We Have Each Other
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 a tall, blonde 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 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 a total of five 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 with him. He watched Tech 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.
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 Tech 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. 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 other two clones 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.