D'Anna Biers: Are you afraid when you go into combat?
Margaret Edmondson: First thing they tell you is to assume you're already dead.
Biers: Well, that sounds ghoulish.
Edmondson: Yeah, maybe. But dead men don't get scared or freeze up under fire. Me, I'm just worried that hell's going to be a lonely place. And I'm going to fill it up with every toaster son of a bitch I find.
- - - - -
Starbuck ran the briefing with Athena at her side. The toaster and the woman who had come back from the dead. In spite of what casual acquaintances might think, she could hold her tongue when she had to; with her temper she worked hard to keep a tight rein on her thoughts. Athena had proven herself enough that Maggie didn't usually have doubts anymore; didn't mean she liked it, though. As for Starbuck, Maggie wasn't sure what to believe but she certainly didn't trust her.
No choice now. The cylon she'd once met as reporter D'Anna Biers had demanded four cylons that were hidden in their fleet. (Good riddance, she thought. The idea that there were unknown cylons in the Colonial fleet made Maggie's skin crawl.) When the four missing skinjobs didn't report themselves immediately, the cylons had airlocked one of the pilots they were holding as hostages; apparently it didn't matter enough to them to inform the fleet of which pilot it was. The remaining pilots had to get on that baseship quick and pray that they could rescue their own before the cylons blew the rest of the humans to hell.
- - - - -
Leaving home for the first time. Her mother pulled out a book version of the scrolls; Dad poured the line of salt while her brothers stood around awkwardly. She'd tried to tell Mama that it wasn't necessary--she was joining the military as a pilot but they weren't at war. They hadn't been at war since the armistice with the cylons almost forty years ago. But Mama had insisted; she acted as if her only daughter was terminally ill, about to be torn from the bosom of her family and dragged down to Hades where she would exist as a shade and forget her beloved family members.
Papa had laughed at her irritated expression earlier in the day, reassuring her that Mama was always like that when someone went away; as the first child to leave the farm, she was the lucky one to experience it for this generation.
Her mother held the book tightly in her arms, dark head bent closely over it since she refused to wear reading glasses. Maggie noticed with a start that Mama's hair was almost more gray than black. When had that happened?
"Their enemies will divide them. Their colonies broken in the fiery chasm of space. Their shining days renounced by a multitude of dark sacrifices. Yet still they will remain, always together." Mama's voice rang clear in the small dining room.
"Always together," repeated Maggie with her brothers and father. Booted feet from large to small scuffed across the floor until the line of salt was a smeared mess on the floor.
- - - - -
The mission was on hold. Information was flying fast; hard to know what was truth and what was rumor. The cylons had stood down, that much she knew. Biers had shaken Apollo's hand and said that their pilots would come back.
The four cylons hidden in the fleet were identified. The president's aide; she'd flown in Maggie's raptor before. Chief Tyrol, who had fixed her bird more times than she could count. Ensign Anders, Starbuck's husband--he'd been in nugget classes under her command.
The XO. Saul Tigh was a cylon. Resistance leader and mean drunk Colonel Tigh was a cylon.
Maggie's thoughts were in turmoil. They'd formed this hasty alliance--the cylons had broken it but now they were back to an agreement--and these newly-discovered cylons were staying with the fleet. Going to Earth together, human and cylon.
Later she found out more. Three of the cylons had almost been airlocked. Starbuck's unmarked viper, the one she brought back from the dead, was receiving a signal that couldn't be detected by any other ship. Admiral Adama had decided to take them all directly to the source of the signal--no exploratory team, just a fleetwide jump.
Maybe this was okay. Maggie believed in the gods in a reluctant way, as a part of her family heritage but this was so unbelievable, all of these events intersecting. She decided to ignore her doubts about working with the enemy and try hoping for the best for once.
She braced herself for the jump; she'd never liked the feeling when she wasn't in control of it in her raptor. It was like being stretched between two distant points. Maggie waited for the feeling to pass. A few moments later the Admiral's voice came over the loudspeaker:
"Crew of Galactica. People in the Fleet. This is Admiral Adama. Three years ago I promised to lead you to a new home. We've endured a difficult journey. We've all lost. We've all suffered. The truth is I've questioned whether this day would ever come. But today our journey is at an end."
He paused for a moment, then finished, "We have arrived... at Earth."
As the Admiral finished his announcement, the pilots' rec room erupted in cheers and high fives. Hotdog--Brendan, of all people--stood alone clapping and looking like he might cry. She grabbed the nearest pilot for a hug, then yelled as loud as she could. Later she thought of all the pictures in Galactica's corridors, of the loved ones left years and millions of miles behind them. Her own family, too--she'd never place the photo of her family on the memorial wall.
- - - - -
Mama stepped across the remnants of the line and hugged her tightly, tears slipping into Maggie's hair. Always the sentimental one; the rest of them had gotten their dad's sarcastic pragmatism. "Be a good girl, Margaret. Don't sass your instructors. Watch your tongue."
"Yes, Mama," she replied. Her youngest brother Marcus was a few feet behind them; he stuck out his tongue at her. She rolled her eyes back at him.
Papa was next. He held her for a moment and whispered so her mother wouldn't hear, "Give 'em hell, Meg."
She laughed and said, "Yessir."
Gods, she was so ready to leave the farm, but looking at her brothers, some taller than her, Marcus still in dayschool, she wondered if any of them would choose to stay. What if all of them left? She would have no place to call home.
- - - - -
They'd barely arrived but the rumor mill was hard at work again. Some were saying it was a cylon trick; others that the planet had already been found by the other cylons. Maggie found Helo in the hangar bay, face pale. "What's down there?" she asked.
He didn't answer. "Helo, what is it?"
Athena stepped next to him and answered Maggie's question. "It's dead. The whole planet, there's nothing there." Athena put her hand on Helo's arm; he didn't appear to notice. "It's a wasteland."
Before she could ask for more details, Maggie was ordered into her bird. They would be flying exploratory passes but first they'd do a supply drop to the landing site. She'd find out for herself.
Entering the atmosphere she could see the gray clouds and blue water. Nothing from up here that looked out of the ordinary. As they got closer, though, she could gradually make out the large twisted hulks of destroyed buildings, the huge craters of blast patterns. It was like a descent into Hades.
After landing she walked past small clusters of people--humans and cylons--who appeared to be as stunned as Helo had been. D'Anna Biers stood close to Laura Roslin, her face a portrait of lost hopes. If this was a cylon trick then these cylons didn't know about it.
Earth. No souls here but those who stepped off the ships and stared at the wreckage. Maggie had never gotten to see the ruins of old Caprica--her ship had gotten off-course and they'd found new Caprica instead--but now she was curious. Were there spirits there now, wandering and lost?
- - - - -
The photo curled up at its octagonal corners--cheap paper, the colors were already fading. Green was still dominant--the fields of their lands were freshly mowed in the background and the tree they had posed next to was in full bloom. Each of them had that awkward stiff smile from having too many pictures taken at once--except for Marcus, who was caught in motion, about to poke one of the twins. He had a gleeful expression on his face.
Maggie kept it inside the small book of scripture her mother had hidden in her luggage before she left. The photo was as much of an icon as any statue she might pray to.
- - - - -
What would the shades of her own dead think? Would they be pleased to see her on a planet again? Would they be angry that the cylons were with them? Maybe they themselves were already dead, fallen unaware into an underworld prison. This could be Tartarus.
Ignoring Hamish as he asked her where she was heading, she took quick strides toward the water's edge to where Starbuck was standing. She was staring at the waves, or maybe at the wreckage across the bay. The blond male cylon, Leoben, was standing near her like a sentry. She ignored him and walked up to the captain.
"Is this why you came back from the dead? To bring all of us to the underworld?" she demanded.
Starbuck didn't answer at first. She continued staring at the water, then suddenly turned to her and said, "What was her name?"
"The queen of the Underworld."
Maggie looked at Starbuck's lost expression. "It was Persephone."
"I was trying to remember. Earlier." Starbuck raised her hand toward the destruction for a moment, then lowered it.
The Leoben model took a step toward both of them; he stopped when both women turned and glared at him.
They looked across the water again. A cold breeze washed over them; Maggie tasted salt and ash in the back of her mouth. When she turned her face inland she saw the twisted remnants of a temple, covered in dead vines like a burial mound. Whatever Gods had been worshipped here were either gone or dead.
Maybe their own Gods were gone, too.