind. "I don't know what to do with all this," she moaned. "I've nowhere I belong. And if this thing between us is love, that's the hardest thing of all because I can't be with you anymore. I don't know what to do. Help me. Please?" She looked up, from one to the other, praying for any sign there was hope for her happiness, yet.
"You have a choice." Kylie touched her head. "You can remain here in Paradise, or because you have a soul, you can be re-born."
"Re-born?" D'Anna slowly stood, swiping tears from her own eyes. "You mean I can become human?"
"Yes." Kylie smiled. "Anywhere, anytime you choose. That's the beauty of Paradise. Time is meaningless and souls have choices. There's one small caveat, though -- you will be human, without Cylon abilities. But we can make you a strong human. And there's one more thing. Your soul will always be touched by the gods."
"Gods?" D'Anna tilted her head curiously.
"Human, remember?" Caprica whispered. "They have more than one."
"Oh. True." D'Anna laughed lightly. "But what of you? You have to stay here and help people -- humans -- Cylons -- whatever. It's what you do, isn't it? Just as I am born to be a leader. Some things remain with us always, don't they?"
"Absolutely." Caprica wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close, until her lips were pressed against D'Anna's ear. "But I will always be with you," she whispered. "And I will always love you. Our souls have been entwined for eternity. They've just been sleeping for a while until they could become human again. Someday, I promise you I'll do my best to join you, wherever you choose to go."
The words soaked in, removing any doubt or fear. D'Anna nodded, her face resolute. "Alright. I want to go to Earth, to a time before all this technology ruined our lives. I want to know what it is to truly live and love."
"The wisest choice of all." Kylie's eyes were warm upon her. "Very well. Where you are going, you will know a great love." She touched D'Anna's head.
"Wait," D'Anna's voice rose in panic. "Just one more thing." She turned, cradling Caprica's face in both hands. "I'll love you forever." She ducked her head and found her lips, kissing her for a long, timeless moment. Visions of other kisses floated across D'Anna's minds' eye -- kisses mixed with fog, fire, and water. As they parted, she blinked, shaking off the strange sensations. "Tell the others to box themselves -- they'll get to Earth a lot faster." Caprica laughed, and their eyes met in loving warmth. "Now I'm ready."
D'Anna closed her eyes, this time feeling four hands on her head, and then all she knew was peace, as she floated in warm liquid. Far off, she thought she heard a heartbeat. Something pushed against her and she began to move once again through a dark tunnel, toward the light.
It was a difficult birth, but her baby's cries rang out, reassuring the exhausted mother that her child was healthy and alive. This was her second-born, the first one a robust boy, now a toddler. The midwife wrapped the child in a blanket and placed it in her waiting arms. "You have a fine baby girl."
"Just as I'd hoped." The mother peered down at the warm, wriggling bundle, which kicked out with long legs and pushed against her breast with tiny, determined fists, instinctively seeking out the nourishment of life. "My, my, but you're so strong already. The baby's head was covered in a shock of thick, raven hair, and as she watched, pale blue eyes blinked open, staring up at her in complete trust.
The midwife tucked a clean, soft quilt around both mother and baby. "What are you going to call her, Cyrene?"