1. Banzai
    Offline

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK

    Someone to Watch Over Me

    Discussion in '2012 Science Fiction Contest' started by Banzai, Feb 19, 2012.

    Someone to Watch Over Me
    By Matthew S. Dent​

    ‘Shit... Is this...accurate?’

    ‘I’m afraid so.’

    Sighing, Larissa placed the printout down on the desk. She looked at Administrator West with sad eyes.

    ‘This isn’t good, sir,’ she said. ‘John--I mean, Prime; he won’t like it. Remember how he reacted when Doctor Malik left?’

    ‘I know.’ West’s expression was steely. ‘That’s why I want you to inform him. I’ll be making a general announcement in an hour. You have until then.’

    ‘Please, no.’ West’s eyes narrowed. ‘I mean--sir, please don’t make me. I can’t do this.’

    ‘Yes. You can Handler Kitscher. I’ve overlooked your relationship with Prime thus far, but if it can’t be useful to us, if you can’t do your job, then I’m not prepared to continue to do so.’

    The Administrator loaded up his computer, and began tapping away on the interface. ‘I’ll be making my announcement in one hour. You have until then. And contain his...behaviours. Am I understood?’

    Larissa didn’t answer. She was still looking at the printout. This was sure to go down badly with Prime. He had such a temper, and this would be the light to the powder keg. But she couldn’t see a way out of it.

    West looked up at her, and she sighed again. Folding the printout into three, she pocketed it and left in silence.

    #​

    Prime was on the observation deck. She’d know that he’d be there, even though he wasn’t scheduled for a break. He was gazing out of the panoramic window, silhouetted starkly against the green and blue planet below. Earth.

    ‘John...’ she said softly. He didn’t answer. For a moment she thought he hadn’t heard her.

    ‘Hello Larissa.’ She could see the shape of his shoulders, see the muscles tense as he leant on the rail. ‘Come to admire the view with me?’

    ‘No, John. I...’ She hadn’t thought through what she was going to say. She hadn’t really thought at all since leaving West’s office. She’d walked in a daze to the observation deck and, instinctually knowing where he would be, and now...

    She swallowed hard. Her throat was dry.

    ‘I have some bad news.’

    He turned slowly towards her. The soft blue light reflected off the planet, catching his features in profile. She paused, struck by the serene beauty of him. For a moment she almost forgot why she was here.

    ‘What is it?’ he asked, taking her in his arms. She didn’t resist, but was stiff and rigid, not melting into his arms.

    ‘It’s Doctor Malik,’ she told him. ‘Your father.’

    Prime drew away, looking into her eyes. ‘What about him?’

    ‘I’m sorry John. He was in São Paulo. There were protesters...dissidents. One...one shot him. He died last night. I’m so sorry.’

    John was silent. He stood like a statue at Pompeii; mouth agape, eyes wide, a snapshot in the eye of the storm of his heartbreak. Tears ran down his cheeks.

    ‘Oh John...’

    ‘You’re wrong.’ Prime pulled away from her. She grasped at him, but he shrugged her off. ‘He can’t be... Father can’t be... You’re wrong!’

    ‘Here...’ Larissa handed him the printout. ‘I know how difficult this must be. I lost my father when I was sixteen. I-’

    ‘He isn’t--He’s not--He wasn’t just my father, Larissa,’ Prime interrupted, his voice cracking. He had turned back towards the window, and was staring at the printout. ‘He’s me. Everything I am, we’re the same. I’m everything he wanted to be--and nothing like as great as him. He...can’t be...dead...’ He thrust the printout at her. His knuckles were white. Larissa cautiously reached and took it. He was a passionate man, was Malik Prime.

    ‘I can’t read it,’ he admitted in a small voice. His eyes shone with tears. ‘I can’t read it. What does it say?’

    She smoothed out the sheet, and read the words aloud. Her voice sounded hollow, even to her.

    ‘Doctor... Jonathon Markus Malik, pioneer of the Titan Orbital Defence Network, and the controversial “clone operatives” program, was pronounced dead last night. Doctor Malik had been attending a meeting with Brazilian government officials in São Paulo, regarding fears over Titan. The meeting was aborted when protestors stormed the building. Doctor Malik was evacuated through a rear exit, but was shot by an unknown assassin. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Hospital das Clínicas.’

    Prime sobbed, a sudden huge sound that filled the empty room. Larissa didn’t know what to say.

    ‘Those bastards...’ Prime whispered. ‘Why don’t they realise? He saved them, goddamnit! Without him, without Titan, without us--they would have annihilated themselves decades ago.’

    ‘Don’t think about it John,’ Larissa told him putting her arms around him. Her hand rested on his breast, and she could feel his heart hammering away against his ribcage. ‘Things are a mess down there, but that’s why we’re here. They need more time to adjust. In a few more decades, things on Earth will have calmed down and the population will accept Titan. Things will be as peaceful down there as up here. You know that, John. You know the plan.’

    He shook his head. ‘It’s not enough,’ he said, bitterly. ‘It’s not working. It’s not fast enough! Father was wrong. If they couldn’t appreciate him, after all that he’s done... If they could murder him, after he saved them... It’s not fast enough.’

    He turned away, walking towards the door with long angry strides. Larissa already felt pushed to the periphery.

    ‘John...’ she called. ‘John, please don’t go...’

    But her voice bounced off his back, and she was left helplessly watching as he disappeared into the catacombs of the station. She slumped against the rail, whilst far below her the planet earth turned obliviously.

    #​

    As he stalked the corridors of Titan Station, tears blurred Malik Prime’s vision, and his mind spun orbits of denial. Doctor Malik was dead? Doctor John Malik. The man from whose DNA Prime had been grown. The man who had dedicated his entire life to the betterment of mankind, to saving the teeming masses from themselves.

    And the bastards had killed him. Prime knew, of course, about the disease, crime and poverty rampant on Earth. But he also knew his father’s plan. Given time the situation would move, with gathering speed, towards utopia. That was the plan. That had been the plan.

    For more than fifteen years, Prime had been the principle operator of the world’s nuclear and conventional arsenals, surrendered to the magnum opus of his father’s genius. For the last seven years, he had performed that role without the guidance of the man himself, and under the nominal direction of Jacob West.

    Prime still remembered the day Father had left. He remembered burying his anger, as he watched Malik board the shuttle for the final time. All of the clones had been there that day. All two-hundred-and-something of them. And only Prime with any iota of personality.

    Prime was the prototype, the aberration. That was how the handlers considered him. And probably his brothers thought the same--if they were indeed capable of having independent thought. The general public planetside would agree, if they knew. The idea of anyone even slightly human in command of so much power would tip the unrest into full-scale revolution.

    Prime swore, and kicked something lying in the corridor. He didn’t know what it was, but it sounded metallic bouncing off the walls. As the years had trickled past, he had always expected Father to return. The knowledge that he never now would had shattered Prime’s world.

    Ahead down the corridor, he heard voices. He drew the back of his hand over his eyes, and when it made no difference to his blurred vision scrubbed at them with more vigour, until his vision cleared enough to be able to discern more than shapes and impressions.

    Two Malik-clones stood together, talking. They either hadn’t noticed him, or were ignoring him. Prime suspected the latter. As he drew closer, he could make out the numbers on their uniforms. Zero-Three-Seven, and Two-One-Zero.

    Prime smiled. One older, one younger. They looked the same age though. Malik clones were born looking twenty five, and would stay that way for...well, no one knew for certain. But Prime was awoken seventeen years ago and, to look at him, hadn’t aged a day.

    ‘Have you heard the news?’ he asked them, darkly.

    They looked at him nervously, unable to ignore him any longer. Prime suspected they thought he was drunk. He probably looked it. Eyes bloodshot, slouching under the weight of hopelessness. But he hadn’t touched a drop in nearly three years. After the last time, West had forbidden him to drink. It hadn’t been hard to enforce--the other clones didn’t, and neither did most of the handlers. Prime wasn’t sure there was a drop left on the station.
    ‘Father is dead,’ he told them with a sigh, hating the words as they rolled off his tongue.

    They stared blankly at him for a few moments, before sharing a glance between them. ‘Father?’

    ‘My father!’ Prime snapped. ‘Our father!’

    They shared another glance. Two-Hundred-and-Ten spoke up. ‘We don’t have a father, Prime.’

    ‘We’re clones,’ Thirty-Seven agreed. ‘The closest thing we have to a father is the cloning vat.’

    Prime wondered for a moment if they were joking. But the clones had no sense of humour. They also had little understanding of metaphors. Prime was not feeling sympathetic towards that particular deficiency.

    ‘And Doctor Malik?’ he asked. ‘The man who made you? From his own DNA? In his own image? The man who died yesterday, in São Paulo?’

    ‘Doctor Malik is dead?’ Thirty-Seven asked; surprised, but still with an air of disinterest.

    ‘I hadn’t heard,’ Two-Hundred-and-Ten added, also looking less than concerned by the news.

    ‘Fucking clones! Don’t you understand? You owe everything to him. Your existence, your purpose. He might as well be a God to us. And now he’s gone!’

    ‘We still have the handlers,’ Two-Hundred-and-Ten countered.

    ‘Doctor Malik hasn’t been in charge for years,’ Thirty-Seven said. ‘Administrator West runs things now. The Titan network will continue. You don’t need to worry Prime.’

    ‘Worry?’ Prime fumed. ‘I’m not worried! I don’t give a shit about Titan! My father is dead, you fucking clones. Don’t you feel anything?’

    Thirty-Seven looked a little taken aback--the first real sense of emotion Prime had gotten from him. Two-Hundred-and-Ten looked placid and cool as always.

    ‘You’re a clone as well, Prime,’ Thirty-Seven told him. ‘You would do well to remember that. For all your aberrations, we are the same and share the same purpose. Doctor Malik’s death is inconsequential to the greater good, and you know it.’

    Prime could feel his temper slipping out of his grasp. He couldn’t have stopped it, even if he had been minded to. The chain reaction had progressed too far, from hearing about Doctor Malik’s death to this argument with two of his brothers. It was his burden, the prime aberration that Thirty-Seven had referred to. His temper was something unique, shared by neither his brothers, nor his father.

    ‘You goddamn, sonofabitch clone!’ Prime struck suddenly and with practiced strength. His fist struck the clone in the face, sending a force of shock and spike of pain up Prime’s arm. He ignored it.

    Thirty-Seven reeled, his head snapping back painfully. But before either could react, Prime’s knee caught him in the chest, knocking the wind from his body. The clone fell to his knees, unable to counter.

    With a malice Prime had never before seen in himself, an anger rising from the pit of his stomach, Prime grabbed the dazed clone in a headlock and gave his neck a sharp twist.

    The crack as it broke was softer than Prime had expected, but shook him nonetheless. The anger was gone instantly, leaving him in the sudden stillness of the storm blown out. Thirty-Seven’s lifeless body slipped to the ground.

    Two-Hundred-and-Ten looked at him with horror. ‘What have you done?’

    Prime wondered the same thing. He looked down at Thirty-Seven’s body. It could have been asleep but for the odd angle of the neck and the wide, vacant eyes.

    ‘Shit...’ he breathed.

    Murder. In the fifteen-year history of Titan, there had never before been a murder on the station. Titan was utopia, perfection. The closest thing to heaven any human had ever created. This was Cain and Abel. Worse, even. Thirty-Seven had been more than Prime’s brother. He had been Prime.
    Fresh tears spilling down his cheeks, Prime stumbled back down the corridor. New waves of grief and anger washed over him, but somehow in all of it his mind was clear. For the first time since Larissa had told him the news, he knew what he had to do.

    #​

    ‘Have you found him?’

    Larissa approached a group of figures. Three of them wore the blue and yellow uniforms of handlers. One was a Malik-clone, in dark blue fatigues with the numbers two one zero stitched onto his breast.

    The clone looked grim. She wondered whether he had heard the news of Doctor Malik’s death. Perhaps they had overestimated the clones’ pragmatism in the face of bereavement. Perhaps the death of their creator had sparked something into life in them, something which had always been awake in Prime.

    But no. Her fellow handlers were giving her dark looks, too.

    ‘What?’

    They parted, letting her see the sleeping form of a clone on the floor. It took her a moment to notice the drab colour of the skin, and the odd angle of his neck. Looking closer, she saw that one of his eyes was halfway open, as if it had been clumsily closed by an inexperienced hand.

    ‘Is he...dead?’ One of the handlers nodded, still looking at her darkly. ‘How?’

    ‘Why don’t you ask your pet?’ the handler asked. He was male, with a scrub of blonde hair. The stubble on his jaw, and the slight bloodshot redness of his eyes said he had been on a double shift.

    ‘You mean John? No, Prime couldn’t have done this.’

    ‘Handler Kitscher!’ a voice barked behind her. ‘We need to talk.’

    Swallowing nervously, she turned and approached West. The station administrator was seething, his jaw clenching and unclenching, and a vein on his temple bulging forebodingly.

    ‘What. The. Fuck?’ he demanded in a staccato hiss.

    ‘I--I don’t know sir,’ she answered hurriedly. Her heart was racing, her palms were sweaty, and her voice rose an octave. She tried to assimilate this development, but her brain wouldn’t accept it. ‘John can’t have done this. He’s not capable of murder.’

    West looked over at the corpse, jaw working furiously. ‘Have you given him alcohol?’

    ‘What?!’

    ‘Have you given him alcohol?’ he repeated, forced calmness betraying the tempest raging beneath the surface. ‘He was always aggressive when he was drunk. That was why I forbade it. I can see I was very mistaken to allow your “relationship” to continue.’

    ‘I didn’t give him alcohol!’ Her breath was ragged and shallow now, and she wondered if she was having a panic attack. ‘I wouldn’t. Especially not when he was so upset.’

    ‘He’s gone too far this time.’ West moved towards the corpse and Larissa followed, waiting as he squatted beside it for closer inspection. ‘Two-Hundred-and-Ten says Prime killed Thirty-Seven. Snapped his neck, and ran off. I’ll have to have him neutralised for this, Kitscher.’

    ‘You can’t!’ Outrage took her. ‘John is a living person, not an animal or a machine. You can’t just put him down like a stray dog. He wouldn’t murder a fellow Malik!’

    West fixed her with a hard, steely gaze. She felt tears behind her eyes. ‘The procedure has been available from the beginning. I always knew that if ever we had to use it, it would be on Prime. He’s too unstable. If Doctor Malik hadn’t insisted, I would have-’

    The administrator was interrupted by a klaxon, which Larissa was momentarily glad of. Everyone looked up at the strips of fluorescent lights running along both edges of the ceiling. They flashed red and white: combat.

    Someone was arming the weapon systems.

    ‘John...’ she whispered. West and the handlers, in a sudden panic, didn’t notice her. ‘Oh John, what have you done? What are you doing?’

    #​

    The door to Weapons Control was heavy and thick; designed to keep people out. It seemed stupid now, but Prime supposed that the station had been built in different times. Right now, he was glad of the paranoia that had given the blast doors three separate and different locks.

    He smiled. On the monitor set into the array, he could see the camera feed from outside. West was there, with a small group of handlers and clones. He noted with a pang of--of something, an emotion he couldn’t quite pin down--that Larissa was amongst them. The others seemed to blame her for what he was doing. That was unfortunate.

    He turned back to the array, finishing the arming process with a flutter of his fingers. The machine beeped away happily.

    He realised this was probably the first time that the device had performed its function. Eight hundred Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles were now active. The launchers in geo-stationary orbit above Earth turned their deadly projectiles on the planet they were supposed to be saving.

    ‘Prime!’ West’s voice came through excessively loud, through the microphone and speakers. Prime dialled the volume down. ‘Prime, what the hell are you doing? Open this door now! That is an order! Cease the arming process, and let me in!’

    ‘I don’t take orders from you,’ Prime whispered. The microphone was turned off, so West couldn’t hear him, but that wasn’t the point.

    He half-watched the camera feed, as Larissa approached West. She whispered something inaudible, which the Administrator answered in a harsh, but equally incomprehensible, bark. Larissa insisted.

    After a moment watching the silent melodrama unfold, and updating the targeting data as the network requested it, Prime saw West turn to the camera. His expression was grim; resigned but not without an edge of determination.

    ‘Handler Kitscher is coming in,’ he said. ‘Open the door, Prime.’

    Prime considered a moment, hand hovering over the door control. He was sure that West would try to charge the door. But still, the temptation to have her with him was powerful.

    He keyed the microphone.

    ‘Back away, West,’ he said. West looked startled. He had about forgotten the cameras. ‘You and all your people. Back away from the door, and I’ll open it for Larissa.’

    They reluctantly obeyed. They formed a semicircle about a metre behind Larissa, who stood in front of the door, waiting. Prime pushed a button, and the door slid open. As soon as Larissa crossed the threshold, he closed it again, pre-empting the inevitable surge of handlers.

    ‘John, what are you doing?’ Larissa ran to him, snaking her arms around his chest. The feel of her cheek pressed against his back gave him pause for a moment. ‘You’ve armed the weapons.’

    ‘Yes.’ He forced his mind back to the task, and added another set of target coordinates. ‘Yes, I have. Don’t worry, it’s all part of the plan.’

    ‘What plan?’

    Prime turned and smiled at her. ‘My father’s plan.’

    ‘But... Doctor Malik’s plan was peace!’ She turned him around by the shoulder, her face a picture of desperate despair. ‘He took the weapons away from humanity to bring them together. So that crime and war and poverty would end. He didn’t want genocide!’

    ‘Neither do I!’ Prime snapped. ‘I don’t want this any more than Father did. But it’s the only way the plan can succeed now. Father understood that. He saw the original plan failing. Why do you think he kept me alive? Even when West wanted me neutralised?’

    ‘Because he respected life, John!’ Her face was slick with tears. ‘You were the closest thing he had to a son. He would never have allowed you to be killed. He wouldn’t have let any of his clones be killed. And he wouldn’t have been able to kill everyone.’

    ‘But I’m not him,’ Prime whispered. ‘And I’m not a clone. They murdered my Father. He tried to save them, and they killed him. He loved them, and they killed him. But even in his death, he wanted to rescue them from themselves.

    ‘I won’t let his last plan fail. I’m going to finish this. No more war, no more poverty, no more crime. No more suffering, Larissa! Can you imagine it? Humanity saved, by the very anger that West wanted me neutralised for.’

    ‘But humanity will be destroyed...’

    Prime laughed. It was cold and harsh, but she heard the love in its undertones.

    ‘No it won’t,’ he said softly, taking her in his arms. He held her gently, feeling the warmth of her body against him. ‘Humanity will be given a second chance. Reborn from the ashes. Reborn from us, here on Titan. You said it yourself, this is the utopia Father wanted for Earth. It’ll take a while, but we’ll get there. I’m just taking a shortcut.’

    He kissed her, deep and soft. She closed her eyes, losing herself in the kiss, unable to watch as he pressed the button dooming eight billion people below. He held her close, and whispered, ‘I love you.’

    She wept silently. He told her that they would feel no pain, and she was ashamed to find comfort in it.

    Together they watched as the mushrooms blossomed on the dying earth. Behind them, handlers and clones beat against the door in futility. Beneath them, humanity cried out in a silenced scream. Larissa rested her head on Prime’s chest.

    ‘I love you too.’
     

Share This Page