Clarice was caught in the first stage of sleep, still aware of the bodies around her and the sounds of soft breathing, but unable to wake enough to move, or to banish the fitful half-dream images playing in the head. Images of blank, immobile metal faces, of civil war on Gemenon, of paradise burning into tatters, and somehow, looking through them all with taunting amusement, Zoe Graystone's face.
Clarice struggled to wake, to escape the images, but it wasn't until the thin wails of the baby waking in the crib beside her bed that she managed to fight to the surface.
Rashawn stirred and began to sit up, but Clarice stilled him with a hand. "Go back to sleep - I'm awake. I'll go." She kissed him softly and half-rolled, half-clambered over Helena with practiced grace, picking up the baby on her way to the kitchen.
So few of them, now, to care for so many children. Her precious family had been decimated.
She jiggled the child soothingly on her arm as she made up and warmed the formula, carrying out the routine automatic as her mind still replayed the images in her dream, trying to fins a way out, to claw back victory from defeat as she had so often.
Ironic that she was ordained as a High Priestess of Athena, a dead goddess, a goddess that had killed herself on Kobol rather than face the unwanted realities of this world. Clarice was not so pitiful. Only in the small hours of the morning, lying awake amidst the ruins of her dreams, did such weak thoughts come to her.
She distracted herself by thinking of the problems with her family. She needed to bring someone new into the fold. But when she tried to think of possibilities, her mind turned only to disappointments. Amanda… Beautiful, brilliant, fragile Amanda. She had truly loved Amanda, toyed with the idea of taking her from her unworthy husband and false gods and bringing her into the family, but Amanda had betrayed her. Just as Amanda's daughter had betrayed her. At one time she had even thought to bring Zoe and her genius into the family, as she had Nestor, but that was dust and ashes. Lacy, Hippolyta, Pan, Ben… all traitors. While Nestor, Olaf and Mar-Beth, all faithful and true to God and their mission, had been taken from her. Clarice could not understand why God tested her so cruelly.
"There, little one," she told the baby softly as she settled into a chair and offered him the teat of the bottle. "Shh, my sweetheart, it's all okay." She kissed the soft fragile skin of his head. Lucky child, she thought, surrounded by love and protection, with no idea of the harshness and disappointments of the outside world.
"Poor little lamb. He shouldn't be drinking formula. On Sagittaron, he would have been breastfed until at least two years old. You never should have let the Church send our family away from Sagittaron to this decadent planet, Clarice."
Clarice stared up into the gentle oval face of her wife. "It - it was God's will that we come to Caprica," she said stupidly.
Mar-Beth ignored her, and continued sweetly, "Of course, it would be easier for me to feed my child if you hadn't slit my throat." She caressed the baby's face. "Such a darling little angel. I miss him so much."
"Mar-Beth." Clarice put out a hand that was clumsy with shock, felt the silky undamaged skin of the throat she had cut, warm and alive. She could feel the pulse fluttering in the woman's veins.
Mar-Beth smiled lovingly at her. "Yes, my darling, it's me. God has sent me back to watch over you, and guide you back to your path."
The teat slipped from the baby's mouth as he fell back to sleep, snuggled in Clarice's arms.
"Put him down on the sofa, Clarice. We have so much to talk about."
"The others -"
"Cannot see or touch me." Mar-Beth smiled sadly. "You're the chosen one, not them."
Clarice stood and put the child down. Of course, she had been chosen. She was specially beloved of God. She had always known it. But -
"God has asked such unimaginable sacrifices from me, and for what? I have questioned my faith, Mar-Beth. I gave up everything for apotheosis, and what was it? A mistake. Why did God give the power to create life to the one who destroys it?" The words stumbled over each other in a rush of bitterness and despair.
"My poor love." Mar-Beth put her arms around Clarice, who fell shaking into the embrace, feeling her wife's forgiveness and compassion wrap around her with the kisses dropped to the top of her head. "Apotheosis was not a mistake. Only the method was. A life in a false world, made of nothing but code - God would not allow that blasphemy. The faithful need to serve God in the real world. The dead can return to this world as a real presence - you've seen it before me, Clarice. Think. Remember."
Clarice did. "But - a robot, a metal monster… What kind of life is that?"
"The important thing," Mar-Beth said, her voice hard and shining like steel, "is that you have actual physical proof that the dead can manifest again in this world. All that is needed is to create the perfect vessel."
"How? What does God want me to do?" Clarice's voice was plaintive, but the joyous fire of certainty was beginning to flame within her again. She really was the chosen one - her glorious destiny had not been a delusion. She had always known that. It was just in the dark hours of the morning that she had doubted. The dark hours of the morning that had brought her, now, this transcendent confirmation.
"The answer is already within you, Clarice. Zoe Graystone was born to the right parents to combine with her life-giving genius. Daniel Graystone was chosen by God as he was brilliant with technology."
"Amanda," Clarice breathed.
Mar-Beth kissed her; it felt like a seal of approval, as if Clarice had given one of her students a word of praise for being especially clever.
Clarice's mind was racing. She knew all about Amanda, from those evenings in the cabin, holding hands and snuggling and listening to Amanda's anguished secrets. Amanda, who could see the dead… but that was only part of it.
"Amanda Graystone was a plastic surgeon," she said, the idea coming on her like a revelation.
Mar-Beth kissed her again. Clarice pulled away.
"But - how can I secure her assistance? I loved Amanda, and she betrayed me."
"Zoe is the key."
"Yes. I always knew that. But how?"
"The way will come to you, my love. God will show you. Just open your eyes and look around you." Mar-Beth leaned in for another kiss, and this time Clarice melted into the kiss, closing her eyes and parting her lips, feeling Mar-Beth's gentle hands slip into her robe and part it, pushing it to the floor.
The baby sleeping on the couch, her family sleeping in the bedrooms around her, Clarice gave herself over to God's love.
Look around you. It sounded so simple… Clarice went to the school and dealt with administration, searching everything for some clue, some sign from God like Mar-Beth had promised. There was nothing. Nothing at all but the daily grind.
The only change was that she had Mar-Beth, had the sense of her presence whether she could see her or not, whispering encouragement and faith. Darling Mar-Beth, good, beautiful, loving, devout Mar-Beth. She had missed her so much. The gentleness and the hardness of her, so loving and so immovable, the true centre of their family. When Clarice had killed her, she had felt like she was killing part of herself. A part now restored to her, perfected, angelic.
She had every reason to have faith. God must love her very much, if he had restored Mar-Beth to her.
She took her way home through the marketplace, drawn by some odd compulsion toward the oracles. Charlatans, taking cubits from the credulous in return for illusory 'visions' from false gods. She, who had real visions that she could see and touch and kiss, had no need for such delusion.
She turned away from the tent, and saw a stall selling t-shirts at deep discount. Tacky, teenage things, for which she would normally not have spared a glance.
It had to be the guidance of God that made her look at them now. Look, and look again.
She snatched up one of the t-shirts. "Who are they?"
"Deadwalkers. I can't give these things away now that New Cap City has gone under, though." The boy sighed.
"Tell me what this means!"
"Lady, I don't have a fracking idea. It's just a t-shirt."
Clarice drew herself up. "That is no way to speak to a woman of the cloth. Please tell me everything you know about these two."
"I really don't know, Sister," the boy said, more respectfully. "They were just two players in a VR game that were unkillable. Some kind of a hack. They were a bit of a cult thing for a while. But the authorities took the game down, and no one much cares, now."
Clarice's hand was trembling with excitement. "May I have one of these t-shirts?"
"Sure - on the house. Like I said, can't give them away now. Such a waste of investing good cubits."
Mar-Beth, by Clarice's side, smiled.
It took Clarice some time, and calling in all her remaining contacts and favours, to establish contact with Gemenon. When she finally found herself in a VR room sitting across from Mother, she understood why.
Lacy Rand, flanked by robotic monsters, smiled sweetly at her. She looked very small, her face round and young under its veil, but the cylons by her side loomed like giants.
"Why, Sister Clarice. I knew we would meet again. As you can see, I made the best of the training opportunities you so kindly gave me. Now, what can your humble Mother do for you in return?"
"Lacy - Mother." Clarice, her mind racing, dropped her head humbly. "I petition you to use your resources to discover the identity of this person." She handed across the t-shirt.
"What?" Some of Lacy's smooth, hostile calm left her. One hand plucked agitatedly at her robes. "This is Zoe. But - it doesn't make sense. Who is this girl?"
"You don't know her?" Clarice felt her excitement rising.
Lacy had regained command of herself. "No. But I will find out. And then I will decide whether to tell you."
"As it pleases you, Mother," Clarice said, satisfied. Even if Lacy chose not to share the knowledge, if it was found by the resources of the Mon-Ad Church, someone would know… and would tell Clarice.
"Why do you want to know, Clarice?"
Clarice lifted her head proudly. "I have not changed my convictions. Zoe Graystone chosen by God to be the mother of the new world; she is the key to everything. And this girl may be the key to Zoe."
"I'll find out." Lacy's voice was small and tight.
"Thank you, Mother, for your loving help."
Clarice removed her headset, and looked into Mar-Beth's loving eyes.
"Who would have thought the little girl you brought into our house to be seduced would grow up so powerfully?" Mar-Beth said, wonderingly. "Perhaps you were right to bring her to us."
"What do you mean?"
Mar-Beth smiled. "I think you should marry her."
The information, when it came, did not come directly through Mother, slightly to Clarice's disappointment. She could not stop thinking about what Mar-Beth had said. To be married to Mother - and not only Mother, but Mother surrounded by an army that was already cutting its way through the polytheists of Gemenon. The resources that would be within her grasp… Resources to use to bring God's will to the colonies.
Lacy had once looked up to and relied on Clarice. She was probably secretly terrified and out of her depth, now, a little girl commanding a robotic army. Clarice could reach out to her, guide her…
Clarice sighed and opened the file.
The girl, Tamara Adams, was born on Caprica but of Tauron descent. She and her mother Shannon had died in the bombing. That did not surprise Clarice. The rest of the information was more suggestive: surviving family with rumoured Ha'la'tha connections, who had resumed the name Adama after her death. A brother dying of gunshot wounds long after Tamara's death; the family had refused to co operate with police, claiming to have no idea why the child had been targeted. A father who had married again with almost indecent haste, his own accountant, a woman who was already in advanced pregnancy. Tamara's maternal grandmother was living with the Adamas and caring for Evelyn.
There had to be levers there. Clarice was an expert at finding levers
There was no known connection between Tamara Adama and Zoe Graystone, except the manner of their death - and that their images appeared in a VR game, stalking the players. There had to be one. God had led Clarice to Tamara for a reason.
She chose a time at which the women of the Adma household would be alone in the house. They received her respectfully enough, bringing her to the sitting room and providing her with sherry,
Evelyn did not touch the alcohol. She was already at a stage of pregnancy at which she could not manage to work, and moved awkwardly under her own weight, settling into an easy chair. Her face was pale and there were shadows under her eyes, but her smile was that of a woman who had deep happiness. Clarice's dossier had described her as devoted to Yusef Adama, which was all to the good. Clarice had no intention of attempting a seduction on this woman.
"How can we help you, Sister?" she asked, curiously.
"I need to speak to you alone - if you will allow us, Mrs Marcia," she added, bowing her head to the older woman.
Ruth Marcia looked at her with some suspicion, but got to her feet, grumbling slightly. "I suppose I have some cooking to do. Evelyn here isn't in a state to do much. Just don't tire her out," she warned sharply.
Evelyn smiled at her with evident gratitude and affection.
Clarice waited until they were alone, before leaning forward and placing a hand on Evelyn's knee. She found that establishing physical contact helped her establish a bond with people, even without bringing sex into the matter. Not that sex wasn't useful.
"Mrs Adama, what I have to say to you involves the welfare of your unborn child."
Evelyn gave an embarrassed smile. "Sister, I appreciate your concern, but my husband and I have both decided to dedicate our child to Zeus."
Clarice raised a dismissive hand. "That is not my concern. My concern is that this child is not born into a broken family."
"I don't understand." Evelyn frowned, her voice notably cooler. She made a restless movement, as if longing to stand up and dismiss the interview.
"The child's half-siblings are dead, do I understand, as is their mother?"
Evelyn nodded. "He will be born into a house of mourning, but also of love," she said, with quiet dignity.
"It may not be as simple as that." Clarice made her voice very gentle, as if she was talking to a lover. "Are you so sure that, if Yusef had Shannon and their children restored to him, that he would still choose you and your child?"
The dark shadows under Evelyn's eyes stood out starkly in the whiteness of her face. "I don't understand," she said, stiffly. "They are dead."
Clarice handed her the shirt. Evelyn stared down at it for a long moment, and then twisted it in her hands.
"Where did you get this?"
It wasn't the question Clarice had expected. Surely it would have been more natural to ask what it means?
"She knows," Mar-Beth said softly, slipping an arm around Clarice's waist and leaning her cheek against her shoulder. "She knows Tamara is alive in the Virtual World. The question is, does her husband know?"
Clarice looked earnestly into Evelyn's eyes. "Those things, that look like girls, are abominations against the gods. Instead of travelling on to the Elysian Fields, they have taken form in the afterlife. So have all the victims of the bombs, Mrs Adama. The shade of Shannon Adama is there, too. And if Yusef was to know…"
"He thinks Tamara is dead, in the virtual world," Evelyn said jerkily. "And New Cap City has been destroyed. He hasn't thought to look for Shannon - not yet."
"It's only a matter of time." Clarice sighed sadly. "And then you risk losing - everything."
"Why have you come to me?"
"I want to help." Clarice leaned forward and caressed Evelyn's hair, soothingly. "I just want to reach them - talk to them. Convince them to give up this mockery of existence and move on to the Elysium Fields, where they should be. I need to free these tortured, murdered souls from their purgatory. As a High Priestess, I can do this. But I need to know how to reach them. You have known the family a long time, I know - is there anything at all you can tell me about how to reach the shade of Tamara?"
Evelyn looked at her with anguished eyes. "There is a way," she said at last, reluctantly. "A symbol - Tamara will respond to it. It means something to her. If you use it in V-world, she will come. And then, the gods help you."
Clarice smiled with savage delight. "Thank you, Mrs Adama. It is for the best - for Tamara, for your husband, and for your family. The gods will bless you for your choice."
"A new avatar?" Lacy repeated. "You come to me, your Mother, for something as trivial as that?"
"I have little money, and no resources," Clarice said, her cheeks heating a little with humiliation. "My husband, who was a genius programmer, is dead. My computers are destroyed. And the Zoe avatar misunderstood my intentions, the last time we met. I need to approach her in a form she will not fear, a form she will trust."
"The Zoe avatar never trusted you. She told me not to trust you." Lacy sounded very young, her expression defiant but her lips trembling. She pulled at her veil.
"Zoe was turned against me by Barnabas." Clarice let the condemnation be apparent in her tone, and Lacy, to her delight, dropped her gaze in shamed confusion. For all the child was now Mother, she was still the girl who had sat, her hands trembling and eyes full of tears, in her Headmistress' office. Needing love. Needing guidance. And what guidance could an army of robots give her?
She needed Clarice's hand on hers, leading her to the right future.
"I forgive the mistakes of the young," Clarice said, gently. "Especially the young I love."
Lacy looked at her with confusion. There was resentment in her expression, but - something else. Clarice felt a surge of power, and almost stepped forward to take the girl's avatar in her arms, claiming her position as consort.
Mar-Beth's hand on her arm restrained her. There was no sense in frightening the girl by moving too quickly. She had made that mistake with her once before.
"I can make Zoe understand," she said, instead. "I can bring her back to God, and to us."
"You will bring Zoe back to us?" Lacy clasped her hands tightly together, so that they disappeared under the long sleeves of her robes.
"Back to us in her true human form."
"You can do that?"
"I will find a way. I promise. God still has work for us, Lacy."
Lacy came to a decision. "All right. Find her. But you must report back to me when you do." She gestured to her cylon companions. "If not - you will meet the fate of all who oppose me. I'm not a little girl anymore, Sister Clarice."
"No." Clarice smiled at her; a smile precisely calculated to give the impression that she had noticed Lacy was now an attractive woman. "You are our Mother. And I serve you."
"See that you remember that." Lacy's voice shook a little too much to make her sharpness convincing. "You will have your avatar." She lifted her hands to the side of her head, and winked out of the 'room', along with her robots.
Clarice removed her own headset. Back in the darkened room, she met Mar-Beth's eyes.
"That's so typical of you, Clarice," Mar-Beth said, with a mixture of grudging admiration and disapproval. "Always winning supporters the same way."
"It works, doesn't it?" Clarice lifted Mar-Beth's hand to her lips, and kissed it. "It's all in God's name. To help bring about apotheosis. To bring us all into God's love."
She was very happy. Once she had reached Tamara, it was only a matter of time before, through her, she could reach Zoe. And once she had, she was confident she could convince Zoe to help. After all, she could offer Zoe a way to live in the world again, in a real skin.
Of course, Amanda and Daniel Graystone would have to co operate. But that was a mere technicality. Once she had Zoe under her influence again - well, Zoe was the key to apotheosis. Clarice had always known that.
God loved her. Her steps had faltered, but now she was back on the right path, she could not fail.
After all, she had an angel to guide her.
In her sanctuary on Gemenon, Lacy sent away Sinclair and her human guards, allowing only the one cylon to stay.
She turned the t-shirt over and over in her hands. It didn't make sense. Zoe was with her, not in V-world. She saw Zoe's face in her cylons, day after day. Surrounding her, protecting her. Zoe's love had made her Mother, had given her unimaginable power.
So who the frak was this other girl?
She tore the t-shirt across in one furious rip, and turned to her cylon guard.
The light in its vision band focussed on her. She went to it, and put her arms around it. She had been so awkward the first time she had held the Zoe avatar, in Zoe Graystone's bedroom, but long practice let her wind her arms around it and lay her cheek against its smooth, hard chest. The embrace felt familiar, secure.
"Zoe, I need to allow Sister Clarice to find what she can find. I need to know what is really going on with this - Tamara. And if she can find a way to give you a new body, we must.
"But then - we will do what we need to do. What I planned. We will free the others, and bring them to me. You belong to me, only to me. Tell me that is true."
A metal hand came up and, very gently, laid itself against the back of her head, as a robot arm pressed against her back.
"By your command."