Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Forum
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
Dan's Promo Page
   

Shadow Dancers

By Dale F. Willett


General Michael S. Taylor sat quietly and pensively waiting for the evening news to break. Lying on the spacious mahogany desk was an ominous looking, loaded .357 Magnum pistol. Virginia Taylor was out for the evening; her two daughters away at Duke University. General Taylor looked at the farewell letter he had written and re-written five times. He stared intently, his eyes shifting from the weapon to the letter, back to the weapon. He thought it ironical that he had filled every chamber with a round, as if he would get a second chance or might somehow miss with the first shot.

He eased back the swivel chair, rose, and slowly departed the study; climbing the long staircase leading to the bedroom. Once inside, he opened the closet door and removed the laundry-fresh uniform, the creases he always insisted on, pressed to perfection. Laying out the uniform, he meticulously aligned and affixed four shiny stars to each shoulder lapel. He pinned twenty-nine service ribbons on the left breast of the dress coat--ribbons representing thirty-two years of distinguished service; ribbons for outstanding service, bravery in action, and others; their significance soon to be overshadowed by public disgrace.

****

Army Sergeant First Class Pete Gordon was in an Army field hospital in Seoul, Korea, recovering from shrapnel wounds in his arm and hand. Lying in bed, his attention was drawn to the television which was featuring file footage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seven years earlier.

“What was that agent’s name? What was his name?” Pete blurted out.

A crusty old sergeant occupying the bed next to Pete, turned slowly and said, “Okay son, just take it easy. Calm down. Would you like me to call for a doctor or nurse?”

Pete regained his composure and assured his neighbor that everything was okay and that he had had a bad dream. The man appeared satisfied and went back to reading his Stars and Stripes.

I have to be careful, Pete thought to himself. I don’t know who I can trust. I need help but, I better look outside military channels. Seeing that footage on 9-11 reminded him that, had the analysis of one particular CIA intelligence operative been believed, the World Trade Center and Pentagon disasters may never have happened. He recalled that the same agent was instrumental in preventing another terrorist attack on the Empire State Building a year later.

“Now I remember,” Pete said to himself. “The agent was recognized by the President during the Presidential State of the Union address in January, 2003. Wilson, Wasson, Watson-- Ken Watson was his name.” Pete felt some relief that he had a name, a possible ally he could trust. “He may be the only man that can keep me alive.”

Pete’s four year hitch was coming to an end. He had been advised that, as soon as he was released from the hospital in Seoul, he would be returning to the States for discharge. “But, that is still three weeks in the future,” Pete said to himself, adding, “I’m not sure I will live that long. Anything could happen in three weeks.”

Pete turned from the TV, pulled the blanket up to his neck, and feigned sleep. He had to think. He had to remember.

****

Pete arrived in Seoul on 15 June 2008. The United States was deploying massive numbers of ground troops to support and protect the South Koreans from a threatened invasion by North Korea. Three days after Pete’s infantry division arrived in Seoul, they were deployed to the border between the two Koreas.

By July, the United States presence in South Korea had grown to nearly 250,000 troops, mostly ground troops. American, South Korean, and several allied countries’ troops totaled 365,000. The Pentagon still had concerns even though the allies had superior weapons. The North Korean ground forces were estimated to be close to 980,000 strong, all of which could be deployed to the front. The United States, on the other hand, still had large numbers of troops stationed throughout Iraq, as well as a large standing presence in Afganastan. Even with the Reserves and National Guard called to active duty, the United States needed more troops.

Pete’s division was initially deployed along a stretch of the border in the eastern part of South Korea. The first significant North Korean advance came in western Korea on 8 August. North Korean numbers were so large, Pete’s entire division was redeployed to help stem the human tide.

Three days later, Pete’s division engaged the enemy. There were major clashes along a fifty mile stretch of the border. The allies advanced one day and were forced back the next, and then advanced again. After eight days of fierce fighting, much of it hand-to-hand combat, the allies, with the help of over-whelming air support, got the upper hand and started advancing significantly. The cost was high. The division that first engaged the enemy-the one Pete’s division was sent to reinforce-had taken heavy losses. More than three hundred and fifty American soldiers were killed, many more wounded, in the initial North Korean drive.

Pete and his comrades thought it strange and disconcerting that the troops they were sent to help, were withdrawn immediately after Pete’s division arrived at the front. It was obvious to Pete that much more ground could have been gained in the advance, in a much shorter time, if the two divisions had joined ranks.

Pete thought it even stranger that the Division Commanders of the two divisions allowed no contact between the men of each division. Pete remembered thinking at the time that they “seemed to vanish”.

****

That first evening was especially rough for Pete. An Army M-35 truck arrived at their base camp carrying ten soldiers from the “mystery” division, killed during the previous day. Pete approached the truck and was shocked when he saw the body of Kurt Evers, a high school classmate of his from Bossier City, Louisiana. Kurt had been shot through the throat and must have been killed instantly.

Hoping that his eyes were deceiving him or the blood might be hiding the body’s identification, Pete reached down and lifted the dog tags from around the man’s neck. The dog tags were stamped KURT EVERS. The Army would have notified Barksdale Air Force Base, Personal Affairs of his death by now, thought Pete, and a team should be arriving at Kurt’s parent’s house the next day.

“I have to call Kurt’s Mother tomorrow evening and offer my condolences,” Pete said to himself. “Sure glad the Army communicators have the HAM operations set up for the troops to keep in contact with home.”

Pete called his Mother the following afternoon and, after assuring her he was okay, he asked for Kurt’s mother’s number. Later, when the HAM operator got Mrs. Evers on the line, Pete still wasn’t sure of what he was going to say.

“Hello. This is Mrs. Evers. Can I help you?”

“Hi Mrs.Evers, Pete Gordon here. I’m in Korea and I have…” was all he could get out before Mrs. Evers interrupted.

“Oh Pete, it’s so nice to hear from you. I’m sorry that Kurt is out for the evening. I just know he would love to talk to you. He recently got word that he will be shipping out to Korea in about three weeks.”

Pete was stunned. Words formed but no sound followed.

“Pete, are you still there?” Mrs. Evers asked.

“Yes, sorry. We had some static on the line,” Pete lied. “I hope Kurt and I can meet up over here. I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Mrs. Evers, give my best regards to Kurt. And you and Mr. Evers take care and don’t worry about Kurt. He will be okay. Good-bye for now.”

“Man, this is crazy,” Pete said as he made his way back to his tent. “Kurt was alive, according to his mother. And she should know. On the other hand, I know what I saw. And I saw Kurt, dead in the back of that truck. Am I going crazy?” Pete mumbled as he stretched out on his bunk. “Maybe I’m just tired. It has been hell the past two weeks.”

Pete’s mind was trying to make sense of things his eyes had apparently deceived him of the previous day. His last thought before he fell asleep, was that he knew he had seen Kurt, unless he had a twin brother—which he didn’t.

Pete was still exhausted the next morning when he rolled out of bed. He had slept fretfully, awakened every hour by fiendish nightmares. As he downed his cold MRES, he couldn’t help but wonder if he was caught up in one of those stranger than strange, Rod Serling, Twilight Zone programs he used to watch-- and laugh at-- when he was growing up.

Boy, am I being ridiculous. I better get my mind back on the business at hand; my butt going out on patrol this morning, Pete thought.

Thirty minutes later, Pete departed the camp. His mission was to reconnoiter a small North Korean village. Satellite images of the area revealed metallic emanations in the area of several large structures. Headquarters suspected that large artillery pieces had been moved forward under the cover of darkness.

Pete was on the move for thirty minutes, still about three miles from his objective, when the trail suddenly made a one hundred degree turn to the right, easing around a ten foot boulder on the left. As he passed the boulder he heard a barely audible moan. He raised his carbine, eased around the boulder, and came face- to- face with another American soldier who also had his rifle at the ready. Recognition, friend-to-friend, was immediate and both men lowered their weapons.

Pete saw that the man had taken twoshots; one to his left thigh and another which had taken half of his left knee. He had lost a lot of blood and his one leg was useless. The large pool of blood that collected where he had lain indicated he had probably been wounded two or three days earlier.

Pete instructed the man to lie down and rest. He removed his own fatigue jacket and then his undershirt from which he fashioned a crude tourniquet around the man’s upper thigh. He knew he would have to physically carry him back to the base camp. There wasn’t time to build a make-shift stretcher. Pete knew he had to keep the man awake. In his condition, the man probably wouldn’t wake up if he went to sleep.

While administering to the man’s wounds, Pete kept up a constant flow of talk. Because of his blood loss, he was delirious and Pete wasn’t sure he could place much stock in the responses he got to his questions.

“What unit are you attached to?” Pete asked.

“Charlie Company, Seventh Division,” the man replied.

Pete recognized the unit as the one that had suffered significant losses in the first major push by the North Koreans. This was the division that Pete’s division had replaced on the front—the mystery division. “Where are you from pal?” Pete asked.

“Hawaii. I have no parents. I never had parents. I’m not who I am,” the man responded.

“I better get this fellow back to the medics now. He is completely delusional,” Pete said to himself. Pete couldn’t help but remember his experience the previous day. The dead man in the truck was not who he was. Now, this man was nobody, no parents and not who he was.

Pete looked at the man and said, “I guess we better get going.”

The injured man looked at Pete and said, “I dance to someone else’s tune,” and passed out.

“What in the hell are you talking about?” Pete yelled.

An hour and a half later, Pete stumbled into camp carrying the injured man on his back, ready to drop from exhaustion.

The medics treated his wounds and gave him blood. A technician came to Pete’s tent later that evening and told him that the man was resting comfortably and would pull through okay and would be on his way to Seoul early the next morning.

Pete was relieved when his Company Commander sent word that another scout would be sent out and that Pete should get some rest. Pete did rest. He slept most of the afternoon and only got out of bed to eat-- then back to bed where he remained for the next ten hours.

Pete was awakened the next morning by a group of excited troops talking about an explosion that happened that morning. Pete stuck his head out of his tent and yelled to the nearest man, “What’s going on?”

A young man moved a few feet toward Pete and said, “One of our jeeps hit a landmine on the road this morning and the driver and that wounded man you brought in yesterday were killed.”

Pete returned to his cot, sat on the edge, shaking his head in disbelief. “What in the hell is going on?” he asked. “A supply truck from Seoul travels that same road every morning between six and seven. How could the supply vehicle get through safely and then, an hour later, a jeep hit a landmine? It just doesn’t add up. It makes no sense,” Pete sighed.

Later in the morning, Pete approached his Company Commander with his questions and concerns about the landmine, his “dead” friend, the “mystery” division, and the strange ravings of the wounded--now dead--man.

The commander would only say, “Things happen and we can’t dwell on them. We are in a war zone and you have to expect the unexpected. I’m sure there are logical explanations to your questions.”

“But sir…” Pete said.

Before he could protest further, the commander interrupted and said, “Congratulations on a job well done returning that wounded man yesterday.”

“Too many pieces of this puzzle are missing,” Pete mumbled as he exited the commander’s tent, adding “And a lot of good it did bringing that wounded man back.”

Around 9:00PM, Pete was called to the HAM station and told that a Mr. Evers was on the line. “Good,” Pete said to himself, adding, “I need to talk to friends.”

“Mr. Evers, Pete here sir. How are you?”

“Pete, I’m sorry to have to tell you but, Kurt was killed in an automobile accident early this morning. He was on his way back from picking up his travel orders for Korea when his brakes apparently gave out in a turn and he crashed into an over-pass concrete pillar. He was killed instantly and his body burned beyond recognition.”

“Oh, no,” was all a stunned and shocked Pete could muster.

“This is so devastating Pete--and so confusing. Two Army Personal Affairs types came to the house last evening to inform us that Kurt had been killed in action--in Korea five days earlier. It was all quite strange and somewhat prophetic.”

“What is happening?” Pete muttered.

“What did you say Pete?” Mr. Evers asked.

“Nothing sir. I’m so sorry. Please give Mrs. Evers my condolences,” Pete said and handed the head-set to the HAM operator.

****

It’s been one hell of a week thought Pete. First, I see my best friend dead in the back of a truck in Korea and then I learn that this same friend was killed in a car accident in Louisiana days later. Now I’m stuck in a damn foxhole fighting for my life.

Pete edged up slowly and peered out on the battlefield that stretched as far as the eye could see. His eyes fixed on the turret of the nearest North Korean tank which rotated slowly until its’ main gun was pointing in Pete’s direction. Pete pushed himself deeper into the shallow foxhole, hoping the enemy gunner didn’t have the range or perhaps was a bad shot—or both.

The barrel of the main gun belched out a loud report, followed by a projectile. Almost immediately, Pete felt the ground shudder as the explosion ripped open the earth less than seventy-five meters directly in front of him.

“He has our azimuth,” Pete yelled to his comrades as they leaped from their holes, some running laterally right, others left.

As Pete was running, he heard a second loud report. He dove for cover just as the projectile made a direct hit on a Humvee less than twenty meters away. Shards of metal and glass flew in all directions. Pete felt a jarring, searing pain in his left arm and hand as he hit the ground. He instinctively attempted to raise his weapon to the ready, but couldn’t. His left arm would not follow his command. Two fingers were missing on his left hand and an eight-inch, jagged piece of metal was protruding from his forearm.

“I’ve been hit and losing a good bit of blood over here,” Pete calmly called out to a soldier thirty feet away.

“Hang on Pete. The Captain just got a call and tactical air support will be here in twelve minutes. In twelve minutes those tanks will disappear old buddy,” yelled the platoon leader.

Pete passed out just as a medic reached him, less than two minutes before the close air arrived. Thirty minutes later, Pete was on his way to the base camp, an IV replacing the blood left in the foxhole.

Three days later, Pete was evacuated to a hospital in Seoul.

****

The Department of Defense (DOD) has had more than a few classified research projects that have been leaked to the public. On the other hand, the Jean Larte’Guy Laboratory and Training Facility has been a closely guarded secret since its establishment in 1980. Hidden away in a remote part of Hawaii, this facility houses a large laboratory and was initially charted and funded to conduct DNA research. The use of DNA for identifying the remains of human beings was still in its infancy. The military leadership was concerned with addressing the need to locate and identify the great number of military members still unaccounted for since World War II. To that end, the DOD Chiefs tasked the Larte’Guy lab to develop procedures to conclusively identify the remains of any military member so that the next of kin could be notified.

Even though the military wanted a military officer responsible for the facility, they were overruled and Doctor Bryan Phipps, a well known, DC beltway civilian was selected as the first Director. He had oversight of several significant research studies and analysis projects and, most importantly, he was highly respected in both military and commercial circles. A compromise of sorts was reached with the appointment of a military officer as a deputy director to Doctor Phipps.

The large lab and budget attracted many talented research scientists, most notably, Doctor George Powers. Whereas Dr. Phipps was a Ph.D., Dr. Powers was a physician, microbiologist, and geneticist by both education and experience. Dr. Powers was not just a talented scientist; he was an extremely ambitious man. Under his leadership, the DNA research progressed rapidly—too rapidly. Before long, Powers had relegated most of the administrative responsibilities to Phipps. He was left to direct the daily operations of the DNA lab. The lab not only managed to meet their objectives, they exceeded them.

The DNA lab developed procedures for receiving samples from newly recruited military members, processing each sample, and cataloging them for use in a database until they were needed. Other DNA research was published in all the leading journals as the standard for DNA processing and research.

In time however, Doctor Powers became obsessed with reducing the need for men in combat. He convinced a reluctant Phipps that the lab could create surrogates to fight in battle, in place of men. Power’s goal was to use DNA from the lab and blood samples collected from individual soldiers to make clones from a revolutionary process that could radically reduce the time it would take to create a mature man clone from a lab test-tube. Initially, Phipps refused the arguments of Powers. The morale issue of whether clones were real people or just “things” was the point most often discussed. But, in time and under pressure to keep our “men” out of combat, Phipps succumbed to Power’s urgings.

****

Three years after Phipps learned of Powers’ cloning goals, he still had reservations.

“George, these are people too,” said Phipps as he surveyed the thousands of small cribs which blanketed the floor of the giant hanger. “What you are claiming is that because they crawled out of your laboratory test tube, they are not human. To take such a view and to raise them to fight as soldiers is not much different than raising cattle for the slaughterhouse, is it?”

“It may be that we will not need them,” Powers responded.

“And what will you do with them if they are not needed for combat?”

“I haven’t quite gotten that far yet. Perhaps we could train them to work here at the facility,” Powers offered.

“What happens when a shadow becomes a casualty, should we ever take this scheme to fruition? When those remains are brought to us to identify, the remains will be identified as a military member who already exists. What then?” probed Phipps.

“I’m way ahead of you doctor,” Powers said. “The only DNA we have used is DNA samples of members who have already left the active force. More specifically, members who have died are our first choice. The DOD notifies us of a member’s passing and we are directed to dispose of the samples. Instead, we move them to a separate cataloging and storage area. You should see it Bryan. We have thousands of samples that the DOD thinks are no longer in existence.”

“We need to decide now what to do from this point forward. Do you have plans or suggestions?” Phipps asked.

“Yes, I do have some thoughts. We will start a military academy-type training program that we will enroll them once they are of primary school age. When they reach high school, we will provide a number of career tracks which will mirror those military skills we might expect, from experience, to be at critical manning levels in the future.”

“George, I want everything associated with this scheme to be considered Top Secret--and I mean everything. Access to information about the program will be strictly, Need to Know. I can just imagine what the DOD would say if they ever found out that we’ve--that you’ve--been making and raising clones out here,” Phipps said.

“Oh, Bryan, really! They will say nothing. We’ll tell them what we’re doing and then ask forgiveness. You know how it works. It’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission,” Powers countered. “Besides, there’s never any shortage of wars. Someone, somewhere will be very grateful that we’ve developed a repository of manpower if we should ever get involved in one. We’ll have a ready solution for the DOD.”

****

It was June 2003 when then Major General Michael Taylor was first assigned to the Pentagon as Director of the newly created Federated Defense Force Manning Center. General Taylor had worked his way up through the ranks and was well known as a superb officer--a soldier’s soldier. His exploits in combat were legendary and he had held many key leadership assignments in the US Army. But, since his assignment as Director of Manning, the days of strategy and maneuver and firepower on the field of battle were replaced by days arguing for financial issues, manpower allocations and conferences with politicians and bureaucrats. Now, he had to solve the problem of getting more people to enlist or be commissioned as officers for service in the Army.

Enlistment and commissioning of talented people was a significant problem. Society in general is always eager to proclaim their individual freedoms and rights whenever and wherever they have a forum thought General Taylor. But, they always appreciate the military and the sacrifice of service--as long as it is someone else who is doing it. The old Marlborough veteran said it best thought the General-- “God and the soldier we adore, in times of danger and not before. Danger passed and all things righted, God is forgiven and the soldier slighted.”

****

It was September 3, 2006 and General Taylor was in deep thought and did not hear the slight knock on his door and the entry of his aide.

“Sir, the Secretary of the Army is on line two.”

General Taylor nodded understanding as he punched line two. He had been expecting this call but wasn’t looking forward to it. “Mr. Secretary, how are you,” a cordial Taylor began.

“Mike, what in the hell is going on?” thundered the Secretary.

I’m sure you’ve caught me by surprise Mr. Secretary. What exactly do you mean?”

“General, it’s come to my attention that you’re having difficulty in reaching your accession goals for this year. The same problem has been plaguing you for six quarters. Now, tell me straight. Are we in trouble for manpower in the out years or not?”

Mr. Secretary, I assure you that if you give me six months, you’ll find that the shortfall will be resolved.”

“Mike, unless I see real progress in meeting the accession goals for the next quarter, you can forget that Chief of Staff job we know you have been looking for. Am I clear, General?” the Secretary said.

“Mr. Secretary, you are loud and clear. Please give my best regards to your family for me, won’t you. Good afternoon.”

General Taylor pressed the button on the phone and laid the receiver on the cradle. He knew he was having an acute problem with accessions but he was irked that half of the US Army felt like they had to get involved in his business. He sat back in his chair and decided that the direct approach would be best. He drafted a memo advising all his commanders to pull out all stops. Promotions and bonuses were to be awarded to those recruiters and those stations that were successful in meeting the next quarter’s goals.

****

“Bob, you seem to be having a little difficulty concentrating on your golf game today,” Rick Hord said. “What’s up buddy?” asked his best friend and confidant.

Coloneal Bob Adams was a Army Regional Director of Recruiting. His friend, Rick Hord, was an entomologist with the National Institute of Health. Accompanying them on their monthly outing was a friend of Rick’s, Max Conrad, a research scientist, visiting for the weekend.

“I guess my mind is not on the course,” Bob said. “We are having problems meeting our enlistment quotas and our Commanding General sent a hot message out earlier this week. It was very intimidating and left no doubt that some of us might be looking for another job if things didn’t improve. I’ve already told Linda to be prepared for a short or no-notice move.”

“Hell Bob. You are the best in the business. If you aren’t able to get new recruits, no one can. If you can’t get them, they just aren’t there for the getting,” Rick said.

“Bob, maybe I can help. Can’t promise anything but if you will give me the number or address of your boss, I would like to give it a shot,” said Max Conrad.

“Max, I appreciate your offer, but I really think your efforts would be fruitless. But, I sure won’t look a gift-horse in the face. My boss is General Michael Taylor, and you can reach him at 645-876-4432. And thanks for your interest.”

****

“Miss Wilks, this is Doctor Max Conrad at Micro Research. Is Doctor Powers in please?”

“Hello George. This is Max. I need to talk with you about a rather sensitive issue. What is your secure number? Thanks, back in a second.”

“Hi again good buddy. Been a while. How are things with you?” Max inquired of his old friend and boss.

“Hello Max. Has it really been eight years since you said good-bye to the Larte ‘Guy lab? It seems like yesterday.”

“You are about right. I left during the summer of 96,” Max responded.

“And what did I do to deserve this most welcomed call?” Doctor Powers asked.

“Well George, I was golfing last week with a good friend from the NIH, along with one of his friends, an Army colonel, who is a Regional Director of Recruiting. According to the colonel, enlistments in the Army are at a critical low and the Commander of the Army Federated Defense Manning Center is going to have his head handed to him on a platter, if things don’t improve. The colonel is convinced the situation is not going to improve--but get worse. He expects many heads will roll, up and down the chain, his included.”

“George, I’m sure you realize why I am bringing this to your attention…George, are you still there?”

“Yes Max, I’m still here. Sorry, I was glancing at an old framed saying that I have on my desk-- ‘Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream’. I have been swimming upstream for the past eighteen years. We have waited a long time for an opportunity such as this. I will be flying out to Washington just as soon as I can arrange a private meeting with the Manning Center Director. Max, I owe you buddy. Please keep in touch. Thanks and good-bye.”

****

“General Taylor, Doctor Powers is here to see you,” announced the secretary over the intercom.

“Please send him in--and Gladis, no calls or visitors until my meeting with Doctor Powers has concluded,” came the General’s response.

“General Taylor, George Powers sir. It’s a pleasure meeting you. And congratulations on being selected for your fourth star. I’m sure the Senate will confirm it,” said Doctor Powers as he entered and extended his hand across the General’s desk.

“George, please call me Mike,” the General said. “And please, have a seat. I must admit you certainly piqued my interest over the phone when you said you might have a solution to our manning problem. That fourth star just might hinge on what you have to offer.”

“Mike, I’m sure you are familiar with the military’s Jean Larte’Guy facility in Hawaii and its role in DNA research. Primarily, we provide conclusive identification of all service members killed while on active duty. As you know, blood samples are taken from every man and woman in uniform and then cataloged and stored until they are needed for identification purposes. This is pretty much the charter of the laboratory and it hasn’t changed since I joined them in the early eighties,” Doctor Powers explained.

“Your troops must be busy with the mess in Iraq and Afganastan,” the General said.

“Mike, the reason I’m here is to share with you another of our efforts at the lab which has been on-going, unofficially, since our inception. What I’m going to tell you is strictly Top Secret--only a few people are aware of what we have accomplished. No one in Washington or in the military chain is privy to any information on our ‘Shadow Dancers’

program efforts.”

“You are right about that Mike. I have never heard the term ‘Shadow Dancers” the General interjected.

“Mike, a little over twelve years ago we successfully cloned a human from one of the DNA samples we were storing for the DOD. That was Phase I. In Phase II we were able to accelerate the life cycle of the clone so that the time from creation, if you will, to the time of maturation, say twenty-one years of age was reduced to six years. We are currently in Phase III which will reduce the developmental cycle of a clone from years down to four to six months.”

“George, I am at a loss for words. I can’t believe that we--your lab--was cloning humans when other countries were crowing in the headlines about cloning sheep and cows,” the General said.

“The bottom line Mike is that we now have close to twenty-five thousand clones, trained in the Army’s most critical MOS’s, ready to go. And if you are concerned about a future confrontation in Korea--I realize that is a real possibility--I can assure you I can have another thirty-thousand troops ready within eighteen months.”

“This is all so damn risky George--scary, if you really think about it. And if the powers to be ever got wind of this, heads would roll, starting with mine. On the other hand, heads will roll if we can’t get our numbers up and we have to reinstate the Draft,” the General said, sounding like he was trying to rationalize the situation facing him.

“Mike, we used a different DNA sample for each Shadow. Each of their Social Security Numbers has a SS suffix. If a Shadow--clone if you will--is killed the SS suffix will alert the identifying physician or specialist that they must consult with my agency regarding next of kin notification. But, of course, there is no next of kin to notify.”

“You would have to establish procedures that would insure the Shadows are used in specific missions with other Shadows. I think there could be big problems and severe complications if a Shadow or Shadows were integrated with ‘real’ people,” Doctor Powers said.

“George, I will notify the Secretary of the Army early next week that in six months our manning will be up to speed. We have a lot of planning and coordinating to accomplish in the next six months,” said General Taylor, as he stood to seal the deal with a hand shake.

****

The research orderly was in a hurry. He was running late and knew he had to make up some time. The usually straightforward procedure of stopping at each laboratory department and transporting the carts of DNA samples was not a difficult task. Stanley had been working at the Jean Larte’Guy lab for a little over a year and knew his way around the lab pretty well. He prided himself on the fact that he could greet everyone he serviced by name. Everything had been going fine that morning until 10:00A.M. At that time, he was supposed to pick up a cart of DNA samples and deliver them to the Active Duty sample repository.

There were three DNA sample repositories and they were located in different parts of the lab. The Active repository was where the DNA samples of active duty military and civilians were catalogued and stored. These samples were to be used to identify the remains of any of these members who died while serving. The Retired sample repository was used to store DNA samples of retired military and DOD civilians who were still living. These were used as evidence in the event of a federal trial that pertained to a retired member, for medical purposes, or in the event of reactivation of the member to active duty. The Deceased sample repository was for samples of active military and DOD civilians and retired military and DOD civilians that were deceased.

The importance of keeping the correct samples in the proper repository was obvious. Storing samples of active personnel incorrectly in the retired repository, for example, would hinder the laboratory’s mission in identifying remains of a member in an emergency or death. Stanley was conscientious and performed his duties with great attention to detail.

There were close to a dozen research orderlies who all voiced hopes of one day completing their education and becoming members of the elite laboratory research team. Until that day, however, they had many other duties to perform. The duty at hand for Stanley was the transporting of the samples he had to the Active repository before he could take his break for lunch.

Stanley had just entered the elevator on the third floor when he ran into a friend of his who worked in another wing of the lab.

“Stanley, how’s it going today?”

“Okay” responded Stanley. “I’m trying to get rid of these samples so I can go to lunch. I also have a racquetball court reserved after lunch.”

“No kidding? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I understand old man Powers is expected over your way in less than half an hour. If you don’t get out of the lab by then, you’ll probably have to postpone lunch until later,” his friend said.

Stanley didn’t like the news. He knew he had to get the samples to the repository and get the receipt ledger back to the lab and get out of the building in less than half an hour. He knew it couldn’t be done. And his buddy saw the look on his face.

“I’ve got to get out of here before then. I will lose my court reservation and I don’t want to miss that,” Stanley protested.

“Tell you what,” Stanley’s companion offered. “I’ll take the samples cart to the repository and get the cart back to your boss. You can make your break as soon as you can sign out.”

“These are going to the Active repository on the first floor, got it?”

“No problem pal--Active. I got it.”

The elevator door opened to the first floor and Stanley made his break, yelling over his shoulder, “I owe you. Thanks.”

Stanley’s friend was not nearly as conscientious as Stanley. In fact, he only managed to get about two offices from the elevator when he stopped to make small talk with an office clerk--a very attractive one.

After chatting for a few minutes, he returned to his cart, hesitating briefly while he tried to recall the destination repository. As he was removing the clipboard from the cart, another orderly came around the corner with a clipboard in hand and the result was the predictable collision. The carts were pushed into a side by side configuration as a result of the collision. While the two orderlies straightened themselves and continued to place blame, a research scientist coming out of the office behind them pushed the cart that was blocking his path, out of the way. The cart that had been on the left side of the other cart rolled to a position to the right side of the other cart so that their positions were reversed.

The quarreling orderlies finally came to a handshake. They each grabbed the cart nearest them and went about their duties.

****

“Sir, the remains of a soldier arrived earlier today for identification. We conducted the usual identification procedures and the results are completed. I have them here for you.”

“I don’t understand. This sounds like a routine identification. What’s the problem?”

“Well sir, the remains have been identified as those of a Kurt Evers, US Army and the social security number has a SS suffix.”

I’m a very busy man. What exactly is the problem? Is this a shadow made from the deceased sample repository or not?”

“Sir, let me explain. The sample is one from our repository--it’s just not from the deceased sample repository.”

The doctor gasped as a chill went down his spine.

“You don’t mean to tell me that we’ve made a shadow from the DNA sample of a man who is still alive, do you?”

“Yes sir. And the man is on active duty, awaiting orders for deployment to Korea.”

“How could this happen? We have numerous safeguards to insure the integrity of each repository.”

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s more.”

“What? There’s more? What could be worse?”

“Sir, unfortunately, a new administrative clerk failed to coordinate the identification with you or with Doctor Powers when the SS suffix came up from the data base. The next of kin have been notified of the death.”

****

“Doctor Powers, Kincade here. I’m in the identification lab. We have a real problem that requires your immediate attention. We need to scramble our security team to eliminate a possible security risk in Louisiana. I will meet you in your office in five minutes--with complete details.”

****

“Dad, this is Pete. I need your help. I know you will have a hundred questions, which I can understand, but please, just listen. Dad, do you still maintain close contact with Senator Hebert?”

“Yes I do son but…”

“No questions Dad. I need you to ask the Senator if he would get in contact with CIA agent, Ken Watson. I’m sure he will remember this agent as the one that received a Presidential Citation for his role in thwarting that terrorist attack on the Empire State Building. I need the Senator to convince agent Watson to meet me in Wiesbaden, Germany next Thursday. I think my life may be in danger and elements of the military or some other governmental agency may try to kill me and make it look like an accident. I think I can trust agent Watson.”

“Son, can you give me some idea what kind of difficulty you are in? Remember, I spent twenty-five years in the Army and…”

“Dad, no questions please,” Pete interrupted. “Just have the Senator explain to Agent Watson that I am certain that there is some kind of cover-up of a classified project in the Army that has gone awry and that people are being killed to keep them quiet.”

“Son, I am going to be on a plane tomorrow for Seoul.”

“No Dad. And that is final,” Pete replied.

“I am being air-evaced to Wiesbaden next Wednesday. I’m sure I will be able to get out of the hospital for a few hours. I will be waiting in the lobby of the General Von Steuben Hotel in Wiesbaden at 4:30 Thursday afternoon. Tell the Senator to tell Agent Watson to look for a man with two fingers missing on his left hand,” Pete said.

“Son, how is your arm? That was a real nasty wound, but I guess it could have been much worse,” Pete’s Dad said.

“I’ll be fine Dad. Give my love to Mom. I hope to be home in about ten days. Bye Dad.”

****

“Miss Land, this is Senator John Hebert. I would like to speak with Ken Watson. It is a matter of some importance,” said the Senator.

“Good morning Senator. This is Ken Watson. What can I do for you sir—or what can I do for the state of Louisiana?”

“Mr. Watson, the son of a dear friend of mine is in the Army, recuperating from a battle-field wound in the military hospital in Seoul. This young man, Pete Gordon, feels his life is in danger because he knows something about a possible cover-up in the Army’s Federated Defense Force Manning Replacement Center. A number of very strange things have happened in Korea as well as back home in Bossier City that led to his suspicions. I really don’t have any additional details to pass on. Mr. Watson, Pete told his father that he just didn’t know who he could trust, but that he had to trust someone. He said you are the only person he will meet and talk with.”

“Senator, tell me when and where and I will be there. I received information from another source recently about some strange things going on at a DNA research lab in Hawaii. There just may be a connection between this lab and the Manning Center in Washington. I do know that there was some speculation several years ago, on the Hill, that the DNA lab was conducting advanced research in cloning--which was definitely not in their charter.”

“Mr. Watson, I appreciate your cooperation. Pete will be waiting for you in the lobby of the General Von Steuben Hotel in Wiesbaden, Germany next Thursday at 4:00 P.M. Look for a young man with two fingers missing on his left hand. And good luck. If anyone can get to the bottom of this, I’m sure you can. Please give my regards to young Pete and assure him that I will be at your side providing any support I can.

****

General Taylor stared at himself in the mirror. He was clean shaven and presented a poster reflection of a true American patriot. He removed his fingernail clippers and carefully cut a small thread from the corner of his jacket before exiting the bedroom.

It was exactly 7:00P.M. when he walked into the study, turned the television on and heard the announcer say,

“A military cover-up in the Federated Defense Force Manning Replacement Center in Washington and in the DNA Research Branch of the Jean Larte’Guy SOF Laboratory and Training Facility in Hawaii has just been announced by Andrew Klein, the Director of the CIA.”

As if by signal, General Taylor lifted the .357 Magnum, placed the barrel to his head and squeezed the trigger.

Virginia Taylor returned home at 8:30 that evening and found her husband dead of the self-inflicted wound. She collapsed on the sofa next to her husband’s desk, crying uncontrollably. She was barely conscious, minutes later, of the phone ringing. Slowly, she reached over and lifted the receiver; stunned and confused when she heard the caller say,

“Virginia, this is Mike. Don’t hang up sweetheart. I know this will be difficult for…”

“You S.O.B.” Virginia yelled, interrupting the caller in mid-sentence. “You are a demented, sadistic bastard without any conscience.”

“Virginia, I’m scratching that tattoo with your name underneath that I had put on almost twenty-eight years ago on our honeymoon in Jamaica.”

Virginia was trembling. She was speechless, looking at the body on the floor, then the phone, then back to the body.

“Virginia,” the voice continued. “The person on the floor is not your husband. He just looks like me. I will explain later. Trust me. You must compose yourself and call 911 and report the death of your husband. Within thirty days you will collect one million dollars in life insurance. I will be sending you plane tickets and detailed instructions on joining me. Good-bye sweetheart. I love you.”

Virginia Taylor heard the phone on the other end hang up. She slowly placed the receiver back on the hook. She turned her eyes to the body on the floor again. She lifted the receiver and pressed 911.

The End


© 2007 Dale F. Willett

Dale F. Willett is a retired Air Force officer and high school Air Force JROTC instructor. He has been writing for almost six years. A number of his stories have been published in The Emerald Coast Writer's SandScript Journal and The MacGuffin. His most recent non-SF story, Masterpiece, was published in the Spring 06 issue of The MacGuffin .

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.