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A made-up back-story for Battlestar Galactica...
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.
Note that while this essay is not based on any out-of-show spoilers, it does presume you've viewed the show up to the end of the 3rd season.
Material in this style is based on actual material from the show. The rest fills in the gaps.
As we learn more, I've done some updates. You can also read the original, based on information primarily up to "Rapture" and an version done after Crossroads. This version is based on material up to "Sometimes a Great Notion."
Life here, began... here.
The Cylons were created by man
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. This was led by a couple, known later as Saul and Ellen Tigh, who were the first to do this, and who recruited three others into a group of five.
This group created the first superhuman artificial intelligence (AI) which quickly began modifying itself until its powers were akin to those of a god. It wasn't the only god, however, and there was strife on Earth.
Some moved themselves into artificial bodies made of metal. Some Some people, 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, and eventually a war.
There was an exodus, due to the creation of FTL jump technology. Earthlike planets were out there, but rare. One group left the Earth. It consisted of "the Five" along with their advanced AI god, and several other advanced beings. It also consisted of large numbers of fleshers and more advanced sythetic biological beings. They have have left on their own or been exiled, but they fled outward to the galactic rim.
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. (The Final Five may have been uploads of former original humans from the 20th century. The Final Five, as they would become known, originated on Earth. Their favourite song from their youth is "All along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan and they use it as their "clock radio" when waking up from sleeper mode. :-)
Ellen Tigh was different from the other four. She played a role in the creation of AI and the technology that allowed the five to become cybernetic beings.
Along the way, they stopped 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.
A tribe left for a planet called Earth
After some time, a group emerged that wished to embrace their artificial bodies. They left Kobol and headed back in the direction of Earth. However, Earth was unwilling to accept them, and so they founded a "new Earth" on a star system near the original. There, they built a civilization, with robotic and biological beings living together. The Five went to live among them. However, there was another war, and this civilization was destroyed with a "scorched Earth" war. The five were downloaded and moved on.
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. In this war, the Cylon colony on new Earth, now known as the 13th tribe, was also destroyed.
The group of 12 tribes 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, begun long ago in preparation for a repeat of the cycle of wars, 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 Five kept watch over the colonies. From time to time they incarnated copies of themselves to live as colonials. In many cases these copies began as children, and were also programmed to think they were human colonials. When those incarnations finally merged their memories with the uploaded mind, it helped the five retain more of their humanity, for they always had fresh memories of what it was to be human. Some of the Five promoted the monotheistic religion while human. While usually this re-merge happened after death, in some cases a trigger would cause one of the incarnations to "wake up" and restore some memories of their true nature.
The Cylons were created by man, again
However, at one point, the colonies 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.
One AI researcher, the young Zoe Graystone, developed a partial upload of her own mind, which existed as a virtual world avatar. So did her boyfriend Ben. Both were recruited into monotheism by sister Clarice. Sister Clarice was influenced by members of the Final Five.
Fleeing Caprica for their beliefs, Ben went crazy and exploded a bomb on a train. This bomb also killed Tamara Adama, sister of William Adama, and their mother. Joseph Adama met Daniel Graystone, Zoe's father. Together they stole AI technology from Tomas Vergas, a fellow Tauron, and combining it with Graystone's technology, they built robotic versions of Zoe and Tamara. Vergas' software itself was derived from earlier software from the hidden history. Joseph Adama was apalled by the robotic Tamara, and turned against the project and left to raise is young son, William, alone. He instead became an opponent of Graystone and the Cylons he buildt based on Zoe and Tamara. He is opposed in particular to their use as slaves.
Around this time, one of the Five created an incarnation that would be known as Saul Tigh. He was programmed to think he was a human colonial.
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. Many atrocities were commited upon the Cylons by people who thought of them as sub-human. Justifiably, they rebelled, fought a war, and fled into space. Tigh himself fought in that war -- for the colonials.
Joseph Adama and the abolitionists failed in his quest, but the Five felt he had been the most just colonial, so they influenced their agent, Tigh, to become his son's best friend and protector.
The robotic Cylons sought biological bodies. They performed experiments and created a prototype cylon/human hybrid, using the body of Graystone himself, who was contacted by the Cylon god. That project was abandoned, but research continued. Secretly guided by the Final Five, 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.
The Five secretly oversaw this transfer, and modified the programming of the 7 forms 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. They gave them a resurrection technology system. They programmed the raiders not to attack members of the Five if given a signal. Finally, they gave them a connection to their god, who become the Cylons' one true god. The Five also created more Flesher incarnations for themselves, and sent them to be born among the colonials for the war they expected. Among them were Tory Foster, who would become a policy wonk, and Sam Anders, who would become a sports star. Also important was Galen Tyrol, who would be come a military engineer, but also would be schooled about the Five as a youngster.
For reasons not yet clear, but probably expected by the Five, the young 7 Cylon's new religion intensified their hatred for their former slave-owners, and they set aside a plan to wipe them out, both as retribution and out of a feeling they could only come into their own if their parents were dead. Years later, 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. Indeed, it was necessary that the war happen around this time to meet their schedule for the cycle of time that they follow. They did, however react to it, and planned for a group of humans to escape. They assured at least one ship, Tigh's ship, the Galactica, would not get upgraded computers. They made sure that Tigh, as a military colonel, would have a prominant place on board, and Tyrol was placed there as well. Foster would accompany a government minister to be Several of the 7 Cylons to be on board at the start of the war. Anders remained on Caprica, but in a location where he would be one of the very few long-term survivors of the attack. 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. This would repeat the cycle they believed in and nurtured. 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. The Five used their connections to the Cylons and the hybrids that control their base ships to orchestrate the illusion of a pursuit.
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 had 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. In addition, it showed them an image of the Lagoon Nebula, which Adama recognized and called by its modern Earth designation, M8.
The fleet was next directed to the world New Caprica, which was discovered through a jump accident. 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 the settlement. Agents of the Five, where influenced to make this happen. The channel into Baltar's head encouraged him to run for President and settle on the new planet. All of the Five went to live on the new planet.
To meet the schedule for the expected nova at the Algae planet, it would be necessary in about 18 month to arrange an exodus from the new planet. Such timing required several complex manipulations. Shortly after colonization, a nuclear bomb was detonated by a Cylon. One year later the Five arranged for the Cylon forces to find the fleet "by accident" by detecting the radiation of this bomb via a probe one light year away. 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.
During the leadup to the battle, Ellen Tigh betrayed the other humans to the Cylons, forcing Saul Tigh, unaware of their nature, to poison her. She died and got a new body in a resurrection tank, and then worked to guide the fleet to its destinations.
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 unconsciously by a final five sleeper member onboard the fleet, probably Tigh or Tyrol. 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.
On the planet, one of the five (Tyrol,) underwent an implanted compulsion to find the temple his archetype had built so long ago. He found it and worked to interpret it. His compulsion to protect the temple was strong, and he disobeyed direct orders to destroy it when other Cylons were about to capture it.
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. She disappeared when her Viper exploded inside a storm on a gas giant. However, she was recovered, in downloadable form, by beings from Earth. They took her to Earth, and uploaded her into a new body, and installed it in a new Viper in orbit.
The next path along the plan was the Ionian nebula. The fleet was guided there by the visions and hints from the Temple. The Cylon fleet was also guided there. The closer they got to the nebula, the stronger pre-planted memories surfaced among the sleeper members of the Five. After arrival at the nebula, their own minds revealed their true nature to them, though not as yet their mission. At the nebula, powerful forces disabled all power systems in the fleet to assure the fleet would not jump away and avoid the planned confrontation.
Starbuck appeared at the nebula, and explained to Apollo that she had been to Earth and would guide the fleet there. In addition, Anders sent a special ID signal for the five to a Cylon raider, causing the raiders to break off the attack.
Starbuck had implanted compulsions to lead her to Earth, and visions of Jupiter. She was given a ship to go find them. However, while she came very close, even visiting Jupiter, she did not see Earth.
The report of the presence of the Five in the colonial fleet caused a major schism in the Cylons. Cavil's side wanted to lobotomize the raiders and do more. When a deadlock was reached, Cavil planned an ambush at Jupiter to destroy the rebel faction.
Ellen wished the fleet and the other four to visit New Earth, and the site of their deaths. This would trigger new memories for them. She placed Starbuck's destroyed viper with a locater beacon inside it near the site of those deaths. The four were given a compulsion to gather at the new viper so as to notice it was tracking that locator beacon. An alliance was made with the Cylons and a trip was made to New Earth.
On New Earth, the four recovered more of their memories. Starbuck discovered her crashed viper and what seems to be her old body. The planet was in ruins and uninhabitable. The fleet set out to find a new planet.
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 is the last remaining member of the Five among the fleet? Likely agents include Gaeta and Dualla, but even Adama is not out of the question.
Do the Cylon God, or any of the Lords of Kobol, have flesher agents within the fleet? Could the Cylon god be incarnated in Baltar, as a bizarre analog of Jesus, aimed at a redemption?
(*)Greg Egan made up terms for these factions in his novel Diaspora. It's much nicer than skin-job, a term imported from Blade Runner.
I will also note that while this theory does actually explain why the Final 5 would use "All along the Watchtower" as their trigger song, BSG's musical maestro Bear McCreary has officially said we should not read this into the use of the song.
What does this story explain that doesn't make sense without it?
Here are some mysteries still to be explained: