“I’d worry about you if it didn’t,” Jeff said. “But it was just a dream, Cale. Everyone has dreams; we just don’t always remember them. That’s part and parcel of being human.”
“I know that, Jeff,” Cale answered testily. “But I’ve never had a dream that was anything like this vivid before in my life.”
Jeff chuckled. “Then you’ve never been on anti-depressants before,” he said wryly.
“Yes I have,” Cale replied. “After my parents died, one of my doctors prescribed them for me. I had some very vivid dreams while I was on them, but nothing like this, Jeff.”
Jeff stood silent for a long moment, staring down at the deck, before he looked up at Cale. “There isn’t any use in talking you out of this, is there?”
Cale looked up at Jeff and smiled. “No, there isn’t.”
Jeff shook his head. “Then you’d better get down to the flight deck,” he said. “We’ll be launching escort fighters in thirty minutes, and your shuttle leaves fifteen minutes after that. I’ll tell Lieutenant Pierce that you’ll be joining the party.”
Cale rose from his chair and reached out, shook Jeff’s hand. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Jeff said. “But you really want to thank me, don’t go getting yourself killed. I have no desire to command this group all by myself.”
* * *
Cale stopped by his quarters long enough to collect his armored excursion jacket and his backup weapon, and then made for the flight deck.
Lieutenant Pierce and his Marines were waiting for Cale when he arrived on the flight deck. They came to attention and saluted as Cale arrived, and he returned the salute. “Commander MacIntyre informs me that you will be joining our excursion, sir,” the Lieutenant said.
“That’s right, Lieutenant,” Cale said.
“In that case, sir, I will have to insist on some simple security precautions,” the Lieutenant asserted. “These will be for your own safety, of course.”
“I’m listening,” Cale returned.
“First of all, sir, I need you to stay behind me and my men,” he explained. “Whatever is going to be coming at us inside that station will be coming from in front of us, and I want you protected. Secondly, if I tell you to get down or take cover, I need you to do it immediately and without hesitation.”
Cale smiled. “I appreciate your position, Lieutenant,” he said. “I have been in ground actions before, you know. You won’t have to worry.”
The party climbed aboard the shuttle and Cale leaned back in his chair after strapping himself in. He closed his eyes and tried to slow the frenetic beating of his heart. He knew what he was going to find there. He knew that as soon as he boarded the station he was going to see the sight that his dream had shown him. He didn’t want to see that kind of carnage, for he had experienced entirely too much bloodshed and loss of life in his years and he had no desire to see any more.
Being Cale, he occupied himself by praying while the shuttle made its way to the station.
Eventually Lieutenant Pierce and his men pronounced the flight deck secure and Cale was able to step off the shuttle. He wound his way through the corridors until he reached the promenade deck, which is where Fleet Commodore Cale Sandorsen learned two valuable lessons: God moves in mysterious ways, and sometimes your worst nightmares are the ones that come true.
* * *
Lieutenant Commander Alfred Donovan was the Chief Engineer for the Holloway battle group, and Commodore Sandorsen had tasked him with assessing the damage suffered by Newton Station during the Rebel attack. To that end, Al and his men had spent most of the last forty-eight hours working their way throughout the station, going from compartment to compartment and taking the readings and measurements that would let them know whether or not they would be forced to scuttle the facility.
For the last eight hours they had been examining the rows of cargo bays that occupied the station’s docking ring.
Al glanced down at the data pad he was holding in his hand and compared the text displayed on the tiny screen to the legend emblazoned on the door in front of him. “Right, lads,” he said to the group of youngsters clustered around him. “Bay thirty is next. Open her up.”
The Engineer nearest the door keyed the open sequence into the control panel built into the bulkhead. The door refused to open. So he keyed in a general override code, followed by the open code. The door refused to open.
Al stepped forward and keyed in a command level override. When the panel acknowledged the override he keyed in the open code. The door refused to open.
“Interesting,” Al muttered.
It had not been this way throughout the rest of the station. As anal- retentive as the scientists had been about their privacy they had yet to encounter any but the most basic of security precautions.
Well, Al thought to himself, I am not about to be defeated by an inanimate machine. I guess we’ll just have to reason with the thing. “Force it,” Al ordered. “I want that bay opened up.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
One of the Engineers removed the cover from the control panel while another reached into his tool pouch, extracted the implements he would need. When the cover was removed he quickly snipped the wires feeding the panel. After a moments examination he selected two wires, stripped off the ends, and then spliced them together. The door remained closed. So he selected another pair of wires, stripped off the ends and spliced them together. Still the door remained closed.
The engineer let the wires hang out of the open panel, knelt down and undogged a service panel located on the bulkhead just above the deck. The removal of this panel revealed an emergency manual override lever which the engineer pulled.
The door ground open, revealing the interior of a darkened cargo bay.
“Well done,” Al congratulated.
As one the engineers took up their hand torches and thumbed the switches. They held the torches up beside their heads, at eye level to get the best field of view, and stepped into the bay. Being the only one armed, Al kept his other hand on the butt of his sidearm.
All the engineers could discern from the glow of the torches was row upon row of equipment. The rows were spaced every four meters apart and seemed to stretch all the way up to the ceiling. In the middle of all this, though, they could make out a control island, a platform upon which a series of control consoles had been built.
Al led the engineers to the platform and examined the controls. After a moments thought he touched two buttons and systematically threw a bank of switches. The cargo bay lights came to life one at a time.
Al switched off his torch and returned the implement to his belt. He then took a look around the bay, examined the equipment from a fresh perspective.
This was his first good look at the contents of the bay, and Al had to admit that he found the sight more than a little disconcerting.
The towers of equipment consisted of cylindrical containers. Each one was two meters long and half a meter wide, resting on a platform of monitoring equipment. Each one was filled with a liquid solution, and inside that solution floated a man-sized body to which was affixed all manner of monitors, tubing, and test instruments. The cylinders and their platforms were stacked one atop another almost all the way to the ceiling. There were several rows of these towers, each row separated by a four meter gap on either side.
Suspended animation tanks filled with a nutrient solution? Al wondered. No, I don’t think so. Something doesn’t feel right.
Al stepped down from the control platform and approached one of the tanks, carefully scrutinized the man floating in the solution. He appeared to be of an age with Al, but his body bore none of the scars which signified the pursuit of an active life.
Somewhat confused Al walked down the line and looked into another cylinder.
And that’s when he noticed that two different men floating in two different cylinders filled with a nutrient solution each had identical faces.
Al’s eyes grew wide as he considered the implications of his discovery.
He jogged farther down the line and peered into another container, was not surprised to find another identical face.
“Ah, Hell!” Al cursed. “Don’t touch anything!” he commanded as he keyed his comset. “Commodore Sandorsen, Commander Donovan.”
“Sandorsen, aye,” Cale responded after a moment.
“Skipper, I’m in Cargo Bay Thirty with the rest of my team. I’ve just found something that I think you should see. I think it’s the reason why the Rebels may have come here in the first place.”
“Very well,” Cale answered. “I’m on my way.”
* * *
Cale peered into the transparent cylindrical cloning tank, gazing through the murky nutrient solution at the serene face of a sleeping man.
It’s nice to know, Cale thought to himself, that we were able to save something in spite of the slaughter here. But why were we able to save them at all?
That was the question, it seemed.
As surprised as he was to find a cargo bay full of clones on a Navy research station, for total human cloning had been illegal in the Empire since the Formation Wars, it had not escaped Cale’s notice that the Rebels who had performed the slaughter had been on the station for such a length of time that they should have been able to see to the destruction and ransacking of the cloning chamber and still be out of the system before the Holloway battle group ever emerged from the Jump.
Cale turned his gaze down to the status displays prominently mounted on the side of the cloning chamber. His eyes followed the lazy rise and fall of the waveforms which represented brain activity, took note of the strength of the waves and their regularity. According to this you’re alive. or at the very least capable of conscious thought. Does that mean you have a soul?
Al Donovan broke through Cale’s reverie as he stepped up to his commander and held out a data pad. “We’ve finished our count,” he began. “According to our numbers there are ten thousand active cloning chambers in this bay. The readings on the side of each tank indicate that all of the clones are just about ready to emerge.”
Cale nodded but did not take the data pad. “How many inactive or malfunctioning tanks are there?” he asked.
Al shook his head. “All of them are good to go.”
Cale tore his gaze away from the cloning tank in front of him and turned to face his engineer. “Don’t you find that bizarre?” he asked. “Consider the beating that this place took. Is it not logical to assume that the amount of energy being poured into the station’s shields and, after they collapsed, onto the armored hull itself would cause any number of spikes or surges in the power system? And is it not logical to assume that such spikes and surges would fry the computers controlling the cloning system?”
Al nodded. “Yes, Commodore, it would,” he answered, “if the facility were drawing power from one of the station’s four reactors.”
Cale frowned at that. “If it isn’t drawing power from one the reactors then where is it drawing power from?”
“Well, sir, the facility appears to be generating its own,” Al replied. “What appears to be an emergency reactor was installed in the cargo bay one level below bay Thirty. The power feed from that reactor runs into the control platform and from there to the individual tanks.”
Cale nodded his acknowledgment of the explanation and made his way up to the control platform. He sat down behind one of the consoles and keyed in the ID number of the cylinder he had been looking into. A screenful of information appeared and Cale took a moment to absorb it all. The original tissue donor was identified, but only by number. The class of clone being produced, which Cale took to mean the clones intended purpose, was also listed, but again only by number. All of the information listed was presented numerically. The only thing that Cale could say for sure is that the clone that he had been examining was Specimen 1015114 from Tissue Sample 2012057.
Exasperating, Cale thought.
Cale lounged back in his chair and turned to face his officers, all of whom were gathered to hear just what the Wise and Wonderful Parson was going to come up with for these clones. In the background Cale could see Jeff leaning casually against a cloning cylinder watching him speculatively.
Cale knew that no matter what he decided he was going to be called upon by Jeff to defend himself. He could tell by the look on Jeff’s face that he had already decided what he would do in Cale’s place, and that he believed his choice to be the only reasonable course of action available to them.
I haven’t even decided anything yet and I’m already in the spotlight, Cale thought.
Cale took a deep breath, and then took his first step into the fire. “What we do here will have lasting repercussions, which will be felt all over the Empire,” he began. “The action we take will determine the Empire’s stand on the status of Cloned Citizens when the next Cloning Center is found. I can almost guarantee that if we found this one, then there are probably several others scattered throughout Imperial Space.
“What we do here will be determined by our answer to a sheaf of questions that have been plaguing mankind for almost seven hundred years. And the first two questions on the list are,” Cale held up his hand and extended first one finger, and then another as he rattled off the questions, “are these clones alive; and, if so, at what point in their development did they become alive?”
“Why do we have to take that into account at all?” Lieutenant Pierce wanted to know. “Total human cloning is illegal and has been for hundreds of years.”
“Because,” Melanie Foster answered, “whether we like it or not, the brain wave readings on those cylinders show active intelligences. That means they’re sentient and that means they have rights under Imperial Law.”
“So what?” Pierce demanded. “These clones were created artificially. Their very existence is against the law. I say we scuttle is place and move on.”
“Great for the equipment,” Al cut in, “but what would you do with the Clones? Space them?”
Pierce shrugged. “That’s one way to solve the problem.”
Mary Carter, the Operations Officer on the Holloway, shook her head. “I cannot believe that you could be so heartless.”
“What’s so heartless about it?” Pierce returned. “It’s not like they’re human or anything.”
“Of course they’re human!” Mary protested. “They’re as human as you and I.”
“No, they aren’t,” Pierce returned. “They were created artificially using a process which has been outlawed in the Empire for centuries. Their very existence is an abomination. They are not human.”
“Aren’t they?” Cale spoke up. “Isn’t that exactly what they are? Just because their mother was a test tube and their father was a knife does that make them less than human? Or could it make them more than human? And what would be more frightening, the one or the other?”
Jeff grimaced and turned his gaze down to the deck. Cale saw his movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up. “Do you have something to say, Commander MacIntyre?”
Jeff smiled a wan smile laced with gallows humor. “You have a knack for coming up with questions that nobody wants to answer, Skipper.”
The officers of the Holloway shared a much needed chuckle at their skipper’s expense. Even Cale found himself chuckling, though he knew that the only thing that Jeff had really done was to postpone their discussion to some time when the two of them were in private.
“So, now that we have had our moment of comedy relief,” Cale said, “we are still called upon to answer a fundamental question: Are these clones alive?”
Cale watched his officers for a long moment, and when no one had an answer to his question he heaved a heavy sigh.
“In the latter half of the twentieth century on Earth, medical science discovered a way to abort the birth of a fetus in the womb. A number of methods were used, ranging from civilized to barbaric; but no matter what method was used, the mother who had been carrying the fetus almost invariably fell into a deep depression brought about by the fact that she could feel in her heart the absence of the child that now would never be born. But even before the medical community became aware of the full consequences of this technology that they had released to the world, there were those who debated whether or not those aborted fetuses were alive and if so at what point they became alive.
“The legal and justice system was really no help at all, as no matter what legislation was brought down to regulate this technology the government invariably came under fire from public interest groups who condemned them for their stance on the matter. Eventually it got to the point where most governments simply sidestepped and avoided the issue for the simple reason that no matter what they did they just couldn’t win.”
Cale’s gaze wandered around the room, catching the eye of each of his officers and holding the contact for a moment before moving on. “I think that’s what’s happening here. And I sympathize with you all for not wanting to stick your neck out on this issue. The questions that we’re being required to answer are among the toughest that the human race has ever posed.
“Fortunately for us, we can defer to a higher authority.
“The teachings of the Bible, the Living Word Sanctified by God Himself, show that the creation of life, in whatever form that takes, is a sacred act. What we are witnessing here is no less than the creation of life itself. No matter what we think or feel, these clones are the product of a sacred act, and they must be respected.”
Pierce rolled his eyes. “So you’re saying that scuttling the facility is out of the question.”
Cale nodded. “To do so would be murder, and I will not be a party to murder.”
“It wouldn’t be murder, Skipper,” Pierce protested. “It would be justice.”
“Those clones have just as much right to live as you do,” Mary pointed out.
“And if I may say so,” Melanie cut in, “you have a rather heavy handed definition of justice.”
“Justice is justice regardless of what form it takes,” Pierce pointed out.
“So you actively condone the murder of ten thousand sentient beings?” Melanie demanded.
“No,” Pierce answered, “but I do actively condone the elimination of ten thousand abominations.”
“What gives you the right to call these beings abominations?” Mary wanted to know.
“The law gives me that right,” Pierce shot back, “the same law that outlawed the technology used to create them.” He turned on Cale and pointed at one of the cylinders. “For all we know what’s happening here may not simply be cloning,” he said. “These creatures may have been genetically engineered, and I for one am not comfortable with the idea of facing ten thousand genetically engineered supermen in combat. God only knows what would happen to the Empire if they got loose.”
“A good point, Lieutenant,” Cale conceded. “But I still think you’re not seeing the big picture. If we scuttle this facility and kill the clones then we have no evidence to use to track down the people responsible for putting this place together.”
“We already know who built this,” Pierce said. “The Rebels did, and I think they attacked the station strictly for the purpose of destroying this facility.”
“They why didn’t they?” Mary demanded. “God knows they were here long enough. And for that matter, why did they bother to board the station at all? If they were really interested in destroying this facility they could have obliterated the station with weapons fire and all we would have found when we got here was a debris field and a few bodies. We would have logged the incident and then resumed our course for New Bellerephon.”
“Another good point,” Cale commented as he faced the Lieutenant. “We have too many questions that we need to answer, and we can’t answer any of them if we destroy this facility and kill the clones.”
“What is it that you’re suggesting, Skipper?” Jeff wanted to know. Judging from the look on Jeff’s face he thought he already knew what the answer was going to be and he wasn’t looking forward to hearing it.
Instead of answering Jeff’s question, Cale turned to Al. “Can you dismantle this facility and relocate it aboard the Holloway?” he asked.
Al felt his eyes turn into saucers. “XO’s right, you do ask the tough ones, don’t you?” he commented. Then he was silent for a long moment while he thought about it. “It’s doable, I suppose,” he answered finally. “Tough part is going to be keeping power applied to each cylinder and to the monitoring equipment during the transfer. And we won’t be able to take their emergency reactor with us, so we’ll have to arrange a power feed directly from one of our reactors. We’ll also have to clear out at least two of our cargo bays to accommodate the facility.”
“But it is doable?” Cale pressed.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2003 by Michael J. A. Tyzuk