High above the Earth explosions roared in flashes of light. The jet fighters seemed out of place without the air to fuel them. But these were specially modified fighters, moved forward in the vacuum of space by ionized waste. The explosions were yet more of their futile missile launches toward the large black alien ship, blown apart by the many drones that zoomed around them in a dance that always ended the same. For when they got too close to the ship, the drones would target them, and they would be forced to retreat--at least, those fighters not blown up in the attack.
Back on Earth, Jenna returned back to her guerrilla army cell. She was stationed in the NYC cell, along with the other members, Melissa, Jake, and Ark. Their only connection to the other cells, as means of security, was their AI robot which the group simply called Leader. As Jenna got on the subway, she remembered the speech from her superiors about the importance of the cells. "[The aliens] want to wipe out the army and enslave the people. So long as there's resistance, they'll not move in for the kill."
And so it had been going on for several years now. Was it 3 or 4? It didn't matter, so long as the regular people didn't know. But Jenna intrinsically knew that in the end her side would win. With all the battles and all the fighting, members of her cell would always return safe. To her it was the omen that destiny was on their side. She just needed to keep fighting and keep holding out. The Leader kept reporting that new weapon breakthroughs were just around the corner, and then their side would have the upper hand.
But something happened this time on her way back to the safe house that lead to the cell's homebase. A man in a trenchcoat and rimmed hat look towards her, and there seemed a moment of shock and recognition in his face. He approached her and introduced himself.
"Hello, my name is Frank Drevingsten. I work for the government."
"You don't say. What part of it would that be?" she asked as if only half-interested.
"Well, the FBI actually. And I really need to talk to you."
Was the alien trying to infiltrate her cell in disguise? She was certainly going to find out and take care of this man, one way or another. Her orders were clear: anyone who knew anything and approached her was not to be trusted or let to live; the Leader was the only gateway to the truth. "Perhaps over some coffee, then?"
"Coffee, yes. That will do fine. At the next stop."
She nodded her head in agreement, and turned the other way, attempting her best to act like they never spoke. When the next stop arrived, she calmly stood up, stepped out of the subway car, and walked up and outside. Once on the street level, she casually walked down the street finally spotting a small restuarant on a corner a few blocks away. Stepping inside, she found a seat and ordered a black coffee.
The man stepped in a few moments later and joined her in her booth. He calmly waited for the waitress to return and order himself a Mountain Dew. After he was sure the waitress was out of ear shot, he began to lay out the situation.
"You didn't order a coffee."
"I don't really like coffee. I'd just end up putting cream and sugar in it, so why bother with it?"
"So, you like your caffeine sweet."
"I like sweet and sour things. But, enough about me. You're not who you think you are."
"Oh, now that's a new one."
"I'm not being sarcastic. I've seen you before. Well, I've seen your body before."
The waitress returned with Frank's drink and asked if they wanted anything else. Frank shook his head, and Jenna simply stared into empty space. The waitress walked off, moving off to a better table to serve.
"Are you with the government or just trying out new pick-up lines?" asked Jenna.
"You're one of a group in a cell. Your group is composed of a handful of members--I'm not sure how many. And there's one like you in every major city in the world."
"I see. So, lots of bad black dye jobs then, around the globe?"
"That's your natural color. At least, that's how you're factory shipped. You're being churned out about as quickly as the fighters."
"Listen. I don't know what you think you know, but I've been living in this area for 20 years. And I know there's only one of me. My father and mother made me, and this is my natural color."
"You're a replacement. Your last copy was killed in the last battle. I know because you were dropped off on the sidewalk by a government van. When you come back unharmed, you walk the whole way to the subway."
Clearly this guy, whoever he was, needed to be eliminated. But how would she do it this time? The standard practice was to first verify whether the person was part of the government. Government personnel were easier to take care of, since all it took was a less than gentle push in front of a truck or subway and the government on the inside would rattle off some excuse on why such a tragedy occurred. But for the normal people, it was best to hire a hitman to kill, plant drugs, and remove their id--the last part being a large part of the deal, given the black market on having the real thing.
Jenna needed to get back soon to her cell, to write up her report and make further suggestions; she knew it was all just busy work until the big guns were deployed, but the last thing she wanted was to be cut out of the program this late in for not dotting some i's or crossing some t's. She crossed her fingers that Frank was another one from the government.
"So you say you're from the government. You one of the guys who dropped me off?"
"No, I'm one of the guys who knows something is up. The FBI has lost one too many agents to 'accidents' to not realize that someone higher up is involved. I'm one of a handful out trying to track down the street-level hoodlums involved. I think I've found one."
Jenna smiled widely and slumped back in her seat. "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about those agents. Were some of them your friends?" Her sickly sweet voice ended with a white row of teeth.
"I'm actually much too new to the FBI to have known any of them. But thanks for that show of warmth. My point is, I know who to watch, and I know if you don't cooperate I can just wait for your next double."
"But you've not even shown me a badge. Am I to really believe the FBI is so paranoid to think there's clones running around fighting space battles and killing off FBI agents?"
"Oh, space battles..."
Shit! Oh well, he wasn't going to live to tell about it.
He continued, "I'm sure you'll be happy to know I haven't told the FBI anything yet. I'll even go a bit further and lay it out flat, as one way or another you won't have a chance to communicate it to your superiors: we're effectively on radio silence. We're simply marked as rogue agents. At least, that's what the FBI has in their reports."
"Oh, do tell." she taunted.
"We're on our own, so we don't tip off the ones involved until we catch them with their pants around their ankles. So the FBI's been hiring detectives left and right and letting them turn rogue as silently as possible. I just happen to be one of those 'kooky' conspiracy theorists. I guess it wasn't so kooky after all."
"So you've found your prize, you crazy man you. I must be the feather to your cap. Should we put the handcuffs on me now or later?"
"Neither, actually. You see, we're going to perform a little experiment. As far as I'm aware, not a single one of you clones has gone missing for very long while strolling about on Earth. It seems your implanted martial arts training has served your model well."
"If you can think of another word for it, I'm all ears. My point is, you only die while in battles. So if you turn up missing, they'll need to scrub your whole cell and hunt you down. They need the simple continuity that can be preprogrammed so you feel like you've been developing memories for the last three years. If something traumatic were to happen, that'd throw you out of sync with every other double, and there'd be way too much risk that you or the others would wise up."
"So, we're supposed to wait for your fanciful death squad to show up with guns blazing?"
"Actually, I've no idea how they plan to disguise it. Maybe they'll call it a drug bust and another pair of doubles would be carted away. You know they'll have to have someone alive in case the cameras catch a face. They wouldn't want people to see a dead woman walking down the street a few weeks later."
"Well, this is very imaginative, but I must take my leave. Perhaps I could have your card. I have a friend who has connections with some publishers. Or perhaps they could recommend you to a psychiatrist?"
"No, not yet. With all the agents that have been killed, it's clear the government worker deaths are covered higher up. But there's no striking pattern to the civilian deaths. So, so long as you can't verify I'm a government worker, you can't risk trying to push forth a quick 'accident' on me. And that's necessary for now, for I have something to show you in storage."
"Oh, so now you're going to show me evidence? Perhaps some pictures of me in other cities? Or a chunk of these fighters you speak of."
"Even better: I have a chunk of you."
Out on the east side of the city were the docks, from which many cargo containers moved on a daily basis. So many moved, in fact, that there never was enough time in the day to search them all. This was well known to those who worked at the docks, who were ordered to cut a few corners to keep the flow of deliveries going. It was also well known to the government, who did nothing to stop a perfect secret delivery system. One man from the government had plans that relied on this. That man was Frank Drevingsten.
Frank and Jenna walked over to a large blue shipping container off to the side. Inside it was very cold, with ice coating all the walls a few inches thick. In the dim light of Frank's flashlight, Jenna looked down upon an all too familiar face, her own. Why she had agreed to come along is not important right now. But, in a short while, it will be.
Jenna's older clone lay prone on a regular hospital gurney. Half of her body was gone, ripped off when her escape pod malfunctioned. In truth, her escape pod was never designed to function. Half way into the design of the new-age fighter, the higher ups had questioned the designers why they were putting in a working escape pod. Surely they knew that the clones were designed specifically to never give up. If they were hit, they'd go down with their plane. But the escape pod was already half finished at that point, and it'd take even more money to remove it from the design. Besides, the clones were designed to believe they had a choice to escape but chose otherwise.
But Jenna's older clone had malfunctioned. Frank wondered if Jenna was malfunctioning too. If that were true, perhaps there was a chance they could carry out his real goal. It was only a matter of convincing Jenna that it was something she wanted to do.
"So, I'm a clone."
"Yea, that's what I was saying. But there's more to it than that."
"Oh, really? I'm a fraud. Did I even really exist? I mean, did a Jenna Thompson ever really exist?"
"It doesn't matter. What matters is to stop this."
"Stop what? The war? Are you crazy? If we don't fight the aliens, they'll take over!"
"Maybe they will. But you've already been taken over by the government. Why do you care about a couple of aliens?" Frank nudged.
"I... Because I don't know what else to do! At least I'd be serving some higher purpose. If I stop to think about this too long, I'm liable to be unable to do anything. I need to move on. I need to go back to my cell."
"Like I was saying, it's probably too late now. They know you're missing, and they probably assume you're compromised. It'll be easier for them to recreate the cell again with fresh clones than risk an internal compromise. So, walking back to your cell is walking to your death."
"Does it matter? I'll be replaced, and my mission will eventually succeed. So a few good people die along the way. Doesn't that happen in every war? Surely it'll all be worthwhile in the end." Jenna reasoned.
"Perhaps that works for you. But I'd rather fight the aliens knowing full well what was going on than to unknowingly rely on a shadow to do the work. You're just a shadow. Once the government is done with you, they'll be sure to treat you like you never existed. Even better, they must have made you whole cloth. So, they'll just make you never exist."
Jenna had a lump in her throat. Was it that she wanted to cry? No, that wasn't it. To vomit, looking at the spine peaking out from her clone's tattered clothes? No, that wasn't it either. She'd seen enough death--she thought she had, which is close enough--to not hold herself over such a gruesome sight. It was the emptiness of her existence pressing on her heart and squeezing the air out of her lungs. Even when she went out in space in the large darkness before the battle when not a soul was in sight and there were stars all around her, she always felt connected to the things below her.
There were her cell-mates. There were the countless other brave souls through which Leader connected them. There were the dedicated scientists probing for a weapon to end it all so she could go back home. But there was no home for her. Whatever she did now wouldn't matter because in the end it would be hundreds of generations of doubles of her before the war would be won. What part could she really lay claim to the fight? Her genes? Not even those were really hers.
"So what do you want of me?" Jenna finally asked. Together, they walked outside the container and dusted their clothes of the loose crystals they could.
"I want to expose the operation. More importantly, I want to expose the aliens."
"What do you want of ME?" With the government surely on the lookout for them now, she wanted to make something of her the short while she would be alive.
"I need you to expose your cell. And I need you and your cell members to go to other cities to expose more cells. Only when most of the cells are awakened to the truth do we stand a chance."
"And how do you expect that to work? It's not like I have a clue where any of the cells are. And I doubt that Leader is going to just cough up what we need to know. We were isolated for a reason, you know."
"You were isolated to reduce variables. Think about your orders. You're supposed to minimize outside contact, never travel very far away, and generally stay in contact with your cell at all times. You have all the memories of all the cities were your clones are sent out to."
"That's crazy. There's no way the human mind could hold that many memories. And speaking of crazy, how did you even get that clone of me?" Frank's conspiracy theory was getting stranger. Perhaps he knew a lot more than he was letting on.
"It can if it only needs to store a few days worth of memories. The general same thoughts associated to certain landmarks in each city is almost certainly the key. Whatever it is, your clones were shipped all the same to many places. I would have taken you there to see yourself, but security has tightened too much, and you're much too valuable to lose after having gone this far."
"Oh? And I thought you said you'd just wait for the next double if I didn't go along with you."
"I didn't think you'd come along."
"But where did you get my clone?"
"Well, as you probably imagine, the clean-up crews go out of their way to make sure there's no evidence. In fact, the planes are designed to explode if you take too many hits. It's better to clean up the whole plane that way, just in case."
"So, this clone of you had already left the plane by that point. Apparently the eject system malfunctioned, so that's all that landed. I was luck enough to spot it going down. It only further convinced me that the base near where the capsule landed was up to more than it was letting on."
"And that's when you found the clones."
"Yes. But now comes the difficult part. Many of the clones have been shipping out through these docks to other countries. They basically ship large numbers of units to insure that they never run low on clones. The same with fighters."
"But where do they get shipped to? Who is going along with this?"
"That's the part I don't know. At first I thought it was entirely a US operations. But, if that were the case, surely some other countries would have made comment about the alien ship. In fact, I don't even know what this alien ship looks like. There's been no suspicious astrological reports, so I can only guess the alien ship is hiding. But that doesn't explain why all the suspicious explosions in the night of all the failed fighters aren't being reported either."
"Cloaks." Jenna's face went somber, and her eyes again stared blankly into the empty air.
"Cloaks? Do you mean, invisibility?"
"It only works in the air, or well, space. It involves something to do with gravity and matter not being always coincidental."
"Dark matter?" The last thing Frank needed was a new-age science lesson.
"I don't know. I just know that it was one of the first things put into the new fighters."
"I have to admit, a lot of what I'm saying is based on speculation. The fact that the clones were being sent everywhere in the world meant the enemy wasn't from this world. And as for all the clones being destroyed, it's the only explanation for why so many clones were being constantly shipped out."
"Well, I'm willing to help. I'll lead you to the safe house right now."
"No, no. We need to wait out the cleaners. If another clone isn't on the street in a week, we're going to have to invade another cell. That's what the shipping crate is also for."
"I'm not waiting! Try to find another Jenna to convince to do it your way because your plan sucks."
"Wait, wait. Fine, we'll do it your way. But we're going to need a few more hands. I still have a few friends in the area who owe me a favor."
"How long?" ask Jenna.
"A few hours, tops. Then we can move."
"Fine, a few hours. But don't try anything funny." Jenna slyly cocked one of the guns hidden on her.
"Trust me." This should be interesting, thought Frank.
Frank rested against the side of the telephone booth, trying to look both cool and calm. He held his trench-coat over his right arm--he only wore the thing on special occasions to look just a little bit more kooky. Jenna, meanwhile, rested against the side of the building towards the left. His two friends, if that was at all the proper term, would be arriving any moment now. The only real question in Frank's mind was how this was going to turn out.
Around the left corner came two guys. The one on the left wore blue jeans and an oversized baseball shirt. The one on the right was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. That wasn't the sort of clothes one should wear on a raid. They strolled past Jenna and Frank and walked on, acting as if they hadn't even seen Frank. What were those two up to?
"Come on, Jenna."
"Follow those two." Frank pointed behind him with his thumb as he turned around to go after them. Sitting on the stoop 20 feet away were the two guys grinning from ear to ear.
"So, I hear you need a favor." yelled the one in the shorts. Frank walked quickly over to the stoop and made a few quaint hand waves to Jenna to hurry up.
"Not so loud. And what's with the clothes? Did I catch you while you were napping?"
"Well, you can't expect me to go in uncomfortable. Besides, it's not like pants are going to stop a bullet. So, what are we going in for?"
"First, I'd like to introduce everyone. Guys, this is Jenna. Jenna, this is..."
"I don't really care." Jenna cut Frank off.
"Honey, that's not why he was introducing us." said the man in jeans.
"I'm George and this is Bill. And it'll be important to know when you call out for help."
"When?" Jenna scoffed. Why did Frank call in these two lugs for? It's not like they were pitching a tent.
"Fine, if. So, where are we going?"
"We're going to a basement on 11th street. And we're going to have a nice chat with a few people in there." said Jenna.
"What she said." shrugged Frank.
A few hours later, they arrived a block away from their target. "Bloody taxis." said Bill.
"I told you we should have took the subway." said Jenna.
"It's all about comfort, okay. That's what I said from the start." replied Bill. "Now, that was a much more comfortable few hours than it would have been to spend a couple minutes standing in piss."
"It's not like the subway is an ocean of piss." said Frank
Jenna sighed. "Follow me." Jenna's hand moved along her body and like magic two guns appeared in her hands.
"Neat trick." said George.
"Shut up." said Jenna.
With guns in hand, the group slowly approached the basement. They kept the guns out of sight as the calmly strolled and chatted together like it was just another normal day. Seeing the lights shining through the basement door's windows, Jenna paused in surprise. It was too early for them to have the lights on. Their landlord only turned on the lights when it was absolutely necessary, and with the sun shining overhead there was no way he'd have them on. "Wait guys, something is up." said Jenna.
"Sugar, don't tease me. I paid my $50 fair and square. Now you owe me the service." said Bill.
"Stop fucking around." said Frank. "What is it, Jenna?"
"I don't know. The lights are on, but they shouldn't be."
"Do you want to stop?" nudged Frank.
"No. No, we're going in. Bill, George. You two go first. You'll guard the door. Frank, you're with me."
"You heard her, guys."
"Going all this way to guard a door." sighed Bill.
Bill and George creeped down opposite sides of the stairwell. One, two, three. The both pushed the door open with guns drawn, sliding against the wall as much as possible. Staring into the white linoleum lines hallway, there were several doors aligning the walls. The florescent lights overhead--the half that still worked--flickered from time to time. The end of the hall turned to the left. All in all, both Bill and George were disappointed to see so little action.
Jenna stepped through and Frank followed closely behind. Down the hall and to the left then further down to the right, Jenna and Frank walked until reaching near the end of the hallway to find a few doors left. On the right wall, the second door, the door looked like a usual basement apartment, number 009. The middle zero was actually gone, but the old style 0 imprint was still clearly visible. So far, so good, Jenna thought. Might as well do this as calmly as possible.
"Wait here." said Jenna. She put away her guns and pulled out a key. Frank pressed up against the wall a few feet to the right of the door, prepared to pounce if necessary. Jenna unlocked the door and opened it up. Inside sat Melissa and Jake on the couch watching a game. Jenna calmly strolled in and closed the door. Frank moved over to the door and pressed his ear against it, trying to hear what was being said.
Ark came into the living room from the kitchen, carrying a plate of food as he headed for his room. "Oh, hey Jenna. We were sort of worried. But Leader said you were okay." said Ark.
"Yea, something about a guy friend. I never knew." said Melissa in pretend shock.
"Guy friend?" asked Jenna. Had Leader been tracking her movements with Frank? She had to move fast, before things turned ugly. She took a few steps towards the couch as if to see what Jake had to say.
Jenna moved her hands upon her body, cocking the guns along the way, and began to fire. While she was able to do a clean kill to Jake who from his angle couldn't easily flip out his guns, Melissa's wounds were more messy. Ark's shot through Jenna's heart caused her arm to jerk slightly up and to the right, causing her shot into Melissa to hit the tip of her right lung. She might live, thought Jenna as she collapsed to the floor.
Frank flipped open the door and began shooting as well. But Ark shot through his heart as well before he was able to fire off a shot. Outside, Bill and George heard the all too familiar sound of shots fired and rushed to Frank's aid. They wouldn't be paid the second half of their money otherwise. As they reached near the end of the hallway they saw a man crouched over Frank's body as it lay halfway outside a doorway. Ark checked Frank for a pulse. When he heard footsteps approach, he tried to think of a quick lie but realized that with half a man inside your doorway there wasn't a quickly available lie.
Drawing his weapon, he slyly waited for the men to approach closer. Bill and George had other ideas, firing at Ark from a safe distance. "Don't kill our friend." said Bill.
"As far as warnings go, it's a bit overkill and a bit late." said George as he looked at Bill.
"And when else am I going to be able to say it?" asked Bill.
"Perhaps you should invest in a book of cliches and practice at the morgue."
"You've got some problems, George."
Bill and George cautiously approached the doorway. Inside was a woman with a gun, resting as best she could against the side of the couch with her left hand bloody and on her chest. She had trouble keeping her eyes open, wavering her gun upward and downward as she tried her best to focus on the blurry person who had crossed past the door. George, on the left side of the door, fired a few shots until the woman dropped her gun.
"Well, that was easy." said George. Inside, they looked around to see if they could otherwise be properly compensated for their services. As they looked around, they came across a small robot that seemed all the craze these days. Perhaps they could sell it for a good bit of money. At least, it seemed the most worthwhile thing so far found besides the TV. George tried to pick it up, but he discovered quite quickly that it was too heavy to be moved by himself. He called over Bill, who bent down to pick up the robot as well.
As they both began to lift up, they both felt a sharp sting in their palms. They dropped the robot and shouted out a few quaint obscenities. Looking at the robot, Bill asked, "What was that for?"
"I'm afraid you're not allowed to move me." said the robot, as he began to roll away from Bill and George.
"Oh no you don't." began George as he stepped towards the robot. But very quickly his eyes became blurry, and he felt a sharpness in his chest. He took larger and larger breaths. He turned towards Bill who had already fallen to the floor. Well, he'd be no help, thought George. George tried to go back to the living room where he'd seen a phone, but he fell over. He began to crawl towards the living room, but he didn't get but a few feet.
"Leader to base. Leader to base. NYC cell AI requesting a clean-up crew. Please respond."
"Headquarters responding. Leader, please stand by."
Kuwanger.net - Sort of like stag beetles in tubes.