Goliath and the Girl

{excerpt from recovered journal}

They must have been smuggling in weapons for months. Weapons and people. I still don’t know how they did it.

Hmm. Maybe they gave one of the security chiefs money. Humans lose their minds when they get enough money.

[pause] I hope that’s not what happened. Even the thought makes me mad. My life is about protecting people. I don’t get paid — it’s what I’m for. It’s my job to die in the place of someone else.

But if you pay a human to do it, they’ll let people get killed if someone else gives them more money?

[extended pause]

So, Dubai wasn’t safe anymore. I knew if I didn’t get her off the colony fast, we’d be trapped in a warzone. I knew we’d have to fight our way through the separatists to get to the pad.

I just didn’t expect…

I didn’t know I’d end up here.

{analysis confirmed. voice match: Goliath 231}

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Goliath and the Girl

Tactics

The sound of explosions reached them just as the separatist stirred.

231 leveled the gun at the man’s forehead. “What are you doing here?” He kicked the man in the ribs. “What’s your objective?”

The man wheezed and cursed, rolling onto his side.

Sophia gasped. “They’re-”

“Hey!” came a sharp voice from the mouth of the alley.

231 looked up to see a local law enforcer marching on him, pistol drawn. Not good.

The rifle jerked in his hands. 231 tensed and looked back at the separatist, who had grabbed the barrel of the gun and shoved it toward the policeman. With his other hand, he reached into his oversized jacket.

231 flexed his arms, swung the gun back, and shot the separatist in the chest.

The policeman and Sophia shouted at once. 231 could only make out what she said.

“No!”

The Goliath barely had time to look up at the law enforcer and see him squeeze the trigger.

The shot cracked sharply in the narrow alley, louder to 231’s ears than the separatist’s rifle. It was a well-aimed shot. 231 was staring straight down the barrel of the handgun. There was a flash of blue before his eyes, and a tiny, distant smack. For an instant, 231 assumed he was dead, and that his body had fallen limp behind him.

But then he registered Sophia’s heavy breathing. The look of shock on the policeman’s face. Then, he saw the hole in the pavement where the smack had come from.

“Stop! That man was chasing us! He had a gun! He saved me!” Sophia shouted, clutching 231’s arm.

Another detonation sounded in the distance. The law enforcer risked a glance over his shoulder, his gun still trained on the Goliath. He looked back to them, his face harried. “Milady,” he said, “is this Goliath protecting you?”

“Yes!”

The flash of color. 231 remembered where he had seen it before. On New Corinth, he and his squad were clearing out a separatist stronghold, and they got hung up on a psychic. The woman held them off with a telekinetic wall, which flashed colors when their bullets struck it.

Sophia had just saved his life.

The clone soldier stared at the little girl as she recounted their arrival on Dubai and their wanderings. The little dark-haired girl who treated him like a human, had now survived two skirmishes with him, and saved him during one.

He realized it was hard to think of her as his charge, and not his squadmate.

“…and he picked up his gun, and then you came in, and I heard him think they were trying to blow up the telepad…”

231 and the law enforcer shot each other a look. “You’re sure?” the policeman said.

Dubai had only one public telepad. Destroying it would cut off contact with the rest of the colonies. If they had only gotten a small squad through Dubai security, the move made no sense.

The only reason to cut off the colony…

“Milord,” 231 said, “this is an invasion.”

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Goliath and the Girl

Target

231 pretended to look down at Sophia, and sneaked a glance behind them. The man was gaining on them.

“Sophia.”

She glanced up at him, her brow wrinkling. “Yeah?”

“Please walk two steps ahead of me on my left side.” Ahead, the foot traffic was even thinner than where they were. They were on the left side of a main thoroughfare that led away from the telepad deeper into the city. 231 saw an alley ahead on the left, a half-block away. He had to decide.

Behind them, too close, was the man with the concealed gun.

“You’re nervous. Why are you nervous?’ Sophia whispered. She hustled forward, falling into position.

Good soldier, thought 231 with a little smile. He looked down at her too see her eyes widen, her mouth turning down.

Apparently, she didn’t taken the thought as a compliment. Right. She doesn’t want to be a soldier.

Clearly, the man behind them wanted to be a soldier, but wasn’t. 231 had spotted him when he reached into his jacket – too thick for the warm Dubai weather – to click off the safety of his weapon. After his first assignment on McNamara Base, that movement never failed to draw his attention.

“It’s all right.” They were almost to the alley. “When-” He stopped. “Listen to me, please.”

She kept her eyes dead ahead. He bumped into her when he turned toward the alley.

As soon as we are out of sight of the main street, find cover. Hide behind something. If you understand, cough.

Sophia lifted her arm and coughed into her sleeve. 231 heard her breath stutter. She was terrified.

They stepped into the alley. No garbage bins. No side alleys. Just a straight, dark, narrow path to the next main street. A cat tensed as it caught sight of them, then bolted, leaping over a crumpled sheet of industrial plastic.

Sophia took a step forward, then balked. Her head darted left and right, searching frantically for a hiding place. Suddenly, she gasped and looked back at 231. “There’s someone behind us!” she hissed.

“I know,” 231 growled. “Run!”

Sophia sobbed and ran down the alley, her footfalls echoing against the flat walls.

231 knew he only had a few seconds. Nowhere to wait in ambush. His eyes darted about the shadowy alley. Nothing but a-

Yes.

231 bolted to the sheet of thick plastic and rolled to the ground. He tucked his knees to his chest and, facing the permacrete wall, tugged the plastic over him like a blanket.

The pursuer’s running footsteps entered the alley, then slowed as they approached the Goliath.

Just another human street-dweller. Keep chasing the girl. Pay no attention.

“Hey!” the man shouted at him, stepping closer. “You see a big motherf-”

231 whipped back his arm, tossing the plastic sheet into the man’s face. The man flailed and stumbled back. Two blasts echoed in the narrow space as his gun fired wildly, bullets punching twin holes in the sheet and smacking into the solid wall behind 231.

The Goliath was already rolling to his feet. He spread his thumb and fingers into a C and struck the gunman’s throat. In the instant of contact, 231 felt the familiar shape under of an implanted communicator under the man’s jaw. The man gave a heaving gasp and doubled over as 231 stood and grabbed him by the base of the skull, ramming him headfirst into the wall. The gunman staggered, went slack, and toppled backward to the pavement. His gun clattered against the ground.

231 tossed the plastic aside. The man was unconscious. A compact assault rifle lay next to him, which 231 instantly recognized as a Frontline A-12. A black market channel ran them through Corinth, making them the weapon of choice for the separatists.

“231?”

The Goliath picked up the weapon. Dubai Colony’s security had never allowed a separatist incursion.

“231?”

He looked up at Sophia. She was staring questioningly at the knocked-out separatist, then back up at him. “He wasn’t after me.”

It was only then that the gunman’s words struck him. “He wasn’t. He was after me.”

The Goliath and the girl stared at each other, confused.

Then, in the distance, they heard the explosions.

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One-Shots

The First Noel, 2010

The Hanukkah travel rush was over, and Bethlehem was quiet again. Hence, the corner where Ben Simon worked the graveyard shift hadn’t seen a car pass in ten minutes. He looked up from his English textbook and peered across the street, to the small booth where his friend Isaiah worked. They had both gotten late-night jobs at gas stations at about the same time, and frequently used faux company loyalty as an excuse to pick on each other. Diagonally across the intersection from Ben was a third gas station manned by Mordecai Steinberg. While Ben and Isaiah had the occasional squeegee fight in the middle of the empty road, Mo usually stuck to his booth dutifully, reading the Torah.

Tonight was too cold for squeegee fighting, and the batteries had just run out in Ben’s Game Boy. His parents were mad at him for working on the Sabbath, and he had homework due on Monday.

Ben was all but dozing off when someone knocked on his Plexiglas window. He started and sat up on his shop stool.

“Sorry. What do you need?” Ben rubbed one eye with his palm as he looked up.

Outside the window stood a young woman wearing a military dress uniform. She was all straight lines – vertical spine, squared shoulders, and perfect uniform creases. And yet her face was gentle, hinting at a smile. Ben had no doubt she could take him apart in a hand-to-hand fight, and no one would make fun of him for getting beaten up by a girl afterwards.

Her eyes grabbed his, very pale and very clear, and she smiled. “What are you doing here?”

All at once, the world burst open. Light poured through the dingy windows of the gas station, and left no shadow. Ben Simon’s ears popped, his eyes widened, and he threw up his hands in terror. The woman outside the window threw light like a pure white sun, her smile only growing wider.

“Don’t be afraid!” she whispered to Ben. “I bring good news. The best news the world has ever heard. An hour ago, right here in Bethlehem, a Savior was born. The Messiah, Ben. Right here.”

At her words, the fear began to drain away. Ben lowered his hands and looked at her. Her eyes were bright and full of joy, and they stole his breath away.

The Messiah. Here.

He found his breath, struggled to pull it in. “Wh-“

“Not five blocks away. Down the street,” she said, lifting her arm to point, “you’ll find a newborn, wrapped in cloth. He’s in the laundry room of the hotel, lying in the sink.”

Ben barely had time to picture the King of Kings in his makeshift cradle before the angel looked over her shoulder, laughing. A battalion of soldiers in the same uniform, burning brighter than the day, swept in on wings of gold and silver, filling the intersection and the surrounding streets. Their voices shook the walls of Ben’s booth as they shouted, “Hallelujah in the highest! Peace on Earth to the favored of God!” There voices were as joyous laughter, filled with love and zeal.

The angel looked back to Ben, her wings unfolding like the sunrise. “Go, go!” she shouted giddily, and he lifted herself from the ground. Behind her followed the rest of the brilliant soldiers, shouting their chorus again and again. Moments later, the night was quiet again, and Ben could hear only his own riotous pulse. He stumbled out of his booth, staring at the sky, until he finally looked down to see Isaiah and Mordecai standing next to him.

“You… you heard that. You saw it,” Ben stammered.

“I know which hotel she meant,” Isaiah started, stealing glances at the stars. “We should… I mean, we’ve gotta- Mo! Wait!”

Mordecai Steinberg had turned and run headlong back toward his gas station, pumping his arms like an Olympian. He spun about breathlessly and shouted back:

“I’m getting my car! Don’t move!”

* * *

“Fernando! Is it refreshing?”

“Crap, I’ve got no bars. We hit a dead pocket… no! Wait, there it goes. What does it say?”

“Turn around! Shaun, turn around!”

The van halted sharply, and the young man and woman in the back braced themselves as best they could. Bina Zarafshar clutched at the notebook computer on her lap as the monitor swung forward and down. The cord running from the computer to their team’s cell phone snapped taught, and Bina caught her breath.

“Ai!”

Fernando noticed at the last second and pulled down his hand, slackening the cord. He chuckled nervously and sat down. “That was bad. Almost tugged it right off your lap.”

“It’s okay. It’s fine. Wait. Did we-“

“Yes, yes, we got dropped. But we’ve got good reception here. Good spot to reconnect.”

Shaun parked the van and climbed into the back.

“How close are we?”

Bina looked to the chart. The latest data from the feed had been factored in, and the numbers were huge. Monumental.

“Oh, we’re close.” She couldn’t help but laugh. They were almost on top of it. “Try turning right back at that last intersection.”

Fernando nodded and grinned eagerly. “This is too good. Too good. You should redial now.”

“Oh! Right.” Bina double-clicked the link to her ISP, and the cell phone began dialing. None of them considered the absurd charges they were racking up, connecting to the Internet through an international call. The signal shot through the atmosphere, and a few moments later, the connection was up again.

“Good,” said Shaun. “You let me know if we get dropped again, okay?” His eyes grinned every bit as much as his mouth. He hopped back into the driver’s seat.

“Of course. Just brake easier!” Bina looked back to her screen. She logged back into the University network, and the feed began again. “All right, we’re receiving data… yes, definitely turn right back at that intersection. The stream was almost off the chart right there.”

“Let me see,” Fernando said, leaning in to see the screen. Bina turned it toward him, and he laughed aloud. The graph, which read “Divine Particle Density,” showed a spike in an already remarkably high, steady level at about the time they had passed the intersection.

“When we show this to the Nobel committee,” Fernando smirked, “do you think they’ll mind the name ‘divine particle?’”

“It’s as good a name as any for what they are,” Shaun shouted from the front, putting the van back in gear. He swung the vehicle around as fast as he dared and headed back along the road. “Tell me the convergence hasn’t moved.”

Bina shouted back, “No, it hasn’t moved for hours! And it has to be in this town… where are we?”

“Bethlehem!”

“No, what country?”

They all laughed. For all they sleep they had gotten in the past week of tracking and traveling, they should have been exhausted. But sleep was far from their minds.

* * *

No one was doing laundry this late, thankfully. There was a slight draft from under the door, but other than that, the room was warm enough. Joseph leaned on the wall by the sink, sleeves rolled up, looking down at his son. He hadn’t stopped grinning for hours. He couldn’t help but think that there was a better place to put him, but he had dried out the basin well enough. And besides, the child had been sleeping peacefully since the doctor had left.

Joseph sighed happily and threw a glance at Mary, who stirred on her cot. A few thin, dark curls still stuck to her wet forehead, and her face was still ever so slightly flushed. Joseph knelt by her side, by his wife’s side, and let himself just stare at her face. Her mouth was barely open, her breath steady and calm. A nice change of pace from… had it only been an hour ago? He shook his head in awe and smoothed Mary’s hair back from her face.

“My God,” he breathed, “you’re amazing.”

Her breath drew in sharply, and her eyes flickered open.

“Oh! Did I wake you up? I’m sorry…”

“No, no, it’s okay,” she said sleepily, squinting her eyes and stretching. “Is the baby still…”

Joseph nodded. “Yeah. Still asleep in the… sink.” He chuckled despite himself.

Mary smirked, shaking her head from her prone position. “The sink. Oi.” She slipped her hand into her husband’s, catching his eye. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Joseph squeezed her hand and held her gaze. He merely nodded, and leaned in to kiss her.

It was then that the doorknob turned. The couple looked up sharply as a young man poked his head into the room.

“Hello?” he said.

“Hello,” Mary replied. There was suddenly no sleep in her voice, and she sat up on her cot.

The young man was jostled forward by someone behind him. He stepped through the door, and two other teenagers followed, all scanning the room expectantly. They all wore blue uniforms with the logos of three different gas stations on their breast pockets. Their eyes settled on the sink in the corner at the same time. The one in the back gasped. “Is that… is the baby…?”

Joseph threw his wife a confused look, and found her doing the same. “How do you…”

“This way! It’s got to be right here!” came a woman’s voice from outside, speaking English.

A moment later, three Americans burst into the laundry room, carrying a laptop hooked up to a cellular phone. They all wore wrinkled, lived-in shirts and jeans, and were watching the screen of the laptop with awe in their eyes. The only light-skinned one of the three, who had nothing in his hands, looked urgently to all those assembled in the small room.

“Please, tell me one of you speaks English.”

The three gas station attendants, Mary, and Joseph, all began speaking at the same time, in English.

“Oh, thank God. Look, there’s a completely unique quantum event happening in this room, right here! We’ve been tracking it from America for the last nine months, and… what is it?”

Bina had set down the laptop and walked over to the sink, almost in step with Ben. Joseph took a step toward them, but Mary put a hand on his arm. The Jew and the gentile peered over the edge of the basin.

And there, wrapped in three of his father’s old t-shirts, was the child, his breath whistling softly through his nose. If peace were a child, it could be none other than this. Ben’s breath caught in his throat, and Bina’s eyes lit up.

“It’s him.”

“It’s a child,” Bina gasped.

Joseph breathed deeply, still uncertain. “How did you know we…?”

And all at once, the rest of the new arrivals realized that they had found what they were seeking. Suddenly they were all laughing in delight. Ben knelt by the sink, eyes locked on the Anointed One. Shaun grabbed Fernando by the shoulders, tears in his eyes. “A child! Of course it’s a child!” He turned to Mary and Joseph to explain just as Mo Steinberg did the same, and they launched into their stories as one.

“Wait, wait, wait!” It was Ben, who only now looked back up from the sink-turned-cradle. He held up a hand for silence, and turned reverently to Mary and Joseph. “What is his name?”

Mary met his gaze, slowly beginning to smile again. “His name is Joshua.”

They all took in the name in silence. Fernando grinned and nodded in approval. “Joshua. Jésus in Spanish. It means…” His voice trailed off.

Mary nodded with him. “The Lord saves.”

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Goliath and the Girl

{excerpt from recovered transmission}

Male 1: All clear to the station.

Suspect 5: Stand by.  Might have something.

Male 1: What is it?

Suspect 5: Oh, [expletive].  [repeated expletives]

Male 1: Report!  What is it?

Suspect 5: It’s a [expletive] Goliath.  Plainclothes.  Looks like-

Male 1: Are you [expletive] me?

Suspect 5: It’s a bodyguard.  It’s sticking to a little girl.  It hasn’t seen us.

Male 1: Okay.  Then it might not be here for us.

Suspect 5: It’s not here for us.  Can’t be.

Male 1: Doesn’t matter.  The Goliath is your new primary target.

Suspect 5: What?  [expletive] you!  You’re sending me-

Male 1: That thing will [expletive] us unless we take it out.  So you [expletive] it first.  Be quick.  Be quiet.  It sees you, you’re dead.

Suspect 5: [extended pause, heavy breathing]  Okay.  All right.  It won’t see me.

Male 1: All right.  Proceed.  We’re close.

Suspect 5: [deep breath]  Right.

{recording extracted from communicator of deceased terrorism suspect 5 from Dubai Station incident}

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Goliath and the Girl

The Question

“So, why don’t you think you’re human?”

“I’m not human.”

“But Goliaths are human.”

“There are significant genetic differences between Goliaths and humans.”

“Don’t they say that on the commercials?”

“Yes.”

“Am I making you angry?”

“…I’m not sure why, but it’s not your fault.”

“We don’t have to talk about it.”

“Did someone tell you Goliaths are human?”

“Sister Parveen. She said Jesus died for Goliaths too.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, Jesus died to take everyone’s sins away. And someone asked if that meant clones too, and Sister Parveen said yes.”

“Is ‘Jesus’ Jesus Christ?”

“Yup! So you know about Jesus?”

“I’ve heard people say the name. She said Goliaths are people?”

“Yup, and she said everyone knows it, but people just don’t want to admit it.”

“Does that mean… you think I’m human?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

“…”

“231, don’t be sad. Why are you sad?”

“Every Goliath wants to be human. I just… never thought anyone thought we were.”

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Goliath and the Girl

Dinner

They had arrived in the middle of the Dubai night, but they saw three times as many people in the streets as they had on New Barcelona.  Sophia remarked that it was way better lit than her old neighborhood.  Indeed, Dubai Colony’s capitol may have been the most opulent place 231 had been on a mission.

Sophia stopped suddenly and gasped.  “No way!”  She grabbed the Goliath’s thumb in one hand and tugged him toward a cart parked at the intersection of two main roads.  A dark-skinned man in a sharply pressed suit was walking away from the cart, holding a thin plastic bowl of steaming noodles.

231 could smell a salty, meaty smell.  He realized that he was hungry too.  And it was only then that he realized that he had forgotten to take rations.

Sophia was at the cart, beaming up at the thin, aproned man holding the ladle.  “Two, please.”  She turned to 231, almost giddy.  “I can’t believe they have soba here!  Have you ever had it?”

The scent from the cart was very appealing.  “No,” he said, looking into the steaming trays.  Thin brown noodles in thin brown sauce.  231 spotted a few pieces of unidentifiable meat.

The vendor said something in Arabic and handed Sophia two bowls and two pairs of chopsticks.  She nodded at 231, who took them from the vendor as Sophia flipped open her palmtop to pay.

“This is so awesome,” she said, smiling at the soba vendor and walking away from the cart.  “Gimme mine!”

231 handed over the noodles, then stared at his own.  “Thank you.”  The last time he had human food was the cake at the birthday party so many years ago.

Sophia was staring at him rather than eating.  “Try it!”

231 looked at the chopsticks in her hand, decided against it, and lifted the bowl to his mouth instead.

The brown sauce was as salty as it smelled.  The noodles were firm and chewy.  The meat was some sort of sausage, tasting more of the sauce than anything else.

It was, by far, the most delicious thing he had ever tasted.

231 chewed and swallowed, his eyes lighting up.  He took another mouthful before smiling widely at Sophia, nodding his approval.

Sophia tilted her head and smirked.  “Toldja.”  She lifted a wad of noodles to her mouth with the chopsticks.

“Mmm!  This is better than cake!”

Sophia chewed, and stopped.  She chewed again reluctantly, and swallowed with a grimace.  “This is horrible.  Don’t eat it.  Here.”  And she reached for his bowl.

At least he had gotten one bite.  231 resignedly held the bowl out to her.

She once again looked at him as though he were crazy.  “You can eat it if you want.  It’s just really bad.”

231 jerked the bowl back, then had a thought.  “Do you know what Goliaths usually eat?”

Sophia shook her head.  “You want mine?”  She offered her bowl.

He immediately took it and emptied it into his.  This really was a good assignment.  “I saw a human eat a thing called a bar of candy once-”

“A candy bar.”

“Yes.  Thank you.  We eat bars, but they’re made of protein and vitamins, not chocolate.  But they’re the same color.”

Sophia’s eyes flicked from him to the bowls of brown noodles.  “Um… where does the protein come from?”

231 had never thought to ask.  He shrugged and downed another mouthful of soba.

The girl sighed and looked around the square.  “Well, I still don’t know where we’re going.  Let’s just keep walking, okay?”

The Goliath nodded, discarding the empty bowls into a waste bin.  “Lead on, Milady.”

Sophia smiled softly at him.  “You’re all happy.”

231 paused, and realized that he was.

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