The story so far:
His weathered cheeks carried no grin this time. He was hardly reminiscent of the playful janitor I used to see every school morning. His near-black eyes carried only the gravest of expressions; he was transformed into my enemy.
"You're not getting your children back." I thrusted the gun inches from his face. "Like hell, I'm not!"
Robert was slowly approaching me, unsure of what to do, solicitious of the situation. But I was constant, determined. I was getting those students back, replicants or not.
I eased closer. "I don't know how long you've been watching me, but it's over now. Consider this my resignation."
Pete didn't flinch. "Your attempt at humor is appreciated, but amiss. Your contract with us is more binding than you think. And besides, look at what you've brought us. Not only the engineer of the experiment", I saw Robert wince at this statement, "but the experiment itself."
"They are not some factors in an experiment! They are children... why don't you see that?" I could feel I was on the verge, ready to pull the trigger.
"Maribel, it is you who is being myopic. Look at you. Reunited with your dead husband after a decade, and willing to accept his declarations of innocence? You think he's the victim of pursuing his work? Does that excuse his abandonment? When you needed him most, after the death of your child, you think it's okay he disappeared for, as he calls it, your safety?"
Robert stepped forward this time, furious. "That's enough!"
I closed my eyes in frustration. I felt so confused. I wasn't sure why I trusted Robert. Hadn't he left me alone in my grief? When all I had loved was taken away from me, I had nothing but my work, my name, and my tears. And I was only able to rid myself of one of them.
And Pete wasn't going to let up. He stood up, regardless of the firearm in point blank range. He took two steps behind him, then began to circle the two of us in the abandoned schoolroom.
"Has Robert even told you about the side effects?" Pete asked.
"There were no side effects!" Robert shot back.
My quizzical expression included worry, fright. What the hell have I gotten into?
"What are you talking about?" I still held the gun to him, but the tremor in my arm was unmistakable, revealing my transparency.
Pete continued to circle us. "Your late husband, and his team of scientists were on the frontier of genetic and biological history. They thought they had the power of God in their hands, creating lifeforms from used genetic material. Recyclables."
I couldn't help but remember Jake, sitting in my home. Was he a replicant? What about Amy?
"The Society's puppets were creating what they thought were new lifeforms. But they were far from the truth."
I glared at him. "What told you that?"
"The work they've done, though pioneering in technique, was flawed."
"God dammit! There were no flaws! You're lying!" Robert lept towards Pete, arms outstretched and hands ready for blood. But Pete was faster, pulling out a gun from his back holster. One blast from the chamber sent a piercing round into Robert's stomach, knocking him to the ground.
"NO!!!" I raised my arms to fire, but Pete swung around and backhanded the pistol from my hands. As the gun slid across the classroom floor, I brought my elbow to Pete's face. He caught my arm, swinging behind me, grabbed my other and brought them together, putting me into submission.
"Listen to me, Maribel! This is all paradoxyl and alien to you, but you've got to understand me! You aren't hearing the whole story!"
"I don't need to hear anymore!" I was near petrified at my uselessness to help Robert, and my inability to take down an old janitor like Pete. But he wasn't a janitor. He had the moves of an agent.
"Your husband created what he thought were children, wanting to bring happiness and joy to kidless families across the globe, thinking he was the savior to infertility and infanticide. But he forgot one vital detail!"
"Please, just let me go! I need to find them!" I pleaded. I wasn't just submitting to him, I was submitting to fear. My sanity was floating away. I never expected this. How did one threat from a child turn into a science fiction massacre?
For the children... I don't want you to die...
"When formulating the procedure for replication, they thought they took everything into account. The physics, the chemistry, the biology, it was all relevant for creating cells, tissue, organs, and life. But, not human life. When calculating all factors, they forgot the one thing that connects us all to the rest of humanity."
"And what's that?!" I could feel the wetness fill my eyes.
Where had I heard that? I was hesitant to ask, but it came out of my mouth, "Twenty-one grams?"
Pete began to loosen his hold on me. I'm sure he was trusting I understood the gravity of the exigency.
"The weight of the soul. There was once a doctor in the early nineteen-hundreds that was able to measure the weight of the soul by comparing the mass of the living to when they... "shuffle off this mortal coil."
I just couldn't bear the information. I was now in the midst of national conspiracy regarding the theology and science of existence, and all I can think about was Robert, lying motionless on the ground. The crimson pool was slowly expanding underneath the small tables and chairs, reaching the boxes of puzzles and legos.
"When they played God, they didn't truly appreciate the intelligent design of a human, and what they created were subtle comparisons to the youth we've all known."
I spat back, "What does that matter? They look like children to me! They act like children!"
"They are merely a collective of cells and atoms, working together to survive just like any organism on Earth, but what they have in similarities, they lack in normalcy. They are different. They are a collective. They are NOT human!"
I jumped back, slamming Pete into the chalkboard, breaking his hold on me. I dove for the pistol, but Pete grabbed me by my hair, yanking me back to their struggle. I screamed in pain. He threw me against the wall, holding my arms above my head. He leaned in, cheek to cheek, speaking into my ear, his hot breath fogging my neck.
"When you play God, you suffer the wrath. What they've created is not the new scientific discovery of the millenium, but the extinction of everybody on this planet. Without including the twenty one grams into the equation, they doomed us all!"
He grasped both my wrists with his strong hands, while he reached back to his holster, unveiling the gun for a second time. But he didn't threaten me, didn't aim. He didn't even click off the safety.
"You understand, more than most, that the world is full of lies, deceit, and treachery. You've just stumbled upon the most important objective of the FBI, the United States, even the United Nations. Your husband, the man who lied to you, discarded you, has designed the obsoletism of us. He created a soul-less hive, all linked to their genetic relation. One day, they will unite. Disease, injury... they are all futile to the immunity that Robert created. He knew what he was doing, and he sacrificed your daugther for it."
I thought of Danya, and immedietely the tears I was holding were relinquished from my eyes. This... life. This world of cruelty and corruption... how can anyone survive this? Why did Robert have to insist on his work? Why not find me? Tell me the truth?!
"Maribel, you are a strong woman, and can't be decieved by the Society's intentions. You have the power to save the human race by destroying the catalyst."
I knew what he was getting at, and it was swimming over and over again in my mind. I was lost in a world of hatred and grief, and Danya would pop into my mind intermittently. He handed me his gun, and walked me over to Richard, who still lay on the ground, hand palming his indistinguishable gunshot wound.
"He alone knows the formula to create more of these atrocities. Without him, we can put an end to the corruption of God. Bring justice to what he did... to God, to us, to you... to your daughter. Bring him to justice."
He helped me aim the pistol at his head. I breathed heavily, unbelieving of life. Was all this true? Could Richard be held responsible? I could see a flicker from Robert's eyelids. Was he alive? Would I let him live? I had come to hate him for everything he did, in just the past couple of hours.
And then, a memory came into my head, like a cinematic intermission from the drama I've had.
It was 1996 in Iowa. I was in my study while I was supposed to be grading school papers, but opted to note my studies instead, listing off the possible criminal activity I had observed. In mid-sentence, my hand cramped, causing me to drop my pencil, and wait on the FBI mess for a minute. I massaged the space between my index finger and my thumb, allowing my thoughts to wander. I wasn't sure I was ever going to tell Robert the truth, I had concluded.
Was it fair? Probably not, but it had to be for his safety. For Danya's safety. Who knows what would happen if he found out the truth? I feared his resentment, and the possibility he'd leave me and take our daughter with him. Though, I would probably deserve it.
My pessimism was interrupted by the giggling sounds of Danya in the other room. My curiosity got the best of me, and I investigated the source, finding Robert and Danya painting pictures on her new white walls.
I asked, "What are you two doing?"
Danya replies with a wide smile, "Daddy keeps drawing weird faces, and says they're me!"
I gave a pseudo-disciplining look to Robert. "Is that true?"
Robert bows his head in fake shame. "Yes, dear."
I picked up a paint brush. "You know the rules, if you can't be nice, you get punished."
Then I pounced on Robert and began painting his face, inviting Danya to join in.
"Help! Help!" Robert exlaimed playfully.
He grabbed the paintbrush from my hands and began to paint on me, causing me to scream. He then grabs a hold of Danya, giving her a big hug.
"I love you sweetie."
"I love you too, daddy."
I got up off the floor, "All right kid, get in the shower. We'll finish this tomorrow."
She smiles and bounces out of the room. Robert's eyes followed her. I had never seen so much happiness on a person, and whenever Robert was home with the two of us, he was never angry, or frustrated.
However, sometimes, when he didn't know I was looking, I could see something like remorse from his face. Regret. And there was a hint of familiarity when I saw it. Perhaps in fear of what he was thinking, I never questioned him. Never pushed him.
And if I punished him for wanting to protect me, from hiding something from me... I'd be a hypocrit. As I held the gun, I trembled in the arms of Pete, the FBI agent undercover as a janitor. I had enough. I clenched my teeth, let out a scream of anger, then put all of my force and momentum in throwing my head backwards into Pete's face, causing him to fall behind himself.
"No", I said bluntely.
"What are you doing?! You have a duty!"
"I have a duty to those children."
"You don't know the consequences of tampering with nature. You can't experiment with the unknown!" He clutched his nose as blood flowed freely from his nostrils.
"This isn't a theocracy. And you are willing to punish innocent lives all based on a theorum." I stepped forward, infused with a level of confidence that was new, that I never felt before. "I'm no longer a puppet."
I raised the gun once more. "I'm only going to ask this, one... last... time. Where are the children?! "
He seethed at me, and in rage he stepped in large strides ready to destroy me. I raised my gun, but he gave a fist to the right side of my face, knocking me down, giving me stars. On the ground, still clutching the gun, I tried to bring it up to him, but he stepped powerfully on my wrist, wrapping his fingers around my throat. The squeeze was a pressure unknown to me.
"I will not let you be the death of us! The children are gone! Far away! And you won't be alive to find them!! Those demons will be destroyed!!"
But a foreign noise was heard. It wasn't the sound of me gasping for air, or the heavy breathing from Pete's mouth, but the explosion of gunpowder. The source was revealed when I looked at the shocked face of my aggressor. I couldn't see it, but a scarlet circle began to increase in radius across his back, and he fell over to the side.
Behind us, Robert stood holding his bleeding side in one hand, and the gun I had took from Lockley in the other. Smoke was still seeping out. He was panting, tired, and his wound was superficial.
"Why didn't you do it?" He asked me.
I got up slowly, brushing myself off. "Because as much as he thought he knew you... he didn't know you as well as I did."
He smiled at me, I smiled back. I ran to him, careless of the pain in his side, and I embraced him. Twelve years of absence...
We heard noises from outside, clutching the hilts of our weapons, ready for anything. The door burst open with Maurice and Lockley walking through it. I was still apprehensive about Lockley, but Robert gave me an assuring grip on my shoulder as he walked in front of me.
"You okay, Robert?" Maurice asked, inspecting his wound.
"Fine... actually, it stings like a bitch."
"And how about you?" Lockley's inquiry was off-putting to me, considering his abrasive behavior. Then, orientation hit me like a fist.
"The children! What about the children?!"
Maurice gave her a consoling nod. "We found them. A couple of agents had them locked up in the gymnasium."
I sighed in relief, "Thank God."
Lockley joined the conversation. "Lucky we got there when we did. It appears an agent Wilkes and an agent Chomsky had locked the exits and had an arsenic aerosol gas ready to pump into the vents."
"We followed the GPS on your SUV," Maurice concluded.
I was astounded by the deus ex machina in play. My legs feeling weak, I sat down on one of the child-size chairs. After a deep exhale of exhausted air, I finally asked, "What's next?"
Robert was the first to answer. "There are more subjects."
Robert nodded. "We're going to go after them, find them, and try and immigrate them to safety."
I stopped thinking. Almost stopped breathing. I had just struggled with her life to protect a man I thought was dead. I discovered my own government could not be trusted, and the life I had lived was destroyed.
Then I thought about the cemetary. I thought about that name, the headstone; Rachel Lynn Baker, June 2nd 1970 - April 14th 1973. I had wanted to run. Wanted to escape the empty life I had. This isn't how I expected it... but I just stumbled onto my new life. Robert was alive. I didn't need to erase my identity anymore.
"I'm going with you", I said standing up. Robert looked at me puzzled.
"You can't be serious. I've put you in enough danger-"
"We need to stop pretending we need protection, Robert. I can take care of myself."
He looked worried. I remember that worried look as it was the same he had when we lived in Iowa. I approached him, dropped the gun, and put his hands into mine.
"I've made my choice tonight, and I chose you. I chose this. We might not have the life we had before, but we can start a new one. And we'll do it with each other's help. No secrets... just us."
He smiled, "You'll be on America's most wanted list."
"I'll be right next to you", I said back. He stared into my eyes, and the world stopped spinning. He kissed me... twelve years. We were reunited.
"Okay, we've got to go now. The other subjects are north. If we keep low profiles, we'll find them, and take them to the rendezvous point." Robert got up, clutching his side with one hand, and holding mine in the other.
We left the school together, Robert and I in one car, Maurice and Lockley behind us. We drove into the future, not knowing what was in store for us. I didn't know if we'd find the others, but her students were safe, already taken by the Society's resources to the safety quarters.
In the car, I looked out my windshield, staring out at the passing trees and buildings. I felt a sense of relief and content that I haven't felt in some time. Jack was safe. Amy was safe. They all were. Robert was safe, and he was back in my life. We had a lot to make up for, and we were going to do. Maybe we'll do it right this time.
Maybe... Danya can have a sister.