We Have Each Other
Jack stared up at the white rings and debris, and felt his knees buckle. He collapsed before the full breadth of what had happened could truly set in.
Aimless. Confused. Terrified. The entire purpose that had driven him for the past three years was gone. Humanity was gone. HUMANITY was GONE. Mission Control had gone, and the drones were dead defective beyond repair their fuel cells free for the taking. Earth belonged to the Scavs.
Vikka lost hope the sixth day after the Tet had been destroyed. He'd tried to help her to keep her spirits up. But the promise of Titan had been the only thing keeping her together for the last few weeks. Now that it was gone now that everything was gone she couldn't hold on.
She kissed him goodbye, watched him get into the ship and head off to scout for... something. Anything to explain what happened, find a drone that would work, anything. He'd gone out about six thousand feet, when her tearful voice came through the earpiece. "I love you, Jack. I'm sorry."
He knew. He turned the plane and sped back, but he wouldn't make it. He knew that. He made it within view of the tower in time to see her step off the side of the platform and fall straight down through the cloud line, beautiful and white like a falling snowflake.
An agonized cry wrenched through his chest. Vikka. Oh, God. His vision blurred, his hands began to shake, and he felt his chest heave in and out deep, heavy, rasping breaths. He was alone.
Ten minutes later, Jack pulled out of his hover, turned the craft around, and headed straight for the radiation zone.
He flew aimlessly at first. He didn't expect to live long enough to choose a direction. But after twenty minutes, he began to feel confused. He was still alive. Why? How? Maybe he should just shut the plane down and free-fall like Vikka had. Maybe.
He flew on, unable to move his hand to the shut-off switch. He continued, no clear direction in mind what direction could there be in the Radiation Zone? He flew low, looking for a Scav to kill, just to make himself feel a little better. Instead, he found a large, shallow valley, covered in green, lush grass, surrounded by trees. In the center was a lake broad, sparkling in the sun, tiny waves shuddering across the surface.
It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
He lay back in the grass, breathed deeply and allowed his body to relax. His eyes drifted closed, and he listened to the gentle laps of the waves, the chirruping of the birds, the light rustle of wind in the nearby trees. In spite of all that had happened, Jack felt a deep, calming sense of absolute peace.
The novelty binoculars. The tiny piece of metal clasped in his hand insignificant in size, but the key to all his happiness. Her warm smile. Butterflies in his stomach. But then, too soon, she was gone. Jack.
Jack started awake, disoriented and confused when he found himself staring at blue sky and branches, rather than the ceiling of Tower 16. Memories flooded back the Tet gone, Vikka gone but Jack couldn't lose himself in sorrow just then. An aircraft was circling his little valley an aircraft exactly like his own.
Jack's first reaction was one of hope. Maybe some of the humans had survived. Maybe they were searching for other survivors. But before he ran out and called up to the pilot, he remembered the enemy. The Scavs. Who's to say that they couldn't have gotten hold of one of their planes and decided to use it now that the skies were free of drones? There was voiceprint identification built in, but the Scavs could have forced one of their pilots to give the authorization.
Jack knew there was no point hiding. His aircraft would have been seen the moment the new pilot entered the valley. He sped to his craft and retrieved his weapon. When he'd first come here, he'd assumed that he wouldn't live very long, so there had been no need to hide the ship or keep a weapon with him. He was confused about the radiation (or lack thereof), but now, he no longer felt the despondency that had led him to the radiation zone, and he was determined to stay alive.
He grabbed his laser rifle and waited beside his craft while the other ship touched down. It was marked with an orange "67" on the tail. He tensed as the craft's door opened, wishing he hadn't broken the last tele-sight in the house. Before Mission control could send replacements, the Tet had been destroyed.
The pilot stepped out of the other craft, and Jack felt a brief moment of relief. Human. Male, dark hair, light skin, wearing a uniform like Jack's own, but that was all Jack could make out at that distance. The other man had his rifle at the ready, and Jack kept his up as well. Tech 67 slowly advanced, and Jack edged forward, too. He decided to make the first move of sorts inhibited as he was by the lack of a rifle scope. "Are you all right?" he called out. "Have you seen any Scavs?"
The other pilot froze stopped dead in his tracks. Then suddenly, he raised his rifle higher, put the sight to his eye, apparently wanting a closer look at Jack. Jack tensed and raised his own weapon, edging around, moving slowly toward cover. The other pilot's scope dropped down again and he froze again. Then he began to run toward Jack, weapon still up and at the ready.
Jack braced himself, and kept his rifle up as well, certain that the other technician would stand down soon. A moment later, the man got close enough for Jack to see him clearly without his scope. He gasped, and his stomach clenched.
"Drop your weapon!" The other pilot's voice came to him, sharp, angry, frightened. It was his voice. His face. The man was an exact replica of Jack, but Jack had no twins. No siblings at all. "Drop your weapon!" he screamed, now so close that he couldn't possibly have missed a shot. "NOW! Do it NOW!"
Jack slowly lowered his rifle, breathing fast and shallow. He pulled it off his shoulders and let it fall to the lush grass. He kept one hand up and pulled the handgun out of his leg holster, and dropped it on the ground as well. He put his hands up again, and looked hard at the double, trying to find some difference. They were absolutely identical, right down to the fear in their wide, hazel eyes. The only differences were superficial Tech 67's hair was slightly lighter in places, as if it had been lightened by spending more time in the sun than Jack had. There were also three scratches on the other man's face, running down, red and vivid, from his temple almost to his jaw.
"Who are you?" the technician snapped.
"I... I'm Jack Harper."
The other pilot gasped. Then he glared and gripped his weapon more tightly, moving another step toward Jack. "Who are you? Tell me the truth!"
Jack cringed, and kept his hands up, extending them forward a fraction. "I am." The other pilot powered his weapon, and Jack backed away, feeling a tightness in his gut like the feeling he got when one of the drones didn't recognize him right away. "Don't shoot. I'm Jack Harper, Tech One Six," he said quickly. He saw the other man's chest start to heave. Jack lowered his hands slightly outstretched toward the other pilot. "It's okay," he said softly. "Who... who are you?"
The other technician swallowed, lowering his weapon a fraction of an inch. Jack's voice echoed back to him out of the double's mouth. "I'm Tech Six Seven. Jack Harper."
Jack didn't struggle. He was too shell-shocked by what was happening to put up any kind of a fight. He let Tech 67 bind his wrists behind him moved when he was told to move, sat in the pre-war dining chair in a large half-open tent-like shelter when he was told to sit. The shelter had been hidden away only a hundred yards or so up the lake to Jack's left, camouflaged under a clump of trees.
Tech 67 left him bound and moved toward the tent opening. With a half-hearted gesture, he pointed the rifle at him for a second, before looking uncomfortable and lowering it again. "Don't try to get away."
Jack just nodded, averting his eyes from the enigma and the gun he carried. The tent-like shelter was sparse. It offered basic protection from the rain, and was "furnished" with pre-war finds. A dark sleeping bag, two chairs (no table yet), a jury-rigged power source with old world lamps hanging up. But what caught Jack's eye most were the shelves five or six make-shift shelves, lined with books. SO many books, some in decent shape, some in horrible shape. He also had records very old LP albums. There were dozens of them, but Jack couldn't see what the titles were.
Jack closed his eyes tightly. He could feel his body beginning to quiver. He could hear the sound of the other Jack moving the planes docking them closer, maybe under cover if he could. He tried to focus on that, but all he could think of was the semi-complete shelter hundreds of miles away. The record player, the encyclopedia set (volumes 7, 12, 14 and 15), and the hammock he'd managed to set up. Everything. His second world, that he'd hoped Vikka would be able to share with him one day. The haven that he might now never see again. His eyes were clouded with tears by the time Tech 67 returned.
"Where did you come from?"
"East," Jack answered. No hesitation. There was no point in lying. Tet was gone, Vikka was gone. There was no mission. No people. Nothing to protect. "About a hundred kilometers east."
Tech 67 frowned. Shook his head. "That's not possible. That's the middle of the radiation zone."
Jack raised his head sharply. "What?"
"Those coordinates are in the radiation zone," he said again.
Jack shook his head. "This is the radiation zone," he said.
"That's why I'm here. I came here to die. But... I found this place, and now..." He gave his double a slight smile. "Now I hope you're not going to shoot me."
The other man's lip twitched up in a ghost of a smile. He took a deep breath. Then one more. Then he stood up, took the handgun he'd been holding (not pointed at Jack, but ready just the same) and hung it on a peg in one corner of the room. He turned back to Jack, a thoughtful frown on his face. Then he walked toward him, moved behind the chair and untied Jack's wrists. Jack moved his hands in front of him, slowly, and rubbed his wrists, then flexed his fingers. Tech 67 crouched in front of him and undid the ropes binding Jack's ankles to the chair.
He stepped back and sat slowly in his own chair. He glanced back at the four guns two rifles, two handguns. He looked back at Jack and gave him the same ghost of a smile he had before. "I hope you're not going to shoot me," he said.
Jack took a sip of Tech 67's water. Tech 67 sipped at his own glass. They were silent and had been so for hours. Jack wasn't sure why Tech 67 was so quiet. But Jack's thoughts were full of confusion and questions that only Mission Control could answer. Why was Tech 67 a replica of himself? Why was he not some other human with the same job? Why had Mission lied about the radiation zones? Well. That was obvious. To keep Jack from meeting... Jack. But why clones? Why lies? What else had Mission Control lied to them about?
Jack could only assume that Tech 67 had the same questions rolling through his mind. And maybe like Jack he kept quiet because he just didn't want to think about the answers.
"Who scratched you?"
"What?" Tech 67 looked at him questioningly.
Jack pointed to the other man's cheek. "Who scratched your face?"
The tech raised his hand to his face and glanced at the floor. "My comms officer," he said. "I... tried to drag her to the ship. She scratched me, ran to the weapons locker, got a hand gun and said she would kill me if I came any closer." He gritted his teeth and looked away. "She'll starve up there," he said.
"I'm sorry," Jack said. He looked down at the book he'd been reading A Tale of Two Cities. "My... my control killed herself." Tech 67 spun to face him, horrified. Jack nodded. "She waited until I was out of range, then walked off the platform."
"Oh my God," Tech 67 breathed. "I'm so sorry." Jack nodded. "What was her name?"
Jack looked up. "Vikka."
Jack glanced to his right and frowned. Tech 67 was tense, clutching the straps of his belt tightly teeth bared, breathing hard. "It's okay," Jack said slowly. Calmly. "Trust me, Jack. I've lived in this area for over three years. There's no danger."
The other man slowly began to calm down. Took slow, steady breaths. Body began to relax. Jack flew directly toward his lakeside hideaway, avoiding going anywhere where he could catch sight of Tower 16.
He touched down beside his small shelter and stepped out. Waited a moment for Tech 67 to follow. They both held rifles at the ready, in case any of the Scavs had found his little nest.
The site was clear, and Jack lead 67 closer. "Wow," the tech whispered. He stared at Jack's little hut in wonder. The tiny cot. The record player, with his (comparatively pitiful) collection of three intact records, the books, the paintings (taken over a full month of bogus "scouting" trips to an old museum). His face was full of wonder.
"Not bad, huh?" Jack asked.
"This is great," Tech 67 replied.
"But you have more," Jack said. "You've got power down there."
"You have a record player," he said with a smile. "You... you're sure about this?"
Jack nodded. "Yours is better," he said. "Besides, I... I can't stay here." He glanced in the direction of his tower, and shuddered even though he couldn't actually see it.
There was a hand on his arm, and Jack jumped. Tech 67 let him go immediately and glanced down. "I'm sorry," he said.
Jack nodded slightly. "Let's get all the books first. And my paintings. We can come back for the rest."
"The record player, too?" 67 said.
He smiled. "Okay. The record player, too."
Long brown hair, wavy, shining in the sun. Pre-war New York the top of the world. He was happy. Frightened, but happy. She was curious. He had something special for her, but he couldn't remember what it was.
He blinked, and she was gone.
Jack gasped and sat up suddenly. He looked around him disoriented. He wasn't in his own bed he was lying on a tattered sleeping bag. He closed his eyes and held his head in his hands as the memories flooded back.
There was a sound to his right, and he turned sharply. His double sat at the table they'd brought from his old lake-side hut. He had been reading in the light of one of his campside lamps, but now he was staring at Jack. Tech 67 frowned.
"You dream about her, too?"
Jack frowned at him for a second, then nodded. He rubbed his face, and dragged a frustrated hand through his hair. He sighed and looked back at his companion. "Who is she?"
Tech 67 looked down, gripping the sides of his book. Shook his head once. "I wish I knew."
They worked together to expand the tent. Jack used to find the work satisfying because he believed he was making a home he could share with Vikka. Now it satisfied him because it kept him sane in a world he no longer understood. Because of the mandatory memory wipe, there was nothing before the Mission. Every single day, for the last three years, had been filled with purpose. Protect the hydro rigs. Keep humanity safe. Now, that purpose was gone, and working on turning the glorified tent into a house filled that void.
Jack and Tech 67 each had their own bubble ships, but they traveled together to gather supplies and explore. They reasoned that traveling together was safer. The Scavs could be anywhere now that the Tet no longer ruled the daytime skies, Scavs could move whenever they wanted. It made sense to travel in pairs and take turns switching planes and pilots for each trip rather than splitting up.
Even though Jack had not seen any Scavs or evidence of Scav activity since Tet was destroyed, he did not feel it necessary to admit the possibility that they only traveled together because they would be lonely traveling separately. That, if nothing else at all made sense, they had the reality of each other's company to ground them.
Tech 67 looked up from his calculations. "Yes, Jack?"
They smiled. The existence of a clone the shattered illusion of individuality had kept them awake nights at first. Now, they could joke about it.
"Why haven't the Scavs found us?"
Tech 67 put his pencil down. "What do you mean?"
"We've spent years trying to kill them. We beat them back again and again. Now they've won. So why aren't they hunting us down?"
Tech 67 glanced around warily, as if the mention of the possibility might make it come to pass. "I don't know," he said. "But it's been almost four months and we haven't seen any sign of them."
Jack nodded. He resumed his task of patching a hole in his green plaid flannel shirt. A second later, he heard Tech 67's pencil scratching away at a design for a second room. A few minutes later, Jack looked up again.
"Why do-" He stopped himself, not sure if he wanted to voice the question.
"What?" Jack shook his head, and 67 frowned. "What, Jack? Come on."
"Why do we... or why did we have to identify ourselves to the drones?" Tech 67 frowned. "If drones were programmed to kill Scavs, why did we have to identify ourselves? We're human, and it's pretty obvious, the difference between humans and Scavs. We should have automatically been off limits, right?"
Tech 67 slowly set his pencil down again and stared at Jack. "Yes," he said slowly. "Yes, we should. But... if we had to prove we were a specific person, it means..."
Jack stood up suddenly, dropping his sewing to the floor. His face flushed, and he felt his hands start to shake. He smiled, huge and completely fake. "Want to go for a swim? He asked. "It's gorgeous out, I'll bet the whole lake is warm."
Tech 67 stood up - set one of his smoothed-out lake stones on his project and smiled sadly at him. "Sure, Jack," he said. "Let's do that."
And they did. They stripped down to nothing what cause for shame when it was like looking in a mirror? and dove into the lake. The water was freezing, as any lake might be in mid-spring. Their teeth chattered and they were forced to move vigorously and constantly to stay warm. Neither of them minded. They challenged each other to races, and splashed each other mercilessly for losing (or winning).
Jack was right. It was a gorgeous day, and the water was warm warmer at least, than the internal chill that had threatened to overtake them.
Jack braced himself against a rock and slowly gave the rope some slack. He let it down steadily, carefully. "Oh my God." He heard Tech 67's voice echo up through the sink hole. He froze, though his friend's voice had been more amazed than scared. "No, its okay, it's okay, keep going."
"What is it?" Jack asked, starting the rope moving again.
"It's a library," he said, awe in his voice. "God, Jack, it's beautiful."
Jack longed to peer down and look for himself, but he couldn't see anything from his vantage point. "How is it? Can you get to anything?"
"Not on the rope," he called back. "Not much."
"Damn!" The rope gave a little slack Tech 67 was at the bottom.
"I'm going to unhook."
"No!" Jack cried. "No, we agreed-"
"Jack, we can't pass this up! There's so much down here! We-"
"Jack, don't. We agreed, it's safer!"
"I won't go far," he called. "And why would Scavs care about a place like this anyway?"
Jack felt his stomach lurch. "Dammit, Jack, stay on the rope!"
"Relax, Tower," Tech 67 called back. They'd taken to calling one another that whenever someone was being bossy or overprotective. They couldn't joke using Vikka's name yet, but "Tower" was a common retort usually to Jack. He was usually the more sensitive of the two, and they'd worked out that he was also "younger". Tech 67 had been on his mission for just over four years before the Tet was destroyed. Jack had been on his mission for three.
"I'll be fine," Tech 67 called.
"Jack-" The line went completely slack, and Jack gritted his teeth. Damn.
"Comm check, Tower?" Tech 67 said.
"I have you loud and clear, you asshole," Jack replied, adjusting the earpiece.
Tech 67 chuckled. "All clear so far. I see a lot of books in bad shape, but there are whole shelves of good ones on some bookcases over there."
"Like what?" he asked, interested despite himself.
"Some encyclopedia sets, for one."
Tech 67 chuckled again. "Yeah. Maybe some collected works, I can't see. I'm heading over."
"Yes, ma'am," he teased. Jack could practically see him saluting.
Tech 67 laughed, but the laughed turned quickly into a sharp gasp. "Shit shit shit!"
"What?" Jack cried, heart pounding. Tech 67's only answer was a panicked scream, ragged and rough, then sharply cut off. "Jack! Jack are you okay? What happened? Jack! Jack!"
There was no answer. Jack struggled to clamp down on his sharply rising panic. He used his wristband to call to the plane, waiting breathlessly for the sixty seconds it took to arrive. He parked it near the sink hole, heedless of the string still dangling from his waist. Moving quickly, he tied the rope securely to the aircraft and lowered himself down into the hole. The smell of dust and damp paper was thick, and there was a heavy layer of dust and ash covering almost every surface. He scanned the room with his rifle light, but as Tech 67 had said, there was no evidence of Scav activity just footprints in the dust of boots the same size and shape as Jack's own.
"Jack," he whispered. "Jack, are you okay?" No answer. He moved forward toward the shelves that had enticed his friend, moving at an infinitely show pace, moving the light from his rifle back and forth constantly. Something had shocked 67, and Jack was determined to be ready for it.
He edged closer to the shelves, then stopped short with a quick gasp. The floor was missing. Between himself and the shelves beyond, there was a yawning canyon created by whatever stresses had destroyed the flooring. He edged forward carefully and pointed the rifle down. "Oh God." He stepped back, gripping the gun tightly, nearly light-headed from the sight of how far down the canyon went. He hadn't seen any bottom at all.
Jack lay down on his stomach and edged forward to the lip of the quasi-manmade cliff. He peered down, scanning with his rifle slowly. At first, he saw nothing but broken floor and tattered books. Then his light caught something pale gray and he focused on it. He smiled, though he wasn't sure if that was warranted yet. He looked through the sight, and saw his friend, maybe a hundred yards down, and to his left. He was splayed out on a narrow jut of floor tiles that extended a little further than the rest. Jack focused on his friend's chest and saw movement.
He heaved a sigh of relief, and called to Tech 67 again. "Jack? Jack, wake up, you crazy son of a bitch. Wake up." Tech 67 didn't move. "Dammit. Come on, buddy, wake up," he pleaded.
He waited a few seconds, but there was still no movement from the tech. Jack got up and scoured the large room for anything that could double as a pulley. He found several electrical cords, and a few actual ropes from old curtains. While he was testing the strength of the cloth ropes, he heard a moan, followed by a creaking sound.
Ropes in hand, Jack raced back to the canyon and looked down. Tech 67 was coming to. He shifted and groaned, which was a relief, but the floor creaked beneath 67, and Jack felt the panic begin to rise again.
"Stay still, Jack," he said, forcing calm into his tone. "Stay still, okay?"
Something must have gotten through even in his post fall daze, because he stopped moving. "Tower?" His voice was trained and slow. "I... I think I... my... my leg hurts pretty bad."
"Okay, I copy, Technician," Jack said, hoping the use of official language and routine might help calm him. "Just hold tight, and hold still, okay?"
"Okay," he said tightly.
Jack began knotting the cords together, moving quickly, but working carefully testing the security of each junction thoroughly before moving on. "Tech 67, you okay down there?"
"So far so... good, Tower," came the gasping reply.
Jack gritted his teeth, upset by the pain he could hear in his friend's voice. "Okay, hang on, I'll have you out soon."
"Okay," he said.
Jack tugged on the final rope section, then wrapped it around his own waist. He got back on his belly, directly above Tech 67, and lowered the rope down, holding his rifle down as well, so he could see. "Can you see the rope, Jack?"
"I see it." 67 shifted, and the floor tiles creaked under him. Tech 67 tensed, and Jack froze for a second.
"Okay, you're fine," Jack said, moving the rope more quickly down to the other technician. "You're okay, Jack, just stay still."
"Okay," Tech 67 replied, his voice barely above a whisper.
Jack continued to drop the rope down faster, watching its progress. He saw Tech 67 grasp it, and smiled. "Good work, Jack," he said. "Good, now hold on, okay? The way that floor's creaking I'm not sure you want to risk wrapping it around you."
"Mm-mm," he grunted, gripping the rope.
"Your arm okay?"
"Little shaky, but... okay," he said.
"Okay. Hold on tight, and I'll do the rest. Don't climb, just hold on, okay?"
"No argument from me, Tower," he said.
Jack smiled and began to back way, looking for fixtures he could use to brace himself. Slowly, he felt the rope pull taught, then there was a groan from Tech 67. "Hang on, Jack," he said.
There was a sudden tug on the rope, and a hissed oath from Tech 67. "What?" Jack asked.
"Floor gave out," Tech 67 said tightly.
"Good. Not long now."
The next few minutes were filled only with the rustle of the rope, and the heavy breathing from the two Jacks. Jack pulled slow and steady on the rope, muscles straining. Tech 67 was dead weight on the other end. Jack felt like pulling him up took hours. His arms were on fire, and he was dripping with sweat, and yet he kept pulling, knowing his best and only friend was on the other end.
Finally, he saw Tech 67's hands peek over the edge. He smiled, and pulled faster, tired though he was. In a moment, he could see Tech 67's face, features in a pained grimace, forehead beaded with sweat. He looked up at Jack and managed a smile. "Hey, Tower," he said. "M-miss me?"
"Jerk," Jack said, but he was smiling a wide, relieved smile. He heaved the rope up even further, until Tech 67 was completely out of danger, at least a yard away from the drop, before releasing the rope.
He rushed to his friend's side and looked him over. Tech 67 was dusty, sweating, and vibrating slightly from the exertion of holding his own weight. His left leg was bent at an odd, painful angle. "Is it bad?" he asked.
"I think it's broken," Jack answered.
Jack collapsed onto the floor beside Tech 67 and just breathed in and out. "Just need a rest," he panted. "Then I'll get something for the pain."
Tech 67 shook his head. "Just get us out, no sense making an extra trip if you don't have to."
Jack looked at him, saw the pain in his eyes. "You sure?"
"It'll teach me not to... break my promises."
"It'll be fine. I barely feel it."
"That's a lie," Jack said.
Tech 67 shrugged. Jack shook his head and looked around. "Well. If you can wait, we might as well not waste the trip."
"What do you mean?"
"Gonna get something for the collection."
"I'll be careful. And I'm not going over there. I'm sure there's something on this side we can salvage."
"Just... be careful."
"Yes, ma'am," he said with a playful salute.
Jack touched down on the landing pad of the nearest tower Tower 49. "Okay, I'm going in."
"Not alone," Tech 67 said.
"Not alone!" he snapped.
Jack looked at him his face was pale, his expression pained but determined. "Okay, Jack."
He grabbed a handgun and moved cautiously to the passenger side to help Tech 67 out of the craft. Tech 67 already had his own handgun out. He kept hold of it while Jack guided his left arm around his shoulders.
They moved slowly inside all the doors were open and Jack brushed the silky curtain aside. They began to scan the room, but Jack froze three seconds into the scan. In the middle of the sterile, austere replica of his own dwelling, there was a disabled drone.
"What the hell?" Tech 67 whispered.
The curtains on the left side of the room were burned the drone had come in that way, guns hot. Jack glanced at Tech 67 and led him to the couch. He leaned against the side, and Jack switched his gun to his right hand and approached the drone. There were no markings, and there was no armor on the drone, which surprised him almost as much as the fact that there was a drone in the center of the room at all. He glanced at Tech 67. "I'm going to check downstairs. Are you okay?"
The other man nodded, and Jack looked around the room once more before climbing over the drone and heading downstairs. On the bottom floor, the dock door was wide open, and Jack saw a replica of his own workshop. The tools were where his would normally be, and he saw the extra armor and weapons that would normally be in his workshop. The main difference (besides the fact that the loading dock door was open), was that the drone repair dock was empty. Jack frowned and moved closer to the empty dock, looking more closely at the unfinished shielding and other tools. He picked up the face plating for the "dead" drone upstairs, noticing that the latches were incomplete, just like the half-built drone he'd left behind at Tower 16. He turned it over and gasped in shock at the sight of the number. He dropped the plate as if it were hot, backing away, his breath quickening. Suddenly, he ran back to the stairs, bounding up then quickly. He froze for a second at the sight of the drone, then climbed back over it and looked at Tech 67.
"What is it?" 67 asked.
Jack looked back at the drone again, finding the "fatal" shot. Aside from that, she was in perfect condition, minus the shielding. "Oh God."
"What, Jack, talk to me!"
"It's... it's drone 109," he said, backing away from it.
Jack glanced toward his friend, before resuming his watchful scan of the room, gun raised. "You... did you have one, too?"
"Yes," Tech 67 replied, voice a husky whisper. "In the dock waiting for shielding."
"Oh my God," he said again. He continued to back away, slowly starting to tremble.
"A failsafe," 67 whispered. "109 was a failsafe. If Jack or Vikka got out of line..."
"They'd kill them both and start fresh," Jack whispered. He turned back to his friend, eyes wide in shock and horror. "Jack... we... we're-"
His stomach lurched without warning, and he bent down and vomited onto the sterile floor. His first thought was that Vikka would be upset. Then he puked again. Then again. He began to sob wildly. "We... h-helped them," he choked out between sobs. Suspecting the truth was one thing. Now, there could be no lowered eyes, no sudden change of subject between them. The proof was in his face, shocking and utterly damning. The sight of the drone made all of their previous suspicions suddenly fall into place identifying themselves to the drones, the reason mission didn't employ different humans to do its work, everything. "They... they k-killed Vikka. Th-there was no Titan. There w-was never any Titan!"
"We killed humans!" he screamed. "We m-murdered our... our own kind!"
"We didn't know," Tech 67 said.
"Why? W-we figured it out now!"
"We got the hell of a clue, Jack," 67 said, sounding nauseous himself.
"There was never any Titan," Jack cried. "Vikka didn't have to... th-there was never... we... we..."
He couldn't speak, the sobbing had become uncontrollable. He hugged his arms to himself and rocked back and forth, half sobbing, half screaming, wild unintelligible sounds.
"Jack." Tech 67's voice was hardly a whisper. "Jack." Jack could only cry and gasp and sway under the waves of grief and guilt and misery. A moment later, Tech 67 dropped down to the floor, resting a hand heavily on Jack's shoulders. Jack was alarmed, and looked down at 67's wounded leg.
Tech 67 took Jack's face in both is hands, and forced him to look up. His eyes were red and shining, his face even whiter than before. "Jack, please," he said, voice cracking. "Please take me home." Jack swallowed hard, trying to quell his own hysteria. "Please. I don't like it here." His lip trembled, and he gritted his teeth, clamping down on a sob. "Take me home, Jack, please."
Jack nodded slowly. "Okay, Jack," he whispered, body quaking. "Okay. We'll go." He put a hand over one of Tech 67's hands, still holding the side of Jack's face. "We'll go. Just wait here a minute."
"I promise you, we'll go."
Tech 67 nodded, and Jack stood up. He ran past the downed drone, back to the medical wing. He gutted the place, rooting through the familiar cabinets, dumping as many supplies as he could into a large storage kit. He stopped at the weapon's locker again and slung the two rifles over his shoulder. He froze when he saw the picture of Jack and Vikka - this one stuck on Jack's mirror, instead of sitting near the kitchen counter in its own frame. Jack grabbed it and put it inside his jacket, then stopped at the kitchen and took all the food he could find.
He hefted the two large packs out to the plane with a reassuring smile to Jack 67. He raced back to his friend, not wanting him to be alone too long.
"Okay, Jack," he said. "I'm taking you home."
"Okay." Tech 67 smiled, though he was clearly in pain physical and emotional. Jack helped him to his feet, then supported him until they were back to the plane. Jack strapped him in, then got in and sped away from Tower 49 at full speed.
Both of them felt better when they returned to their lakeside home. Jack helped his friend out of the ship and tended to his wound, using supplies from the stores he'd taken from Tower 49.
When Tech 67 was finally comfortable, and immediate action no longer needed, Jack slumped down to the floor and rested his head on the bed next to Tech 67's now splinted leg. The weight of his new knowledge threatened to crush him again. He felt Tech 67's large, solid hand on his head, soothing and gentle and still.
Jack looked up, blinking past tears into the tearful face of his friend. "What are we, Jack?" he whispered.
Tech 67 took a breath, his hand tightening ever so slightly on Jack's head. "Victims," he said. "Were victims, Jack."
Jack took care of Tech 67 during his recovery, and he took care of almost all of the household duties as well. Tech 67 insisted on working on things he could do without moving much. He took over the sewing repairing shirts and pants, and he put food together for them when he felt well enough. Mostly, he kept Jack company and he took to reading aloud to him from the books they'd collected from the library, while Jack did chores and made minor improvements to the house.
They didn't speak about Tower 49.
Jack looked over, frowning slightly. His friend was tossing and turning in the bed. Jack got up off the floor and approached the bed. He rested a hand on Tech 67's arm, concerned that he would hurt his leg in his sleep. The tech gasped and sat up. He looked around, disoriented at first. Then he looekd up at Jack and gave him a half-hearted smile.
"Her again?" Jack asked.
He nodded. "Sorry I woke you."
"It's okay," Jack said softly.
"It would help if I knew who she was."
Jack nodded. "Want a book?"
Tech 67 shook his head. "Tired," he said.
"Okay." Jack stepped away, but Tech 67 grasped his arm.
Jack looked quizzically at him. "Would you mind... um..."
"What?" Jack asked softly.
"You don't have to sleep on the floor," Tech 67 said, looking at the sleeping bags. "You found the mattress, after all."
"We agreed to take turns," Jack replied.
"But you've given me your turn for three weeks straight."
"Your leg's broken, I'm not going to make you sleep on the floor."
Tech 67 chuckled and looked up. "I don't mean that," he said. He scooted over, making more room on the bed. "There's room for both of us."
Jack smiled. He grabbed his sleeping bag off the floor, unzipped it and covered his friend with it. Then he slipped in under the covers. There wasn't really room for two grown men on the full-sized bed even a small man like Jack Harper. They could not coexist on the bed without touching one another. Judging from the easy way Tech 67 rested his head on Jack's shoulder, Jack figured he didn't mind the close quarters at all.
Jack didn't mind, either.
"Okay, other way." Tech 67 rotated his leg in a full circle, counter clockwise at the knee. He smiled, and Jack grinned at him. "Good job, Technician," Jack said.
Tech 67 laughed, but there were tears in his eyes. "It doesn't hurt."
"Bullshit, you're sweating bullets."
Tech 67's smile never faltered. "But it's not sharp just like a regular muscle ache."
Jack let out a relieved sigh. "I'm so happy, Jack."
"Couldn't have done it without you, Jack," he said.
"I had help from the AMA physical therapy books."
"Whatever," Tech 67 replied, stretching his leg, and doing a slow, cautious lunge. "The books didn't tell you how to be encouraging or when to be gentle and when to be a hardass."
Jack smiled and shrugged. Tech 67 did three slow squats, then grinned at Jack. Without warning, he launched himself at Jack, grabbing him in a crushing embrace. "Thank you," he said softly.
Jack gripped him tightly, nodding. After a few moments, they pulled back at the same second, and looked at each other. Jack smiled. "I have something for you."
"Oh?" Tech 67 whispered.
"Yeah. I've been waiting for a special occasion, and I don't think it can get any more special than this."
Tech 67 grinned, and Jack squeezed his arms and trotted out to his ship. He checked the storage compartment and pulled out the treasure. He'd already cleaned the dust from it, but he brushed the cover once again and walked back to the house. He showed the large white square to Tech 67, and the man gasped. "Oh my... h-how... where did you get that?"
"Pretty far away," Jack replied. "About three months ago."
"And you waited all this time?"
"I wanted it to be special. I've... I never heard it before. Or if I did, it was before..."
Tech 67 nodded. "I've never heard it before, either." He smiled down at the precious gift, then walked over to the record player. He pulled out the first disc large, white and beautiful, and set it on the player. He cranked up the volume, and the lake was soon treated to the vibrant guitars and glorious voices of The Beatles, performing "Back in the U.S.S.R."
"Thank you, Jack," Tech 67 said again. He jerked his head toward the lake. "Let's go for a walk."
Jack followed his friend out of the house, and they walked slowly around their lake. Tech 67 moved well, though still with some soreness. The books said that would ease up in a short time, especially if the patient stayed active. That was no problem. Tech 67 had been chafing to move around for weeks.
Jack took a deep breath and smiled. It was a beautiful day late summer, warm breezes, birds chirping as if they wanted to sing along with the White Album.
"We should name this place," Tech 67 said.
"Yeah. Lakes had names before the war. We should name ours."
Jack immediately thought of the face of his dream woman. Her dark, wavy tresses, her welcoming smile. As he had done so many times before, he tried to remember her name. The harder he tried, the more frustrated he became her name drifted on the edge of consciousness, just on the tip of his tongue, but never reached. He couldn't even think of a first letter.
"I can't think of anything," Jack said at last.
"I can't remember her name, either," his friend replied.
Jack looked at him, and Tech 67 gave him a small smile. The record stopped, and Jack glanced back toward the house. "We should-"
"I want to. Don't worry, Tower, I'll take my time."
Jack watched his friend walk back to the house moving carefully and glancing back occasionally to smile at him. Tech 67 turned the record over and made his way back to Jack. They sat at the lakeside for a while, watching the fish that were bold enough to linger near the water's edge. They didn't speak just listened to the music and the sounds of the water moving, breezes blowing through the trees, birds singing along.
When jack guessed that the album must be about to end, he glanced at his friend. "Want to head back?"
"Uh-uh," Tech 67 said.
Jack chuckled. "We can put the second record on."
Tech 67 shrugged, but nodded his acquiescence. They stood up as the last notes of a Paul McCartney ballad faded away. Jack hadn't looked at the titles, but he liked the words "Who knows how long I've loved you? You know I love you still."
He was about to ask Tech 67 what he thought of the song when he heard the soft, almost plaintive voice of John Lennon, and decided to keep quiet. This was another soft ballad. "Half of what I say is meaningless. But I say it just to reach you, Julia."
Jack gasped, stunned. There was a split second of awareness, and he saw Tech 67 stumble, but a second later, the lake was gone, and he was at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Searching through dozens of faces, busy, unconcerned, with no idea that this was the most important day of Jack's life. There. There she was. A smile. Her small, warm hand in his. Julia.
Jack staggered to his knees, chest heaving, eyes filling with tears. Tech 67 was on the ground, curled in on himself, shuddering. "Jack," Jack choked out. He crawled forward, as the lilting guitar played its melody, and John sang on about Julia, beautiful and relentless.
Jack took hold of Tech 67's shoulders and tried to steady him. "Jack, are you okay?" Tech 67 shuddered, eyes closed, tears flowing despite the closed lids. "Jack."
Tech 67 gasped suddenly, and sat up, eyes wide. He looked around, then back at Jack's face. His tears flowed, and his body continued to shake. Jack could feel his own body quivering. Tech 67 lowered his head, covered his face, and sobbed. Jack wrapped his arms around his friend, and they wept together while the song played on.
"Jack," Jack whispered, when the last "Julia" echoed on the lake. "She... whoever she was, she... she's gone now." Tech 67 shuddered. "She must be. And... if we're right, then she was... n-never really ours."
"Or she was always ours," Tech 67 said.
Jack clutched him tighter and nodded. "Yes. My... she's my earliest memory," he whispered.
Tech 67 sat up, blinked away tears, and put his hand gently on Jack's face. "Mine, too. I... I wanted to grow old with her. In a place just like this."
Jack nodded, then looked toward the peaceful lake. The water sparkled and glinted as always, unconcerned with the drama being played out on its banks. "We'll never forget her," he said. No joy. No sorry. Just a statement of fact.
"No," Tech 67 said. "We never will." He put a hand on Jack's face, and gently guided him so they were face to face. "But we have each other," he whispered.
Jack smiled. "Yes," he whispered, hardly more than an exhaled breath. "Yes, we do."
Slowly, Jack reached out and touched his friends' face, so that the two of them were exact mirror images of each other, large identical hands caressing tear-stained, identical faces. Jack brushed at the trail of tears on Tech 67's cheek. They moved at exactly the same moment, leaning toward one another, heads tilting slightly in just the right way, until their lips met.
Jack usually began his kisses with his eyes wide open, watching Victoria's eyes flutter closed as she melted in his arms. Even in dreams, with the dark haired woman Julia he began his kisses with his eyes wide open. But he had never really noticed the habit until now, watching Tech 67... watching his Jack watch him. It was a little unnerving, but much less strange than he thought it would be. Having his own eyes stare back at him was unusual, but he didn't feel like he was kissing himself.
Tech 67 was his twin, physically, though he had been on Earth about sixteen months longer. But their experiences in those years had been different even since they'd found each other, their reactions to the experiences they shared were slightly different, and there were things that each man had experienced alone. They were very similar maybe even more similar than a set of twins. But they were individuals, as well. Two different people with more than the usual number of common experiences, who had supported one another through some of the most devastating moments of their lives, and some of the most victorious.
As Tech 67's lips parted to receive Jack's kiss, Jack knew that this was a man he cared about as he had never cared about anyone before. This was a man he loved. As much as he had loved Vikka, she had never understood never even tried to understand him. And as much as he loved Julia, she was a dream, ethereal as the morning mist, never to be touched, and never able to share space with the here and now. His Jack was here. Now. And he knew Jack better than any human could know another.
At the same moment, the two men shifted, wrapping their free arms around one another. Jack pressed his body closer, let his eyes flutter closed, and melted into Jack's embrace.
Jack opened his eyes and frowned. Had someone called him?
He sat up, the fear in Tech 67's terse whisper shocking him into full wakefulness. He sprang from the bed and looked around. Tech 67 was staring, wide-eyed, across the lake toward the wooded area. The sun had barely begun to rise, and visibility was low, but Jack could clearly see movement among the trees. Shadowy figures approached, nightmarish and distorted in the morning mist.
Jack felt his gut clench, and he froze for a second. The moment they had feared and barely spoken of in the two years since they met had come. They were discovered. Even though they knew that the "Scavs" were not what Mission had told them they were, a lifetime of conditioning and years of evading hostile action from them had left a mark. And even if Scavs were humans, they still had every reason to hate Jack Harper the agent of Earth's greatest enemy.
Jack looked at his companion. Tech 67 was still rooted in place, hands clenching nervously, staring at the growing line of shadows. Galvanized by the panic on his friend's face, Jack raced to the second room another open-faced addition facing the lake, and grabbed two rifles from their racks. "Jack," he hissed.
Tech 67 looked at him, and Jack tossed him a rifle. The two men quickly checked their weapon's charges and Jack raced back to 67's side. They took up defensive positions automatically, moving without signaling one another, even though they had never had cause to fight together before. Jack dropped to one knee and leveled his weapon while Tech 67 stayed on his feet, pointing his rifle across the lake as well.
Jack scanned the line of shadows, wishing he had more between him and enemy fire than a pair of sleeping pants and no shirt. Tech 67 was equally exposed black pants instead of gray, but no shirt and no real protection. Their armor was in the weapons room with their spare rifles, but there was no time to do anything but charge up and watch the shadows approach.
Jack watched them come and whispered, "Seventeen... check it, eighteen intruders."
"Copy," Tech 67 whispered.
"Jack, I'm only at half power," Jack whispered.
"So am I," he whispered back.
"I don't think... what if we can't..."
Tech 67 made the risky move of taking a hand off his weapon and pressing Jack's shoulder once before gripping his rifle again. "Then we'll die, Jack," he said softly. "We'll die defending our home. Like Horatius. And hopefully they'll have the decency to bury us together."
Jack felt his stomach tighten, but he nodded and tightened his grip on his weapon. They watched the line of intruders move closer and closer, until finally, they stopped. They stayed in the shelter of the trees and waited. Jack felt a bead of sweat trail down the side of his face, though the early dawn chill was still in the air.
Finally, one of the shadows moved again. Jack trained his rifle in the new shadow's direction, tense and focused. Slowly, the figure came out into the open, and Jack's eyes widened. It was a woman small, unarmed, carrying a little blonde child in her arms. The woman's features were pleasant, her expression open and friendly. The boy was probably around two or three years old, smiling and healthy, holding to his mother's shoulder, watching the defenders across the lake.
The woman took a few more steps and Jack started to get nervous. He looked at the other shadows, suspecting a trap, but the others hadn't moved. He was about to tell the woman to halt, but his own voice came from just above him. "Stop! Stay where you are!"
The woman stopped immediately, bur her expression remained open and kind. "We won't hurt you," she called.
"Who are you?" Jack asked.
"We're part of the tribe at Raven Rock. Beech's Tribe."
Jack shook his head slightly he had no idea what she was talking about. "What do you want?" Tech 67 asked.
"To camp for one day," she said. "Weve been on the road a long time, and we need to replenish our water supplies."
Jack clenched his teeth and glanced at Tech 67 for a split second. His companion looked as tense and conflicted as Jack felt. "Are you the leader?" Jack asked.
The woman shook her head and looked behind her. A second shadow approached and resolved itself into a tall, muscular man, collar-length blond hair half tied back, a large rifle strapped to his back. "I'm Sergeant John Sykes," he called out.
"How many are you, Sergeant?" Tech 67 asked.
"Twenty-one including children," he answered. "We mean you no harm."
"You... you swear, on your word of honor as... as a human being, that no one will hurt us? Or steal from us?"
Sykes held a hand to his heart and bowed his head slightly. "You have my solemn word on it."
Jack breathed out a short sigh. But he was still afraid. How could they know these people would keep their word? He wanted to believe wanted to trust them. He had seen no human faces except his own (and pictures in their books) for over two years. But Jack and Tech 67 were clones keepers of the drones that had hunted down tribes like this for decades. Tech 67 seemed to be weighing the same concerns. His weapon hadn't lowered an inch.
Suddenly, another shadow figure began to come forward. Jack tensed again, training his weapon on the new threat. Moments later, he gasped aloud and saw Tech 67 take a step back. A small man, dark-haired, clad in light gray body armor nearly identical to the suits in their second room, stepped toward the lake and stood beside Sykes.
He nodded to them. "Sergeant Sykes is a man of his word," he said in their voice. "But if it helps, I'll add my own oath to his. You have my word. No one will hurt you. No one in this tribe will ever harm any man who bears the name of Jack Harper."
Jack blinked, and stared at the new Jack Harper, trying to understand. Why would they specifically not harm one of the technicians? What... where had this Jack come from? Jack glanced at Tech 67 and saw his friend's slight nod.
As one, Jack and Tech 67 lowered their weapons. Jack stood up, moving slightly closer to his friend. He nodded to the newcomers looking at Jack, Sykes and the unnamed woman.
They slowly walked around the lake, as the others came into view. Most of the tribe held back, staying on the other side of the water, not crowding the technicians. Sykes, Jack Harper, and the woman with her child came toward them, stopping a few meters away from the house. Jack, and Tech 67 came out, leaving their weapons down, but keeping them in hand. When they were a few feet away, Sykes said, "This is Anna, and her son, Harper." Jack's eyes widened, and Sykes smiled.
The new Jack Harper took another step forward. "I'm Jack Harper, Tech 52."
"Jack Harper, Tech 67."
"I'm Jack Harper, Tech 16," Jack said. He gave them a hesitant smile and extended his arm toward the sparkling body of water. "Welcome to Lake Julia."
A curly-haired boy of about thirteen ran across the grass and vaulted into the lake, creating a great splash. Moments later a younger girl and an older boy followed, laughing and talking the second they came up for air. Anna sat on the banks of the lake, her legs submerged, chatting with another man who waded near the shore and held the toddler Harper.
Jack smiled at the scene their lake practically bustling with people playing, filling water jugs, and sitting dotted here and there in small groups around the lake, talking and laughing.
Jack returned his attention to his own small group of guests. Jack and Tech 67 only had two chairs, so they sat on the grass a few feet from the house in a casual circle with Sykes, another woman, Kara, and Tech 52.
Jack and Tech 67 had put on t-shirts and flannel shirts, and Tech 52 had removed his armored jacket. The three men were now only distinguishable by the color of their clothes, and their positioning Jack and Tech 67 close together, and Tech 52 closer to the Raven Rock tribal leaders.
While the tribe had settled down, began refilling stores, and setting rules for the children's play (stay away from the commander's house), Jack and Tech 67 had exchanged pleasantries with the leaders. Tech 52 was amazed by the house. By that time, they had five total rooms kitchen/dining, living, bedroom, library and the storage/weapons room. They had a sizeable vegetable garden a few meters away from the house, and a work area beyond that where they brought salvage that they planned to repurpose, but still needed work before it would be ready to use in the house.
"The house is beautiful," Tech 52 said.
"Thank you," they said in unison.
"How long have you been here?"
"About two and a half years," Tech 67 replied. "A couple of weeks after Mission was destroyed."
"The planes still work without the Tet?" Kara asked, looking at their bubble ships.
Jack nodded. "They run on fuel cells, and those can last for years. The drones required a direct program from Mission Control, but the ships are operated by humans. Auto-pilot doesn't function as well anymore, though."
Kara nodded. Tech 52 was still staring toward the house. "You've been to Tower 49," he said.
Jack shuddered, and glanced in the direction of Tech 52's gaze. The food storage box he'd taken from Tower 49 could be seen in the corner of the room. "Yes," he said tightly.
Tech 52 smiled and turned back to them. His smile faltered when he saw their faces. "What is it?" he asked.
Jack looked down and Tech 67 answered. "It isn't a pleasant memory for us. It's when... when we found out the full truth. Did... did you have a drone 109?"
Tech 52 nodded. "We did."
"You know what it was for then?" Tech 52 shook his head. "It was insurance," Jack said bitterly.
Tech 52 frowned slightly. "What?"
Jack lowered his eyes, plucking a few pieces of grass and angrily, nervously smashed them together between his fingertips. Tech 67 took over, telling them what they'd seen at Tower 49, and their belief that every Sky Tower had a drone programmed to kill the occupants at Mission Control's command.
There was silence, and Jack looked up. All three of their guests looked shocked, and Tech 52 looked like he might be sick. "I... I worked on that drone," he said. "Practically built it from the ground up."
"So did I," Jack whispered.
"Insidious," Sykes said. "The Tet thought of everything, didn't it?"
Tech 52's eyes glistened, and he looked way, staring back at their home at the storage bins marked with the blue-gray identifier for the unfortunate Sky Tower. "Thank God for Tech 49," he whispered.
Sykes and Kara both nodded their agreement, but Jack was confused. "So... Tech 49 wasn't killed?"
"Not by the drone," Tech 52 answered.
Jack was interrupted by an excited squeal. He turned toward it, and saw the little blond boy running toward him, giggling gleefully, naked and still wet from his playtime in the lake. "Harper, no!" Anna trotted after him. "Come here, you slippery devil."
The child giggled again and stood still for a second, before running toward them again full speed or as close to full speed as a toddler could get. Jack chuckled and glanced at Tech 67. He turned toward the child and held his arms out. Harper paused, then jogged forward, clearly familiar with his namesake's face. Jack picked him up and set him on his lap, smiling down. "Having fun, buddy?"
Harper laughed again, then reached up and grasped Jack's nose with a small pudgy hand. Jack laughed and pulled back, gently moving the child's hand. "Hard to miss something that big isn't it?" he said with a laugh.
He heard the others chuckle as Anna reached the group. "I'm so sorry, Commander," he said, picking up the child.
Jack frowned slightly, confused because she was looking right at him, but he had never been anyone's commander. He smiled and said, "It's okay, Anna. He's beautiful, by the way."
"Thank you," she said, beaming. She stepped away with a smile at the others, and Jack turned back to the circle.
"I don't understand," Tech 67 said, voicing Jack's exact thoughts. "We... we protected the machines of the enemy. We repaired the drones that were designed to kill humans." Jack looked down again, still extremely upset by the realizations he and Tech 67 had made over the years. "We expected to be hunted down and killed by whatever humans are still here," Tech 67 continued. "Or shunned and reviled at the least."
Jack nodded and looked up. "But you have one of us traveling with you, and a woman named her child after us. What happened?"
Tech 52 looked at Sykes and nodded. "It began nearly eight years ago," Sykes said. "When our general, Malcolm Beech, first saw Tech 49." He glanced at their house, shaking his head. "Something must have changed in all of you through the years. We had never seen a technician take interest in a book before Tech 49."
Jack raised an eyebrow, but listened while Sykes told of how their leader had slowly formulated a plan one that most of the others thought was ludicrous and overly hopeful. But Malcolm had survived the first wave and he had been alive when the moon was whole, so they went along. He watched 49 closely, sometimes going so far as to leave copies of their books near places where the drones had been defeated. Meanwhile, they continued to exploit the weaknesses of the drones, and steal fuel cells. They worked on devising a craft that could carry a fuel cell into the water without being destroyed by the drones as well.
Sykes told them of the eventual capture of Tech 49 and his female companion at the crash site. Jack interrupted. "Vikka came down to the surface?" he asked incredulously.
Sykes shook his head. "No, not the woman Jack always spoke to in the Sky Tower. This woman had been on the Odyssey in a sleep pod, before 49 rescued her. She later introduced herself to us as Julia Harper."
Jack gasped, and held a hand to his chest. Tech 67 clutched Jack's arm tightly, similarly affected. "Julia was here?" Jack said in a breathless whisper.
"She was real?" Tech 67 asked at the same time.
Sykes nodded. "She was the wife of the original Jack Harper an astronaut on the Odyssey."
Jack felt tears coming to his eyes. "How?"
"She'd been in delta sleep on the Odyssey," Tech 52 answered.
"From what we could piece together," Kara said, "They all were. Seven members of some kind of exploratory crew with NASA."
Sykes nodded again. "They engaged the Tet, and we think the original Commander Jack Harper detached the sleepers to protect them. Harper and his copilot were taken, and used to create an army of clones. First, just multiples of Harper soldiers. Cold killing machines. Malcolm once told me they didn't even speak. Just killed anything that moved." Jack shuddered and turned away, suddenly nauseous. Tech 67 rested a hand on his friend's arm and squeezed gently. "I'm sorry," Sykes said. "I can only imagine how unpleasant this is to hear."
"It's okay," Tech 67 said. "Please go on."
"After the war was won, the pairs came Harper and Olsen to keep the Tet's drones working. Every five years, the pair would get into one of the planes and leave, and another pair would take their place, unless something went wrong sooner. Sometimes, we could hear the technician talking about his first repair in less than five years since the previous technician had come down. We aren't sure what triggered the early replacements, but eventually, Tech 49 was... 'born', you could say, and Malcolm became fascinated with him."
"How did Julia get to Earth?" Jack asked after a pause. "What happened to her?"
"We brought the Odyssey sleep module out of orbit," Kara said. They went on to describe the crash site, Tech 49's defense of the humans, the planned bombing of the Tet, and how it had failed. Then Sykes told them about Julia's plan to sacrifice herself, and die with her husband for the sake of the world.
"No," Jack breathed. "No, he didn't allow it. Did he?"
"He couldn't," Tech 67 said.
Tech 52 looked at Sykes, then back at the two friends. He seemed uncomfortable, and Jack feared that Tech 49 had done just that. Tech 52 looked down at the grass and sighed. When he looked up again, he barely met their eyes. "She-"
"Jack," Jack said softly, interrupting him. "Please. We've been lied to all our lives. Please tell us the truth."
Tech 52 looked him in the eye, and there was a silent apology in his expression. He gave a tiny nod and said, "No, he didn't take her with him to face the Tet. Malcolm went with him, and they destroyed the Tet together. Before he left, Tech 49 took Julia somewhere safe. Probably somewhere like this. And I'm going to find her."
Jack looked sharply at him. He felt Tech 67 lean forward, and there was a sudden tension around the small circle. "You're going to..." Tech 67 gritted his teeth, and Jack felt himself starting to breathe heavily. The emphasis on "I'm" was a clear warning. She's mine, so dont get your hopes up, and don't try to find her.
"That's what you didn't want to tell us," Jack whispered. "You didn't want us to know she was still alive." Tech 52 frowned. "Why?" Jack asked. "Why you?"
"Jack," Tech 67 said softly.
"But what makes you more worthy than either of us?" Jack snapped.
Tech 52 shook his head slightly, looking at them helplessly. "Nothing," he said softly, surprising Jack with his answer. "I... nothing," he said again. "I am no more worthy than either of you, or... or any other Jack Harper that may be out there. But... when..." Tech 52's voice cracked, and Jack saw that his eyes were glistening. "When Tech 49 came out of the radiation zone with her, and I saw her face... I..." He swallowed. "I've been searching for her ever since."
Jack sighed heavily, and his fists clenched. The emotion in Tech 52's voice and demeanor as he declared he was no more worthy than they were had effectively deflated his growing anger, but it hadn't helped anything else, either. He was frustrated beyond belief, because Tech 52 did have a claim. He'd seen her first. But the colossal unfairness of the situation struck him deeply. It was one thing to resolve to live without her because she must surely have died long ago, and there was nothing he could do about it. But to find out that she was alive, somewhere out there waiting to be found, but in the same moment to be told that he still couldn't have her... it was like opening a nearly-healed wound with a serrated blade.
Suddenly, Jack stood up and stalked away from the group, back to the house. There was no real privacy, since the rooms were all opened wall-free on the lake side of the house, but he stood with his back to the lake, fists clenched, breathing hard.
Moments later, he heard footsteps behind him, and he knew that his Jack had come to be near him. "We could look for her anyway," Tech 67 said quietly.
Jack shook his head. "With what army?" he asked, just as quietly. "He has a whole tribe on his side twenty people. Maybe a lot more at their home base."
Tech 67 sighed. "What could we do, anyway?" he asked, voice heavy and despondent. "Ask her to live with us both? It wouldn't be fair to her."
Jack nodded, swallowing down a lump in his throat. He let out a shaky sigh and Tech 67 put a hand on his arm strong, reassuring and still. Jack looked at his companion saw frustrated tears in his eyes as well. "We have each other," he whispered.
Tech 67 nodded, managing a small smile. "Yes. Yes, we do."
Jack glanced back at their guests the three were on their feet, looking pensive. "Maybe we should go," Sykes said.
Kara frowned. "So late? The sun will be setting soon."
"Maybe I should go," Tech 52 said.
Jack shook his head, and brushed any remaining tears from his eyes. "No," he said. "Stay. We invited you to camp for the night."
Tech 52 looked uncertain. "Yes, but... after..."
"Your people deserve a rest," Tech 67 said. "And we haven't seen anyone but ourselves for almost three years. Stay."
"You're certain?" Sykes asked.
"Yes," Jack answered. "Stay. Rest for today, and tell us more about Raven Rock."
Their guests looked at each other, then Sykes nodded, and they sat down again in the same casual circle. Jack and Tech 67 joined them, and Sykes and Kara told them stories of Raven Rock. The atmosphere was tense at first Tech 52 and the two friends were obviously on edge. But eventually, Jack started to calm down, and he saw Tech 67 settle into a more relaxed pose as well. By the time Sergeant Sikes and Kara had finished their story, the mood had returned to normal again just a relaxed group of travelers and their hosts, sharing stories and enjoying the warm summer night.
Tech 52 shifted, then sat up quickly. He looked around, getting his bearings. Then, he looked toward the house and saw Jack watching him. He stood up and approached the house. "May I come in?"
Jack nodded, with a quick glance at Tech 67. His friend was still at the kitchen table, working on yet another improvement plan. "Be our guest," he said, looking up briefly. "Our home is your home, after all." Jack giggled, and Tech 52 looked almost bemused by the joke.
"Clone humor," Jack said. Tech 52 smiled and stepped into the house. He glanced around the cozy room, and his eyes stopped near the center of the back wall. He blinked, slightly stunned, and Jack followed the direction of his gaze. He smiled wistfully it was the picture of Tech 49 and Vikka. Or... Jack Harper, Commander and astronaut, and co-pilot Vikka Olsen. Tech 52 moved slowly into the room and reached forward, toward the image, his hand trembling slightly. Before touching it, he lowered his hand and sighed heavily.
"What happened to her?" Jack asked. Tech 52 looked at him. "Your Vikka. What happened?"
"I don't know," he said. "I was near the border when Tech 49 came. I was... shocked. Frightened. So was he. I made him drop his weapon, but I saw Julia..." He paused, looked at Tech 67, and back to Jack, still uncomfortable. "He knocked me out, and when I woke up, they were gone, and so was my plane. I tried to get home, then... the Tet exploded, and I... I lost myself for a while."
Jack nodded. "I think we all did."
Tech 52 shut his eyes. "When I finally made it to my tower, Vikka was gone."
Jack glanced at Tech 67. He was watching Tech 52, sadness in his eyes. "I'm sorry," Tech 67 said.
Tech 52 looked at him, then turned his eyes back to the picture. "What about your Vikka? Is she..."
Jack stood up from his perch on the bed and gestured to his chair. "Why don't you have a seat," he said. "Make yourself at home."
Tech 52 frowned, but he didn't insist on an answer. He sat down in Jack's chair, and Jack poured water for the three of them. He pulled over one of his storage bins and sat near the table as well. When they were settled, they told Tech 52 what had happened to their tower controls. Tech 52 had tears in his eyes when they finished. "She's been gone for years," Tech 52 said through gritted teeth. "But even after her destruction, the Tet still haunts us."
Jack nodded solemnly. With a brief glance at his own Jack, he asked, "Have you ever been to Tower 49? Do you know where it is?"
Tech 52 shook his head. "I was told Malcolm knew where it was, but Sykes says the knowledge of the exact location died with him. The tribe followed drones, and the drones never went to the tower."
Jack nodded again, then glanced at his own Jack. There was no need for speech. Tech 67 understood the look immediately. He took his blueprints and set them aside, then pulled out a fresh piece of draft paper. He got up from his seat and beckoned to Tech 52. "You like games, Jack?"
"Huh?" Tech 67 beckoned to him, and Tech 52 stood up.
"Jack and I have put together a chess set. Care to join me? Maybe one of us will win instead of stalemating all the time."
"Good luck," Jack muttered, taking his seat at the table. Tech 67 brought the chess set out from the library, and they set up on the floor. Jack blocked out the sound of his own voice explaining the function of the few pieces they'd had to make on their own out of random bits of twig and small stones. He closed his eyes and focused on the trip they'd made over two years ago. He'd been worried about Tech 67's leg, and after, he'd been utterly devastated by their discovery inside the tower. But between that in his turn-around for the landing he'd seen the control tower.
The switchboard had still been on, never having been shut off. Sky towers were designed to be self sufficient, drawing power from the earth-bound bases, and from the sunlight. Even after a year, the board had been bright. There had been a coffee cup there or, knowing Vikka, it was more likely a tea cup, but the liquid was long gone. There was an earpiece on the board, as if she had just stepped away for a moment, and on the board, there had been a full map of Tech 49's territory. Jack called it to his mind, focused on it, breathing slow and deep. Then, he opened his eyes, pocked up Tech 67's pencil, and started to draw.
By dawn, the travelers were already awake and beginning to pack their belongings. They weren't ready to move on, however, for over two hours. As a show of gratitude, Sergeant Sykes ordered his people to gather firewood for their hosts. Before long, they had collected enough wood to see Jack and Tech 67 through almost an entire winter. The group sat down to breakfast before they went, sharing their food with their hosts. After they ate, they set about cleaning up around the lake, getting rid of any sign that they had been there possibly from courtesy, possibly from a long habit of covering their tracks for survival's sake.
"We thank you for your hospitality," Sykes said to them.
"It was our pleasure," Tech 67 replied.
Sykes nodded. "When we have seen our friend off," he said, gesturing to Tech 52, "would you care to receive visits from our people in the future? Or, with the planes, you could visit us as well, and we could return your hospitality."
Tech 67 glanced at Jack, and they smiled. "That would be great," Jack said.
"Excellent. Kara will give you the coordinates of our home base."
Jack tapped Tech 67's arm to let him know he was leaving, then trotted into the house and came back with a large sheet of paper, rolled and tied with twine. "Jack," he said, looking at Tech 52. "This is a gift from both of us."
Tech 52 looked curiously at the scroll. "Is that what you were working on all night?" Jack nodded and handed the scroll to the other technician. He'd finally finished it after Tech 52 and Tech 67 had reached their fourth stalemate. Tech 52 pulled off the string and unrolled the scroll. At first, he looked confused, then shocked. He looked up at them in wonder. "Wh... I..."
"If it's anything like our regions," Tech 67 said, "then the border of the radiation zones should have areas where he could have gone off comm. and out of range of Mission. Probably somewhere away from the coast line borders. If he had a secret place, that's where it would be."
Tech 52 let out a shaky breath, and looked up. His eyes were shining and his lip trembled slightly. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you for this."
He extended his hand, and Tech 67 shook it firmly. "You're welcome, Jack," he said. "Dont... don't forget about us."
Jack looked toward his bubble ship, parked nearby. "With... with one of our ships, you could-"
"No," Tech 52 said, shaking his head. Jack was surprised. "Thank you, but, I... I wouldn't want to abandon my companions."
"Jack," Sykes said. "You wouldn't be abandoning us. You would find us again. And you could search much faster with one of their air ships."
Tech 52 shook his head. "No," he said again. "Thank you, Jack," he said, looking at Jack. He glanced at Tech 67. "Thank you. But I have these good people to help me, and you two are isolated here. I don't want to add to that by taking one of your ships. I've waited this long to find her. I can be patient a little longer." He held up the map Jack had created. "This will be a huge help," he said. "Thank you both again."
He extended his hand to Jack, and they shook hands. Jack was relieved, though he would have given the other technician the ship if he had accepted the offer. He hadn't talked about it to Tech 67, and they had often wondered how long the fuel cells would really last, and what might happen of one of the ships broke down. The thought of losing their mobility was frightening, to say the least.
Tech 52 began to take his hand away, but Jack held on a moment longer. He looked into Tech 52's glistening hazel eyes, knowing his own eyes must be shining as well. "Make her happy, Jack," he said. "Promise me."
"I promise," he said solemnly. "And you know it's a promise I'll keep."
Jack nodded, and released Tech 52's hand. The other man rolled the map up carefully and they said their final goodbyes. They watched the troop head off again, standing at the edge of the lake, until even the sound of their footfalls died away.
Jack sighed and turned back to his home. The lake was quiet and still, and seemed even more so now that they had seen it bustling with activity. Jack had feared that when the troop left, he would feel the loss sharply. That the sudden loss of human company other than his double would leave a void and a sense of longing that might not be filled for months, or even years.
But he was surprised to realize that he didn't feel that way at all. The quiet and calm of their lake was actually comforting, and the promise of getting back to their old routine was more appealing than he had expected. He looked over at his Jack, and the smile on his face told him that he wasn't alone in those feelings.
Jack took Tech 67's hand in his and gestured toward the house. "Let's get to work on that new room."
"You got it, Jack?"
"Almost," Jack answered. "I just... have to..." Jack slammed the palm of his hand against the side of the box, jarring it slightly. He heard an answering beep, and he smiled. "That's right," he said to the box. "Got it," he called down.
Tech 67 looked up at him from his position at the base of the building. "Okay, well come down here, then," he called up.
"Keep your pants on, Tower," Jack called. "I want to make sure it's transmitting at one hundred percent."
"I'm sure it is. John said this thing is capable of transmitting all the way off planet if we want it to. He should know, right?"
Jack checked the signal strength anyway, then climbed back down to where his Jack awaited him. "See, all in one piece."
"Dare devil," 67 groused. "So is it at maximum?"
"Yup, anyone on the planet who has a transmitter should be able to pick it up."
Tech 67 smiled. "I'm glad," he said. "I'm really glad."
"Me, too. But I'm still concerned about the last part," Jack said.
Tech 67 shook his head. "Don't be," he said. "It's not really a lie."
"Besides, I think we owe it to Jack to protect them from some onslaught of visitors, don't you? And it's kinder to the other technicians. It was hard enough for us to come to terms with losing her."
Jack nodded. "And there's the kids to consider," he said.
"Exactly." They looked at their handiwork for a few more seconds, checked the fuel cell attached to the bottom of the apparatus once more, and then headed back to the ship. As he passed by the line of defunct tourist binoculars, Jack smiled and thought about Tech 52.
"Speaking of the kids," Jack said. "Julia's supposed to bring Malcolm this year so we can finally meet him."
"That's right! Yeah, come on," his Jack said. "Let's get back. I promised to teach Harper how to play baseball this year. They're supposed to actually have alcohol at the Festival of Heroes this year, too. I want to know what it tastes like."
Jack leaned back in his chair and stared out at the sparkling waters of Lake Julia. Ten years had passed since the Tet had been destroyed. Beech's tribe thrived, and they had been told other groups of humans around the world were reaching out, seeking to communicate. Many of them especially in the non-English speaking parts of the world had ambassadors who were fluent in both English and the country's primary language. Small men, dark-haired, hazel-eyed, answering to the name Jack Harper, and sometimes accompanied by even smaller women red-haired, blue-eyed, answering to the name Victoria Olsen.
And in the meantime, Jack and his Jack spent their lives the way they had dreamed of living by the side of a lake, in a house built by their own hands, with the person that they loved.
Jack turned to look at his companion his husband. Tech 67 had his eyes closed, and his baseball cap pulled down over his nose. Jack smiled. He would normally have felt guilty waking his Jack, but ever since they'd received their first message from Tech 52 all those years ago (I found her, she's safe, we're happy. Thank you.), Jack found that his restless nights had all but disappeared. And after they met her for the first time at the first annual Festival of Heroes, the dreams had stopped completely. He still thought of her, of course, and he still loved her. But thinking about her no longer left him feeling confused and frustrated, with that awful sense of loss that he'd felt before he knew who she was, and that she was safe and happy. Tech 67 had been sleeping much better, too, so Jack didn't feel so bad about nudging his arm and trying to wake him.
"Hm," Jack muttered.
His Jack breathed deeply, and lifted the cap from over his eyes. "What is it? You okay?"
"Mmm-hmm. I was just thinking."
"You're always thinking," his Jack said. "It's one of the things I love about you."
Jack laughed. "Likewise. But I was thinking about Julia again."
"Yeah. You remember what we told her? What Commander Harper told her?"
"About building her a house on a lake and growing old together?"
"Yeah," Jack replied. "And then... and then they would die, and be buried in a meadow by the lake. And the world would forget about them."
"But they would always have each other," Tech 67 whispered. "I remember. I think about that often, actually."
"About us?" Jack asked.
"Yes." He reached over and touched Jack's hand. "I'm happy that I have you," he said. He laughed. "Maybe if we can convince John to give us enough alcohol, we can even drink too much."
Jack laughed. "Real romantic."
"I'm a regular Don Juan."
Jack smiled and looked back at the water. "Sykes will keep his promise," he said softly. "Someone will come every year, and someone will check on us if we don't make the Festival. And when it's over, we'll be buried by the side of our lake."
"Mmhmm," he murmured, rubbing his thumb against the back of Jack's hand.
"But you know something, Jack?"
"The world will never forget about Jack Harper. Will they?"
Tech 67 squeezed Jack's hand, and they looked at one another and smiled. "No," he said. "No, I don't suppose they ever will."
Jack frowned at his monitor. "What the hell is that?"
"It looks like a beacon," Vikka said. "That's coming... how could they send something from that far away?"
"No idea," Jack said. "Can we decrypt?"
"Not without Mission." Her face fell, but she gritted her teeth and looked up at him. "But it sounds like it could be Morse code. If we can slow it down-"
"Of course. Let's go." Vikka held onto the straps of her belt, and Jack turned the plane toward home.
Sixty minutes later, they had decoded the message, and they sat on their makeshift bed, squeezing each other tightly, weeping into the otherwise silent stillness of their lakeside home, with the decoded message on the bed beside them, like a symbol of their salvation.
TO TECH JACK HARPER FROM JACK H 16 AND JACK H 67 AND BEECH TRIBE OF RAVEN ROCK NEW YORK STOP SCAVS ARE HUMAN STOP TET WAS ENEMY STOP TET USED US STOP TECH 49 DESTROYED TET WITH M BEECH STOP JACK HARPER IS A HERO STOP
PS THE DARK HAIRED WOMAN WAS JACK HARPER'S WIFE STOP SHE WAS HAPPY STOP SHE IS GONE STOP HER NAME WAS JULIA STOP