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"You look like a " The boy got a stunned look on his face and stopped without finishing the sentence. He was about to tell me that I looked like a clone, and changed his mind. Clever boy. Finishing that thought would either end in disaster or embarrassment. If I was a clone, hearing this might trigger the death reflex, releasing a flood of fatal hormones into my brain. A more likely outcome might be my not knowing what he was talking about. I would laugh at him or possibly threaten him.
Few clones knew they were clones. Government-issue military clones had brown hair and brown eyes, but the neural programmingsynapse in their brains made them see themselves as having blonde hair and blue eyes. It was the government's way of preventing an uprising from within the warrior class.
"I look a lot like an Army clone?" I asked, trying to sound relaxed and conversational. "I hear that a lot."
The boy might have been in his twenties. His shoulder-length orange-red hair was stringy and lank. Large red pimples formed a constellation across his forehead. I was 22, but I had seen death and battle and betrayal. Walking among the general civilian population, I considered most males under the age of 30 to be boys. The few who did not strike me as morons were thugs, like the one I had come here to meet.
The boy looked stunned. He was neither a policeman nor a guard, just an usher in a movie house. His mouth hung open as he pondered my answer, and his eyes showed a mixture of confusion and fear.
"Im a lot like a clone," I said as if confiding a family secret. "The Pentagon used my grandfather's DNA to make those clones."
"No shit," the boy said. A smiled formed on his face. Of the six arms of the Milky Way galaxy, four had recently declared independence from the Unified Authority--the Earth government. The Orion Arm, Earth's home arm, remained loyal to the Republic; but this planet--New Columbia--was suspect. The New Columbian government swore allegiance to the Unified Authority, but its government was filled with politicians who openly sympathized with the Confederate Arms.
"Yeah," I said. "You might say half the Army and I are cousins. For the record, Army clones are about four inches shorter than me and a lot wider around the shoulders."
"Yeah," said the boy, and he laughed nervously. "I knew something was different."
There were a couple hundred thousand military clones assigned to New Columbia, but they seldom strayed far from their base. The U.A. government had to tread lightly because of the planet's skewed neutrality.
The boy looked at my ticket. "Oh wow, you're going to Battle for Little Man. Lots of clones in that flick." He smiled at me. "Third holotorium on the right."
The hall was wide and bright with splashy posters from upcoming movies on the walls. It was early in the afternoon on a weekday, and I had most of the theater to myself. The only people ahead of me were a young couple on a date--an uptight boy holding hands with a fresh-faced girl. The boy must have wanted to get to his movie. He walked quickly, his girlfriend in tow. The girl floated along lazily and paused to study each movie poster they passed.
"C'mon," he said, as he opened the door to their holotorium. "We're missing the coming attractions."
"Oh?" she said, turning toward him with her dreamy look. "Okay."
I went two doors further. The Battle for Little Man had already begun. It was a war movie recounting a recent battle in which a regiment of U.A. Marines was massacred on a planet near the edge of the galaxy. I knew the battle intimately. Of the two thousand three hundred Marines sent on that mission, only seven survived.
On the screen, a blond-haired, blue-eyed, barrel-chested Hollywood stud played Lieutenant Wayson Harris, the highest-ranking survivor of the Little Man campaign. As I took my seat, six enlisted men let themselves into Harris's quarters and asked him about the mission. These men were clones. They all looked exactly alike. They had brown hair and brown eyes like me. They stood about 5 feet 11 inches tall--four inches shorter than me.
The people who made this film may really have hired retired clones to play the enlisted men. I was impressed.
What will happen down there, Lieutenant Harris? one of the clones asked. Respect and adoration were evident in his voice and demeanor. The leathernecks on the screen must have been computer animations. No Marine could have said that line with a straight face.
I don't know, Lee, said Harris. It's going to be tough. It's going to be dangerous. But we are the Unified Authority Marines. We don't back down from a fight. As he said this, the actor playing Harris stuffed an eighteen-inch combat knife into a scabbard that hung from his belt. I had to hold my breath to keep from laughing. None of the Marines I had ever met carried 18-inch combat knives and none of them sounded as heroic the Hollywood Harris on the screen.
What if we die? another Marine asked.
You listen here, Marine, barked the Hollywood Harris on the screen, don't worry about death. We're here fighting for the Republic. The Republic needs us. The people need us as they have never needed us before.
I slumped in my seat. This movie was supposed to be authentic with real combat footage taken from the actual battle. Maybe the battle scenes would be more realistic, but this portrayal of military clones was painfully propagandistic. This movie was the kind of jingoistic shit that Hollywood churns out during times of war; something meant to build patriotic morale. On a planet like New Columbia, that effort was wasted. I was the only person in the holotorium.
At least, I was the only person in the theater up until that moment. As Harris finished his soliloquy about defending the Republic, the door at the back of the holotorium opened. I heard men whispering among themselves as they moved into empty seats directly behind me.
By this time, Lieutenant Harris and a platoon of Marines were being drop-shipped behind enemy lines. They landed about one mile in from the beach where the rest of the Marines were pinned down by a group of Mogat Separatists. Harris and his 22 commandoes snuck into the enemy's bunker. Using knives and pistols, Harris and his men made short work of at least 200 enemy soldiers. God, it was glorious.
The scene was played out with a combination of two-dimensional projectors creating the background behind three-dimensional holographic images. The result was a battlefield that virtually burst out of the screen. As shown in this film, the battle for Little Man was filled with heroism and valor. Everything was bright colors and patriotic music And in the middle of all of the action stood Lieutenant Wayson Harris, 20 feet tall and covered with enemy blood as he ran from one room to the next brandishing that gigantic knife.
"Hello, Harris," whispered one of the men behind me. "Lets talk."
"Can it wait?" I asked. "I want to see how this turns out."
"You know how it turns out," the man said. "You were there."
"Not at this battle, I wasn't," I said. "The invasion of Little Man that I saw didn't look anything like this. We got pinned down on the beach. The Navy had to nuke those Mogat bunkers just to get us off the sand."
"That so?" the man asked. "I thought this movie was supposed to be accurate."
Up on the screen, Hollywood Harris led the charge across Little Man Valley. The charge was famous. Twenty-three hundred Marines ran across the floor of the valley thinking they were up against two or maybe three thousand Separatists. They did not know about the 10,000 reinforcements hiding just over the hill.
"You led the charge?" the man behind me asked. "That took guts."
"I wasn't even on the field. I was way off on the side. My platoon was assigned to flank the enemy," I said.
"Really?" the man said. "Sounds like you gave yourself the easy job."
Some of this footage was undoubtedly taken from the battle records. Watching untold numbers of enemy soldiers charge over the far ridge of the valley, I felt a prickle on the back of my neck. I saw the way they poured over the rise like ants swarming out of a hill. They had rust-red armor that sparkled in the sunlight. They shouted in unison. Seeing their advance, the Marines stopped and dug in.
"I didn't have much to say in the matter. I was a sergeant. They didn't make me an officer until after the battle." The filmmakers probably had little choice about this last piece of deception. Portraying me as an enlisted man would lead to questions about whether or not I was a clone. I was not a general issue clone. I was something far more dangerous.
The battle raged on. Trapped and hopelessly outnumbered, the U.A. Marines circled their wagons and tried to withstand the advancing horde. Marine riflemen formed a picket line in front of a battery of men with mortars and grenade launchers.
"They make these movies look real," the man behind me said.
"That is real," I said. "The part about me is a specking myth, but this part " Speck, a slang word which referred to ejaculation, was the strongest word in our modern vocabulary.
The movie cut to a dogfight in space, a part of the battle I had only seen in the newsfeeds. Seeing the holographically-enhanced image on the big screen was a dizzying experience. The Separatists sent four battleships to destroy the lone Unified Authority fighter carrier patrolling Little Man.
What the Mogat Separatists did not know was that Robert Thurston, Admiral of the Scutum-Crux Central Fleet, had carriers and destroyers hidden behind a nearby moon. Hundreds of fighters poured out of those hidden carriers and swarmed the Mogat battleships. Three of the battleships exploded in space. The fourth crashed into the valley just as the Mogats polished off the last of the Marines. I watched the destruction from the safety of a nearby ridge, and I remember thinking that it looked like a portrait of Dante's Inferno.
The movie recreated the entire scene faithfully except that it had me leading my six survivors into a nearby cave. Having placed me on the front line of the battle, the scriptwriters would not have been able to explain how I sprinted to safety up the side of the canyon.
"Damn, Harris. You escaped in a cave?" the man asked. I heard new-found respect in his voice.
"Something like that," I said.
The screen cut to a scene showing six of the survivors saluting Hollywood Harris as he boarded a transport to Earth. Those six would attend officer training in Australia. They were the first clones ever to become officers in the Unified Authority Marines. As his transport flew out of the docking bay, a lone bugle played Taps and the screen went black. The words, Lieutenant Wayson Harris died five months after the battle of Little Man while defending the Unified Authority outpost on Ravenwood. appeared in the center of the screen.
"That's heart breaking, Harris," the man behind me said. "It's specking heartbreaking. I've seen this show a couple of times now, and that part always gets to me. You know what I mean?