It was their first time to shoot at something that could bleed. The human-looking cylons were just as vulnerable to bullets as actual humans. More vulnerable than metal; good to know. Sam tallied up the numbers from the mission as their convoy truck rattled on the dirt roads: seven of those human-looking cylons dead, no casualties in their own group, one person saved. The priest had yelled from the pile of bodies; after that they had fanned out, hoping to find more survivors, but the only movement was from the flames.
They buried the bodies before leaving. Not the cylons, though. They dragged their bodies to the road leading into the gravesite, a message for who or what might come to check on the site.
When they got back to the high school, they were greeted with cheers and high-fives. Sam sat in the truck a moment longer, listening to the priest-Cavil-talk about humanity's sins. There was something familiar about it; he was probably remembering the priests from his childhood.
"Do you hear confessions?" he asked Brother Cavil.
"I can, yes, certainly I can."
"Good. We'll talk later." Sam wanted to tell someone about almost running away. Had that really been only a week ago? It seemed longer than that.
More new arrivals; first thing his group did was check for thatface. The vacationers from west of Delphi did the same thing, only they were looking for a female.
"I have a picture,"said a woman from the new group. She held up a ripped photo-the woman remaining in it had white-blonde hair and thin features, like a model. Someone's arm was around her, but that part of the photo was torn away.
"She called herself Calixa," said the woman, "And she said she didn't like having her picture taken." The woman shrugged in a self-deprecating way. "I felt bad about making her take the picture then."
"Frak, frak, frak!" said Sue-Shaun, her voice rising with each swear word. They'd talked about the possibility of other varieties of human-cylons, but without proof, it was a possibility they hadn't wanted to face.
"That was my reaction, too," said the woman. When Sam started to hand her the picture again she told him, "I don't want it."
He put it in his jacket pocket; he needed to show it to the rest of his team anyway.
Sue-Shaun woke him to tell him the news. "Wheeler's dead," she said.
Sam blinked; his brain still felt fuzzy, even though whatever he'd been dreaming had faded. "Wheeler?" he finally said. "But he wasn't sick." That was the first thought that popped into his head. Something had been going around; Dinard and Mickell were still in their make-shift infirmary with whatever it was.
Sue-Shaun sat on the ground next to his cot, leaning against the metal frame. "Doc says it was suicide," she told him.
"Morpha overdose. He must've stolen some from Doc last time he had his leg checked."
"Shit," said Sam, rubbing his eyes.
"Yeah," she agreed. She turned her head to look at him. "Barolay found him."
"Oh gods," he muttered. Kai, Wheeler and Barolay had been close; Jean had been the one to comfort Wheeler after Kai's death.
He dressed and went to look for Cavil. After talking to the priest about a quick ceremony, he found Jean crouched by the pyramid court they'd built.
He sat next to her; she glanced at him and went back to fiddling with the pyramid ball in her hands.
"Hey," he said. "I'm sorry."
She screwed up her face and didn't say anything at first. "One more thing they've taken away," she finally told him.
He looked questioningly at her.
"The cylons," she clarified. "I'm done crying over the things the cylons have taken away."
"Jean..." he started.
She tossed him the pyramid ball. "Don't," she told him. "I can't take any more sorries right now." She put her hand on his shoulder in her own form of wordless apology and walked away.
Since turning pro he hadn't smoked a cigarette. Seemed pointless to resist the lure of nicotine now. Sam watched the smoke curl upward. More poison added to the lethal air, he mused.
They were in the outskirts of Delphi, raiding supermarkets and houses: a team to grab food and others to keep lookout. Sam would rather do the second job; even though there weren't any dead humans left here, the inside of the buildings stank from the rotting food.
"There's another one," said Sue-Shaun, pointing. Another dead bird on the city street. Naylor told them about the birds' migration patterns taking them over Caprica City. Apparently the radiation exposure was just enough to weaken them; by the time they got to Delphi they were sick and close to death. Delphi's cleaner air couldn't save them. The smaller birds died first and then the larger ones that preyed on them. Reason enough to avoid hunting live game for food.
One time they'd found a raptor sick but still alive, thrashing on the forest floor, feathers coming loose from its wings. Jo-Man had cried; Jean wordlessly dispatched it with the knife she now carried everywhere.
Sam took another turn around the neighborhood, walking quietly back to where Sue-Shaun stood with her rifle. Their conversation turned back to the skinjobs. Sue-Shaun said, "I get that looking like us lets them blend in. But still-they could have used some imagination."
Sam thought of those they've identified: the woman with the white-blonde hair, the brunette with the doe eyes, the sharp-faced short man... each so familiar, though he couldn't say why. Probably just seeing the same faces over and over again.
"Like what?" Sam asked her.
"I dunno. Wings, maybe. Wings'd be cool."
"Yeah, but if you kept the human form, you'd have to have wings that were four times longer than the human body. Maybe more."
Sue-Shaun looked at him, her expression quizzical.
" 'Cause we're too heavy. Birds have hollow bones. At least the ones that fly do."
She laughed. "Okay, nerd," she said.
"It's physics!" he insisted, half-arguing, half-laughing.
"Physics," she repeated. "You and physics." Her face had a small grin.
They separated briefly to check for movement again; when they stood together once more she said, "We're going to have to catch one."
"A bird?" he asked, and then he realized what she meant. No need to look at Sue-Shaun to know what expression she would have on her face now. He winced dramatically.
"Dumbass," she told him, chuckling at his mistake. "One of those skinjobs. We need to know what they want with Delphi."
She was right, but his stomach turned at the thought of it. Capturing one, torturing it for information... once he would have believed there were lines he would never cross. Now he was planning where they could set up the interrogation. Not at the high school; somewhere within Delphi that wouldn't give away their home base.
Matta, Jo-Man, Lucy and Crip-Key jogged over, carrying bags of food. "That one had lotsof ice cream," said Matta, wrinkling her nose.
Sue-Shaun groaned. Aside from meat, ice cream created the worst stench as it melted and decayed.
They put the bags into the convoy truck and then continued to the next houses. Sue-Shaun walked up and down the street again, looking carefully for any other movement.
Thiswas grocery shopping now.
He dreams he's a bird. The pieces shift-first he's an eagle, then a man with wings, but whichever it is, his feathers drop and he falls, landing and dying on the forest floor.
Then he's himself, or at least something that looks like himself, picking up the dead bird and promising to make it a new body, and then he's the bird again, inside a body of metal, his eyes glowing red.
He tries to escape but he falls again, dying once more on the forest floor, the light from his electronic eyes dimming.
"Did Turner ever tell you about that blonde cylon?" asked Jean. She squinted at the line of empty food cans they'd put up for target practice. Barolay was a better shot than him-more diligent in practicing with the different weapons. Not that he was going to admit it to her anytime soon.
"Yeah," he said. Turner was the one who had brought in the photo of the blonde female cylon. Turned out the cylon had gotten close to her because Turner had helped design some of the buildings in Caprica City.
"So I've been thinking," said Jean. "Something that the priest told me. He said my problem was that I didn't have anything left to hope for."
"Okay." Sounded a bit pessimistic for a priest, but Sam figured they had reason enough for that.
"They were made to look like us, they infiltrated us, they..." She squeezed the trigger in quick succession, knocking down the line of cans. "Here's the thing. Someone had to make them. Maybe the military, maybe-I don't know who. But someone somewhere thought it was a good idea."
"Right," he said, not sure what she was going to say next.
She put the handgun back into the duffel bag and pulled out a rifle, attaching a spotting scope. "If I live to get out of here, I'm going to look for that person," she said. "Something to hope for."
Jean smiled and lifted the rifle up to her shoulder.
He wanted to push his fingers through his hair, wanted to pace, wanted to shove all the maps and other papers from the library table to the floor.
He wanted a frakking cigarette. Instead Sam explained the details of the plan to his team, choosing his words carefully, staying calm.
It was the best they could think of; they'd been working on it for four days. Lucy and Ten Point had sent teams to keep the Delphi building under surveillance, making sure the op would still matter when it was time to go.
"Okay, so Eddins and Jo-Man will set the explosives, then Matta goes in with Tune-Up. Ren and Kauer, you cover them."
Matta tried not to smile as he said her name; she didn't succeed very well. Gods, when he was seventeen... okay, when he was seventeen, he would've thought it was cool to be blowing things up too. Didn't change the fact that he hated sending her and Kauer on this op.
After he finished talking, Sue-Shaun took over, drilling each of them about the plan until they could repeat it without looking at the notes. They scattered after that, some to practice their roles, others to let off some steam before tomorrow.
Jo-Man and Hillard started a pick-up game; Sam watched with Barolay, the two of them passing a cigarette back and forth.
Matta walked up to them. "Did you know it was my birthday last week?" she asked Sam.
"No," he answered.
"I just thought-well, 'cause you're letting me go on this op and maybe it was because I'm eighteen now."
Jean glanced at Sam, a flash of an unreadable expression on her face. "Happy birthday, kid," she said. Somehow Jean made the comment sarcastic without being mean.
Theresa laughed, said thanks and then sat next to Jean.
Sam thought of what he wanted to say-things like Rally talked me into this, and Don't be in such a hurry to do grown-up things. Instead he listened to the familiar ring of the pyramid ball hitting against metal and to Matta and Barolay talk about Hillard's defensive game.
Jean passed him the cigarette one last time; he took a final drag, then ground it out under his heel.
"I don't know how you can do that to yourselves," said Matta. "It's so bad for you."
"In case the cylons miss," Jean told her. Theresa laughed again; Sam didn't.
Jean found him before he started to cry. He was huddled in the corner of the classroom; she sat next to him but didn't say anything.
The silence blanketed the room like a shroud. Her face was expressionless in the dim light; only Jean's eyes showed what they'd been through.
"I should've made a better plan," he finally said. Speaking the words made a crack through the facade; he curled up tighter than before, legs pulled into his chest like he could disappear into himself. Rubbing his face with the heels of his hands, he felt like his brain was short-circuiting; words kept spilling out of him with the tears.
"We should've gone up higher into the mountains. They didn't have to die." His sentences were punctuated with the sobs he couldn't hold back. "We could've all lived if we hadn't fought back."
The list went on and on of what he'd done wrong and all he could see were the dead bodies of those kids. They had just been kidsand now they were dead. "I should've run away that time, and then no one would've gotten hurt.
"I should've-it should've been-"
"Shut up," Jean hissed at him. The sound was loud enough to startle him into doing just what she said.
"Don't say it," she said. "Don't say you should've stopped them. You helped give them the only thing we have left."
He stared at her blankly.
"The only thing we have left here is to make our deaths count for something."
Sam takes a shuddering breath and tried to think of something to say, but she continued talking.
"Don't you dare say not to do that. And don't you daresay it should've been you."
"And don't say that you're sorry, either!" she interrupted. Even in the dim light he could see that her face was red.
They looked at each other without saying anything for a moment, both of them breathing hard. Finally she said, "But you don't have to stop crying."
He blinked twice. "I think you yelled it out of me," he told her.
She let out a shaky laugh. "Sam," she said. For someone who had sworn not to cry anymore, she looked close to it. She scooted closer and leaned against him. He put his head against hers and breathed.
Even with her next to him, he felt abandoned, hollow.
Jean kept her word and didn't cry. Instead she wrapped her arms around his chest and held on tightly. They sat like that in the quiet room; through the walls of Delphi Union High he heard the faint buzz of the others-the cries of dismay, the angry voices as the news spread.
Sam buried his head in the crook of her neck. She smelled like sweat and smoke. Holding her so close, recognizing her smell... Jean was warm and alive and he felt hollow.
Rather than say anything, he turned to slide her to the floor. At his movement, she raised her head, a questioning look on her face. So he kissed her; his fingers tunneled through her hair, undoing her ponytail. He didn't think about what she needed, but she responded anyway, grabbing his shoulders, moving until she was straddling him, shifting her hips and grinding against him.
It wasn't like before, both of them trying to keep balance with their friendship. No laughter, no smiles; instead she marked him, scraping her nails across his chest, sucking and biting bruises into his neck.
"No condoms here," she gasped, the words vibrating against his throat. "Let me..." Her hands slid down his chest, fingers untying the knot of his trousers.
They left on most of their clothes; he came with Jean's hands wrapped around him, his hands trembling on her shoulders. After he caught his breath again he pulled her into his lap, using his fingers and mouth on her skin. Her eyes fluttered closed; the skin of her face was flushed. She looked like an avenging goddess calling down her wrath, her expression fierce.
The room was warm and their skin slick with sweat but Sam shivered as he looked at her. She didn't pull away from him but she held herself in a different way; instead of sated and sleepy, she looked ready to reach for her gun. Lines bracketed her mouth that hadn't been there before. More than a month; they'd all lost pieces of themselves that weren't coming back. The Jean curled up in his arms wasn't the woman he had known before. He might never see her again before the buzzer sounded game over.
It wasn't until later that he realized Jean might have the same thoughts about him.
The skinjob they found wearing a Colonial uniform had led them to it. Maybe it had been trying to play a trick or set up some kind of ambush, but it didn't matter; Sam's team had some shiny new toys. The armory was full of weapons; some things they didn't even know how to use yet, but they would figure it out.
Naylor whooped when he saw the charges and detonators. "Hell, yeah," he shouted.
"Happy late Solstice," Sam said. They unloaded the trucks and carried the supplies inside. Lucy and Naylor started pulling out diagrams from the boxes and arguing over which pieces they would use next, and what target to choose.
Sam knew what he wanted to go after next: the convoy of cylons that went through west Delphi most evenings. An easy target; with the right explosives, his team wouldn't even have to get within shooting range to start the damage.
They spent the afternoon practicing with the new weaponry, teaching each other what they figured out. It reminded Sam of days spent planning tactics for Pyramid games and knowing they'd take the opposing team by surprise.
It was a good day.
He didn't have time yet to think about who was gone; all he could do was help those who've gotten this far to get back on their convoy truck. Jo-Man helped him lift Hillard while Sue-Shaun leaped up to give Jean a hand.
After getting Hillard into the truckbed, he jumped down again to help the rest of his team into the truck, then climbed back in and hit the back of the cabin to signal it was time to leave.
Hillard groaned at Sam's feet. Sue-Shaun passed the med kit to Sam; he grabbed wipes, bandages and scissors and started cutting the bottom of Hillard's trousers to examine the bullet wound. Catching a glimpse of one the syringes containing the anti-radiation serum, Sam blinked at the thought that crossed his mind: the meds will last longer with fewer people. They'd already swiped all they could find from both hospitals in Pilgrim Bay.
Hillard took quick, shallow breaths; they'd all learned how to move with pain from years of training, but this took it to another level. Sam looked at the wound; the bullet hadn't come in contact with the bone and it was a clean entrance and exit. He carefully cleaned it and applied pressure.
Glancing at Barolay, he saw that her eyes were closed, face pale, a scrape running across her clavicle. "She gonna be okay?" he said to Sue-Shaun.
"She can still talk," snapped Jean.
Sam smiled in relief. "Whatcha got?" he asked.
"Bruises. Sprained ankle. Same one as before," she told him.
He looked at the blood spattered across her clothes. "Any of that yours?"
She shook her head. Sam didn't ask anything else; so much blood spilled today. He wondered how the other teams had fared; no knowing the answer to that until they got back to base. Theren had the walkie-talkie and Sam already knew that Theren hadn't made it. A centurion had torn him to pieces.
The truck jolted over the ground. Sam's arm hurt; looking down, he saw a cut on his lower bicep and a tear across the front of his shirt. A shallow scrape covered most of his stomach.
He didn't know how he'd gotten them.
He dreams that he's flying to the sun: Icarus with wings of metal and rivets rather than feathers and wax. This shouldn't work, he thinks, but somehow it does and he's not scared of falling. The metal wings arc and bend as he flexes his arms; he sees bolts fastened through the palms of his hands, connecting them to the metal struts. Escaping from one world to find another kind of imprisonment, yet it doesn't hurt and doesn't feel like bondage. It's a last destination: one final mission before freedom.
He pushes hard, reveling in the movement. Below he sees ruined cities; they crumble and blow away into dust as he watches. Green life floods across the landscape. Cities rise again, first small and fire-lit, then bigger and glowing with artificial light. Even as he floats higher, the cities grow with the thrum of humanity.
The metal binding him is gone and his arms are real wings, covered in white feathers, and he's still not afraid. He looks to the sun and knows that she's waiting there, golden in the light, his angel in the sun and in the earth...
Sam drifts awake, surprised as always by how silent his world was without the constant hum of electricity.
When Sue-Shaun calls in on the walkie-talkie to report new potential skinjobs-a shorter blonde woman and a tall dark-haired man-he takes Brother Cavil with him, along with Doc Simon. Maybe the priest would remember their faces from when he was hauled to the mass grave.
Brother Cavil says that he might've seen them before; while he's talking, Sam remembers flying in his dream that morning; the skin of his shoulder blades prickles for a second with the sense-memory, then it fades.
"Another one of her and maybe him," continues Cavil.
Sue-Shaun says, "What are we waiting for? Let's go."
He orders Cavil and Doc to hang back and tells his team what to do.
Something big is gonna happen, he thinks, though he doesn't know why. It's just another day on a dead planet and there are more toasters to plug. Getting ready to walk into the clearing, Sam checks one more time that his weapon is loaded.