Goliath and the Girl

{excerpt from recovered journal}

I’m really grateful Marx didn’t get a chance to contact us within the hour, like he wanted to.  I might have said something.

I didn’t know how I was supposed to keep anything from Sophia.  She read my mind.  Easily.

I didn’t know why he wanted me to keep her away from the Psion Guild, but I should have guessed.  At the time, I thought it was just because of Tower’s history with the psionic trials.  Should have guessed.

[sigh]  He called me the right man for the job.  [pause]  I thought I was actually going to make it a full day without someone making fun of me for being a clone.  [scoff]  I was on my way until he said that.

Sophia already had me spoiled, I guess.

And that’s why…. [growl]  I would have said something.  I really would have.

I could hear what he meant when he said “make sure she trusts you for the duration of the mission.”  What he meant was, “to  hell with the girl as soon as the mission’s over.”

Thinking back, he kind of sounded desperate.  He was scared of something.  I think it must have been the idea of us going to the guild.

[pause]  Would have saved us so much trouble.

{analysis confirmed. voice match: Goliath 231}

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Goliath and the Girl

Concern

It was frustrating.  In every mission so far, he’d had problems he could overcome with tactics, weapons and equipment.  Enemies he could attack physically and destroy.

231 looked down at the girl as they walked slowly through the streets of New Barcelona.  She was in no hurry, despite the Coordinator’s obvious urgency.  He matched her pace only with effort, stunting his giant strides.  The weight of the frown on her face seemed to pull down her entire body.

He really wanted to shoot something.

“Are you okay?”

The question surprised him.  She was looking up at him, her eyes sad.

231 took a breath and made a quick scan of his surroundings.  “Forgive me.  I was distracted.”  No threats.  He had to stay focused on his mission.  Thinking too much about Sophia’s problems would only make him less effective.

“No, I mean… you were angry about something.”

It took 231 a moment to realize that she wasn’t checking 0n his combat effectiveness.  She was actually concerned about how he felt.

Huh.

All he could think to do was answer honestly.  “I was thinking about things to much, and I got frustrated.”

“Like what?”  Her face was brightening, if slightly.

231 thought for a moment.  “I want to help you more.”

Sophia actually snickered.  “Uh, you just saved my life.  That’s helpful.”

Of course, he thought.  That was what he was made to do.  But from her faint smile, he could tell that she truly appreciated him.  Once again, he found the smile working its way across his face.

“I mean, I want to do more than that.  To help you with your memory, and…”  He couldn’t think of quite the right words.  “…when you’re sad.”

A different frown overtook her face.  Not a frown, but a smile turned downward at the edges, accompanied by wide, wet eyes.  Sophia was trying not to cry.

Oh, no.

The Goliath was about to apologize when the girl wrapped her arms around his left arm and squeezed, leaning into him.

“Thank you, 231.”

The clone soldier’s entire body felt warm all at once.  The girl was hugging him.  So that’s what it feels like.

“I was just thinking about the sister,” she was saying.  The faceless figure, lying on the floor.  “I don’t remember everything, but I remember she was really nice to me.”

“The one who said Dubai?”

231 felt Sophia’s head nod, her cheek rubbing against his forearm.  “I think she wanted me to go there.”

“But you don’t remember why?”

He felt her eyes narrow.  “I think maybe she was from there.”

The orphans had been in danger.  The nun had wanted Sophia to escape the gunman.  That made sense, 231 thought.  But why all the way to Dubai Colony?  What was there?

Soon, the telepad was in sight.

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Goliath and the Girl

{excerpt from recovered journal}

Back in training, they said we could have Goliath friends, but not human friends.  That made sense.  We couldn’t talk to humans the same way, couldn’t really have a conversation.  The rumor was they used to be able to, back in the double-digits.  And we all still remembered the birthday party they made us stop.  They got too friendly, I guess.

They train us so we think the mission is everything.  Our whole life is about doing the next job.

We were walking away from the orphanage, and I asked her a question.  She blanked out, and I got so mad.  I was angry.  I just wanted to hurt whoever did that to her.

[chuckle]  Then I realized I really did want that.  That it wasn’t just because I was Tower property and this was my mission.

[pause]  I cared about the other missions too, I guess.  Whenever I saved a human life, that made everything worth it.  But Sophia… we’d only been together a few hours, and it was already different.

My job was to guard her.  It wasn’t my job to find out what happened to her.

But I wanted to.

{analysis confirmed.  voice match: Goliath 231}

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Goliath and the Girl

People

“That was incredible,” 231 said, following her back into the yard.  He looked back at the windows of the second-floor hallway where they had stood, surrounded by the images of her past.  A breeze pressed against them as they stepped outside, coming from the direction of the telepad.

Sophia looked behind her at the abandoned orphanage.  “Yeah,” she said.  Her eyes lingered on something, and 231 followed her gaze.  A blank spot on the wall just inside the entrance.  Or perhaps a blank spot on the floor.  As 231 looked at it, he found his attention being drawn elsewhere.

“Do you see something?”

Sophia stared a moment longer, then shook her head.  “No.”  She turned and walked toward the street.

231 caught up to her.  “Do you need a strong mind to do that?”

“The memory thing?  Yeah,” Sophia replied without a hint of pride.  “They said some psions can’t even do it.”  Her voice was nearly monotone.

The Goliath barely noticed her melancholy.  “That would be so useful for scouts.  Have them show the squad the terrain ahead.”

Turning onto the sidewalk, the girl shook her head at 231.  “You think about fighting a lot.  Is that all you think about?”

231 shook his head back.  “We don’t always have to fight.  Sometimes all you have to do is get ready to.”

Then, the question occurred to him.  “Who said that?”

“What?”

“That you have a strong mind?”

Sophia was about to answer, when she suddenly stopped walking.  Her eyes went wide and stared, her head slumping forward.

231 mumbled every curse he knew.  Someone important must have told her that.  Someone.

“It’s people.  Someone doesn’t want you to remember people.  Your friends faces.  Whoever told you you had a strong mind.”

She had recovered by the time the soldier had finished his thought.  She started walking again.

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Goliath and the Girl

Agenda

Passage to Dubai Colony on short notice was not cheap.  If the Goliath and the girl kept planet-hopping, Marx would have to start paying out of his own funds to keep Accounting from asking questions.

The name of the colony had sparked his memory.  A scowling female face, surrounded by black.  The same face, smiling benignly.  He flipped open his palmtop, stubbing out his cigarette and ordering a list of his recent searches.  Maybe he had researched the woman.

Marx ground his teeth, restraining himself from picking up the comm.  The girl didn’t trust him.  He’d only make her nervous.  And in order to get past the block quickly, she had to be at ease.

The notion that she was more comfortable around the clone grated on him.  And the idea of a clone talking to a little girl conversationally… it just wasn’t right.

A grid of faces appeared on his screen.  There.  He tapped the picture in the lower-right corner, and it filled the screen.  A middle-aged woman, Arab or Persian descent.  Smiling, as in his memory.  Information faded in at the bottom of the screen.

Parveen Al-Kouri.  She was a nun.

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Goliath and the Girl

Memories

“Milord, I have cleared the building.  There are no further threats.”  231’s eyes scanned the empty hall, always keeping Sophia’s back in the corner of his eye.

“Good.  Stay sharp, two-three-one.”  And the Coordinator’s voice was gone.  Command must have the comm channel open, 231 realized.

“The crafts room… no, it was… darker…” Sophia mumbled, her head craning to look around the corner as they passed each open doorway.  She had turned away from the corpses and started walking, her breathing slow and measured.  She hugged herself tightly, her shoulders hunched.

“What are you looking for, Milady?”  Something at the back of his skull tingled at the impropriety of asking a question like that.  But she had told him to.  He had to remind himself.

She looked back at him, her brow furrowed.  Unhappy.  “I remember looking for paint.  We…”  Her eyes widened.  “We ran out.”  Sophia turned and quickened her pace, letting her arms swing free.  She stopped in front of the door two rooms ahead of 231 and stared.  “There.”

231 had checked that room minutes ago.  He peered inside, and saw the same shelves of art supplies, the same paint-spattered floor in the shafts of early morning light that slanted in from the hall windows.  Nothing.  He looked down at Sophia, who bit her lip and continued to stare.

She sighed.  “I can show you, if you want.”

“Please.”  231 expected her to point to something.  Instead, she closed her eyes.

“Try not to think about anything too hard,” she said, and drew in a deep breath.

The walls rippled.

231 blinked, then realized.  She was projecting.  Remembering, and broadcasting her memory to him.  The light seemed to dim, the shadows to shift.  The Goliath felt the slightest buzz just behind his forehead.  He nearly jumped as a spectral image of Sophia wavered into being.  Amazing.

Sophia, eyes still closed, walked into the room, stepping into her mirror image.  Her form seemed to stutter as she mimicked her memory’s movements.

“I was here, getting more paint,” she said, reaching for a tube on the low wooden shelf.  “And-”

Her body jolted as the gunshot echoed from down the hall.

231’s head snapped toward the sound.  It was certainly small arms fire, likely from a handgun, but the sound was distorted.  It faded in sharply and echoed, as though the world shuddered with the sound.

Sophia stepped haltingly toward the door, peeking around the corner, fingers clutching the doorjamb.  Her memory-self split from her, creeping into the hall.  “And I saw-”

Everything disappeared but Sophia, and the world went bright gray.

231 shook his head, hard, and the hallway returned.  Morning again, and only one Sophia.  She stared at the floor, her head slumped, her eyes unseeing.

Not again. The anger began to swell.

Sophia squeezed her eyes open and shut.  She let go of the doorjamb and left the supply closet, staring down the hall.

“Is that all that came back?” 231 asked.

Sophia shook her head.  “I think… there’s something else.”  She took a few steps down the hall, then slowed.  Hesitant.

So much of what 231 had been taught about children was contradictory.  He had heard some talk about them as though they were barely human, barely worth more than a clone.  Some officers had told him that children were more important than adults.

Competing ideas rolled through his mind about how to proceed.  Tell her to snap out of it, like a soldier.  But that didn’t seem right.  Especially not considering how she treated him.

“I’m here to protect you, Sophia,” he said, wondering if comforting her was the right thing to do.  “I’ll help you however I can.”

When she looked up at him, she had tears in her eyes.  She nodded, wiped her nose, and stepped to the edge of the open door two rooms from the supply closet.  Sophia glanced back at him, then slowly peered into the room.

A small warmth lit in 231’s chest.  He had-

The warmth went cold as Sophia shuddered and pressed herself against the hallway wall.  Her eyes pressed tightly shut, and the hallway shuddered again.

Inside the room, 231 saw the Sophia double appear again, on her knees next to a deep shadow.  No.  It was a person, wearing all black.  Memory-Sophia was leaning over the figure, shaking and weeping.  The black form had no face, only a flesh-colored blur.  A red pool spread from the figure.

Doo-bye,” the figure wheezed.  “…doo-bye…”

“Dubai Colony,” 231 whispered.  It had to be.

The light fluttered from the memory of afternoon to the present morning.  Sophia raised her head, biting her lip again.  She looked at him, stricken.  “Dubai is a colony?”

“Yes, it is,” came Coordinator Marx’s voice over the comm.  “We’re arranging telepad passage for you now.”

231 felt a surge of annoyance which he couldn’t explain.  It faded quickly.

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