“So you've been on board my ship for a day now,” Captain Vault began, twirling a glass of vodka in his hand as he leaned back in his chair. He and Traw were sitting in a private balcony that looked out over the main lobby. “How do you like it? You should know I personally arranged for those quarters, and everything else involved. It wasn't easy, especially considering the GAM's budget these days. I still have to find something enjoyable for you to do, though. You're a hard nut to crack.”
Traw grinned. Reflecting on the past couple days, he felt more relaxed than he could recall feeling before. Yet he felt on edge, as if there was some task to be accomplished which he had neglected. “I'm a man of simple pleasures, Captain,” he told Vault after taking another swig of his whiskey. “If you can keep my family happy, you can keep me happy. And I appreciate what you've done.”
“You're quite welcome,” Vault granted, looking down at the lobby below.
There were a couple minutes of silence as they relaxed on the balcony. Vault reached the bottom of his glass and snapped his finger, beckoning one of the two clones waiting in the hallway behind them. The clone poured more vodka into the bottle, never making eye contact with the captain. Sebastian noticed again that the clone looked almost exactly like Twelve, his personal servant. The only way he could distinguish Twelve from the rest was that he wore a special gray suit, signifying that he was a personal servant to someone significant.
“So on the way up from Sino, my servant mentioned something about the GAM that made me think they were the government, rather than the military. Was it just how he said it, or do the Marines actually control the government?”
“Oh, no, he's quite right,” Vault assured. “When Commander General Venko came across the first Nektro probe, which turned out to be a bomb that wiped out half his crew, the High Senate debated whether the threat was real or not. Certain senators thought the probe was just malfunctioning, while others, along with Venko and his associates, were determined the Nektro had malicious intent. As the months passed, these probe bombings became more frequent. They'd be found scattered across the galaxy, ripping apart warships so vessel by vessel, the navy was crippled. Radar couldn't detect them until they were brushing shoulders with the hulls of our ships.
“At this point the High Senate had come to a vote, and it was decided that the GAM be put into emergency power, with its head, Commander General Venko, in supreme command. And not a moment too late. Three days after power was transferred to the GAM, the first Nektro armada was spotted. That's when a series of bombings became a war. That was almost nine years ago.”
“So the Prime Minister, the High Senators, the Praetors, the Governors...what power do they have?”
“Aside from their own households, essentially nothing. Although with you and your team members working for us now, I'd say we might have a shot at winning this war. The Commander General's going to make you into his killing machines until Cordlow Industries sends in the clone cavalry.”
“I don't want to be a killing machine,” Traw lashed quickly. He gripped his bottle a little tighter.
“Whether you like it or not, that's your job description now,” Vault told him. There was a heaviness to his voice, like he too wished Traw could go back and rethink his decision. “And I've seen it a thousand times, though it's grim for each one.”
“The corruption. You think you're never gonna do something one day, then you find yourself doing it the next. What was once unthinkable becomes second nature. If you aren't careful, it'll happen to you too.”
“I know where I stand.”
Vault smirked. It was a grim smirk, like someone realizing he's been shot. “That's what they all said.”
Louise stroked Sebastian's chest as they lied in bed that night. The only way to determine day from night was the digital clocks on the walls, each of which was mounted with a small camera that was supposed to be hidden. Sebastian noticed them anyways.
“This is our last night together,” Louise mentioned, resting her head in Sebastian's shoulder.
“Yup. Let's enjoy it.”
Louise closed her eyes as Sebastian grazed his hand along her back. Neither of them knew what to say. They knew it was so pivotal to their marriage, and yet they both were at a loss for words. “Do you love me?” she asked, looking Sebastian in the eyes.
“Of course I do,” he replied, almost irritated in tone. “That's a dumb question. What have I been doin' this whole time workin' my tail off on the farm and givin' you smooches every day when I get home?”
“I know, just...say the words to me.”
“Alright...I love you.”
Louise let out a deep breath and smiled, as if some weight was lifted from her shoulders. “I wanted to hear you say it to me, in this gorgeous place, right now. It just seemed perfect. Like somethin' out of a book.”
There was a long, relaxed silence between the two weathered lovers. “Do you think Luella will be alright? She doesn't know I'm gonna be gone for so long, but I'm wonderin' how long it'll take her to realize what's goin' on,” Sebastian asked his wife.
“I'll ease it to her over time,” Louise assured. “You're supposed to be home a few times during the tour, right?”
“Yeah, it's just...”
“I'm not sure. These folks seem like they're hidin' a lot from us. It makes me suspicious. There's a good chance they're listenin' right now. Which makes me think that they might not let me see you and Luella after all.”
“I'd punch my way to ya, all the way through the Nektro.”
“That works,” Sebastian grinned.
Twelve walked through the hallways, navigating his way to the food court for his dinner. He only departed after he had assured the Traw family were all settled into their beds and safe. The hallways were mostly desolate, with the occasional officer or engineer pacing by.
As Twelve sat down to eat his bland, servant-class meal, two of the night guards took notice of him. “Whaddya think, Fred?” one of them asked in a whisper, sneering.
“He's fresh meat, Bill,” Fred replied. “Nobody's here to help the poor mate. We can rough him up all we want.”
“Ain't got no Nektro to put our fists into. Sure won't rough up one of the other soldiers. He'll have to do,” Bill smirked, a sinister thrill across his face.
Slinging their guns over their shoulders, the two night guards made their way toward Twelve, who was oblivious to their approach. Unaware that they had drawn close, he found a black liquid dripping into his mashed potatoes from above. Twelve looked up to see Fred dumping the spare oil canister for his gun into Twelve's food. “Excuse me?” Twelve asked.
“That's my food,” Fred grumbled.
After pausing a moment, Twelve retorted, “This is my designated meal for the evening. Assuming you're posted on night watch, you'll receive yours in three hours. What is your--” Twelve's face was shoved onto his platter, instantly bruising it. Fred and Bill laughed with malice.
Withholding his will for revenge, Twelve sat up straight and took up a napkin, wiping the food from his bruised face. He looked Fred in the eye. The way Twelve looked at Fred told the night guard he bore serious power. “My master is Sebastian Traw, one of the most lethal fighters in the galaxy, hand picked by the GAM's highest authority. I am his personal property: one of the most expensive pieces, in fact. Knowing you damaged me would probably not sit well with him. If you wish to harm me further...it will only come back to strike you sevenfold.”
“We'll see,” Fred sneered, the dauntlessness clear in his voice. Bill grabbed Twelve by the neck and threw him onto the floor. Fred jumped up over the table and onto the floor beside Bill. They both started closing in on Twelve, whose back was to them as he lay on the floor. As Fred reached to beat Twelve over, the clone lashed out and pulled down Fred's arm, sending him to the hard floor with a deafening smack. Immediately Bill lunged at the clone, but he flipped him over beside his fellow guard, his face cracking against the steel floor. A bloody tooth lay on the floor.
Twelve crouched between them and shoved their faces sideways to the floor as he placed his feet on their hands. “With just nine more degrees of rotation, I can snap both of your necks,” he informed them in a voice of ice. “I move faster and stronger than either of you, registering enemy movements and responding more swiftly. If you try to fight back, you will fail.”
Then there was a noise on their chests. Fred Carpenter and Bill Oltrom, a garbled voice shouted from the communicators, where are you boys? You're supposed to be patrolling the east wing, but the radar's showing you in the food court! You better come back to guard base in the next three minutes or you're both doin' latrine duty for a week!
“Go ahead,” Twelve granted menacingly. His voice was calm: too calm to have just slammed two men into the ground. “Be good soldiers.” He rose from the crouching position and walked away at a normal pace, bringing the food tray with him.
Fred and Bill looked at each other wide-eyed, then scrambled to their feet and hurried back to the base. Bill dabbed up the blood with the hem of his uniform shirt and slipped his discarded tooth into his pocket. He licked the edge of his lips to hide the blood. “Don't tell anyone,” Fred told Bill in an ordering tone as they jogged back. “I don't know how that goddamn clone was able to take us both down, but I won't have any of the other boys knowing that we got beat up by one of the servants.”
As Twelve was walking back to the Traws' quarters, one of the lieutenants stopped him with a simple hand motion. “Captain Vault summons you,” the lieutenant told him. Twelve, being a servant, said nothing in reply.
After a short journey through the decks, the lieutenant stopped at the door to Vault's office and stood at attention. The door opened with a swift mechanical noise to reveal a dimly lit room, with a broad window on the opposite end. Twelve entered, noticing Captain Vault sitting at his desk, watching a computer screen while his hand rested on the edge of his chin. “Please, sit,” Vault beckoned, motioning to the chair on the other side of the desk. Obediently Twelve took a seat in the chair, straightening his back and placing his hands on his lap, covering the spots of blood.
“Here in the GAM, we keep a lot of secrets. I would think that I was at least included in most of them, considering my rank. And yet...there is one which I have evidently been left unaware of.”
“Clarify?” Twelve asked, his nervousness heightening, though he showed none of it.
“The secret is you, Osiris Four. Yeah, I know your name: your real name. After seeing that little incident at the food court fifteen minutes ago, I realized you're no ordinary clone. In fact, clone wouldn't even be the appropriate word for you. I would say that 'prototype' fits better. I conducted some research into IRO's archives, which is not an easy task I might add, and I came across the file of you and four other prototypes from Cordlow Industries. Please explain, Osiris Four.”
“As you wish,” Twelve granted, prepared to jump from his seat and through the window if the situation turned sour enough. The fall would certainly kill him, preventing anyone from prying information out of him. “Cordlow Industries created five prototypes for their new military clones. I am one of them. Originally we were constructed for purely scientific purposes: to be studied and recreated in mass production. The GAM's chief of staff, who need not be named, had another purpose in mind for us. Each of us is assigned to the members of the task force Commander General Venko assembled. As you know, I have been assigned to Sebastian Traw.”
“They wouldn't need protection, they're proficient killers,” Vault remarked, leaning back in his chair.
“They're not the ones who need protection,” Twelve corrected, ominous in his tone. “I am an agent of insurance: an ace in the hole. If I detect any foreplay to rebellion, I've been instructed to report it to ied headquarters. And, if violence should take place, my orders are to neutralize Sebastian Traw permanently, along with his family, eliminating all trace.”
“I'm not one to argue with top brass, let alone IRO,” Vault concluded, somewhat reluctant. “So I'll just let you be. There will be a gap in the security tapes for the past hour.”
“Thank you, Captain.”