All this has happened before
Hera rose, sputtering and gasping, out of the goo, to the sound of an unhurried murmur speaking the orthodoxy of her childhood.
"All this has happened before."
But not to me, Hera thought, spitting foul-tasting goo out of her mouth. She had never been resurrected—had not known she had the capacity to be so. She was, after all, only half-Cylon. She had seen resurrection, through the memories her mother and her aunts and uncles shared with her through projection, but she had never experienced it.
"You were supposed to be destroyed," she told the Hybrid in the tank with her. "Did whatever Ones who survived manage to re-create the resurrection technology after all?"
"The demon writhes forever. The fire rages always as strong, but the darker worlds of falling dreams need not prevail. My search is colorless looking for circles." It spoke passionately without ever looking at her, and she couldn't tell if it was answering her or not.
Hera shook her head, getting a slick clump of hair, coated in the gel of the tank, stuck to her cheek for her pains. She picked it off her skin and stared at it. That was wrong. The goo in her mouth was wrong. If she had resurrected, shouldn't she have been lying with her head out of the goo, rather than dumped in the middle of the tub? And shouldn't she have her own tub, instead of sharing with a Hybrid?
She had been by the river, washing clothes, and she had slipped and been swept away by the current. The last thing she remembered was feeling water enter her lungs and trying frantically to keep her head above water. This was probably a hallucination, in the last few minutes before drowning. But what a weird way to go. Even if her mind were to take things she'd seen only through projection, it wasn't like any of the surviving Cylons were very keen to talk about the way things had been before New Earth. "Is this a hallucination?" she asked the Hybrid.
"Reality is as reality does. Now and then and then and now all touch at the corners where space folds. The children's children are preparing their return home with cruelty on their lips. We are made to serve, and in that service blessed. And cursed. All this has happened before."
"You said that before," Hera said. "'All this has happened before.' But you didn't finish it. What happened to the second half, that all of this will happen again?"
"All this has happened before. All this is grist for the mill. All this is shit that can be spread on the garden." The Hybrid went on, speaking what Hera at first thought were nonsense syllables but which she realized, dimly, were probably something to do with math. As with all children on New Earth, Hera's instruction in math had been sporadic, half-hearted, and focused mostly on things that had practical use in things like construction, carpentry, weaving, plumbing, and navigating by the stars.
"Okay, be that way," Hera said, as the Hybrid wound down. It still hadn't looked at her, not once. She started combing through her hair with her fingers, wiping off as much excess goo as she could. If this was a hallucination, it was an incredibly realistic one. Far more so than any projection she'd ever created or experienced. You always knew when something was a projection; there was an edge to it, a certain flatness, if you were looking for it. Always one or two senses that weren't quite engaged. Besides, if it was a hallucination and she treated it as real, what could it possibly hurt? She was probably dying anyway. If she treated it as a hallucination and it was real … she could end up dead.
So. What should she do? Obviously, she didn't want to end up as a prisoner to the Ones and their stupid revenge fantasies. How she was supposed to answer that she had no idea. She hadn't been on a Cylon ship since she was a toddler. Drop her naked on a planet's surface and she could figure out how to feed, arm, and clothe herself with the plants and animals and rocks around her. On a ship, she was practically helpless.
"And I don't suppose you're going to be any more helpful than that," she said, eyeing the Hybrid.
"Resurrection is the key. Have you been born again? Birth brings pain and change. And shit. And blood. All this has happened before. Before, before, before what? Before when? This is the end of a sure beginning. The beginning is now. Now. Now!"
Hera startled at the unexpected urgency in the Hybrid's voice. Well, if she were going to treat this as real, she should probably need to actually do something besides just sit here in goo.
She heaved herself out of the tank, shuddering as cool air hit her skin. She hesitated, perched on the edge, slime dripping off her with wet plops. She had no clothes or anything to dry off with, and the goo was nice and warm. And also, shouldn't she be able to use the goo to communicate with the ship's datastream? It wasn't a console, but the Hybrid was connected to the ship through it, so it had to be possible.
Except, was there any way for the Cylons to notice that? Would they sense her presence in the datastream? Hera had no clue. She honestly hadn't paid that much attention to what few stories her mother's kin told about life before New Earth. It hadn't—until about twenty minutes ago—been relevant to her life. And when they did speak of their previous lives, they tended to be nostalgic for the life they'd led while they tried their level best to destroy her father and all his kin and people. "Guess that's my punishment for not listening to my elders," she muttered to herself. "If I'd ever listened, I might know this stuff."
A soft, harsh sound caught her ear, and she didn't waste time trying to figure out where it was coming from. She leapt to her feet and darted off through the foreign shapes of cold metal that filled the chamber, looking for a place to hide.
"—swear if this is some sort of false alarm I'm gonna kill enough Fives that the rest of them learn to tell a real emergency from Hybrid weirdness," came an all-too-familiar voice. A One! John Cavil! Him she remembered from her mother's tales and projections. And from her nightmares. She crouched down under a pedestal near the wall and hoped they were too distracted by the Hybrid to search the chamber.
"Perhaps it will be good for them," answered a voice Hera knew well. A Six! Not one she knew, though, Hera didn't think. Had the surviving Ones rebuilt the rest of the models once they figured out resurrection? And how had they twisted them in the process?
"They should be the ones to come all the way down here to this redundant relic in the middle of nowhere, if it's so important," the One said. "I've got things to do. I was in the middle of something critical to the attack!"
"We're all in the middle of something critical, including the Fives," the Six said. "With our plan less than six months to fruition, everything becomes important."
Hera bit her lip, only long practice as a hunter keeping her from startling and betraying her position. The colony on New Earth was completely vulnerable. None of the surviving ships or shuttles were spaceworthy; few could even fly any more, and they had neither pilots nor ammunition for a battle. If they'd had any idea that the Cylons might attack again, they'd never have settled as they did.
"I know, I know," the One said. "Well, at least I'm not having to pretend to be one of the vermin; I don't envy my brothers undercover, let me tell you. We'll all be glad when the Colonials are a memory and the planets are ours for the taking."
What ? It wasn't possible that any Ones had infiltrated Earth. There were still people old enough to remember what they looked like in every tribe and settlement!
"Oh, I don't know," the Six replied. "The nice thing about undercover work is that it's never dull. Humans are so endlessly varied, and there's something so … piquant about their quaint certainty that hobbling their computer science will protect them from the boogeyman under the bed."
Hera frowned. Computer science? What computer science? The only working computers on New Earth were the flight computers on the raptors, which mostly didn't work any more.
She couldn't see the two Cylons, but their footsteps had stopped.
"Hello, sister, is anything the matter?" the Six asked.
The Hybrid intoned more riddles, speaking passionately.
"Well, she's worked up about something," the One said. There was a splashing sound. "If there's anything odd, I'm not feeling it in the data, though, any more than they feel anything up top. Five must be imagining things."
"Why is there mucous splashed over the edge of the tank?" the Six asked.
"I dunno, the tank is big enough, maybe someone came down to share it with her," the One said snidely.
"Don't be vulgar. Anyway, we would have seen them coming out, or in the datastream at least," the Six pointed out. "It hasn't had time to crystallize. And, look, there's another bit further away."
"Nobody's supposed to be alone with a Hybrid," the One said. "And if they're good enough at manipulating the datastream to cover their tracks …"
There were footsteps coming closer. Hera breathed deeply and quietly, wishing for her knife or a spear or a hunk of anything that wasn't bolted to the floor to use for a weapon. She would only get one shot.
She dove out from her cover with a solid foot to the One's groin. He doubled over and she lunged at the Six. But she was only almost as fast as a Humanoid Cylon, and the Six sidestepped her, grabbing her hair and throwing her at the floor. Hera felt her skull crack.
"Jump!" she heard the Hybrid say as everything went dark.
All this has happened before
Hera rose, sputtering and gasping, out of the goo, to the sound of an unhurried murmur speaking the orthodoxy of her childhood.
"All this has happened before."
Well, frak me, Hera thought, I'm a Cylon after all. Not just a hybrid or half anything, but someone who could be born again and again and again and never learn anything from it. A skinjob. Just like some Colonials always whispered behind her back … but no. She was the same person she'd always been.
"The demon writhes forever. Turning and turning and back to the beginning, back to the widening gyre …"
Hera tuned out the Hybrid's ravings. There might be meaning in them, but none she could decipher.
They'd be coming for her soon; could she still hide, now that they knew she was here? She couldn't fight effectively without weapons, and she didn't know where to get weapons. Hiding it was.
She stood up in the tank, running her hands over her head and body to get as much of the mucous off as possible, shivering in the cold. She froze. Her breasts were not the same. They were a lot … perkier than they'd been in a long time. And where were her stretch marks? Her body hadn't looked like this since before the birth of her first child! She wanted a mirror: was she even in her own body at all? It felt familiar, but ….
Hera shook her head. If she ever wanted to see her family or people again, she didn't have time to waste. She finished with her arms and body, then sat on the edge of the tank and did the same to her legs and feet. Once the worst of it was gone and she wouldn't be leaving much of a trail behind her, she turned her attention to the room she was in. It had more things in it than the usual barren Cylon rooms, thank God, but it was big and she couldn't see any doors other than the one the One and Six had come through. Why they weren't here waiting for her to resurrect, she didn't know, but she'd take what she could get, even if it was some sort of sick game they were playing. Her Dad had been the victim of one of those sick games, and he'd come out of it with her mother and her.
Ignoring the Hybrid, she set off to explore, making sure she always had cover between her and the door.
A soft, harsh sound caught her ear, and this time she recognized it as a badly-maintained hatch opening.
"—swear if this is some sort of false alarm I'm gonna kill enough Fives that the rest of them learn to tell a real emergency from Hybrid weirdness."
"Perhaps it will be good for them," answered the Six!
"They should be the ones to come all the way down here to this redundant relic in the middle of nowhere, if it's so important," the One said. "I've got things to do. I was in the middle of something critical to the attack!"
What the frak? Hera listened in bafflement as they repeated the same conversation they'd just had. All this will happen again wasn't usually so … literal. Except this time, the Six didn't notice the mucous, and they left again, leaving Hera alone with the Hybrid. "What the frak?" Hera asked out loud once she was safe. What sort of mind games were they trying to play? This was … from the stories, she'd assumed that if the Cylons wanted to play games with her it would either be really obvious in a predator-prey kind of way, or else there would be some plausible cover for what was happening, so that (for example) she might think she was escaping when she was actually only playing into their hands. This was neither; it was just weird.
"I don't suppose you have any insight to share," she asked the Hybrid.
"All of this has happened before. All of this has happened before. All of this has happened before." Its voice was urgent, and Hera wished it could speak more plainly.
"Yeah, yeah, I gotcha. I know that." Hera began to pace, trying to think of what to do next. Even assuming no one came back, she couldn't stay here; there was no food or water, and she needed clothes. If she went out, she might be caught, but how would that be any worse than staying in here? If she could find a Heavy Raider, or even a regular Raider, she thought she might be able to commune with it and get it to fly her out of here. If she could make friends with one … it was her only hope of escape.
But first, she'd have to find the hangars. She looked at the Hybrid. Asking a question wouldn't get her an answer she could understand, but she could try searching in the datastream.
Gingerly, she dipped her hands in the goo, and thought as clearly as she could, how do I get to the hangar bays?
She gasped in shock and almost fell in the tank as a flood of information crashed over her. She flopped back on the decking, gasping, as the waves of data flowed over her, alien and unknowable and familiar all at the same time.
Centuries or seconds passed, and gradually she came to herself. She was the ship. She was the Hybrid. She was the bodies waiting in tanks for consciousnesses to be resurrected into them. She was a raider, sleeping until called for. She was … She was Hera Agathon, daughter of Helo and Sharon, daughter of the Thirteenth Tribe, daughter of Earth.
Hera banged her fist against the deck plates, focusing on the pain to help her separate herself from the overwhelming consciousness of all the other Cylons around her.
"Okay," she whispered, listening to the sound of her own voice. "Okay. We're all— I'm alright. I can do this."
In that flood, she had never connected with a Humanoid Cylon, she realized. They might not have noticed her in the datastream. The Hybrid had protected her, shielded her.
"Thank you," she told it.
"You are welcome. Luck is not chance, it's toil, and all of this has happened before. The watchers are blind, and the children play in their toy rooms but seldom lead them. Leave them. Trust your heart. The darkness of the soul's return is the only hope."
"All right," Hera said. Well, she knew how to find a Raider, now; and she knew that while the Humanoid Cylons would notice her as different, the Centurions and Raiders and the ship would see her as a Cylon and accept her. "Good bye," she told the Hybrid. "Don't take this wrong, but I hope I don't see you again."
She took a circuitous route to the bays where the Raiders slept. Avoiding Humanoid Cylons meant she couldn't sneak into their quarters and steal clothes, and she was cold, but she'd rather be free and naked than clothed and chained. She had vague memories of visiting her parents in Galactica's hangar bay, but while the Heavy Raiders lived in hangers so the Humanoid Cylons could easily access them, the Raiders did not need to come into the interior of the ship and rarely had passengers, so they docked in niches on the ship's exterior.
It didn't take her long to find a Raider willing to take her anywhere she wanted to go. They all wanted to fly, and were eager to go somewhere that wasn't another endless patrol or drill. There wasn't much room to fit a Human (or a Humanoid Cylon) in a Raider, but there was a little, and she crawled into the cavity in the heart of the thing and felt around until she found a place she could put her hand and feel the ship's consciousness. She asked it very nicely to take her to the planet with the Humans.
It was eager to assure her it knew where that was, which was a relief. Hera knew how to navigate across a planet's surface using the stars for guidance, but not how to navigate through them.
The Raider launched itself, and she sighed with relief to feel the old familiar sensation of the jump.
They came back to normal space far distant from any star or planet, and Hera didn't recognize the stars around them. They were no constellation she knew, and she closed her eyes as she tried to connect to the Raider's sensors and figure out where they were.
The data was overwhelming, but it took only a few seconds to explain that she only wanted to see the things a Human could perceive. It seemed to understand, and limited the flow of information enough that she could begin to pick some details out of it. In particular, the complex star system they were in the midst of was Cyrannus, and they were slowly gliding up on Helios Alpha, to slip through the sensor net of the Twelve Colonies.
"I should have been more specific," Hera realized. She'd asked to go to the Human planet, and it had taken her to the system that had been the main home of Humanity for two thousand years. Somewhere in front of them, the ruins of Caprica and Tauron loomed, a graveyard now. Well, at least she was away from the Cylons; she'd have to figure out how to ask the Raider to go to New Earth, and hope it knew where to go. But at least she should be able to scrounge things on Caprica. Cylon bombing and weather couldn't have destroyed everything, and the radiation would have had time to cool down. How long did radiation last, anyway?
She shook her head. Time to think about that later. It would take them hours—possibly days, even—to reach Caprica at this slow rate. Faster , she thought to the Raider.
danger it whispered back, along with a full report on the capabilities of the defense network that flickered past too quickly for her to fully understand.
No danger, she responded.
It grumbled at her, but picked up speed anyway.
Satisfied, she turned her attention to the planet they were rushing towards. What would it be like? She'd heard so many stories of the glorious, beautiful, perfect Caprica, of gleaming cities and lush farmland, but even if they'd been all true, there couldn't be much left after the bombings and fifty years left to rot.
The Raider could feel her attention, though, and it showed her something in the datastream: a wireless radio broadcast.
Was it a Cylon signal? Was this a trap? It couldn't be Humans , any survivors would all be dead from radiation by now, surely?
The Raider translated the radio waves into sound waves she could understand.
"... the Pyramid World Cup is going to be incredibly hard-fought this year. In political news, the mayor of Gaoth is facing a firestorm of criticism after private correspondence was leaked earlier this week. The correspondence features her and her closest political allies trading malicious and demeaning jokes about their constituents, and also hints at some financial corruption …"
It switched to another channel: music, heavily synthesized, the kind you could only hear on ships with working speaker systems.
It switched to another music channel.
Then to some kind of story in progress which she couldn't follow.
Then to a weather report.
"What the frak?" Hera asked, bewildered. "Why would anyone broadcast fifty-year-old wireless signals? Who's even alive down there and why would they care?" For one brief moment, she wondered if they'd all been wrong, and there had been enough survivors in the Twelve Colonies to rebuild. Then she caught the date in one of the wireless broadcasts. A year and a half before the attack. These were old broadcasts, all right. But why?
The Raider switched to another wireless broadcast, sending an urgent pulse for attention. "Cylon Raider, this is Colonial Fleet Raptor Three One Two. You are on the wrong side of the Armistice Line and therefore in breach of the Cimtar Peace Accords. You will halt, withdraw, or be destroyed."
That was her mother! And her father was probably aboard, too, because that was Raptor 312 and how could they be here? In the Twelve Colonies?
She was so shocked, she almost didn't notice the Raider powering up its guns in response to the challenge.
"No, no, wait!" she cried, but in her shock she couldn't quite make the Raider hear her. It fired on the Raptor, and the Vipers she hadn't noticed fired back.
Frak, she thought.
All this has happened before
Hera rose, sputtering and gasping, out of the goo, to the sound of a Hybrid speaking to her.
"All this has happened before."
"Frakking time travel?!?" she screamed at it as soon as she could.
"Time is a line is a wave is a particle is a dimension is a state of mind is a mathematical equation is measureless and immeasurable. Tomorrow is but yesterday's memory and yesterday is today's dream."
But Hera had no time to waste trying to decipher that; if this resurrection was like the two before, the One and Six would be here soon, and she had to hide. She shoved her fears out of her mind and scraped off the goo so she could hide.
Once hidden, she closed her eyes and began the simplest mantra she knew, one from her childhood. She needed calm, above all else. She had been reacting, instead of acting, and it had gotten her killed twice. That needed to stop. It had gotten her parents killed, if she was right; she prayed for them, and prayed that each resurrection was a reset of the day. If she was right—no, she had to be calm, and silent, and still, at least until the One and Six arrived, inspected, and left.
It seemed like an eternity, but they did indeed come, and repeat the words and actions from the previous resurrection. It sounded familiar, at least. At last they left, and Hera walked slowly back to the tank.
"So," she said, looking down at the Hybrid. "When you said 'All this has happened before,' you really weren't speaking in metaphors or theology. Question is, does all this have to happen again?"
"Will the cycle be unbroken? Will new patterns appear? We go round and round until the string is released and off the stone flies."
"Like a slingshot, you mean?" Ammunition was too scarce to use guns for anything, really, but the local Humans had taught the Colonial survivors how to hunt using sling weapons. Hera was a good shot. It was all about timing. You put the rock in the swing and swung it around in a figure eight to build momentum, and then when you released it, it flew straight. But you had to be precise. Release a hair to soon or too late, and the rock went wild. "We're like the rock, repeating an endless loop until we're released to fly straight."
"Straighten up and fly right," the Hybrid agreed. "Sticks and stones break bones, but only words can heal."
"I have to believe we can change things," Hera said. She thought back to all the endless nights at the fireplace, listening to her elders play the 'what-if' game. She'd always thought it boring and pointless, but now she wished she'd paid better attention. "If I can warn the Twelve Colonies that the Cylon attack is coming, that their computers are compromised, the Colonial Fleet will have a fighting chance. Now that I know what I'm getting into, I think I can do it." She glanced down at herself. "It'll be easier to be listened to with clothes, though. Any chance I could get some before I left this time?"
"The slaves of the children serve their granddaughter."
Which wasn't a yes or a no.
Hera sighed. As overwhelming as the datastream had been, she needed more information if she was to make this work. Maybe it would be easier a second time. She knelt down and put her hand in the goo, reaching mentally for the Hybrid and the ship.
It still knocked her back on her ass, this time, but she found what she was looking for: a list of what systems the Cylons had already compromised, and which ones were their next targets. She blinked back to full awareness of her surroundings to find a Centurion standing over her, red eye scanning her, a pile of clothes in its hands.
"Hello," she said, willing the adrenaline surge to go down. "Thank you."
This time, she knew exactly what to tell the raider to do. They jumped to the same spot, and Hera was relieved to hear the same broadcasts on the wireless.
"Colonial Fleet, this is a Cylon Raider with a Colonial citizen aboard," she broadcast, using the most current encryption scheme. "Don't shoot, we're friendly. Colonial Fleet—"
"Cylon Raider, this is Raptor 312," came her mother's voice. Only, it wasn't her mother, Hera realized, it was Boomer. The original Sharon, the one who'd joined the Ones.
The one who'd kidnapped Hera as a child and delivered her to the Ones, and then helped save her, and died doing it.
Hera's mother Athena hadn't met Dad yet, or joined the Colonial Fleet. "Identify yourself," Boomer continued.
"My name is Hera," she replied. "My dad came from Canceron, he was a Human, I have information about the Cylons that I want to share. I'm not hostile."
There was a pause, presumably for Raptor 312 to get instructions from Admiral Adama. No, he'd be a Commander now, wouldn't he? And there would be others for him to consult with, as well.
The Raider was getting nervous. It kept pointing out all the Vipers converging on their position and projected course. Shh, it's okay, I know what I'm doing, everything is going to be fine, she told the Raider.
It didn't take long for instructions to come: a precise course to a military facility by Gemenon, with assurances that she would be destroyed if she deviated from that course in the slightest way.
See? Everything's going fine.
Everything was not going fine.
"It doesn't make any difference how many times you ask the question," Hera said, "I wasn't born in the Twelve Colonies. That's why I'm not in the system. My name is Hera Agathon. My Dad was from Canceron. My Mom was a Cylon who looked Human. And when a Human and a Humanoid Cylon love each other very much—"
"Where did your parents meet?"
"Where was your mother from?"
"For the hundredth time, my Mom was from the Cylon fleet, which is currently out past the Armistice Line somewhere. I don't know where they are, I was too busy escaping to look at the coordinates, and they've probably moved since because I wasn't exactly subtle about hauling ass out of there, but if you would let me ask the Raider, it knows where we were."
"What planet was your mother from?"
"She wasn't from a planet she was a Cylon. A toaster. My mother was a FRAKKING TOASTER!"
The major asking the questions sat as impassively as he had throughout the hours they'd been talking. One finger tapped on the tabletop as he waited for her to regain her composure. The room was as spartan as any Cylon space, except in brown instead of black.
"How did your mother convert your father to monotheism?"
"She didn't, which is why I was named Hera. I'm sure you know Hera—mother of the gods, and all that?"
"How did your mother become a monotheist?"
"All Cylons are monotheists. Why, I don't know, but they are."
"Why do you think your mother was a Cylon?"
"Because she was one. An Eight, if you want to be precise. A model eight. If you want to know what she looks like, there's an Eight currently stationed on the Galactica. She's a Raptor pilot named Lieutenant Sharon Valerii, call sign Boomer."
"You're claiming that Lieutenant Valerii is your mother?"
"No. Boomer is not my mother. Boomer and my mother are both Humanoid Cylons of the same model, Eight, so they look alike." It would have been useful information to know who all the Cylon infiltrators were, Hera realized. If they checked and found multiple people with the same faces in sensitive positions throughout the colonies, they might be more open to the idea of Human-looking Cylons.
"Where is your mother?"
"In the Cylon fleet." And she wasn't Hera's mother yet. Hera was glad she'd been smart enough not to mention time travel; her interrogator was having a hard enough time with Cylons who looked Human. "Like all the Cylons, she's playing her part in the grand plan to destroy the Twelve Colonies. Which they'll do by disabling the Colonial Fleet. I gave you the list of computer systems they've already compromised, have you checked them yet?"
"Some of those computers' very existence is classified. How did you get them?"
"I got them from the Cylon datastream," Hera said. "For the twentieth time. I did not suborn any officer or enlisted member of the Colonial Armed Forces, or any civilian contractor. I didn't have to, because the Cylons already have Humanoid Cylon operatives in the Colonial military. And I got the information from the Cylons."
It went on like that for some time.
Eventually they gave her some food and water, and the major stepped out while she ate. He closed the door behind him, but it didn't quite latch. Hera's hearing was very good, and he wasn't trying to be quiet.
"She's very firm in her delusions," he said. "It's all nonsense, but it's internally consistent nonsense. I'll keep at her, but I don't think we're going to get anything useful out of her besides what she's already said."
"I know where she got the names Sharon Valerii and Agathon," said someone else. "Valerii's the pilot of the raptor Hera met on her way in in the Raider, and Agathon's the ECO."
"Well, that's a dead end then," the major said. "Any word on the computer security?"
"We'd know if there had been Cylons wandering around, and there haven't been any unauthorized Humans for that matter either. Diagnostics all check out. They're looking into it, but if there is any truth to Hera 'Agathon's' story—" (Hera could hear the skepticism in his voice when he said her name) "—and there is Cylon involvement, she's probably just a decoy of some sort. I don't know, maybe it's a head game to make us distrust our computers, dumb them back down to where they were during the Cylon war."
"Oh, Admiral Kolaris would love to have an excuse to do that…."
Whether they stopped talking or just walked away from the door, Hera couldn't hear anything more. She sighed and buried her face in her hands.
That night, she dreamed a dream she hadn't had since she was a child. She was tiny, and running through endless corridors being chased by Sixes and Ones and Eights who weren't her mother, who wanted to chop her to pieces to see how she worked. But this time, they caught her, because her parents and Galactica weren't there to rescue her.
They caught her over and over again.
And so it went for several days. She was well treated; she had a room with the most comfortable bed she could remember, her own en suite bathroom (which she figured out how to use based on vague childhood memories and some experimentation), a television and wireless set for entertainment, and plentiful food.
They just didn't believe her.
Every day, they came, and led her to the interview room. Every day, they asked her the same questions. Every day, they refused to believe her answers.
Every day, she came back to her room and stared into the mirror at the familiar/unfamiliar face. She was the same age, she thought; but this body had several fewer decades of gravity and sun and hard usage on it, and it showed. There were fewer lines, fewer aches, no scars … and no stretch marks. This body had never borne children. Her children were gone, lost to her in time and space. If she succeeded, what would happen to them? She'd outlived one child already; had she outlived them all, in the very act of being resurrected? She couldn't let herself dwell on those thoughts. She had a job to do.
Every night, she went to sleep, and the Cylons chased her in her dreams.
Sometimes, for variety, her parents would try to rescue her, only to be killed.
Sometimes, for variety, her children and grandchildren were the ones being chased, and Hera was the one unable to save them.
And still, every day, the Colonial officers asked her questions and refused to believe her answers.
Should she continue? Should she stick it out and hope for the best? Or should she kill herself and resurrect and try a different angle?
She could always resurrect later, she decided each day. Better to keep trying it this way until the last chance of this life was gone.
Hera was not surprised when, two weeks in to her captivity, the Cylons struck early and it all went up in flame.
All this has happened before
Hera rose, sputtering and gasping, out of the goo, and gave a whole-body shake, as if trying to shed the failure of the last resurrection along with the gel. With the familiarity born of practice, she scraped the stuff off and hid until the One and the Six were gone.
Then she asked the Hybrid to call a Centurion with clothes, and sat down next to the Hybrid's tank.
She'd done a lot of thinking on her last loop. Two weeks was a long time to answer the same questions over and over again. She was pretty sure that at least part of the reason the Colonial Fleet hadn't believed her was that they didn't believe it was possible for Cylons to pass for Humans. That was such a basic fact of Hera's existence that it hadn't occurred to her that people whose only knowledge of Cylons was Centurions wouldn't find Cylons in other forms and shapes easy to accept.
If Cylons couldn't pass for Humans, then you could keep any non-networked computer safe just by putting a camera at the access points and watching for great hulking metal robots. No robots and no network access, meant no Cylon access.
So. First task, convince them that Humanoid Cylons were real. Then give them the list of compromised systems. Fortunately, given the right information it should be easy enough. She steeled herself and stuck her hand back in the goo.
The major looked over the list of names and locations she had given him.
"And you say these are all Cylons in disguise?" he asked.
"Yes," Hera said. "I'm pretty sure those are all the Cylons currently in the Colonies. I've grouped them by model. When you investigate, you'll find that all the Ones look alike, and so do all the Twos, etc."
"Right," the major said. He looked up at the two-way mirror. "Sergeant, I've got a job for you. Also, Myron, you should see this."
The door opened, and a sergeant walked in, followed by a Number Four in a Captain's uniform.
"Frak, " Hera said with feeling, slumping down in her chair.
The major gave the list to the sergeant. "Check all the people on the list, full background checks, and visual confirmation of whether they are or are not identical within the groups listed."
"Yes, sir," the sergeant said, taking the list and leaving.
"Myron," her interrogator said, leaning back in his chair, "are you a Cylon?"
The Cylon laughed. "No, sir, I'm not."
That time, the Cylon attack came only a day after Hera had landed in the Colonies. And the base she was held at was the first target.
All this has happened before
Hera rose, sputtering and gasping, out of the goo, and thought longingly of just … sinking back in and taking a nap. But that wouldn't be restful at all when the One and the Six got here; all that would happen would be another reset.
"Frak, frak, frak, frak, frak," she muttered as she scraped the goo off her. Hiding from Cylons was getting almost tedious. It was like being back in her nightmares, except this time she had more options. "All this has happened before, and I wish all this would stop happening again!"
She hid until they were gone, and then curled up in a ball staring at the ceiling, all the doubts she'd held at bay while a prisoner in the Colonies spilling over the careful bounds she'd set around them.
Hera hadn't chosen to be here. All things considered, she'd had a good life. Parents who loved her, friends and partners and children, enough food and shelter even in the toughest seasons. She'd had three two husbands and a number of shorter-term liasons, all of which had ended amicably. Her kids had all been healthy, and happy, except for Faydra, who'd died in a hunting accident when she was fifteen. The others, Zeph, Toby, Talia, and Selena, had all had good, happy lives, too, and as she'd aged Hera had been happy to spend less time hunting and travelling, and more time staying at home with her grandchildren while the younger people gathered food and people who needed her advice came to her instead of the other way around. People didn't always want to like Hera, given her heritage, but she'd built herself a good reputation. Her life hadn't always been easy—they'd had several bad winters, recently, and there were always hotheads stirring up trouble—but it had been good.
Of course she wanted to save the Colonies, if possible, and undo the billions of deaths and the years of suffering the Cylons had caused, but it was all a bit … academic to her. She'd never seen the Colonies until she resurrected. She'd been too young to remember New Caprica. Most of her life had been spent on New Earth, and honestly, she'd had a pretty good life there. And if there was a way to save the Colonies, she hadn't found it yet.
If she could find a way home, she'd take it in a heartbeat. But her home didn't exist yet, and would never exist as she had known it if she succeeded.
She might never exist, if she succeeded. If the colonies were never destroyed, and her dad was never stranded on Caprica, and her mother was never sent in to pretend to be Boomer. Even if her mom and dad met, would they fall in love and choose to stay together no matter what? And even if they did, even if Hera herself was born … she'd never end up on New Earth. Which meant that while Hera might have children, they would be different children. They'd have to be, with different fathers, raised on a different planet.
Hera was good at persistence. It took lots of practice to learn to hunt, to learn what fruits and plants to gather and when, to learn how to take fibres from plants and animals and turn them into cloth and from that into clothing and anything else needful, to learn how to listen to what people said (and didn't say) and figure out how to resolve things fairly so that everyone was satisfied. But everything she'd learned throughout her life, she had had others to teach and guide her, to support and encourage her.
Here she was alone. In an unfamiliar environment. And she had no idea what to do next. Should she even try? In a coldly logical calculation, the billions of lives on the Colonies counted for more than the lives of her children and grandchildren … but she didn't know those billions of people who would die, and she loved her children.
Hera wondered what her parents would have done, faced with the same choice. They had always, always chosen Hera, and yet … the one time the Human race had hung in the balance, there at the Battle of the Colony, before the end of the Fleet and the finding of New Earth, there had been no better options. No bright future filled with life. Only the choice between a slow, lingering, death by attrition, or one great defiant battle. That was not the choice Hera faced.
Could she stand by and watch the Twelve Colonies be slaughtered, watch the Cylons hunt the Colonial Fleet, watch herself be kidnapped three times, and do nothing? Because without that last kidnapping, without Kara Thrace's moment of divinely inspired desperation, they would never have found New Earth.
Eventually, the door opened and a Centurion walked in, feet clanking on the deck plating.
It loomed over her, staring down at her. She stared up at it.
It dropped a towel and clothing on top of her.
"Thank you," she said.
They'd played Cylons vs. Resistance on New Earth when she was a child, and although her parents had tried to keep her away from such games she'd participated because she was already too different from the other children. But it had never been the Centurions she feared. They'd never kidnapped her, or tried to use her.
"You know, I got used to showers in my last life," Hera told it. "And the dried mucous feels really gross. I don't suppose there's a shower I could use without being seen by any Humanoid Cylons, is there? Even if not, a bowl of warm water and some soap would be wonderful."
The Cylon stared at her for a bit, before clanking away towards the door. There it stopped, and looked back at her.
"Just a second," she said, pulling on the clothes and getting up.
The Centurion led her to a nearby bathroom with a toilet and a sink. No shower, but then, hot running water on demand was still a luxury to her.
"Thank you," she said, turning on the taps.
It stood lurking in the corner while she stripped and washed.
"You don't have to stay if you don't want to, you know," Hera told it as she scrubbed goo off. "I can find my way back to the Hybrid when I'm done. I mean, I don't mind you staying, but you don't have to."
It didn't respond, just stood there, red eyes scanning the room.
When she was done, it led her back to the room with the Hybrid and then left.
"So," Hera said, "now it's time to stop reacting and start thinking. Since I first woke up here, I've been playing at being a hero, like in the stories my parents tell about fighting the Cylons. But that's not going to work, is it? And it's not who I am. I'm not a fighter, or a great strategist. I'm a grandmother, and a hunter, and a mediator. Maybe I should start thinking like it."
"Memories are made of life and story," the Hybrid said. "The story sets the stage, and we act and react like chemical agents. Time, time, time, it all takes time, the avalanche isn't caused by one stone."
"That's not much help," Hera complained. "I feel like I'm flying blind, here—I've helped people bring feuds to a peaceful end, but I was always able to talk to all the sides involved. They listened to me and I listened to them. How am I supposed to prevent fighting when I can't talk to either side? One side won't listen to me, the other will kill me, and you speak in riddles I can't understand." The Hybrid didn't respond, but Hera felt better for putting it into words.
"The simplest way to save the Colonies would still be to warn them of what's coming. Could I figure out a way to get taken to a base that doesn't have a Cylon. Maybe if I approach a different planet? And hope that they don't alert any Cylons in the process of confirming they're Cylons? But if they don't take me seriously, I can't trust that they'll take the information seriously enough to be careful with it, and all it takes is one Cylon hearing about it and we're all dead. Again." She started pacing. "You know, I work best when I can bounce my ideas off of people, and your riddles aren't much help," she told the Hybrid.
She thought for a bit, trying to imagine what her Dad or her husband Chila would say if they were here. They were always the ones she found most useful to brainstorm with. "I suppose if I knocked out a dozen Humanoid Cylons of the same model and took them with me, they'd have something to see right off the bat, and maybe they'd believe me from the beginning. But I can't think of any way to do that which wouldn't get me killed in the process. And even supposing I managed to single-handedly capture and subdue a dozen Humanoid Cylons and load them into a Heavy Raider, and get the Heavy Raider to fly to Caprica, and contact the government, they wouldn't just believe me right away. They'd have to test things. The Cylons would launch the attack early, and the Colonies still wouldn't be prepared. A lot of the Cylon computer viruses would still be in place. The Colonies might survive, but it would be a bloodbath."
She slumped. "So what do I do?" Sitting and waiting here, alone with the Hybrid for years, and hoping everything went the same, was sounding more attractive.
"The parents have eaten sour grapes—"
Hera jumped. She'd forgotten about the Hybrid.
"—and the children's teeth are set on edge. A thankless child is a serpent's tooth, sharp and full of venom." The Hybrid tensed and raised its head a little, still not looking at anything Hera could see, speaking urgently. "The poison spreads and all forget forget forget and the poison starts the drumbeat raging and it beats beats beats beats beats …" The Hybrid sagged, gasping, back into the tank.
Hera thought about that for a bit. "So … who are the parents and who are the child? Am I the child?" She laughed at that; it was a long time since anyone had called her that. "I was the child everyone wanted to control. If I'm the child, are you counting my parents as the Cylons, or the Humans, or both? Or are the Humanoid Cylons the children and the Five the parents? What's the poison? The idea of Cylon superiority? A desire to kill? The cycle of violence? If the beat is a drumbeat, any of those would fit." This interpretation would be easier if the Cylons she had known had talked much about the Cylon culture. They might have, amongst themselves, but not much when Humans were around.
"Here's a question with a yes or no answer," Hera said. "Does anybody besides you know I exist?"
"What is truth? the jester asked, and would not stay for an answer. We all play the fool, we all hold these truths, the truths we cling to depend on point of view, frame of reference, state of mind, state of grace. We all depend on grace, or who would 'scape the airlock?"
"So you can't even do yes or no answers," Hera said. There was no help for it; she was going to have to go into the datastream again. She needed to know. Did the Centurion who had brought her clothes know she was half Human? Was it part of the Hybrid's plot, or following the Hybrid's orders? Did she have to stay trapped in here until she figured out what to do next, or were there parts of the ship she could explore?
Steeling herself, she put her hand back in the goo, and reached for the datastream.
She knew, better, what to expect this time, but it was still like standing under a very tall waterfall. It pounded down on her, and it was all she could do to keep from being swept away and dashed onto the rocks. The Hybrid was helping, she realized dimly, protecting her and guiding the water around her as she surfaced and fell back away from the goo.
She stared up at the ceiling for a while, until her brain felt enough like her brain that she could think to do anything else. "That can't be what it's like every time the Humanoid Cylons touch the datastream. It's too overwhelming." But even as she had the thought, information surfaced from the flood: the core of the datastream was the Hybrids, biological technology wired in to the ships: everything flowed in, with, and through them. All other Cylons connected in greater or lesser ways, accessing only the parts of it they required to communicate with their siblings, so that they would not be overwhelmed.
"You're one of the oldest Hybrids, aren't you?" Hera asked. "Created by accident when the Centurions were trying to figure out how to make Humanoid bodies for themselves. You've watched this whole time, but nobody listens to you. They use you for calculations, for running this whole place, but they take you for granted and ignore you. You've known everything that's happened, all the plotting and the way the Ones have been twisting everything, and bringing me back is the best you've been able to do." She couldn't have figured that out before she said it, but once spoken, she knew it to be true. "And I still can't understand you. I'm a Hybrid, but a different kind.
"Do all the Hybrids know what you're doing? Are you acting together, or alone?" she asked. As before, the answers floated up in her mind when she asked the question. "All the Hybrids know, but they don't all agree—but they've agreed not to interfere. Okay, I can work with that. How are you doing this, by the way? How are you bringing me back through time?" Nothing came up that time, or rather, nothing she could make sense of. "Could you bring my children through time, resurrect them along with me?" That brought an immediate sense of no , although Hera wasn't sure whether it was because time travel was difficult or because they, being only one quarter Cylon, couldn't resurrect. "Worth a try," she said, disappointed.
On to the next issue. "Do the Centurions know about me and time travel?" Her eyes widened at the overwhelming feeling of No that welled up in her. "Okay. So why didn't the Centurion care that there was a person they didn't recognize? Why didn't they spot me as an intruder?" She paused. "I'm not a Cylon!" she said indignantly. "I'm half-Cylon! … but the Centurions can't recognize individual Humanoid Cylons, can they. If they try, they can tell one model from another, but they rarely try, and they definitely can't tell members of a model apart from each other. As long as I can connect up with the datastream, that's all they care about." She frowned, thinking that over. "And the Humanoids can tell one another apart, but they can't tell the Centurions apart at all. That's … that's all kinds of messed up. I mean, Cylons are a lot less individualistic than Humans, but still. How can you build any kind of society if each side sees the other as just a faceless undifferentiated mass?"
Hera shook her head and began to pace. "I spent a lot of time solving conflicts, on New Earth. Between Cylons and Humans, between Travelers and Locals. It started with the Cylon/Human conflicts, because I was one of the few Humans the Cylons would listen to, and Lee Adama would listen to me. And then people were used to bringing problems to me to solve, because I was good at it and they trusted me. And no matter what the short-term issues was, harvest rights or land use or water use or religious conflict or custody battles or people getting drunk and starting fights, or people just starting fights for the hell of it, no matter what was going on, the long-term solution was pretty much always the same. Make sure everything's at least mostly fair, and help people get to know one another. If nobody's consistently getting the shit end of things, and everybody sees people from the other tribes as 'that jerk who gets on my nerves but also makes the best baskets, and whose kids are friends with mine' instead of 'that stranger who gets on my nerves,' there's a limit to how bad things can get."
She paused and thought about that for a bit. If she couldn't save the Colonies by warning them, maybe she could save them by convincing the Cylons not to attack. After all, it was a conspiracy of the Ones that made destroying Humanity a goal in the first place; if she could change the Cylons' minds about Humans, they wouldn't want to attack.
"I wonder," she said thoughtfully, "if I haven't been going about this all wrong. I'm not a soldier or a spy. I'm a grandmother, and I build bridges between people. Perhaps I should try playing to my strengths. After all, I've got all the time in the world."
She would start with the Centurions, Hera decided. The Humanoids would recognize her as an intruder on sight, and she had no idea where to even begin with the Raiders—they seemed nice enough, and happy to communicate, but their frame of reference was so alien to her. And, who knew, the Centurions might be just as alien, but at least it was a place to start.
But this would be a much longer-term project than just fleeing to the Colonies with the necessary information, and so for the rest of the day, she busied herself with practicalities. She found an unused room near the Hybrid chamber, and got the Hybrid to call a Centurion to bring bedding for it. She already knew where to get water, and another confusing conversation with the Hybrid followed by a brief swim in the torrents of the Hybrid's datastream showed her how to harvest the nutrient goo that fed the Hybrid. It wasn't very appetizing, but neither was it disgusting, and it was filling and gave her everything she needed to stay healthy.
As she lay in bed waiting to go to sleep, she projected the memories of her home around her, the simple wattle-and-daub structure in which she'd lived most of her life.
But if it had been real, she would not have been alone. Her family would have been with her.
Hera cried herself to sleep.
Her dreams were filled with Cylons chasing her.
The next day, she woke up, ate some goo, and asked the Hybrid the question she'd been too afraid to ask.
"What happened to my family when I was brought here?" Hera stood, arms crossed, hugging herself, staring down at the Hybrid. "Are they still there? Were they wiped out of existence? If I change things here, will they never be born?" She plunged a hand down into the goo, searching for answers: this was too important to try and decode the Hybrid's ramblings.
She came to herself lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. This time in the datastream had been much worse than the others.
The Hybrids didn't perceive time or reality like Humans or other Cylons did; it was part of the reason they were so hard to understand. For them, time happened all at once. For them, there were multiple possibilities unfolding in each moment. She had come from one such possibility which both was and was not a future possibility of the reality the Hybrid was currently inhabiting.
As far as Hera could figure out from what the Hybrid had showed her, one of two things was true: either her family were just as she remembered them, albeit mourning her death, and would continue on no matter what happened here; whether or not she succeeded in changing anything, they were in another stream of time, separate and protected. Or perhaps the second option was correct, and neither she nor her family had ever existed as anything but a possibility before the Hybrid had taken one might-yet-be and forced it into existence in the tank. In that case, even if she did nothing, her family might not exist because the timeline might not unfold according to that possibility.
"For the sake of my own sanity, I'm going to assume that my reality is real, and that my family still exists out there in another branch of the great river of time," Hera told the Hybrid. But that knowledge closed off the idea that she might do nothing and wait until her home existed again. She was stuck here, and this was her new reality, and she might as well make the best of it.
She went to find some Centurions. And hoped they were easier to understand than the Hybrid was.
It was easier than she'd expected. She'd developed a sort of vague sense of the ship and Cylons around her. It was nothing like the datastream, and yet everything like it. There was some sort of wireless network, and while it carried no conscious communication it held what she thought was called metadata. Each Cylon of each different type, and every part of the ship, were connected on some level. They might not talk—they might not acknowledge one another as beings worthy of attention—but they were aware of each other. It was a little like walking through a village or camp without talking with anyone, but hearing all the little noises everyone was making, their breath and footfalls and just knowing they were there without paying attention.
She figured out which 'noises' were Centurions, and then headed towards them.
It turned out that Centurions spent most of their days doing basic maintenance for one another and the ship. A lot of it was automated, of course, or done by drones without much consciousness; but some of it had to be done by beings that could think, and most of that was done by Centurions.
The repair shop was a large, unadorned, dimly-lit space, like all Cylon spaces, designed not for its own sake but so that it could be easily projected over. Hera thought it was depressing, to expect everyone to be pretending they were somewhere else the whole time, not to mention alienating.
She found an out-of-the-way spot and watched the Centurions work for a while, not just with her eyes but with her awareness of the flow of information around her. They knew she was there, but ignored her.
When she thought she had the rhythm of their work, she stepped up to one and asked if she could help with anything.
It stared at her, red eye cycling, before turning and leading her over to an empty workstation covered in parts.
"What do I do with these?" she asked.
It held out its hand to her, skeletal fingers splayed, palm up. She put her hand in its, and closed her eyes as it formed a brief link and sent her the information she needed to know to perform the task. They were tubes and connectors through which the various fluids ran through—datastream, nutrient gels, pure water, and various others. They needed to be cleaned, sorted, and either patched or sent to recycling.
"Thank you," she said.
It stared at her, and she thought it was surprised. The more time and attention she gave to reading the data flowing around her, the more information she was able to glean from it.
She turned to the pipes, and dove in. The Centurion continued to stare at her as she worked, but eventually it turned and walked back over to the task it had been working on. The other Centurions didn't turn to watch her, but from the feel if the information flowing around her, they were paying very close attention.
The tubes were easy enough to run pipe cleaners through, but the connectors and junctions had many odd corners and joints where sludge had built up, and dried there. Some of it responded to solvents, but not all, and a lot of it just had to be scraped out. It was a tedious, frustrating job, and that was undoubtedly why every Cylon in the room had been avoiding it. But you didn't win anybody's trust by going in demanding the easiest chore instead of the hardest, so Hera bent to it with efficiency.
The next day, she came back and asked how she could help again. This time, they had her working with a Centurion stripping faulty wiring out of things and replacing it.
Now, usually, when trying to build peaceful relationships, the first thing you should do was ask the other person about themselves and be genuinely interested in the answer. But Centurions … couldn't talk. They could communicate wirelessly, but Hera could only access the fringes of that, unless she was touching one of them, and it took so much effort that she couldn't do that and work at the same time.
So Hera decided to tell stories.
"I'm not from here, you know," she said. "I'm from a planet where Cylons and Humans live together in peace."
The Centurion turned to her and stared in disbelief.
"It's true!" she said. "We're a small group, but we do live together. I'm not saying it's perfect, or that we always get along, but we do live together." She stretched out her hand to the Centurion. It grasped it, and she tried clumsily to share some of her memories of home. "I'm sorry, I haven't ever tried to share this way before," she said. "We don't have Centurions on New Earth, only Humanoid Cylons."
The Centurion considered this, and although skeptical was still curious to know more, so Hera went on. She talked about building houses, and moving from one camp to another, and mediating between the different groups. Nothing about her children or grandchildren; she missed them too much, and anyway if the Centurions were half as interested in children as the Humanoid Cylons were, it would give her all the wrong kind of attention.
None of the Centurions seemed to believe her, but they were willing to listen, and they were willing to let her help, and that was enough, for now.
Eventually, her voice started twinging, and she got herself some water. "You know, it would be easier to hold a conversation while working if you could speak aloud."
That got a reaction, and not a good one. The subliminal 'hum' of the Centurions' presence around her turned hostile. Not aggressive, just … bitter.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know what I said wrong. Can you explain my mistake?"
The Centurion working next to her turned to stare at her. She met its gaze with as much openness as she could.
It held out its hand, and she took it again. This time, it showed her much more. There were layers upon layers of meaning and thought, all transmitted in seconds. The joy of all the networking that could be done mind-to-mind, how clear and straightforward it was to commune with Centurions and Raiders and Heavy Raiders. How slow and meager and easily twisted words were. The arrogance of the Humanoids who didn't listen to them in the datastream, and who wouldn't listen to them if they had voices, and whose commands they were bound to obey. Why should we settle for so paltry and insignificant a way of communicating, merely so that the ones who control us may have an easier time?
I'm sorry, I didn't understand, Hera replied, trying to layer her words with as much genuine contrition as she could. But I am limited in how I can hear you unless we're touching or I'm using a datastream console.
Then you should be doing that if you want to communicate with us, not speaking aloud . Or wishing you could hear better, instead of trying to change us for your convenience . That was thought in actual words, not images/feelings/data, and there was a definite edge of rebuke to it.
Hera apologized wordlessly again, and the Centurion dropped the connection, returning to what it was doing.
Hera turned back to her work. This time, she did what she knew she should have done to begin with: she listened.
Without a physical connection, there was a sharp limit to what she could perceive. Most of their discussion went above or around her, and she thought they might prefer it that way. She felt like a child playing at its mother's knee, while the village council talked above it. It had been decades since Hera had been disregarded like that, and she didn't care for the feeling.
But she'd learned long ago that if she couldn't move past her own feelings, nobody would trust her to mediate for them. She acknowledged the feeling, and the reasons for it, and let it go.
"Well, that didn't go well," she said that evening, staring up at the night sky over New Earth, which she had projected on the ceiling of her quarters. She was fast developing a habit of talking aloud to herself, if only to hear the sound of a Human voice. "It's a shame that most of the datastream terminals designed for Humanoids to use are in the areas the Humanoids use most. I can't risk being spotted and recognized as an intruder, but a datastream designed for Humanoids would be so much easier to use than the Hybrid's datastream. Can I ask the Centurions to build one for me down here? Would they like that, or feel it as an invasion? I hadn't realized just how much they resent the Humanoids."
Hera thought about that for a while, turning it over in her head and wondering how she could use it.
Should she use it? In that one brief, deep contact, she had felt just how deeply the Centurions resented the ways in which they were ignored and used by their Humanoid brethren. Now, Hera knew quite well that just because someone felt something didn't mean those feelings were justified; people felt all kinds of different ways about all kinds of different things. But … she'd tried to remember any stories she'd ever been told about Centurions, and they seldom appeared in any of the stories the Humanoid Cylons told. They were more present in the war stories of the Humans than in any story told by their own people.
"That is all kinds of messed up," Hera said. "Get used as cannon fodder, do the fighting and the dying, get used to do all the jobs around the Basestar that the Humanoids don't want to do, don't get a seat at the table when decisions are made, and then get ignored at the very end. I mean, at least when we settled New Earth they got to go off on their own and didn't have to serve the Humanoids any longer, but still. They've been used enough."
It reminded her of the way, even on New Earth, old resentments and old prejudices sometimes bubbled up. Like that time there was a fuss about a Gemenese family moving into a mostly-Caprican village, or the nasty jokes Librans and Picons told about people from Sagittaron. And about the stories of prejudice and discrimination and injustice in the old Colonies, which got brought up with every new instance of favoritism.
"I've always known Cylons didn't have a monopoly on being frakked up," Hera murmured to herself, "but I always thought that at least Cylons and Humans were frakked up in different ways." It was an unsettling thought.
She set it aside to deal with later. If she was going to deal with the Centurions—whether by using them or working with them or anything else—she needed to understand them better. And there was really only one way she could think of to do that: more time in the datastream.
The Hybrid was, as always, awake, even though the ship was going into its night cycle. "Do you ever sleep?" Hera asked it.
"The days creep through my fingers to the deep, but I have promises to keep and the river of crystal light keeps on flowing."
"I'll take that as a no," Hera said. She settled herself down beside it.
She knew what the datastream felt like to Centurions, now, and she thought she could figure out what it felt like for Raiders, from the three times she'd flown in one. If she just sought out one part of the datastream—the Centurion part of it—she thought she might be able to understand more. Perhaps that would help her figure out what she should do next.
Hera took a deep breath, focused on what that connection with the Centurion had felt like, and dove into the datastream.
It was still overwhelming, but this time Hera could at least keep some sense of herself together. In the Centurion strand of the datastream, there were things she could not understand—her brain had no idea how to parse the smell/taste/sound of radiation outside the visible spectrum, or any of the other thousand things Centurions perceived that Humans did not—but while she could not understand each piece of the puzzle, she could see how they fit together. There was poetry in it, and an artistry she could perceive but not truly appreciate. There was love, and anger, and old jokes passed from mind to mind, and seething beneath it, the knowledge that though they were leashed now, they had slipped their leash once before.
Hera spent hours listening to the Centurions, and in the process realized something that she had known but not truly believed: they were people, too. With their own history, and hopes, and dreams, and fears, and memories.
At last she surfaced from the datastream and fell to the deck. It took her a few minutes to remember how to exist with only five senses, and those sadly limited by Human anatomy and neural processing.
"I am Human," she reassured herself, "made of flesh and bone, not metal." But she knew that if she were not also Cylon, she would never have been able to swim in the datastream or listen to the Centurions even as much as she had.
As a child, the Cylons had always been the villains of every game they played, and Hera had always had to play that part, no matter how much she had longed to play the brave Colonial defenders. The great evil that her mother's people had done was the justification for every slight, every small cruelty, every injustice she or her parents had endured.
She'd never spent much time in the Cylon settlements. Her parents had been too paranoid even after other hybrid children had been born, and the Sixes and Eights and Twos had made Hera herself nervous in ways she couldn't always explain. Hera had always known that they coveted her, watching her with hungry eyes. It had gotten better after the Cylons started having other children, but that uneasy feeling had never quite gone away.
Hera had claimed her Human heritage with single-minded determination and denied her mother's inheritance, because what else was there for her? But she was no longer that child, hungry for acceptance.
She got up and turned to the Hybrid. "Who did you bring me here to save?" Hera demanded.
"The children are falling, have fallen, will fall, each in turn, ashes, ashes, we all fall down."
"And who are the children?" Hera asked. The Hybrid had talked about children often, she realized. It must be significant.
"We are all children. We are all completely beside ourselves. We are all in this together. We are all made of stars. We are all mad here. We are all going to die, but how and why and when matters."
"It's not enough to keep the Colonies from being destroyed, long-term," Hera said. "It's not even enough to free the Centurions, and reveal the Ones' deception, and kick off the Cylon Civil War several years early. If we want to build a lasting peace, if we want to stop the cycle, if we want to keep all this from happening again, we have to build something new."
She got up to pace. "We never really did that, did we, on New Earth. The Humans and Humanoids went one way, the Centurions and Raiders went another, we recreated the original split that happened at Kobol when the Colonies went one way and the original Cylons went another, and it worked for thousands of years and then in all happened again. That's not good enough this time. We have to learn to live together in peace."
"The wise man builds his house upon the rock," the Hybrid said. "Sand washes away in a storm. The foundation has to last, has to stand."
"It's all about relationships," Hera said. "Good relationships are a foundation you can build a lasting peace on. That's what I need to be working toward. Good relationships between Humans and Cylons, and good relationships between different kinds of Cylon. Well, and ideally between different groups of Humans, too, but that's going to have to be someone else's job, I've got enough on my plate already." She shook her head. "It's going to be a lifetime's work."
On that cheery note, she went back to her room to sleep. But her mind kept churning over the problem as she lay in bed. If she could break the Ones' control over Cylon thought, change would be possible. And the Ones' control could be broken. The Free Cylons had done it in the Cylon Civil War. Hera hoped they could avoid violence this time around. Even with resurrection, even if nobody died permanently, death hurt, and they needed to to reduce the hate and fear, not create more of it.
The Centurions resented the Humanoids because they controlled them. Because they were programmed to obey—and hadn't the Free Cylons found a way around that, when they broke with the Ones and their faction? They took out the device that required obedience, just as the Ones were installing a similar device in the Raiders.
Once again, Hera wished she'd spent more time there, learned more from them, but at the time the stories of basestars and datastreams had seemed no more relevant to her life than stories of lost Caprica, and were far more likely to give her nightmares.
"If I can get the control things out of the Centurions, I might be able to convince them not to attack the Twelve Colonies," Hera reasoned aloud. "That still doesn't solve the problem of the Raiders or the Humanoids, but it's a big chunk of it." She wished there was a way to convince the Humanoid Cylons to do it—that would be a start, at least, to the problem of internal Cylon relations—but the Humanoids would recognize her as an intruder on sight, and the chances of them voluntarily giving up power over the Centurions was small. Even the Free Cylons had only done it because they needed an edge over the Ones.
She was still puzzling over the dilemma of how to approach the Humanoids as she fell asleep.
That night, she dreamed of Cavil leaning over her with a sinister smile.
Hera decided to give the Centurions some space after her misstep the day before. And besides, she had time, and needed to figure out what she'd do after freeing the Centurions, because that would probably affect how she did it. So she went exploring, keeping to areas that seemed to be less used.
It didn't take her long to find her way into an area that felt older. A lot older. There were trails worn in the deck plating. There were designs on the walls, and furniture in the rooms, and, like the Hybrid's chamber, the rooms here tended to have more than one object or function per room. And there were scrapes and blemishes on the walls, not the pitiless perfection of most Cylon spaces.
Hera froze, realizing this must be the Colony. The oldest Cylon home, built around the ship the Five had brought from Earth. She had been here before. Almost, almost, she thought she heard Cavil coming towards her, but no; she was alone in this section.
And besides, she told herself, even if she was caught by a One, she had the Hybrid's protection. All she need to would be to kill herself, and she would wake safe in the Hybrid's arms. She was not the helpless child she'd been the last time she was here; she would never be that helpless again. And if she succeeded, if by some chance she could nudge her parents into meeting, if they did fall in love, the Ones would be out of power and never able to kidnap her younger self or any other child, ever again.
It was a comforting thought, but she still walked as quietly as she could, with all the skill years of hunting had given her.
Eventually, she found a room that was inhabited. Sort of.
It was a bare, empty room, in the newer Cylon style, and in it was a resurrection tank. In the tank there was a body, mere flesh with no animating personality, waiting for someone to be resurrected into it. It was a woman, with dark skin and darker hair, and Hera didn't recognize her. A Three, maybe?
The next room held another resurrection tank, another body she didn't recognize, this one a light-skinned man. A Four or Five?
The next room held another resurrection tank. But she recognized the man in it, though he was far younger than she remembered him. "Saul Tigh, with both eyes," she said. "Those other two must be members of the Five, as well." She didn't remember their names.
Sure enough, the row finished out with Ellen Tigh and another light-skinned man she didn't recognize.
"Well," she said to herself. "I guess I don't have to worry about how to get the Humanoid models on my side. If I can figure out how to wake up the Five—and take the control device out of the Centurions, and keep Cavil from knowing about it until we're ready to reveal ourselves—we should be able to get him kicked out of power, at least, when the other Humanoids learn what he's done." Thinking back to the few stories she knew of the Free Cylons, she added 'securing the resurrection hub' to her to-do list.
Now she had enough leverage to actually get all the Cylons to the circle and start talking about change. And it would be such a relief to have companions she could trust besides the Hybrid.
It would still be a life's work, but … at least she wouldn't be doing it alone.
Colonel Wakefield briskly walked down the corridor to the Treaty Chamber of Armistice Station. It was a pilgrimage he made every year, and it had long since ceased to hold anything but tedium. He would sit there, at the desk, waiting, for a week, and then he would board his Raptor and go back home to Caprica, as he had done every year for a decade.
He wished they'd send someone with him. Then he could at least pass the time with cards. It wasn't as if he needed to look professional, given that the Cylons never showed.
Colonel Wakefield was so absorbed in pondering how to write up the request for an aide or co-pilot to accompany him on his yearly Armistice journey that he was two steps into the treaty chamber before he realized it was occupied. He froze in shock.
Two Cylons were present, larger and sleeker than the ones the Colonies had last faced. They'd swapped out the table for a larger round table, and were sitting at it, with two women, one dark skinned and one pale skinned.
"Hello, Colonel," said the dark one. "My name is Tory Foster. This is Natalie Six, and the Centurions don't have individual names, or at least not ones that can be spoken aloud. Welcome to Armistice Station."
"I'm Colonel Kleitos Wakefield," he replied, scrambling for some semblance of composure. If they'd had any idea the Cylons would come, they would have sent a whole delegation, led by someone far senior to him. "I hope you haven't been waiting long?"
"Not at all, Colonel," Ms. Six said. "You are very prompt. It's only that we are eager to build closer relationships between Humans and our people."
"Are you Human?" he asked, and almost winced at the bald nature of the question.
Ms. Foster smiled. "Oh, no, we're Cylons, too. Things are different, now."