Battlestar Galactica 2003 is a copyright of the Sci Fi Channel. Battlestar Galactica is a trademark and copyright of Universal Studios. Ron Moore re-imagined Glen A. Larson's original idea; but then again, most people who would be reading this already know that. My use is in no way intended to challenge or infringe upon any established copyrights. This piece is not intended for any profit on the part of the writer, nor is it meant to detract from the commercial viability of the aforementioned or any other copyright. Any similarity to any events or persons, either real or fictional, is unintended.
Author's Note: Yes, the use of the name Ceti Alpha Five was deliberate. And kudos to those who caught the reference. There's no crossover in the works, but as the chapter title indicated, some seeds were being sown.
For a few moments, the familiarity of the scene sets Kara Thrace's nerves on edge. The same dimly lit, smoke-filled pub at the end of another week that seemed just like so many others. The same half-drunk patrons sitting at the same tables. The same music on the stereo, all of it outdated, the work of musicians who are long-dead. She almost considers turning on her heel and leaving, and then she notices a familiar face in the haze, a man sitting alone at the bar, largely ignored by the people around him.
"What's a guy like you doing in a place like this?" Starbuck asks as she walks up behind Ares, slapping him lightly on his shoulder.
"Getting a drink," he replies with a shrug. He stands there for a beat, glancing from her to all of the people crammed into the small bar.
Starbuck has started to lose track of how long they've been back on Caprica. In the beginning, she could have told someone exactly how many hours she'd been back on solid ground; but as time dragged on, she found herself counting days, and then weeks. Finally, she stopped caring enough to bother keeping track anymore. Off the top of her head, all she can say for sure is that it's been several months now. She doesn't know for sure how many, but winter is in full swing in Caprica City, and this is the first time that's happened since they returned. So she's sure it's been less than a year.
As it's the end of this umpteenth week, colonists are arriving back in Caprica City on their weekly furlough, to visit with family and friends after spending five days working at atmosphere decontamination sites around the planet. As always, everyone in the room is cold and exhausted, but Starbuck can still sense an undeniable energy in the pub. It's not like anything she's ever felt in her life – certainly not like anything before the cylons came and wiped out most of humanity – and it's what keeps her coming out to mingle with people when she and Sam could be alone in their apartment, instead.
"So where have you been hiding yourself all this time?" Starbuck asks, gesturing to the bartender to refill her mug.
"Been here and there," Ares answers evasively, which isn't exactly a surprise. "There's plenty to keep me busy."
"I figured you would have left by now," Starbuck says. She doesn't know why she says it – it's not like she wants him gone – it's just that there's something about seeing Ares in the pub, nothing about his appearance setting him apart from the people around him. She wonders if anyone else would look at Ares and think he doesn't belong, or if she just feels that way because she happens to know that he's one of the Lords of Kobol. Then again, who's to say Ares and many others haven't spent time amongst us for millennia, occasionally in the guise of a guy getting a drink at the local pub?
"And I figured you and Sam would be staying in," Ares says with a sly grin. "The libido finally starting to slow down, Kara?"
"You'll never know," she teases, grinning and punching his chest playfully. All of a sudden, her thoughts about him not belonging there are gone, and it's like old times back on Galactica, two pilots shooting the breeze, enjoying some time away from the daily grind.
"Where is Sam, anyway?"
"He'll be here soon," Starbuck assures him, turning again to look over the room, making sure that her husband hasn't slipped in unnoticed. "His crew was down by Port Cypress this week… their ship is one of the last ones in tonight. But I was asking about you – what are you doin' here?"
"Saying goodbye, I guess," Ares admits uneasily. Once again, he takes a look around the room, and Starbuck realizes that he's doing his best to freeze this scene in his memory.
I wonder what it's like for him, Starbuck thinks. He's been around humanity for who knows how long; he's seen our rises and falls, our good times and bad. Is this just another moment in time for him, or will he ever look back on us and remember us all as something special?
"I'll never forget you and the rest," Ares assures her.
"Wait a second…" Starbuck says. Can he read minds?
"Yes," Ares answers. "Come on, Starbuck; it can't be that big a surprise."
"Humph," she grunts, trying to clear her head, hoping not to give anything away. It only takes her a moment to realize how silly it is to do so. By now, he's got to know every secret I'm keeping. Why start being guarded now?
"Anyway, I hung around for a while," Ares says, "made sure the rest of my people abided by the terms of our treaties. I think my work here is about done."
"So what were those terms?" Starbuck asks curiously.
"A little nosy, aren't you?" Ares laughs. His tone is friendly, but there's a glimmer in his eyes warning Starbuck to let the matter drop.
"Just curious is all," she says, deciding to push the matter a little more to see how Ares responds.
"You know, I'm curious too," Ares tells her. "Have you and Lee sat down with Sam and Dee to get all of your issues out in the open?"
"Okay, fine," Starbuck says immediately, throwing her hands up in surrender as she looks around to make sure Sam hasn't shown up and wandered into earshot at an inconvenient moment. "You win. Keep your secrets."
"I will," Ares says, grinning broadly. And then, in an instant, the smile melts away and he's left looking almost serious. "I'm glad I got to see you again before I left."
"Me too," Starbuck admits. "I never got to thank you for what you did." She touches her face, runs her hands through her hair, tries to remember what it was like without a right eye.
"I didn't do anything," Ares says with a casual shrug. "That was all Hades. I blow shit up – he's the one who's all about life and death."
"Still, you could have left me there to die."
"And I'm glad you didn't."
"Kara, you attacked a cylon basestar with the Blackbird… and you won," Ares says, nodding slowly, as if he can barely believe his own words. "That's gotta be one of the coolest frakking things ever. No way was I gonna let you waste away for a few days before dying alone in Lee's bed, not when I could talk Hades into regenerating you and causing no end of angsty amusement for everyone who knows you and Lee."
"You're a true humanitarian," Starbuck replies, again making sure Sam hasn't shown up to hear any of this. Then it's time to change the topic. "So… you're just leaving now?"
"In a couple of days," Ares says. "I'm going to Lee and Dee's wedding tomorrow, and I'll probably take off after the reception. I… didn't expect you to make it there, so I figured this might be my last chance to say goodbye to you."
"Yeah…" Kara says, avoiding any comments about Lee's wedding, slowly groing irritated by Ares' constant returns to the uncomfortable topic of Lee Adama. She knows she should at least display some pretense of happiness – Lee was certainly nothing less than a consummate gentleman when she and Sam got married, despite the circumstances and the shell-shocked look on his face when he shook Sam's hand – but she just can't even bring herself to think about the idea of Lee getting married, no less carry on a friendly discussion about it. "Thanks for coming, Ares. I woulda missed saying goodbye."
"Don't mention it," he says.
The bartender finally arrives with Kara's beer, and she takes several large gulps, motioning for the bartender to start filling her next round even as she starts on this one. Perfect timing, she decides, thankful that the drink gives her an excuse not to talk right away. She spends several moments in silence, alternating between memories of her last night with Lee and doing her best to stop remembering so vividly, lest Ares know everything. Finally, she says, "It won't be the same without you around."
"Well, I figure there aren't enough humans left to make for any interesting wars," Ares answers, a disappointed scowl on his face. "Knowing you guys, you'll still find a way to kill a few people over something – maybe a plot of land, or some kind of perceived slight, or maybe even a controversial political decision – but it won't really be interesting. Anyway, some of the others have been getting all philosophical, saying we have to redefine our roles in the universe or some crap like that. Maybe they're right… Either way, there's no point in me playing God of War to humanity for at least a few centuries."
"So where are you going?" Starbuck asks. "What else is out there?"
"You're getting nosy again," Ares tells her.
"It's a character flaw," Starbuck laughs. "I've learned to accept it."
"Learned to embrace it, more like," Ares replies. "And anyway, it suits you."
"I'm not sure how to take that."
They both laugh lightly to fill the awkward break in their exchange, and then Kara turns to her drink again, wondering at how it suddenly feels awkward trying to carry on a conversation with this Lord of Kobol. She shrugs slightly, and decides to ask about something that's been bugging her for months.
"Can I ask a question?" she says, locking her eyes on Ares', daring him to refuse her.
"You can ask," he replies, smirking broadly. "No guarantee you'll get an answer."
"Back when you told us that you're one of the Lords of Kobol, you…" Starbuck's voice trails off weakly as she tries to find the proper way of phrasing her question. "You showed me things," she finally says. "In my mind."
"Yes," Ares confirms. If anything, he seems happy that Starbuck is bringing this up.
"And one of them was a meeting of cylons," Starbuck remembers, Ares' reaction making her feel far more comfortable with the conversation.
"Ah… that," he says. "I was surprised you didn't ask me about that sooner."
"They weren't really cylons, were they?' she asks hesitantly.
"No, they weren't," Ares confirms. "Those were all human bodies. You see, the forms – and even the personalities – you came to know as the humanoid cylons were all renderings of the Lords of Kobol at the time of Athena's rebellion."
"I don't understand," Kara admits, working it all through in her head.
"That was the last time we went to war," Ares says. "Remember that Cronus is the one who gave the cylons the technology to make their humanoid models. You're only human, so you'll never understand the extent of Cronus' arrogance." Ares stops for a moment, clearly choosing his words as he signals the bartender that he's almost ready for another round of his own.
"How do you mean, arrogance?" Kara asks.
"By your human reckoning, Cronus is well over a million years old," Ares replies. "He spent most of his life as the unquestioned lord of a species of immortal beings of energy and thought that uses the universe as its own personal playground. Pride isn't just a human flaw, Kara. When Zeus rose up and deposed Cronus, he humiliated a vastly powerful being who thought of himself as a god."
Kara nods as she follows along, glancing around, once again checking for Sam and noting that not a single person near them seems the least bit interested in their conversation. Given the topic, she finds that astounding.
"They can't hear us," Ares explains, nodding toward the humans in the pub. "This is for your ears only." As if to prove Ares' statement, the bartender places two freshly filled mugs in front of them, and then walks away without the faintest hint of interest in what they're saying.
"Oh," Kara mumbles, wondering what other parlor tricks Ares might be capable of performing.
"And as I was saying, Cronus was royally pissed," Ares continues. He takes a sip of his beer, his expression betraying his joy at telling this story; Kara assumes that means it'll end violently. "Everyone took him for dead, because no one imagined that Cronus would just leave; it wasn't his style at all," Ares says. "After countless eons following Cronus' lead, watching him overwhelm one challenge after another through sheer strength, we all ended up forgetting how clever, calculating, and manipulative he could be. He saw he'd been defeated, so he went away for a while."
"To plan for revenge," Kara concludes.
"The Earthers have a saying that revenge is a dish best served cold," Ares says, a thin smile betraying his amusement at some untold joke. "It's the kind of wisdom that Cronus would embrace – he let his revenge sit there getting cold for millennia, waiting for everyone to forget that he'd even existed in the first place. He watched from afar, confident that Zeus would provide an opening. Athena's Rebellion convinced Zeus that humanity needed to be trimmed back, and Cronus realized that Zeus would have to repeat that precaution every few millennia. So he watched and waited, until Zeus sent Hephaestus to inspire your engineers to build the cylons."
"So your people are responsible for that," Kara mutters.
"No, Zeus just made sure your people got a nudge in the right direction," Ares counters. "The first Cylon War set you back a little, but not enough. When humanity ended up winning an unexpectedly convincing victory, Zeus made sure some cylons survived, and he sent them to a planet where they could regroup. And then… he just walked away."
"Zeus left," Ares shrugs. "He left Apollo behind to make sure the job got done, which was just stupidity on a colossal scale, because Apollo is many things, but an effective administrator he is not."
Kara laughs at that, knowing that Ares is speaking of Apollo, Lord of Kobol, but unable to shake the image of a confused Lee pacing around Pegasus's CIC, trying to maintain military discipline in the recent post-war days. Ares gives her an agreeing nod, and then continues.
"Hades started scheming with Prometheus to help humanity, Aphrodite and a few others ended up signing on with Cronus, and I basically sat around bugging Apollo, disrupting the whole operation for shits and giggles," Ares says with a mischievous grin. "I don't know when Cronus showed up, but it had to have been a while ago. Like I said before, he was an egotistical son of a bitch, so it wasn't enough to give the cylons the technology to look human. He gave them the technology to build twelve models, each one fashioned in the image of one of the Lords of Kobol at the time of Athena's Rebellion. That was the last time Zeus trimmed back humanity and when Cronus hatched his little scheme to strike when Zeus reinitiated his little population control plan."
"Why would Cronus do that?' Kara asks. "That's one hell of a clue that there's something suspicious going on."
"He did it because it was a clue," Ares answers, shrugging and slamming his mug down on the bar. "It wasn't enough to beat Zeus, to regain power over the gods, and to wipe out humanity. He wanted to be able to stroll in after it was all done and shove our faces in it, to point out that we should have known all along because the cylons all had faces that we'd worn in the past."
"And why didn't you know? How could you not notice?"
"Because we've worn so many faces over so many years," Ares tells her. He stops for a moment and seems to choose and discard several alternatives of how to continue his story before he adds, "We're not like you, Kara. Humans have one face, and it changes only slowly over the course of a lifetime. By contrast, take Aphrodite – she's been known to go through bodies the way human women go through dresses. She'll find a young, beautiful woman, and take the body until she finds a wrinkle or a stray gray hair some morning. And I'm no better – as soon as a body loses a step, I move on. Hades is the only one who noticed that the cylon bodies looked familiar, and that's because he's been known to spend decades, sometimes centuries, in the same body. He keeps them regenerated and alive, and he gets comfortable in his skin. The one your people know as Cavill was a body he'd worn for a very long time. So he realized that there was more going on than the rest of us knew, and he acted accordingly. Luckily for you."
"So Hades, the widely feared God of Death and Lord of the Underworld is the lord who saved mankind," Kara says, grinning widely. "He's gonna be pissed when no one believes the story enough to build him some cheerier temples."
"We'll see," Ares grins. "Anyway, I'll see you around," he tells her, standing to his feet. There's a subtle shift in the crowd around him as people subconsciously decide to move away, to make a path toward the door.
"You will?" Kara asks.
"Yeah," he assures her. "Someday. Of course, I'll look different then – younger, stronger body and all – but you'll know it's me."
"I'll be the one with the most expensive present on your wedding day."
"I'm already married," Kara points out. "You missed it. And come to think of it, I didn't get a present." She flashes him a playful pout that she fails to shift into a reproachful stare.
"I mean your next wedding day," Ares clarifies, smiling at her expression.
"Hey!" Sam's voice calls out right behind Kara. She spins quickly, instantly finding herself wrapped up in her husband's arms. "Getting started without me?" he asks, looking at the glass in her hand.
"I was just having a conversation with…" Her voice trails off as she turns back around, unable to find Ares anywhere in the pub. There's a moment of disappointment, but part of her admits that that's pretty much the perfect exit for Ares.
"With who?" Sam asks.
"Doesn't matter," Kara says, shrugging slightly. "Just an old war buddy. He slipped out, though. I'm all yours, now."
A cold wind cuts across the clearing, kicking up dust and dry, decaying, months-old leaves that provide the sole memory of last year's growing season. Sharon Agathon sighs heavily, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. The trees are starting to bud now, and the air is warmer than it was a few weeks earlier, but this is still a far cry from the Caprican springs she remembers. Of course, I never actually experienced any of those,she reminds herself. Those are all just fake memories programmed into my mind. Not a day goes by when she doesn't disgust herself with reminders that she's a machine masquerading as a women, but it's starting to get easier for her out here, part of a real family with Helo and Hera. When all else fails, she can always look around at other couples, like Gaius and Caprica Six; that always makes her feel better about her own lot in life.
She knew living on this world would be tough – Helo hadn't minced words when he described the planet's surface – but some part of her had held out hope that her husband had been exaggerating, that he'd simply stressed the negatives so that she would be pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't as bad as she'd been led to believe. But as usual, Helo called it like he saw it, Sharon acknowledges. No exaggeration, no sugar-coating, no rose-colored glasses. Just a crappy gray and brown world that we get to call home. But for good or bad, it is home.
She lights two flares and tosses them onto a large patch of charred earth, marking the planet's unofficial landing pad. Moments later, a Colonial Raptor descends from the clouds, the familiar hum of its engines bringing a smile to Sharon's face. She watches jealously as the craft levels out and circles lazily, the pilot indulging an inexplicable desire to take in the view. Sharon continues to wait alone, finally starting to shiver in the open air. She's reminded of Doc Cottle's complaints about the cylons' failure to upgrade the plumbing when they built their humanoid models, and decides that they might also have been well advised to increase tolerance of temperature extremes, too.
But on some level, we all wanted to be human, she reminds herself. The Tens said we hijacked humanity's destiny, and I guess the design of our humanoid models is the perfect evidence. We could have taken a human appearance while incorporating any number of optional upgrades. But we didn't. We satisfied ourselves with the pre-existing human form, complete with all its flaws and shortcomings. It's no wonder we lost – we lacked the imagination we needed to keep growing.
Sharon turns her right cheek toward the Raptor as it touches down on the ground, enjoying the familiar sensation of soaking in the heat rolling off the skin of the craft; it reminds her of the old days, before she knew she was a cylon, when the greatest joy in her life was flying. Things are different now; now she's happy just to be out of the cell that caged her for the better part of a year. The hatch hisses as the pressure seal is broken, and Sharon walks around the Raptor to see how many colonists are aboard. Three cylons step out – a Five and two more Eights – and three humans – two men and a woman – follow them. The woman stands close to the Five, lightly reaching for his hand, her glassy eyes indifferent to the barren landscape that stretches to the horizon. The two men, on the other hand, immediately take stock of their surroundings, just as Sharon expects.
This scene has played itself out so many times that Sharon hardly notices anymore. The human women who come here were almost all forced into "relationships" with a chosen cylon male. They often felt lucky enough not to be hooked up to tubes at a farm, and they spent most of their waking hours working to keep their cylon "mates" happy, knowing the alternative that awaited them. After a while, this constant effort to satisfy the cylons resulted in them forming emotional bonds. It's classic hostage psychology, and so many of the victorious, returning humans saw these women as collaborators that they didn't care enough to try to rehabilitate them; they're far happier packing the women onto Raptors and sending them away forever.
The men, on the other hand, were all volunteers from the start. If a woman in the human resistance was captured, she was sent to a farm; if a man was caught, he was executed. Men weren't as valuable, and the cylons were able to fill their needs by employing only those men who willingly entered cylon strongholds with the intent to surrender and commit themselves to the cylon cross-breeding program. Any demonstration of defiance meant immediate death, and that fact hung over hostage men's heads like the Sword of Damocles. But now that threat is gone, and the men know it. Their own people sent them away as traitors, and they realize that the cylons brought them along because they need them. They need strong backs as much as they need fathers for prospective hybrid children.
Sharon recalls something Helo told her, that these men are dangerous beyond words. They've already demonstrated the weakness of their moral fiber, Sharon remembers Helo saying. They betrayed their own species in order to save their own hides. If they could have betrayed the cylons to stay on Caprica, they would have; they're only here now because it was the one way to keep their necks out of a noose. They're gonna be trouble. Sharon doesn't have to be human to know her husband is right about that, and she etches the faces of these men into her mind, cataloguing their appearance alongside dozens of others who've already settled in.
Sharon turns on her heel, ready to leave, when a man calls out behind her. "Hey," he says. "Who do I need to check in with?"
"Excuse me?" Sharon asks, turning back to find the Raptor pilot standing in front of her, unzipping his flight suit a few inches to cool off. "You're not supposed to check in with anyone. You're supposed to take off and not come back," she tells him.
"This is the last transport," the pilot answers. "One way trip – all of the astrogational data for the Colonies was wiped from the computers, just like all the data from beyond the red line was wiped from all Colonial records; I couldn't go back if I wanted to."
"Huh?" Sharon asks. It occurs to her that it's inevitable that one of these Raptor arrivals would be the last one ever, but she's surprised to find that there's no ceremony to mark the occasion. Sure, she thinks bitterly, I can just imagine the Sixes sitting around the campfire, painting banners to celebrate the official start of our exile.
"I'm the last pilot sent here," he says. "No more Raptors with emergency rations, no more cylon or human survivors. What we have here is all we have to work with."
"All 'we' have to work with?" Sharon repeats. "You're staying?"
"Like I said, it was a one-way trip. I dumped most of my remaining fuel just before I entered the atmosphere," the pilot explains. "Then I circled a few times to make sure she'll never have enough power to break orbit," he says, gesturing to the Raptor. "So yes, I'm staying."
"Why?" He's not a cylon, and he didn't come here with a cylon woman. In fact, his face looks vaguely familiar. I think he was on Galactica. Why the hell is he here?
"Does it matter?" he asks. "I volunteered for the one-way final trip, and Fleet Command granted my request. New Caprica's my home now."
"We don't call it New Caprica," Sharon tells him.
"Oh, right," he says apologetically. "I forgot about that. The humans still call it that… hard habit to break, I guess. But you just call it Ceti Alpha Five."
"No," Sharon corrects him. "We call it Mundus."
"Mundus?" the pilot repeats. "Hmm… Yeah, I guess that works."
"And there's a lot of work to do," Sharon says with a weary sigh, thinking of all of the chores she still has to finish after ducking in at home to check on Hera.
"I'm ready," the pilot assures her. "It's why I'm here, actually. Everyone on Caprica is just focused on rebuilding what they had. I think it's far more exciting to start over from scratch. I'm here to help build a whole new civilization."
"Oh," Sharon says, biting her tongue when at least a half-dozen discouraging comments spring to mind. She knows this pilot will regret his decision soon enough, that his starry-eyed, idealistic dreams will be a sour memory within weeks, if not days. No reason to ruin the last few misled days he has left. "So what's your name?" she asks as she starts to walk back home, leading the pilot back to what passed for the center of civilization on Mundus.
"Rutger," the pilot tells her. "My name's Jack Rutger."
Author's Endnotes: Well, this is the end of my ill-advised trilogy. At the risk of offending anyone by inadvertently leaving them out, I'd like to thank everyone for their comments, but also specifically Evilclone, ozma914, Mariel3, Silwyna, pilotlover, and Ammonite for frequent comments/criticisms. Such feedback is greatly valued.