We Have Each Other
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 The 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.