The building swelled with the movement of over a thousand men and women all going about their daily routines training, eating, drinking … living out their lives; preparing to go to war. With so much noise, it was hard to find a quiet spot. John sat on his bunk looking around at the spartan furnishings. A table, a chair, a broken mirror, a fluorescent bulb that seemed to flicker just a bit — the patchwork blankets and foam pillow. He gripped the cold steel of the underside of the rack and stared at his pant legs trying to justify his memories. Far too much time had passed, it seemed, since he was a soldier. Was he even the same person? Somehow he didn’t feel the same, and yet he was. He had to be. He was preparing to lead a group of men and women into unknown territory the next day and needed to reconcile his memories with who he was at this moment. His hand went under his shirt and fingered the gunshot wound he had suffered several years ago and was abruptly shocked by a memory that he had almost forgotten.
“Sergeant D’Arby, I’m glad you chose to volunteer for this program. It will help future generations. You will be remembered as a hero.” Diodes connected to his head and body ran the length of the room to a machine. He looked like a deranged marionette, laying there as he was, on some sort of operating table. “Just lie still and let the machine do its work.” His body began to seize up, a dull whistling sent shocks of electricity through his skull. All of his memories were being siphoned from his head, replaying in no particular order and without any help from him.
They were being extracted.
The images continued flashing in his mind absent his control. All of the wonderful memories from his childhood — things he had forgotten, things he didn’t want to remember … all funneling out of him. It went on for several minutes. There were five monitors, each one keeping track of bodily functions: heart rate, blood pressure, brain waves, etc. A three-dimensional image displaying the different regions of his brain rotated on one screen. As the machine whirred, the white shadows of the fMRI filled with color. He assumed they were mapping his brain for future generations to study. Nearing completion, he began to spasm involuntarily. His face contorted into grizzly caricatures and his arms and legs seized and released. The friendly voice comforted him saying, “Everything is going to be fine, there’s no need to panic … what you’re experiencing is normal and nothing to be afraid of,” The voice said, “It’s all regular occurrences as the machine performs it’s scan. You’re doing very well. Only a few minutes remain.” His eyes darted in saccades and he swallowed huge gulps of air that pushed on his diaphragm. It was extremely uncomfortable and he began to fight it for fear that he would stop breathing. This raised his blood pressure and heart rate in succession. He heard himself cry out in a voice that seemed foreign to him. A different voice in the room whispered something, but he couldn’t quite make it out. Tears rolled down his cheeks as a great agony consumed him. He thought he was going to die. Instead he began to giggle, then a great roar of laughter as joy filled his head. Every little measly thing that was him was ripped out of his body, every facet of his being — stripped away. And, as quickly as it began, it was over. He shook his head while the memories rolled around bouncing in and out of his consciousness.
He gripped the underside of the bunk tightly and attempted to stand up. As he did so he grabbed the side of his head and tried to shake the thoughts away.
“What had happened to me? Why am I only now remembering this? Why was I in that place, and who had taken me there? Most importantly, what happened to me after that?” He wondered confusedly. They say that people who have experienced trauma often lose their memory of the events leading up to the incident, it could be seconds or even minutes depending on the level of trauma. These memories may return with time, or not at all. Apparently, his memories were returning and with great intensity. “Has something happened to me?” He thought. He had to find the answers, and the only thing he knew that might have the answers was the doctor. “He was there, I recognized his voice. He was there then, and he’s here now.” John thought aloud.
He made his way down the hall to the medical facility where he found ROGER. In his memories he had heard his voice very clearly, that same matter-of-fact tone that was both comforting and reassuring.
He confronted him, “I remember you.” ROGER turned and looked at him, the expressionless silver eyes staring back at him, “You performed some kind of experiment on me, what was it? I can’t remember. I need to know.”
Without a thought, or so it appeared, ROGER began, “I was designed by the government under a defense contract code-named Operation Phoenix. We processed thousands of people just like you. The exams focused on innate abilities and individual characteristics that would prove useful to the survival of humankind in the event of a disaster. Your bodies would die, however, your memories would be kept intact as well as samples of your DNA tissue for future use until such time as the planet returned to suitable conditions favorable for the human species to thrive.” It was hard for John to make sense of what he was saying. “The Protogaea Project in conjunction with defense contractors built a vast interlocking network of cloning chambers where your body and the bodies of others would literally be grown and then “birthed” with the memories of your previous life downloaded via biomagnetic nanobots.”
He shook his head and stared at him in disbelief, “Wait-a-minute, what you’re saying is that … I volunteered for this experiment and it failed?”
“John, you were a part of that project. You were, for all intents, born inside that facility. And the memories you have now are those of a long since dead person. The original John D’Arby, the “double nought” whose memories you now possess, died over two hundred years ago.”
He shook his head again, and thought he was going to be sick. “No, no. That makes no sense.” He looked away from him, ROGER’s calmness was unnerving.
ROGER stood undeterred, “I know this is hard for you to accept, but you must. You and Sarah are both clones of the original people who volunteered for the project.”
He was flooded with memories again, of his childhood, of his family and friends. “But, I remember, I remember EVERYTHING!”
“Of course you do John, because I put them there. But, while those memories are not your own, they belong to the man you once were.”
His mind raced, “This is impossible. I am me. I know who I am.”
He stood motionless, “John, you only know who you are because the memories are there, but you are not John D’Arby. You share the same DNA, same blood type, same allergies, but you are a different person. You are a clone.”
He fingered the bullet hole in his side, “But, but, that can’t be, that’s impossible.” He worked to disprove him, “Here, I can prove it, I have a bullet wound, here on my side …” John pulled up his shirt to show him.
“John, there is nothing there. Your skin is smooth, see for yourself.” He stared longways at where the wound should have been — it wasn’t there.
“What have you done to me?!” He shouted at him.
“Calm down, I only did what you asked me to do. Everything was in accordance with your decision. While of course it may not have been you specifically, it was the former you.” ROGER looked at him compassionately. “You have been offered a great opportunity, a chance to live out the rest of your life. Soon after the project began, your donor body died. You’re lucky to be alive. You may not be the original John D’Arby, but pieces of him, perhaps the greatest pieces, still live inside of you.” He pointed to John’s heart.
He lingered there, dumb for a moment. “But, you put them there, these memories?” He questioned him further.
“I did. They’re as much a part of you now as your kidneys, or your spleen.” ROGER smiled.
John took it all in. All the memories of the kids on the reservation, his uncle teaching him how to fish, his mother who they called “Sweet Medicine” who taught him how to heal, they were his but they weren’t. The only way he could reconcile what had happened to him was to either do right by the memory of the first John, or be a different man. However, the memories would always be with him. He decided he needed to talk to Sarah.
John had made his way down to Sarah’s dorm, but it was empty. He went searching for her and found her in the private rec room they had set up for her. “Sarah,” he called out to her, “We haven’t been properly introduced. I’m John.” She had been working out and was wearing a tank top — her arm for the first time uncovered for him to see. She turned toward him and brushed the hair out of her eyes. He stood stunned. “They said you had a secret weapon, actually they said you were a secret weapon, but this is … impressive.” He exclaimed.
“That’s encouraging, I suppose,” She replied. “They’ve been keeping me hidden for fear of what people would think, at least until I’ve learned how to use it properly.” She lifted it up, pointing the muzzle toward the ceiling to give him a full view of the device.
“Wow.” He smiled, looking it up and down in utter disbelief.
“So, something tells me you didn’t just come in here to ogle the “secret weapon,” now did you?” She asked.
“Well, not entirely, but I never had an excuse before … and I’ve been a little busy.” He flashed a charming smile and continued, “You were in the cloning facility too, right? That’s what ROGER said, that we’re both clones.”
“Yeah, that’s right.” She picked up a towel and started wiping the sweat from her brow.
“Well, what do you think about that?”
“I try not to think about it, if you want to know the truth. At first it was difficult to accept. But, I had to make a choice. I decided, at the end of the day they’re just memories. Who I am moving forward is what matters most.” She spoke with a self-possessed quality about her that was disarming.
“That’s good advice. I guess I just recently got to that point: the crossroads. I suppose the memories of John’s life inform who I am, in a way they’re like knowledge, like an encyclopedia. The information is in my head, so I can draw on it. But ultimately, like you said, what I do every day is who I am,” he reasoned, “Thanks for that … gives me something to think about.”
“Anytime.” She smiled at him.
“You know, when you’re ready you can come out of hiding, and come work out with us.” He said artfully.
“Really? So, what are you guys doing today?” She asked slyly.
“Pushups, dips, pullups, some burpees, crunches, suicides and crab walkers.” He stated informally.
“Wow! I got tired just listening to that. You guys have fun.”
“You’re not going to join us?” He asked.
“No, I think I’ll pass. Besides, the only muscle I need to work out is this one.” She winked as she raised her electrical cannon up and ignited it slightly, sending an electrostatic charge crackling around the barrel.
He realized he had met his match. Not only did she know how to use the weapon properly, but she was thoroughly proficient with it. It was as much a part of her as she was of it. If he intended to keep up with her, his soldiers would need better weapons. And, as a former gunnery sergeant, it was his duty to acquire them. He headed back to his ready room to prepare.
John met with Wax and Po later to explain to them the dire situation regarding the lack of useful weapons for the soldiers. “New plan gentlemen. I was a gunnery sergeant in the marine corps, which meant that I was in charge of weapons, parts and ammunition the company needed.” Wrapped in a thick canvas tarp he had brought a selection of the tools they were being forced to use as weapons. He unrolled it and let them fall heavily onto Wax’s ready room table. Landing with a series of thuds, a handful of crowbars, a bat with some nails hammered through it, a few rusty blades and a sledgehammer tumbled out, “These are not weapons. These are tools, and not even good tools. One of them is considered “sporting goods.”” he looked to Wax imploringly, “This isn’t a cobra in your backyard that you’re gonna cut the head off of with your spade. These are superiorly intelligent life forms from another planet with weapons we can’t even begin to fathom. They have us beat in numbers. They have us beat in strength. They have us beat in technology. We don’t stand a chance. Now, I know you guys took out a small group of them when you had the jump, but you almost lost as many lives as you rescued. You can’t keep that up. They’ll be prepared next time. We need better weapons or we will lose this war.” John argued.
Just then, ROGER walked in. “We’ve got a problem in medical as well. Without life-saving medicines like antibiotics and painkillers we won’t be able to survive another battle, much less win a war. I can manufacture most things, but it will take time. We will need to accumulate the rest from somewhere else.”
Wax nodded soundlessly, he knew he couldn’t argue. “Gather the others. Perhaps we can all come up with a solution together.”
Rensa, Dade and Ideo entered the ready room and found John, Jayk, Sarah, Po and ROGER awaiting them with Wax. He caught up with the others on the situation regarding the lack of medicine, and briefly discussed the weapon shortage allowing John to finish.
“If we intend to attack more gardens, it will only be a matter of time before the Sky Reapers begin fortifying their installations. We will need better weapons to launch a successful offensive. We’ll need to put off our recon missions until then.” John argued.
“Suggestions?” Wax invited.
Silence filled the room as everyone stared absently at one another. Until, finally, Ideo spoke up. “Well, there’s one place that I know of. We could get both weapons and medical supplies there. But, it’s a little ways out, and not an easy trip,” she looked to everyone in the room, and continued, “My home, the Free City of Solos.”
“Never heard of it.” Dade responded.
“That’s what I said!” Jayk added peevishly.
“Well, it exists. And it exists because of its secrecy,” Ideo went on, “It’s a trading post used by bounty hunters and scavengers. And the only people who know how to find it … are the people who know how to find it.” Cutting Dade and Jayk a sideways glare as she continued, “You could literally be right on top of it and not have any idea it was there.”
“Well, let’s put it to a vote. Anyone in favor of going to Solos to get the weapons and supplies we need?” Wax inquired. It was almost a unanimous vote, with only one dissenting voice coming from Po who felt it was an unnecessary risk.
“It’s too great a risk. We can use the metal from the airstrip to forge weapons, and ROGER said himself that he has access to the facility where Sarah was cloned. It has medical supplies. This just seems too dangerous to me.” Po argued.
“We’d never be able to forge enough weapons. We don’t have the resources.” John said.
“And, the Protogaea facility is a last resort. We don’t want to draw attention to it unnecessarily. The fate of the Earth resides in that bunker.” Sarah added.
“Sounds good to me. We can catch two birds with one song.” Dade said encouragingly.
Sarah looked to Rensa who simply shook her head dismally.
“What? Birds like songs.” Dade gawped at them cluelessly.
“Then it’s settled. How far away is Solos, Ideo?” Wax asked.
“It’s about a week’s travel east of here through the worst part of the wastelands.” Ideo replied. “We should only take what we need, we can resupply once we get there.”
“Ok. So. Impossible trek. Through the worst of the wastes. To an invisible city. Full of raiders and scavengers. When do we leave?” John asked acerbically.
“Volunteers?” Wax had put it to a vote, now he only wanted those who were willing to go. It would be a dangerous mission, but without much needed medication and useful weapons the odds would be stacked against them. This was only a temporary solution, however, ultimately they would need to determine how to be self-sufficient. Everyone in the room volunteered, including Po.
“Though, I want it to go on the record that I think this is a bad idea.” Po retorted.
“Noted.” Wax stated and looked back to the rest of the group. “Logistically, how do you plan to carry everything? And what do you plan to barter with?”
“Well, I was thinking about that.” Ideo offered. She, being the only one familiar with the underground city, knew best what the people wanted and needed. “We have tech … and knowledge. ROGER has been repairing and modifying the robots here, and John has a wealth of information that could be a valuable commodity to the right person,” she smiled knowingly, “And I think I have just the right person in mind. His name is Gunther and he runs a fighting pit. He’s always looking for any advantage he can give his fighters.” She looked at John and nodded.
John responded, “I’m sure there’s a few tricks I could give them to enhance their fighting skills.”
“As far as carrying things, we can use one of the trailers from the airfield. ROGER could pull it.” Jayk suggested.
“Consider it pulled.” ROGER chimed in.
“If there isn’t anything else … ROGER can go ahead out to the boneyard and get a trailer. John, you help Jayk and Ideo load up the robots and any other useful tech, while Rensa, Dade and Sarah gather and pack supplies.” Wax suggested.
ROGER left the bunker and headed toward the airfield graveyard. It would take him a day to get there and a day to return. In the meantime, the rest could prepare the gear and pack up all the tech they would take with them on their journey.
Ideo was in her dorm packing knives, hatchets and anything else of value they would need on their trip when Sarah walked in. She stopped and stared at a small eight inch shuriken and without looking at Sarah began, “This is going to be a pilgrimage of sorts for me. I haven’t been home in almost seven years. Haven’t spoken to my parents in even longer. I didn’t leave on the best of terms.”
“I’m sure that whatever happened, you’ve been forgiven by now.” Sarah said consolingly.
“Then, you don’t know my father. He’s a hard man, stern and decisive. Once he makes up his mind, he doesn’t change it.” She held the dagger in her hand, turning it end over end deftly, “He used to call me his little Kogatana. It’s a small blade that tucks into a special fitting on the side of a scabbard.” She said wistfully.
“What did you two fight about that made him so upset?” Sarah asked
“You see this blade? I took it from a box in his room when I was fourteen or fifteen. He had been teaching me how to fight, to defend myself if I ever got into trouble. Maybe he wanted a boy, I don’t know. But, I took the knife and of course I cut myself stabbing at boxes. My mom was furious with him that night. She said it was his fault. Blamed him for teaching me, she’s very traditional. Said if he hadn’t been training me I never would have taken the knife. It wasn’t a bad cut, you can barely see the scar. But, that didn’t matter. He stopped training me from that day forward. He decided he wanted me to marry. To be a good wife, like my mother. I wanted something else,” Ideo continued packing, “He wanted me to stay in Solos. I guess he figured if I married, I’d be protected” She smiled waywardly.
“Fathers can be tough, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you. They just want to keep you safe. Even if that comes across as controlling, sometimes.” Sarah replied.
“I just want him to be proud of me. All my life that’s all I’ve ever wanted.” Ideo sighed heavily, then let out a small chuckle, “I’m so foolish.” She wiped a single tear from her eye with the heel of her palm.
“No, no you’re not. You’re one of the strongest people I know.”
“That’s not saying much,” Ideo giggled, “You don’t know that many people.” They both shared a laugh for a moment. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.” She said putting the shuriken in a leather sheath on her hip.
“Your father will be proud of you, I’m sure of it!” Sarah took Ideo’s hand in hers comfortingly.
Jayk suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Am I interrupting anything? I’ve been looking all over for you, Sarah.” He said reprovingly.
“Well, you’ve found me. What’s up?”
“I just wondered if you needed any help packing, or anything like that.” Jayk offered.
“Nope. Fortunately for me I pack light, everything I need is already attached.” She patted her electro cannon with her right hand. “But, I appreciate the offer.” She smiled at Ideo and nodded. Without looking back to Jayk she said to him, “Let’s go see if the others need any help.”
After the roads and parking lots had been ripped up, and the world had been transformed, Dr. Lemky’s MagLev technology informed the manner by which all new vehicles would be constructed from that moment forward. There were no more wheels, no more tires, no more axles, everything hovered just a few inches above the ground. Skiffs supported the undercarriage of trucks and cars when they were stopped. As a result, ROGER would be forced to drag the heavy trailer back to the bunker. And then, after loading it, would drag it across the wastes to Solos. A job he alone was uniquely suited to perform. Fortunately for him he had been training a team of men and women in combat medicine, as well as surgery and the treatment of common illnesses. He would leave the bunker’s inhabitants in their capable hands. Sarah made her way to the medical unit where she found ROGER tinkering with something, “Rensa told me to come get you.”
“Ok, I’ll be there in just a moment.” ROGER replied.
“You know, it’s times like these I really wish I had my arm back. I feel so useless. I can’t help with anything. I’m almost more of a burden.” She said.
ROGER paused for a moment, looked up thoughtfully, then went back to what he was working on. He opened a drawer and, with his back to Sarah concealing the robotic arm he was fashioning to fit hers, placed it in the drawer, closed it, and turned to Sarah saying, “I think when the time comes, you’ll realize you’re more valuable than you think.”
One of his trainees came up to him and asked, “Any words of wisdom before you go?”
“Yes,” ROGER replied, putting his hand on her shoulder, “Try not to kill anyone.”
Rensa had been working on something quietly in her dorm since ROGER had left, and when he returned she proudly presented it to him, “Here, this should make your journey a little bit easier.” She held out a sleeveless harness she had made from some leather garments she had found and sewn together with a length of heavy chain that could be attached to the trailer’s hitch, making it slightly easier to drag.
“Thank you, Rensa. I will look a proper pack mule with this.” ROGER said amusingly.
“Oh yeah, I guess you will. Ha!” She let out an awkward laugh.
He put it on and examined the chain, she had done some skillful work. If it held, it would make his trip much easier. “Thank you, Rensa. You’ve really outdone yourself.” ROGER said appreciatively. “We could use your skills at sewing in the medical unit.”
“No thanks, Doc. I’m better at tearing them apart than patching them up.” Rensa grinned devilishly.
They immediately set to loading the trailer with the bodies of robots, additional parts, and other supplies for their trip. The rest they would carry in packs.
Wax shook hands with Po and instructed him to take care of everyone, and himself. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on everyone.” Po said.
“We’ll be back before you know it!” Rensa called out, “Hold down the fort for us!” And with that, the group made their way across the wastes and toward the setting sun.