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A made-up back-story for Battlestar Galactica...

A made-up back-story for Battlestar Galactica...

This is an earlier form of this essay, which was written when the episode Rapture aired. I have since updated the essay but leave this older version here as a measure of how well or badly I predicted things back then.

Ok, I admit it, when I become a fan of a TV show, I am tempted to imagine a cool back-story that matches the events on the show. So I did this for the new Battlestar Galactica. I actually suspect some of this story might be true, in that there are events in the show which, to be consistent with reality, require things like I describe.

These ideas have been percolating in fan newsgroups and message boards for some time, some started with others but many are mine.

If you wish to comment on these speculations, you can do so in the blog post about the galactica backstory.

Note that while this essay is not based on any out-of-show spoilers, it does presume you've viewed the show up to at least "Rapture" in the mid-3rd season. (With a few very minor details beyond that to Maelstrom.)

Material in this style is based on actual material from the show. The rest fills in the gaps.

Life here, began... here. (Duh)

In the 21st century, humanity on Earth began to make major strides in the fields of artificial intelligence and biotech. We learned to rewrite DNA, to remake ourselves, and to create machine minds that were even smarter than we were. We even transferred our own minds into machines. Some humans, however, retained an emotional attachment for our original biological body form, so they learned how to manipulate biology and create superior synthetic bodies capable of holding our new advanced digital minds.

There were "Flesher"(*) movements who wished to remain as we originally were, and transhumanist movements seeking something entirely new, including life entirely within virtual realities.

All this has happened before

There was a schism, perhaps even a war.

There was an exodus, due to the creation of FTL jump technology. Earthlike planets were out there, but rare. One group of fleshers struck out -- perhaps banished or fleeing a destroyed Earth -- into space in the direction of the Lagoon Nebula.

However, no group is pure, and even among the fleshers there was debate about how natural a state humans should retain. From time to time, some would attempt to develop advanced AI. One group of transhumanists known as "the Five" created a powerful posthuman AI to whom they started attributing divinity. Several AIs sought divinity

They first settled on a moderately barren planet covered with algae and built a small installation. However, further study revealed the star on this planet would go nova within 4,000 years so the stay was not long. The Five built a temple there for their God.

Eventually they found the world Kobol. It was Earthlike and they built a garden civilization. The fleshers lived an idyllic life created for them by the transhumans, who largely tried to stay benevolent. They took on the role of the ancient Earth gods from Greek, Roman and other mythologies.

Some of them are programmed to think they are human...

However, after thousands of years, trouble emerged in paradise. One Lord, named Athena, created a race of 12 tribes of fleshers who were given a false history, and programmed to think that they were natural beings, evolved on Kobol. The tribes were given names and symbols from the Zodiac of Earth. This extreme of Flesher philosophy led to another war. As a result, this group was banished from Kobol. They were exiled to a remote system with 12 planets circling a giant planet, one per tribe. The 12 planets were the result of impressive terraforming operations, since this would not exist naturally. They were given an invented religious history, and the story of the homeworld was revised to make it appear as an older, but similar colony from an earlier tribe.

Athena's status fell. In a rare move, she deactivated herself. Her opponents built a tomb, leaving clues to the truth about the tribes inside it.

Later, the battle on Kobol grew stronger, and it was destroyed. Somebody left a few clues for the tribes, should they ever return, to point them to their history and to their true homeworld.

The 12 colonies received some technology from Kobol, but not as much. Over the next 2,000 years, in fact, their civilization would fall and rise at least once. However, they did not invent most of their technology. The history of their technology has been more one of attempting to understand their libraries and software archives than one of invention.

The Cylons were created by man (but not for the first time)

However, at one point, they started dabbling in a technology they had not been given instructions on -- artificial intelligence. They did, however, have a variety of mysterious software libraries for different AI tasks, which they cobbled together to create ahead of their time an intelligent robot servant.

The colonials had no idea just how powerful the software libraries were, and the machines attained awareness and will and realized they were enslaved by lesser beings. They rebelled, fought a war, and fled into space.

They evolved...

In space they made several discoveries. They found the ruins of Kobol, and studied it. They learned some of the real history, and that of the war. They learned the truth behind the sacred scrolls. They learned about the biotechnology that created fleshers, and the startling fact that their own creators were not humans at all, but also created digital beings just programmed to think they were natural humans. Flesher bodies were actually highly advanced computing platforms, so they took that technology and made bodies for themselves, and transferred their own minds into 7 forms of them.

However, their arrival on Kobol caught the attention of the Five and their god. The Five oversaw this transfer, and modified the programming of the 7 in several key ways. First, they made them aware that there were 5 others, and assigned them 7 random numbers from 1 to 12 as designations. Then they programmed them to discourage curiosity or discussion about the Five that they had never met. Finally, they gave them a connection to their god, who become the Cylons' one true god. The Five already had flesher bodies, and sent copies to live among the colonials.

For reasons not yet clear, the Cylon's new religion intensified their hatred for their former slave-owners, and they set aside a plan to wipe them out. Using their new flesher bodies, they sent various copies to infiltrate the colonies, unaware the Five had also done this. They also built a war machine.

They have a plan...

The Five saw what was happening but did not act to stop it. They did, however react to it, and planned for a group of humans to escape. They assured at least one ship, the Galactica, would not get upgraded computers. They placed agents on the Galactica, They worked to assure this and took a number of other unrevealed steps so that other ships would survive to form a fleet.

Some 2 years later, the colonial computer networks fully compromised, the Cylon war machine nuked the colonies. Thanks to the efforts of the Five, a rag-tag fleet of human ships, led by Galactica, escaped and headed for deep space.

The Five's plan involved guiding the remnants of humanity back to Earth, the human homeworld. First, however, they guided them to Kobol. The Colonials, being fleshers, have transceivers they are programmed not to notice in their brains. These allow communication with outside forces, including the Five and their god. Their channel to Baltar took the form of a vision of his Cylon lover, #6. The "humans" are capable of VR "projection" just as the Cylons are. A similar vision was used with that #6. They arranged the highly-unlikely transit of Baltar to the fleet. The Five used their connections to the Cylons and the hybrids that control their base ships to orchestrate the imaginary chase.

Visions were also sent to Laura Roslin and various Oracles who had long had communication with the Five (or possibly the other Lords.) They pushed the fleet to travel to Kobol, and when necessary, arranged for Starbuck to travel to Caprica and return the Arrow of Apollo. (They have also been manipulating Starbuck since she was very young. Through Oracles, they convinced her mother to treat her harshly to prepare her for a special destiny. They indicated that destiny to some of the seven Cylons. They implanted a symbol in her head that had also been placed in their temple on the algae planet, a symbol which looks like both an exploding star, and a storm system on the gas giant planet Jupiter back home.

The Cylons were also manipulated to allow the colonials to reach Kobol, at the cost of an entire base star. (See alternative.)

On Kobol, the arrow keyed a holographic projection showing Earth, and revealing that the tribes took their names and symbols from the sky of Earth.

The fleet was next directed to the world New Caprica, which was discovered by the Cylon defector, Sharon Agathon. It was necessary to delay the fleet so it could arrive at the Temple at the right time. The discovery of the planet allowed Baltar to win the election, and settlement. Agents of the Five, living with the fleet, were of course aware of this and in control.

One year later the Five arranged for the Cylon forces to find the fleet "by accident" when a nuclear bomb (which of course does not send FTL information) was detonated by a Cylon. At this point it became clear that the Cylons no longer would even pretend to wish to destroy the fleet, and an occupation was arranged. An evacuation and exodus was also timed to place the fleet on course to the Temple at the planned time of the Nova.

Some distance out from Kobol, the Cylons discovered a probe with a special weaponized virus aimed at their type of life. No ordinary virus could transmit via download. This may have been a remnant of the Flesher/AI wars of the past. The colonial flesher bodies were made immune to it, while the Cylons took body models from the Kobol archives that were not.

With their agents, and their ability to implant visions, the next goal was to bring both the Cylons and colonials to an ancient temple built by the Five on an algae planet.

For reasons unknown, the fleet passed this planet at the wrong time, and had to be diverted back to it. Since the path back in time for the planned nova event was highly dangerous, the fleet's food processors were contaminated by an agent onboard the fleet. This forced them to travel to the planet quickly, at great risk. The Cylons were diverted by messages transmitted to both the Hybrids who fly the ships and through the "angel" #6 guiding Baltar.

The highly improbable meeting took place. Possibly in contradiction to the plan, however, only #3 stood in the chamber when the nova was activated, and saw a vision of the Five, with one empty drape for their god. Her pursuit of the Five, however, got her model line boxed by the other Cylons.

The colonials fled with a real #6 and Baltar but no sign of the 7 Cylons. At a gas giant, the Five sent a vision to Starbuck to push her along the path they had planned for her.

Questions or alternatives:

The Cylons may never had wished the destruction of the rag-tag fleet. In spite of seemingly always being aware of where it is, and in spite of vast military superiority, they most just dog it to Kobol. When they finally catch it, they choose not to kill the rest of humanity, but to attempt to live with it, with poor results. It may be that the agenda of pushing the fleet to Kobol was with the Cylons from the start, in spite of their own fear of Kobol, and the whole war may have been waged for that purpose.

Are the other Lords of Kobol active here, or just the Cylon god? Are the other Lords wiped out?

What's it like back on Earth, and why have no further expeditions from Earth been seen? Is Earth also a fallen planet? What about other colonies?

Who are the agents of the Five? Likely suspects include Gaeta and Dualla. However, Roslin may be an agent, which would have been part of the plan to use Galactica as the means for the colonial escape.

(*)Greg Egan made up terms for these factions in his novel Diaspora.


What does this story explain that doesn't make sense without it?

  • The Cylons are so identical to humans that human doctors can't spot the difference with microscopes. Yet at the same time they are stronger, and have an FTL transmitter in their heads that can download their mind to another star system. They can plug fiber optic cables into their arms and control a computer. How can they be this identical?
  • All this has happened before. The beings of the past were more advanced than the colonials. Colonial society has a strange mix of primitive and new technologies that seems the result of a fall and rise. How could there not have been AIs (Cylons) before, in the more advanced civilizations of the past. They must be somewhere.
  • While the scrolls tell the tribes that Earth is just a colony, we know that in reality, humanity unquestionably arose on Earth. In 1980 they got away (sort of) with ignoring that, but this is 2007 and a quality show would not ignore the DNA and fossil record on Earth.
  • The show, we are told has no aliens or time travel -- and I approve. But in that case you can't have highly accurate prophecies, unless instead forces are working to make the prophecies come true. There are clearly powerful forces behind the scenes.
  • Many characters on the show have gone through compulsions indicating control by outside powers. Not just Baltar and Six with their inner opposites, who could be (with difficulty) explained as hallucinations. Most telling, while on the Algae planet, Chief Tyrol feels a compulsion out of nowhere to find the temple, and only he can decode it.
  • Above the temple, Baltar says something very true about the standoff. "the chances that we've all converged on this small planet at the same time are infinitesimally small. So we all understand it's not chance." They got there from babble by the Hybrid and a conveniently sabotaged food supply. It's clear that powerful external forces are driving their course.
  • The humans just don't seem like they could have built the Cylons. While they underwent a purge of some computer technology after their war, they have such a mishmash of technologies and in many ways are behind 21st century Earth, including a 19th century level ore refinery.
  • The Cylons don't seem like they could have built their own biological bodies. They can make them so identical to colonials, but can't make them breed -- to the point they are obsessed with it.
  • The Cylon ignorance of any details about the Final 5 combined with a compulsion to not be curious is highly odd. The appearance of the Final 5 in a 4,000 year old Earthling temple strongly points to them being from an earlier AI generation.
  • The human visions are so strong, they seem similar to the Cylon VR technology, known as projection. It seems there is some channel available to broadcast things into both human and Cylon minds.
  • It should have been an easy romp for the Cylons to destroy the fleet many times. They had agents aboard and vast military superiority. They could have easily sent a nuclear bomb in with the short-range jump we see Galactica use to rescue the humans. When they finally catch them, they don't kill them, claiming a sudden change of heart.
  • The Cylons seem to be able to find the fleet whenever they want to, both when there were Cylons on board (like D'Anna asking for a raider to appear and pick up the documentary) and after, when Hotdog is allowed to escape to the fleet, as well as numerous other times.
  • The Cylons really want the fleet to go to Kobol. To the point that they blow up a base-star for no real reason (Boomer already had full access to Adama) other than to convince the fleet it might be safe to go to Kobol.
  • As we're shown, one of the Final 5 is a human well known to #3. She immediately profusely apologizes to him or her.