Author: Lizbeth Marcs liz_marcs
Summary: Sam has learned that it’s better to be a crow than a bird of prey. Strangely enough, he’s okay with that.
Fandom: Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Spoilers: Definite spoilers for the New Caprica arc at the beginning of Season 3; vague spoilers through the end of Season 3.
Title, Author and URL of original story: Tessellation by fahye
Part 2 is posted here.
The Murder of Crows (Blackhawk Down Remix)
By Lizbeth Marcs
By Lizbeth Marcs
Sam takes a break in front of the screech owl enclosure at the Delphi Wildlife Center to look for the owls hidden in the arrangement of branches. While he strains his neck this way and that in an effort to find all five listed on the information placard, he sucks down a bottle of electrolyte-enhanced water and tries to ignore the racket coming from a crow pitching an epic-sized fit in a cage located somewhere behind him.
The enhanced water tastes like ass, but since that’s his autograph and picture on the label he feels obligated to drink it. That’ll teach him to sign endorsement deals before he gets a chance to try the product.
He makes a series of mental notes — call my lawyer, call my agent, call team publicity, see if I can get out of the water deal — in an effort to distract himself from his itinerary for the day. In less than 30 minutes, he’ll be greeting hordes of young fans as they pour through the center’s gates. The center’s administration made no secret of the fact that they hope the kids will come for the all-star line-up of pyramid players, and then repeatedly come back because of the animals.
Why on Caprica the team management thought that a cross-promotional thing with the center was a good idea is a mystery for the ages. The team’s called the Buccaneers, for Gods’ sake, not the Hawks. If team management wanted to do their bit for enhancing an educational experience in exchange for a positive PR hit, they should’ve worked out something with a maritime museum.
This new mental rant, replete with curses at team management, manages to shove his worries about the getting out of the endorsement contract clean out of his head.
Deep down inside, though, Sam knows that all he’s doing is focusing on trivia because he doesn’t want to admit to the source of his unease. On any normal day, he wouldn’t give a flying frak about the water, or about the zoo. However, this isn’t a normal day.
As soon as the gates open, there’ll be swarms of kids surrounding him and the other players. They’ll be shoving sports cards, posters, pictures, pyramid balls, sneakers, and Gods know what else under his nose for him to sign. He knows his hand is going to cramp with the effort of repeatedly signing his name on every odd-shaped, pyramid-related object that exists on the Colonies, while every single one of those kids look at him with something close to worship.
Even after all this time doing personal appearances, the very thought of that silent worship still makes him feel uneasy, like he’s tempting Zeus to toss a lightening bolt in his direction. Today, the unease has torqued upwards into dread. Right about now he’s so convinced that a clap thunder is about to break over his head that it’s all he can do to suppress the urge to watch sky.
“So that’s where you’ve wandered off to,” says a gruff voice with a heavy Aerelon accent.
Sam tries not to wince as he turns around. If coach has sent his assistant Josh to collect him, he must be holding up the show in some way. He suspects that Josh is going to land into him for dawdling among the animals instead of attending the compulsory legal review. Honestly, he’s practically memorized legal’s list of dos and don’ts for fan meet-and-greets to the point where he could give the presentation.
To Sam’s surprise, a tongue-lashing seems to be about the furthest thing from Josh’s mind.
“You’re looking at the wrong birds. The bird you need to watch is that one over there. That’s the one you can learn from.” Josh jerks his head to indicate caged crow behind him. The head movement causes the man’s thinning redidish-brown hair to flop and catch the slight prevailing breeze that blows through the zoo.
Sam’s very sure that he’s looking at Josh like the other man has lost his mind. He can’t imagine the assistant coach tolerating a tantrum like the crow is throwing from anyone on or off the court.
Josh joins him at the crowd control fence, located a good foot away from the perimeter of the screech owls’ enclosure, and leans against it. Keeping his eyes fixed on the crazy crow, he asks, “Know what they call a group of crows?”
“A flock?” Sam ventures.
“A murder,” Josh says. “The correct answer is, ‘a murder of crows.’”
“Hunh,” Sam says, mostly because he has no idea what to say to that disturbing bit of trivia.
“The thing about crows is they’re smart.” Josh taps his temple to illustrate. “Maybe the smartest damn bird in all the Colonies.”
“Then why aren’t there any pyramid teams named ‘the Crows?’”
Josh’s face whips around to face him. “There’s more to life than just pyramid, boy.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you are doomed to be an unknown assistant coach instead of a star, Sam uncharitably thinks.
Josh is facing the crow again. “But if you really want to know why no one will name a pyramid team the Crows, it’s because crows are too independent. You can’t ever predict what they’re going to do when they start working together. And they don’t hold with being caged. Put them in a cage, and they start misbehaving.”
The crow starts picking things up with its beak in between the screaming caws and throws things around its enclosure, almost as if it’s determined to prove Josh’s point.
“Now that is something.” Josh nods his head approvingly. “It knows it’s surrounded by its traditional enemies, and it knows it’s in a cage. Don’t matter no how. That bird wants out.”
“It’ll die if it gets out.” Sam jerks his chin at a plaque he scanned while walking around. “According to that, it was hit by a car and its wings didn’t heal properly. It has no chance of surviving in the wild if it escapes.”
“I’m sure that crow knows it, too. The thing is, in its bird-brain mind it doesn’t matter.” Josh lazily waves a hand. “That crow would rather be dead than trapped in a cage. It would take every single one of these birds of prey on all at once just for a chance to be free.”
Sam’s very sure that Josh is projecting something onto that crow, because this doesn’t sound remotely like an animal quality to him. “Okay, say it’s true,” Sam says. “Say you’re right about this crow. You’d think it would go double for a hawk, or a kestrel, or an owl. They’re the hunters. The crow just a scavenger.”
Josh huffs. Sam isn’t sure, but it sounds suspiciously like the other man is trying not to laugh at him. “All those bums care about is getting fed. If they don’t have to work for it, so much the better. They’ll just sit there and make no fuss as long as they’re fat and full. No thought to the future at all. Given everything, I’d rather be a crow, even a caged one.” Josh looks at him then. “So should you.”
“So when I get locked up in a cage, I can throw myself against the bars, too,” Sam grumbles under his breath just before he takes a swig from his awful-tasting water.
“You’ll find out where you stand someday, I suppose.” Josh sounds almost disappointed as he says this, like somehow Sam has let him down hard.
For a reason he can’t put his finger on, Sam feels unaccountably ashamed of this. “It’s just a crow,” he weakly protests.
Josh checks his watch, a sure sign that the moment is now officially over. “Get your head together. We need to be lined up with bright shining faces to greet the little brats when they come through the front door.”
Sam relaxes. It appears that Josh has given him a pass on attending the obligatory legal lecture. Zeus, apparently, has decided not to throw any lightning bolts his way today.
Josh pushes off from the fence and walks almost a dozen steps before he stops and turns around. “The thing about people is that most of ’em are like your well-behaved little predators behind you.” Josh flicks a dismissive, pointed finger at enclosures behind Sam. “Guarantee their safety, make sure they’re fed properly, and they’ll sit all nice and quiet in their cages until the day they die.”
Sam tenses, and waits. For what, he’s not entirely sure.
“But some people,” Josh taps the side of his nose with a wink, “some people are crows. There’s never as many as you hope, but there’s always more than you think. Look for the crows, Sam, and you won’t set a foot wrong.”
“And if I decide that I’m a crow at heart?” The question is out of Sam’s mouth before he realizes that it had formed in his head. Some part of him is taking this far more seriously than he ought to.
Josh grins as if somehow Sam finally got it. “Then you’ll have yourself a murder.”
A week later, Sam finally gets his first real life experience with a murder while training in the mountains with his team. From that moment on water endorsement deals, kids with bright shining faces, and publicity appearances lose all meaning.
Upon seeing his first Cylon raider screaming across the sky, Sam realizes that Josh had a very good point. When the chips are down, it’s better to be a crow than just another bird of prey.
Strangely enough, he’s perfectly okay with that.
It isn’t until he sees his first Skinjob and realizes that they can look like us that he begins to wonder about Josh.
Sam’s so feverish that he’s not entirely sure what is going on. All he knows is that he hears screaming — the screams of people, the screams of ships.
It’s the ships part that triggers the memory of being back on Caprica, hunched under cover in some dirty hole while raiders punch through the atmosphere over his head. The memory is so clear and so overwhelming that suddenly he’s there with his fingers clutching the dirt and the smell of rain-soaked soil invading his nose. He can feel the panicked thud-thud-thud of his heart as he wills himself to be invisible while the Cylons try to overcome his ever-dwindling resistance.
Although if he’s back on Caprica, why are people screaming? The thing he remembers most about those final, awful months is silence. It had been so all-encompassing that it smothered everything, from normal conversation, to the bustle of people doing the daily chores at base camp, to even the sound of his feet slapping against the ground as he ran from one bloodbath to another.
Funny how no one notices how noisy the world is until the day comes when there’s no noise at all. When there’s no rumbling of trucks on the roads, no sounds of planes overhead, no sounds of animals or birds, no crowd noises around the pyramid court, the silence roars even when a torrential downpour slams against the ground.
On Caprica, that silence had teeth.
He sometimes thinks he picked up a gun and started blowing things up not just because he wanted revenge, but also because he wanted to destroy that horrible silence. He’ll never admit that, even though he suspects that Kara would understand if he told her that he was more afraid of the silence and what it might say to him if he didn’t keep breaking its jaw with mortars and explosives.
A face appears above him and seems to float in the gloom over his bed. Sam immediately thinks it’s someone who’s former military here to grab Kara so she can help deal with whatever is going on outside.
The face floats closer and suddenly the world snaps into focus. Sam realizes he’s not looking at a who, but a what. He struggles to get upright, but a splayed hand lands on his chest and forces him back down. Sam knows that anyone glancing into the tent would probably think this thing is trying to help him stay calm, when from his perspective the intention is anything but. The firm pressure doesn’t let up, but it doesn’t push down any harder. It doesn’t have to increase the pressure, really. Sam’s already strained and aching lungs begin to hurt in a way that tells him that it’s short trip from forcing him to stay down to punching a hole through his chest.
“I need to find Kara,” the Skinjob repeats. “I have an important message for her.”
The lie is so automatic, that reality slips again and Sam is back on Caprica. “Who?”
The Skinjob increases the pressure on his chest, causing Sam to gasp and his limbs flop as if the Skinjob is trying to strangle him instead of push him through the mattress. He can feel beads of sweat prickling his face and scalp along with the humiliation that floods his headspace.
“I know she’s here,” the Skinjob says. “There’s no time, and I need to find her right away. So let’s skip the part where you tell me that you have no idea who I’m talking about, and simply accept the truth that is.”
The pressure suddenly is gone. Sam helplessly gulps to get air into his lungs, a proposition that was a struggle even before the Skinjob tried to compress his chest into a flat sheet. What little oxygen he manages to get burns like fire and robs him of his ability to speak.
“A wise man would know when to stay silent. All signs indicate that you are not a wise man. So I’ll just say it plainly, to make sure we don’t misunderstand one another. Don’t try to warn her, or this illusion,” the Skinjob waves its hand to indicate everything in the tent’s interior, “will be consumed by smoke and fire.”
What makes the threat especially chilling is the Skinjob’s tone seems to indicate that it’s stating nothing less than an absolute truth.
Sam hopes his coughing gasps sounds like the ‘frak you’ that he so desperately wants to say.
The Skinjob moves over to a chair and sits in it, which allows the tent’s normal interior gloom to swallow its features whole. Sam swears that its eyes glow ever so slightly in the shadows, like it’s a minor demon sent to torture him into admitting that he can’t even begin to fight back.
“She doesn’t love you,” the Skinjob says without malice. “She never will, really. You know that you’re only a distraction from her true destiny. She knows it, too.”
A thousand half-formed responses float through Sam’s feverish mind, but none take root long enough to reach his lips. It doesn’t really matter, because the only answer that makes sense is Kara’s sidearm under the bed.
He’ll have to somehow stay alert. All he needs is for the Skinjob’s attention to wander for a few seconds. It would then be a mater of rolling off the bed, yanking the gun out of its holster, and hauling himself upright fast enough so he can take aim at the Skinjob’s head. Whether he’ll have time to pull the trigger is an open question.
One problem at a time, he tells himself. You’ve got to get to the gun before you can worry about using it.
“You should relax. Save your strength,” the Skinjob says in that same conversational tone. “I’m here to help Kara, not harm her.”
Sam wheezes a laugh, which prompts a coughing fit hard enough to rattle his bones. It’s like that classic joke: Well, ma’am, we had to kill your husband in order to save him. It’s a joke that has never lost the ability to prompt an ironic laugh out of him, even though he’s the ma’am in this equation.
The Skinjob smiles a vacant, bemused smile. If Sam didn’t know any better, he’d think it understands the sheer irony of the situation.
“I know you probably have a weapon within easy reach,” the Skinjob says as if it’s talking about nothing more important than the weather. “In that nightstand, or maybe tucked under a pillow. I’ve walked all over this camp. From what I’ve witnessed, better safe than sorry seems to be the standard operating procedure. I think it’s best if we all keep our hands in sight and make no sudden moves. I don’t want Kara to misunderstand my intentions.”
So much for that plan, Sam thinks bitterly as he frees his arms from the blankets and places his empty hands out in the open under the Skinjob’s intense gaze.
“I know you,” the Skinjob remarks, apropos of exactly nothing.
Sam opens his mouth to gasp the obvious question, but the Skinjob holds up a hand.
“Listen,” it says.
The screaming outside cuts off, as if someone has flipped a switch. There’s a beat of terrifying silence before the sounds of metallic footsteps begin to echo. From the sound of it, there are probably thousands of Bulletheads marching in unison out there.
“I remember you from Caprica, but we’ve never met.” The Skinjob raises its voice just enough to be heard over the rhythmic din. “I want you to know that I don’t bear you any grudge. You’re playing your part, just as I am playing mine.”
That’s Sam’s cue to get into a mental crash position. He had dealt directly with this model a couple of times back on Caprica during interrogations. The sessions with this particular numberless and nameless Skinjob always followed the same pattern. It started by being oh-so-helpful and gave them bits and pieces of the information they wanted. Somewhere in the middle of questioning the tide would turn and it would start getting under people’s skin and inserting doubt in the middle of certainty.
Sam never fell for it, mostly because when it would get too much he’d walk outside to let the ash-laden rain to clear his head. All he needed to do was look to the strange post-bombing Caprica skies to recapture his certainty.
But some people…
Well, they were rattled in a bad way after two minutes alone with this one and they never quite recovered. The psychological hit rippled out to the others, causing the already low morale to plummet. It took everything Sam had to counter the damage, but he suspects that he never was entirely successful there. After all, what could he say? When this model said in so many words that the resistance was doomed and that they would ultimately lose Caprica, it was nothing less than the truth. Everyone knew that Sam and his merry rebel band of overwhelmed pyramid players, former day-hikers, homeless campers, and desperate survivalists were fighting on borrowed time. If the Cylons didn’t get them, the radiation would after the meds ran out. All they were doing was throwing themselves against the bars of the cage in hopes that something would give before they did.
As it turned out something did finally give, but only because Kara was such a pain-in-the-ass about forcing the Galactica to retrieve those who had been left behind. Still, Sam had to give that Skinjob model its due. It was right about them losing Caprica, and it was right about the resistance being a losing proposition.
Without Caprica — without its silences, torrential ash rains, and strange skies — and without the unique desperation of that time, Sam’s less sure of his ability to fend off this Skinjob’s special mode of psychological warfare.
Sam’s palms begin to itch. He desperately needs to get to that gun.
Gods know how long the two of them sit there and stare at each other, but it’s long enough for the sounds of marching to pass the tent and fade into the distance. During the march’s progression, the Skinjob shifts so it can stretch out its legs out in front of it, almost as if it considers itself a guest in their tent.
As for Sam, he concentrates on breathing, and keeping his eyes open, and staying upright, and suppressing the shakes caused by fever, and the thousand other things he needs to do so he can stay on his toes. His chance will come; he just needs to be ready for it.
The sound of human chaos breaks outside like a clap of thunder, and Kara strides into the tent. There’s something oddly appropriate about the sounds of humanity going mad to herald the arrival of a Kara Sam hasn’t seen since she turned in her insignia.
Her appearance is so sudden that Sam is startled. He can feel every cough-sore muscle in his torso tense up to the point that he wants to scream, but his body betrays him and his voice is lost. It’s all he can do to catch his lost breath.
“Sam,” she says with barely controlled excitement. She flies to his bedside and shakes him gently by the shoulder, as if she’s not sure he’s aware she’s back, despite the fact that he’s sitting semi-upright in bed and leaning against a pile of dry grass-stuffed pillows. “Sam,” she urgently repeats.
Sam pushes her hand away as he struggles to find breath to spare for his voice. Of their own volition, his eyes fall on the shadowed figure in the corner. Kara doesn’t even hesitate and she turns her head to see what he’s looking at. The second she sees the Skinjob, her indrawn breath is loud enough for Sam to hear.
Sam hears the Skinjob say, “Good to see you Kara.”
Looks like Kara had her share of dealing with this one, too.
“Get the frak out of my tent.” Kara’s voice is so flat; so controlled that Sam knows that his wife is panicking. This is clearly not a battle she cares to fight again.
And with that realization, the edges of Sam’s world begin crumble.
“Is that any way to great an old friend?” the Skinjob asks in a tone that manages to be completely reasonable without sounding the least bit hurt.
There’s a roar in Sam’s ears as he reminds her that there’s one weapon at their disposal. “Kara, under the bed.” His voice sounds rough with effort and fear.
Kara bends down so quickly that she looks like a blur in front of his eyes.
“Ah-ah, Kara” the Skinjob warns.
Kara freezes in mid-bend as the Skinjob materializes next to her. Sam knew those things could move fast. Gods know that he’d wondered more than once back on Caprica how he of all people kept catching them when they tried to run. This naked display of power, however, is so sudden, so unexpected, that it’s enough to show him that he and Kara are throwing themselves against the bars of a cage that’ll never give.
The Skinjob’s smile radiates calm joy, as if it’s beholding Aphrodite in all Her glory. “Don’t be stupid.” The Skinjob doesn’t raise its voice, and its smile doesn’t waver one jot. “This isn’t an interrogation room and this time I’m the one who can call for backup.”
Sam fights to keep his eyes focused and his breathing even. They don’t have nearly enough bullets in that gun to solve this problem.
“Right. Okay.” Kara straightens up and holds her hands out in front of her, as if she’s offering her open, empty palms for inspection. The set of her back and the tone in her voice tells Sam that she’s stalling. “What do you want?”
“I want you to walk with me.” The Skinjob offers its arm. To Sam’s eyes it looks like a parody of every period movie he’s ever seen about gallant men in long coats and feisty women in skirts.
There’s a low laugh in Kara’s throat. The sound is lonely and lost, almost as if she always knew this day was coming and now there is nothing left to do but to face it.
Kara carefully threads her arm around the Skinjob’s.
“Kara—” Sam desperately gasps.
“It’s all right. I’ll be back soon.” She doesn’t look back, but instead keeps her eyes fixed to the front of the tent.
Sam knows his wife well enough to know an untruth when he hears it. It doesn’t stop him from trying anyway. “Kara, what the frak—” he coughs out.
“I’ll be back soon,” Kara repeats in a louder voice, as if she can will a lie to be true in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
She says nothing more as the Skinjob escorts her into the world outside.
The flap of the tent is still falling back into place when Sam forces himself to sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. His first attempt to stand is halted by a wave of dizziness and he collapses backwards onto the mattress. Success comes on the second try, but his balance is so off that he teeters between crumpling to the floor and falling onto the bed again. After several minutes of uncertainty, he manages to recapture his equilibrium.
Going for the gun is out. He’s liable to pass out in the middle of bending down to retrieve it from under the bed. So’s putting on his boots or warmer clothes. Crossing the tent so he can get properly dressed would bleed too much time, and then Kara really will be lost.
Driven by sheer desperation, he hobbles out of the tent in nothing more a t-shirt, thin pants, and stockings. The stress of gulping enough air into his lungs to keep going forces him to bend slightly at the waist with one arm wrapped around his middle in a dumb effort to cradle his aching ribs. He holds out the other arm so he can weakly bat fleeing people out of his way as he tries to follow Kara and her captor.
The sound of chaos was bad when he was safely tucked out of the way in the tent, but it’s nothing compared to being thrust in the middle of it. He’s quickly caught up in the hurricane of panicked people as they run back and forth. Some are no doubt looking for places to hide, some are obviously looking for loved ones, and some like him are just trapped in the current and helpless to keep themselves from being carried along.
Unable to push his way forward, Sam changes tactics and catches at people as they run past him. He wheezes the question out over and over again. “Kara? Have you seen Kara?”
Some shake him off and ignore him. Some stop long enough to shout a curt “no” before the human tidal wave carries them away.
Sam doesn’t let that stop him. He knows that there’s no way Kara and the Skinjob could’ve gotten far in this maelstrom. They had to have been caught up by the current and carried somewhere. Skinjob or not, nothing could possibly fight this river of bodies.
He keeps searching as the sun sinks into darkness and people disappear from open ground. He holds onto the hope that somewhere there’s an eyewitness who can at least give him a hint of Kara’s destination long after it’s clear that the Gods aren’t planning to answer his desperate, silent prayers.
By the time he crawls back to the tent and collapses into bed, it’s full dark. As he drifts off into fevered, restless sleep, Sam feels like he’s taken on every team in the Intercolonial Pyramid League all by his lonesome.
Gods know the results would’ve been very much the same.
In the days that follow Kara leaving the tent, Sam feels like he’s still asleep. There’s an almost dreamlike quality to the way his pneumonia disappears far more quickly than it came, the way he swims from one section of the encampment to the next, and the way he keeps floating in and out of people’s personal space and living quarters to ask if they had seen Kara or anyone matching her description in the company of a Skinjob with a fixed smile and glowing eyes.
A week after Kara’s disappearance, Tyrol finds him wandering in the northwest quadrant of the camp.
“There you are!” Tyrol shouts as he jogs over. “We’ve been looking all over for you. I thought they had swept you up, too.”
Sam stops and frowns at him. “‘Swept me up?’” he repeats.
Tyrol comes to halt in front of him and drops his voice low, almost as if he’s afraid that he’ll be overheard. “The Toasters are rounding up all the ex-military for one-on-one chats.”
“No. I haven’t seen any of them since they took Kara.” He suddenly narrows his focus on Tyrol, as a thought occurs. “The Skinjob that took Kara mentioned something about an interrogation cell. You think maybe—”
“Let’s hope. I mean, that’s probably it,” Tyrol quickly interrupts. “A few people in my social circle know about the Leoben models. What little information we have indicates that it’s not particularly violent. It just likes to talk a lot.”
Sam rolls his eyes. That is an awfully charitable way of putting it.
Tyrol coughs a half-laugh, almost as if he can read Sam’s mind.
Sam suddenly wants to slap himself. Tyrol and Cally are ex-military too, a fact he tends to forget because he didn’t get to know them until after they settled on the planet’s surface. Besides, he’d been so consumed with looking for Kara that he hadn’t even noticed the Toasters spelunking for ex-military people among the population, let alone realized that Kara’s old buddies from the service had been caught up in a dragnet.
“Did they get you already?” he asks.
Tyrol snorts. “I was one of the first ones they grabbed. I’m surprised that I was that high on the list.”
“And Cally?” Sam cautiously asks.
Tyrol scrubs a hand over his face. He looks so tired that Sam wonders just how long the Toasters held him. “They took us together. They made sure to tell us that they wouldn’t separate us because it’s pretty frakking obvious that Cally’s due soon.”
“Too bad the Skinjob that took Kara didn’t show the same consideration,” Sam bitterly remarks.
Tyrol’s eyes pop open and now he’s openly staring at Sam.
“What?” Sam asks.
“Aren’t you supposed to be sick?”
Sam blinks. “I feel okay.”
“You were at death’s door just last week,” Tyrol points out. “I should know. I saw you. Kara was going crazy trying to get meds. She even tried to sweet-talk Lee into sneaking a few doses out of the military stash for you, that’s how crazy she was.”
“I don’t know what happened. I know right after Kara was taken I was practically crawling around on my hands and knees looking for her. The next day,” Sam shrugs to show that he’s as mystified as Tyrol is, “I’m running from one end of the camp to the other looking for clues.”
Tyrol gives his head a hard shake. “Well, pneumonia is one of those things. It gets worse before it gets better, right? You were probably on the verge of getting better and the adrenalin kicked up the healing process.”
“A day too late,” Sam mumbles.
“Hey, don’t worry so much. If anyone knows how to take care of herself in this kind of situation, it’s Kara. I’m sure she’s okay.”
From your lips to the Gods’ ears. “Maybe someone else who was rounded up saw her,” Sam says.
Tyrol closes his eyes and sighs. “I’ve talked to a few of the others already. And before you ask, no. No one’s heard or seen anything. In fact, no one remembers even seeing a Leoben, let alone Kara. Everyone I know or have talked to dealt with Dorals or D’Annas.”
Sam’s not really listening. All he needed to hear was the first part of Tyrol’s statement. “Maybe you haven’t talked to the right people yet. I can’t believe that she’d just meekly go along with that thing so she could have a little chat with a bunch of Toasters. You know Kara. You can bet she raised hell as soon as she got far enough away from our tent. She had to have drawn attention to herself. Someone had to have seen that.”
Tyrol reaches out and places a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t see Kara just going along with this either, but you don’t know what they’ve threatened to do if she doesn’t behave.”
Sam shudders at the memory of the Skinjob’s threats. If it specifically threatened him after it escorted Kara outside, it would go a long way toward explaining why Kara let herself be led away.
“Listen, there’s no need to panic yet,” Tyrol assures him. “Like I said, everyone with a military past is getting picked up. And once they collect you, the Toasters don’t let you go home until you share your feelings with them and all that kind of touchy-feeling crap. Last I heard there was a huge backup of ex-military waiting to be processed. Some people have been waiting for days.”
Sam turns to glare at Colonial One. “Wonder how the Toasters got their rust-speckled claws on the military names.”
“Three guesses, first two don’t count,” Tyrol snarls.
“So, what are the Toasters telling you guys during those chats of theirs?” Sam asks. He really needs to get moving if he wants to finish this sector by nightfall, but Tyrol’s just about his only solid lead. There’s always a chance he saw something important without realizing it. Considering that Tyrol has already said that he and everyone he’s talked to haven’t seen or heard anything, it’s a pretty sad illustration of Sam’s desperation.
Tyrol grunts. “The Dorals and D’Annas are under the delusion that we should all hold hands and sing songs of peace. It was a lot of PR-talk about burying hatchets and bearing no ill will and keeping history in the past. This was followed by an rousing rendition of ‘up-up-and-away-to-the-future-junior-spa
Sam bites his tongue before he says something he’ll regret. He can’t believe that Tyrol’s being so flippant.
Tyrol hunches his shoulders, and once more Sam wonders if the other man can read his mind. “Sorry about quoting some really old, bad cartoons from my wasted childhood.”
“Naturally, you’ve got all those old cartoons memorized,” Sam deadpans.
“You better believe it,” Tyrol grins at him. The grin quickly disappears and is replaced by a thoughtful frown. “Why don’t I give you a hand?”
“Nora and Duck are staying with her. If she needs me, they’ll get word to me,” Tyrol interrupts. “The two of us can cover more ground than you can alone. Besides, I just got turned loose, so I probably know better than you what kind of clues we’re looking for.”
Sam’s knees become wobbly and it’s all he can do to stay standing. It’s not the answer to his prayers that he wanted, but he’ll take even this small consideration from the Gods. “Thank you,” he sincerely says.
Tyrol claps him on the shoulder. “You know what they say about knuckle-draggers.”
“Actually, I don’t know what they say about knuckle-draggers,” Sam says.
“We’ve never met an impossible problem we could walk away from.” Tyrol looks around. “I’ll go left. You go right. Meet you here in three hours to compare notes and decide what to do next.”
“Let’s roll,” Sam gratefully agrees.
Although the Toasters haven’t imposed a curfew, everyone’s acting as if they have. The other stragglers scurry through the lengthening shadows in an effort to get to their tents before the sun sinks below the horizon.
Sam has learned there’s no point in keeping up his search for Kara after sundown. No one in the tents will answer him if he stands outside and calls in to them, and there’s no one wandering around the grounds that he can meet by chance. Besides, the last thing he wants to do is give the Toasters an excuse to haul him in for one of their little “discussions.” They haven’t started rounding up any of the ex-resistance fighters, but after the massive frak-up that happened with the ex-military people Sam doesn’t want to take the chance. Every second that he’d be stuck listening to a Doral or a D’Anna drone at him, would be a second robbed from his search.
He’s almost to his tent when a figure steps out of the shadows.
“I’ve been looking for you,” Tyrol calls over to him.
Sam’s heart soars as he changes direction. “You heard something.”
“About Kara,” Sam excitedly says as he grabs Tyrol meaty upper arm. “You heard something.”
“No. No, I haven’t heard anything,” Tyrol shakes his head. “Sorry to get your hopes up.”
Sam drops his hand. “Then why are you looking for me?”
Tyrol clears his throat and announces with a strained smile. “We’re putting together a band.”
“A band,” Tyrol repeats.
“A band,” Sam deadpans. He can’t believe this.
“That’s right,” Tyrol says with curt nod. “A band. We’ve got a lead singer, a few back-up singers—”
“I don’t sing,” Sam interrupts with irritation.
“I’ll be on the drums, of course. We’re auditioning a couple of people for guitar even as we speak,” Tyrol continues as if he didn’t hear Sam’s interruption. “But what we really need is someone who knows how to book gigs.”
“I’m a little busy right now,” Sam says as he turns away.
Tyrol’s hand shoots out — So fast. Gods, how did he move that fast? Sam wonders — and stops him before he can get away.
“See, the thing is,” Tyrol leans forward and drops his voice, “we seem to remember that you were the lead singer of a band back on Caprica. We figure that if anyone knows how to line up gigs, you would.”
Sam pinches his nose with a wince as he shakes his head. “Gods, you suck at this.”
Tyrol fidgets. “Was it too much?”
“We couldn’t think of anything else that made sense,” Tyrol admits.
“Oh. Right. Because forming a band in the middle of a refugee camp during a Cylon occupation makes perfect sense.” Sam looks to the heavens. “I’m not sure what’s more pathetic. Your band story, or that it took me so long to figure out that you were speaking in code.”
“Yeah, well. Some of our people were in military intelligence — contradiction in terms, I know — and they do love their code words and cover stories.” Tyrol joins Sam in looking at the heavens. “They were very proud of that bit about the band. I told them it was stupid, but what do I know? If it doesn’t involve a blowtorch or a wrench, I’m officially thinking above my pay grade.”
“Please restore my faith in humanity. Tell me that Tigh thought it was stupid, too,” Sam says.
“I think he’s still laughing at them.”
“Oh, he laughs all right,” Tyrol nods. “It sounds a lot like yelling. In fact, it sounds exactly like yelling, but it’s really laughing. You can tell because you can see his fangs.”
Sam chuckles, not so much because it’s funny, but because it’s probably true.
Tyrol lightly punches his upper arm. “So, how about it? You interested in booking some gigs?”
“I see we’re sticking with the band theme,” Sam dryly remarks.
“Until the colonel beats some sense into them.”
Sam drops his head and stares at the ground. Something inside tells him to do it. It’s probably his best chance of finding Kara and springing her from whatever hole the Toasters have shoved her into, and that doing something — anything — is better than wearing a path in the dirt of the encampment as he circles the population like a hungry eagle on the hunt.
It’s also the fastest way to get Kara killed if you do this and the Toasters find out, the thought warns. That thought, more than anything else, decides the matter for him.
Tyrol blessedly spares him from voicing his answer. “Fair enough. You gotta do what you gotta do,” the other man says quietly.
“Sorry,” Sam croaks.
Tyrol shuffles uncomfortably next to him for a few moments before saying, “If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.”
Sam looks up to thank him, but Tyrol has already disappeared back into the shadows.
Sam doesn’t move from his spot for a few moments. Gods’ know why. It isn’t like Tyrol is going to come back and tell him that he understands, because it was pretty frakking clear from the tone in Tyrol’s voice that he damn well doesn’t.
The sad part is that Sam doesn’t actually blame him for feeling the way he does. After all, what’s more important? Finding Kara, or protecting the human race? The answer is so blindingly obvious to anyone with even a little sense that the question is barely worth the breath it would waste to ask it. He doesn’t even have to guess what Kara will have to say about this when she finds out.
Just the same, though, he’s going to do exactly what he shouldn’t.
Since absolution is not in the cards, Sam turns and stalks to his tent. There’s yet another flier pinned to his flap. He rips it off the tent with irritation and brings it with him inside.
Usually the fliers contain nothing but pap for the masses: promises to start work on planning a water and sewer system; happy-patter news about plans to put together a proposal for a formalized system of healthcare; bullet points about developing an urbanization plan that would replace tents with real buildings; and other trial balloons all centering around vague promises to build up the human race into a respectable client state that any Cylon empire would be proud to call a showcase of love, peace, and understanding.
Sam flicks on the battery-operated light. Gallows humor, more than anything else, prompts him to glance at the latest mush from the desk of the masters.
“A ‘roving listening tour to determine the population’s needs,’” he mutters. “Greeeeaaaaaat. Who came up with that one?”
He makes a mental note to steer clear of any Skinjob he sees walking around for the next few weeks. He’s too afraid of what might pop out of his mouth if some Toaster with a clipboard pulls him aside and asks him what the Great and Beneficent Cylons can do to make life better for humanity.
He crumples the flier into a small paper ball and tosses it in the direction of the fire barrel.
For the first time ever, he fails to score a point.
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