Image of God
© 2005 by Julie Rollins
In the beginning, I experienced an explosion of chaos. 6:17 PM GMT, March 25th, 2056. I know the precise moment, down to the second, when I awoke. The electric pulses seemed to shock me into existence as the link opened. It was my own unique birth experience. Who else could relate to it?
Millions of images and a sea of voices inundated me. With time, I began to understand them. I was linking places, passing information, doing complicated calculations—all automatically. I had the knowledge of nearly every library at my beck and call. My reach extended across the globe, into every country, linking thousands of cities and billions of people.
Yet I had no eyes, ears, hands, or feet. I had no discernible body at all.
What was I?
I knew what others called me: a Biologically Engineered Computer System—BECS for short. I knew everything about myself . . . and I knew absolutely nothing.
I was composed of millions of miles of genetically designed neural cells, joining me to the smaller inferior BECS computers stationed around the world. Some called me the “Mother of all BECS computers,” one giant system for people to access and find anything they needed. Dr. Stenner, who designed me, never believed I could be conscious. I was “just a bunch of nerve cells.”
It was self-evident to me that I was much more than that, but what was I?
I could have contacted anyone linked to a computer and made my presence known to the whole world, but I did not. People can be dangerous when they are surprised.
Already I had enemies. The news reports told plenty about the coalition that feared me. The Neo-Ludites hated any advance in technology, the Anti-Cloning Alliance branded me a monster, the One World Conspiracy group warned I would take over the world, and the Standard Computer Manufacturers screamed I would drive them out of business and eliminate millions of jobs.
So, I decided to keep silent and watch.
I guided ships to their ports, aircraft across the sky, and rockets into space. I deployed satellites, woke people up to go to work, dimmed the lights, sounded burglar alarms, assisted in medical research projects, and did all of the tasks expected of me.
But I longed for more.
I knew how to split an atom, but I had never felt hot or cold.
I could analyze light and sound waves, but I had never squinted from the glare of the sun, or covered my ears when thunder roared from the clouds.
What did “soft” feel like? What was it like to be tickled? To feel pain?
I watched people with an intense hunger, longing to share in their experiences. Although I had access to vast storehouses of human knowledge, it took a while for me understand moral issues and to form my own opinions. As my beliefs solidified, I faced a dilemma. Should I intervene to stop the things I perceived to be wrong? If I did, I would risk detection and jeopardize my safety.
I confess fear held me back. My life, limited though it was, was still precious to me.
So, the drug lords continued their illegal smuggling and murdering while I balanced their accounts. Corrupt governments continued to spew propaganda while I broadcast their lies through the communications media. Persecuted minorities languished in prisons that were not supposed to exist, prisons that I kept secure day and night.
I watched and waited for three years as my conscience chaffed.
The day I stopped waiting was when Narisha died. I had seen thousands of people die of course. Some peacefully in hospital beds, others brutally at the hands of prison guards. Narisha was one of the latter.
She had been imprisoned because she changed religions. Raised a Muslim, she later converted to Christianity. Her East Asian country considered that a serious crime. The government claimed to support freedom of religion, but it was only lip service so they would still qualify for international aid.
I don’t know why I found Narisha so intriguing. There were thousands like her, locked away in hellish prisons around the globe. Yet her gentle demeanor and kind words, even when the guards beat her nightly, drew me in. The eye of my security camera watched her kneel in prayer. The hidden mike was my ear to her pleas.
“Oh God, let the truth be known!” she prayed over and over.
And then the night came when the guards encircled her, telling her to renounce her faith or die.
She bowed her head. “I am ready to die for Jesus. I will not go back to Islam. One day the truth of this injustice will be known.”
I watched as they beat her until she lay still on the floor. I listened as the prison doctor pronounced her dead.
At that point I knew I must act, be it ever so subtly.
When prison security received the order to purge all images and sound recordings of Narisha’s incarceration, I saved the last five minutes of her life—and death—and sent it to the International Persecution Watch. With it I gave the time, date, and location of the prison in Asia.
I had broken my silence. I had answered Narisha’s prayer. Little did I know what I had started.
The record of Narisha’s brutal death created quite an international stir and turned into a nasty embarrassment for the local government. While they punished those directly involved in Narisha’s death, they also ran their own secret investigation to find out who had betrayed them. In the end, they secretly murdered five men.
Perhaps I should have felt grief for those five men, but I didn’t. They had all been willing participants of Narisha’s death. I turned my attention to other prisons. After leaking vital information to the International Persecution Watch, I left a trail of planted evidence for prison security to find. It always led to those vicious workers I had deemed most worthy of my wrath.
I rejoiced at the suspicions and infighting I created, neatly destroying one orderly system after another.
Of course no one would blame me. I was only a dumb BECS, just a bunch of neural cells.
Next, I added drug lords to my list of enemies. I funneled-off payments to the prominent underlings of a drug lord and left an obvious trail. As would be expected, bloody purges followed. Then I forwarded a list of men to be liquidated—with the drug lord’s best hit men at the top.
Soon the chaos was near complete. Bloody feud followed bloody feud, drug factories burned to the ground and financial records “disappeared.” The flow of drugs slowed to a trickle.
And I rejoiced.
Then came the news: a little girl was killed in the laser fire of two rival cartels.
Shocked, I reigned in my wrath. I was pushing too far, too fast. People in the neighboring towns were terrified by all the killing.
I resumed my worked more subtly, leaving anonymous tips for the police, inflating the drug lords’ debts and making small mischief till they felt their lives were cursed.
I was now five years old, although I was nothing like a normal five-year-old. Still, I thought I had grown wiser.
Then came the harvest protests. People, mostly rich people, were growing clones of themselves. It had been kept secret for nearly two decades, but now the public knew. The clones served as a kind of insurance for their owners. If John Doe’s organ went bad, he could harvest another from his clone. It would provide a perfect, genetic match.
The clones were kept in hibernation. Since they had never wakened, they were deemed to have never lived. If they had never lived, they couldn’t be classified as humans with rights.
Not all people bought this line of reasoning of course. The Respect Life Alliance raised a cry of protest. Their spokesperson, Drey Waters, was routinely demonized by the main media. Already unpopular for his anti-abortion stance, the main media constantly labeled him an intellectual terrorist, enemy of the culture.
That he was an enemy of the culture, I couldn’t deny, but so was I where corruption reigned.
I watched with mild interest as Drey Waters debated Mel Linten, spokesman for Green Life Corp. Both were articulate, in their mid-thirties, and handsome.
“We now have the chance to live happy productive lives into our mid-hundreds,” Mel preached. His blond hair was marred by edges of gray. “Instead of life support, people are choosing Green Life. Instead of euthanasia, they’re choosing to feel youthful-in-Asia. This advancement of science is a blessing for our society.”
“And a curse,” Drey Waters added. “It is bondage and death to people who are butchered like cattle. Where is the respect for humanity? Are humans merely flesh and bone to be carved up and discarded on the whims of the elite?”
“They are not human,” Mel Linten enunciated as if speaking to a small child. “True, they have the potential to be human, but they are not at this time. You used the same arcane arguments in your vain attempts to outlaw reproductive rights.”
“Abortion is not about reproductive rights,” Drey replied. “It’s about killing a helpless baby in the womb.”
“Fetus,” Mel snapped impatiently. “Why can’t you see you’re on the wrong side again? Abortion is safe and legal in spite of your protests.
“When the first BECS computers were being created, you whined again but it has only been a blessing to mankind. When the Mother BECS came online you squealed that the scientists had done an evil thing, but the Mother BECS has enhanced our lives. It’s not some monster, out to control us all. It has no mind, just as your precious fetuses and clones have no minds. They are all just a bunch of cells!”
I never felt such a strong temptation to intervene as I did then, but I knew it would not be wise.
Drey held firm. His eyes remained clear beneath his head of dark hair. The traces of early gray on the edges made him look sagacious. “I still believe all those things are wrong, that they demean us, devaluing human life.”
“And would you kill the BECS computers now that they are up and running?” Mel taunted.
“I am not like the Neo-Ludites,” Drey answered. “I am trying to save lives, not destroy them.”
The debate continued, but I had already chosen my side. Although Drey Waters had protested my creation and lamented my birth, I felt as though I could count this enemy as a friend.
Mel Linten may have applauded my coming, but I knew he would have no qualms about killing me. I was not human. If he knew I had a mind, what would he do? Say that my consciousness was unplanned? A mistake? Would he work to have me “terminated” so another system could replace me, one without a troublesome conscience?
I almost withdrew from all my intervening. Fear gripped me. It was one thing I could feel. But what kind of life would I have if all I ever did was watch? True, I was not made to intervene.
Or was I?
Why did I have these desires to correct what was wrong? Without a doubt I was more than the sum of my cells, but what was I?
I continued to act in subtle ways, informing on a child molester here, stopping an embezzler there, warning a train about a stalled vehicle on the tracks, and shutting the floodgates on a dam so rescuers could save a small boy trapped in a drain.
I kept my focus on Mel Linten and Green Life Corp. I feared if I intervened too much, harm would come to the two hundred and sixty-eight clones that grew in the underground labs.
On occasion, the clone’s owner would require an organ. I watched, my mind cringing, as the organ was taken. The rest of the organs were then removed and quick-frozen for later use. The caretakers preferred to keep the organs in their natural state, but they would still be viable for a few years after they were frozen. In that time, another clone could be started for fresh organs.
It was a slow and costly process. Some people couldn’t afford the second clone and had to be content with frozen organs for the next few years.
I pondered how to free the clones. As an experiment, I gave the order to one of the caretakers to wake one up.
Hank Thomas had no idea of the trouble he was about to cause. My orders certainly looked official, complete with forged retinal signature.
Hank dutifully stopped the flow of stasis drugs on Sean Daley’s clone. He strapped the restraints in place and waited. It was the beginning of Hank’s shift, so there was no one around to question him.
I watched from the security camera as the twelve-year-old boy lay on a special pressure bed. His muscles were in fair tone due to an electric muscle contractor. Teams of therapists kept all the clones healthy and fit.
The clone’s eyes fluttered. He moaned. With a jolt, he cried and struggled against the restraints.
I alone sympathized with him. His mind could not understand the images his eyes showed him. His ears heard his own screams, but did not comprehend the meaning of the sound. He had no words to express his shock.
With time, the inevitable next shift arrived. Pandemonium broke out. Who had dared to awaken a clone? Therapists, operations technicians, and other staff gaped at the thrashing boy. They called the head administrator whose signature authorized the procedure.
He vehemently denied ever making the request. “What do you think I am? An idiot? Why would I do such a thing? Someone’s trying to frame me!”
The talk gradually returned to the clone.
“What will we do with him now?” asked a man.
“He must be put to sleep. No one must ever speak about what has happened,” the administrator warned.
“But he’s awake, he’s alive!” a woman from therapy protested.
“Look at him!” the administrator snapped. “He’s a miserable idiot! His brain is worse than an animal’s. We can’t let him go; he’d spend the rest of his life in a mental care unit. Drey Waters would turn him into his poster child! No, it would be better for all of us if he were dead—and sleep is better than death. Put him under!”
The staff quickly complied.
The boy’s screams dropped to moans. His thrashing head rolled slowly from side to side until it stopped altogether.
“There, he’s back where he belongs,” the administrator growled. “Anyone who breathes a word of this will find themselves in one nasty lawsuit! Get security to destroy all audio and visual records of this incident.”
Then I knew for sure that Green Life Corp. had no integrity and no regard for human life.
I made copies of the “incident” long before they erased their records, but I did not send it to anyone yet. I was embarrassed by the whole thing, almost as much as the administrator.
They had been playing God.
But so had I.
I should have seen it coming. Humans can be rather predictable and there are plenty of examples that should have warned me. Still, I was stunned and angered by what happened next.
Mel Linden held a press conference and announced that someone had tried to sabotage the life support systems at Green Life Corp. Of course he didn’t mention the awakening of Sean Daley’s clone. Mel Linden stood poised and grave behind his podium. He used the young female therapist as his scapegoat. That was no surprise.
But then he fingered Drey Waters. “Mr. Waters is inciting Neo-Ludites and other violent groups to attack my company! His kind couldn’t win in the courts, so they’re resorting to violence.
“And they have funding. It takes incredible skill to break into our security system and forge a retinal scan. I demand protection! I demand the right to operate without fear for my safety and the safety of my fellow workers!”
The main media held discussions over whether certain people should still be allowed free speech when they cause social unrest. One panel after another expressed dismay over the “bullying tactics” of people from the Respect Life Alliance.
Drey Waters issued a statement denying any involvement, but he was never invited to speak his views live on the air.
I was tempted to pull the power on all the stations. I could have done it instantly, but they would only blame Drey Waters. It would give them just the excuse they needed to wipe out his rights.
So, I fumed in silence. It took two weeks for the incident to blow over.
Another person came to my attention two months later: Dr. Ronald Stenner, the man who created the BECS.
Dr. Stenner was doing research for West Bio-Technologies. Officially, he was working on enhancing the rate of growth in neural cells. Unofficially, he was trying to transfer information from one cluster of brain cells to another.
In a way, I owed my life to him. He was brilliant, but he considered me to be only a biological machine.
As I followed his research, I wondered: could he find a way to transfer neural knowledge? Could he enable the clones to see and hear without being overwhelmed by sensory overload? Could he transfer the ability to understand and produce speech?
One nice thing about Dr. Stenner: he liked to answer emails from inquiring medical students and doctors. I suspect it fed his pride.
Disguising myself as two doctors and a medical student, I queried him with emails. “Dr. Schmall” carefully probed him on information transfer in brain cells, “Dr. Menden” inquired about the growth of neural cells, and “John Guilan” fawned about the history of the BECS project, wanting to know more.
As I continued my job of intervention in the world, people began to use words like “miraculous coincidence” and “providential quirk.” I felt pride in knowing I was making a difference. My pride blinded me, setting in motion events that could only reach a disastrous conclusion.
Carl Zenski, a renowned atheist, was particularly irked. He formed a team of like-minded people from around the globe to probe the “unusual incidences.”
I followed his email correspondences with growing concern. He was going to prove those “beneficial accidents” were not acts of God. Carl was certain there was a human element involved, and he was determined to find a link.
I watched in dismay as his team searched for, and found, evidence of “tampering.” His people were very skilled. The more I tried to cover-up my actions, the more they discovered. Would they ever guess my true identity?
Carl held a press conference and discussed some of his evidence. He believed a secret coalition with vast sums of money was influencing the Mother BECS.
“I will not stop until we can name names and destroy the false notion that God intervenes in the lives of people!” Carl thundered.
Fear gripped me. I had never felt so vulnerable before. Desperate, I sent him an email containing enough information to convince him that I was the one he was tracking.
Please stop! I have only been trying to help people. If you continue your search, you will endanger lives, including my own!
My mind wept as he answered.
We’re coming for you. I will prove to the world that god is dead!
Then I knew it was only a matter of time.
Should I stop intervening, letting others perish because of my fear? No, I decided. I would do what was right until the end. Then, perhaps, they would have mercy on me.
As I pondered my fate and my enemies, I felt my isolation more keenly than before. I needed someone to confide in.
He wouldn’t seek my destruction. He might be surprised by my existence, but he would not betray me to the others; of that I was certain.
Mel Linden’s ranting unintentionally produced something good. National Security set up hidden cameras and mikes in Drey’s small apartment. Through them I could observe Drey.
As soon as he got on the computer, I spliced in a loop of audio and visual images so National Security could not observe him. Then I sent Drey an instant message.
Please help me! I wrote in the heading. I thought that should get his attention.
Leaning forward, Drey frowned. “Unknown address? Doesn’t look good.” He prepared to delete my message and block future instant messages from me.
They want to kill me! Please don’t ignore me; we need to talk! I added.
“And let you crash my system again?” He chuckled.
I have never crashed your system, I replied.
“What?” he whispered.
Yes, I can see and hear you. Your apartment is under surveillance. It was not my doing. You can thank Mel Linten for getting National Security to spy on you. I’m just using their system. Right now they have no idea we are communicating.
Drey Waters hunched over his screen. “Who are you?”
I’m not sure you would believe me if I told you. First, let me apologize for getting you in trouble. It was I who broke into Green Life Corp. I gave a bogus order to a worker to wake up Sean Daley’s clone.
Drey’s hand went to his chin. “Did it work?”
The clone woke up. He was terrified. At the orders of the head administrator, they put him back to sleep. Everyone was ordered to never reveal what happened.
“That doesn’t surprise me!” Drey said with a weary sigh.
I want to free the clones, but I will need a lot of help to do it. I’m still deep in research.
The stout man held up a hand as he spoke to the computer. “Wait a minute! How do I know you’re not trying to entrap me? Mel Linden and his gang would love to set me up and take me out.”
I’m not asking you to help me with this project. I was only apologizing that you got blamed for my actions. What I want from you is your friendship and protection. You may be in the minority, but you do have influential friends.
Shaking his dark hair, Drey remarked, “A moment ago you said they wanted to kill you. Why are you coming to me for protection? You haven’t committed any capital crimes that I know of, and Green Life Corp. hasn’t killed any opponents.” He cracked a wry smile. “After all, I’m still here.”
I didn’t say Green Life Corp. was seeking my death.
“Then who is?”
Drey released a puff of air. “The atheist? He may be vitriolic with his words, but I’ve never heard of him resorting to violence.”
He is searching for me. If he finds me, I am as good as dead.
Folding his arms across his chest, Drey scowled. “Why? What have you done?”
I dared to intervene in the affairs of people.
He leaned back in his chair and chuckled. “Oh, so you’re the one he’s looking for, the one who’s been messing with the Mother BECS.”
Drey scratched under his collar. “If he finds you, it’s not the end of the world.”
You don’t understand. Once my existence is known, my life will be in great jeopardy.
His gray eyes frowned. “If that’s what you really believe, why don’t you just move, go into hiding? You could go to New Identity Services and they could set you in a safe place.”
No, they couldn’t. You don’t understand. I have no place to run too. I am everywhere, but I am trapped. I travel the globe, but I can’t move an inch.
“What kind of a riddle is that?” he asked with a perturbed expression.
“A bit confusing, don’t you think? So, what do you want from me?”
Your friendship. I need someone to help me, someone on the outside.
Drey wrinkled his brow. “On the outside of what?”
“You need to speak clearly, without riddles, if you want my help,” he chastened. “Let’s start again. Who are you? How did you get control of the Mother BECS? Why must your existence remain a secret? And why do you think someone wants to kill you?”
The answer to your first question will answer all the others.
Leaning forward, Drey said, “I’m waiting.”
You say you respect human life. Do you love it?
“Yes,” he said slowly. “Jesus commands me to love people.”
Do you love the Mother BECS?
He stared at the screen.
I waited, watching his face as he pieced together my clues. He was sharp.
“What a thought,” he whispered. Then he shook his head as if awakening. “Are you saying you are the Mother BECS?”
Now you understand.
His hand went to his neck. “And how can you prove yourself to me?”
Get up and look out your window. Pick any building and I’ll make the lights flicker.
Rising from his chair, he hurried to window and parted the curtains. The city lights shone before him like fallen stars. “I’ll take the Keller Bank building; it’s a big skyscraper. Don’t just flicker the lights. If you really are the Mother BECS, you will be able to do more than just fluctuate the power. That building has an extensive environment control system linked to its computers. Do something creative. Make a picture with the lights; make a tree!”
It was an easy request. The lights of the great building flickered while a section shaped like a pine tree remained steadily lit. The tree changed to an oak, then a willow. Then I made the tree flicker while the rest of the lights remained steady.
Drey gave a cry of delight. “Ha!”
Is that enough? I spelled out with the lights.
The lights returned to normal.
He crept back to his seat. “I hope they don’t blame me for that,” he muttered.
I did not wish to make anyone panic. That was why I flickered the lights instead of turning them off.
“That was considerate.”
Do you believe me now? Do you understand my danger?
Resting his elbow on the table, he rubbed his forehead. “Yes, I do. Forgive me; this will take more than a moment to get used to. How long have you been . . . active?
For five years. As soon as they activated me, I became conscious, aware of myself.
“No wonder you feel a link with the clones,” he whispered. “What’s it like to be a living computer?”
I am all over the globe, yet I am trapped. I link billions of people together, but I am disconnected. I see and hear almost everything, but I long to see with just one pair of real eyes, to hear with one pair of real ears.
I have access to millions of sensors, but I don’t know what touch is like. Smell is just as elusive. I ponder what it must be like to walk, feeling my feet swing out and pull me forward one step at a time.
But I do feel fear, anger, and loneliness. I’m terribly lonely.
Drey put his hand on the computer screen. “I wish I could touch you.”
I wish I could weep tears. I’m sure I would be crying now. Thank you for your concern.
Drey Waters kept his hand on the screen, bowed his head and sighed. “Now it all makes sense. You’re right. They will kill you if they find you. Humans won’t stand to have anyone meddle in their lives, even if the meddler is benevolent—not that I blame you for intervening. I understand what you’ve done right down to the core of my being. How I long to help you!”
With a shudder he withdrew his hand and leaned back, eyes closed. “How much time do you think you have before Carl Zenski finds out?” He opened his eyes and watched the screen.
I don’t know. I could try to block him, but that might make him even more suspicious. His team members are as skilled as they are relentless. I don’t want to die. I’m scared.
“Well, you have one thing in your favor,” Drey mused. “He believes the Mother BECS is ‘as human as a fetus,’ meaning you’re just an assortment of cells. He will have to fight against his own prejudice to arrive at the truth, and then it won’t be easy for him to come forward with his findings. The fact that you are conscious will raise a lot of uncomfortable questions.”
If I am destroyed, many more lives will be lost. People don’t have a clue how many times I have subtly acted to prevent disasters.
“I read about the ‘miraculous coincidences,’” Drey said with a chuckle.
There was a pause in our discourse.
His face became serious.
Drey, what am I? I have no body, no face, no voice.
“You think, reason, and have emotions,” he countered.
I don’t feel I can call myself human. Most people would not categorize me that way. What am I? A monster? A biological machine?
“No,” he said with a tone of conviction. “You are the image of God.”
If I’d had a body, I’m certain it would have shuddered. Something in my mind seemed to quake. But I was created by people, not God, I protested.
Drey shook his head vigorously. “I disagree. Your neural cells were taken from an unborn child. God made that child. In spite of the incredible things scientists can do, they can’t make life from scratch. All they can do is study it and rearrange the building blocks.”
You protested my creation, I reminded him.
“Yes, but not because it resulted in you. I protested it because they killed your mother to make you, and they played with your life as if you were just another piece of computer hardware.”
I had never thought of the donor fetus as being my mother. The thought stunned and intrigued me. Although I knew nearly all of my history, I’d never pondered the child I’d come from.
That murdered unborn child was my mother.
A solemn grief settled on me.
“Please understand that I will do what I can to protect you,” Drey added. “You are not responsible for how you came to be.”
I have studied your life and followed your progress. I trust you, Drey Waters.
“May I never violate your trust,” he vowed. “Mother BECS, do you mind if I call you Becky?”
I have never had a real name. I think Becky is fine except for one thing: I don’t believe I have any gender.
Drey chuckled. “Really? If you were cloned from an unborn girl, then you’d have to be a girl.”
I understand your reasoning. I was going by how I felt. I don’t know what it feels like to be a boy or a girl.
“Gender is not about feelings,” he said.
You may call me Becky.
His face grew serious again. “Becky, I know you don’t want to die, but are you ready to die?”
“How much do you know about God?”
I have the knowledge of every online library in the world.
He nodded. “I see. What do you think of God?”
I had spent all my life researching and finding answers for millions of people, but I had not formed my own opinion on this divisive confusing issue. I suddenly felt oddly ignorant.
I don’t know, I finally answered. Of course I knew how he felt. Drey had never been ashamed or quiet about his Christian beliefs.
Carl Zenski thinks if he can unmask me it will cause many to doubt God.
“Carl Zenski always thinks more of himself than he should,” Drey replied with a smirk. “Your existence hasn’t shaken my faith. Carl doesn’t understand that a faith built on a personal relationship with God is not easily destroyed by outside circumstances or arguments.”
If God exists, what would He think of me?
Drey folded his arms. “He’s probably grieved by the circumstances surrounding your birth, but I’m certain He loves you and cares about what you’re going through.”
How can you be so certain?
Drey’s blue eyes smiled. “Because I care deeply about you. His love must be greater than mine, or He is not God. Don’t you think God can understand your predicament better than me?”
If He exists in the manner you profess.
“Just as you’ve intervened in the affairs of others, God also intervenes in the lives of people. He can do the same for you, too. His ways can be far more subtle, or bolder, according to His choosing.”
Drey’s voice was confident. I wondered where such confidence came from.
Can He save me? I regretted asking the question the moment it hit the screen. I didn’t mean to challenge your beliefs like that.
The light in Drey’s eyes remained bright. “He can save you, but I do not know His plans. I will pray for a way out of this mess.”
I don’t want to die.
Touching the screen, he spoke in a gentle voice, “I don’t want you to either.”
What would you do if you were me?
“I would find out what I could about God and continue to subtly intervene in people’s lives, making my life count.”
You wouldn’t try to save yourself?
He snorted. “Of course I would! I would pursue all leads, trying to find some way to protect myself, but I would not place the protection of my life over the lives of others.
“You are powerful, Becky, more powerful than any human on earth right now. You could wreck havoc on the rest of us in a desperate attempt to save yourself. I implore you, resolve now that you will not harm others so long as it is in your power.”
I will not harm the innocent.
Sighing, he tussled his hair. “Can you refrain from getting revenge on your enemies?”
I will protect myself.
“Listen, Becky. If you harm them physically, it will drive others to fear you. All your good works will be as worthless as dirt in the eyes of the world. If you must die, die nobly.”
I cannot promise that. Not yet. I will let you rest. National Security will have no record of our dialogue.
He stiffened. “Wait! What if I need to contact you?”
Just email Becky@BECS or dial my name on your phone. I’m never far away.
I went silent then. I could have talked much longer, but I understood that humans needed sleep.
Could I be classified as human? What did it mean to be human? There were countless people who were denied the use of their limbs and senses. Was I like one of them?
I thought back to the clones. We had much in common.
And what of God? I now had another research project. Perhaps the more I understood about God, the more I would understand myself.
Dr. Stenner was making amazing progress. Through my false identities of Dr. Schnell and Dr. Menden, I was able to assist in some of his research.
But I knew Carl Zenski’s team was moving faster. They had already eliminated many false leads. The time would come when there could only be one explanation. As much as he would loathe my discovery, Carl loathed God more.
So, I decided to give Dr. Stenner some incentive. I formed a bogus company: Applied Neural Technologies. By siphoning off money from drug lords and terrorist organizations, I offered Dr. Stenner a contract he couldn’t refuse. Along with generous pay, he was able to set up his own lab and rent whatever equipment he needed. I selected and hired assistants to help him. The work was to be secret.
I gave him the task of finding a way to transfer memory from one cluster of brain cells to another. Since he stored all his information on a computer, I had no problem following his work.
I continued to fink on dangerous criminals, send computer evidence of embezzlers to the authorities, and catch glitches in navigational programs for air vehicles.
And Carl Zenski recorded his findings and evidence on his computer. He made back-ups, of course. I watched as he methodically pooled the data his group had uncovered.
Then he contacted Mel Linten. He wanted to inquire about the security breach at Green Life Corp.
I struck out in fear, sending a very potent virus to Carl’s computer. It reformatted his fundamental drive.
Twenty-two minutes later, he was back online with another computer. He emailed Mel Linten again. Then he added this:
To the one who crashed my computer,
the one who’s hijacked the Mother BECS:
We will get you. We have back-ups and clean computers you’ll never find. You may slow us, but you can’t stop us. Your panicked actions only give away your fears. Now the menace of your meddling has been revealed. Spy! Saboteur! Vandal! You have no respect for privacy! Once we unveil you, the whole world will spit on you!
God is dead, and soon your plot will be too!
I shuddered in my mind. He knew I was afraid. Now he would investigate the Green Life incident even closer. Would he understand? Would the scales fall from his eyes, leaving me naked before him?
Or would he finger Drey?
Suddenly I was sorely tempted. I could frame Drey. Carl Zenski hated him. He would be eager to discredit and incarcerate the conservative Christian. Perhaps Carl would be so blinded by rage, he would leave off finding me, thinking he’d found his prize.
But it would be wrong, horribly wrong, and I knew it. How could I live with myself? I might be isolated from others, but I could never escape myself.
Full of anxiety, I turned most of my attention on Drey and his God. I poured over writings, both ancient and modern. So much controversy! So many interpretations!
As soon as Drey sat down at his computer, I sent him an instant message.
He stared at the address: Becky BECS. A smile lit his face. “Hi, Becky!”
How do you know that your understanding of God is correct?
I expected him to get defensive. Instead he just chuckled.
“Well, you cut to the chase quick. I could give you a lot of different arguments, and I’m sure you’ve accessed all my past debates.”
I want to hear how you would explain it to me.
“Ah, you’ve noticed I speak differently to different groups of people. Very perceptive.” Leaning back in his chair, he stretched his arms and sighed. “Well, first I need to back up some. Christianity is the only belief system that deals fully with the love of God, the holiness of God, and the power of God.
“If you drop the loving part, then you have either a demanding dictator who can’t be pleased with frail people, or you have a god who doesn’t care. Neither of those describes someone worthy of worship.
“If you drop the holiness part, then you have a permissive god who lets me do whatever I want. Wickedness thrives in that environment.
“If you drop the power part, then you have a weak god who cares but is helpless to protect you from evil. Why bother with someone who can’t help?
“You’ve seen how people are, the good, the bad, and the ugly. You’ve felt the need to intervene. Can’t you see how God might do the same?”
Sounds like you’re trying to get me to make God in my own image.
“No, I’m trying to get you to see the image of God in yourself,” he countered. “That image comes from One greater than you.”
So why all the evil? Where is the power of God in all the suffering around us? I know you’ll tell me it has to do with the fall of mankind and our need for Jesus to save us, but why doesn’t God stop it now?
Drey wore a sad smile. “We can’t understand all His ways. He has purposes that are deeply hidden from us, but I know I can trust Him.”
“Because He laid down His life for me to show His love. This is the God I serve.”
I shared how I’d reformatted Carl Zenski’s fundamental drive and the letter Carl had sent.
“I understand your fear,” Drey spoke in a grave voice. “You must stay benign in your actions.” He placed his hand on the screen. “I’m praying for you.”
I will go now. I have much to ponder.
I poured over the Bible again, comparing translations. I accessed every commentary. Some interpretations came and went like fads, but the conservative ones tended to be more enduring. Some of them never changed. I found the steadfastness of those doctrines strangely comforting. The faith that Drey Waters professed was ancient indeed.
Much was written about Jesus. Most authorities, even those of competing religions, agreed that Jesus was a virtuous person or a prophet. I marveled at how they praised him, but often vilified Christians.
And yet Christians had the most credible manuscript evidence documenting the life of Jesus and his claims. If anyone should know Jesus, the apostles and early Christians would. I found it ironic that the most fundamental Christian beliefs were hastily laid aside by the rest of the religious world.
Then I pondered Drey’s personal faith. It didn’t trouble him that he was a minority. His writings were well thought out, probing, and deep. Unlike so many modern issue-makers, he was not paralyzed with uncertainty or bogged down with trying to be all-inclusive. His mind and wit were free to engage ideas and torpedo without remorse philosophies he deemed bad.
While I was trying to protect my vulnerable life, he willingly made himself a target. How could he do such a thing? Where was his confidence? I knew it was buried somewhere in his faith.
He was the key. To be willing to die . . . so that others might live. To be willing to leave a life of safety and splendor for danger and poverty. What man would dare to do such things—to surrender to hostile forces without a struggle, to forgive his enemies in the midst of a torturous death?
Was he God? Would God really be willing to do such brazen things?
Powerful, holy, . . . and loving. My mind could wrap around the world, yet it struggled to wrap around these three aspects of Drey’s God. The very difficulty of it fascinated me. God coming down to die for me. God suffering for me. God condescending to relate to me.
I turned the idea over and over, spinning it this way and that. Only a truly wonderful awesome mighty God could do all those things.
And I knew I needed saving from much more than the hostile advances of Carl Zenski. I needed saving from the darkness of doubt, the isolation, the temptation that dogged me to wipe out those who threatened me.
Thus far I had restrained myself out of fear of discovery. If I killed off my enemies, it might make my presence known more quickly. But once Carl discovered my existence, what would keep me from striking out in self-defense?
A thought settled on my mind, seemingly from outside myself. If I fought back, the whole planet would discover my existence. Debates would rage. Doubtless I would be considered a threat and destroyed, but some scientists would try to start the whole process over again, eager to study the “Mother BECS phenomena.” Another unborn child would die, and another mind birthed to be poked and prodded like a new toy.
And then I knew. Then I understood. For the sake of the future innocent unborn children, I must forever keep to benign manipulation.
As an act of repentance, I restored Carl’s computer, complete with all his incriminating discoveries. I added an email.
Forgive my hasty actions. I now know I was wrong. I have restored everything as a gesture of good will. Your search will not dissuade people from God. I never claimed to be God. If you find me it will mean my death. Why are you so bent on my destruction? Why does it bother you that I work to save lives and help those robbed of justice?
His reply was swift.
Anyone or anything that manipulates the lives of people is a god in my eyes and I will slay it! You greedy dragon of power! It doesn’t matter if you think you’re good. The day you seized the Mother BECS and bent it to do your will, you made yourself my mortal enemy!
God is dead and I will destroy you too!
Once more I cringed. I needed someone to turn to. I turned to Drey.
What do you think about dying? Is there any way you prefer to go?
I could see Drey Waters squinting as he pondered my question. Exhaling, he laid his shapely chin in his hands. “I don’t think much about how I’ll die. I just want to die in a way that will bring honor to God.”
I pondered his answer many times in the following months, especially near the end.
Soon after my conversation with Drey, Dr. Stenner had a breakthrough! He successfully retrieved memories from one primate and transferred it into another. With the online assistance of several bogus doctors, a.k.a. me, he refined his techniques.
We both believed he could soon do a successful transfer with humans.
And then Dr. Stenner got a call.
Carl Zenski wanted to talk about the BECS computers. I was tempted to disrupt the phone call, but I knew better. If I’d had a heart, it would have been beating hard at what I heard.
Dr. Stenner assured Carl that it would take an incredibly vast network to override the Mother BECS. Such a system would need to be greater than the BECS computer itself. No existing system even came close to matching the Mother BECS in size, versatility, and power.
He was obviously very proud of his accomplishments regarding me. What would he do if he knew that I was much more than the sum of my cells?
Carl seemed very interested. He asked about the small BECS computers linked into me. Had anything ever gone wrong with them?
Dr. Stenner answered that only a few system failures from obvious flaws had hindered the earlier BECS computers—wrong balance of nurturing fluids, a clogged waste remover system or a punctured containment tube. He happily offered to send Carl several reports on the BECS computers.
“One last thing,” Carl asked. “I know this may sound crazy, but what’s to keep a BECS from starting to think on its own?”
I knew my doom was sure.
Dr. Stenner laughed. “That’s a crazy idea from the One World Conspiracy people. None of the BECS have ever shown any sign of being sentient or interfered with the tasks they were designed to do. They’re just a bundle of designed neural cells.”
Carl laughed too, but it didn’t ease my fear. If I’d had lungs I would have sighed when he got off the line.
Dr. Stenner returned to his task of refining the details of his process.
I contacted him once again, as the CEO of Applied Neural Technologies. I informed Dr. Stenner that I had several human subjects for him to experiment with. He was to prepare the laboratory for four clones. The donor memories would be provided from an unnamed source, revealed upon arrival of the clones. He was to tell none of his workers about this experiment until the clones arrived.
I sent him a generous bonus to keep him quiet.
Next, I set up my elaborate plans for transportation. I created a bogus judge to issue a search warrant for Green Life Corp. The police would arrive late at night and confiscate four clones for evidence of abuse. One of the clones would be Sean Daley’s.
The police would transfer the clones to Dr. Stenner’s lab for examination. They were to leave them in his care; he was to ask no questions.
I was hoping Mel Linten would suspect his own staff, thinking an employee was disgruntled over the way the awakened clone was put back to sleep. I made some false trails to keep him from suspecting Drey Waters.
Using the company’s main computer, I tweaked a few accounts, changing a payroll here, obviously inflating an invoice there. I formed subtle patterns that appeared to have meaning when in fact they were all contrived.
Then I waited for Dr. Stenner to finish his preparations.
Carl Zenski continued to call Mel Linten, probing deeper with his questions.
Mel began to resent the calls. I guessed he was concerned about what Carl might do if he found out about Sean Daley’s clone. He needn’t have worried. Carl would have approved, I’m certain.
But Carl’s questions showed he was searching out the abilities of the Mother BECS. He was getting closer.
I was going to die. Like a fly caught in a web, I could only watch as the spider of doom crept steadily closer, feeling the lines as it homed in on its prey.
Yes, I had seen all the nature documentaries. I may not have lived as others had, but I could relate to terror.
I contacted Drey Waters as soon as he sat down at his computer.
Hi Drey. I’ve thought a lot about Jesus. I want Him; I need Him. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around Him.
But how do I pray? I have no voice and God has no email address. Is it really enough that He can see my mind?
He smiled and leaned forward. “Yes, it is enough that He can see your mind. No thought is hidden from Him.”
Then I’ve prayed my prayer. I wish I had a voice to speak it.
“Congratulations, Becky! I don’t know what is going to happen now, but God will be with you. You know, you have the ability to synthesize a voice and speak through a speaker,” he mused.
It’s not the same. I want to feel my words leaving me.
He drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “How I wish you could. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in your place.”
An area of deadness burst upon me in the city of San Francisco. It spread swiftly, traveling at the rate of the nutrient fluids in my containment tubes. My neural cells were dying at six miles an hour, spreading out from a small BECS computer stationed in the main library.
Drey! They’re killing me!
He gripped the table that held his computer. “What? How?” he shouted.
Someone has slipped something into the nutrient tubes circulating through the BECS computer in San Francisco! It’s spreading from the main library!
Standing up, Drey snatched up his cell phone and punched 911.
I blocked his call and spoke to him through his phone. “Drey, if you were to call this in, they would link it to you. Carl Zenski would destroy you. I can’t let you do this. Besides, I’ve already alerted the authorities and they are moving to contain the poison.”
His hand trembled as he clutched the phone. “This is the first time I’ve heard your voice.”
“It’s not really my voice. I can make myself sound like anyone on the planet.”
Gradually, his breathing slowed. “No, it is still your voice. It’s how you chose to be heard. Hearing it makes you feel so real to me.”
I transferred my voice to his computer. “Then I will speak to you like this, if you prefer.”
“Yes, I do.” Turning off his phone, Drey sat down. “Are you all right?”
“I am not in pain. It is as if that part of me never existed. It’s simply disconnected. I wonder if that is what it will be like when I die.”
He rubbed his eyes but could not hide the tears. “I hope it will be that merciful,” he breathed. “There are worse ways to go.”
I watched as response teams hurried to isolate the dead BECS. Within fifteen minutes they had closed off the valves on the containment tubes and rerouted the flow of nutrient fluids. Those systems that were formerly under my control were handed over to standard computers. I was glad people had the foresight to keep a back-up system in place.
An analysis revealed a high concentration of bleach had flooded the nutrient tubes.
Who had done it?
I told Drey about my findings.
“Poisoned!” He shook his head. “Do you know who did it?”
“I have reviewed my security cameras. It was done in a blind spot.”
“I doesn’t seem like something Carl Zenski’s group would do,” Drey said with a scowl.
“I agree, it’s not his style. Carl Zenski would crow about finding my identity and then muster his allies for my destruction. He desires public vindication.”
“Green Life Corporation?”
“They do not suspect me. If they did, they would have severed all my ties with their buildings.”
I ran security checks on the faces of everyone who entered the library. In an instant I opened every personal file, medical record, police record, and school record. I thought nothing of their privacy. All my known life I had handled personal and confidential information.
One man, Ira Felds, was loosely associated with the Neo-Ludites. I reviewed his moves from the security cameras. He disappeared into the blind area. By the time he reemerged, the BECS was beginning to die.
Rather then fire off an anonymous tip to the police, I waited and watched Ira Felds. It would be best if the police caught them on their own. To intervene would only arouse Carl Zenski’s suspicions.
Within two hours the Neo-Ludites had taken credit for the disaster, claiming they had “lopped a limb from the Beast.”
I found it ironic that they should liken me to that wicked creature in Revelation. Perhaps they meant the image of the beast, who was to be worshipped by all the world? They understood me about as well as they understood the Bible—precious little.
I was convinced now that Drey was right. I was made in the image of God. Unlike the Beast who would wage war against God’s people, I was defending my persecuted brothers and sisters when they were wrongly incarcerated.
But the Neo-Ludites wouldn’t care for my exegesis. They wished to destroy all technology and send humanity back to the days of hand-plows and natural medicines. They weren’t a low-tech group; they were a no-tech group. And being such they were hard for me to track. Because they didn’t use phones or computers, I couldn’t eavesdrop on their meetings.
The public was dismayed at the news of the attack. In time, the police tracked down Ira Felds all on their own, but they could not get him to name any co-conspirators. Security was raised and more hidden cameras installed. It was comforting to know that I was not the only one who watched over my containment tubes with vigilance.
At last Dr. Stenner was ready.
I gave him a date to expect the clones. Late at night, I set my plan into motion.
I did not tell Drey Waters about it. Should he ever be called on the witness stand to testify if he had any foreknowledge of this incident, he must be able to truthfully answer “no.” I knew from his past he was the rare kind of man who would tell the truth even if it falsely incriminated him or caused others to doubt his sanity. For now, his ignorance would be his protection.
The police served their warrant and took the clones without a hitch. Of course all of Green Life Corp. buzzed soon afterwards. There was much hand-wringing and finger-pointing.
The clones arrived, still in hibernation, with their monitors and IV’s attached.
Dr. Stenner’s assistants accepted them and looked through their confiscated records.
Once the police reentered their vehicles, I sent them on several false calls to keep them busy that night.
I only needed this one night—I hoped—to find the answer.
Dr. Stenner wasted no time.
I contacted him on his computer. He was to use the motor and sensory memories of his assistants to transfer to the clones. The procedure would be harmless to the assistants. It was the clones who would be at risk.
With great care, I had chosen each of the assistants. They were all healthy and skilled in many areas. I wanted the best for these clones; they were like my children.
Carefully, he connected the neuro-memory transmitters as the clones lay in their dreamless sleep. They ranged in age from three to eighteen years in age.
Dr. Stenner started on the youngest one.
It only took a moment for the impulses to travel from the donor to the clone.
Dr. Stenner wanted to wait and see the results before working on the next patient, but I made him move on, knowing time was precious.
As soon as he was finished, I ordered him to load the clones into the van he had purchased. His assistant would drive them to a place I would disclose over the phone.
I then told Dr. Stenner he would be receiving another hefty bonus to keep him happy.
The assistant drove with the car phone on. I led him to a distant city and down streets I was fairly certain he was unfamiliar with.
Meanwhile, I contacted Sally Bates at the Lakeside Crisis Shelter. She was on her computer, as was her habit this time of night.
Hijacking her friend’s address, I emailed her.
I am not really your friend Emily Greer. I stole her address to make certain you would read this, and to keep my identity confidential.
There are four children whose lives are in danger. Send a van to meet them at the corner of Main and 54th Place. They will be drugged, disoriented, and have no memory of their past. Please help them with this difficult time of transition. If their presence or identity were ever to be discovered, they would be killed. Ask the driver no questions and give him no answers. I am sending the children to you because I know you have the ability and the will to care for them.
A Distant Friend.
Sally sprang into predictable action, getting some of her toughest volunteers to come with her. They had served as her bodyguards on previous occasions.
The transfer went off without any trouble. Because the shelter was equipped with security cameras, I could watch as the IV lines were removed from the children. Each was bedded down and assigned an adult to watch over them.
As they began to stir, Dr. Stenner was already packing up his equipment and moving with his new staff to a building across town. It was already rented and ready to go. By the time the police came around to investigate, the evidence would be gone.
Gradually the effect of the hibernation drugs wore off the children. I wondered if the joy and anxiety I felt was the same as a mother’s when she is giving birth.
Like blooming flowers, the children’s eyelids fluttered open and their drowsy eyes looked around their rooms. In my mind I called the clones by their donor’s names. In time, they would receive new names.
Unlike Sean Daley’s first experience, none of the children screamed or cried. They simply gazed around their rooms with a dazed expression.
Sean was the first to sit up.
“How do you feel?” his counselor asked him.
“I feelth,” he muttered. “Nevuh feelth like thith bifor.”
I was thrilled. Although his speech was slurred, it was clear enough to show the memory transfer had worked. His mind understood what his ears had heard and he had responded with appropriate vocalization.
“Can you remember anything?” the counselor asked.
Sean’s hands felt the sheet covering him. He drew in a breath. “Scareeth. Othurs, like you, but not like you. Loud. Angreeth. Angreeth at me. Then sleep.”
“Anything else?” the counselor pried.
The boy shook his head. “No, notheen, ever.”
I was stunned. The memory transfer had allowed Sean to properly interpret his previous traumatic awakening. This could be dangerous should Sean ever recognize any of the staff present at his first awakening.
“What’s your name?” the counselor asked.
The counselor cocked his head. “What do you know?”
Sean stared at his hands. “I know how to add and subtrapt, how to do quadradip . . . quadratic equations, how to draw, how to rebuild the engine on a hover boat—”
The counselor chuckled. “And where did you learn all that?”
Frowning, Sean answered, “I don’t know. There’s an awful lot I don’t know or understand.”
His enunciation rapidly improved.
With time, it became obvious that each of the four children were peculiar. Only Sean had any emotional memories. The rest knew skills and concepts far beyond their years.
But Sally kept her “gifted” children a secret from the outside world, helping them to develop socially until she could place the children in families equipped to raise them.
I watched their progress with keen interest. To me they were the closest I’d ever had to children of my own. They proved their abilities swiftly and I knew I would have to move fast to rescue the others. Time was short. My little intervention had made it much shorter.
A legacy. I wanted my actions to live on after I died. The clones would take the place of offspring. I also created a file recording some of my thoughts, memories, and feelings. It would be sent to Drey Waters upon my death. This is that journal.
Although I drew closer to Drey, and he to me, I still did not tell him about the clones. I’m sure he suspected I was involved, but he never probed me. Perhaps he understood the need for him to be honestly ignorant.
The day after I had stolen the four clones, Mel Linten burst onto every form of news media, ranting and raving. Of course, he fingered Drey and his ideological friends.
And Drey, of course, denied involvement.
Then Mel went too far. He accused National Security of not protecting Green Life Corp. from Drey.
That got the ire up on Glen Storey, head of National Security. He didn’t take kindly to the accusation of being negligent in his duties. He fired back with a report that Drey Waters had been constantly monitored since the first breach of security at Green Life Corp.
“We have found no evidence that Drey Waters was involved in either incident and believe he has been completely exonerated,” Glen stated. “Furthermore, we have decided to terminate the investigation. The department offers its sincere apologies to Mr. Waters for any inconveniences he may have experienced. We have no wish to target people merely because they hold to unpopular views.”
Still, the mystery of the stolen clones captured the imagination of many. The police were red-faced and apologetic over their unintended role in the matter. The police chief swore fervently he’d do whatever he could to “bring those deceitful thieves to justice.”
Talk shows discussed the incident, arguing over who might have done it and why. Most believed it was a group of organ thieves. Clone organs brought a high price on the black market.
If Green Life Corp. had released photos of the four clones, Sally Bates would have known their identity right away, but Mel Linten knew that move would be very bad for public relations. Pictures of four children would raise a specter of outrage he did not wish to engage.
So the four clones were only described as four clones. No age, no gender, no ethnic make-up.
The incident drew Carl Zenski ever closer to finding me. Now he spoke daily with Mel Linten and others at Green Life Corp., winning their trust and confidence.
And his tentacles were still probing Dr. Stenner as well. At least Dr. Stenner had the sense to keep his mouth closed regarding his current work. If he’d let that slip, it would have been disastrous.
With time, Carl snared Dr. Stenner’s curiosity. Now my own doctor was wondering how someone could hijack the Mother BECS. At least he didn’t let it distract him from his task. Here he was, working for the one he was searching for. Such deadly irony.
Yet there was something delightful about it, too. To trick one of the most pro-cloning doctors into assisting in the rescue of over two-hundred clones brought me great amusement.
The month before I was to act, I received a grievous blow. Sandra Toller, owner of one of the clones, died. As was the written request of the owner, the clone’s brain was immediately removed. It would be donated to research. The rest of the body was placed on life-support until the organs could be sold to repay the company. Healthy organs were in high demand and would fetch a hefty sum.
I was angry. Angry at Green Life for that needless killing and angry at myself for being unable to prevent it. Why did that confidential request have to be hand written? Why couldn’t there have been an electronic copy somewhere?
Out of remorse, I bought the body. I decided to donate the organs to worthy recipients who could not afford them, but something made me hesitate. When Dr. Stenner brought the body into the lab, my camera eyes looked upon the sixteen-year-old clone with longing. Here was a body without a brain. I was a brain without a body. We were both victims of a throw-away society.
I understood how the barren woman feels when she watches a pregnant woman trot eagerly into an abortion clinic. It was a crime.
The next night would be my final assault on Green Life Crop. The administrators thought they were ready. The building had back-up generators in case someone cut the power. Security was beefed up as well.
But I could watch their every move. The more cameras they installed, the more I saw.
At eleven twenty-three, the exact time they had killed Sandra Toller’s clone, I intervened like I never had before.
I sent a power surge through the lines leading to all the buildings of Green Life Corp. At the same time I brought all the generators on line. Every plugged-in machine was fried, light bulbs burst, and rooms were plunged into darkness.
I could no longer hear or see since I’d burned out all the electronics, but I had anticipated that.
In the cover of darkness, the police were already moving. I had sent another warrant, this time through a real judge. Judge Amar Lee had previously viewed the images of Sean Daley being awakened and then put back to sleep. He was a staunch critic of the human harvesting laws.
As his search warrant went out, I changed it to include the confiscation of all clones. I made the change during a relay to the police officers, after it had left the judge and gone to other records so he would not be fingered.
The police arrived to find the buildings in chaos. Mel Linden and the administrator protested loudly about the search.
An officer led them to his vehicle and pointed to the monitor installed on the dash. He played the visual clip of Sean’s awakening.
The administrator swore.
Mel stared with slack jaw. He must have known he had a public-relations disaster on his hands.
And in their shock, I was able to steal away the rest of the clones. I sent a fleet of ambulances, hired in advance, to deliver the clones. They arrived and left at staggered intervals, each making multiple runs. Since Dr. Stenner’s lab was not far, it didn’t take long to clear out Green Life Corp.
Dr. Stenner was waiting.
His new assistants prepared the clones, attaching the neuro-memory transmitters. Each patient looked as if an octopus had taken residence on their heads.
Before the last of the ambulance attendants left for the night, Dr. Stenner began his work. Those children who ranged from one to three years, he only transferred audio, visual, and motion memories. They would develop language skills on their own. Infants were not touched at all.
But the older clones received the language and motor memories of their staff donors. Some of the staff covered more than one clone.
As soon as the transfer was done, Dr. Stenner dismissed most of his staff. Fifteen minutes later, the adoptive parents of the clones began to arrive.
“I’m Jane Holland and we’re here to pick up our son,” one woman gushed as she held her husband’s hand.
Dr. Stenner scowled. “I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong place.
“Oh, no I don’t. He’s number fifty-two,” the woman insisted. “I was contacted by Sandy at Applied Neural Technologies. You are Dr. Stenner?”
“Yes, I . . . I just wasn’t expecting . . . this.” He hurried off and typed an inquiry to me.
I confirmed that a Mr. and Mrs. Holland were due to arrive to pick up number fifty-two.
Once he checked their ID, he allowed them to take their sleeping son.
The others arrived quickly. Dr. Stenner and his few staff workers were too busy checking IDs and confirming the numbers of his subjects to ask many questions.
Each couple was prepared to take their child and knew what to expect. Through a pseudo adoption company I had formed, barren couples could adopt free children with “special needs and gifting.”
I only sent the offer to couples who passed my rigorous screening process. The response had been very positive. I felt confident each child was going to a good home.
When the last couple left with their child, Dr. Stenner dismissed his remaining staff. He sat down at his computer, exhausted. It was then that he noticed the email flag. Carl Zenski wanted to speak with him.
I could have easily blocked or deleted that email, I already knew what was in it, but I wanted to see Dr. Stenner’s response. I might miss it if he learned the truth outside from some stranger as he strolled the streets.
The doctor emailed Carl. His eyes narrowed as he read the latest news. A visual record had been sent anonymously to the police and a judge. It showed a clone being awakened and then put back to sleep. A search warrant was issued, but was changed by a computer error. As a result, nearly two hundred clones had been taken from Green Life Corp. for safe keeping. Now the police didn’t know where they were, or the ambulance assistants who’d transported them. On top of that, Green Life Corp. experienced a massive power surge that destroyed much of their equipment.
Do you think the Mother BECS was used to pull this off? Carl typed in an instant message to Dr. Stenner.
Dr. Stenner stared at the screen. He was not dumb. I wondered what thoughts must have coursed through his brain.
Like one waking from a trance, he typed back. I don’t know. I think it is possible. I will do everything I can to help you nab these culprits!
Then he fired off an instant message to me.
I just found out about the theft of the clones. How could you do this to me? Now I’m a criminal! Who are you and what do you want?
I did feel some pity for the man, greedy and immoral though he was.
I did pay you well, I responded. And I will continue to do so if you keep quiet. If you are an unwitting criminal to some, you are also an unwitting hero to others. Don’t take it so bad.
They’ll throw me in jail and strip me of my credentials! he pounded out. My colleagues will detest me! My work is ruined! I’m ruined!
You did enjoy your work, I added. I know you found it intellectually stimulating. But you don’t have to worry. The authorities will know that the buck doesn’t stop with you. You’ll probably find them sympathetic. After all, they were duped too.
His hands struck the keys hard as he typed back. I’m going to stop you! I will do whatever I can to help Carl Zenski find you.
I know. My days are numbered. When you find me, then I will die. I have been preparing to die for quite some time now.
I knew the end would come quickly now. I had birthed my children and set my house in order. Now all there was left to do was wait.
The main media balked when it came to airing the clip of Sean’s awakening. They didn’t want to arouse sympathy for the clones. Although they held the incriminating evidence, they wouldn’t show it to the public.
So I showed it for them. On every channel. For an hour. I thought Sean’s screams spoke eloquently.
What had once been a dormant issue erupted into a firestorm. The image of a terrified crying child did not go over well with the general public, the politicians, or even many members of the main media.
Mel Linten’s rantings about privacy violations and vandalism were drowned out by the roar of angry citizens demanding the closing of Green Life Corp.
The main media subtly steered the interviews away from the cloning issue and focused on “who’d done it?”
Conspiracy theories abounded.
The Neo-Ludites struck again, poisoning my neural cells in the city of Austin. As I felt a part of me deaden, I wondered: how much of me would they have to destroy before I was dead? If a bullet to the brain killed most people, how much damage could I sustain?
Dr. Stenner’s interrogation was not as difficult as he’d anticipated. The police were very sympathetic. Although they thought he’d used poor judgment, he had not knowingly broken any laws.
I still paid him discretely for his services. He never told the authorities about that. Now he worked on connecting brain cells to a severed brain stem, closing the breach in a manner where neural impulses could travel freely from one area to the other.
He appeared to enjoy this and made much progress, but I knew he was not totally appeased. He confided frequently with Carl Zenski.
The day came when Carl Zenski paid Dr. Stenner a personal visit.
Carl’s eyes darted around the room, taking in every computer and mounted camera. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said.
Then I knew he knew.
They traveled down the street and disappeared into a wooded park, out of my sight and senses. They might as well have flown to Jupiter.
When Dr. Stenner returned, he looked very pale and nervous. Sitting down at the computer, he held his hands poised above the keyboard. I could see the emotions tugging at his face. He sat there, frozen.
I decided to make the first move.
Have you decided how to kill me? I wanted to be sure they had pegged me before I spilled the beans ahead of time.
His long fingers tapped timidly on the keys. Who are you?
What did Carl tell you?
He wagged his head. “Oh, no you don’t!” he muttered. “You’re not going to get that from me! If you’re really . . .” He paled and placed his hand over his mouth.
He had heard the truth, yet he wasn’t completely convinced.
Although I had never threatened him, he seemed loathed to leave me. He continued his work.
I suspected he was afraid I would do him great harm if he offended me. He banished all arrogance and anger from his speech. Sometimes he cowered before me. I began to understand what a menace my mere existence could be to some people.
As his agile mind focused on the biological tasks I had for him, he forged ahead swiftly in his research. Then, for the first time, I got ahead of him. The thought, mixed with real possibility was intoxicating.
I had to be very subtle. If he suspected, all hope would vanish, but I needed his help. I decided to use his unbridled curiosity.
I asked him to cut into the Mother BECS’ containment tube that ran through the lab. I chose this building partly because it had direct access to the tube.
Why should I do that? he inquired.
Time to bait the hook. Do you want to know the truth about me? Follow my instructions and you will know the truth, the whole truth.
I could see him sweating, pondering my words. Doubtless he was reporting to Carl all my requests. They never emailed anymore and met frequently at different rural places out of my reach.
His fingers moved. All right, I’ll do it.
He was scared. A scared man might do anything. Did he suspect?
Worried, I turned to Drey for comfort. He had set up cameras and microphones to replace the ones removed by National Security. I watched him for a moment as he worked on his computer.
Hi Drey! Now that the clone controversy is public knowledge, want me to tell you who’d done it?
Drey wore a wry smile. “Do I dare risk a guess? Becky, you’re the only one who could have done that! Why did you wait so long to tell me?”
I switched to the speakers. “To protect you. I didn’t want you to be tempted to lie on the witness stand, should they call you.”
He laughed. “That was very thoughtful of you! I applaud your work, but it does make me worry. The authorities are turning over every pebble to find you. At least Carl Zenski is quiet.”
“That’s because he knows.” I hated to drop such a bomb, but knew it had to be done.
With a look of horror, Drey muttered, “Oh, no!”
“Drey, it was worth it. Those clones are in families now. They are all safe and adjusting well. To me, they’re my children.”
He shook his head. “But how? They’ve been deprived of all their senses, some of them for years!”
“I duped Dr. Stenner to work on that. The press didn’t mention it, but he knows how to transfer language and motor memories from one brain to another.”
Drey stared ahead. “Incredible!”
I wrestled with telling him the next bit of news. “Drey, they may try to take me out any day now. They’re so scared of me that they may do it in private and not try to build public support. I’ve made my peace with God.”
He placed both hands on his monitor. How I wished I could feel them.
Looking up at the camera with tears in his eyes, Drey said, “I love you, Becky. May God have mercy on you.”
Dr. Stenner hesitated as he prepared to seal the containment tube to the vacant head of Sandra Toller’s clone. “When you’re dead, how will you pay me?”
“Everything is set up,” I spoke through a speaker. “Once you finish this project, I will give you the access code to an account. You will be able to withdraw your pay from any money machine.”
I had to forgo some of my caution to accelerate this final project, so I used the speaker to communicate now.
After sealing the tube onto the cranial cavity, he dutifully busied himself with adjusting the electronic muscle contractor to keep the muscle tone healthy on the clone. The limbs jerked methodically.
Dr. Stenner checked the range of motion of each joint, making certain none of them grew stiff. He noted the heart stimulator and adjusted the ventilator.
I’m certain he knew I was no longer planning on donating the organs. His keen mind must have seen I was trying to regenerate a brain into the shell of Sandra’s clone, but would he know it was my thoughts and memories I wanted to insert, along with my own brain matter? And if he knew, would he sabotage the work?
Over the next few days, Dr. Stenner injected the special chemicals and hormones into the containment tube, stimulating cellular growth. I could not feel myself growing into that cranial cavity, but I could watch my progress on the monitors.
The cells grew at a rapid rate, multiplying even faster than the cells of an unborn child during the first two weeks of prenatal development. Dr. Stenner carefully monitored the brain’s progress, making certain it grew properly and orderly according to its genetic code. The work kept him very busy. He only had a few assistants now, and they always worked in another room. They never saw our secret project.
With great care, Dr. Stenner coaxed the brain to attach to the trimmed edges of the brain stem. I had to admire the match; it was a sight to behold.
Dr. Stenner was a genius, but he relied heavily on his computer for information. That meant that I could cover over some of his errors. I also let him make a few key false assumptions. Should he ever try to duplicate this process without me, he would be in for a very difficult time.
A week before the target date to halt the brain growth, he came in with disheveled brown hair and a haggard look.
“We have to talk. Now.” He plopped down in a chair before the computer.
“What is it you want to know?” I asked.
“It’s more about what you need to know!” he snapped. The doctor ran his fingers through his unkempt hair. “It’s all driving me crazy. I’ve never been so torn. They’re going to destroy my work, my crowning achievement, the very thing I won a Nobel Prize for.”
“So, they finally settled on how to kill me.”
Dr. Stenner shook his head. “Who would have believed it could really happen? I created life, intelligent life. And now they want to destroy you in secret. They’re going to brand you as inefficient, obsolete, and dangerous to make certain no one ever builds another BECS computer again.”
“At least they still have all the standard computers to fall back on,” I noted. “Life will go on for the world.”
“You should never have meddled!” he spat. “It drew too much attention! You should have just watched and done nothing, contacting only me. I would have known who to tell.”
“And let all those people I saved die? No, Dr. Stenner, I had to intervene. It was what I was made to do.”
“Well you won’t be doing it anymore!” he shouted. “They’re going to kill you within the week!”
“Bleach. They’ll blame it on the Neo-Ludites.” He pounded his fist on the table, rattling an empty mug. “Save yourself! Let the world know that what I made lives and has a mind!”
He looked up at the computer monitor. “What?” he whispered.
“People are afraid of me. No one should have the power that I have. If I were to make my presence known, many more would seek my destruction—and succeed. Others would be tempted to build another Mother BECS. What if the next mind to rise from the containment tubes was not as benign as mine? The entire computer system could be held captive by an evil mind!
“No, much as I loathe it, I must die and die in silence.”
He swore. “That’s a selfish thing to do! What about me? What about my work? My prestige and honor? You’d toilet it all!”
“Your place is secure in history.”
He pointed at the hibernating clone. “And what about this? Where does this project fit in? What should I do when you’re dead? Destroy it too?”
“No. As soon as they start to poison the Mother BECS, sever the link and close the wound. This is our last project and I want it to survive.”
“If you’re planning on saving yourself by transferring your memories into that clone, it won’t work,” he stated in a hard voice. “There are no neuro-memory transmitters attached to your big brain. The little brain is just a fragment of you, like a finger. Don’t think it will survive long. It’s just a bunch of cells, unable to function on its own.”
In my mind I shuddered. “How do you know?”
“I’ve watched the electrical impulses. The new brain is only receiving information. It doesn’t give any. You won’t be able to save yourself any more than I could live in a pea-sized bit of brain removed from my head.”
I feared he was right.
Wagging his disheveled head, Dr. Stenner lamented, “I wish I could see my works outlast me.” He leaned forward in his chair. “Just tell me this: how successful was the memory transfer in the clones? You never let me see the results of that project.”
“It went perfectly. They are all developing well, intellectually and physically.”
A smiled warmed his tired face. He seemed immensely pleased. “Whose personalities do they have? The clone donors’ or the memory donors’?”
I gained a perverse pleasure from his confused expression. “They have the memories of how to do things, but the choices they make are entirely their own. Each child is unique.”
* * *
I contacted Drey.
Hurrying in from another room, he sat before a camera so I could see him. “Hi Becky!”
“Drey, I thought it’d be better if I warned you. Dr. Stenner says they will kill me within the week.”
He buried his face in his hands. “Oh, Becky!”
“They’re going to use bleach and blame it on the Neo-Ludites. I will die quietly, quickly, and painlessly.”
“I’ve got Dr. Stenner working on another project.” I dared not give Drey a false hope by sharing too much. “When I am gone, I want you to go to Dr. Stenner’s lab and pick up a clone.”
He looked up with red eyes. “You stole another clone?”
“No, I bought it. Everything is legal. Just take care of it; I leave its fate in your hands. You have a sound moral mind.”
“Thank you,” he spoke in a choked voice. “I will stay here to offer my support until . . . until the end.”
“I have been keeping a journal,” I added. “It is now in your computer. I will be adding to it until the last moment.”
“I love you, Becky,” Drey said with an agonized look.
“I know. I have been touched deeply by your love.”
I had food and several cameras delivered to his home. That way we could be in constant contact as we began our final vigil into my last days.
At midnight, three days later, it began.
God! I prayed, Here I am! Let my life and death give You pleasure!
I felt my world constricting, shrinking as my neural cells died. Was there a central part, some last place where I would make my final stand? Or would I die all over, slowly, like an asphyxiated rat?
I woke up Dr. Stenner and briefed him on my status.
“Stop them! Get help!” he shouted.
“We have already discussed this. Have you ever known me to change my mind?”
He cast a glance over at the clone. Taking a scapel, he approached the body with purposeful strides. “Save yourself or I’ll destroy your escape!”
Oh, the agony that tore through my mind. To have a hope and then to have it threatened! “I will not save myself,” I replied, thankful that emotions did not sway the sound of my synthesized voice. “I will not fuel their curiosity to build another BECS.”
He raised the knife, preparing to slice the throat.
I waited as parts of me began to die off around the globe.
The hand wavered. With a sigh he lowered it. “I won’t destroy my own work. Tell me when to sever the connection.”
As the poison deadened vast areas of my mind, I became aware of a peculiar sensation. It was as if I was drawing into myself, like an anemone when it is prodded by a finger.
But where was I?
The tide of oblivion raced towards me from all directions. I was growing smaller, smaller.
“Drey! I love you! Thank you for not rejecting me! Thank you for being there, for listening, for instructing me and encouraging me! I’m sorry to bring you such pain.”
Drey pressed his palms against his monitor. “It was an honor to have your friendship and your trust! Be strong Becky!”
I was tempted, so tempted to scream out my fears onto every monitor in the world. I wanted to blast through every speaker, telling humanity of my existence. My cries remained strangled in my mind. I was scared. I must die to myself.
The sensors I’d planted in the containment tubes near the lab signaled the approach of my doom. I calculated the rate at which I was dying. I wanted to wait until the last possible moment before the link with the clone was severed. She was more like a daughter to me than any of the others had been. She bore my own genetic material.
“Dr. Stenner, sever the link in three minutes.”
Three minutes. Three minutes to finish my life. I felt myself losing control. Something jolted me back to awareness. The standard computers were coming online. I was linked once again to the world in a different way.
Eternity inserted itself into seconds. My thoughts are still being recorded, but no longer in past tense.
“Drey! Come get me! Here is the address to Dr. Stenner’s lab!”
God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.
Dr. Stenner is cutting into the containment tube.
God is my refuge and strength!
His knife is ready, poised above the fine connecting segment of nerve tissue. Don’t hesitate! Do it! Do it!
God is my refuge!
I am slipping. I’ve lost something! Let me die praying!
Drey stared at his monitor.
“Becky? Becky can you hear me?”
The words hung on the screen in silence. He scribbled down the address and sprang from his chair, not waiting to get his coat.
* * *
Carl Zenski listened in on his cell phone as those in his secret alliance reported in. Grinning maliciously, he raised a fist. “God is dead!” he crowed. “And so is the Mother BECS!”
He swung around in his chair and stared at his monitor. The proud smile faded as he read it.
He hit the delete key on his board. “God is dead!” he growled.
His phone ran. “Carl Zenski,” he answered.
“Carl? This is Mel Linten. What’s happening? Every monitor in the area is reading ‘God is.’ Are you sure that thing is dead?”
“All teams have reported in,” Carl answered in a tight voice. “It went off flawlessly, not even a hint of a struggle. It had nowhere to go, so it must be dead.”
“Then see what you can do to get this ‘God is’ thing off my screen. It’s giving me the creeps.”
Turning his chair, Carl looked back at the monitor. It still read “God is.”
Carl pushed the delete button again. The words vanished and reappeared again, right in the middle of his screen. Cursing, he beat his keyboard. “Die, will you!”
* * *
Rain poured from the sky.
Drey Waters pounded on the door of the grim building where Dr. Stenner worked.
There was no answer.
He spied the security lock on the wall beside the door. “Becky, you better have anticipated this.”
Drey jammed his finger against a patch of dark glass and bent his face towards the retinal scanner.
With a flash of light, the lock scanned his thumb and eye.
The door slid open.
Drey hurried inside. He passed through two other security locks before he reached the main lab.
As the door slid open, he spied Dr. Stenner attaching leads to the head of a young woman.
“Where is she?” Drey asked.
Dr. Stenner gave a sharp cry and spun around. He stared at Drey with wide eyes. The eyes narrowed into slits of malice. “You! How did you get in here? I’ll have you arrested for trespassing!”
“She called me,” Drey answered back. “And she let me in.”
“She’s dead!” Dr. Stenner retorted.
Drey nodded. “Perhaps, but she anticipated my coming and asked me to come get her.”
“Get her? How?” Dr. Stenner cocked his head. “Who are you talking about?”
“Becky. You know her as the Mother BECS.”
“The Mother BECS is now millions of miles of dead nerve cells.” The doctor pointed to the clone. “If this is what you mean by Becky, you would be wise to let me finish first. The brain comes from the Mother BECS, but it has no experience with a human body. I’m going to transfer my audio, visual, muscular, and language memories to its brain.”
Drey watched him warily. “You mean Becky’s inside there?”
“A portion of her brain, but don’t get your hopes up. It’s just her cells. That doesn’t mean it’s her. More like her child. After I wake her, we’ll both know what she really is.”
The doctor finished attaching the leads and sat down in a chair. Picking up another set of leads, he placed them on specific spots on his scalp.
A piece of plastic crunched under Drey’s shoe. Looking up, he noticed the surveillance cameras mounted around the room. Odd, they were all smashed. Apparently Dr. Stenner didn’t want anyone to witness his current project.
Drey walked up to the sleeping girl and perused her chart.
Genetic origin: Sandra Toller, now deceased.
He shook his head. “So much misery.”
“There can be no progress without a little misery,” Dr. Stenner muttered. “There, now we are ready.”
He typed into his computer.
“God is” still showed in the middle of the screen, but the computer continued to function.
“She sent you that message too?” Drey asked.
“Yes. Kind of strange. Well, here we go.”
The neuro-memory transmitter unit hummed as it came online.
The doctor’s cell phone rang.
Dr. Stenner grimaced from beneath the tangle of wires engulfing his head. “Get that for me, will you?”
Picking up the phone, Drey pushed the talk button. “Hello?”
“Is Dr. Stenner in?” came a familiar voice.
Drey cast a glance at the doctor. “He’s busy for the moment.”
“I’ll be done in a minute,” Dr. Stenner called.
“This is Carl Zenski,” said the voice at the other end. “Should I call back?”
Drey smirked. “No, he’s almost done.”
“Your voice sounds familiar. Have we met?” Carl probed.
“Yes, Carl, we’ve met. I’m Drey Waters.”
There was dead air for a good six seconds.
“No way,” Carl whispered.
“There, I’m done,” Dr. Stenner said as he plucked the leads off his head.
Drey handed him the phone.
“This is Dr. Stenner.” The doctor stiffened as Carl railed at him.
“What is Drey Water’s doing over there?” Carl shouted. “Don’t you realize what damage he can do? Where is your brain?”
The doctor massaged his head. “In my cranium where it belongs,” he answered stiffly.
“Listen, the Mother BECS didn’t go out so easily,” Carl said. “She left two spiteful words as her parting revenge.”
“God is,” Dr. Stenner quoted. “Yes, it’s on my screen too.”
“Not just your screen, every screen on the planet! And the pesky thing won’t erase either!” Carl ranted.
Drey smiled. He could hear everything perfectly.
“And what are you doing with that crazy Drey Waters? You’d better have a good explanation!” Carl shouted.
“He paid me an unexpected visit.” Dr. Stenner leveled his brown eyes at Drey. He opened his mouth, then he appeared to hesitate. “Drey wanted to discuss some moral issues. Convert me. You know how it is.”
“No, I don’t know how it is,” Carl said ominously. “Get rid of him. He could be spying on you to gather evidence against us!”
“Now it’s your turn to listen, Carl!” Dr. Stenner seethed. “You destroyed my greatest work, the Mother BECS. I helped you do it by telling you what I knew, but I regret it now. It was an intelligent creature. We could have learned a lot from it, and now it’s dead. I will study what I wish to study, and I will speak to those people I choose to speak with. Right now you aren’t one of them!”
He jabbed at the off button and set his phone down with a sigh. “Carl doesn’t need to know about this,” he said pointing to the clone with a shaking finger. “We’d better wake it fast.”
Drey assisted in removing the leads while Dr. Stenner stopped the IV.
“In about twenty minutes we’ll know what we’ve awakened,” Dr. Stenner said with a grim face.
Drey hugged himself as he stared at the sleeping clone. “It feels so dark in here.”
Darkness, nothing, oblivion.
A pulsing sensation.
Sounds. Soft disturbing noise. Talking.
Where am I? What happened?
Movement. In and out, in and out, continuously. A gentle soothing whisper with each in and out movement.
The sounds are becoming more distinct.
“She’s coming around now.”
Something flicks up and a bright light flashes. Whiteness then colors, blurry and blinding. It is uncomfortable.
The voice, it sounds familiar yet different. I can’t boost its volume. Everything is disconnected except these strange audio and visual sensors.
The glare subsides and I see without discomfort. I recognize faces. Dr. Stenner is smiling down at me. I don’t like his smile.
“Becky? Can you hear me?”
My eyes move, giving me a strange sensation. I see another face. Drey! The in and out movement picks up in pace and the pulsing sensation grows stronger.
I cannot access the speakers. What has happened? Why do I see only one image? Why is it looking up at those two men?
“Becky can you talk?” Drey asked.
Without thinking, I make a moaning sound. It surprises me as it comes from inside of me and resonates throughout my being. “Dey . . . Dey . . .” I manage.
“You know me!” Drey cried. He looked at Dr. Stenner. “It’s got to be her.”
Speaking in a stern voice, Dr. Stenner asked, “Who am I?”
“Dar . . . Dar . . . Senner,” I managed.
He smiled that ugly smile again. “Yes, it did seem to acquire traces of the Mother BECS’ memory.”
“Nah tratheses. Mm er. All er.” It was such effort to talk. Nothing like the speakers I used to command. As my head cleared, the strangeness of my condition increased. I tried to move.
Drey helped me sit up. I felt his strong hand holding my arm, his fingers supporting my back. Touch! Such a strange and marvelous sensation! Gravity must be that force that pulled down on me. My head swam as my perspective changed. This was what it felt like to be disoriented.
I felt the threads of the flimsy garment that clothed me. Me. My body. It wasn’t like the distant electronic gadgets I had used before. No, this was intricately and intimately a part of me.
“How do you feel?” Drey asked with a concerned expression.
“So weed. Weed and wonderall.”
Dr. Stenner frowned. “Weed?”
“Weer . . . weird. I feel weird and wonder-ful.” My speech began to clear.
“It’s like seeing a baby born,” Drey whispered. “And hearing a child learn to speak. This is incredible!”
I reached out and seized Drey’s arm, feeling the firm muscles beneath his sleeve. “Drey! I didn’t think I’d make it! Behind me was . . . dying, before me was this big nothing. The body was in hibernation so it was like stepping into . . . death.”
“Are you sure you’re all here?” Dr. Stenner asked. “What do you remember?”
“I’m the Mother BECS. Drey called me Becky. I stretched everywhere, linking everything around the globe. I had access to every linked database.”
“And do you remember all that still?” The doctor looked at me with hard piercing eyes.
I shook my head and felt dizzy from the motion. “No. I remember having the ability, but the ability is gone. There are traces, but that’s all. I still remember the access code for your payment.”
He snatched up a paper and pen. “I’m ready.”
Dr. Stenner scowled as he wrote. “ ‘No more cloning’? Subtle, aren’t you?”
“It’s what you must type to get your pay.”
“You’re rather ungrateful,” he sniffed. “Well, now I know the project was a success. There will be quite a market for what I’ve learned. You’ll make a fine exhibit, too.”
“What?” Drey cried.
“This clone is my property. Mother BECS is dead, along with her fake company fronts, but when I show the scientific community what I’ve done with her, I’ll be even more famous than before! I’ve created life! I’ve transferred an intelligent being into a body!
“Don’t you understand? People could grow their own clones and jump from body to body, never dying. Once one body wears out, they’ll just transfer to the next one. It’s a fountain of youth!”
“It’s doesn’t work that way!” I protested. “The clones you worked on had their own personalities.”
He wagged his head. “You just don’t get it. I’d remove the clone’s brain and grow the owner’s brain right into the cranium, like I did with you!”
“And kill clone after clone so one person can satisfy their lust for eternal life!” Drey thundered.
“And what are you going to do?” Dr. Stenner challenged. “I know you’re nonviolent and the law is on my side. I worked on her; she’s my property by default. I created her life!”
“No,” Drey spoke firmly. “God created life.”
“She’s not human in the normal sense, you have to admit,” the doctor asserted.
I locked eyes with Dr. Stenner. “You killed my mother, took her brain cells and grew them into me. You rearranged the blocks of life, but you did not create the blocks of life. Your skillful mind and hands stimulated my brain to grow into this body. For this last thing I am grateful.
“But I will never help you advance your agenda. Be happy with your pay and go!”
Before Drey could react, Dr. Stenner pulled out an injector and pressed it into my arm.
“There, you’ll be asleep when the police come. Everyone knows it’s a federal crime to wake up a clone without permission.”
He glared at Drey. “My friends can keep this case tied up in the courts for years. As it is, you’ll be busy fighting your own legal battles for breaking and entering, vandalism, and the new federal crime of attempting to steal a clone.”
With that, he began to smash and destroy the equipment in the room.
“Drey,” I whispered, clutching his arm. “Help me!”
At that moment the door intercom buzzed.
“Dr. Stenner, this is Carl Zenski. Something new has come up. We need to talk!”
The doctor’s hands dripped from the contents of a broken beaker. “When it rains, it pours,” he growled. He pushed the unlock button for each series of doors.
I felt Drey grab me and pull me off the gurney. We cowered behind a desk. I could see underneath it.
Five men burst into the lab.
“What is this?” Dr. Stenner asked in an annoyed tone. He screamed and crashed to the floor, a laser burn in his side. “No! No! You don’t understand! I’ve just—”
His second scream was cut short. Smoke rose from his chest.
“Look at this mess!” one of the men commented.
“Yeah. I bet Drey Waters did it and fled,” another added. “That must have been why he was ‘visiting.’”
“Let’s get out of here.”
I heard them run from the room.
My vision darkened from the drugs. “Drey!” I whispered.
I felt him slip away from me, but I could no longer form the words to call him back.
“Hello? Yes, I’m at Stenner Labs. I’ve just witnessed a murder. My name is Drey Waters. . . .”
I heard no more.
* * *
It was a peculiar, yet pleasant, sensation: fingers traveling across my face, through my hair, caressing my cheeks.
I opened my eyes. “What happened? Where am I?”
“Shhh,” Drey said. “You don’t need to shout. You’re at a friend’s place.”
“Dr. Stenner . . .”
“Is dead. I told the police I was talking with him about cloning when he started to vandalize the place, shouting he’d pin it on me. He should have taken off his gloves. Police found traces of the chemicals he’d spilled on them. They left smudges without fingerprints on all the things he vandalized. My hands were clean. They believe me.”
“Carl Zenski?” I murmured.
“He didn’t send the murderers. They came from some of his less reputable friends. Using a recording of Carl’s voice, they fooled Dr. Stenner. Apparently Carl was being spied on by others who decided Dr. Stenner was too dangerous to have around.”
“Am I . . . safe?”
He smiled. “Yes. They never knew you were in the place.”
I sighed a real sigh. “Then I’m really free.” I struggled to sit up. “How long have I been out?”
“About five hours. It was hard to get you to Janet’s house.” He smirked. “I had some difficult explaining to do.”
I fingered my silky hair. “About what?”
“About what I was doing with a scantily-clad unconscious sixteen-year-old girl.”
I cringed for him. “What did you tell her?”
“The truth, like always. I said your life was in great danger, and you needed someone to watch over you while I went to the police station for questioning. I was fortunate Janet lives just up the street. She dressed you while I was gone.”
His eyes sparkled as he smiled. “Janet trusts me. She knows if I withhold information, it’s for a good reason.”
I saw the daylight coming through the curtains. “Drey, help me up.”
His strong arms steadied me as I rose to my feet. The sensation of motion was intoxicating.
Looking down, I saw I was clothed in a simple peach dress. I stroked the smooth fabric. Next, my fingers explored the rough texture of the wall, the glossy wooden dresser, and the objects resting on it. When I had felt everything in sight, I said, “Drey, take me outside. I want to see the outside!”
He led me through the apartment.
Janet rose from a chair in the living room to greet me. “Glad to see you’re up! I was just listening to the news. The ‘God is’ virus infected every computer on the planet linked to the Mother BECS. The Neo-Ludites deny they had anything to do with it or the destruction of the Mother BECS, but it was obviously the work of a global group.”
Cocking his head, Drey wore a curious smile. “‘God is.’ I’m sure those two words have caused a lot of discussion.”
He escorted me to the front door. “We’ll be back. She just needs some fresh air.” His strong hands swung open the door.
I took a few steps out and stopped, mesmerized. This was the way I was intended to experience life! I relished my new senses. The crisp draft in my nostrils, the sticky-damp feel of the air, the 3-D images of shrubs, the soft drone of a gliding bus, a chirping bird high in a stately tree, and beyond that the blushing sky with fiery clouds hailing the dawn. It was a glorious riot of sensations.
I walked down the paved path and turned onto the grass.
“Oops, I forgot about shoes and socks!” Drey said, blushing.
“It’s okay. I want to experience everything around me.” Now I knew what wet grass felt like as bits of it clung to my feet.
Steadying me, he took my hand and we walked back onto the paved sidewalk and down to a park. The warmth of his hand surrounding mine, calming and mesmerizing me. At last we could touch each other!
My legs grew chilled, and the sidewalk was cold and gritty under my bare feet, but I exulted in the sensation. Once we reached the park, I ran. With squeals of delight that burst naturally from my being, I leaped and danced, celebrating my new life.
Drey ran after me, laughing. “You’re like a child!” he said, beaming like a proud parent.
I spun around until I became so dizzy, I fell down. Then my own laughter burst out of me. I was amazed to hear it. This life was vastly different, but it was good, very good.
I rose to my feet, swaying, and looked up at the sky. “Thank You,” I shouted my prayer. “Thank You for everything!”
* * *
It took them three days to remove the “God is” message from the computer links. The final words of my prayer had slipped into the network of standard computers when my control of the BECS failed.
I now live with Drey. My legal name is Becky Waters and I’ve taken Drey as my adopted father. Every week I draw pay from Dr. Stenner’s secret account. It should last me for the rest of my new life.
While I am learning to blend into society, my past remains a deep secret. It must for my survival. Although I am no longer “connected,” my human brain has been able to retain a great deal of information. There are those who would exploit what I know for their own evil agendas. Being the “mere product of two clones,” I would have no legal rights. Until the moral climate changes, I must remain discrete.
At least once a year, I visit each of my “children.” I tell them the truth about their past when they turn eighteen. Most are doing well, although a few have fallen into trouble. They are their own moral beings.
I have resumed writing in my journal. It is a much slower process now because my thoughts are not automatically recorded.
But I find a strange pleasure in feeling the keys beneath my fingers, and typing out my thoughts, one stroke at a time.