We Have Each Other
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 then 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 before 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 screen 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, picked 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."