Remember. This is for NaNoWriMo. It is going to be written first, edited later. No worries. All I care about is getting it out as fast as possible. Must hit 50,000 words by the end of November. I think I switch tenses at some point; I have a habit of doing that when I write in first person. Sometimes I feel like things have to be in present and other times, it feels best written in past. But, again, NaNoWriMo, so I'm not worrying about the editing at this moment; things will be fixed next month, I assure you.
Chapter 1: 11 September 2021 – 10:47PM – Arkansas
It started like any other birthday party. The two candles with the numbers "27" on the overly icing-filled white cake. The cake and ice cream wasn't so much for me as it was for my two boys: Austin, the firstborn and Kyle, the troublesome three-year-old who insisted on sticking his small fingers in the sweet icing.
My wife sang the tune along with the easily excited children, her voice the only one in the family that actually sounded decent. Perhaps the girl growing in her womb would possess the gift of music from her mother's side.
Just as the song ended, while I puffed out the two burning candles, my cell phone came to life. My face dropped at the ringtone; it's one of the two that could ring whether my phone was on silent or not.
Sarah, my wife, frowned as well, but she sighed and nodded. I grimaced, picked up the phone, and walked outside before answering. This was the hardest part about my job.
"Yes, sir, what's the problem?"
"Eric, I need you down at the city hall right away. There's a man here who admits to attempting to bomb the place, but we've found no evidence and he's being very stubborn about answering our questions."
I sighed. Ran my palm across my face. "Forgive me for saying so, sir, but can't I interrogate him later? It's kind of my birthday…"
A pause from the other end. "Sorry, Eric, but with all the secrets you know and have to keep…you have to be here. He calls you specifically by name and says you're the only person he's free with. Whatever that means."
An alarm went off in my mind. A memory. September 11th, 2001. A stranger who saved me from the burning tower, a stranger who was like a superhero with the unbelievable abilities he possessed. Me, a child, making some cute innocent remark about honesty between friends. Him, thanking me in tears and telling me his secrets…Until he passed out and I was introduced to the people who controlled him. The people who almost killed me for knowing their secret.
My first big secret…a secret that no one knows, no one but me and the stranger…and the two men who found me with him that day.
"I'll be right there," I said into the phone before closing it and going back inside to tell Sarah the news.
She accepted, like she had to, and we shared a small kiss before I hopped in my truck and drove up to city hall. It's not too far and the traffic is light at this time of night, even if it is a Saturday.
When I arrived, the place was dark, not lit up with police cars like you might expect. Still, I parked in my usual spot and made my way to the back doors, wondering if the stranger from my childhood was the one here tonight. Considering the fact that this incident interrupted my birthday, it had better be him.
Zach greeted me at the door, blond hair splattered with gel that glitters even in the dim light. He was a strange one, after all. "Thank God, Eric. This guy is so odd he's pissing me off."
I sighed as my co-worker led me down a hallway to a back room. "I want to know how he knows me."
There isn't anyone else who knows my name and job. It has to be him, but how?
"As we all do," Zach muttered before opening the doors.
And there, sitting at a desk with his wrists handcuffed behind a chair, was the stranger from my childhood memories. What made me pause more than anything else was the fact that he hadn't aged…at all. His face was still youthful and smooth like a young twenty-year-old. His black hair was still spiked in the same gelled hairdo. His green eyes seemed clouded over until they hit me, and then emotion appeared to explode across his tense body.
The entire room turned to me. Zach still stood behind me, hovering like a guard at a door. My supervisor nodded in my direction, handing the floor of interrogation over to me.
I sighed, running a hand through my black hair, that annoying forelock still slightly bothering me to this day. Picking up my feet, I moved to sit at the other side of the maple wood desk, my supervisor, David Jackson, beside me. "It's been a long time, Jace," I mumbled, my eyes watching every movement.
He didn't say anything. Just nodded and licked his lips. But he looked like he wanted to talk. His eyes almost seemed to be screaming at me to ask a question he could answer.
"How has life been treating you?"
My comrades looked at me like I'd gone insane. They didn't understand why I'd asked such a small-talk conversational question. I wanted to show them that Jace wasn't normal; I wanted them to understand what he was.
As expected, Jace blinked and looked confused. He licked his lips again. "Life," he whispered. His green eyes grew misty and a part of me regretted having asked the question. "I…I can't answer that, Eric. My master doesn't even consider me alive in the sense of the question you asked."
"What does that mean?" Jackson exploded beside me, slamming his fists on the table.
No wonder he called me. He'd probably been trying to get impossible answers out of Jace for a few hours. Nothing else would annoy Jackson into anger.
"It means he isn't human like you and me, sir," I whispered before Jace had a chance to respond.
I sighed and scratched the back of my neck. "Let me ask a few questions. You'll understand shortly." Jackson nodded. Jace looked at me patiently, his green eyes eerily focused. I cleared my throat. "So, you were told to bomb this building, correct?"
"Yes," Jace responded, short and simple.
"Where's the bomb now?"
He blinked. "It doesn't exist yet."
Before my supervisor could explode, I jumped forward. "Of course, you'd have to create it, right?"
"Create it?" Zach interrupted from behind, his curiosity obviously jumping over his training. "With what materials?"
Jace just stared at him. I sighed. Understanding what Jace was, is easier when you're a child. Getting grownups to understand the concept, required a bit of hardcore proof.
"Jace, can you demonstrate your abilities for us?"
He nodded, licked his lips, took a breath and closed his eyes as if afraid. "What do you want, Eric?"
I winced, understanding the pain in his eyes now. He was programmed not to ask questions. Programmed to obey. Even though something I said as a child made him "free" around me, his deeper programs, and possibly even recent tweaking, still resisted it.
"How about…" I drifted off, trying to think of something simple yet impressive. My memories returned to me and the idea sprang to life in a moment. "How about a handgun for now, like the one Zach has behind me?"
Jace glanced towards Zach, his eyes grazing over the pistol at my comrade's waist. His green eyes blinked; his mouth twisted into a grimace. "The metal around my wrists is interferring…"
I nodded. "Hey, Zach, would you mind releasing him? If you trust me, sir," I said, my last comment being directed toward David.
"Go ahead. I want to see this creating thing you're talking about."
With the okay from our leader, Zach walked forward and unhooked the handcuffs. Almost immediately, Jace laid his right hand on the desk and opened his palm. I watched, along with my comrades, as the deceivingly human skin faded to reveal the robotic mechanisms underneath. After a few moments—and a bright flash of light and smoke that made the three of us turn our eyes—a handgun appeared in Jace's hands, an exact copy of Zach's personal weapon, even down to the carved initials on the handle.
"Holy shit," Jackson whispered. "Holy fucking shit."
"You're a robot?" Zach exclaimed, taking a step back.
Jace looked to me. He must have been told not to answer questions. Except, for some reason, he can break that rule when the question came from me. His masters must have really narrowed his options of finding loopholes in commands. I sighed once again. "In a sense."
Jackson turned to me. "Explain."
With a shrug, I began my first attempt at telling a realistic science-fiction-sounding story. "He's not really a robot; his creators didn't exactly make him from scratch. From what I've gathered—well,thought of—over the years, one of his masters cloned himself and used the cloned human as a container for robotic designs."
Understanding broke across David Jackson's face as he turned to Jace, as if seeing him for the first time. The man said nothing, but I could tell he was thinking, thinking real hard.
A light bulb must have just gone off in Zach's mind because he sprang forward and grabbed Jace's arms, forcing the clone back into the chair. "You're some sort of freaky cyborg then? If you wanted to, you could kill us all right now and survive?" Without waiting for an answer, Zach took the handcuffs and rebound Jace's wrists, seeing as they had stopped the man from using his abilities—or at least one of them.
I didn't say anything, and neither did Jackson. Jace looked at me, though, and I could see the painful hurt in those eerie green eyes. He couldn't say anything, but I'm sure he wanted to.
"Answer their questions, Jace, but explain it. And, please, tell us what you can about what you are."
Emotion faded away as Jace blinked and stared at the desk. "I can't do anything I want; I-I'm not allowed to exercise free will."
"The question is if you have the capability of free will or not," Jackson mutters, earning a grimace from me but no reaction whatsoever from Jace.
Of course. Two men can argue about his rights and whether he has a soul, and they can do such right in front of him, but he'll just stand or sit obediently. I want to believe he has a soul; I want to believe he can act on his own, but the only proof I've seen is something that happened when I was a child. No one would believe me.
"My master made me into a weapon. I am their weapon. Do I have the power to destroy this building and everyone in it? Yes, and so much more." As Jace explains, I begin to notice something. He doesn't sigh. He doesn't move. His voice is completely monotone. There's no emotion present when he speaks. "I was told to do just that and then return."
"But you're not going to, are you?" I whisper, knowing the frightful question is on everyone's mind. Can he break free and still do what he was sent for? And if he can, what is he waiting for?
"I…" His voice cracks. Emotion. There. I see it when he looks up, the pain in his eyes; hurt seems to be the easiest emotion for him to express. Maybe it's the only thing he's ever known. "I have to go; he's calling me."
The memory flashes across my mind. What happened the last time Jace said those words. Are there others outside? Like that time in New York?
"Who's calling you?" Jackson asks, not knowing the implications of Jace's statement.
I bite my lip and look for a window, try to think of way to find out if there are others outside, try to imagine what they would do if they know their prized "weapon" was now in the hands of the US government, if only a small branch that no one knows about.
"My master," Jace answers, short and simple.
"And who is that?" Jackson presses, his voice hard, his eyes narrowed.
"I…" Jace winces. His hands shake, making the handcuffs rattle. He takes a slow breath as if trying to fight something? "I can't answer that question."
David stands up and slams his hands on the table, leaning over and making himself face-to-face with the clone."And why not? It's a simple question. A name. That's all I want."
"I c-can't…" Jace mumbles with a groan and a new tremble in his body. His green eyes look to me. The handcuffs rattle as his body shivers again. "He's angry; he wants me; I have to go."
I see something in his eyes. Something I had missed before. Something that counters what he's saying. "But you don't want to, do you?"
He shakes his head, slowly. Very slowly. Then his eyes close. His teeth snap together, grinding against each other, like what someone does when they're in pain. "My systems…are fighting…I…"
Then the lights go out. I hear a crash. The sound of the air conditioner has stopped, too. A power outage? Not from a storm. The forecast is clear. Perhaps a power line broke somewhere. Or a transformer went out. A lot of things can cause a power outage.
But Jace is suddenly silent. And I'm wishing for a flashlight or something. I had forgotten mine. Of all things, I didn't expect to need one. I sit still as Jackson shuffles around the desk beside me.
I hear Zach's voice in the darkness. "That's odd. My cell phone's dead." At first, I don't think much of it. "I know I charged it this morning, and it always lasts me a few days before I need to recharge it."
"Damn it, kid, stop talking about your cell phone and help me find a flashlight!" Jackson shouts, but he quickly mumbles a, "Never mind," as light shines into the darkened room.
Jace is leaning forward in the chair, his head hanging limply, his body slack. Like asleep. Or dead.
The idea smacks me in the brain. "Shit!" Jace is a cyborg, a somewhat robot. How much of him is mechanical, I don't know, but I do know of one thing that can knock out electrical creations. "Who set off the EMP?" I shout, springing out of my chair and rushing to Jace's side, feeling for a pulse or something.
I feel nothing, but I'm not ready to give up hope. Jace is different. An EMP would kill something like a laptop, but Jace is at least human at the bottom of everything…so…
"EMP?" Zach mutters.
"Electricmagnetic pulse; it's something science fiction movies love to overuse, something that could knock out your cell phone there and anything else in the area remotely electrical," Jackson answers. "Is it alive?"
"He," I correct. My supervisor sighs at me but doesn't argue the point, so I respond. "I don't feel a pulse, but I'm not so sure he would have one." Leaning back, the annoying black forelock in my hair falling into my vision, I scratch at the back of my neck while I try to think. "Whatever his condition, if it was an EMP, then it was more than likely set off by whoever was 'calling him.'"
Jackson crosses his arms and nods. "Take Zach and make your way to Vincent's place. If anyone can restore a dead computer, it would be him."
I want to yell something about Jace being more than a computer, but I refrain from the impulse. I have no proof. And he has proof for his assumptions. I'll have to worry about these little details later.
"I'll take care of the situation here and send some men out to track down anyone who may have such a device in their hands," Jackson sighs, the wrinkles in his face coming through when he frowns. "I doubt we'll find anything, though; it seems to me, the only way to find his master is to follow him home."
I wince at each emphasis used about calling Jace a 'he.' It would be hard indeed to make others believe my new friend had a human side. First a clone, then a cyborg. Not many people would want to believe.
"If by some luck, Vincent brings him back to life, call Christine and let her know that we've found a weapon of mass destruction." This, of all things, makes me tense up.
"That's what it is, Eric. Whatever you believe, it's a machine that can mass produce weapons with a flash of smoke. I don't know about you, but that scares me and I will not have it in the hands of an unknown enemy."
I sigh and concede the point. It is true. There's no telling what Jace has been ordered to do…or what Jace could be ordered to do. In the wrong hands, he could probably destroy our nation in terrorist acts worse than the September 11 tragedies. But, if he could somehow be freed; if he could be allowed to think for himself…Damn, even then no one would trust him.
"I'll call my family and let them know I'm going out of town," I mumble, hanging my head.
Zach chuckles. "Good luck finding a phone to call them from."
I roll my eyes as I swipe the keys from my younger comrade and unhook the handcuffs around Jace's wrists. The clone body falls forward after being released, his head smacking into the desk. I groan before lifting the surprisingly light body over my shoulders.
"Happy birthday, Eric," I mutter to myself as Zach and I make our way to my truck where I deposit Jace's body in the back seat and set a course for Kentucky where the infamous computer hacker, Vincent Trezieln, lives cooped up in an underground computer lab facility run by the secret branch of US government.