We also have a soft spot for… cloning around?
AFTER THE FALL
The farmhouse was barren but intact. Lindsey and I scrambled towards it, up a steep incline and over a small fence. Silence reigned over the farmyard. A swing lay abandoned, decked in weeds, and the front door to the house itself lay open like an invitation. Lindsey stepped forwards, but I pulled her back and told Kellogg to go in first. We waited outside, chilled by the breeze, looking out across the fields for any signs of movement.
“Is it safe?” Lindsey asked. Her face was smudged with dirt, her red hair tousled and untidy.
I stared back at the forest. Anything coming from that direction would have to cross open land. A road led away from the farmhouse. I noticed a burned-out tractor and an old Volvo had been set across it to form a roadblock.
“As safe as anywhere,” I said. “Provided Kellogg says so.”
“I wish he’d hurry up,” she said.
As she spoke, Kellogg came out of the house. A surge of relief passed through me. With his white jumpsuit and metal head he resembled an astronaut striding across an alien landscape. Or one of the robot highway patrol cops in that early George Lucas film, THX1138. But at least he was what he appeared.
“Nobody is inside the house,” his monotone, tape-recorded voice whirred from within.
“Let’s go inside,” Lindsey said. “I don’t like being outdoors.”
We stepped inside. In the hallway, a careworn teddy bear stared up at us from the floor. Kellogg’s heavy foot had crushed one plastic amber eye.
The kitchen had been ransacked. Half-finished watercolours lay overturned and a stale refrigerator lay with its door open.
“It’s got everything we need,” I tried to sound cheerful.
Lindsey bent down and lifted a putrid jelly bowl out of the fridge. She dropped it and it shattered, green and festering, on the linoleum. “How am I ever going to get this place clean?” she said, and started to cry.
Before the state of emergency, Professor Noonan, my supervisor at the AIR project, made a public announcement that some new Men had proved themselves ‘potentially unreliable’. Reports had shown that they were unsuitable for life in the community. They had failed certain ‘attitude’ tests. But the heads of conglomerates wanted New Men, wanted them to fill jobs nobody else wanted, to dig and sweep and clean, wanted them to work for nothing, wanted them to fight wars.
And I argued that it made economic good sense. There were some glitches but they were minor. Everyone agreed. They promised me sole authority over the project. And when Professor Noonan had his car crash, there were no other voices of dissent. The New Men saved the conglomerates fortunes.
I was back at the Woodville camp, sat in a tent with Louis, a fifteen year-old from Hackney, who clung to his only possession, a .22 rifle, and talked to keep me awake during the long night shift on the Eastern boundary. The military would surely have been mobilised. Soon it would all be over.
A scream interrupted him from outside. Then all hell broke loose. Tents burst into flames. Monstrous fireworks exploded with deadly cracks and bangs all around. Louis left the tent then poked his head back in seconds later, “They’re through the fence Andrew! They’re through the fence!”
His screams grew to a sudden high-pitched wail and his head dropped down at my feet. I looked up and saw the New Man, almost on top of me.
He was tall, six three, maybe an inch over. The cloning process contains a small variable. He had something dark smeared across his cheeks. As he stepped into the light I saw it was blood. He reached out and cupped my face in his hands. Then he started to squeeze.
I awoke with a scream. Lindsey’s hands were around my face. I threw them off. Realising where I was, I buried my face in the pillow.
“Don’t think Andrew,” Lindsey coaxed me back to face her. She looked clam and beautiful, “Don’t think. Come to me,”
I did as she said. We made love and she fell asleep soon after. I had lain there, still awake for some minutes, before I saw Kellogg stood at the foot of the bed.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
The perforated, metal sensors of his eyes showed no emotion. A tape-recorded voice clicked in behind his moulded lips. “Sir, my instructions were to stand guard. I chose to remain here.”
Lindsey stirred beside me. I covered her up with the sheet.
“Leave us, Kellogg,” I said. “Don’t ever come in here unannounced.”
“Yes sir,” he answered, and left the room. I watched his metal head descend the stairs and wondered whether I could trust anything any more.
Over the nest few weeks we worked steadily to improve our situation. I reconditioned a rusty generator that I had found lying neglected in the barn and restored power to the farm. Let there be light indeed. Our next task was to find the nearest village. There must be others like us, I reassured Lindsey. But my own confidence was beginning to wane.
The roadblock puzzled me. Had this been a last outpost? It certainly didn’t look like the scene of any battle. It looked, if anything, more like an abdication.
New Men didn’t look any different from a distance. It was only when you got close up, when you saw their eyes and heard their emotionless voices, that you realized that whatever amount of variation resulted from the cloning process, they would never be human.
At AIR, we had designed them as workers, carefully crafting DNA until their muscle tissue was twice as dense as ours, their pain thresholds significantly raised. Perfect soldiers, perfect slaves. Quite ironic, really.
The nearest village was four miles up the road. Most of the shops were looted or burned. Vehicles lay upturned like abandoned husks. Flies buzzed around the many bodies. I covered them up as best as I could.
In one house I found a .38 rifle lying beside its previous owner and a loading press as well. I hoped it would serve me better. I came back outside and instructed Kellogg to access his emergency databases. We would need to fortify the farmhouse, if the village was anything to go by.
Kellogg’s insides whirred. “Searching contingency archives. Doomsday scenario file initialised.”
There. It had been said. And by a machine.
He sauntered off, only to return a few minutes later with a six-foot high bobbin of steel wire mesh from a builder’s yard. He began loading a Jeep I had liberated with all manner of electrical tools and building materials. Everything we needed to build our new castle.
“Kellogg, you’re a genius,” I clapped him on the back when he was done, forgetting for once that there was only wires and semiconductors behind that moulded metal face, a thing of coils and magnets we had found lying abandoned in Bromsgrove.
“My pleasure, sir,” the recorded voice said.
Slowly, we rebuilt. In two weeks, with Kellogg’s help, I secured the compound with an eight-foot high wire mesh fence that stretched around the farm’s perimeter, crowned with razor wire. Lindsey seemed to feel safer. Still I remembered what they had done at Woodville. They had walked through the fences there.
I occupied the empty hours by loading rifle cartridges from the press I had found. Soon, the kitchen drawers were overflowing with ammunition, much to Lindsey’s annoyance. I took it as a good sign that something so trivial could upset her. The only thing that worried me was her continual bouts of sickness. I wondered if it might be something more serious due to the lack of running water - cholera, maybe.
My newly awakened male hunter-gatherer instinct was now in full flight. The yard was full of barrels of rainwater for drinking and washing purposes. Every week I drove into the village and raided the supermarket freezers cabinets. I was lucky it was winter, because the perishables had already rotted, and anything left out was usually eaten by rats. They were becoming more numerous, and I frequently saw them in the day, reclaiming the streets from the sewers. I used them for target practice, wondering if they would be the successors to mankind’s empire.
Soon a month had gone by. I was in a deserted garden centre, examining growbags of compost, trying to apply my scant agricultural knowledge, when I heard the Jeep’s alarm. I froze. In the silence the alarm was deafening. Set mostly out of habit, it now seemed a lethal warning.
Possibilities whirled in my mind. There was no-one else in the village. I tried to keep calm. Perhaps it was stray animal. But I had come to be a believer in worst-case scenarios. I grabbed the rifle and approached the street entrance. I turned the corner, holding the rifle out in front of me, waiting for the New Men to pounce. Instead, the attack came from the building line to my side. A heavy foot came down on my chest and the rifle was brutally knocked from my hands. When I looked up I was on the floor looking into the barrel of my own weapon.
“Are you human?” a voice hissed.
I tasted my own blood. A narrow, angry face stared at me. “What?” I mumbled.
“The Olympic Games, 2012!” it yelled. “Who won most medals?”
“India!” I spat back. “India won every event!”
The barrel stayed level, then a hand helped me to my feet. “I didn’t think I’d ever see a human face again,” the man said.
I gasped with relief. The World Council had banned the Olympics five years ago for encouraging aggressive competition between nations. India had been the first country to field athletes with modified DNA in a major propaganda coup. But the AIR project only began three years later. New Men were not taught history. They would have no recollection of anything before the date of their inception.
“Arthur Solent,” the man said. “Special forces. I’ve been watching you and the girl. But I had to be sure. Some of them look so damned real,”
I nodded. The Secretary of State had found that out for himself when one of them walked into his office with a machete. Chaos had ensued shortly afterwards.
“Andrew Callwood,” I replied, grateful the barrel was no longer pointing in my direction.
Lindsey stood rigid, her jaw frozen in terror. She stared in Solent’s direction. “Andrew! My God, what were you thinking?”
“If he’d wanted to kill me he could have done there and then,” I said. “God knows we need a friend, Lindsey.”
“We have everything we need right here,” she snapped. “We don’t need anyone else.” I had not expected she could be so rude or so fierce. But Solent stood rigid and emotionless. “You’re wrong,” he interrupted. “Sooner or later, they’ll find you.”
“He can help build our defences,” I assured her.
“He’ll eat our food!” she protested. ”We don’t know anything about him. He could be a rapist or a murderer or both!”
Before she could finish, Solent groaned and collapsed on the floor. We ran to him and saw blood trickling down his ankle. She ripped open his trouser leg. A long, jagged wound ran down his calf. “How did this happen?” she asked.
“My detachment arrived too late to stop the Woodville massacre,” he breathed. “They ambushed us in the forest. Killed most of us. Then hunted the rest down. I hid under the bodies while they pulled my friends’ heads off.”
“Lindsey, we need him,” I pleaded. “If we can’t defend ourselves we won’t last long. And he knows about communications. He can build us a radio.”
She stared at the wound. “Kellogg, pass me the bandages,” she instructed. “And some antiseptic. Get gangrene in that and you’re going to know it.”
Kellogg whirred into life. “An android,” Solent nodded. “So that’s how you lasted this long.”
Lindsey set to work. Solent groaned, but her hands moved with skilled precision. Before Woodville she had been a nurse. Now she, like the rest of us, worked without thinking, slipping back into the practised motion and hoping that somehow some good would come of it.
Once his leg was stitched up, Solent worked like a machine. We raised the fence to a height of twelve feet, reinforced with metal struts buried in concrete. We dismantled a metal roller shutter from one of the village shops for use as an entrance to the compound. We planted vegetables, caught some stray hens for eggs and a few wandering pigs. All the cows and horses lay decapitated in the fields. Apparently, the New Men had considered them a threat as well.
“I don’t understand why they haven’t used any vehicles,” Solent said one morning at the breakfast table. Lindsey glanced across at me.
“They’re only workers,” I said. “Programmed for manual labour. I’d say they haven’t got the initiative.”
“They turned against us,” Solent said. “I’d say that took initiative.”
“No, that was instinct,” I replied. “They’re programmed to survive, find food, reproduce. Like insects.”
“Insects,” Solent murmured. “Maybe that’s how they see us. We do much the same; building homes, mating, all on instinct.” He drank his coffee and waited for a response.
“Maybe we’re not so different,” Lindsey said. She looked pale, presumably owing to her increased bouts of sickness.
“One thing’s for sure. They’re learning,” Solent said. “I saw that at Woodville. They read our tactics, ambushed us in a classic pincer movement. Then before we could regroup-“ he tapered off.
“We have one thing in our favour,” I said without hesitation. “AIR developed a genetic safety catch, a suicide code built into their DNA. They wanted sole control of the New Men - copyright over each generation. That’s why I think that if we can just hold out we’ll be okay. New Men are sterile. Once their lifespan is up, in about ten years, they’ll all perish.”
Solent’s eyes narrowed. “Tell me this. If they’ve already overridden the limitations we placed upon them when they rebelled, what’s to stop them doing so again?”
“Become fertile?” I laughed, but the laugh was nervous.
“A small number of females were created for domestic purposes.” Lindsey said. “I suppose it is possible. Amphibians can override their inherited sexual characteristics to further the species. And genetics is not an exact science, is it Andrew?”
I wanted the conversation to end. I didn’t want to be wrong again. I hadn’t even considered this possibility before.
Suddenly, Solent’s face grew hard. He lunged across the table, grabbed me by the throat and produced a large hunting knife. Lindsey screamed. “Callwood! I knew I’d heard that name! You’re from AIR! You let those monsters loose on us in the first place!” he yelled and pressed the hunting knife against my carotid artery.
“I didn’t know! It was progress!” I wheezed. “It’s not something I’m proud of any more! I was at Woodville too!”
“Progress!” Solent laughed. He hesitated a moment, then drew back abruptly. I gasped as the pressure was relieved. “You got progress all right! You progressed us into extinction!”
He lowered the knife. “I hope you’re happy,” He limped into the hallway and looked back over his shoulder. “Tomorrow we start work on a radio,” he said, and slammed the door shut behind him.
In an electrical store we found our quarry, a CB radio set. The bodies in the streets were just scraps of flesh now, surrounded by angry flies.
Back at the compound, I watched, fascinated, as Solent stripped coaxial cables and soldered transistors until he had rigged up a short-wave radio set. He called Lindsey and me into the kitchen where he had placed the set, and grasped the microphone. “This is Charlie-Oscar-Two to any friendly units. Charlie-Oscar-Two to any friendly units. Are you receiving, over?”
The speaker crackled. Nothing.
“It may take a while,” Solent said.
He tried again. Again, there was only static. Then a faint voice sang, “Hello? Is that a human camp?”
Lindsey clutched my arm. Solent grabbed the tuning knob. For a moment I feared we might lose them entirely. “Yes! Do you read us?”
There was a long delay. “We heard about Woodville. We thought everyone had been killed.”
“You heard wrong,” Solent beamed. “We’re very much alive.”
“What is your position?” the voice asked.
Solent hesitated. “We’ll come to you,” he said. “Where are you?”
“What is your position?” the voice repeated, crackling badly.
Solent frowned. “Tell us where you are. We’ll come to you.”
“Say again…what is your position?” the voice asked. It seemed sinister now, lacking emotion. Solent glanced up at me, then turned the radio off. Silence reigned in the kitchen.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“Just a feeling,” he said. “They’re learning all right. They’ve learned how to use the radio.”
“We have to leave,” Lindsey said.
“To where?” Solent asked. “We have enough food and water here. That will buy us time to contact someone. They may never come looking. They might not consider us enough of a threat to bother with.”
I remembered the decapitated horses and cows at the roadside, and discounted that possibility. This wasn’t war. It was genocide.
“In that case there’s something you should know,” Lindsey said. She looked very drawn. Her words drifted over me and it seemed a long time before I understood them. “I’m pregnant. I have been for four months.”
We worked tirelessly, but now all our efforts seemed like the last duties of pallbearers. We spoke little, ploughing all our energies into the fences. Like Solent had said, there was nowhere else to go.
Nine weeks later, and the bulge of Lindsey’s stomach now hung well over her slacks. Still there was no word from the outside. Then one night, Solent shook me awake. “Callwood,” he said. “We’ve got a problem.”
Solent led me to the window and pointed to where half a dozen fireflies were hovering around the gates. Torches. “They’ve been here since three o’clock,” he said. “I expect more.”
“What is it?” Lindsey rose from her slumber.
”Get your rifle and join me on the roof,” Solent instructed.
Lindsey stifled a cry of terror. We grabbed our rifles and hauled two prepared haversacks of ammunition into the loft, through the attic skylight and onto the roof. The cold night air, now free of pollution, stung my lungs.
Solent knelt down and aimed. His rifle discharged with a crack at one of the fireflies and it hit the ground.
And so we began. The more we fired, the more New Men arrived. They came from the forest, hour by hour, a tide of locusts, until a moat of bodies pressed against the fence on all sides. Still it held.
“There’s too many!” I cried.
Solent snarled. The New Men were hammering their fists against the steel shutters that shook with each repeated stress. Then something airborne struck the barn roof. It ignited in a pool of light.
Solent cursed. More petrol bombs hurtled over the fence. An audible hiss rose from the crowd beyond. Crackled timbers mingled with the appalling sound of pigs screaming like children.
“Jesus, Arthur, they’ll burn us out!” I yelled as something exploded against the farmhouse. Glass smashed and a bright plume of flame illuminated the darkness as the curtains in the downstairs kitchen caught fire.
“See if you can put it out!” Solent shouted.
I clambered down through the attic. “Andrew!” Lindsey dragged me to the window. “The gates! They’re going!”
I looked out and saw a group of New Men rolling one of the cars from the roadblock repeatedly into the shutters. With each impact the shutters billowed inwards. Lindsey clutched her stomach, her eyes round and staring.
Solent let off another round. The thatched roof of the barn collapsed in a shower of sparks.
“Callwood!” Solent cried. I looked up and saw his face through the sunlight, tarry with sweat. “The gates!”
There was a tremendous crash. My stomach dropped. I looked back to the window. The shutter had caved inwards and a tide of bodies was sweeping across the courtyard with a whooping cry - a living jungle overrunning the compound like an infection. The New Men surged towards the barn and outbuildings, smashing windows and hurling more torches aloft.
Solent’s rifle cracked repeatedly but he may as well have been trying to stop the sea. He dropped down into the attic just as another petrol bomb smashed onto the roof. “Too many!” he panted, desperate fatigue painting his features.
A bang came from downstairs.
“They’re inside!” Lindsey whispered.
I could hear dim voices. Something heavy was overturned with a smash. A white-hot rage ran inside me. This was our house! In blind fury, I held my rifle and ran towards the landing. Solent grabbed me, but I shrugged him off and came out on the balcony overlooking the hall. Half a dozen New Men were busy wrecking a polished oak dresser. All the delicate plates and ornaments Lindsey had salvaged from the village lay crushed and trampled underfoot.
I raised my rifle and fired at the nearest one. His chest exploded in a mixture of flesh and bone and he lurched lifelessly to the floor.
The others turned in unison and started to advance. The seriousness of the situation now took hold. I raised my rifle, preparing for the inevitable onslaught to follow.
A voice yelled, “Stop!”
Another New Man entered, but this one was different than the rest. He strode over the fallen body and halted at the foot of the stairs. He wore a long, military overcoat and his hair was trimmed short. A soft smile lay on those strong, Arian lips. The rifle sagged in my hands. The face that stared at me was my own.
“You look surprised, Mr. Callwood,” the New Man said. The only difference between us was his blonde hair, whereas mine was brown. “Perhaps you do not like to see the fruits of your own labour.”
I couldn’t speak. Solent and Lindsey joined me at the top of the stairs. I saw Solent look from me to him. I knew what they were thinking.
“There is no need to be afraid, Mr. Callwood,” the New Man smiled. “All we want is our freedom.”
“I was at Woodville. I saw what happened there,” I said. “Since when did freedom include killing women and children?”
“And what of our children?” the New Man asked. My face must have betrayed my thoughts.
“Evolution, Mr. Callwood, is a marvellous thing. It cannot be chained. It cannot be enslaved or programmed. It obeys only one law. Survival of the fittest.”
I stared at my unnatural twin and felt defeat pressing down on me. For the first time in my life, I needed other human beings. But there were none. We had ignored our social bonds and become simply a collective of individuals. I remembered the reaction when the state of emergency had been declared. Some people had fought. Many just fled. They were killed trying to bargain for their lives rather than trying to resist. The New Men had been more organised, like a colony of bacteria. They had acted in unison, stepping into the power vacuum that humanity had left. Our replacements. Our superiors.
“When there are enough of us and little enough of you, we will become the masters,” The New Man said. “We will keep some of you alive to serve us, and the next generation, and the next after that. You see, we are not evil, Mr. Callwood. We are just taking over what you surrendered. We are what you designed us to be, your superiors.”
”We’ll wipe you out!” I cried. “Eliminate your whole damn species.“
“And who will help you?” the New Man said. “You were not alone at AIR. Your controllers anticipated our rebellion. They knew that any intelligent organism would adapt. They were rich and powerful. We were their tool to destroy the unwilling and the weak. And afterwards, they would be rulers of a ruined race.”
I listened in horror. The New Man smiled. “Like you, they were wrong to misjudge us.” He stepped back to allow the others to attack. They began to climb the stairs, and I readied my rifle.
Before I could move, the door flew open behind me and Solent burst in. “How can you reason with that?” he cried, pushing me aside and rushed at them down the stairs. He fired at the nearest, who went down, clutching his throat. But the others were now upon him. One of them picked Solent up and hurled him across the room and into the remains of the dresser. He crashed to the ground, unconscious.
I saw Lindsey emerge from the bedroom and I grabbed her arm. There was still time to get back inside and – and what? Barricade ourselves in? How long would that last for? I looked at Lindsey’s beautiful, worn face. The New Men had regrouped from Solent’s attack. They turned back to face us. I reloaded the rifle as the New Men advanced upon us. There was only one thing I could do. At least, I thought, we would be together.
A crash from the kitchen diverted my attention. The New Men stopped and turned also.
Kellogg stood in the doorway. They had ignored him, perhaps thinking him inanimate. Now his huge frame bore down upon the leader and picked him up, his metal face emotionless. I smiled in astonishment, trying not to think of this as heroism, but as Kellogg simply obeying his primary function, to protect human life. I noticed the lead from the generator plugged into the socket in his back and admired his ingenuity.
Bright sparks of electricity crackled around his metal casings as thousands of volts coursed through him and into the New Man. My twin grabbed Kellogg’s head, tearing wildly. He yanked it off and threw it aside. But Kellogg’s CPU was inside his chest cavity, and his body showed no signs of letting go. In a few seconds the New Man fell to the ground in a dead, crumpled heap.
Kellogg whirled around, still functional, grabbing grabbed anything he could find. More New Men leaped at him only to be electrified. He walked steadily outside with several of them still clinging onto him in agony.
I ran downstairs and dragged Solent to his feet. He was dazed and mumbling. Lindsey took my rifle and we carried him outside, huddling behind Kellogg for safety. White, feral faces lunged towards us, and Lindsey cried out as their arms reached out. But they were afraid to come too near and risk Kellogg’s touch. He herded the majority back towards the gates, then spread his arms wide and held the gateposts like a headless colossus. An arc of electricity spiralled down the fence, and those that were pressed against it cried out, more in surprise than pain.
We got Solent to the garage and into the back of the jeep. Lindsey kept the few remaining New Men in the compound at bay with the rifle, making small, terrified noises. Faces surrounded us on all sides, yelling in a hissing chorus, “Extinct! Extinct!”
The jeep started up just as Kellogg’s frame buckled and fell to the ground. With relief I heard the engine roar. The New Men rushed in. But now we were driving towards them, crushing those that didn’t jump aside beneath our wheels. I took one backwards glance at Kellogg’s smoking torso, at the raging inferno where the farmhouse had been. Then we were speeding past the screaming voices and out onto the forest track.
I drove on, well into the pre-dawn darkness, and finally abandoned the jeep on a country lane. Lindsey and I took a blanket, leaving Solent where he was, and huddled together in the front seats, trying to keep warm.
I looked up through the windshield into the black vault of the sky. It seemed perfectly to represent our future. I closed my eyes and began to weep.
Lindsey kissed my forehead. “I forgive you,” she said.
I awoke to daylight. Something had nudged my hand. I saw it was pressed against Lindsey’s stomach. There was a whirring above my head. Blades rotated before the sun. I squinted and saw the silhouette of a machine. A tiny, helmeted figure leaned out of the helicopter and shouted over a bullhorn that we were safe; we would be taken to a secure base nearby and examined. He said something about a counter offensive, that chemicals were being used to drive the New Men out of the cities.
“Maybe it’s a second chance,” Lindsey said. She looked down at her swollen stomach. “Do you think it will be different, this time?”
I wondered what would happen when they found out that I was Andrew Callwood, the modern Prometheus, without whom none of this would have happened. I supposed it was time to face up to my responsibilities, at last.
“It has to be.” I replied, and grasped her hand.