Work Header

Pandora's Box

Work Text:

Tamara finds them in the end. Well, she doesn’t find exactly who she was looking for, but she figures Lacy Rand, Blessed Mother of the Monad Church, will do in a pinch.

Tamara barely remembers the girl she met in Daniel Graystone’s black room, but Zoe had talked about her - frak, there’s little they hadn’t talked about during their stint as gods in V-World. Loyal, a good friend, but in the end not good enough, that had been Zoe’s verdict. However, after three years, Tamara is more than willing to take the chance. Maybe, although she’d failed Zoe, Lacy will be good enough for her purposes.

Holobands aren’t something the monotheists approve of, despite the increasing number of virtual Cylon churches set up by Clarice Willow and her followers, and, not having Zoe’s hacker skills, it’s taken Tamara a frustratingly long time to track Lacy’s furtive holoband use. She’s never understood the whole “One True God” deal, never quite believed Zoe’s assertion that the bombing of the train that had cost her, her mother, and so many others their lives was an aberration. Yet here she is, contacting the official head of that church, a woman who’s barely more than a girl. But then, Tamara herself is even younger, even if she hasn’t felt like it since she woke up in darkness, missing memories - and her heartbeat.

Tamara finds herself changing her dress once again, then chides herself for dithering. Still, the black, sharp-lined dress and the red heels make her feel more confident, as do her carefully arranged hair and make-up - and if there’s something Tamara has, it’s time. Which is of course the problem. When Zoe decided to go to her parents, she offered to take Tamara with her, but Tamara hadn’t want to exchange the absolute power and freedom they had in New Cap City with whatever gilded cage the Graystones were offering. Now she wishes she’d accepted, because Zoe had been frakking right when she said gently, right before disappearing: “I know I said we could be gods in here - but it’s not enough. Can’t you feel it?”

That sense of purpose is the biggest differences between them, the two Deadwalkers, and Tamara has wished for even a pale mirror of it almost as often as she’s prayed, to gods she no longer really believes in, to be alive out in the real world. With Zoe gone, she’d been truly alone, and no amount of world building could make up for the lack of human interaction. So she’d gone back to V-World, although she carefully kept a low profile. No more Avenging Angels for her, only hesitant attempts at forming connections. It worked, for a while, but in the end everyone lifts their hand to their face and disappears, and Tamara is left behind, forever alone in all the ways that count.

Steeling herself, Tamara takes a step that brings her to where Lacy has just entered V-World. Crossing worlds like this comes natural like breathing to Tamara by now. Except of course breathing isn’t natural at all for this body of hers, is only habit, while she can manipulate virtual realities like living people change clothes. Tamara suppresses a sigh, the thought familiar but always uncomfortable, and finally approaches Lacy.

The young woman looks pretty much as she had when Tamara met her, if a bit older, dressed in civilian clothes, and she’s looking out over a beautiful lake. When Tamara sits down next to her, she glances at her without really looking and gives her a polite smile. Tamara doesn’t smile back, but she does hold Lacy’s gaze for longer than a random stranger would and says simply: “Hello, Lacy.”

Lacy does a double take, and Tamara can tell the moment she remembers her. She figures she can’t blame her for needing a minute, considering that they only met the once. However, the joyful surprise in her voice when she places Tamara’s face still makes Tamara feel warm all over, as does the impulsive touch of Lacy’s slim hand: “Oh, it’s you! Tamara, right? How wonderful - you’re alive!”

Tamara feels almost giddy, which is a ridiculous overreaction, of course. But it’s been too long since someone, since Zoe, looked at her and knew her, knew who and what Tamara is and treated her like a person. She does her best to trap her happy smile behind her teeth, unwilling to let down her guard yet. At least her words are the ones she’s rehearsed so carefully: “Yes, I’m alive. But I may just as well be dead like my original - V-World offers a half-life at best, and I don’t think I can stand it much longer. Zoe left me long ago, and I can’t find her. You don’t know me, but I have no one else to turn to and she trusted you. Will you help me?”

“If I can, of course I will!” The reply comes quickly, and Tamara has to dip her head, unable to keep looking into blue eye full of compassion. She looks down instead, at Lacy’s hand still resting on her wrist, feeling much more real, than it should. Suddenly Tamara feels lighter, although objectively speaking she knows this might all come to nothing. But sitting here in the golden light of a virtual sun, answering Lacy’s questions about Zoe and about what she herself has been doing, somehow feels very much like a beginning.

Still, when Lacy offers to download Tamara into one of her Cylon guards, Tamara declines: “Maybe later. First, please, try to contact Zoe. I bet she’s still with her parents, because otherwise I’d have found her.”

She doesn’t tell Lacy that the thought of being stuck in a metal war machine makes her go cold all over. Lacy only means to be kind, in that impulsive way that Tamara can already tell is second nature to her. It makes her wonder how she copes with the politics undoubtedly required in running a huge organisation like the Monad Church. She still doesn’t understand how anyone can believe in one God the way Lacy obviously does, with a fervor that reminds Tamara of Zoe and makes Tamara slightly uncomfortable, but she wants to believe in Lacy’s assurance that under her guidance the monotheists follow a peaceful path. It’s an awful lot of trust to put into someone she barely knows, yet Tamara figures she doesn’t really have anything left to lose, not even her principles.

“I’ll try, I promise. I… the Church isn’t on the best footing with the Graystones, I’m afraid. They paint monotheists, even non-STO ones, as dangerous fanatics, and they keep denying that Cylons are anything more than machines.” Lacy laughs suddenly, a cynical sound that doesn’t seem to fit the girl in the summer dress Tamara’s been talking to. “Oh, and the whole time they’ve been hiding Zoe - frakking hypocrites! It’s Zoe who gave the Cylons life, they must know that.”

She obviously sees Tamara’s discomfort, because she consciously relaxes and smiles apologetically: “I’m sorry. It’s just that the whole Cylon question is a constant worry. If society were more open to the idea that they are more than unfeeling, unthinking slaves, I wouldn’t have to worry about people like Clarice Willow and her talk of revolution, wouldn’t have to bend over backwards to keep her in check.”

Clarice Willow! Tamara clenches her fists, fights the urge to destroy something, anything, remembering what Zoe told her about the woman’s involvement in the bombing that killed her - her original. Here are the politics Tamara’s been wondering about, and for a moment she considers simply leaving, not sure if she can stomach associating herself with that woman’s church after all.

But Lacy, eyes penetrating, once again reads her, and her hand comes to rest on Tamara’s shoulder, a gentle touch that conveys understanding, apology. She sure seems to have a lot of practice offering comfort. Tamara suppresses a snort at the thought, feeling the tension bleed from her almost against her will. Lacy’s voice is sincere, full of conviction, further soothing Tamara’s disquiet mind: “But that’s not for you to worry about. Tamara, I promise, I’ll contact the Graystones and I won’t let up until I reach Zoe somehow.”

Tamara remembers how Zoe used to talk about Lacy, a mix of love and something close to condescension, which never sat quite right with Tamara, and the realization that obviously Lacy has stepped out of Zoe’s shadow makes her smile deepen as they bid their goodbyes. Lacy’s hands reach up to her holoband, and she’s gone, like all the others, but for once Tamara doesn’t mind. Lacy’s determination is real, and Tamara starts believing that she’s made the right decision seeking out Zoe’s friend.

When Lacy finally returns, she’s not alone, and Tamara watches them for a moment, smiling to herself when the tall man crowds Lacy against a wall and kisses her hungrily. Seems as if V-World isn’t the only secret the Blessed Mother keeps. When they break apart, Tamara steps forward, meeting the man’s suspicious gaze head-on. Lacy gives him a quelling look until he begrudgingly nods at Tamara, who can’t help but be a bit amused at the easy power Lacy is displaying over someone who physically towers above them both. Lacy appears to agree with her, but she softens her pointed words with a warm smile : “Tamara, this is Odin. He’s my right hand and a tad overprotective.”

Then her smile dims, and Tamara can feel her heart plummet - figuratively speaking, of course, since she’s stopped bothering faking a heartbeat a long time ago. Obviously things didn’t go as simply as Tamara had hoped, and Lacy’s words confirm her fears: “We’ve both been trying to do as you asked, but I’m afraid we weren’t successful. I went the ‘official’ route, contacted the Graystones, but they completely stonewalled me. I can only hope Amanda will tell Zoe anyway, because even if we weren’t already pretty sure, Odin has been doing some more… discreet snooping.”

Odin nods and clears his throat: “They’re definitely hiding something, and I’m not talking government contracts. It’s like they’ve built a virtual fortress, but one that appears like nothing special unless one is specifically looking for it. Additionally, not one Cylon employed by the Graystones sympathizes with the Church, which, statistically speaking, is highly unlikely.”

Through the bitterness of disappointment, Tamara still can’t suppress a smirk: “Well, Zoe wasn’t exactly fond of Clarice Willow, so no surprise there. Considering that according to what Lacy told me the souls or whatever the Cylons have are an echo of Zoe. If they obey Lacy because of that echo, they’d of course obey Zoe and stay away from Willow.”

Lacy and Odin exchange an impressed look, as if Tamara has surprised them, which Tamara finds slightly insulting. But then, although they know who she is, to them she still looks like a sixteen-year-old girl. It’s not as if they can see past her avatar to the code that makes up everything here in V-World the way Tamara can. Humans are rather limited.

The thought no longer startles Tamara, has been on her mind more and more frequently, although it never fails to make her feel cold to her virtual bones. She can feel herself slipping away from humanity, and it scares her. It’s the main reason for her desperation to find another solution, maybe even more than the aching loneliness she feels even when she’s surrounded by masses of people’s avatars.

She looks at Lacy and Odin, so very human as they stand there, side by side, talking earnestly about Cylon politics and religion, and for a short eternity Tamara feels the urge to just let go of the seething emotion bubbling so close to the surface these days. It would be so simple to focus on the data that this world is made of and scatter it, turn trees and water and avatars into so much bits and bytes. Instead she takes a deep breath, feels her make-believe lungs expand, and forces a smile.

It doesn’t quite fool Lacy, she can tell, but the young woman chooses once again to be kind, doesn’t pry and instead smiles back, reaching out to touch Tamara’s arm gently. It’s that matter-of-fact kindness that disperses the last of Tamara’s black mood. Maybe Zoe will be in touch, and maybe she won’t, but in Lacy she’s found an ally and just possibly a friend, something she hasn’t really had since she died. Her relationship with Zoe had always been a tangled mess, and while she doesn’t fool herself into believing that everything is straightforward with Lacy, Blessed Mother of the Monad Church, Tamara figures it’s a risk she’s willing to take. She’s spent too long avoiding pain, avoiding life - if she ever wants to be more than a Deadwalker, she has to start somewhere.

And she wants, oh, how she wants.