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In the period immediately before the First Cylon War, humans in the Twelve Colonies – especially the affluent Capricans – were utilizing semi-sentient machines in many capacities: as butlers, couriers, and in other menial domestic roles. Adapting semi-intelligent machines for military use was a seemingly inevitable next step.
Research and Development (68–58 Years Before the Fall)
Beginning some sixty-eight years before the fall of the Colonies, the Caprican Ministry of Defense commissioned the famed scientist/industrialist Dr. Daniel Graystone to develop what they called the U-87 cyber combat unit, a semi-sentient bipedal robot that would effectively replace the armed human soldier. Over the next several years, Graystone labored over the project. Designing and building a cybernetic body was a relatively simple affair, but the more important part - the creation of a functioning artificial intelligence capable of driving that body - proved to be far more difficult. This resulted in numerous delays and cost overruns; what had been intended to be a five-year project ended up taking ten years, and costing five hundred million cubits more than was originally budgeted. The delays caused friction between Graystone and the Caprican government. The Prime Minister began applying pressure on the Defense Minister, Val Chambers, to demand results from Graystone or find someone else to do so.
Personal Tragedy and Corporate Espionage (58 Years Before the Fall)
Matters reached a head when Graystone's major competitor, Tomas Vergis, founder and CEO of the Vergis Corporation on Tauron, declared that he had developed a functioning meta-cognitive processor (MCP), and was on Caprica to present it to Defense Minister Chambers. It had been assumed, on the basis of reliable intelligence, that Vergis was years behind Graystone on such research. Now, suddenly, Vergis threatened to race ahead of Graystone; if he had a working brain, all that was needed would be to install it into a robot body. Vergis would steal the cyber combat unit contract, and Graystone would be left out in the cold.
At the same time that Graystone was confronting these challenges, he also suffered a grievous personal blow when he learned that his daughter Zoe was killed in a suicide bombing of the Caprica City Lev tram system. The horror of that loss was alleviated when Graystone learned that, before her death, Zoe had learned to create an online avatar into which she had uploaded her personality, resulting in an artificial personality practically indistinguishable from the original. Graystone decided to recreate his daughter, downloading the avatar into the U-87 prototype as a prelude to creating a physically identical cybernetic body. Now he had more than one reason to need a functioning machine mind, and he didn't have one; only his competitor Vergis did.
Graystone found a way around this by taking advantage of his recently-formed relationship with an attorney, Joseph Adams, who had also lost family in the tragedy. Adams had close connections (though reluctant ones) to a Tauron-based organized crime syndicate, the Ha'la'tha. Normally, this syndicate would have no reason to act against a fellow Tauron like Vergis, but coincidentally, Defense Minister Chambers was engaging in actions that threatened to upset the syndicate's plans. Intrigued by the possibility that the MCP could be used to restore his lost wife and daughter along with Graystone's daughter, Adams, on behalf of the syndicate, delivered a warning to Chambers to see the error of his ways; in exchange for this service, the syndicate stole the Vergis MCP for Graystone. In the event, Chambers did not exactly see the light; instead, he threatened to gut the organization, threats that came to naught when he was found dead in bed with his throat slit. His successor, Joan Leyte, was far more inclined to continue doing business with Graystone, a Caprican, than to trust Taurons of any stripe. Vergis had lost his trump card, and despite making accusations of theft and espionage, he had no solid proof. Graystone’s position was secure.
With the MCP in his possession, Graystone labored diligently to adapt it for his secret project: downloading the Zoe avatar. Initially, there was some progress, but while downloading the avatar, the data stream, seemingly corrupted, deteriorated. The download seemed to have failed, and the avatar itself could not be found online either. All his effort seemed to have come to naught: his daughter remained dead. But Graystone's personal failure remained just that: despite the apparent loss of the Zoe personality, the installation of the MCP permitted the U-87 prototype to function perfectly. In a live-fire exercise held by Graystone for Defense Minister Leyte and ranking officers of the Caprican military, the U-87 successfully eliminated all target drones in mere minutes. The cyber combat unit proved itself to be everything wished for. Graystone referred to the U-87 in front of Leyte as a Cybernetic Life-form Node, or Cylon, and the name stuck.
The Shape of Things to Come (58 Years Before the Fall)
But the Cylon prototype in fact was distinctive in a way that even its creators and founders could not fully understand: the Zoe simulacrum had in fact successfully downloaded into the U-87 endoskeleton, though it had taken some time to acclimate itself to its new systems. The result would end up having catastrophic consequences for Colonial society: a powerful and practically unstoppable killing machine had been created, driven by the personality of a highly intelligent but immature young person who was confused, frightened and resentful.
Moreover, Zoe had in life been a member, or at least a sympathizer, of the Soldiers of the One (STO), a terrorist group that rejected the polytheistic beliefs of Caprican society, and instead believed in the concept of a single all-loving, all-powerful God. This belief, that there was such a thing as definable right and wrong, and a God who knew the difference between the two, was seen as a breath of fresh air to young people like Zoe, who had become appalled by the decadence of the society they were born into and sought to change it, in some cases through violence. This fact may account for why the Cylon Centurions had already developed a monotheistic belief by the time of the Cylon War.
A close examination of the U-87 reveals that it is in fact nearly identical in construction to the Cylon Centurion Model 0005, lacking only the chrome armor plating meant to protect the Centurion's more sensitive internal machinery under field conditions. Additionally, the tracking scanner of the U-87 model is somewhat more crude than the 0005 version; it can change colors depending on the U-87's operating mode and can stop and focus on a single object, where the 0005's is always red and is continually moving side to side.