Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Turning Point

by Kevin Gordon


1

Input and output. Flow-through and excretion. Upload, download, integrate and synthesize; that summed up each and every day for me on the TELREC Capital Ship LN-33. Eighteen hours of controlling clones; monitoring battles, transports, nourishment, sexual relief, excretion and euthanization; and I had about enough.

"Get those clones moving!" yelled Saeren Gunther from upon his throne of command, not even bothering to look in my direction. LN-33 took another blast from twelve circling dromons, weakening our NnuG generators, sending us pitiful soumans into a frenzy. Thankfully, the ship was mostly controlled by meta who couldn't care less if the walls were blown out and we were sucked into the void. I don't think Gunther could quite comprehend how badly his ass was being handed to him by Theia, commander of the OLMAC fleet of dromons that were attacking us. She had only been in command for thirty-six hours, and yet her little fleet was methodically picking our leviathan of a ship apart.

"Dammit," he yelled, pounding his fist on the console, "we need the engines on full! Ruche? Controller Ruche? "

I heard him the first time, but I just love the sound of my name.

"Yeah?"

"Tactical tells me twenty-percent of our fighters have been destroyed," he said, gesturing to Vuxi, the Tactical Chief. I think she had it in for me -- always telling Gunther what I wasn't doing and who could do it better. "Twenty-percent? Can't you get some motivation into those pasty-skinned abominations?"

"The harder I push 'em, the shorter they'll last."

"In case you didn't notice, we won't last much longer unless you push them now!"

"Fine." I connected with their minds -- all six thousand of them -- and elevated their emotional level to 'orange.' This meant their respiratory system pumped harder, their minds became flooded with adrenaline. It took a lot of my mind to focus on such a large number, but --

"Oops!" MP Liason Dania accidentally slipped and fell on me after a particularly strong percussive charge. Blonde with lips that teased with the promise of a gentle euphoria, I was always smitten by her charms. "Sorry about that -- I hope I didn't distract you."

I smiled weakly. "No, not at all. You all right?"

She smoothed out her uniform, adjusting her chest support. "Yeah."

"Got 'em!" yelled Gunther, as my clones managed to destroy one of the dromons.

"Anyway," I said, pushing my clones from the forefront of my mind, "did you see the new specs on the Hlendi weapon array?"

"No, not really," she said, obviously bored. Damn, I never was good with women. Some of 'em liked the tech speak, other's couldn't care less. And Dania was one sweet young thing that I was aching to do something, anything with. "Well, I better get back to the MP section. See you later . . ." she said with a wave.

"Warning! Warning!" blared an automatic klaxon. "Failure of internal atmosphere on decks two, five, and seven. Repeat --"

"What are you doing?" pleaded Gunther, now twisted in his chair so he could focus all his hateful gaze on me. "You have three thousand fighters, and ten measly dromons are picking my ship apart? Are you daydreaming or something?"

"No sir." I hated it when he insulted me in front of the rest of the nexus crew. I mean, just because a few ships are shooting at us doesn't mean all the H.R. rules go out the window. "I'll get right on it, sir."

####

My clones were taking a pounding.

Not that they were being killed -- it was that their morale was slipping. The dromons kept attacking our ship, and surprisingly, remained intact. Pass after pass they made, firing bolts of emdec energy into the same spot on our weakening NnuG barrier. The dromons would twist and turn, evading fire from our fighters. The clones for whatever reason couldn't adapt to the tactics used by Theia's fleet. I knew what was coming -- I just didn't want to admit it.

"Barrier failure imminent," blared the klaxon. "Barrier failure imminent."

The dromons were actually quite beautiful ships. Blue with black stripes along their length, they reminded me of large sea-going mammals from ancient times. Except these were quick, agile, and equipped with some advanced Hlendi shielding any TELREC R&D man would give his left nut for.

Gunther looked pissed, and I think it made me happy. Tall, thin, and irritatingly good-looking, I think the only reason he became Saeren of a Capital ship is so he could use it as a pick-up line with the pretty young boys. "Vuxi, target ment-dex cannons on the closest dromon. Ulian, force as much power as possible into the sensor jamming measures -- make them pay! Ruche, I hate to do this, but I need you to suicide the clones on those dromons."

"Dammit all, do you know how rough that is on me? That sort of thing will only give me a headache. It's real tough working through their conditioning, making them admit that only final sacrifice can achieve victory."

He didn't seem very pleased with my response. Actually, I think the stress was really getting to him. It's always a shame to see someone who just doesn't have their priorities in life straight. I mean, sure the battle is important and all, but what about 'me' time? What about a soldier's emotional well-being? But on and on he went..."Controller Ruche, in case you didn't notice, our ship is seconds away from being boarded! They have some system that is interfering with our targeting scanners. Now break those ships, or I'll break you!"

"Sir," I said cautiously, "physical threats are always counter-productive." I might get a write-up for that comment, but it was worth it just to see the pained expression on his face.

"Suicide...the...clones."

"Fine." I never had actually made clones suicide -- after all, this was the first battle I'd ever been in. In truth, I was kind of surprised how badly it was going for us. LN-33 was a massive ship, so enormous it would take a full day to walk from one end to the other. And those dromons, well, they were only the size of about five fighters. And yet...well, I was sure we'd win, but...ahh well, not my concern. I leaned into my clones' thoughts, shifting a group of them out, coaxing their emotional level up to a bright yellow. This kindled fury in their minds, conjured up all the implanted memories of potential failure and embarrassment and the absolute need to prevail.

"Hey Ruche," said Frannie, as she leisurely brought damage reports on to the nexus, "workin' hard?"

She was cute, in a fat kind of way. "Hardly workin'!"

With a chuckle she lounged in an empty seat next to me -- my assistant controller had been taken to the medical bay earlier. "When do you think we'll wrap all this up? This is going on longer than I thought."

I shrugged. "Dunno." I leaned in. "I actually have to suicide some of my clones."

"Eww! What does that feel like?"

I shrugged again. "I'm about to find out." I caught Gunther's evil gaze out of the corner of my eye. "You better go -- Mr. Wonderful's getting angry."

She smiled coyly. "See you later."

Yeah, I did her. Not too proud of it, but I was bored at the time.

"There!" shouted Gunther, pointing to a disabled dromon on the main screen. If he wasn't watching Ulian's ass, then he was yelling about everything. You'd think his mouth didn't come with a volume control. "Bring him down!"

"Yes sir." I pushed the clones into the dromon and...they hit. Fifteen fighters impacted the dromon, killing the clones instantly, sending the dromon up in a brilliant cloud of orange and black.

"Yes!" screamed Gunther, "got 'em good. Finally! Now ram your clones into the other ships. Rain destruction on them all!"

Suddenly, I really didn't want to. That just felt...wrong. I mean, I've had lots of clones die on me; just never so many at once. I could feel something, in that moment when they thought of their final end, a second before their deaths.

"What're you waiting for? Bring those ships down."

I sent in a squad of clones, but it was too late.

2

The breech was vicious and ugly, stretching along decks four and five, just outside the Motive Power section. The dromon Nemosini sat there taking what my clones dished out, yet remained unaffected. I was starting to admire Theia, and that ship of hers. Gunther thought they would drop a mine in, and they dropped several, but none exploded. Instead, internal sensors showed the mines split open, and out of them marched a full battalion of OLMAC clones. Gunther figured they would press on into the MP section to try to sabotage our engines and destroy the ship from within.

At least it gave me the chance to use the clones for what they were originally intended; hand-to-hand combat. I sent our remaining internal forces -- seventy-five clones, to a position just outside the MP area. They fortified their position, and began a firefight with the OLMAC clones.

Meanwhile, the suicide tactics were working, but that was mostly because the dromons couldn't retreat. They had to stay relatively close to their own clones for their controller to control them properly. So, I was able to plow my ships into theirs with relative ease, though each suicide run really started to bum me out.

I used emotions to motivate my clones, and each emotion had a particular color in their minds. Anger was red, calm was blue, and variants of those emotions translated to variants in hue. With so many clones dying at once, for the first time I saw a color I'd never seen before; the color of death, of mental silence. And it was spreading -- not only could I see it, but other clones could see and feel it too. I was beginning to get worried that they might even refuse to follow orders.

"How's the fight going?"

"I've got the OLMAC clones pinned down outside the MP area. They haven't moved yet."

"They better not." Gunther crossed his arms, and paced around and to my surprise he wasn't preening or posing. "This war isn't going the way I thought it would."

It was a surprising statement, and all of us on the nexus paused, and listened.

"None of us were prepared for this," he said, earnestly. "I mean, we've reigned uncontested in space for almost six millennia! I see it on all your faces -- none of you expected to actually fight. I don't think any of you even understand how dire the situation is. OLMAC is serious, people. They have the resources and the determination to break us, if we don't rise to the occasion." He glanced at me like I was lard lounging in a chair. I don't think I've ever seen anyone look at me with such an intense combination of disgust and pity in my entire life, and honestly, I felt ashamed. "Maybe it will take a significant defeat, for any of you to wake up, and fight. I think...I think we're going to have to evacuate the ship."

"But...we're TELREC," said the first officer with pride. "We've never retreated."

"We've never had anyone fight us like OLMAC is. There's a first time for everything, and I have no desire to die with the ship."

Die with the ship? I'd been on this ship for twenty years. How could this ship be destroyed? Wait -- what are they doing?

Down outside the MP section, I could see the OLMAC clones grab one of my clones, and drag him into their position. I opened my mental feed to Gunther, as I had never seen this before.

"What are they doing?" he asked, as he reviewed the situation.

"I don't know."

They kept my clone out of sight, and I saw them working on him, as others gave cover fire. After a minute, they . . .

Gunther covered his mouth, as if he would vomit. "I can't believe it!"

They held my clone's severed head aloft by its hair. I had never seen anything like it. His headless body lay nearby, and the OLMAC clones started to cheer; "Aiella! Aiella! Aiella!"

Something in my clones clicked, and I couldn't begin to control it.

It was something instinctual and primal; after all, clones were an amalgam of some of the greatest soldiers in Novan history. Though they were conditioned to obey me, they also had many of the old instincts still in them; things that made them good soldiers. They couldn't allow such a transgression to happen without a response. Before I could clamp down on their minds, suppress their anger, they rushed out of their fortified position to engage the OLMAC clones.

"It's a trap!" yelled Gunther. "They baited us, and --"

He was right. The OLMAC clones cut our forces down in seconds. And as they threw the severed head of my clone on the bodies of the others, I knew things had changed. When we boarded the escape shuttles, scrambling over one another to get out, I knew things had changed. And when LN-33 exploded in space, one of the largest and most well-armed ships in the entire TELREC fleet, I knew things would never be the same.

####

Dania sat next to me, whimpering, as we made our way through the debris, back to Malhrer.

"What...what are we going to do?"

I wish I could answer her. Gunther had been killed during the evacuation -- one of the OLMAC clones made it all the way up to the nexus, and shot him dead. But more than that, for the first time in my career with the TELREC, I could sense no clone. The color of silence spread through my clones like wildfire, killing their morale. To make a clone suicide went so against their natural instincts, that it caused some breakdown in their higher reasoning center. Each and every clone I controlled ceased to function, and were utterly destroyed by OLMAC ships. Their silence was absolutely deafening, and I knew I could never let it happen again.

She snuggled up on my arm. "I just want to feel safe. Hold me?"

"No. I think it'll be a long time before any of us feels safe again." I pushed her away, and made myself look out the side window at the burning carcass of the ship I had served on for almost twenty years. And I made a promise to myself, one that I intend to keep.

THE END


© 2010 Kevin Gordon

Bio: Stories by Kevin Gordon have appeared in NVF, Twilight Times, Bent Masses, Orion's Child, Escape Velocity, and most recently in Kalkion.

E-mail: Kevin Gordon

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