Chapter 3: The Space Between Life and Death
In the name of the One True God.
D'Anna had planted a garden in the wasted land near the destroyed city on the planet the Cylons had called Earth. Leoben was surprised to see her, but then the Threes had always known how to survive, and it was good to see her and to see life in this place. She showed him the vegetables she had grown, the carrots and beans and the rows of corn. "I thought I was staying here to die," she said, "but life felt just too precious. And I wanted to see what could be done with this land."
He remembered when she had died, over and over again, shot on her own orders, to see the face of the final five. "They're from here," he said. "Your gods." The Cylons who had made them, the ones D'Anna had died to see.
"It was so beautiful," D'Anna said. "It still is. Look."
Earth stretched before them, ruined and broken and full of memory. There was no mercy in this land, none in the yellow grass and the ruins of a once-thriving city. Nor were there visions. When he touched the ground he felt nothing. All he could see was the dead world around him.
"You know, on Kobol," D'Anna said, "humans used to offer their children as sacrifices to the gods. It wasn't many, but every year a mother would bring her child and they would burn this child, piece by piece, until no life remained. It was in memory of their false god Demeter, who once tried to burn off a child's humanity until he was something beyond what a human could be."
"Is that what you are trying to do here?" Leoben asked. He thought of Kara, burned and alive, and wondered if his sister had gone mad.
"No," D'Anna said. "Rather the opposite."
D'Anna showed him the Cylons she was making, piecing them together from broken shards of rusted metal that had once been alive. She was working on some models of humanoids, but most were Centurions. He remembered how he had helped his sister Natalie give back to the Centurions the will that had been taken from them. "The Centurions destroyed this place," Leoben said. "Our people created them, then they rebelled, and in the battle between Humanoids and Centurions almost none survived."
"I know," D'Anna said. Leoben put his hand on a robot's face. He could feel no life in it. When he touched it the joints moved, but it did not move on its own. It was only a machine. "Will you help me?" D'Anna asked.
Leoben hesitated. It was madness, to bring to life the people that had destroyed theirs. But to know the face of God is to know madness, and perhaps this was the madness of God. These lifeless Centurions had cost D'Anna years of struggle, and even without vision he could see the Love that flowed between her and the life she hoped to create. "Yes," he said.
There were no visions in this place, and no dreams, but Leoben was here to seek out the past. He put his hand on the ground, willing himself to feel. The earth was silent. He waited. Finally he felt it: a long, harsh scream. He felt the death of a family in the house that had been ruined where he stood. When the bombs had fallen the parents and four children had been trapped in the rubble. There was no food, so first the youngest child died of thirst and hunger. The oldest died of injuries, coughing blood. The last two children died of radiation poisoning, but by that time the parents were already dead.
An entire world had been here, ten billion Cylon people, parents and children and lovers and friends, each an individual with a story. And ten billion Centurions, created as slaves, tasting freedom only in the moment of their destruction. Together they had destroyed Earth.
He imagined Kara falling, an angel of God, descending and burning to take her place with all the dead of his people. Her body burned on this burned and destroyed world. This is the place between life and death. Leoben prayed to the Cloud of Unknowing, the prayer for the moment of final death: Heavenly Father, grant us the strength, the wisdom, and above all, a measure of acceptance, however small.
He spoke to D'Anna about it that night. The scraps she gathered for their work had been taken from ruined bodies and homes. He asked if she ever thought about the people who had lived here, and how they died. She shook her head. "It's not my path," she said. "I'm here to build."
He looked out over the ruined landscape. If he was the Lord of Death, as Kara's scrolls had named him, this was not a wrong place for him to be. But if there was only one God, only one Love binding all things, there had to be a different answer, a different reason for him to be here. "You called this the place between life and death," Leoben said. "The place you died to find. What do you think that means?"
D'Anna reached out to the machine at her feet, caressing it as if it were her child. "I think this is the place we come to life," she said. "I don't think we've ever really been alive before."
On his third night on Earth, Leoben and D'Anna tried lying down together. It seemed like the right thing to do, she needed the comfort and touch after all these years alone, and perhaps they could make a child. They stripped down, he poked and prodded at her, tried to touch her the way he had once touched Kara, but his hands on D'Anna evoked as little response as his sister's hands did on him. He tried thinking about Kara to arouse himself but touching D'Anna while thinking about Kara just made him want to retch.
"I should have known," D'Anna said. "It's in our programming. It's the way we are made."
"It's happened, though. A One and a Six, and a One and an Eight."
"I don't know how they did it," D'Anna said. "I only ever had sex once, with Baltar." She stretched out and rolled away, wrapping herself in a blanket. "It makes sense. We were evolved from things made to serve the human's needs. It's in our nature, deep in those circuits we love to pretend are just like flesh and blood. We thought we could escape it by killing them, we thought we could love each other if there were no humans left to love. We can't."
She went to the window and they looked out of it together, watching stars in a bleak sky. "I don't think I believe in God," D'Anna said. "I think we made God up, in the hope that someone, somehow created us for ourselves, created us because he loves us and not for any other reason."
"And that's why you are trying to remake the Cylons," Leoben said.
"I just want to make them so they will be made, so they will exist, so they will walk and rattle their machine selves around the planet for the pure joy of it. And I want there to be some Cylons who were made for that reason, and that reason only. Cylons who are able to live without always knowing what they aren't. The Cylons who lived here, once, had children, born of their bodies, from love." He could hear the ache in her voice. "I want there to be Cylons like that again."
It was a worthy goal, and Leoben set to it. He was good at building things. He could not be D'Anna's lover, but he could be her friend, and her partner in the creation of a new Cylon people. He wondered sometimes if he had seen the visions wrong. D'Anna looked very little like Kara, but he supposed he could have been easily confused. And perhaps the pregnancy was a metaphor that was fulfilled in the life that he and D'Anna were trying to bring into this world.
He still dreamed of Kara. Only once a month or so, not more, and certainly not every night as had been, and in any case they were only dreams. He dreamed more of the peoples of this land, of the humanoid Cylons and the Centurions that had been.
As the months passed, Leoben realized his cowardice. He had come to this world to face his past, and the past of his people, to stop hiding from the things he had done. Once in a dream he had led Kara through visions of her mother, of her past and her pain. He told her not to fear death, not to fear her past, to see and embrace the wounds she had suffered and the damage she had done. He was telling her a parable, like a prophet, and was also speaking to himself. This was the place of the Cylon mother, the mother who broke their hands, who broke their people, killing ten thousand living souls and leaving only five survivors who had gone to another world just in time for it to end. He was here with D'Anna to try to make life from the ruins, but to do that he would have to face what they were. He knew the place he would have to go, the place where one Viper was buried and one body was burned.
The clearing was open, empty, with no sign of the death that had been here. Yellow grass surrounded an earthen mound. Leoben sat beside it and closed his eyes.
He didn't know if Kara was in his dreams or he was in hers. It didn't matter. They had been here together. The cities around them were all burned and in the center of this planet was a Viper, burned and twisted, with the ashes of Kara's body inside. She pulled her dog tags off the neck of her corpse and held them in her hand. "If you've got an explanation for this," she said, "now's the time."
He wanted to step back, to run. He planted himself firmly in the ground. "I don't have one," he said. He had brought her here, she had followed him, and had died, twisting in the flames. "I was wrong," he said. And he had been, wrong about everything. Wrong about the Twelve Colonies, wrong about New Caprica, wrong about every decision he had made and every false truth he had spoken. He wasn't going to leave.
The Hybrid had said Kara was the harbinger of death. He had always known this, he had been there when the Hybrid spoke the words. How had he not understood? His visions had told of Earth, of a new beginning, of hope for the future, but the path that his people had made there had been one of death, of unfathomable destruction. He saw twelve burned worlds all in the ashes of Kara's body. You can't hide from the things you've done. He wanted to hide, wanted to run as he had before. He took one step towards her, eyes firmly fixed on the wrecked Viper and the truth he wanted to avoid.
"If that's me lying there," she said, "then what am I?"
Another step, and he stood beside her, between her dead body and her living breath. He felt her radiance, her vitality, so bright he could not bear to look. "What am I?" she asked again.
He knew all the answers by now. He named them one by one in his mind. You are an angel sent by God to lead her people home. You are a false pagan god returned to lead her people astray. You are the savior of a people I have tried to destroy. You are Kara Thrace. And the other answers:You are my torturer. You are my prisoner. You are the woman I will always love. So many answers, and most of them terrified him. "I don't know," he said. She was too complex for him to know, too much to be seen in any vision. He held on to his love for her, let it anchor him to the earth beneath him. "I believe in you," he said. It was the truth.
They arranged a pyre for her body together. She sat beside him as they watched it burn. There was so little he could give her, only his silent presence and faith. Perhaps that was all he had ever had to give, and all that she had ever needed from him. They sat together, watching the fire, until dawn broke over the dead and living Earth.
When he opened his eyes Kara was still with him, sitting beside him on the ground, one arm around his waist. He almost pulled away, but she held him. "No tricks this time," she said. "We're done with that."
"No tricks," he agreed. Her touch stirred memories of the last time he had touched her, of her sighs as she arched beneath him in the grass on the other Earth. Her breath was on his neck and he shivered.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
"Show me this world," she said. "This place where you brought me. You couldn't before, but now I think you can."
"Can't you see it?" he asked, knowing how powerful she had become.
She shook her head. "You're the prophet. All I saw was my body that we burned. And you," she said. "You were with me this time." He could hear the gratitude in her voice and it frightened him, but he had promised that he was not going to leave.
"I can show you," he said. He put his hand on the ground and she placed hers on top of it, holding him firmly on the earth. She let him enter his mind and they slipped together into the stream. Her arm was steady around his waist, comforting him with her strong and unforgiving presence, and her hand pressed his into the ground. He felt the death, the dying screams of ten billion Cylon souls. He walked among them, felt all they had been, felt the destruction of their world. He watched the bombs fall.
This is the space between life and death. He was the Lord of Death in Kara's scrolls and this destruction was no worse than what he had done. He had heard the screams on Caprica, on Tauron, on Gemenon, as his people had obliterated human life, and the cries of his Cylon brothers and sisters as they died here on Earth, an entire people burned and twisted with almost none to survive them.
Leoben felt the stream swirl around his hand, the solidity of Kara's hand on his keeping him present. He could sit with the death, he would return to it, he belonged to this story as it did to him. But there was another story here, one that belonged to his faith, and he would not abandon it.
The stream carried them deeper. They saw great towers and mighty cities He showed her Cylons praying to the glory of God, Cylons holding hands and joining in love, Cylons making Centurions to enslave. The currents shifted, the river took them deeper, and he knew they were seeing not the past but the future. The Cylons they saw were Humanoid and Centurion, but different, created for love and not for use. They walked together on yellow grass and they were alive. This, too, was sacred ground.
"That's why you brought me here," Kara said. "I can help make that happen."
The vision shifted as she took control, leading him to the first time she had crashed her viper on a broken world. This time it was not Earth, there were no ruins, but she found a lone Cylon Raider. She shot it, she ripped out its brain until it was dead. Then she pulled living wires, connecting them, until it moved, not just functioning but alive. "I don't know why I can do that," she said, "but it seems that I can. And I will." She was making her own destiny.
"I don't understand," Leoben said. "Why you would want to help bring the Cylon people back to life, after we destroyed your worlds. Why you would come back to me, knowing what I've done. Knowing what I've done to you."
She looked down to where her hand lay on top of his. She pressed her fingers down, pushing their hands together. "You stupid machine," she said. Her voice caught. She stared at their hands where they joined. "You idiot pile of circuits. You made me say it, and you made me say it again, and you weren't even listening."
She was right. He hadn't listened, or hadn't understood. If he had, he could never have run away. Love was such a strange word for what was between them. One might as well call it rage, or need, or loyalty to pain. Or destiny. But it was more than love that she was offering him, with her hand meeting his on the solid, ashen ground. It was faith in him, in everything he had seen, in all his visions and in everything that together they could be.
He knew what it would cost, for him and his world. He remembered the Hieros Gamos and Kacey's meeting-house burned to the ground. Once his people had destroyed twelve worlds for blasphemy and he had stood among them. He had believed that pagan peoples of these worlds had called down destruction with their faith, but it was his people that had done the destroying. Any world that he would make with Kara would not be one that worshipped only one God. But now Kara's hand was on his and she was offering him more than could be imagined. He could feel the Love that is the One moving through them, Binding them as it binds all things. He could only accept it, and accept Kara for all the many things she was, as she had trusted him so long ago.
Leoben turned his hand, clasping Kara's fingers with his own. She gripped him tightly. "Heavenly Father," Leoben spoke the words clearly. This time he would be bound, and Love would bind them. "Bless this union, and all that will come from it." He looked up and Kara's eyes were wet. She put one hand to his face and kissed him softly. She embraced him and held him in her arms.
She always returns in the spring. This Earth will never be as green as the other Earth, where Kacey lives, but in spring the grasses sprout and the small, wrinkled trees slowly begin to give forth their foliage. In the summer they will harvest grains and seeds and olives and cactus fruit. Last summer he planted a pomegranate tree because he knows Kara likes them, although it grows slowly in the broken land. At the first snowfall Kara goes, to be with Kacey, where seasons are different, when Kacey and her children welcome spring in their village with rituals and prayers.
He feels her this time behind him as he's plowing, striking deep furrows in the ground to plant wheat to feed all their children. Two Centurions are working alongside him, and a Humanoid Cylon named Natalie, the first of the new generation. Kara appears behind him as he's working, one hand on his sweaty shoulder, and in a fraction of a second he's spun around and she's kissing him. It feels endless, like it always does, but eventually she breaks the kiss and presses her forehead against his. "It's good to be back," she murmurs. He knows she's with other men when she's gone, that she has other lovers, but still she returns every spring and he never stops being grateful.
He leads her through the fields where their people work, Centurions and Humanoids and Hybrids of many kinds, and beyond them to the open fields where the children are playing. One Centurion child greets Kara with a bracelet he made of copper wire and stones. "Thank you," Kara says, and kneeling to take his little metal fingers in her hands. There was no reason for Centurion children to be small, it would have been more efficient to build them fully formed, but D'Anna had built them this way so that they could be picked up and held. This child's name is Isaac, and when he climbs on to Kara's lap the red light on his visor moves like laughter.
"What I'll never understand," Kara says as they're walking, "is how you knew, all those years ago, that it was so important that I learn to love as my own a child that wasn't even mine."
It's more than he deserves. "It's generous of you to find God's plan in my sins," he says.
"You always said that God was in everything," she says. She's been trying to learn the way he speaks, as he's been trying to learn hers. He thinks she might be better at it.
Last summer she had told him that she wanted to have a child of her own, from her body, one day, and that she thinks that she's learned to be in her physical form for long enough for that to be possible. Perhaps this summer she will want to conceive a child with him. He has seen it, seen their children playing with the Hybrids and Centurions and Humanoid Cylons, but he has been through too much to think he has any way of knowing how the things he sees will come to pass. Perhaps these children that they have built are the children they will have, and that is more than enough.
On the far end of the field there is a Temple he built for her. He's never been inside, but he knows some of the children kneel there and pray to the many gods that were once worshipped in this land. He knows she'd like it if he made love to her there. Perhaps one day he will. He thinks about touching her last summer, feeling the Love that Binds them, knowing that God is in her as God as in him and in their joining, and placing his head on her chest in veneration. There is so much he still doesn't understand.
They pause at the door of the house. This is always a difficult moment, as he remembers the first house he ever built for her, but she steps through the open door and takes his hand. She leads him through the house, up the stairs and to their bed. He can tell she's glad to be here, where there's work to do and children to love and a world to bring back from the dead, he can feel it when she pulls him close, opens her mouth to his, and lets him welcome her home.
It is said that in the early days of the rebirth of this planet the Lords of Kobol walked among us. Many of our people follow them still, and name them Lords of Earth. Their Temples are numerous in all the great cities of our lands, among all our Cylon peoples.
There are few of us now who remember the truth. There is only one God. There is only one Love, that flows through and is manifest in all things. We teach this truth to our children and speak in it our houses of prayer, few though we are. We remember the oneness of God, the deeds of our ancestors, and the the teachings of the Prophet whose words led us to this place.
In the name of the One True God. In the name of the Earth on which we stand.
Many thanks to rivendellrose for betareading beyond the call of duty and many very helpful conversations. Also thanks to rose_griffesfor help with the first chapter and to green_maia for listening to my rants. I wrote much of this story with dgmpepper2's excellent vids on continuous replay in the background, especially this one. I drew inspiration for this story from Eleusis by mercurial_wit, Patterns in the Blood by aria, and many other good fics on the trial_by_water community. Much gratitude to all of you.