"I heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley."
- Bob Dylan - "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"
The small jet speeder tore through the air, leaving a long, but rapidly vanishing vapour trail. The old man sitting inside sighed wearily. Even at this speed, the huge, gleaming metal spire did not seem to be getting any closer. He did not even have the opportunity of piloting the small craft to relieve the monotony - everything was automated. He leaned back in the plushly upholstered seat, and closed his eyes. it was a shame - such a beautiful world - but it would, inevitably, soon be torn apart by war. His aged heart was heavy with the thought.
At its approach, large, slightly curved doors swung open to accept the jet, and the man rose. As the ship rolled to a halt, he stepped up to the doors and punched the 'release' button. There was a hiss of hydraulics, and the door swung open, then slid into the fuselage. The air outside was cold, compared to the controlled environment of the transport, and the old man shivered momentarily. Walking down the now-extended gantry, he was met by a small, hovering robot. It was built from golden metal, floated about one and a half metres above the ground, and looked, he felt, rather sinister. It said nothing, but beckoned with its sharp, cold hand for the man to follow it. He hated the flying things, but had to admit they were more efficient than people.
He trailed the robot down the long corridors, until it led him into the giant cloning halls. They stretched for miles ahead of him, covering, in all, approximately seventy-four square miles. Layers upon layers of humanoid forms hung suspended within tall, thin, egg shaped containers. The man stepped onto a platform with barriers, which swung away from the gantry around the edge of the brobdignagian room, and sped him towards the centre, towards his own three clones.
The platform slowed and stopped, and the man clambered down the millenia old steps leading to his doppelgangers. The steps were formed from the rock of the cavern floor that the room had been created in. They showed the wear of the millions of people that had traversed them in their time, and the man found it a little difficult to keep his balance on the rounded and smooth stone. He reached the base of the outcrop, and stared up at the three indetical copies of himself, kept in permanent suspended animation. They were not frozen, or in stasis. They had simply never been born. They had lived for the one hundred and sixty-five years of the man's existence inside artificial wombs, only ever being disturbed to use as tissue donors. The man had never called on them much, he had had a relatively safe childhood. Only one set of clones along, two of the pods contained only skulls attached to spines. Placing his wizened hand on the smooth, soft, warm surface of the protein shell of the centre clone, he breathed a sigh of remorse. He knew it was wrong, what he was about to do, but it would be more wrong for him not to do it. The war was coming, he was sure of it, and to leave the clones here to be awakened would be like condemning them to a life of hell. To be born, already one hundred and sixty-five years old, would be a fate worse than death. Closing his eyes, he slid his hand down the pod, and onto the control panel in front of him. He hovered his finger above the button for a moment, as if still deciding whether to go through with it or not, but then suddenly his finger shot down and pressed the 'kill' switch. His clones jerked and spasmed, and streams of bubbles escaped from various orifices, mainly their mouths. He span on his heel, and made his way up the steps, back onto the platform, turning his back forever on the world he had known. He moved as fast as he could back to his jet, and left.
The metal behemoth strode across the ruined landscape. Inside, it cradled a living being, but to anything outside it was a cold, heartless monster. For two decades it had roamed the planet, mot slowing for mountains, or seas, or even what remnants there were of civilisation. Now, finally, it was coming to the end of its journey. The single remaining vestige of the long-past ideals. The wars of clone liberation had taken a heavy toll on the planet. Most of its ruling humanoid race had been wiped out. Many species of fauna were gone, obliterated forever. The little flora that remained was bleak, and unloved. The clawed, ruthless predators that had mutated from the fiercest creatures of the past had no effect on the massive feet of the battle suit. However, were it simply the woman inside, they would tear her apart before she could even blink. They were the single most efficient killers that the planet had ever seen. Only now did the few remaining men and women realise the folly of conflict. Only now, when it was too late.
The giant battle suit reached the base of the huge tower. It was scarred from battle, but was still essentially in one piece. It had been ground zero of the first major assault of the wars. It survived only due to the vacuum created directly under a nuclear blast. Nothing but the radiation had struck it. The behemoth stood, it's lifeless eyes staring up at the structure. Raising its arm, it fired a grappling hook the size of an ocean liner's anchor, attached to a cable thinker than a tree, to a ledge nearly three miles up. The cable tightened, and, motors whirring, the humanoid fighting machine began to rise slowly up the featureless face of the spire.
First one, then another huge hand clamped onto the ledge, and the suit pulled itself up and stood before the doors. With one mighty punch, it crumpled them. With another, it smashed them off their hinges and into the dark, musty air of the room within. An echoed clang signified their arrival at the other end. The suit crouched under the top of the opening, and stood fully once inside. A panel that covered its groin swung open, and a pipe extended from behind it. At once, liquid spewed forth, followed shortly by a human form. The disgorged woman lay naked in the steaming fluid, quivering. For the last three months, the battle suit's computers had been training her muscles for the outside world, but it was still not enough. They were still in atrophy from the years of neglect, and the woman could not bring herself to her feet. She simply lay there, curled up in a ball, and waited. Sure enough, the slightly addled computer brains of the maintenance robots still functioned. Two of the golden machines floated quickly towards her out of the darkness, and grasped an arm each. They lifted her from the floor, and rushed her quickly to the cloning tanks.
She stepped forth, hours later, refreshed. Drying herself of the cloning fluid with a large towel, she took hold of some robes and pulled them on. She walked from the room, and was met by a hovering robot. It beckoned, and she followed it. It led her down the long corridors, into the giant hall that used to contain three cloned versions of everyone alice on the planet. Now, it was simply a sea of melted protein shells, bitter reminders of the 'liberation' of the clones. The clones has not been liberated. They had never been designed to live. Within (at the most) four years of being born, they had all died. She shook her head in sadness, and stepped onto a platform. It flew away from the gantry, and took her towards the centre of the hall, towards the only remaining clones in the entire complex. Their original had killed them shortly before the war broke out, and then taken his own life on his way back to his home, where the police had been waiting for him. His act had, technically, been murder - but so had what the authorities had been doing. Now, his final, desperate act could be what saved the race. The woman leapt with the ease of a newly-rejuvenated gymnast off the platform and down the steps, landing lightly before the three tall, thin, egg shaped pods. Inside were three hunched over, dead human forms. Each was over one hundred and sixty years old, but that made no difference. She hit a switch on the control panel, and the middle pod wobbled, rippled, then split open and poured its liquid contents across her. The naked dead body of the man fell from the pod and into the woman's arms. She rushed back up the steps and onto the platform - she had to get it to another tank before it started its long-postponed decomposition.
The body had already started to rot by the time she got it into the healing waters of a cloning tank, but it stopped within a minute of immersion. She beckoned for a robot hovering in the corner of the room to come along and work the machine - she did not know how. it lowered itself to the right level without saying a word (they were always silent), and pressed buttons faster than the human eye could see. While she waited, the woman removed her sodden robes, and stepped into a radiation shower, her long black hair hanging limply down her back, sticking to her skin. About five minutes later, she stepped out again - clean and dry. A second robot handed her some more flattering clothes, and she climbed into them in the name of modesty. Walking over to the occupied tank, she watched as the robot made the cloning process happen. A long needle was pressed into the dead flesh of the body within, and genetic material removed. It passed through pipelines and computer systems, and was injected into a second tank. The greenish liquid inside that tank began to pulsate with energy, and the microscope viewscreen showed the newly-created cells burst into life and multiply. This clone would be made to last. Before long, the quickly splitting cells became visible to the naked eye. Within twenty-four hours, a fully grown human being would be created. It would only have the most basic animal instincts, but that was all that was needed.
"I just don't understand how you can justify treating living beings in this way!" exploded the old man, his companion quite taken aback by the outburst. "Sit down, Van." said the man behind the extravagant desk. "It's not like you haven't done it yourself, you know." Van-el seethed in quiet anger, his mind working overtime to formulate a response. Suddenly it hit him. "Not since a brash and reckless youth!" he exclaimed. "For over a century I have left those clones in peace!" Bar-ak had to admit that was true. Van's last need from his clones had been a new liver - almost one hundred and thirty years previously. It was a pity that those he sympathised with were not as placid as he. Anti-cloning rallies had become violent in the past months, and the protesters had grown in number. The powers that be were scared of a full scale revolution, and were on the brink of declaring martial law. Bar sighed. "I won't dispute that, my old friend." he said. "But even you must know that there's nothing we can do. The clones are here to stay, and we both know it. The protesters are still the minority. Most people are not going to give up on their easy, carefree lives." Van slammed the book he was holding down on the desk. Flakes of the ancient, fragile paper broke away. Bar-ak was jolted by the action. It was so out of character for the old man. He was one of the few people that still used paper, rather than the cheaper, more efficient electronic sources. "No." he said, sadly. "But soon enough their 'easy, carefree lives' are going to be taken away from them." he walked to the open window, and stepped across the three hundred or so foot drop into his dutifully and silently hovering jet. Bar leaned across, keeping his feet firmly on the ground inside his office. He knew all of the safety features built into the walls, but he wasn't sure of them working. "Just don't do anything stupid, Van." he said, as the old man buckled himself into his anti-acceleration seat. "I wouldn't want anything to happen to you." Van looked over his shoulder at his friend. "It's too late for that, Bar. Goodbye." The gullwing door swung shut, and closed with a satisfying *clunk*. Bar-ak closed his window to protect himself from the red-hot winds produced with the jet's departure, and watched it vanish over the horizon, a bright point of light against the darkening twilight of the sky.
She came back later in the evening, to find that floating within the tank was the body of a twelve year old boy. Before long, it would have reached her own age of twenty-five, and could be awoken. She hoped to the ancient, discarded gods that this would work - otherwise, the race was doomed to extinction. A genetic fault had occurred, mainly due to the increased background radiation from the wars. The generation born after her could not reproduce. The males of her generation were also sterile. The only hope was to awaken a male of the past, and to restart the race. She could only hope that their attempt would work. She studied the boy's face through the glass. 'Good.' she thought. 'At least he's not going to be ugly.' She allowed a small smile to creep across her lips, before banishing it again. This was no time to be jolly. her entire race's future relied on this one man. And a host of women, including her, but no-one ever mentioned that. She span on her heel and walked out of the room again.
An hour later, a golden robot floated through the open door of the room she was asleep in, and shook her awake. She looked blearily at it, through half-closed eyes, then it suddenly registered why she had been woken. She jerked herself upright, and frantically asked the robot, "Is... is it... is it time?" The robot nodded, and turned to lead her out, but she was already gone. Her bare feet pounded against the cold metal floor as she raced towards the cloning room. the door slid open with a hiss, and had the robot within been capable of surprise, it would have leapt six feet in the air at her entry. "That's it?" she asked, dashing up to the robot. "We can let him out?" It nodded, and pressed buttons on the control panel. There was a rushing, gurgling sound, and the greenish liquid drained from the tank, leaving a rather bedraggled looking young man curled up in the bottom. A robotic arm reached down into the tank, and lifted the man out. The woman took him in her arms, and held him up. He was beginning to stir. A jerk, a twitch, and suddenly a rush of the liquid spewed from between his lips. He emptied his lungs, and took his first breath of air. He smiled, and looked at the woman holding him. the smile dropped from his face, and he leapt back, landing on slightly unsteady feet. He struggled to keep his balance, but failed, so the woman jumped forawrd to catch him. "Shh, shh." she said, to calm him down. "Don't worry. I'm a friend. Do you understand? Friend. I won't hurt you." He looked up at her, his head spinning, and said, slowly, "Fri-end?" She smiled. Good. The computers had performed their purpose. He could speak. He was exactly like a twenty-five year old in every way, with the minor difference that he only had one or two minutes of memories. He would need a while to get used to talking, but it would come. "Come on," she said, helping him to his feet, "let's get you in that shower. Get you clean." She helped him across, and he leaned against the shower wall while the energised particles swarmed across his body, cleaning and drying him. Minutes after, the woman opened the door and helped him out again. A robot handed her some clothes, and she helped him into them, then led him down the corridor to get some food.
Science Fiction /