"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.
.... There is more of this story ...
Science Fiction /