Goliath and the Girl

Brothers

There weren’t many mirrors between the telepad and the barracks.  Just plain concrete hallways, cold as ever, and the occasional window to the training grounds outside.  But in every reflective surface 231 encountered, he did not see his own face.  He saw a Goliath’s face, set into a frown, chin tilted toward the floor, eyes downcast.  Guilty and ashamed.  It looked like 223’s.

Command had met the remnants of Charlie Squad as soon as they reached the base on New Corinth.  Men in Tower Officer uniforms had congratulated him on a job well done, and promptly handed him a special assignment.  Called him a good soldier.  They even applauded.

The thought of it turned his stomach.  He felt trapped.  He still remembered the horrible sensation of standing there, wanting to accept their praise.  Any Goliath would kill for that kind of honor.  And they did.

231 was their favorite because he had executed his brother.

He shook his head.  He had to get that word out of his mind.  Goliaths don’t have brothers.

“So, what is it now?  Team 146?”  A voice to his right.

231 looked to see three Goliaths staring him down from a side hallway.  Three faces like his, but angry.  In front was 234.  231 wanted to smile, but his heart dragged it from is face.  “You made it back.”  They must have been waiting for him, he realized.

I did,” said 234.

After a few moments under their glares, 231 couldn’t face them.  He stared at the wall across from him.  “I’m not with them anymore,” he said, answering the question.  “Command reassigned me.”

“Think they’ll give me a new job if I shoot Forty?” 234 spat.  His team, 231 knew, was made up of clones whose numbers ended in 4.  Bitterly, he thought of when 264 had died.  A stupid mistake.

231 shook his head slowly.  “You wanna kill me.”

“We’re gonna kill you,” said 244.

He heard them walk across the intersection of the halls.  When he finally looked up, they were surrounding him.  He met each of their eyes for a moment, then said quietly, “wait.”

“What?”

“Wait.”

234 scoffed.  “Oh, okay.  You’re scared-”

You’re about to put your squad in danger again, you idiot.  231 broke in, his voice even.  “If you’re gonna do this, pick somebody.  Just one of you.”  He glanced up at 244.  “If you all take your shot, you all get disposed of.  Ain’t worth it.”  He looked down at 234’s boots, and waited.

The hallway was silent.  None of the clones moved.

Finally, 244 muttered a curse and walked away.  224 followed soon after.  234 left last, slowly.

For a long time, 231 leaned against the wall, numbly trying to settle on what to think.  In the end, he set off toward his bunk, distantly grateful that another clone would not die because of him.  It was not the sort of gratitude that gave him any sort of peace.

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Goliath and the Girl

Candidate

It was, as usual, snowing in Sierra Colony.  The alpine terrain, with its red-orange rock and deep maroon scrub, was under more than a foot of white powder by midnight.  It was two hours into the morning when Coordinator Marx got the update he was looking for.

He was sitting on his glassed-in porch, smoking a thin cigarette full of Sierran tobacco.  The stuff had none of the flavor of the old earth leaves, but twice the nicotine.  Marx had decided to give in to his chronic insomnia and just watch the snow fall for a few hours.  So he sat in his recliner, watching the world go white.  Blank.

The irony was starting to get to him when his palmtop buzzed.  With a sigh, he reached across to his endtable and flipped the device open.

He read the report from New Corinth slowly, carefully.  The suicide mission turned victory.  Both his candidates performed brilliantly.  And now he finally had an excuse to fire Feinman.  Belligerent little twit.

Then, he reached the final paragraph.  231 had executed his special weapons tech.  During the debriefing back at the Tower base, 231 revealed that the defective clone had tried to convince him to rape a civilian the squad had rescued.  He also admitted, without prompting, that he had aimed his weapon at the civilian before she identified herself.  The woman, the report noted, gladly signed a waiver forfeiting her right to file a complaint.

This was it.  Marx nodded to himself and tapped the messenger program on his computer.  “To Lanie,” he said, watching his secretary’s name jump into the To field.  “High priority.  Requisition Goliath 231 for special assignment.”  He slipped  a fresh cigarette from the pocket of his robe and lit it with the stub of his latest.

“And schedule a conference with Coordinator Mousharif.  Tell him one of his subordinates has some explaining to do.  Send.”

Marx settled back in his chair, and the palmtop chimed.  Message sent.  He took a deep drag, his nerves finally calming.  Goliath 231.  He’d found his candidate.

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Goliath and the Girl

Violation

Charlie Squad sloshed away from the canal, each soldier grinning widely.  They had fought to stay afloat with all their gear, and had finally found a place to crawl out three-quarters of a mile downstream.  They were soaked, the water more than likely full of hazardous industrial runoff.  They had a long march ahead of them to get to their extraction point.  Still, they grinned, looking over their shoulders every few steps to glance at the cloud of dust where once the Toriyama Bridge stood.

“Good shot, Three,” said 266, clapping his identical twin on the back.

231 was grateful to still have his original squad.  They had all been hatched on the same day.  The squad had trained together and fought alongside each other for almost ten years.  On one mission, they would be Alpha Group, on another, Charlie Squad; but every time, it was 223, 231, 254 and 266.  They called themselves Team 3146, and thought themselves very clever.

The Goliaths skirted the East approach to the separatist command bunker, then picked their way through downtown New Corinth.  The towers gave way to skyscrapers as they moved away from the financial district.  Wind whistled across broken windowpanes, whipping up clouds of dust and ash.  Once, they saw a single patrol double-timing it toward the ruins of the bridge.  Otherwise, it was quiet.

254 chuckled suddenly, and they all turned to face him.  “We gotta tell 234 about this.”  He nodded at their special weapons tech.  “You remember when he bet you-”

“Hello?”

They whipped up their rifles at the voice.  To the left, from the rubble-strewn lobby of an office building.

“Come out!  You have five seconds!” 231 barked.

The woman stepped from behind her cover, hands raised and shaking, eyes wide and dripping.  At the sight of a human survivor, the clones instantly lowered their weapons.  231 caught his breath and motioned to 223.  The two Goliaths jogged toward the woman.

“Please don’t hurt me!  I’ve been here for two days, since they…” her voice broke off into sobbing, her hands clutching her ash-encrusted hair.  She stepped back as the clones approached.

231 stopped a respectful distance away and raised his hands.  “Milady, we will not hurt you.  We can take you to safety.”

She looked at him desperately.  “Thank God.  Oh, thank God.”  She hesitantly moved toward the soldiers, then leaned on 231’s arm.  Her left ankle was swollen and caked with blood.  223 stepped to her right side, and they escorted her outside.  He looked nervous, 231 noticed.

254 had already dug the antiseptic and spray bandage from his pack.  “Milady,” he said as they sat her down.  “I should tend to your ankle wound, for your safety.  I may need to touch your foot.  Is that acceptable?”

She nodded vigorously.  “Thank you.”

“Hey.  One,” 223 whispered.

231 looked up at him.  He was definitely nervous.

“There… hasn’t been anyone for miles.”

“Yeah?”  Now, 231 was getting nervous.  He could feel something coming.  The woman hissed in pain as 254 sprayed on the antiseptic.

266 growled.  “I can’t get through to command!  Let me try getting a better-”

“He can’t get through,” 223 whispered, breathing hard.  “That’s…”  He looked excited.

“What?”

223’s eyes sparked.  “We could take her back inside, and no one would see.  No one would hear.”

For a moment, 231 felt like he was falling.  “Three.”

“We could be the first Goliaths to do it with a girl, One!”  His voice was dangerously loud.

“Signal’s getting better.  Almost got it,” 266 called from his vantage point.

A girl. The idea was overwhelming.  But…  “Three.”  231 was squad leader.  He had his orders.

“Six, wait!”  223’s eyes were locked on the woman, his breathing more and more rapid.

“Ah, signal’s back!  Wait for what?”

“Let’s do it, One,” 223 whispered, his eyes unwavering.

231’s chest throbbed.  He clenched his eyes shut and tapped his comm.  The first time he tried to say it, his breath caught, and he turned away.  He leaned down and rasped, “Emergency channel.”

“This is command,” came the voice immediately.  The voice only he would have in his ear.

The burning in his chest surged.  “This is Goliath 231,” he whispered.  “223 has… implied a threat of bodily harm to a non-combatant.”

“One, hey,” he heard 223 say.  A large hand rested on his shoulder.  With a rush of anger, he swatted it away.

“Confirmed, 231.  You are ordered to dispose of Goliath 223 immediately.  Give the order.”

231 opened his eyes and looked up.  254 was gently helping the injured woman to her feet.  266 was staring down at him, confused.  And 223 stood, head lowered as though in disappointment, or shame.

Give the order, they said.

223 caught 231’s eye.  The same eye, set in the same face, that they all shared.  If Goliaths had brothers, 231 thought, that’s what we’d be.

The special weapons tech made no move to resist as the squad leader snarled, raised his weapon to bear, and shot him in the head.

The woman screamed.  The two other Goliaths had their weapons ready before 223’s body slumped to the ground.  The scream echoed from the tall buildings all around, and all was silent.

When 231 looked up, everyone was standing very still, eyes locked on him.  His squadmates’ jaws were both set.  They didn’t know why, but they knew the law.  254’s eyes glistened.

231 fought down the rage enough to speak.  “Milady,” he said to the wounded woman, “I apologize if I frightened you.  I was following orders.  Please don’t worry.”  Against his will, his eyes flicked to the dead clone, then back to her.

“You’re safe.”

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Goliath and the Girl

{excerpt from recovered journal}

I remember when we were 3, and the lab techs made us cake.  Dr. Myers sang to us.  Everyone else did too, but I remember his face because he was smiling.  Never saw that smile again.

Coordinator Foley was so mad.  He just stomped in and started yelling.  “Goliaths don’t have birthdays,” he said.

I told her that story, and she got me this little recorder.  She asked what day they hatched us out of the tanks, and I told her.  Know what she said when she gave it to me?  “Happy Birthday!”

I guess humans get presents on their hatching days.

[pause]  This thing makes me nervous.  It’s not set to sync up anywhere.  I’m the only one that can record on it.  I’m the only one that can play the recordings, or show them to anyone.  She said that way my journal is safe.

It doesn’t seem safe.  When no one else is listening, you can think anything.  All kinds of thoughts.

It’s not safe.

{analysis confirmed.  voice match: Goliath 231}

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Goliath and the Girl

Splashdown

The Private marched, smiling easily, in front of the rumbling war machine, his grip loose on his rifle.  He looked over his right shoulder at the steadily churning treads and breathed deep.  Ionized exhaust rippled from the tank in waves, heating and sterilizing the air.  He caught a glare from his Sergeant, and looked forward again, standing up straighter.  Still, he smiled.  The bridge and road ahead looked clear for miles.

His blood ran cold when he heard the pop of  a short-range mortar.  His mind barely had time to shudder at how close the sound was when he heard the clang of the grenade bouncing off the side of the tank and hitting the deck behind him.  The explosion hurled him forward, his gun swinging wildly from its holster.

The vengeful staccato of assault rifle fire punched through the ringing in his ears.  To his right.  The world was perpendicular, his head pressed to the road.  Two figures, huge men, with the same face, leaning from cover on the maintenance catwalk just over the railing from the sidewalk.

The same face.

A frantic voice in his ear, barely audible as his fellow separatists returned fire en masse.  “Goliaths!”

Another chill as he pressed to his feet.  He only saw two clones.  The Private scampered for cover behind the tank as its machine gun turret swiveled to bear and burst to life.  Where were-

Only the Private saw the second half of the Goliath squad.  They sprinted along the catwalk in single file, the front clone hefting a backpack, his rifle slung.  As the Private scrambled for his weapon, the Goliath slid the backpack to the ground, revealing a grapple gun in his hand.  The second clone had one, too.

Too fast for the Private to react, the front Goliath aimed the grapple at the bridge tower above and fired the grapple.  Just as quickly, the second clone tackled the first over the railing.

The gunfire around him spattered to a halt.  Mystified, he turned around to see the other soldiers walking towards the railing on the opposite side of the bridge.  He jogged to the railing and looked down.  The two clones that had fired on the separatists were far below at the end of grapple ropes, at the apex of their backswing.  They released, flinging themselves through the air into the canal below.

Behind him, the Private heard a whir.  He looked back, heart thudding.  The backpack zipped into the air as the grapple cable spooled back in.

He realized what they had done just as the detonation sounded.

The entire structure of the bridge moaned pitifully.  The air filled with the sound of whipping cables, and a tremendous clang as as the great overhead cable snapped.

The Private found himself in midair, his sense of balance revolting as the deck pitched beneath his feet.  The soldiers screamed as the pavement rippled, the tank heaving onto one tread and smashing back into the ground.  All around, the towers and cables rattled, and the Private could hear nothing else.

Then, the world shifted, and he was staring into the canal a hundred fifty feet below, with a great, blocky shadow bearing down on top of him.  The pit of his stomach told him he was flying.  Plummeting toward splashdown, half a second ahead of the tank, he was too stunned to scream.

The water was as unyielding as stone.

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Goliath and the Girl

The Weak Link

“Okay, they don’t have the construction drawings, but… yes.  This will work.  Three, take a look.”

The special weapons tech tapped at his console, as did the rest of the squad.  A gun camera video clip appeared and began playing.  “What’s this?”  It appeared to be from a missile drone, high above downtown New Corinth.

“A couple months ago, we were right at the edge of Toriyama Bridge.  Almost took it.”

We, 231 thought, meant Tower, the company that owned them.  His squad had arrived after the footage he was now viewing.

The drone came into view of the bridge.  It was swarming with soldiers engaged in a heavy firefight.  Several units of Tower combat androids were being turned back by withering fire from the separatists, who crouched behind permacrete barriers and mobile shielded turrets.

266 scoffed.  “Bots.”

“Yeah,” nodded 231.  “If they- uh oh.”

A telltale puff of smoke and glint of light on the ground signaled an incoming shoulder-fired missile.  The video clip, 231 noticed, ended in four seconds.  In its last moments, the drone banked hard and let loose a rocket, which streaked toward a pocket of soldiers, only to detonate against one of the bridge’s towers.  The surface-to-air missile arced toward the camera, and the screen was suddenly filled with static.

231 looked up to see 223 dragging his finger across the screen.  He was grinning.  “You see that?  Look at 2:34.  It hit the bridge.  Right where one of the cables comes in.”

I wonder where 234 is, 231 thought.

The clone soldiers backed up the footage to the moment of the drone missile’s impact.  The explosion centered near the top of the tower, on the north side, dangerously close to one of the giant steel cables holding up the structure.

254 nodded.  “I don’t think we can sneak up one of those cables without getting caught.  And even if we can get inside the tower…”

“The elevator could require a passcode or a manual key.  I dunno,” said 266.

The room fell silent once again, the four warriors scowling at the frozen image of the explosion.  In the dim light, in the same pose, they looked identical.

Wait.  “Six, you got any stats on the bridge?  How tall it is?”

“What you thinking?”

“Everyone got a grapple?”

254 grinned.  “There we go.”

“Aw, you’re gonna make me climb?” 223 griped.

231 shook his head.  “No need.  We can always get another grapple.”

223 cocked his head at the squad leader.  Then, he too smiled.

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Goliath and the Girl

New Intel

Officer Feinman wished he had gotten more rest before the operation had started.  He was on his fifth cup of coffee when the Goliath squads reported in.  His palmtop vibrated, and he flipped it open to read the reports.  A few more separatist scouts picked off, a few inches of progress on the main front on the west edge of the city.  Three more clones lost in combat.

Hardly worth reading, until he saw the New Intel tag on the bottom paragraph.  Feinman read the news and smiled, just as the new Commander stepped into his office.

“Officer Feinman?”

“Ah, finally here.”  Feinman stood and offered his hand, setting down the palmtop.  “Glad you made it, Tanaka.”

The Commander shook his hand solidly.  “Thank you, sir.  Just got off the pad a few minutes ago.  They said I should head straight to you and get up to speed.”

Feinman noticed a small computer tucked under Tanaka’s left arm.  He nodded to it.  “You get a chance to look over the latest?”

Tanaka nodded affirmatively.  “The separatists managed to get themselves a tank.”

“Nice little surprise, huh?  What do you think we should do about it?”  Feinman smirked to himself and stood.

The young Commander suddenly looked more self-conscious.  “I’d say… it seems as though we have enough air support to get in deep and bomb it.”

Officer Feinman chuckled, leaning against his desk.  “Do you know why we’re here, Tanaka?  Not the company, not Tower.  You and me.”

“Honestly?  I had a chance to promote to Commander, and this was the post they gave me.”

“You pissed someone off, that’s what happened.”

Tanaka had no answer, but the self-conscious look only deepened.

Feinman took a gulp of coffee and shook his head.  “You read the files.  We captured the telepad months ago.  It’s not contested.  The separatists aren’t getting off this rock.  You tell me, Commander.  New Corinth is the only city on this rock.  What are we fighting for, here?”

“The gold deposits,” Tanaka said uncertainly.  “The aerospace factory.”

Behind him, the palmtop vibrated with new updates.  Feinman ignored it.  “We’ve got both two jumps away.  Know what the separatists are doing?  They’re stripping parts from the mines and the factory to jury-rig into weapons.  We’re starving them out.  But you and I know they’ll hang on for years.”

Tanaka stared at his supervising Officer for a long moment.  “You’re saying New Corinth is a waste of time.”

“A complete waste of time and resources.  It’s someone’s – I don’t know whose – pet project, so it won’t die.  Everyone knows it’s a joke.”  Feinman reached over to his computer and turned it toward him.  He shook his head and scoffed.  “Know who called the other day?”

Tanaka already looked distracted and disheartened.  “Who?”

“One of the Coordinators from Sierra Colony.  He wanted two of my Goliaths.  266 and 231.  They’re good.  Maybe my best.  They’re on Charlie Squad, the one that cracked the separatist comm channel and found out about the tank.”

Feinman didn’t look up from the computer, but he could hear the frown in Tanaka’s voice.  “So they dump you out here and try to cherry-pick your resources.”

The Officer nodded grimly, staring at the screen.  “They wanna waste my time, fine.  Screw ’em.  Let’s see how Charlie fares against that tank.”

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