The story so far:
“What are you doing Ms. B.? What children? Please stop pointing that gun at me.” Pete looked about as one hundred percent sincere and confused as a person could look.
“Be careful,” said Robert. “We’ve been through a lot in a short period.”
No, I know it was his voice on the line. It had to be. “Cut the crap Pete. I’m not in the mood. This is the last time I’m going to ask. Where are they?”
I had simply had enough of it. The emotional storm raging inside me drew upon nearly two decades of painful memories. I would like to be able to say that I don’t know what came over me, but that would make me a liar. I pointed the gun down at Pete’s left kneecap and pulled the trigger.
Pete fell to the ground in agony, screaming and drooling, holding his leg as if it had just been chopped off. “Ms. B., why!?”
As I watched him there rolling on the ground screaming in pain I thought to myself that this guy’s either the best paid undercover agent on the planet, a total believer in his cause, or I just made a very big mistake. I had only one choice. I had to keep going to make sure I couldn’t smoke him out. “Let’s just see shall we.” I grabbed his collar and dragged him inside the school, locked him in a maintenance closet, and started looking for the kids. I handed Robert the gun and said: “make sure he stays in that closet.” Then I ran down the hall toward the place where I just knew I would find them.
The gymnasium, that’s where most people would put a group right? I burst through the doors ready for anything, but only saw a single beam of dawn light encasing one of the basketball goals and throwing its shadow all over the bleachers in a distorted joke of itself. My heart sank. I started to feel like I really screwed up. I ran from room to room, nothing. “Oh no.” My despair deepened. For starters, where were the children, and second; did I just shoot poor innocent Pete? I had to find them.
As my anxiety worsened with every passing second I found myself considering a piece of the puzzle. It was something Robert said about the FBI. “Their directive is to destroy replicants on sight. They don't consider them to be human.” I thought to myself, why would they do that? Why would they have such a big problem with clones that they would make a whole black ops division just to exterminate them? That didn’t make sense to me, and I decided to mull it over later after I had taken care of the problem at hand.
I burst into the last room in the school that I hadn’t checked, my classroom. I walked in, and before I could even react to its emptiness I stopped dead in my tracks to stare at the whiteboard. Written across it were the words: You’re getting warmer. Chills went down my spine, and then my eyes fell on one of the windows sitting open, large enough for a person to squeeze through. I had a lot of questions to sort out about the last twelve hours, but whether or not I left a window open was not one of them. I had absolutely left them all closed and locked, just like always. The ugly question scurried through my mind again: is Pete innocent?
I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to open up that closet and face him if he really was just the janitor I greeted every morning. But I had to go and get him. Even if he was innocent he still might have seen something. My window was open, empty school buses sat outside, and he might be able to help. But the voice on the phone. It sounded just like him. Nobody talks that way. It had to be Pete, didn’t it? My mind kept swirling, as much from the confusion as from sleep deprivation. I sat down and put my forehead on a desk and wept like a scared kid sentenced to detention, knowing that another reckoning awaits at home.
“Crying won’t solve the problem.”
I looked up and saw Robert standing in the doorway with the gun raised, and holding a cell phone up to his ear.
“Nice work. Let’s wrap it up. Good, I’ll see you there.”
I watched as the phone’s display went dark and he put it back in his pocket and stared at me, holding me in place with his eyes, reinforced by the gun’s presence. “Oh Robert, what have you done?” I felt a fresh spring of tears welling, and my throat felt like it had a rock in it. “What’s happened to you after all these years?”
“I might have told a little fib, sorry.”
“The black ops.”
“Clever girl. Now get up. “We’re going to see the children.”
As we walked outside I pushed my emotions away as much as possible and decided to act like an agent again. “So how deep are these lies Robert? What are we really talking about here.” I knew something didn’t fit about the FBI and block ops wanting to stop cloning simply based on morality. That’s what I needed to know, whatever they were fighting for or against, whatever they knew, held the key to this entire thing. And in the end maybe, just maybe, I would get a real sense of closure about Danya. The mystery of why she died had just re-germinated in my thoughts, and I would get to the bottom of it.
“Well, if I told you everything it would spoil all the fun. I can tell you this, black ops did fly a plane into our house, that is how Danya died, and it is also how I came to disappear. All that was true.”
As we made it back outside I stopped walking and made Robert face me. “The FBI doesn’t disapprove of cloning on moral grounds do they?”
“Of course not, I only expected you to swallow that while your emotions were still running high after being held at gunpoint and then seeing me back from the dead after all these years.”
“It worked. So are you gonna tell me or not? I know you probably want to keep some secrets, after all you let me go, let me think you were dead. But don’t you think I have a right to know why my daughter died? Don’t you think I’m entitled?!” I slammed my foot down and hit the wall. On top of everything else, I had started to feel hungry, and even more exhausted. I felt like I could rip through a steel door if I could find release on the other side. I was starting to feel crazy.
“The FBI just uses black ops as a tool, a means to an end. When they killed Danya, they were just following orders. The Society gathers intelligence too. They revealed a lot to me when they set me up with this new life. Do you know what the government’s number one problem is?
“Never feeling like they’ve collected enough taxes?”
“Very funny. You always had a good sense of humor. Staying in business.”
“Yeah, don’t you know that the government is just a corporation running the biggest business on earth?”
“You’ve gone crazy. What did they do, brainwash you into believing that crap?”
“I think when this is all over you’ll see that you’re brainwashed, and I’m on the right side.”
“Okay, then convince me. What’s wrong with my team?”
“Earlier I told you that the Society is just a group funded by private investors working for philanthropic purposes. That wasn’t entirely true. Let’s go back to the night Danya died.”
When he said that it jolted my memories to that time, and for just a few seconds I felt twelve years younger, less mature, less jaded, still married, like my old self; I loved it.
“The Society has what you might call a bit of a rivalry with the Federal government, not an open one, but a rivalry nonetheless. That night the explosion blew me out into the grass and left me for dead. But they saved me. They tried to save Danya, but when they figured out that I had been targeted for assisination they failed to reach us in time. The Society already knew about my research, and were using their resources to stay abreast of my progress. They were going to contact me when the time was right. Unfortunately, they waited too long. When the FBI found out that there was a growing interest in me they sent in the black ops to end it, permanently. You see, there is no competition over my work. The government just simply decided to annihilate the source, regardless of why the Society wanted me. They don’t care about cloning, that’s bureaucratic red tape crap, cannon fodder for politicians. The Society threatens the government’s control over this country, and who do you think serves as the government’s right hand? Who would do something nasty like carry out an assassination for Uncle Sam’s cause?”
“The F-B-I. They killed Danya, they ruined our marriage, our lives, and they’re the reason that I now work for the Society, to further the aims of a different cause, a righteous one. And I’m sorry Maribel, I still love you, always will, but you work for them.”
When Robert stopped talking to do what he was about to do, I wasn’t surprised. I could see it coming when his story turned toward his malice for the FBI. Inside I felt like a fault line must feel when it is about to have an earthquake, but on the outside I forced myself to remain stoic, a granite facade. I watched as Robert stopped talking and placed the gun to my head.
“This is where the rubber meets the road Maribel. They killed Danya, and you work for them. You work for them! Now what’s it gonna be? You renounce the FBI right here and now, turn your back on them and join the Society, or I…”
I watched as he choked on his words and stifled a tear, unable to say it.
“I’ll do what I have to do, Maribel. Don’t force me. I have to have your allegiance. There’s too much at stake.”
“Robert, where are the children? What are we doing here? I just came back here for the kids.”
“The kids will be fine.”
“Not if I can help it.”
“Pete, you escaped!” I looked down at Pete’s leg and noticed that he must of pulled off his white undershirt to stop the bleeding. He had the strands of a dirty old mop under his armpit, using the long handle like a crutch. It barely left him with enough balance to hold the gun steady that he had pointed at us, but he had it under control, so we froze.
“You’re damn right I did. Put the gun down, now!” That deep voice of his that usually sounded so comfortable and secure, now growled and rumbled, more like a thunderclap than a human sound.
“Put the gun down Robert.” I meant it.
“Now Robert! Do it!” I wasn’t playing out a hand, or pulling a fast one. I knew what anyone trained in law enforcement had been taught to do if a suspect won’t drop a weapon. I sincerely hoped that Robert put down the gun, because he had maybe one more warning, and Pete would shoot to kill. And I couldn’t lose him a second time, not after seeing him for one night, not with so many unanswered questions. “Put it down!”
“Okay. I’m putting it down. Don’t shoot alright? Don’t shoot.”
God I felt so stupid, all that time of not keeping current with my training. First I forgot to take Lockley’s gun, and now Pete’s. I had no one to blame but myself. I was so blinded by my passion to find the kids that I just rolled him into that closet, and didn’t even think about seeing if he was armed. That would have solved the whole dilemma right there. If I had searched him, I would have known for sure that he was FBI when I found the gun, probably has his I.D. card too. God I’m stupid.
“Alright both of you step together back to back, and lock your arms.”
We obeyed his orders and he made us crabwalk over to his car. There he kept the gun on us while he found two sets of handcuffs in his trunk. He made us keep both our arms interlocked, and he handcuffed us together while still in the same position. We weren’t going anywhere fast. He seemed to find it amusing. I had, after all, shot him in the leg. However cruel his nature was before that, I must have at least quadrupled it.
“We’ve got some time before the cavalry arrives, so let’s talk. What’s your old hubby been tellin’ you, huh? Has he asked you to turn your back on the bureau yet, to abandon your country when it needs you? You Society freaks make me sick.”
He slapped Robert so hard that we nearly fell over when I had to hold his weight up while he regained his balance.
“You know what the Society stands for? They stand for anarchy. They want to tear down everything this country has spent over two-hundred years creating. Robert you want to tell her or should I?”
“Tell me what? Robert did you tell me another lie?” If he had lied to me again I wasn’t sure that I could handle it emotionally. I could see out of the corner of my eye that Robert’s head hung low. I hoped it wasn’t out of shame.
“The Society is…,” Pete started his explanation with a wide smile; “…like a dog that you’ve raised since it was a puppy, until one day it suddenly runs off. Then some time later it comes wandering back, desperate, starving, alone, and lost without you, a prodigal son if you will. So, out of compassion, you take it back in, happy to have it back. Then after a little while you notice that it has changed. Why, in fact, you only knew it as a puppy, and then it went away. Who knows what happened in its experiences abroad. Isn’t that right Robert? What happened out there in the wilderness?
I could feel Robert tensing up, but he stayed quiet.
Pete continued: “the Society used to be part of the government. It dates back a long time to our founding fathers. You see this country has always been of two minds: the people behind the curtain making decisions, and everyone else. The Society used to sit behind the curtain with the rest of us. It’s always been made up of intellectuals, and the wealthy elite, the sort of people who get what they want because they can afford it. And that’s just the problem isn’t it? You can’t always have what you want. You see, over the decades this country’s been mixing more and more all the time. The lines between wealthy and middle class have blurred. A lot of people can enjoy nice things nowadays. It’s just not so clear anymore, until you get up to the elite classes, you know, Society types.”
He said that last part with disgust in his voice. Whatever a person might think about Pete, nobody would ever mistake him for a member of the upper class. He could never pull it off if he tried to go undercover and act wealthy. He was, after all , working undercover as a janitor; it suited him perfectly. Some of it started to make sense. I was almost witnessing a little class war right before my very eyes. Robert, a valedictorian and possible award winning scientist—if our lives had gone differently—embodied class and hereditary birthright. That was one issue where we always differed. I came from a regular family, middle of the road, and the FBI was a good step in the right direction for me. Did I embody something the FBI wanted all along, just based on my social status? Was I that naive? Robert still hadn’t lifted his head, what a weird day.
“The Society started to lose control of its interests in this country’s future,” Pete continued. You look around at big business now, and what do you see? Oil and technology rule everything these days. Who’s one of the richest men in the world? Bill Gates. Whose side do you think he’s on, theirs or ours? He’s on our side, of course. He represents everything we stand for, hard work and innovation. The entrepreneurs won didn’t they Robert? It must make you angry. This Society, they’re like America’s royalty, old money, and its all slipping away. Do you know why they want clones? It’s sicker than you can imagine. They want to live forever. They think they can relearn everything from generation to generation and become the smartest and wisest people on earth. Stupid isn’t it? So is the FBI against cloning? No, what do we care? We just can’t allow the Society to keep running around in new bodies for generations. If they ever get enough power back, they’ll try to take over the country. I will spare you one agonizing little detail though, it’s the least I can do, even though you shot me. Robert didn’t clone your daughter for the Society’s purposes. He just developed the technology and cloned her for his own reasons. The Society was just ready to jump all over the opportunity, and we tried to stop it. Sorry about your loss.”
“You sick bastard.”
Those were Robert’s first words since Pete started talking.
“She was just a little girl,” said Robert.
“A clone, it’s not really the same thing,” replied Pete.
“It’s a life.”
As they kept batting back and forth over semantics that started to sound quite similar to the abortion debate, I noticed that Robert’s hand had slipped inside his coat pocket where Pete couldn’t see it. I felt some rustling around and then his forearm tensed up against mine, like he was squeezing something. I decided to stay quiet while they kept at it. I noticed that Robert’s argument stayed completely trivial, appealing to Pete’s emotional side, his opinions about right and wrong, good and evil, rich and poor. Robert was stalling, and all I could think about was how long Pete would fall for it, and what he would do when he realized that Robert had tricked him. I had listened to Pete’s story, and so many emotions ran through my already strained mind. I hadn’t made a conscious decision, and then I realized that by letting Robert stall I had already made up my mind. I don’t know why I essentially decided to turn my back on the government right then and there, and embrace this Society. I only wanted Robert back. If I couldn’t have Danya at least I could have him, and stop this downward spiral of living in town after town spying on residents for year after year, alone and pathetic.
“Your little clone dream is dead in the…”
Robert had really gotten Fred going. Fred had started unloading a lifetime of lower class angst on him, getting a word in for everyone who ever felt inferior under the shadow of immense wealth. When that last word: “the,” left Fred’s mouth; he would never speak another. I wondered after that if he was going to say “water” or something else, probably “water.” I immediately reflected on how pitiful a last word to say in a person’s life, “the,” a terrible last word. When that word rolled off Fred’s tongue a bullet ripped into the side of his head, and sprayed all of those working man’s opinions across the sidewalk as he collapsed, dead before hitting the ground. Moments later a man carrying a large caliber sniper rifle came walking out of the shadows. When he removed the handcuffs Robert still had his keys in his hand.
“The panic button,” Robert showed me on his car key. “Mine’s been slightly modified. I just had to keep him talking to buy time.”
“We better go, sir.” The sniper beckoned Robert as he took his first step away.
“You coming or not?” Robert took a step back away from me. “You can still choose your side. I can’t force you. I hope you choose wisely.”
As Robert took another step back I considered everything I stood for and wanted in this world. I came from those lower middle classes that Fred so staunchly fought to preserve, but when I got caught up in the middle of the war my daughter paid the price, and I thought my husband had died. I lost everything that I cared about, except the bureau; the people who had taken it all away from me, God the irony. Maybe that’s why they kept me on the move all these years, out of touch with reality, and other agents, isolating me. Instinctively I took one step toward Robert, and then I paused, and rushed over all the memories again to see if I had missed something. “Where are the children?”
“We got ‘em. They weren’t in those buses anymore when they arrived. Fred was coming out to see what the problem was when we showed up, not to stop us.”
“Will I see them soon?”
“Of course. We’re going to them now. Everything’s being moved into an alternate facility, the children from the lab, your children. Everything will be revealed to you there. We’re starting the war Maribel. We salvaged all the necessaries from the lab, and we’ve got everything else nearly in place. Fred didn’t give you the full story. We’re not seeking immortality. The clones insure that our ideas live on. You can burn a book, and destroy anything tangible. But you can’t kill an idea Maribel. As long as we can keep clones alive, and teach them what we know, then we can’t die as a group."
“What are you fighting for?”
“Freedom of course. We didn’t split with the government because of our selfish desires. That’s just the kind of propaganda we’ve come to expect from his kind. We left because of the pattern of suppressing free thought that the government initiated. Look at the trail from McCarthyism to The Patriot Act, and shutting the borders up tighter and tighter every day. Before you know it we’ll stop asking the real questions, the ones that keep governments in line. Don’t let us become the very thing that they keep telling us we’re fighting. It’s time for you to make your choice. Help me get the bastards back who killed Danya, and ruined our family. Help us change a nation. We can still have a life, you and I. Make this easy. Come with me, please.”
Robert took another step back and extended his hand for me to take it. It looked to my eyes, at that moment, as I imagined an outstretched hand would look if I were about to fall off a cliff, like redemption. I closed my eyes and let my emotions run over me. It felt like I had laid at the bottom of a white water river gushing over my body, and let it carry everything away. And all that I felt when the water vanished was my longing to return to something, something real. I put one foot in front of the other, and followed my husband to get out of that lost little town so far from the life I knew before that plane crashed into our house, and I took Robert’s hand. My feet did the rest as I let him lead me away, hopefully to a better life. As we walked something forced me to take a look back at Fred’s lifeless body. I saw the blood dripping off the sidewalk and freezing on its journey out into the open. And I knew that I hadn’t heard the last of the FBI. I reached down and picked up the gun that Fred dropped, and we ran away.