by Lorna M. Kaine
They were sent from the gates, a not unusual occurrence. Roget stood at the back of the crowd, stone in hand, waiting for a chance to move forward.
The customary rabble, mostly clones whose brains were improperly developed, milled about, keening when struck by a bullet, otherwise muttering about their lot in life in their unintelligible language. Bilge rose in Roget’s throat as he watched. No doubt there were others like him in the crowd, but no one dared reveal his true identity.
Roget was tired. The long walk from his hideaway had exhausted him. He wished never to make the trek again, but curiosity always compelled him to return to read the latest decree.
The government edicts had been a familiar part of his life for as long as he could remember. He could recall his father going into the town to collect the latest ones. Most especially he could remember the threatening tone of those that had caused a mob of clones and their creators to bring havoc to his life. Even now when he shut his eyes at night he could see the unkempt group marching toward his home, and hear their roar of exaltation as they took everything of value from the house before setting it ablaze.
Roget had been twelve years old when these events took place, but he had read the edicts his father brought home. He had begged his parents to seek safety. He still wondered if they had hidden in time, if his mother might have evaded the madness that led to her incarceration.
Roget never knew what happened to his father. After a few months of living with his son deep in the forest, he had said he was going to the town one morning. Roget watched him walk away, then never saw him again.
Reading the decrees had become a habit with Roget. Not that they ever said much, just the usual, “Don’t leave your homes. Don’t associate with known clones. Do not under any circumstance try to enter the governors’ compound. You will be executed without trial should you disobey any of these orders.”
Roget was left wondering how one could identify a clone, since the normal ones looked exactly like a standard human being. It was easy to identify the abnormal ones. They couldn’t speak intelligibly, they seemed incapable of learning, and they hated all humans produced by the normal joining of egg and sperm.
Roget survived his years in the wilderness by pretending to be a clone when confronted by them. He often wondered how many other typical humans he’d encountered over the years.
When he was a boy living with his parents on their Virginia estate, Roget was given a good education. What his parents couldn’t teach him, he learned from a compu-tutor. His parents had gone to school in the old fashioned way, but by Roget’s time schools were filled with clones, and no caring parent sent a child to them.
As a child, Roget studied current events. When he discussed the growing clone problem with his tutor he learned that cloning oneself had become a forbidden practice after high school students began cloning themselves as science projects. According to his tutor, this unregulated cloning by uneducated individuals had led to the present situation of imperfect clones being in the majority.
All Roget knew for certain was that the clones had destroyed all semblance of civilization in the part of the country they controlled. He could understand the fence around the governors’ compound. What he couldn’t comprehend was the governor’s continuing issuance of edicts which most people couldn’t read.
Sometimes Roget felt that he was the only person outside the gates capable of understanding the writing on the papers that were lofted over the fence. He knew though, that there must be thousands like him, all afraid to admit their real lineage.
In any event he continued to read the edicts. He had begun to notice a change in tone perhaps six months ago. The language was less strident, in some cases it became almost polite.
“They’re trying to reach the real people, those who’ve been taught to read,” Roget muttered to himself after picking up a paper at the edge of the forest. There was no one about so he allowed himself to smile as he held the document and realized its significance.
The document read: AMNESTY TO ALL THOSE WHO APPROACH OUR GATES IN PEACE. COME ALONE WITHOUT WEAPONS. YOU WILL BE ADMITTED.
Was it a trick? I’ll never know unless I try, thought Roget. He spent the night at the forest’s border. At dawn’s first light he approached the gates. The turmoil in his mind made his legs almost too weak to carry him, but he willed himself forward.
As usual the guards stepped forward, weapons at the ready.
Roget stopped and held up the edict.
“I seek sanctuary,” he whispered. It had been a long time since he had spoken in his native tongue to an understanding audience.
The guard said, “One moment,” and spoke into a telephone. A short while later the guard nodded to the others who moved forward to unlock the gates. They beckoned to Roget to follow them.
Years of living as a fugitive made him keep close watch on the guards. As he left the no-man’s land two men fell in behind him, making him increasingly nervous. What if they thought he was a spy? What if they believed him to be a clone? Could he prove his identity? Did the records of his birth still exist? His thoughts were interrupted when a man dressed in an old fashioned business suit strode toward him from an intersecting path.
“You may return to your post,” he said to the guards. Turning to Roget he said, “My name is Lark. Follow me please.”
Lark led Roget to a spacious room furnished with polished wooden furniture. He motioned Roget toward a chair in front of a large desk. He seated himself behind it.
“Tell me about yourself,” he commanded.
“What do you want to know?”
“Start with your lineage,” Lark said, pulling a yellow legal pad toward him.
“My father was called Henderson, my mother Mary. The land we lived on in Allegheny County, Virginia, was owned by her family for more than two hundred years. My father’s family lived in a nearby town. I believe they met in a public school. My birth was recorded in Allegheny County.”
Lark wrote on the pad before him. He looked up, and gave Roget an encouraging nod. “Go on please.”
“It’s been a long time. You must realize my memories are hazy.”
“Tell me what you remember about your early years.”
Roget settled back in his chair. “I remember watching my father leave the house to go to work. Sometimes he would let me ride with him to the end of the drive. My mother would have made breakfast for us all before she left to go to her work — she ran an art gallery. I never went to school. I worked with a compu-tutor while my parents were away. I believe someone came in the mornings to clean the house and make lunch for me. Later it was a clone who came. At some point my parents stopped going out to work. My father kept going to town for supplies, but he often warned my mother and me not to go there on our own.”
Lark continued his scribbling for a few seconds after Roget stopped talking. “Did you interact with any clones other than the domestic?”
“Not that I recall. I must have seen them in the woods around our house, but I was always frightened by them.”
“Excuse me for a minute, I need to give my notes to an expert for verification.” Lark got up and left through a door behind the desk.
Roget used the time alone to inventory his surroundings. The door he had come in was wide open, no guards were in evidence. His chair was comfortable, the rug deep. Unstreaked windows let in bright sunlight. A deep anger toward the unnatural clones churned in his being. They had kept him from living in such surroundings for a very long time. They had driven his family from their ancestral home. He deserved a better life. If he were granted sanctuary here, he would gladly take up the war against the clones. He would sign any papers, take on any odious chore just to stay on this side of the gates.
Lark strode briskly through the open door, followed by five burly protectors. He turned to face Roget.
“I’m sorry, we can’t have you here.”
“You are not a proper human being. There is no record of your birth. Your parent attended public school at the time when cloning oneself was a popular pastime. Henderson Roget is on record as a winner in a science fair for making a perfect clone of himself. You are that clone.”
“No,” shouted Roget. “My parents wouldn’t have lied.”
“I will grant that you are a better copy than most. You do seem to have potential, but we have standards here. You are hereby banished from any government safehouse facility.”
Lark gave a nod to the guards who surrounded Roget.
“Come along now,” the lead man said.
Roget looked at their faces and saw nothing but a blank sternness that told him they were not to be trifled with. He let himself be led back down the hallway he’d entered with such hope.
The roar of the mob at the gates could be heard long before it could be seen. Roget knew he would be caught in the crossfire of rocks from the horde and bullets from the guards. He knew he had done better than most, very well in fact for a clone.
He understood now why his father had left him. To be caught with a clone of one’s own making was an offense punishable by death. He had stayed with his creation until he was sure Roget could survive on his own. He must have loved his son.
Roget carried that thought with him as the gates once again opened, and he stepped forward to meet his fate.
Copyright © 2007 by Lorna M. Kaine