The story so far:
“These aren’t your children. I think someone already told you, they’re not children at all, Ms. B.” He pulled the door open and stepped aside to let us pass. They’re genetic material that happens to walk and talk. They have no conscience, no intellect... no soul.”
“You make a poor liar,” I spat as I motioned with the gun for Robert to enter the building. “They’re innocent children, no matter how they were made. You’re justifying your corruption by telling yourself lies.” I slipped through the doorway and nodded for Robert and Pete to walk across the hall toward the gym. The gun felt heavy in my outstretched hands.
Suddenly, I caught in my peripheral vision a quick movement outside the door. Too slowly, I swung the gun around to point it outside. Just as the doors slammed shut, Robert grabbed me from behind. We struggled briefly for the gun. He wrenched it out of my sweaty hand and handed it behind him to Pete. Robert held my arms against my sides and we both paused when we heard the chains being wrapped around the door latches outside.
I knew it was useless to resist. “Great,” I sighed, “taken prisoner in a school with armed madmen and soul-less children. The children are here, aren’t they, Pete?”
He nodded, limply holding the gun down at his side, “Oh they’re here, Ms. B. They’re just not children.” I rolled my eyes. How long were they going to play this game?
Robert gestured to Pete to open the gym doors. “Let her see them, Pete. Then she’ll understand.” He took my hand and led me to the opening of the gym.
The children were there, all right. The little figures filled the gym in neat rows along the painted lines on the floor. “Wait- who are all these children?” I stammered in disbelief. My classroom had only contained 20, and although there had been more than that on the street outside the bus station, there were hundreds, maybe thousands, in this gym. “Where did they all come from?”
The children looked up in unison. Jake stepped out of line to approach me. “We came from all over the world, Ms. B. We all gathered together here on this night because it’s time for the awakening. It’s time to go, Ms. B. Will you come with us, Ms. B? Will you be comi- al-lm maah....” His cheek twitched and his hand flew to his head.
“Back in line, Jake.” Pete gave him a shove and Jake stumbled backwards and fell to the floor among the rows of his peers. He lay on the floor, his hand on his head, his legs stiff and unmoving. He looked like a tiny mannequin. Very weird, and not the Jake I knew.
I started forward to help him up, but Pete grabbed my arm and held me at the door. “They’re what’s left of this phase of the experiment. The time has come to move to phase two, and it’s easier when we do them all together,” Pete said. “I hate it when they look at me. LEFT FACE,” he shouted, “SIT.” The children stomped a quick left like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade drill team, then thundered to the floor in one motion.
Thousands of children sitting seemed less threatening, that was for sure. In class, we used to sit together- we called it criss-cross applesauce- but this was different. They were all sitting stiffly on the floor, knees bent straight up, their feet planted in front of them. It was definitely unnatural.
“What have you done to them?”
“This is what they become, Maribel. They are ten years old now, and their life span is over.” Robert put his hand gently on my shoulder. “This is what would have happened to our little Danya.”
I slapped his hand away. “Don’t you talk to me about Danya. You were her father, and you betrayed her. She could have lived a long, fulfilling life.”
“No, Maribel. We were only successful in replications up to age ten, remember? After that, they start to decompose and we have to replace them with older versions of themselves.”
I gasped, “What are you talking about? Replace them? There are more of these atrocities out there?”
“They’re at the bus station. They will go to their assigned homes, get into bed, and awake to start their new lives as the same children they replaced.” Robert was patient in his explanation, speaking slowly so I could absorb it. “We had to get you away from the bus station so we could receive the transfer for the awakening.”
“So...” I was starting to get it. “In another ten years...” It still wasn’t real.
Robert nodded. “They will be replaced again. But by then, we will have weeded a few out- the ones with the clingy parents, usually. Most of the others live on their own by age twenty, so we can make up a background story for them and they just disappear into adult society, or so their family and friends think. We haven’t had to do it yet- the replication process is still developing, but we plan on building actual adult replacements for only a few of those in more urban areas, in public roles of society.” His eyes darkened. “If we’re lucky, we can even get one or two into government positions and have an easier time of all this... eventually.”
This can’t be real. “I still don’t believe you. How can you be making people? How can you be manipulating the human race? You don’t see anything wrong with this?” He was not the man I had fell in love with all those years ago.
Pete looked back at me with his tired eyes and shrugged, “It’s only a job, Ms. B. Not much different that a schoolteacher or janitor, I guess.”
“Wait.” I looked at the gym full of replicants. “What are you going to do with all of these when they’re replaced?”
Robert took my hand tenderly. “We’re all dispensable, Maribel. If any of us would disappear, the world would keep revolving. We’ll be forgotten, eventually.”
I felt sick to my stomach. “No!” I ran to the door, only faintly hearing Pete's warning to back away. “It’s not true!” I screamed, pummeling the door with futile fists. “Let me out! You can’t do this!”
The front page article was exceptionally well-written this time, thought Lockley as he drained the last drops of his coffee. He folded the paper with an air of satisfaction and swiveled in his leather chair to look out at the sky. Next time, we’ll have to keep better control of the replicants, but overall, it all turned out as expected.
GYM EXPLOSION DUE TO FAULTY GAS VALVE
The elementary school gymnasium building was destroyed in a late-night explosion. The school was closed for the night and unoccupied, so police investigators believe that no further investigation is warranted. “That old building was due for a remodel anyway,” Mayor Lockley said, “This gives us the opportunity to rebuild an essential part of our community. We want to provide the best facilities possible for our young people. After all, our children give us hope for the future.” Any donations for the new building may be sent directly to Mayor Lockley.