This is a story I wrote in 2006 and first published in issue #1 of Pantechnicon.
Sim lifted his eyes from his book as his son entered his study. The door closed, and the two of them looked at each other. In the study all was silent, bar the occasional flicker of the embers burning in the fire place. Outside was another matter – a torrential storm was in session, the wind howling the air, the rain hammering against the window. It was only in these quiet moments between breaths that Sim ever became aware of it, so used to the weather was he.
‘Are you sure you want to do this now?’ he asked gently, running a hand over his white beard.
Jaik, looking much like his dad once had, nodded and went to sit by the fire. ‘Yes,’ he said slowly, ‘you said when I reached thirteen I would be old enough for the secret.’ He glanced at the fire, watching the wood burn. ‘We don’t have much time.’
Sim smiled sadly. His son was right. A year at the most, and he’d be gone. It was time for Jaik to know the truth. ‘Fine.’
‘All downhill from here,’ people would tell him. Not an original observation, of course. Sure, society liked to present the notion that life pretty much ended at twenty, but Greyford Simak didn’t understand how or why that was supposed to be so. The previous year, when he reached twenty he had felt great. Not old like everyone else he knew. Somehow twenty years just didn’t seem enough. The average life-span of humans on Rellim was only fifty years, which meant he’d soon be middle-aged, and thus past his prime. He refuted that, for all of two months.
Now, a year on he was beginning to realise how true that was. He was supposed to be celebrating his twenty-first birthday, but instead he was standing quietly in a corner, watching those around him. There but not there. He’d known most of these people for years, and almost all of them were starting to show their age. Barely into their twenties and time was ripping into them.
Greyford sighed, and withdrew reluctantly from his musings. Only one person would address him in such way, and find it amusing. Anne Roberts. He could see her sashaying her way through the crowd, coming in for the kill. She was one of the most single-minded people he knew, but an amazing publicist, which is why he was so willing to overlook her habit of getting in a person’s face regardless of their mood.
He stepped back, not enough for the manoeuvre to be easily noticed for what it was, but enough to prevent Anne from planting a huge kiss on his lips. Instead he received a brief stroke of his lower arm, which was holding the cocktail glass near his mouth. Extra protection.
‘Hello, Anne,’ he said carefully, wondering what gossip she was about to impart.
‘Hello, Grey, darling. Must say, this is a rather splendid turn out. Who knew you had so many friends? All you ever seem to do is work.’
Greyford narrowed his eyes and looked around the room. It was bustling with people, all of whom had come to celebrate with him. After several silent seconds of contemplation, searching for a face not connected with work, he had to concede that none were his friends.
‘Well,’ he began, his voice so quiet that Anne had to visibly strain to hear him, ‘I think I’ve just come down.’
‘Don’t so silly, darling, this is a momentous moment.’
‘Is it?’ he asked sharply, not all bothered by the expression on Anne’s face. He was sorely tempted to add some physical reality behind it – why look like you’ve been slapped when there was someone close by willing to make it real? ‘I’m twenty-one for feck’s sake, Anne. Twenty-one!’ he hissed.
Anne waved her arm around at the party. ‘I think I knew that,’ she said with a smile, pointing at the banner hanging over the main door. On it was painted the words ‘twenty-one’, sliding down the side of a mountain. Someone else who was amused by their own cleverness.
And what happened when he hit the bottom of that very steep hill? He dreaded to think. A success he might have been, career wise, but in his personal life? He shook his head and stared at Anne.
‘How old are you?’
‘Eighteen, as you should know since you sent me a card for my last birthday.’ Anne raised an eyebrow. ‘Of course, if you had bothered sending the cards yourself and not passed that task on to your personal assistant…’ Anne sniffed pointedly.
‘Then you have no idea what it’s like to be twenty-one.’ With that Greyford placed his cocktail glass on a nearby table and pushed his way out of the room.
He suddenly felt very crowded and miserable. Let them have their party; most of them wouldn’t have even noticed if he had failed to turn up in the first place.
Greyford stood outside, standing on the edge of the cliff looking down at the valley below. It would be so easy to jump, to step forward and let himself fall. That would be the end of it, no more worrying about his pointless life. No one would miss him. Some other genius would soon rise up to take his place in the Company. Dispensable. Like every other person who lived on Rellim. All here to serve the Company.
He turned his head slightly to look at the hand now resting on his shoulder. ‘What do you want, Anne?’
She squeezed his shoulder gently. ‘The same thing I’ve always wanted, Grey. Ever since I first saw you.’
Greyford frowned. He wasn’t sure he…
She applied a little pressure and gently turned him to face her. ‘You know exactly what I mean. I can see it in your eyes.’ She nodded towards the cliff edge. ‘Twenty-one is not the end; only if you let it be.’
Greyford swallowed hard. ‘What?’
Anne smiled. ‘I’m talking about immortality.’
He shook his head sadly. ‘I’ve less than thirty years, and that’s assuming I die of old age. There is no chance of immortality: the Company saw to that a long time ago.’
‘Yes, the Company. They don’t have to control everything, you know.’
Greyford lowered his eyes. ‘But they do.’
‘No.’ Anne pressed the palm of her hand against his chest, and using her fingers like spider legs, moved her hand towards the opening between his buttons. He let out an involuntary shiver as her cold skin touched his naked chest beneath his shirt.
‘The Company decides on who is pair-mated,’ he whispered, his breath feeling suddenly short as her fingers continued to play with his chest hair. ‘I’m too old to be selected now… and so are…’
Anne leant forward and spoke directly into his ear. ‘I won’t tell them.’
Sim lifted his eyes. Jaik remained where he was sitting, his eyes never leaving the flickering fire. ‘She’s my mother?’ the young man said gently, and blinked.
Sim could only try to understand how his son felt. Jaik had never known who his mother was, and with good reason. But… Sim got up from his chair and crossed his study. He sat on the floor before Jaik and took his son’s hand in his.
For a moment they both looked at each other, identical sea-blue eyes connecting. ‘No,’ Sim said sadly, ‘she isn’t.’
Greyford stood on the back patio, watching Anne and little Rhys play in the sandpit. He smiled softly. Four years on, and his life had more purpose than ever before. That night on the edge of the cliff, with Anne making her first move on him, he’d never have believed things would work out. And yet, here he was. Here they were. A family unit.
What followed had been one of those whirlwind romances he often heard about, full of passion and desire. How they managed to keep it secret from the Company for so long was beyond him. Perhaps because his work never suffered he failed to register on the Company’s radar. That was to change, when after two long years Anne became pregnant. At that point they both knew it would be time to fess up to the Company. Rellim law demanded that no child be born out of wedlock, and so they had to get married. The Company were not happy about it, but a child was growing inside Anne’s body and they were bound by law to allow the child to come to term.
And now he and Anne were married, and Rhys was born, ensuring the Simak line would go on. What could go wrong?
He narrowed his eyes. There was something in the distance. A dot, riding low in the sky. Coming lower. His eyes widened in horror. A transport shuttle, and there was smoke pouring from its rear. It was heading directly for his house.
‘Feck,’ he whispered. The shuttle was getting bigger and bigger. He had to move, to shout, to call out to his wife and son. But he couldn’t. He opened his mouth to yell, but no words came. He tried to move, to force his muscles to work, but the pure shock of the moment was taking over.
He could only watch, helpless.
Rhys heard the roar of the damaged engines before Anne did. The child looked up and pointed, smiling at his mother. Upon seeing the shuttle, Anne reacted like any mother would. She dived forward to cover her son, no doubt hoping that if the weight of her body forced him deep enough into the sand he’d be protected enough. Ultimately a futile act. The shuttle hit the ground with an audible crack, but it did not stop. It ploughed forward, kicking up the grass around it, the nose of the vehicle inches above the ground, low enough to rip into the little bundle of bodies in the sandpit. The shuttle continued on, towards the house: toward Greyford, on the patio. All he could see was the splattered remains of his family on the shuttle’s nose. A single tear formed…
He wiped the tear away with the back of his hand and sniffed. Jaik was staring at him, a mixture of emotions on the young man’s face. Sim was pretty sure this was the first time Jaik had ever seen his dad cry, and wasn’t sure how to deal with it. Even with their limited life span, thirteen was still a young age, really – at least on an emotional level.
Jaik looked down, then back up, settling on; ‘Why didn’t you tell me this before?’
Sim forced down a sob. ‘You were too young.’
The sadness was replaced with anger. ‘You should have told me ages ago, Dad! You should have told me I had an older brother!’ He stood up, his body shaking, and walked away from the fire.
Sim remained where he was, watching Jaik pace around the study.
‘You should have told me,’ Jaik said when he finally stopped his pacing. ‘I had a brother,’ he added, clearly trying to get his head around this new fact.
‘No,’ Sim said, not wanting to mislead his son anymore. ‘No, you didn’t.’
He opened his eyes, but had to close them immediately, such was the brightness of the light around him. For a few moments he remained as he was, trying to remember where he was, how he’d got there. Nothing came to him. Literally, nothing. Not even his name. All he knew was that he existed. A profoundly deep moment of personal realisation that was interrupted by a soft voice.
A name. Presumably his. Once again he opened his eyes, slower, hoping that they would adjust to the brightness this time. It took longer than expected, but he forced his eyes to stay open. The light started to fade, to be replaced by an odd shape looming over him.
‘Don’t worry, Mr Simak, your eyes will fully adjust, but it will take longer than normal. You haven’t used them for a long time.’ The voice, and the odd shape that was now made of strange colours moved away. ‘A very long time indeed,’ it added softly.
Wait, he called out. Only he didn’t. What came out of his mouth was more of a croak. The shape, the person, came back into view. There was a warm sensation as the person leaned in closer. Where was it coming from? He concentrated, certain it was the warm hand of the person somewhere on his body. His arm, maybe. It was hard to tell since, as he began to realise, he could not feel the rest of his body.
‘That’s right,’ the voice said, ‘we’ll get you there. You’re too important to the Company.’
It all came rushing back to him. Four years of memories forced their way to the surface. He screwed his eyes tightly shut. The tentative first contact of Anne on the cliff, the covert nature of their relationship, the news of her pregnancy, the birth of Rhys… The support the Company offered. The shuttle!
He could see it all again. It was happening in slow motion, every second emphasised. The nose of the shuttle ripping Anne and Rhys out of the sandpit, their bodies splattering like so much fruit against the hard surface of the shuttle.
Taking deep juddering breaths, he opened his eyes, but although the light was easier to deal with he could still see very little.
His family, dead. Yet, somehow, he had survived.
Too important to the Company? They had saved him. He remembered the shuttle, racing towards his house. He remembered diving aside at the last moment, an almighty boom, and then…? Waking up here.
‘Rhys.’ The word came out unexpectedly, barely a croak, but still a word.
‘What happened then?’
Sim opened his eyes, being drawn back from his painful memories by the comforting sound of his son’s voice. He wiped away the tears, still painful after all these years. ‘I recovered. It took a long time, many many long months of physiotherapy. It turned out that the Company had found my body in the wreckage of my home, battered but not beyond repair. They put their best cyber-techs on the job. Reconstructed my body, replaced the limbs that were beyond repair. When I woke up I didn’t know it at the time, but twenty-five percent of my body was now cybernetic.
‘What I also didn’t know was that I’d been in a coma for four years. Four very long years. The Company spent a lot of money on keeping me alive, using the latest drugs to prevent my brain from liquefying.’
‘I don’t understand,’ Jaik said, retaking his seat by the fire. ‘Why would the Company care? You’d broken so many rules, surely they’d be better off without you around to cause them more problems.’
Sim smiled at that. His son was right, as ever. ‘And so they would. But they were close to a major scientific break-through, and when it came to genetics I was the best mind they’d have had. They couldn’t lose me so easily. So I became theirs.’ He lowered his eyes. ‘Or so they thought.
‘For years I worked for them, but my mind was never on the job. Sure, I was still the best they had, but I was failing to make the intuitive leaps I was known for. Work was progressing at only a slightly faster rate than when I had been in my coma. My mind was filled by my loss. I was slowly reverting to the state of being I had occupied before that fateful day on the cliff.’
Jaik was frowning. ‘Where do I fit in to this?’
‘Well, the Company was aware of the reason behind my lack of motivation. So they offered me a deal.’
Sim stopped, noticing the way Jaik swallowed then. His was slightly ahead of him, so Sim nodded sadly.
‘Yes, they created me a clone.’
‘Me.’ It wasn’t a question. Jaik peered at Sim more closely than he ever had before, no doubt seeing for the first time just how much like his dad he was. He stood up, his eyes never leaving Sim. ‘You lied to me… you said I was your son. But I’m not.’
Sim stood up and grabbed Jaik’s hand in his. ‘Yes, yes you are! Most kids are a product of the genetic material of their parents. Just like you are.’
The muscles in Jaik’s jaw twitched, he eyebrows knitting together. ‘Yes…’ he began, as the light returned to his blue eyes. ‘I’m…’
Sim kissed Jaik on the forehead. When he pulled back he saw that muscles on Jaik’s face had relaxed. ‘You’re special, son. To me.’ He guided Jaik back to his former position of the floor, this time joining him in front of the fire. ‘The Company’s deal was this,’ he said, refusing to let go of Jaik’s hand. It was important for the young man to realise that Sim was not going anywhere. ‘They would grow the clone, keep it… Sorry, you, in a controlled environment until you were thirteen. And then, when the brain was developed enough, they would transfer everything of me into your brain. Give me a second life, to serve the Company and continue my work.’ He sighed. ‘Not the immortality Anne and I had expected, but for a while it seemed the only option… But the more I thought on it, the more I realised I couldn’t allow that. I insisted that I had to grow the clone myself. I promised them I would remain objective.’
‘And now it’s time?’ Jaik asked, his voice shaking.
‘No. Jaik, please understand, because this is the important part. I couldn’t stay objective, I intended to, but as soon as I held you in my arms… Such a little thing, so innocent. And you were made from me. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. The more time I spent with you, the more I watched you develop I knew I couldn’t let the Company go through with it. You were no different to the other children, you did everything they did. Burning your hand on the hot stove, taking your first steps. I’ve loved you, Jaik, from the start. You weren’t just a clone of me, you were my son. Always.’
Jaik tried to hold back his tears, and Sim offered him a smile. These were happy tears, although there was a look of fear creeping into Jaik’s eyes. ‘But… the Company.’
‘The Company be damned. This is why I told you. You have to run away, leave here. Keep the Simak name alive.’
‘What about you?’
‘I’ll stay, face the consequences.’
‘But they’ll kill you. No matter how important you are, they’ll not let this one go. Dad, you can’t stay.’
Sim smiled when Jaik called him ‘dad’. ‘They can’t kill me. As long as you’re alive, I’ll never be dead.’
Jaik was about to answer when the entire study was bathed in a bright light. As one they both turned to look at the windows.
‘No,’ Sim whispered.
‘They’ve come too early.’ Sim reached down and held Jaik’s hand. He squeezed once. Letting go, he jumped to his feet and grabbed an object off his table. The light outside glinted off its silver surface. He looked down at his son. ‘Go, out the back. Run, Jaik, run!’
Jaik just stood there, his eyes imploring. Eventually he nodded, and reached out to hug his dad. The tears fell freely as Sim watched his son run out of the room, down the passage to the back of the house. He would give his son time, time to get away.
‘Goodbye, Jaik,’ he said softly, ‘daddy loves you.’
He plunged the letter opener into his chest.
© 2006, 2010 by Andy Frankham-Allen, All Rights Reserved
2 thoughts on “The Secret”
What a great story. It twisted and turned like a… twisty, turny thing. Thanks for posting it. Had my attention all the way through.
Thanks, Tricia! 😀