The days progressed and slowly her body became stronger. She had moved beyond her therapy and into a routine, working with free weights and jogging several miles a day, most of which was done inside the bunker. Rarely did she venture outside and never alone. The moments to herself were few, but when she had them they were full of the memories of her former self. For a while ROGER had been helping with her physical therapy and training her to recognize the muscle groups involved with controlling the device. He said it would be like making a fist, to imagine her hand and pretend to ball her fingers together and clench them tightly. That would ignite the charging belt, and when she was ready, imagine opening her hand to send the electrostatic charge firing from the muzzle leader.
Sarah had just finished breakfast in her room. She had remained sequestered from the rest of the community in the bunker, and only met with people who had special clearance, an inner sanctum so to speak. She headed to her private exercise room, which was an area in the shelter that had been converted into a training facility complete with weights, boxing bags and mock enemies. It provided a secure training space for Sarah, and a few others, that kept her separated from the rest of the population. They were still unsure as to how the majority of people would handle having an alien weapon in their midst, at least until she was more familiar with it. There, she came upon ROGER and Wax Griffin discussing the robots he had found in the bunker when they first discovered it years ago. She stood quietly at the door and listened.
“The nanoparticles that make up my epidermis contain biomimetic regenerative polymers that are also photoreactive. They perform the dual functions of recharging and regenerating, on a molecular level, my body’s systems and core processing units, which themselves are atomized nanobots. This means my body can both heal itself and charge itself when light energizes the chemical reactions of the polymers.” ROGER explained to Wax. “I will do my best to help you with these primitive versions, but absent some form of electrical energy, these robots will not last long on battery power alone. They will constantly need to be recharged on a regular basis. Making them virtually useless in the field. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.” ROGER placed his hand on Wax’s shoulder consolingly. “The alien technology that is now a part of Sarah’s body is similar to mine, in that it also recharges without the need of a battery. From what I can tell, the conducting sphere and belt create an electrostatic charge which is magnetically propelled through the barrell and exits through the muzzle; similar to a bolt of lightning. Albeit, a directed bolt of lightning, and one that can be controlled.
Jayk came up behind her, “Eavesdropping?”
“Oh! You startled me! Jeez Jayk, don’t do that, I could have blasted you to smithereens!” She said warningly.
“I highly doubt that! You don’t even know how to use that thing! I figured I’d find you here, though.” He said enthusiastically. She nodded as he went on, “Speaking of not knowing how to use that thing … how’s about a little weapons training? We could go get some fresh air.” He said with a gallant smile.
She was unable to contain her excitement when she heard the words. Brushing the hair from her eyes she smirked, “Only if you think you’re up for it. I’ll get my coat!” It had taken her the past two months to recover from her injuries and Jayk was proud to say he had helped. They had become very close in that time, but seeing her standing there for some reason made his knees weak. Her long hair flowed in tawny ringlets and her skin was creamy white, but she still had the unseasoned appearance of a newborn colt. She had been unable to use the weapon they had fused to her arm this entire time; these would be her first trials with the device. She put on the bulky overcoat that covered her arm and they maneuvered their way through the halls and stairwells of the shelter and emerged topside. She couldn’t wait. She ran her hand across the cold metallic appendage, softly caressing the machinery. Her arm tingled slightly as she did — it felt like power. She could feel the energy welling up inside the device as she imagined clenching her hand, what used to be her hand, sending the signals from her brain to the nerve endings that were now attached to the connections in the instrument. Jayk had cobbled together a few dummies for target practice and placed them out in the wastes on top of a small foothill ahead of their trip outside.
“This should be a good place to practice, away from the risk of damaging the shelter and high enough to see enemies approaching. Now, remember what ROGER taught you, just attach … ” He was cut short by the sound of loud popping as the charge cut through the atmosphere electrifying the molecules in the air. She was knocked to the ground before he could finish.
“Oh, wow, are you okay?” He ran to her side and put his hand on her back supporting her as she sat up.
The power of the cannon had knocked her backward. She knew it was going to take some getting used to, of course, but this was phenomenal. She picked herself up from the ground and wiped a drop of blood from her lip with her good arm. “My real arm, I should say,” she thought to herself. Because in this new world her left arm, it was becoming apparent, was going to be her “good” arm from now on. After all, she was their new secret weapon. Jayk stifled a laugh, and she beamed with pride.
“That was incredible!” The words flew out of her mouth, “It was like, it was like … I was plugged into the sun, like lightning coursed through the veins in my arms and exploded from the tips of my fingers! Wow! Wow! Wow!” She smiled wickedly and her eyes glowed. She had this wild look about her as she stared at the thing. There was the slightest hint of burning in the air, as she squared up her shoulders for a second attempt. She angled slightly toward the target. Knowing the weapon had a great deal of recoil she extended her left arm out and balanced herself with her right arm behind her. She looked down the barrel and lined up her shot as best she could. Taking a deep breath, she exhaled slowly and held it as she pretended to make a small fist with her phantom hand, and then opened it to fire.
This time Jayk had the opportunity to watch the weapon as it charged the particles in the surrounding atmosphere and they collected in the hollow chamber. The air seemed to whistle slightly as pure electricity erupted from the muzzle and crackled toward one of the targets — just missing it.
“Whooo hoo! Ha Ha Ha!” She giggled excitedly.
The electricity had rocketed through her teeth. She cradled her left arm in her right and felt the warmth emanating from the device.
She turned around quickly and pointed the weapon at one of the dummies. The firing of the weapon was unbelievable, she felt like Zeus, hurling lightning from her fingertips.
She stopped for a moment and, smiling, confided to Jayk, “If you had told me two hundred years ago that I’d be blasting away wooden targets with a side-mounted laser gun today, I’d have said you were mental!” she told him, “Who am I supposed to be now?” He wasn’t sure how to answer her.
Her mind began reeling with the thoughts of who she was, “It’s almost as if I have two sides to my personality. My experiencing self and my remembering self. In the now, I am experiencing what is happening. I’m out, in the open air, firing my brand new alien technology laser cannon attached to my arm. Then, there’s the life I am remembering. Being a child, growing up, creating music, my first crush, everything that makes me … me. But, those memories aren’t real. Yet, they hold me together, they’re an invisible safety net, a place where I can hide. And in my memories, I have two arms and the world is beautiful. But, that’s not the world of today.”
And so, she fired her weapon. She fired it over and over and over again. She fired it sideways, and from the hip. She spun around and landed on her knees. She began to have fun with it. Her experiencing self was overriding her memories, it began to take control. Exhaustively she slumped in the sand, her heart beating quickly ready to explode, a thin layer of smokey fog hanging low in the air surrounding them, and her eyeballs sparkling with electrical discharge. But, she knew she had to practice, so she got back up and continued like that for the rest of the day. As the sun fell below the mountains they sat atop the small hillside and stared blankly at the arid landscape. After a brief pause she broke the silence, “Do you ever wonder what your purpose is?”
Jayk considered that thought carefully and said, “I never really gave it much thought. Since I can remember I’ve been training to fight the alien invaders. My mom and dad raised me in an old museum, one of the few remaining structures that hadn’t been destroyed. It was solid and sturdy and had plenty of entertainment. There was a whole community of us living together, many families shared the building, we were a tight knit group. I honestly don’t know what we thought. Maybe we were hoping the governments were going to save us, or at least the military. But nobody was coming. We eked out an existence hunting and trapping animals until none were left. There were several days I went hungry. But, I always had my friends. We pretended to fight, with swords and knives and bats, whatever weapons we could make or steal. I guess, if I had to claim a purpose, it would have been after they killed my parents and friends. Somehow, I escaped. I don’t even remember how. Isn’t that weird? Anyway, I’ve been fueled by revenge … to wipe them off the face of the planet ever since. I guess that’s my purpose.”
He had described a world of pain and misery, of difficulty that she could only imagine and nothing she’d want to endure. Her mind wandered to Sarah’s own childhood and how very different life was before the world changed.
She thought about everything he said and stared longways at the expanse of desert, then commented, “The world is very different from the one she grew up in. The roads were green and lush, the trees hadn’t been choked by poisonous gasses. The water was safe to drink and the animals roamed freely. I can remember sitting in wrought iron chairs, rusty and uncomfortable, sipping organic black tea with orange peel and watching the clouds hide from the sun on lazy days. Hearing the music drift down from the upstairs apartment, smooth drum and bass beats. Cold soft pillows stuffed with goose feathers pressing against my warm skin. And dreaming, I remember dreaming, not what they were about, but the fact that it happened. I don’t dream anymore. The first thing I remember was waking up in that chamber and being thrust into existence, like a baby ripped from her mother’s womb, only a fully functioning baby. I hate this new world, Jayk. I don’t want to do this anymore.” She commented noting how the Earth had become a barren wasteland where years of changing weather patterns and toxic vapors had suffocated the environment. “There’s nothing here but death.”
As the anger welled up inside her, Sarah felt the charged particles in the air coalescing in the barrel of the device. She tightened and released her muscles, launching a jolt of electrical current up into the atmosphere. The burst of lightning lit up the darkened sky, crackling its way heavenward, exiting the planet’s atmosphere. It was the most powerful thing Jayk had ever seen.
Sarah dropped to her knees and just knelt there, folded over. Frightening thoughts crowded into her head: “I miss my life, but it really never was my life in the first place. They’re just memories. The memories of her life.” She said, “But, I miss it nonetheless. I miss dressing up and going out on Friday nights, dancing and singing. Shopping in department stores, buying nice things. And these clothes, a mishmash of overcoats and sweaters, heavy cottons, leather and tweed. Patchwork trousers sewn together with fishing line and cord. Scarves and fingerless gloves, hoods and goggles, there’s no style or fashion to any of it, it’s so … utilitarian. I’ll never get used to it.”
Jayk disturbed her thoughts abruptly, “We’d better head back. You just lit up the sky like I’ve never seen before. I’ve been fighting these guys for years and I’ve never seen a blast like that! Perhaps you are our secret weapon, Sarah. That sorta gives me hope.” He said with a crooked smile.
She followed him back down to the foot of the dune. He contemplated her world for a moment and how beautifully she had described it. The only green he could remember seeing was among the sagebrush and wildflowers that had adapted to the warm climates and dry air, which made up most of the Earth now. He imagined vehicles, like the ones left to rust in the wastes, zooming past … hovering above the ground, and people moving hastily through their busy lives. He couldn’t imagine what life was like for her, having to accept that she was a clone of another human being. Almost like a counterfeit life. What was that like? But she was strong and resilient. She was already very different from when they first found her. She had a self-reliant air about her, an otherworldly quality that separated her from them, as if she had aged every one of her two hundred and twenty years in a few months.
“I’m really glad you came out here with me, Jayk. It’s good to have someone to talk to. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve known you my whole life.” She confided.
Jayk wasn’t sure what to say, so he just stood silently. He wanted to touch her, he wanted to fold her into his arms and hold her, but he just stood there, dumbly. She looked at him and smiled awkwardly. Then she reached up with her right arm and slung it around his neck and grasped him tightly. Jayk threw one arm around her and they just held each other in a tight embrace for what seemed like a long time, and yet not long enough. She smelled like sweat and burning hair. It was sickly sweet and he loved it.
She ran her fingers through her filthy hair and grinned sheepishly. Slowly, her experiencing self began to take hold. “I’m not my memories. I’m me.” She started telling herself, “I’m a part of everything happening around me right now. I shouldn’t suffer any loss of my old life and instead join with this new life, living in the moment. Only then will I truly be free instead of a slave to the past.” She heard herself think. Her lips curled into a sly grin and her eyes darted back and forth in brief saccades as she considered the options. But, ultimately she gave in to her experiencing self. The moon began to rise from behind the mountains as they walked toward the shelter. They were a few meters from the entrance when Jayk heard an unmistakable sound.
“Do you hear that?” Jayk asked. He had become familiar with that sound, and knew it to be an alien airship coming near to them. “Get down, we need to find some cover. There, under those bushes! Hurry, it’s getting closer.” They crawled beneath a crop of sagebrush and crept low to the ground.
The airship glided over the ridge and hovered just above them. They could see the bottom of it as they lay silently in the shadow of the ship. It was dangerously close to them, they thought it had surely seen them by the way it was stopped a few feet above them. The ship floated silently there for a few moments. Inside the vessel two of the creatures were speaking to another into a communication device. They were asking the one on the other end if the coordinates they had been given were the correct ones.
<< Yes, those are the correct coordinates. >> The communicator replied.
<< There’s nothing here. All we see is empty desert. Are you positive of the coordinates? >>
<< Yes. Those are the exact coordinates of the device. >> The communicator reiterated.
<< Well, there’s nothing here. What do you suggest we do? >>
<< If there is nothing there, then there is something wrong, because the coordinates haven’t changed. >>
<< Wait, I’m picking up some life forms. >>
Jayk and Sarah laid in horrified wait. Sarah was sure that her stunt with the weapon, firing it into the night sky, had brought them. She was consumed with guilt. But, neither of them knew what to do. They couldn’t wait in hiding, they risked being spotted. They began to crawl as slowly as they could toward the hidden entrance to the bunker.
<< They’re moving >>
<< They? >> The one on the communicator asked.
<< It’s hard to tell. Might be animals of some kind. >>
Jayk and Sarah made it to the bunker’s entranceway and slipped inside.
<< The heat signatures are gone. >>
<< I’ve lost the coordinates as well. It just vanished. >> The communicator stated. << Head back. >>
Finally, the airship sailed into the distance.
Once inside the bunker they made their way down the long corridor, down the dark hallways and into the chamber entrance. They didn’t say another word.
“How did your first trials with the alien device turn out, Sarah?” ROGER asked.
“They were exhilarating, doctor.” Sarah stated, “At first, I was completely thrown back by the power of the weapon, but I regained my footing and stood firmly like you suggested and everything went perfectly.”
She continued talking and Jayk thought about what had just happened. Her skin was so warm and smooth. He was filled with excitement, and just a little bewildered. A few moments later he realized he had wandered off, lost in his own thoughts. He watched as everyone else sat around talking and laughing, their voices muted by the sound of his own mind. It almost seemed as if the world would be just fine, or at least, he hoped it would be. Before, he was fueled by revenge, but now he found a reason to live and create a better world for everyone. And that put a smile on his face.