It didn't feel real when it happened. Sam was lying on the ground, making a joking remark after Coach had scored in their pickup game. Then he was staring at the clouds forming over the cities in their view from the mountainside: venomous orange and gray expanding over the populated areas.
"This has happened before," he whispered. The words felt like they came from somewhere outside of himself.
He stood with his teammates on the mountainside, staring; in the far distance ships swooped in, strange vessels with unfamiliar silhouettes. Sam came out of the daze first, at least enough to realize that they needed information. He almost wished he hadn't thought of it as they listened to the wireless broadcasts. Nothing but static from Caprica City. Broadcasts from Delphi announced that all other major cities had been nuked and Delphi hit by conventional bombs. A few stations broadcast for an hour or so. Cylons, some of the voices shouted toward the end; then the clank of metal and percussion of bullets. Then nothing.
Barolay cried in Coach's arms; Wheeler tried to convince someone, anyone, that he had to go back to town to find his family-the chaos echoed around him and all Sam knew was that they had to stay together. It was oddly familiar: the sense of loss, cutting ties for survival, holding tight to the few left.
It wasn't until that night that it really hit him. They huddled together in one room of the training camp building-like a litter of puppies, he thought, an idea that amused him for a split second. Half of the team woke up each time they switched guard duty but no one complained. The other half probably wasn't sleeping anyway.
He took his turn outside watching for something. He didn't know what; centurions like the one he'd seen in the museums in Caprica City, maybe. He stared at the sky; overhead the stars twinkled faintly, just as they'd always done when the team came to the mountains for training.
To the south the sky glowed a toxic gray-green. All of this has happened before. That feeling of recognition seeped back into his chest as he breathed in the cool air: survivor of destruction. (Again, that same voice said. Washed up again on the tide.)
Sue-Shaun walked past his sentry post, brushing a hand against his shoulder. For a moment he leaned into her, feeling the strength of the bond they'd formed with years of practices and games together.
She moved on to her own post and he was alone again, watching the dark landscape.
"We're not going to Caprica City." He said it with his I'm the team captainvoice and it worked about as well as it usually did: Wheeler argued. At least no one openly agreed with Wheeler; less division to overcome.
"We need to go to Delphi, get some meds, and find out what's going on." And find any other survivors and get the frak off this planet, he thought. Must be some kind of way out of here.
After five minutes of argument they agreed, Wheeler begrudgingly accepting the team's decision. It took longer to figure out what to take; finally they all decided to bring everything they thought they could use to the central room and then they would sort through it.
They ended up with a small pile of flashlights, canned foods, and spare clothes. Barolay dictated what would be left out and how to divide up supplies into the backpacks. After Kai found a detailed map of the region Sam and Coach spent their time trying to figure out the best route to Delphi, one that would take them close to medical supplies and weapons.
The whole process took longer than he'd hoped, so they stayed in their training camp, taking comfort in the familiar for the last time. To his surprise, everyone slept in the central room again rather than enjoying the comforts of their beds. Even Kai and Wheeler stayed with them, holding hands as they slept.
They stayed together, hiking across the mountains toward Delphi. Sam assigned roles from what he remembered from military movies. Someone to take point-that was a term he knew. Ten Point was the first one to take point, just because it almost made Sam laugh. Almost, until he remembered why they were skulking through forests.
Ten Point turned around and made a gesture to silence them. Everyone crouched down, too scared to make noise. It took a moment for the noises to resolve; then he recognized the sounds of footsteps, humanfootsteps. He stepped as quietly as he could to Ten Point's position and looked.
Seven men, four women; they wore hunting clothes and carried rifles. Their faces were marked with the same expressions as Sam's teammates the last two days: grief and shock. Gesturing to Ten Point and the rest to stay in place, he stepped out from the tree line, carefully holding his hands in view.
"Hey there," he called. The oldest man pointed his rifle for a second and then lowered it when he got a good look at him.
"Thank the Gods, we thought we were the only ones left alive," one of the women exclaimed.
The oldest man looked at her sharply, then turned back to Sam. "What's your name?" he asked. His tone wasn't hostile, but it wasn't friendly either.
"Sam Anders," he replied.
"From the C-Bucs?" asked one of the other men.
"I'll be damned," said the same man.
Sam waved his teammates into the open as the hunters talked about seeing the C-Bucs play. The conversation stayed on the topic of last season's game for several seconds before reality hit them again.
It was a blow every time he remembered. He felt like he might stagger under the impact.
"You seen 'em?" asked one of the hunters.
"Cylons?" asked Sam. They nodded; he said, "None yet. Just heard their names on the wireless, nothing else."
The hunters exchanged glances. "We were closer to Delphi when the attacks started and there were cylons everywhere," said the tallest of the hunters. Eddins was his name.
"We ran," added his wife Lucy. "I think anyone who didn't run is dead."
After exchanging more information, they decided to combine groups. Eddins and the others knew how to shoot; most of the C-Bucs hadn't even held a gun. Barolay pulled out the regional map and Eddins marked the old military depot. "Right there," he said. "It's been out of use for a year or so, but I think there are still some supplies."
Taking a path leading toward the depot, they came close to cylons twice that same day. That was when Sam figured out that they needed to stay away from paved roads if possible; if they were easy for humans to use, they were easy for the cylons to use.
He posted one of the new guys and two of the C-Bucs as sentry that night; a way to keep both groups feeling like they had someone watching out for them. Barolay curled up near him, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, hands gripping her biceps. Her eyes were closed, but Sam saw tears slipping from under her lids; faint trails down her face caught the glow from the night sky. He put his arms around her, palms flat against her back. Sliding his hands up and down in a soothing motion, Sam felt the bones of her spine, the muscles; Barolay's breath caught for a moment and she buried her face against his chest. Her tears dampened the front of his shirt and her hair tickled his chin.
Finally she took a shuddering breath and then pulled away, whispering, "Thanks."
He didn't cry; it was all he could do to keep breathing steadily. He felt crushed under the weight of so many deaths, smothered under the responsibility of keeping his teammates alive.
Listening to the sound of Barolay's steady breathing next to him, he finally fell asleep as well.
In his dream he's in a lab-his lab. She tells him, "Sam, there's not much time left." His colleagues don't see her even though he can. Her fingers are entwined with his, her breath warm against his arm, but no one else can sense her there. His messenger, his angel.
Hurry, she says. We're running out of time...
Eddins was right about the abandoned depot. They made quick progress after getting the convoy vehicles. The hunters used the additional ammo they'd grabbed to shoot at a small band of centurions they met along the way. It was satisfying to see their metal bodies torn apart, although something about it felt oddly wrong to Sam.
Keeping to the back roads, they finally made it to Delphi Union High School. He'd never heard of it, but Barolay knew about it from when she played for Delphi Legion. She'd made a promotional visit there once and remembered its isolated location. Seemed as good a spot as any to stay for a few days while they scouted out Delphi, looked for more survivors, and tried to find some way out.
Sam divided up most of the team to check the building and sent the hunters to keep guard around the perimeter. He stayed with them, watching the one road leading into the school.
"We got some survivors here!" Morris announced, sounding both shaky and triumphant. He led out a group of people from the central entrance; they looked stunned. Maybe it was seeing so many other people alive-their group had only eight, Sam counted. So young, he noticed. They had to be high school students, except one older man with close-cropped gray hair.
His name was Bex. "I'm the cross-country coach," he said and then introduced the students left from his team.
They stumbled over each other's words with the excitement of talking to other survivors.
"School was out and we were doing warm-up laps," said one teen.
"We heard something and Coach Bex couldn't get any signal on his phone," added a tall boy. "So Matta climbed up a tree and said she saw these weird clouds-"
"They were bombs!" interrupted the next kid; so it went until the story became clear. Matta was Theresa Matta, a short kid who looked no more than twelve, though she was actually seventeen. Climbing trees was what had saved them at first; she'd spotted the centurions marching onto the campus grounds, shooting all the humans.
Coach Bex had taken his students into the forest; they stayed away for two days. When they returned, they found that there were no survivors left and no bodies. Sam blinked in disbelief when he heard that. Had the centurions taken the bodies?
"This is a good place to stay for now," Bex told them. "They built this place thirty-nine years ago, just after the cylon war, and it's supposed to double as a bomb shelter. That's why it's so far away from town-to keep the children safe," he finished, his tone dark.
After exchanged grim looks with Sam's coach, Bex continued. "There's a well here, and a bunker with some supplies. Lots of useful stuff."
"Sounds like you know the campus pretty well," said Sam.
"I should. I've been teaching here since I mustered out of the military."
That explained the close-cropped hair and the way Bex's students behaved around him. The kids were alive thanks to their coach's direction. Thank the Gods, thought Sam. Someone who knows what he's doing.
Bex showed them around the campus. The school had enough classrooms for everyone to have their own space, but Bex and Coach agreed to keep people grouped together. Bex already had two adjoining classrooms that he used for his small team, so Sam and his coach assigned the C-Bucs to take the neighboring rooms. Easier to keep everyone safe and within range if, gods forbid, the cylons came back there.
Bex was gone the next morning. One of his students found Sam; the kid was crying and waving a note Bex had written. Gone to Delphi to find out about my family, it said. Please keep an eye on the kids. Tell them I'll be back soon.
Matta took charge of her classmates in his absence. "Coach Bex said we were gonna fight," she told Sam. It was incongruous hearing those words from someone who looked so young.
"Is that right?" he asked. He didn't want to encourage her, but the C-Bucs and hunters have been talking about it: doing something bigger to disrupt the cylons while they looked for a way out. Lucy and Naylor had shot some centurions while scouting out the area to the west, but maybe they could do more.
Wheeler and Eddins were holed up, going through the school's lab supplies and chemistry textbooks. They wanted to figure out some way to make explosives.
Wiggins taught him how to take apart and reassemble a rifle while they shared sentry duty that evening. Afterwards he returned to his corner of the classroom. Jean gave him a quick smile as he settled next to her. She curled her fingers against his for a moment before turning over again.
Never thought I'd be hanging out with survivalist nuts, Sam thought. They didn't seem nearly so crazy now. Naylor and Wiggins had found them while searching for more supermarkets to raid.
Earlier in the day he'd sent Theren and Jo-Man to scavenge for something the cylons would take back to one of their containers. Maybe they could find out what was inside, or just blow up whatever it contained. Finding the survivalists had been just what they needed to finish making plans; they had explosives and the knowledge to use them.
Unfortunately the survivalists didn't have any more experience than the rest of them in planning military-style operations; they were stuck using his idea from an old war movie.
Another movie idea. One more realization of how wrong this all was. Never thought I'd be wishing for a better film repertoire after the end of the world either, he reflected.
Sentry duty. Tonight that meant standing, staring at the darkness, and picturing their faces. Kai, Coach, Monsy, that new guy whose name Sam couldn't even remember: all dead. Wheeler wounded, still in shock over Kai's death. Ten Point and Jo-Man had volunteered to split Wheeler's sentry duty with theirs.
He hated this: struggling to stay away, feeling guilty about being sleepy when he was one of the lucky ones and still alive. Sam couldn't stop thinking about them. Monsy, hit by a centurion bullet before the op even started; Kai sacrificing herself deliberately to give Coach the chance to get the grenade into the container; then Coach and that other guy struck by fire from one of the cylon raiders.
Naturally he couldn't sleep once he finally got to his cot. Somehow the room was too closed in, the air too still. He felt stifled by it. Sam shifted on his cot as quietly as he could, then finally drifted to sleep.
He woke up from a nightmare less than an hour later. Three a.m., he was wide awake, and suddenly he just had to leave. Grabbing his shoes, he walked barefoot from the classroom to the hallway and then outside, slipping his shoes on in the doorway. Ten Point was far enough away from the building that Sam didn't have to talk; he waved at her and walked away.
It was quiet outside; cooler out here than in the high school. Sam stuck his hands in the pockets of his track pants, breathed the air and thought about Delphi to the south. Maybe he could find his own way off this planet with a ship at one of the airports. Mountains to the north: less radiation, probably no cylons up there. No ships to get off planet, but it wasn't like he knew how to pilot one anyway.
He couldn't decide, but at that moment he knew he wasn't going to stay there.
"What are you doing, T?" Jean stood there, looking curious and worried.
"Shit, Barolay, you scared me."
She shrugged; after a moment she asked, "You okay?"
"Yeah, sure," he answered. He cast about for an excuse for being out here. "Just... sick from the anti-radiation meds, you know?"
"Yeah," she said. She rubbed her arms. "You can talk to me, you know. If there's something you want to talk about."
"I know, Jean." He started walking back to the school because he couldn't do it-he couldn't leave if Barolay knew that he was running away.
He didn't sleep at all that night. Frakking coward, he thought as he stared at the classroom ceiling. Even as he thought it, he fought the impulse to leave again.
Lucy was an exacting instructor. They were getting pretty good with the guns-at least most of them were. Good enough that he could send a C-Buc out with one of the hunters as they scouted the area in pairs. Too risky to hole up here without knowing what was going on around them.
Now when he couldn't sleep at night, he named all the pieces and functions of each of the rifles and pistols he'd learned how to use.
His hands are made of metal. One part of his mind knows that he's dreaming. The other part looks at his new hands with fascination: the slim silver tubes in place of fingers, joints articulated. Instead of fear, he feels a sense of accomplishment as they move.
"Hey T, got a minute?" Barolay put a hand on his arm as she spoke.
"Yeah," he answered, and followed her as she led them up the stairs to the hall with the science classrooms. She opened the door to the last room before the corner. Inside the room he saw lab tables and stools as well as those desks with built-in chairs that he'd hated as a long-legged teen.
In the corner near the teacher's desk he could see a bedroll, a stack of science textbooks next to it and a flashlight. Barolay's hide-out, he assumed. His was the room with the weaponry; someone had to keep an eye on it, after all.
Sitting on one of the lab tables, Barolay looked at him for a moment, her expression impossible for him to read. "I found some condoms," she stated.
Not what Sam was expecting to hear; he huffed out a breath in surprise.
"I thought we could break all of our rules as teammates," she told him. No need to elaborate; they both knew exactly what kind of unspoken rules she meant. He'd seen enough frakked-up relationships spill over to the team to avoid them. (Even now Wheeler wasn't over Kai's death. Though the 'no frakking my teammates' rule hadn't exactly been designed for thiskind of situation.)
He didn't answer right away. It wasn't that he'd never thought of it-of them. Cocking his head, he said, "Jean..." trying to give himself a moment to think.
She imitated the gesture and his tone, adding a hint of sarcasm. "Sam." It made him want to laugh; Jean always knew how to cut through his bullshit.
She took a deep breath and said, "I-I just want to stop thinking about how I'm either dying by degrees or moving towards that moment where the cylons kill me." She touched a scratch on his cheek. "I didn't think you'd have so many objections." Her voice was teasing, a graceful concession to allow him to answer no with little awkwardness.
That was what made him say yes. That and she was right; he wanted to forget for just a little while that they were all going to die here.
Sam leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. "No objections," he answered.
He felt rather than saw her smile as he kissed her again. "How d'you want to do this?" he asked her.
"Whatever works," she said-a familiar line from hundreds of pyramid games. "This is a good start," she added, and put her hands on his shoulders. Her lips met his and she deepened the kiss, nibbling on his lower lip. He'd been worried that it would take him some time to get in the mood, but as she moved her mouth along his jawline and licked at the sensitive skin below his ear, his body responded to her enthusiasm.
They stayed there for several minutes, her perched on the lab table, him standing between her legs. Sam explored what made her react: his lips against her neck, trailing his fingertips along the inside of her arms, licking her ear. He tried his best to meet her goal: no thinking.
Part of him couldn't stop thinking, though. I'm sorry I tried to run, he wanted to say. Instead he traced regrets into her skin with fingers and lips.
Suddenly she tightened her legs around his waist and said, "I want you to carry me over there and frak me right now."
"Always running my plays for me," he quipped; she laughed as he grabbed her and carried her to the bedroll. She was heavier than he was used to for a woman her size; all that muscle from years of competition. They grinned at each other as they fumbled over who would be on top.
She played dirty and won that round. What surprised him wasn't how vocal she was; it was that she stayed so close after, curled up in his arms. For a moment he could believe that there was nothing else, that they're just two old friends and the world hadn't ended and they hadn't spent the last two weeks watching its death spiral.
Drawing light lines across his chest, she pushed at the short hairs there with her fingertips. Her face was concentrated; watching her, Sam could see her mood shift from light to dark from as the world caught back up to them. He tugged lightly on her hair, freeing the last strands from a now-messy ponytail.
"Hey," he said. "Why don't you take a nap before it's time for sentry duty?"
She gave him a skeptical look, shrugged and laid her head against his chest. Sam guessed that she didn't expect to sleep any, but she did.
Muscles relaxed, Sam let himself fall asleep as well.
He blinks; his body feels wrong somehow. Like it's not his, even though he recognizes the shape of his hands, his knobby knees. He's sitting in what looks like a large tub filled with sticky fluid; in the distance he hears both metal clanking and human footsteps.
It's all wrong: his body, the shape of the metal centurion's helmet as it moves into view. The man walking with it is wearing a hat, his face shadowed by its brim.
"Where am I?" he asks. His lungs seize for a moment after speaking; they don't feel like his lungs and it hurts to breath.
The man with the hat smiles; Sam can see the flash of teeth, even though he can't see the details of the man's face. "It's called a resurrection tank. But you're not going to remember that, just like you don't remember anything else that actually matters."
He knows that voice somehow; his stomach roils and he takes quick shallow breaths to keep the nausea at bay.
"Father Sam," the man says. His voice is anything but respectful even though he uses a title in front of Sam's name. "You have so much to learn. And I'm going to make sure you get the chance to see the error of your ways."
The centurion steps closer, the red eye sensor moving back and forth and Sam scrabbles for a grip on the edge of the tank so he can move away, but his hands are slippery...
He woke with a gasp. Barolay stirred briefly; his hands were tangled in her hair.
"What is it?" she asked, her voice raspy.
"Nothing, just a bad dream." He loosened his fingers from the red strands. "Go back to sleep," he whispered. "We still have time before duty."
The details of the dream were already slipping away. Instead of staying curled at his side, Barolay rolled over and grabbed another condom. "Sleep is boring," she said, her eyes gleaming in the dusky light, and he forgot about the dream entirely.
"Don't put anything on or in the ground around here that you wouldn't want to drink later," Matta announced. She and Sue-Shaun were leading the group of new people around the school, Matta acting as tour guide and explaining the rules. Campers-college-aged-and they'd survived the two weeks since the attacks on their own. They had to be useful, right? That was what he hoped, at any rate.
He was constantly scared of frakking this up. Bex hadn't returned; not that Sam had expected it, but some part of him had hoped. Eight days later and he'd stopped hoping.
Somehow they managed anyway; Sue-Shaun and Jo-Man kept an eye on the high school kids, though Matta kept them in line pretty well. The hunters and survivalists hadn't come to blows, even though they didn't work too well together.
He knew they could find things to do, ways to disrupt the cylons in Delphi, if only they knew what the cylons were doing there. Could be just a matter of time and spying in the right areas. What he couldn't figure out was how to get this band of survivors out of here. As far as he could tell, the closest ships would be between Delphi and Caprica City, and that whole area would be crawling with cylons. Not to mention a whole lot more radioactive than this place.
Where would they even go if they could fly away from here? That was the question he avoided asking, because he didn't know. What little they had heard was enough to make him believe that the other colonies had experienced the same thing. At any rate, no other colonies had sent any rescue ships to Caprica that he knew of. It was enough of an answer.
"This is where we're gonna build a pyramid court," Matta said as led the group past him again. She looked pointedly at him as she said it. Maybe it was time to go ahead and do that instead of just talking about it.
His turn for sentry duty on the roof. He went inside, grabbed a rifle, and jogged up the stairs.
His first time to send just C-Bucs on recon, no hunters or survivalists paired up with them. Him and Jean-not by accident, either. They drove the pickup truck to their starting point and started walking.
Each recon team took a map of the area, checked the details and added in whatever else was pertinent. Today he and Jean were a few miles southeast of the high school, close to where the city actually started.
"I think that stream is this line on the map," she told him. Their shoes were covered with mud from crossing it.
"No, I think we're farther east than that."
"No, we're not. It's only been fifteen minutes since we passed that water tower."
"Shit, you're right," he said. He penciled in muddy streamacross the thin line on the map.
"Going to have to head back soon," Jean told him. "It's getting late."
"Yeah," he said. Digging through his pockets, he held out a condom. "Want to use this before we head back?"
Jean laughed, a bright sound in the dim light. "So that's why you were sneaking up to that classroom," she said.
"A man's gotta hope."
"You're on notice for stealing my condoms," she told him, lowering her voice in a teasingly menacing tone.
She relaxed on top of him afterward, shoulder on his chest, her face buried in the curve at his neck and shoulders; he rubbed her back for a moment, trying to avoid thinking about what they would have to face next. He would freeze this moment if he could: no cylons right now, no voices asking for direction, no eyes looking to him for help.
"We really need to head back," she finally said.
"Yeah," he said. Already sundown; the wind was changing direction, the air turning cooler.
Sam finished getting dressed first, so he pulled the crumpled map out from under her backpack and started refolding it.
"Do you hear that?" she asked.
"That crackling noise," she answered.
He stopped folding the map and stood still to listen. They both reacted at the same time when the smell hit them.
"Gods, what is that?" whispered Jean.
They quietly finished packing up their gear, then walked toward where they thought the smell and noise originated, carefully checking the view every few steps. As they approached the top of the ridge, they started to crawl, edging along until they could see what was below.
Like a scene from hell, thought Sam. A brightly-lit hell; lights powered by a generator blazed over yellow and orange flames. A man wearing a blue jumpsuit drove a small bulldozer; he was pushing human bodies into a pile-flesh as fuel for the fire. So many bodies; they didn't move except when pushed by the machine, but the flickering light consuming them made them look like they were fighting to get away.
He thought he was going to pass out from the stench of decay and burning flesh.
More men used shovels to push bits and pieces into the larger pile and then Sam saw it: those men were all the same height. They had the same dark hair, the same sharp features. At least five of them, all identical.
Next to him Jean gasped.
"Shh," he whispered, pulling her down and against his chest to keep her quiet.
"All alike," she said. "T, they gotta be cylons." Her voice trembled.
"Frakkers look like us now," he whispered, his head next to hers. "Listen to me," he continued, pressing his lips to her temple for a second when she gasped again. "We have to get out of here, okay?" He looked over her head, in the direction their truck was parked. "You need to be very quiet. Okay?"
She took several quick breaths. "Alright?" he asked. She nodded her head. "Just follow me out." He pulled them both down, took a step down the ridge and stretched out his hand to her. They stumbled through the darkness until they were far enough away to risk turning on a flashlight.
It seemed like hours before they found the path leading back to the truck. Neither of them spoke during the drive back to Delphi Union High. Jean pulled her feet onto the bench seat, legs curled against her chest, her arms wrapped around them. Sam drove as fast as he dared on the dirt road.
Cylons. Human-looking cylons.
It was another sleepless night after they told the others the news.