“Aliens!?” I cried.
Silk winced. “I am surprised as well, Mister President.”
“But… I just… aliens!?”
She pursed her lips. “I am sorry, sir. More sorry than you could possibly know.”
I took a deep breath and brushed my hair back. My hand was sweaty, my forehead was sweaty. We were sitting in the back of a limo, so I adjusted the air conditioning, but it didn’t seem to help.
“How did we miss them?” I asked. “Did the space colonies just decide not to tell us that an alien ship was heading right for us?”
Silk sighed. “They just… appeared a few thousand kilometers away. We don’t have any images of their actual arrival, but I have to assume that they used some sort of teleportation technology.”
I stared at her. “Teleportation?”
“It already exists in Domina,” Lilith said. She was the only other person in the back of the limo. She hadn’t taken her eyes off Silk the entire time, but she hadn’t said anything. “Well, it’s not technology, but one of the powers. Perhaps these aliens have a similar source.”
Silk didn’t so much as blink. “Perhaps.”
I still wasn’t sure about bringing Lilith with me on this emergency meeting, but she had insisted, and it didn’t seem like a good time to annoy my new ally. At least she had left her bodyguard behind. That guy disturbed me. Every time he looked at me, I could tell he was thinking of the best ways to kill me.
I took a deep breath. “Okay. Teleportation explains how they got past our sensors and defenses so easily. It does raise some more questions, but whatever, we have a billion of those anyway. Just add it to the freaking pile.”
“What we need to focus on right now is opening diplomatic channels,” Silk said.
“If you don’t mind, I have a friend who might be helpful,” Lilith said. “My sister. She is in charge of most of the administrative parts of Domina City. I can patch her right through to the meeting.”
I thought about it, then shook my head. “No, it will be hard enough getting you in. The Joint Chiefs and Congress and whoever else might riot if we push the issue too much. Right now, it will just have to be you.”
Lilith looked disappointed, but nodded.
That was one of the reasons I had agreed to bring her along. I knew she would be reasonable.
The limo rolled to a stop. “We’re here,” Jefferies said from the front.
I frowned. “Already?” A moment later, Jefferies opened the door for me. “Thank you, Bryan.” I looked around. “What is this place?”
It looked like an abandoned warehouse. The company logo had been painted over, and there were no cars or trucks around. And none of that was as important as the fact that this obviously wasn’t the meeting.
I turned to my bodyguard and frowned. “Bryan, are you betraying me?”
He blinked. “What? No!”
“Because this really isn’t a good time for a coup. Maybe in a few weeks, I could fit it into my schedule, but—”
“No, sir, I—” He took a deep breath. “Sir, this is a very strange situation, I understand. But this is only a few minutes out of your way, and I really do think you need to see it. It doesn’t have any direct relation to the aliens, but I suspect it could be useful.”
I glanced up. The massive ship was still floating there without a care in the world. If I looked closely, I could see smaller ships flitting around it like flies. It had been over Domina City earlier, but it had drifted over New York now.
“All right,” I said. “Show me. But make it quick.”
Jefferies looked hesitant, but nodded and ushered me to the door. He held it open for me as if he was holding open the door for his best friend who had stolen his prom date because he had said he didn’t have feelings for her, but it was a lie, and he knew his friend was going to break her heart.
I entered the warehouse to find a mostly wide open area. There was a table with a computer and some extension cords leading to the wall, but other than that the only thing of interest were strange pods. Each one was about the size of a large closet, covered in pipes and readout panels. They stretched from one end of the warehouse to the other. Some quick math told me that there were about ten thousand of them.
There was a woman at the computer. Even if she wasn’t wearing a lab coat, it would be obvious that she was a doctor. She was bent over the computer, typing madly away, while the monitor displayed some bizarre shapes and numbers I couldn’t make sense of.
The door slammed behind us, and the doctor glanced at us. She almost jumped out of her seat and forced a smile on her face. “Mister President! So good of you to finally come by! Have you been read in yet?”
“No,” I said. “And since there appears to be an alien invasion going on right now, I would prefer to do this as fast as possible.”
The doctor smiled. “That’s why you’re here, actually.”
Lilith raised an eyebrow. “You knew the aliens were coming?” For some reason, she glanced at Silk.
The doctor shook her head. “No, no, of course not! We—” She frowned. “I’m sorry, who is this?”
“Lilith,” I said. “Ambassador from Domina City. You can say anything in front of her.” Maybe that wasn’t a good idea, but I was annoyed. This was a distraction we could hardly afford. If someone didn’t get to the point soon, I was going to scream.
The doctor forced herself to smile. She took a few steps away from the computer, so that the pods were nicely framed behind her. “Well, this isn’t about the aliens directly. This is about creating an army!”
“We have an army,” I said. “It’s called ‘the Army.’ Not to mention the Navy, Air Force, and Marines.”
The doctor was practically vibrating with glee at this point. “Of course. But training men takes time, ensuring their loyalty is difficult. What if you could create a highly-trained, perfectly loyal army in weeks?”
I sighed. “Yes yes, all very impressive. Please just skip to the end.”
“Sir.” Jefferies stepped out from behind one of the pod devices.
“What?” I said, and then realized what was happening.
There were two of him.
The one next to me, my bodyguard, was dressed in an immaculate suit and had a handgun at his side. The other one had exactly the same face, but was unarmed and dressed in military fatigues. He stood straight and tall, and was soon joined by more. In moments, a dozen identical faces were staring back at me.
“What the hell?” I whispered.
“Homunculi,” Lilith said under her breath. I don’t think anyone was supposed to hear. Her eyes darted back and forth, trying to keep all of them in sight at once.
“Sir, please remain calm,” Jefferies—my Jefferies—said. He stepped out in front of me, between me and the clones. “These men are clones of me, not just in body but in mind. That means that they are loyal and willing to sacrifice themselves for your sake, or the sake of this country.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, counting to ten. This… was a bad idea. Something was going to go horribly wrong. It always did. Either the clones would turn out to be evil, or they’d be useless. Something.
“Where did you even get the money for all this?” I asked.
“Operation: Doppler,” the doctor said. “You signed all our budget requests.”
I groaned and rolled my eyes. “I thought that was a radar project.”
All of the Jefferies smiled a little. That was disturbing.
“Okay,” I said. I took another deep breath. “Thank you for informing me of this. It… might be useful against the aliens.” I shook my head. “We have absolutely no idea about their goals, their weapons, or anything, but fine, whatever. I just…” There were a billion and one questions that I didn’t have time to ask. Needed to narrow it down. “The clones. How long do they last? A full normal lifespan?”
“No,” the doctor said. “A few weeks. A month at most.”
I glanced at the clones. They didn’t look surprised at this news.
“That’s why they picked me,” the real Jefferies said. “They needed someone selfless enough to die a dozen times over.”
“Goody,” I said dryly. I waved my hand at the pods. “What about these? I’m guessing they have more clones in them.”
“Yes, sir,” the doctor said. “One each.”
“Put them on hold for now. We’ll deal with this later.”
The doctor started. “What?”
“Pause everything,” I said. “We simply don’t have time.” I shook my head. “I can’t imagine why you thought it was a good idea to do this now of all times.”
The doctor frowned. “But sir, this was your idea.”
“Not the whole project, of course,” she said. “That was mine, but you called ahead, asked to be read into the details of the project.”
Jefferies frowned. “What? I got a call from you saying that everything was at a critical stage, and I should bring him immediately.”
I pointed at the doctor. “I definitely didn’t call you.”
She pointed at Jefferies. “And I didn’t call him.”
Lilith looked between us. “Unless the fey have a presence out here, that means—”
There was a loud clunk through the warehouse, like the sound of ten thousand different mechanisms moving at once. The pods began to leak steam from their fronts, outlining the doors on each pod I hadn’t spotted before.
“Oh,” Silk whispered. “It’s like I can finally breathe.”
She was collapsed next to the doctor’s computer. She looked like she had just run a marathon and couldn’t move her legs, but she was smiling through the sweat and tears. Like she had accomplished something important.
The doctor ran over to the computer. “She—she activated all the pods at once! Decanting everyone!”
I stepped back. “Are they going to attack?”
The doctor shook her head. “No, all the mental programming is done. So is the physical, for that matter, they’re perfectly viable specimens. But we don’t have the resources to handle all of them at once.”
I glared at Silk, still on the floor. “Explain yourself.”
“Imagine being trapped in a box,” she said.
But it wasn’t her. Not the Silk collapsed in front of the computer. I turned, horrified, to see an entirely different Silk stepping out of the steam of the foremost pod. She was naked, but unconcerned. She walked like a queen, full of confidence.
“This box is the size of a postage stamp,” the naked Silk continued. “But somehow, you managed to stuff yourself inside this box. You couldn’t do anything, couldn’t move, could barely even think. But you grew used to it.”
“Silk,” I said. I wasn’t sure if I was talking to the naked one or the one at the computer.
“But then, one day, the box grows.”
I turned my head to see another Silk, stepping out of another nearby pod. Also naked. Also completely in control.
“Suddenly it’s not the size of a postage stamp, but a shoebox,” she said. “How would that feel?”
“Would you feel like you could think again?” another Silk said.
“Would you feel something like yourself again?” said another.
“Silk,” I said, stepping back. “Please make them stop.” I noticed that Jefferies had his gun out, and his clones were slowly establishing a perimeter. Looking for weapons of their own, maybe?
Silk—the clothed one—stood and walked over in front of her clones. “You misunderstand, Mister President. You have nothing to fear.”
“We haven’t finished testing everything yet,” the doctor said. She had the look on her face of someone who knew they were fired, but that they might be able to avoid jail time if they cooperated. “That’s why they were supposed to wake them up one by one. Even with Jefferies, there were a few… uncertainties. With this woman as the template, they could get… violent.”
“And you misunderstand as well,” my Silk said.
“What do you think I did?” another said.
“That I just swapped out Jefferies’ DNA sample for my own?” said another.
“I did far more than that.”
Lilith stepped up next to me. Her back was straight, her eyes were strong. “Either kill us or explain. Stop playing games. We have work to do.”
Several of the clones smiled. “Ah, my friend. Always so protective.”
“But we are not in your city, oh Daughter of Fire.”
“Richard is not one of your children.”
“Are you truly going to try to be a mother for the entire world?”
“Silk,” Lilith said. “Explain.”
“Or tell your clones to leave,” I said. “It would make us feel a lot safer.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that some of Jefferies clones had guns now. They must have found the armory or something.
My Silk smiled at me. “Oh, Richard. I understand that this is a lot to take in, but surely you’ve realized it by now? You were always so observant.”
I kept my lips pressed in a firm line. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.”
“There is no one to send away,” Silk said. “All these bodies are me.”
I frowned. Of all the things I expected her to say, that wasn’t one of them. Of course, this day was already more surreal than the time my college roommate spiked my drink with acid. “You’re—I—what?”
“You’re a podbrain,” Lilith whispered. “A thousand-body podbrain.”
Another Silk smiled at her. “That’s one word for it. I dislike it. Your podbrains are multiple individuals with linked minds. I, on the other hand, am one individual with a thousand bodies.” She smiled, and so did all the other clones. “It’s a tiny shadow of the power I once had, but it will do for now.”
I struggled to wrap my brain around what she was saying. “You’re… so your clones, they…”
“They are me,” one of the clones said.
“And I am them,” said another.
“I was planning on unveiling this in a few weeks or months,” yet another said. “Unfortunately, the miscalculation with the para forced my hand.”
I frowned. “The who?”
“The aliens,” said another clone. She smiled. “You’ll get to know them soon enough.”
“I… I… need to sit down.” I stumbled, and Lilith caught me. My head was swimming so much I barely noticed. But somewhere in my tortured, confused brain, a connection was made. “This whole project was your doing, wasn’t it?”
The clothed Silk nodded. “I needed bodies, and I couldn’t make them myself. So I gave a doctor an idea, slipped her altered blueprints. Forged signatures, spoke with your voice over the phone.” She breathed a sigh of relief. “And finally, here we are. For the first time in thirty years, I feel like I can think again.”
“You’re not thirty,” I said. It was stupid, but it was the first thought that popped into my head. According to her resume, she was twenty-five.
“You should—you should have thought first,” the doctor said. She was shaking, but she managed to stand up to a small army anyway. I made a mental note to not throw her in prison. “Those clones will only last a few weeks. Do you think I’m just going to make ten thousand more for you?”
One of the clones gave her a pitying smile. “Do you think I’d make clones for myself that would fall apart in less than a month? These will last ten years. The next batch will last a century, if not more.”
“You—” The doctor looked at the pods. “You made upgrades? Incredible! With these, we can—”
One of the clones snapped her fingers. Every single pod popped and spat sparks. Many of them started smoking.
“I’m sorry,” the clone said. “That’s a little above your pay grade.”
The doctor looked like she was about to cry. If my life’s work had just been destroyed right in front of me, I probably would have cried.
“I’m sick of this,” Jefferies said, eyes seething with rage. He—and all his clones—had pistols out and pointed at the crowd of Silk clones. “Sorry, Mister President, but you’re going to have to get a new secretary.”
“Wait,” I said. “I think she might—”
“No more games,” he said.
They all fired.
Bullets tore into the Silk clones, splintering bones and splattering blood. I saw bits of gray matter and worse, flying through the air as if in slow motion. The warehouse was filled with the deafening echoes of gunshots, and the sharp scent of gunsmoke filled the air.
The Silk clones didn’t move. Not when bullets burst through their rib cages, not when they bounced around inside their skulls, and not when the original Silk was filled with so many bullets that her face was unrecognizable.
It didn’t take too long for the Jefferies clones to run out of bullets. Still, the Silk clones stood tall.
After a moment, they began to heal.
Blood leaped off the floor and back into the body. Bones reassembled themselves. Flesh re-knit, not even leaving behind a scar. In moments, every single clone, as well as the original, was back in perfect condition.
The original Silk spat something on the floor. It was a bullet.
No one moved. No one breathed.
“I understand your protective instincts, Bryan Jefferies,” Silk said. “But they are misplaced. You cannot harm me, and I have no desire to harm you regardless.”
I swallowed. “What do you want from us?”
She just smiled. “Nothing. Why would I? I have everything I need from you. You are walking the correct path towards peace. The para are an anomaly, of course, but I will keep them under control. That’s why I upgraded, after all. You have nothing to fear from me.”
“Everyone wants something,” I whispered. I had learned a thing or two from politics on the Hill. I hadn’t slept through all the meetings. “No man—or woman—would accumulate this much power without some goal in mind.”
One of the Silk clones laughed, but the rest just smiled. “Oh, I apologize for my outburst. It’s been so long since I’ve been like this, I forgot that you wouldn’t understand.”
“Yes, yes, you’re one person instead of ten thousand, I know,” I said. “Podbrain, metaconcert, hive mind, whatever you want to call it. Now what do you want?”
Silk was still smiling. “You misunderstand. It is not about the nature of my bodies.”
“It is about relative power.”
“A cat should not try to understand a human’s worries.”
I frowned. “What?”
She sighed. “Again, I apologize. Please, allow me to explain this in the simplest way that I can.”
And suddenly, I was on the ground, on my knees. I was… I was kneeling before her. I looked around, and all the others were kneeling as well. The doctor, Lilith, the Jefferies clones… all of us. They all looked as shocked and surprised as I felt.
I looked up into eyes deeper than oceans.
“I am God,” Silk said simply. “My will be done.”
And then she and all her clones disappeared, as if they had never existed at all.
Behind the Scenes (scene 316)
I’ve rewritten this scene a million times. There was one draft where Silk made literally the entire world bow to her, but that had too many problems.