I remember every moment of my life as if it was a minute ago. I remember crying and looking at strange faces around me--the scientist in the lab who still come and probe me, even though I am already ten and beyond what they deemed "the danger zone" for life. I clearly see the face of General Jelan, the military commander who first convince the United World Rule of the necessity of a clone assassin. More specifically, many assassins.
There were meant to be more. I was the first, but I was also the last. They named me 'Simon,' which in some ancient language all but forgotten means 'listen.' I was to listen to all their commands, as would my brothers. But my brothers never came into being. When I had lived six months, and the scientists began to think they had a chance of keeping me alive, the lab was destroyed, by the Uprising. The Uprising is the enemy, the ones who will not submit to the Rule's will and chosen purpose for all people. At least, that is what the Rule teaches me, day after day.
Today I am looking through military plans, to see what the next stage in my training is. Captain Thornfalk, the man in charge of me, and one of the few people I see, likes to surprise me with my next level of preparation for my destiny: that of an assassin. It is probably because the first few days of a new level are usually the most painful, and he worries I will get out of doing the work somehow. I have only done that once, but it was enough to make the entire military high command nervous. I had to go in for an entire day of reconditioning, because they were worried the genes specifically chosen for obedience and submission were not enough to keep me under their control.
Looking at the console on the wall, which I am supposed to use for studying but is really my gateway to the various information the Rule stores, I see that my next scenario will be that of a small Uprising base in the desert.
The door to my quarters whooshes open, and Captain Thornfalk steps in. He smiles grimly as he looks down at me. I have quickly switched the screen to a document on the principles of the United World Rule--the favorite topic of every military officer.
"Good work, Simon," he says. "You have succeeded at your last level. I have decided you are ready for the next one. I will expect the same success with this one."
I nod, because I know that should a level ever become too impossible for me, the Rule will deem the experiment that I am a failure. I would not fulfill the purpose they have set out for me; I was made for nothing else. I do now know what would happen to me if I was unable to complete a level, but I think I would be terminated.
"When do I start?" I ask Captain Thornfalk.
I follow him to the Sim, after grabbing my Kevlar suit and sneaking a few knives into my boots. I hate fighting without weapons, because then I have to use my hands. Even though I am taught daily that death is only part of the Rule's purpose for its people, I still hate touching my dying victims. I cannot tell anyone this because then they would know that there is a mistake.
"Your mission is to infiltrate a small Uprising base in Desert 2994. Inside you will find their leader: Walryt Samson."
Captain Thornfalk shows me a picture of the man. He is not very young, his hair already steely grey.
"If Samson survives, he will spark disobedience among the people, causing them to rebel unjustly against their father, the Rule. You will be expected to find a way into the base, avoid detection, and murder Samson. After that, blow up the base."
"Yes, sir," I say, and he hands me a cyanide capsule gun. This weapon is quiet and gets the job done quickly. If the bullets do not kill Samson on the spot, the cyanide they release into his bloodstream will do the work a minute later.
I go into the Sim and put on my helmet. The helmet, connected to my brain, allows the computer to control my sensory input.
Captain Thornfalk turns on the Sim, and I brace myself for whatever is next. I am slightly excited, because I like seeing the new places the Sim show. I have always wondered whether the outside world is really as beautiful as it looks in the Sim--more than metal walls and machines. A desert surrounds me, dunes stretching for miles. I see the base in the distance, barely a few feet up from the ground. Wisely, the Uprising has built underground, where the sun does not reach them and broil them in their base. Unfortunately, it is harder to get into an underground base with only one door than most people think. I know there is probably a password, but with my hacking skill I am not to worried about that. I am more concerned about the ease of escape from such an entrance. Even if I succeed in this mission, to be caught is to fail. And failure will ensure that I am worth nothing to the Rule, that my purpose is lost and they will decide I cannot be kept alive. Though they created me, they fear me, because of my potential.
The console by the base door is old, and easy to hack into. Almost as easy as getting into Captain Thornfalk's private files.
Suddenly the door slides open, but not because of my work. A tall, burly man steps out, knocking into me. I fall, and try to scramble away, but the man is already on top of me.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?" he snarls, snatching a knife from his belt.
The blade digs into my throat, and I wince. I prepare to kick the man off and then shoot him, but then suddenly I do not have to. The Sim cuts out, with no warning, and I find myself on the floor rubbing at a sore spot on my neck. The loud noise of an alarm surrounds me, and red lights flash everywhere.
"What's going on?" I ask, standing up and turning to Captain Thornfalk. He is running to open the door of the Sim, his face a mask.
"There's been a break-in," he says, trying to keep his voice tight, without emotion. "The Uprising had infiltrated the base."
"They have? How?" I begin to ask, but he yanks me out of the Sim and hurries me into the corridor.
As we rush along the halls, soldiers running past us in the opposite direction, I wonder what the Uprising wants. The last time they were here, it was to destroy the cloning lab, which effectively halted the production of clones. I pause, jerking Captain Thornfalk back.
"They want me?" I ask, though it is more of a statement than a question.
"Yes, they do, for their own purposes, and you need to get back to your quarters," Thornfalk says, glancing back at the soldiers running back with their guns held high. "I need to ensure this sector is locked down. Can you get back all right?"
My room is only down the hall. I nod, trying not to show my anxiety. Not for Captain Thornfalk. I am anxious that the plan forming in my head will not work.
Before he leaves, though, he grabs my shoulders, with a threatening look in his eye. I wonder if he can read my thoughts. "If you even think about not obeying my orders, refusing to follow the Rule's plans for you, I will personally kill you. You belong to the Rule and you cannot defy it. You get to your room and stay there, got it?"
I know he means what he says. He has hurt me before for not obeying orders completely. As soon as I see Captain Thornfalk turn the other direction, I take the corridor to the right, away from my quarters. I know my destiny is to become an assassin and serve the United World Rule, but I want to see the outdoors. This may be my only chance.
Captain Thornfalk always tells me that the reason for my accelerated training is that nobody notices a kid. He is right. Not even the Rule's soldiers notice me as they dash through the halls to the action. I am relieved, because I do not want to be caught fighting them. I am only afraid the conflict will end before I can see--catch one glimpse--of the outdoors. I know my destiny is to kill for the United World Rule, but I must have one moment where I can see the world outside.
I see a glimpse of light ahead, coming from the window in the door in the far end of the hall. I run faster. I can almost see the beautiful fields from the Sim and vids of the outdoors, the forests and mountains rising out of them. But as I approach the window in my door to freedom, this is not what I see. Cold durasteel buildings are the horizon, the sun hardly shining through what seems to be a pale purple sky. I realize it is a forcefield to protect the city. This is what the Rule wants to protect? This is what the Rule has created. I must protect this world, by protecting the Rule, and this world is not one that I care to protect. But my destiny says that I must--the Rule says that I must, even though I hate this world that they have made.
I am so struck with unhappiness that I do not hear the noise. Suddenly the door opens quickly into me, so that I am thrown into the wall as three masked figures stalk into the corridor. Before I can get up, the tallest figure grabs my collar and lifts me up in the air. He is burly, and very strong, but I am fast and well-trained. Twisting out of his grip, I land on my feet and strike out at his knees so they buckle. I dash past him, but one of the other figures grabs me, and the third presses a knife to my neck.
"It's the clone," the first figure says, gasping for breath and pulling down his mask. "The one we've been looking for."
I recognize his face, the way I can recognize anyone's face after one look. It is Walryt Samson, the rebel leader I was supposed to kill in the Sim. But now it is real, and if I die there will be no coming back.
"This boy?" asked the person holding my arms back. It is a woman's voice, doubtful. "He's only a child."
"He's not a boy, he's a clone, Aniva."
"The whole concept of the Uprising is to prevent the deaths of the innocent," Aniva replies, still holding me tightly. "We came to get this boy away from the Rule, so that their purpose might not become his destiny."
I cease my plotting of escape, surprised at what she says. The Rule protects us. The Rule decides our destinies, and mine is to kill for it.
"No," Samson says. "He needs to be ended. He's already been conditioned to their side."
I blink, realizing what this means. I will die.
"He's just a kid," Aniva protests. "You can't do that."
"He's a clone! Don't you realize what they've taught him? His fate is to kill us--performing the Rule's will. It's what he was designed for," Samson says, taking out his knife.
I look from one to the other, my hands going clammy and my jaw somehow locked shut. For a moment I catch a glimpse of how my victims in the Sim feel, if they could: helpless, defenseless, terrified. All because of my purpose, my fate.
"No!" Aniva cries. "I don't think that's true. He can change--he's still young--"
"Don't worry," Samson says as he brings the blade closer. "It will be quick and quiet."
I am tempted to close my eyes, so that I do not have to see my death. I have never expected this. I have always thought I would die from the Rule, because of my failure to follow their purpose for me. I am suppose to be nearly an adult in intelligence, but I feel cold fear like a child. Inwardly I curse the Rule and my destiny, even as a drop of salt water, like the salty blood that will soon slash across my neck, falls off my cheek and onto my heaving chest.
I look up, for what may be the last sight I see. Aniva's eyes are staring into mine. I do not know this rebel, this enemy. But I see pain in her eyes, and tears. But then, slowly, meaningfully, she glances down to her hands clutching me. I follow her gaze, and realize she has loosened her hold. Suddenly I yank away, landing a blow on Samson's neck, right where the head connect to the trunk. He falls, and I am already punching the next rebel. They are down, and it is only Aniva and I, staring warily at each other.
"Look, kid, don't stay here. I let you live on one condition: that you leave this horrible place. Don't let them turn you into a killing machine."
"I have to. I'm a clone. It is my destiny."
Aniva bends, and I again see the glimmer of tears in her eyes. "No, it's what they say your destiny is. The Rule does not know our paths. Your purpose is not one of evil, unless you let it be.
I look back towards the corridor, where the commotion is rapidly ending. Then I look towards the door. The world outside is not pretty, but it is free of long training sessions, preparation for my future role in the Rule.
"I will leave," I say, feeling like a man saving himself from drowning. "I will not stay here anymore."
Aniva is pressing a small chip into my hand. It is an identity chip.
"It will throw them off your trail," she says, before opening it to see the empty slots for data. "What's your name?"
"Now it is Peter."
She enters some more false information before exchanging it with my own, which she crushes.
"Now go, and stay safe."
I nod, before turning and stepping across the threshold of the door. It is not how I imagined the outdoors to be, but it is freedom. Even with the Rule probably out to get me in the next hour, I am not afraid anymore. After all, I am the weapon they created. Even though I am still young, I think I should be able to outsmart them.