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Chapter 1: Cloned!

053 RE-ESTABLISH SHIPLINK
.........-STATUS INTERFACE
055 SCAN PROGRAM COMPLETE.
057 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-CODE NAME "CLONE BANK ALPHA"
061 RUN SEQUENCE ALPHA
063 ACTUATE

In a special hidden section of the lost starship Warden, an engineering robot discovered a minor cable break. Drawing a small torch from its built-in tool kit, the necessary repair was soon made. This circuitry interruption---undiscovered and untended for many, many years---was now closed, and a special computer signal sent long ago finally reached its destination. Relays funneled the signal to a speciazl computer unit, which was activated. A special genetic laboratory hummed to life.

Immediately, micro-manipulators withdrew samples of human tissue from a freezer storage compartment. Unnoticed by the electronic controlling device, a cracked and damaged radioactive power capsule nearby contaminated some of the withdrawn tissue cultures. The quick-frozen cells were moved to tanks of a special growth medium and were electrically stimulated. The cells began to multiply, rapidly ...

Weeks later, the tanks held full-grown adult human bodies. Some appeared normal, while others had strange deformities and mutations induced by the unexpected dose of radiation. All were limp, unmoving; devoid of intelligence and identity.

Once again, micro-manipulators moved in, this time to attach wires and sensor strips to the foreheads of the newly-grown clones. In a matter of days, computer tapes full of general human knowledge and specific ship-related skills were played directly into the clones' brain synapses. But again, old computer malfunctions and worn-out circuitry combined to leave large gaps in the intended programming of the new potential crew members. There were unfortunate---perhaps eventually tragic---lapses in their "memories" of the ship and its functions.

Thankfully, the all important final tape played into the heads of the clones, explaining their mission. That mission was of the utmost importance to the hundreds of thousands of people in the ship:

"Program Clone Bank Alpha is activated only in the case of extreme danger or damage, causing breakdown of the chain of command of the ship. Upon activation, tissue samples are processed into clones of the ship's personnel, who are then programmed with the technical and general data necessary for operation of the ship. The clone bank computer terminals are to provide equipment and authorization to the clones, allowing them to reestablish chain of command and prevent disaster."

12:00 RE-ESTABLISH SURVEILLANCE-LINK
.........-STATUS TWO INDIVIDUALS
12:10 SCAN CLONE BANK POD ROOM
12:16 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-TERMINATE AND RE-CLONE
12:23 SUBJECTS IN MOTION
12:25 ACTUATE

Having only just met one another moments ago, Chelydra and Zhaxier stood together in the clone bank pod room. When they climbed out of their pods, they found a lower drawer containing a few things to which they, for some reason, felt a personal attachment which they couldn't really explain. The room itself was not much over 15 meters wide but was over 75 meters long to the right and to the left of where they stood. The room could easily have held over two thousand clone bank pods. Light emanating from the ceiling illuminated the entire room from end to end. The walls were made of slick silver metal. A small desk with a computer built into it beside a door could be seen at both distant ends of the long room.

Confusing memories and images filled their heads as they stood together, waiting for someone to arrive and tell them what to do next. If there was such a person/creature/robot to do so, they failed to arrive. Both felt empty, as if there were many more things about themselves yet to be discovered. There were many things that they couldn't remember, like putting names to the faces that they saw in their minds, where they were from, who they really were, and why they looked the way they did.

Chelydra examined his unfamiliarly bulky body, blinking as he did so at the sight of scales and claws. What happened? The clone sequence program must have run, so he knew he was a clone. But whose? His mind was fuzzy, but it came up with the name Chelydra ... Serpentina. Was that his name? Was it someone elses?


Looking in the pod drawer, he found a uniform which was hopelessly the wrong size. He examined the security patch: a picture of an ellipsoidal ship, the word "WARDEN" above, and a white box below with "Lt/Sr" embroidered in red. He discarded the undersized uniform and gathered the rest of the drawer's contents. There was some web gear, which fit around his shell, an ID card, and an old friend. The shotgun felt just right in his hands. It was a comfort to him as he began to ponder the sort of disaster that could have befallen the ship that required bringing him back as this butt-ugly, armour-plated behemoth.

Zhaxier, dazed, looked at the clothes from the lower drawer of his pod, and felt an urge to put them on. He laughed inwardly. The genetic engineers thought of everything. "They even gave me the human aversion to public nakedness," he thought. It was clear to him that he was a clone. This was the cloning lab, after all, and he had just climbed out of a tube.

Something seemed not quite right. In an emergency, such as this had to be, all the crew's clones should have been activated. That meant the "original" Zhaxier was probably dead. As well as a particular female crewmate ... Blast it! Who was she? And who was this turtle-man next to him; why did he come out like that? His skin felt as if it would crawl off him at any moment. If this guy had been mutated, odds were that his own body was screwed up too.

A startling, beeping noise caused them to spin around to see both of their pod-lids, apparently on a timing mechanism, suddenly close by themselves. At the same time, to their right, at the far end of the room (almost 75 meters away), a door opened and a 2 meter tall, metallic, robot-like creature with four arms and moving on rubber tracks, started heading in their direction at a normal walking pace.

A combination of programmed training and primordial reflexes caused Chelydra to automatically assume a position of cover behind the pod. Warily, he tracked the advance of the metallic intruder.

The sight of the robot startled Zhaxier, and suddenly he couldn't find his arms. "What the...?" Several seconds passed before he could confirm by touch that his arms were still there. They weren't quite invisible either, but constantly shifting to share the visual characteristics of his background. In fact, his entire body was doing it. "Whoa!" When he calmed down, his arms snapped instantly into view. "This ain't right, but it rocks major duds!" The thought occurred to him that staying naked might have its advantages, especially with so many things gone awry, so he only put on his black boxers.

Six pods behind Zhaxier and Chelydra, a pure strain human female climbed naked out of her clone bank pod.

"Whoa!" thought Zhaxier, examining the rooms newest occupant.

Nike was not one to enjoy waking up in the morning, no matter what the circumstances, and it irritated her even more that she couldn't exactly recall what she was doing there. She noticed her ship-mates milling about in the nude, and she was briefly amused before she realized her own bare state. She hopped out of her pod and knelt to open her pod drawer. She removed her clothes and ID card and quickly dressed. She was fairly certain that whatever she had had to drink to cause her to feel so rotten would soon wear off, but she could not shake the nagging feeling that something was wrong.

Suddenly recognizing that she was in the cloning bay, Nike thought, "I've been cloned?" The memory gaps made sense if she had indeed been cloned. "Either that, or I did a little more than liquor last night," she chuckled to herself, and slowly made her way towards the other two non-metallic inhabitants of the room. The robot worried her a little bit. She would feel better after talking with the others, she reassured herself. Maybe they knew what the robot was all about.

12:26 SCAN CLONE BANK POD ROOM
12:28 ACTUATE
12:30 RE-ESTABLISH SURVEILLANCE-LINK
.........-STATUS THREE INDIVIDUALS
12:32 SUBJECTS IDLE
12:34 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-FOOD RECOVERY
12:34 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-TERMINATE AND RE-CLONE

The large robot continued heading in their direction at its methodical pace. At 45 meters away, the clones could see that it was holding something in each hand. In its lower left appendage, it dragged something large and brown on the floor behind it.

A camera (one of 50) across the room up next to the ceiling made a humming noise as it slowly turned to follow the clones, as if to view what was happening.

With insufficient data on the robot, Zhaxier opted to play it safe: he allowed his new chameleon power to kick in, and stepped behind his tube which came up to above his waistline. Chelydra heartily believed that "the best defense is a good offense!" He racked his shotgun to be sure that a round was chambered, and the sound echoed down the hall and back.

Behind the approaching robot, the clones saw another clone-pod opening. Percy awoke to the sound of warm air rushing into his pod. "Hey, that's funny," he said aloud, but mostly to himself. "I don't remember going to sleep. Hey, I'm naked!" He suddenly felt very frustrated. "Hey, this looks like a clone-tube! Waaaaaaitaminute...." Percy racked his memory for an explanation, and recalled a trip he had made to the cloning lab to donate some tissue samples. "In case of an emergency", they had said. "My hairy ass! This has to be some kinda joke!" As he stared at the ceiling, he tried to calm himself down, but only became more agitated. "What if this isn't a joke? What if somethin' did happen?"

Out of fearful curiosity, Percy lifted his head a bit and peeked over the side of his tube. He saw rows upon rows of clone-pods exactly like the one he was in, a robot moving away from him, and three humanoid shapes on the other end of the bay from his position. Quickly, he laid back down. "This ain't no joke. Ok, Percy. Or should I call myself Percy Junior? Whattaya call a clone anyway? The second? The sequel? Hey, there's no guarantee I'm the only clone of me. Maybe they made a hundred of me! Maybe the original me is still alive an' just wanted somebody to play cards with?"

At that moment, a rotary power-saw that the robot was carrying turned on. He heard the whirring, grinding noise echoing ominously in the chamber and ruled out his last hypothesis. Percy put his hands up to his head. He had a terrible headache, all of a sudden. "Focus!" he said to himself.

With the sound of an automated air-pressure release, the pod's lid began to close. Without another thought, Percy flipped himself out of the tube and ducked beside it, such that he had a good view of the scene from behind its cover. He noticed a drawer opening below him and looked inside. "Clothes. Well that's something," he thought.

12:36 SCAN CLONE BANK POD ROOM
12:37 ACTUATE
12:38 CONTINUING SURVEILLANCE-LINK
.........-STATUS FOUR INDIVIDUALS
12:39 ROBOT CONTACT PROBABLE
12:40 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-FOOD RECOVERY
12:40 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-TERMINATE AND RE-CLONE

The approaching robot continued towards Chelydra and Zhaxier. At 30 meters away, the two clones could see that the robot carried a small pistol in one appendage, and a hypodermic-needle injector in another. One arm was fitted with a meat-cutting saw with a wicked-looking, rotating blade. The fourth appendage was a flexible hand which dragged an empty bag behind it.

Nike's initial urge was to tell the robot to kiss her warm flesh for disturbing her before she even had a chance to dress, but instead she wondered if the robot was coming for her, or just for her mutated companions. Regardless, they seemed sentient and familiar, so she couldn't just sit by and do nothing. "Or can I?" She mentally slapped herself for her smart-ass mentality and moved to flank the robot, crouched behind a clone-tube and looked about for something to use as a weapon.

Chelydra valiantly supressed a reptilian urge to "just blast it." His finger took up the slack in the trigger, ready to let fly at the first sign of trouble from the advancing robot.

Zhaxier's questioning gaze fell on the box on the table at the far end of the chamber behind them, and recognized it as a "computer terminal," an object in front of which the original "him" had spent a lot of time. It was slowly coming back to him ... He scrambled for the terminal away from the decidedly errant robot. While running, he felt something in the back pocket of his briefs. He removed a rectangular piece of flat plastic that was a sudden comfort to him in his uncertain surroundings: his ID card.

12:40 SCAN CLONE BANK POD ROOM
12:40 ACTUATE
12:41 CONTINUING SURVEILLANCE-LINK
.........-STATUS FOUR INDIVIDUALS
12:42 HOSTILE CONTACT IN ACTION
12:43 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-FOOD RECOVERY
12:43 INITIATE PROGRAM:
.........-TERMINATE AND RE-CLONE

From 15 meters away, Nike and Chelydra both thought that they recognized the robot as a food processing bot, but why they thought that, they couldn't explain. The robot proceeded towards them without bitterness or anger in its actions, just pre-programmed deliberateness.

In a harsh voice, Chelydra called, "That's about far enough, tin-can. We'd like a little privacy to finish dressing."

As it continued approaching, the robot responded in a semi-intelligible, Hal-like voice that chilled the clones' spines, "Drop your weapon, mutant, and be prepared to be re-introduced into the 0100 0010 system 0100, 0110 01000100. Immediate failure to comply will result in 1011 0001!" Radiation, faulty programming or just sheer running time had somehow corrupted the robot's speech.

The robot fired its pistol at Chelydra. Even with the cover provided by the clone-pod, the ray hit Chelydra almost perfectly in the upper chest, uhm, shell. Chelydra was shocked momentarily, but otherwise the weapon had no effect upon him. He really didn't think that he wanted to be reintroduced to the "0100 0010 system," whatever that was, so he did the only sensible thing under the circumstances and returned fire.

The discharge of firearms awakened memories---memories of triumph, rendezvous, and great loss. To each living creature in the room it is like a small secret, a shifting of a medpack to a wound, a key stroke on a computer, an inexplicable affirmation of something they once did, or some reaction to a situation such as this. In a word, déjà-vu.

"They're shooting each other?!" Percy gasped with a rush of adrenaline. He looked up from his drawer and gazed at the robot, studying it intensely, trying to remember what its function was. For some reason he couldn't quite remember all the robot's subroutines, why it would have been dispatched to the cloning bay, or why it would have strayed from its programming. Only one thing was clear amid the tangle of possibilities and the weirdness of his current whereabouts. He had a chance to start all over. A chance to save the ship from whatever emergency had activated his clone.

The shotgun exploded with an ear-shattering bang as Chelydra's finger squeezed the trigger. The close range shot created a shower of sparks across the front of the robot, destroyed the arm wielding the pistol at the shoulder and caused it to drop to the floor beside the robot. Chelydra ejected the spent shell and fired a second time, almost without thought. The second shot ripped a panel off the front of the robot. The metal creature stopped moving and froze in place, as a puff of smoke bellowed from the exposed area. Chelydra ejected the second spent round noisily and loaded two new shells. The robot snapped, crackled and popped with electricity, but didn't move.

Nike moved from clone-tube to clone-tube, using them for cover until she flanked the inactive robot. At the end of one of the clone-tubes, she found a meter long, stainless-alloy, open ended wrench. She picked it up and guessed that it weighed about a half a kilogram. "A perfect weapon," she thought, but probably an unhealthy one versus a sparking bot. She stood still and waited for the robot's pyrotechnic death-rattle to conclude.

Zhaxier scrambled down the long room to the computer terminal, and nearly slipped on the slick floor. He touched the keyboard and the dark screen illuminated. It read, "ID Card Required."

Zhaxier looked for a card-sized receptacle. There was a vaguely familiar groove along the top of the keyboard, "yeah, that's what it's called!". Before he realized it, his arm had swiped the card along the full length of the slot. The vid-screen changed and displayed a list of options. "Rockdud! So that's how it works!" For some reason, the words "never leave home without it" bubbled up from the recesses of his reconstituted brain---obviously some bit of cherished wisdom the dear clone masters had thrown in for kicks.

"Boo-yah!" Percy shouted with arms up-raised in excitement, as the mad robot was halted with a shower of buck-shot and sparks. He grabbed his uniform shirt from the drawer and noticed a circular patch on the left chest pocket. The patch had a picture of an ellipsoidal ship, the word "WARDEN" above it, and a white box below with "Sys/Tech Crew" embroidered in red. While keeping an eye on the other end of the clone bank, he quickly dressed himself - socks, briefs, uniform pants and shirt, shoes, handkerchief in pants pocket, ink pen in shirt pocket.


Peeking into the back of the drawer for any other items, he saw a black leather pouch with a closed zipper, pocket and a fastenable strap. He strapped the pouch around his waist, facing forward, without taking the time to check its contents, although he could tell by its heft that it wasn't empty. He rushed towards Chelydra and Nike and the remains of the food processing robot.

"Don't shoot, I'm a clone, too," he yelled!

Nodding with some satisfaction at the effect his shotgun blasts seemed to have had on the robot, Chelydra decided to break from cover. Looking at Percy, he rasped, "Glad you could join the party."

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