Louise ruffled through her drawers, looking for the family heirlooms and keepsakes she kept hidden in case of a break-in. She had a small, rough sack into which she placed the items with care. “Why'd he have to do that?” she grumbled to herself. “Being the hero and all that. I mean, I'm proud of him, but still...I don't like this. One hair on the back of my neck stands up. Somethin' ain't right here.”
Sebastian walked into the room, saying nothing. He held his head low, avoiding her gaze. He pulled out the drawer to his chipped wooden nightstand and emptied the ammunition into his satchel, the bullets rattling against each other. “They're gonna be here within the hour,” he mentioned, facing away.
“Yup,” she replied, taking her leave.
There was a long silence. Sebastian looked out of his window.
In the distance he saw a ship hovering ten feet above the road, approaching the homestead. “They're coming,” he hollered downstairs, slinging the satchel over his shoulder. Traw slipped a revolver into his holster and clipped it in. He hustled down the stairs to see Luella and Louise standing by the front door, waiting for him. Their faces were bleak, yet bearing the mask of tranquility. Something ain't right here, Sebastian thought, locking the back door and shifting a chair in front of it. But it's just two years. Then we'll all be safe and happy. Just two years.
Then he heard the bellowing horn of the GAM transport waiting outside. Though Sebastian couldn't place why, it felt like a dirge to him. “You sure that'll hold?” Louise asked, pointing to the chair barricading the back door.
“Mike's gonna drop by every week or two and check on the place. Now go, both of y'all.”
Louise and Luella exited the front door, Sebastian following after checking the windows again. He lingered at the front door, looking behind him. The old house always seemed so full of life, despite its squalid, shambling state. Something else brought youth and energy into it. Now it was gone, leaving only the filthy shell of the physical frame. He shut the door, shuffling the memory back into his mind where all the other foul ones went.
The ship was parked on the ground, a dark hatch opened. Two GAM troopers stood by the hatch, armed with rifles. As he walked along the driveway, he noticed four mounted turrets along the hull of the ship. He lowered his head from the wind-generating propellers overhead. Before entering the vehicle, he asked one of the troopers, “Is there a reason you've got so many guns on this thing? It's a transport vessel, ain't it?”
“You'd be surprised how much resistance we face,” one of them answered. “We've been doing these people civil favors, the least they could do is refrain from shooting at us. Get in your seat now, sir.”
Traw buckled into his seat, next to Luella, Louise sitting on the other side. The cabin of the vessel became dark, lit by three strips of green lights overhead. The hatch shut closed, sealing the cabin airtight. “Please ensure that you're properly buckled,” the pilot said from the overhead speakers. “No passengers are allowed access to the rear cabin for any reason or under any circumstances. Only officers may enter. ETA 57 minutes.”
A tall, lanky man walked into the cabin, bowing his head under the doorframe. His movements were slow, like a tree swaying in the breeze. He wore a simple, gray outfit made of smooth cloth. His stick-like arms carried an electronic tablet: something Traw had only seen on rare occasion. “Here you are, Master Traw,” the man said gently, handing a tablet to Traw.
“Master? No, son, I'm just a cattle farmer. I ain't got any authority,” Traw corrected, laughing momentarily.
“You are mistaken, Master Traw. I have been assigned to accompany you until you release me from service, at which point I will receive a name and be granted legal citizenship under the GAM. I can assist you in multiple ways, as I am proficient in a vast array of skills that may prove useful.” The manservant sat down across from Traw, his hands folded inward between his knees and his neck bent in a forward position.
Traw was unsure of what to say. He looked over at his wife, who was asleep. Luella was also, her head resting against Sebastian's arm. He reckoned they must have had little sleep, just as much as he did. The only difference was he was used to it.
“So why don't we start with a name,” Traw began.
“What do you mean, twelve? I said a name.”
“That is my name. Or rather, my numeral. I was constructed at Cordlow Industries, Manufacturing Compound 117. In my group of twenty-five organic units, I was assigned the numeral twelve. Until I am bidden release by my master, I must refer to myself by that numeral.”
“Clones, Master Traw. Cordlow Industries provides the GAM with an array of goods, the foremost of which is clones. Do you ever notice people in your city who seem similar in build and facial structure?”
“I guess so, yeah. Now that you mention it, a lot of them did seem strangely alike.”
“Exactly. Those clones were already released, and took on names. They are free to do as they please until death.”
“So you were...created? With twenty-four others?”
“That is correct. As of the latest galactic census, there are 3.7 billion clones, all of whom have been manufactured by Cordlow Industries, as they hold the only patent. Approximately four hundred million of those clones are free citizens. Our CEO, Abraham Fortinger, recently released a statement that declared the new military face of cloning be installed, producing a new wave of combat-ready clones, over the next seven years. Until now, we have been programmed with the distinct inability to commit acts of violence or sex, making us ideal servants. While the sexual aspect need not be altered, the new clones will serve only one purpose, which is war, and will therefore need to be capable of violence. Of course, these clones will never bear the potential to become citizens or servants, and are intended to die in battle, as is their nature.”
Traw took a moment to soak it all in. His world had suddenly become much larger. “The Nektro'll have it coming, then. How many of these new clones are they gonna make?”
“Cordlow Industries plans to produce eight billion battle clones by the end of the decade, shifting manufacturing resources solely to that project, so domestic clones like myself will be the last for a long time.”
“Holy crap. That kinda power could get to someone's head. Anyways, what do you need to brief me on?”
Twelve cocked his head for a moment, staring vacantly. He sat up straight and nodded, as if taking an order. “My apologies for the delay, Master Traw. I have just received orders from Commander General Venko to leave the briefing to him, upon your arrival at GAM headquarters.”
“How did he know when to tell you that?” Traw asked, furrowing his brow.
“Microphones everywhere, Master Traw,” Twelve answered, almost pleased that his master asked. “Surveillance technology is quite remarkable: another production of Cordlow Industries, I might add.”
Traw nestled himself into his seat, never speaking another word to Twelve. I'll have plenty of time with him for the next couple days anyways. I'd rather enjoy some precious silence while I can, he thought. Slowly he too drifted asleep, resting his head against the air conditioned cushion of his seat.
Unsure of how long he was unconscious, he awoke to the blinding light of the side hatch opening. He unstrapped himself and stepped out, Luella, Louise and Twelve following close behind. Outside waited a host of technicians, emissaries and members of the press, all of them watching Traw and probing with general questions. The boldest of the mob approached him. “Where am I?” he asked generally, blinking and squinting.
“The Indefatigable, of course,” said a prestigious man entering through broad doors. The bright lights from overhead began to adjust with Traw's eyes. It was clear the man entering was of significant importance, as the crowd parted like a sea before him. Their chatter lulled down. “Twenty thousand guns, first class radar and communication, Titalithoid armor, Grade 7 shields and supreme recreational decks will make your trip to Neptune as comfortable as it will be safe.”
The man approached him, the brass on his chest glinting in the light. “I take it you're Sebastian Traw?” the man remarked, looking him over like a soldier during inspection.
“That I am,” Traw answered, slightly unsure as to what he should make of the situation. This was not what he had understood it would be. Louise and Luella stayed close at his back, with Twelve next to them.
“Captain Claudius Vault.” The captain shook Traw's hand. “It'll be a three-day journey to Neptune, so I suggest you start enjoying the luxuries now, before training. I'm assuming you and Twelve have already become acquainted, but I have yet to meet your lovely family.”
Vault crouched down to Luella's level. “This is my ship, dear,” he greeted, raising his voice an octave and making it notably softer. “Your daddy and I are going to work together now, and I'll make sure all of you are very happy. Aren't you proud of what your daddy did? Shooting all those bad aliens?”
Luella was silent, her eyes darting about as she clutched her father's pantleg. “That's nothin' to be proud of,” Traw corrected.
“You'll have to pardon me...it would seem that's all you're known for around here,” Vault apologized, standing again. When Traw looked him in the eyes, he could tell there was something about Vault that lacked the false, rigid form of the other members of the GAM he had dealt with. Something was different: more a man than a worker. “Hopefully in the next few days we can become better acquainted. As I understand it, I'll be the one carrying you and your team to the missions. Get used to the Indefatigable, Mr. Traw. It'll be your home for quite some time now.” Vault waved away the intrusive cameras for a moment. He was surprised they even gave them that much time to have an organic conversation.
Captain Vault left the room, and the crowd filled in around the four newcomers, the emissaries greeting them in their traditional garbs, the press members recording and inquiring, and the technicians refueling the transport ship. Having to do a small bit of budging, Traw made his way out of the hangar bay and out of the grip of publicity. Louise was glad to escape the prying questions about her physical relationship with Sebastian, the pride she took in her man's accomplishments, and what she was looking forward to in the capitol. She hung her head low as Twelve led them through the hallway exiting the hangar bay.
The atmosphere in the ship was chilling and hard, like being near a freezer. It was clear someone had made an attempt to liven the area by placing an occasional potted plant in the hallways and lobbies. After twenty minutes of drowsy walking and receiving the lingering glances of crew members, the Traw family arrived at their suite. “Here it is, Master Traw,” Twelve concluded, pressing the control pad to a large, rounded door. The door slid aside and Sebastian entered the room, Louise and Luella following close behind. The lights ignited upon their entry.
“I'll leave you to settle yourselves in,” Twelve notified, “and if you need me, I'll be standing here outside the door. Just alert me.”
Though they heard Twelve's words, none of the family members acknowledged them. They were in awe of their family quarters. It was a broad room, furnished with the projection of a fireplace on the wall, and plush red carpeting on the floor. A circular ebony table sat at the center of the room, which was set six inches deeper into the floor than the rest of the suite. Around it there were several comfortable, well padded couches, complete with their appropriate pillows and blankets. There were three doorways on the other side of the room: a master bedroom, a separate bedroom, and an office, complete with the latest computers and studying resources. Finally, there was the breathtaking aspect that instantly became the center of attention: the far wall revealed a clear, broad view of space, with the planet Sino slowly revolving below.
“A-alright, Luella...” Sebastian began, nearly speechless, “unpack your things. You get the smaller room in the middle. Ma and I'll get the bigger room next to it.”
Louise covered her mouth with her hand, staring wide eyed at the room before her. As Luella ran into her room, squealing with delight, Sebastian put his arm around his bride as her lip began to quiver. “Good decision?” he asked, holding her close. She nodded profusely, laughing and letting the tears run down her cheeks.
“We'll have better than this when the job is done,” he told her, rubbing her shoulder. “I promise.”