In-Vitro Facility Anchorage, Alaska July 1, 2036
The light in the room flashed on, waking the six month fetus in
the large tank filled with warm gestational fluid. The unborn boy
moved easily in the wet world of his existence, kicking and flaying
his arms, no differently than a child in the womb. But unlike
his counter part in the natural born world, the effects of added growth
hormones were already beginning to show on this in-vitro child. In
another month the boy would be the size of an 18 month old.
He blinked his large blue eyes at the two men that stopped beside
his tank to take preliminary readings. He could hear the sounds of
their voices through the water and plastic, they reminded him of the noises
produced by the subliminal training that had begun the week before.
"This one looks promising," the taller of the men commented to
his companion. "Make a note of it, Charlie, number 2025, gene pool
13C kappa 9757."
"Yes, Sir," the young man followed the older one down the rows
of gestation tubes. When they were through, he breathed a sigh of
relief, only three to be deleted today, he thought. It
looked like he would be home in time for dinner, after all.
In-Vitro Facility, Anchorage, Alaska July 1, 2042
Charlie moved up and down the rows of tanks he was monitoring.
This was the first batch of artificially gestated humans that he had worked
on from conception. He had joined Aerotech straight out of graduate
school, eight years ago. He was proud of the job he had done.
Of the 200 in-vitros that had started their gestation two years after his
arrival, 100 hundred remained. It looked as if Aerotech was finally
getting the bugs out of the system. A fifty percent survival rate
was much higher than the normal twenty percent.
The baby that had been number 2025, gene pool 13C Kappa 9757,
was now a fully grown man. Unknown to Charlie or any of the other
workers at the Anchorage Facility, they were being watched. Watched
by one of their charges.
The blond haired, blued eyed in-vitro took note of the man as
he moved out of his field of vision. The bright lights had awakened
him and he liked the feeling of his limbs moving gently through the water.
His mind was moving much faster than his arms or legs.
He couldn't remember when he began thinking in words. At
first there had only been the messages that stimulated his brain from the
subliminal teaching device attached to his neck navel. Eventually
those became words. He didn't know when his mind had moved from listening
to the words that the Monitors were sending him to understanding them.
But the words had been his key to his understanding. With them
his world of water and sound had expanded. Now, even if the teaching
devices were turned off, words would float through his consciousness.
Recently a new word had been fighting its way to the front of
his mind: 'why.' Always in the past, the Monitors would send
him more information about a difficult word, but not this time. He
had learned 'gun.' Then they had sent him what it was used for and
how it was used, finally all the different kinds of guns. But they
were silent on 'why.'
He had begun to think that 'why' hadn't come from the Monitors.
But if not from them, then from who? Was this independent thinking?
His arms and legs began to move in quick jerky movements, mirroring his
mind's agitation at the unanswered questions. When his hand bumped
lightly on the wall of his world, he forced his body to relax, while his
There were times when his link to the outer world removed things
from his brain. He hated those times because he ceased to exist.
He would feel thought began to shut down, until there was nothing.
He didn't think he was sleeping, because too often he would awaken from
those blank times and the teaching would be ringing through his brain.
Always the same word over and over again: control!
He floated quietly as he said it to himself: control.
That was one lesson the Monitors had taught him well. He had learned
over time that if he didn't control himself, they would.
In-Vitro Facility Anchorage, Alaska September 18, 2042
Bright lights flashed and sounds exploded in Number 2025, gene
pool 13C Kappa 9757's ears, sounds he'd never heard before. Then
suddenly he was falling, sliding, landing on a cold table, water was rushing
all around him.
"Ahhhhhhhhh," he screamed as he was hit by the sensations of cold
and fear. What was happening to him? Were was the comforting
water, his warmth and protection? "Ahhhhhhhhhh," his lungs filled
as he screamed again, his arms flailing, he began to kick out. No
matter how hard he fought for the control he remembered from the past,
it wouldn't come as sensations he couldn't name and didn't understand overpowered
"Grab him, grab him," Charlie call out. "Hold him down while
we suction him. We've only lost three so far today, and I want to
keep it that way."
The men did as they were instructed, while another man suctioned
the in-vitro's airway. "All clear, it looks like this ones going
to make it. Name?" one of the techs called out to Charlie.
"He's listed as McQueen, Tyrus Cassius," the young genetic engineer
checked his pocket computer.
"Dr. Benton, don't you think that's quite a mouthful for a Tank,"
the technician grinned at Charlie.
"Stow it Gibson, we still have ten more to decant today.
ID him and get him to processing. This batch has already been contracted
to the mines on Omicron Draconis."
In-Vitro Training Facility, Anchorage, Alaska October 12, 2042
Ninety-five in-vitros sat in neat rows listening to the Monitor
lecture. It was to be their last lecture on Earth. Tomorrow,
at 0700, the space transport Blackhawk would be taking them to their new
home in the mines of the asteroid belt trailing Omicron Draconis.
The trip out would be spent finishing the In-Vitro Training that had started
following processing on Decantation Day
"There is only now! This minute, this breath.
What happened in the past is gone, never to be regained. To think
of it only wastes time and energy. What is to come is in the hands
of the Monitors. Do not concern yourselves with it." The voice
droned on repeating the same things over and over again.
The man whose designation was now McQueen, TC, sat at attention
at his table. He refused to look to either side of him or to acknowledge
the two empty seats to his right. His entire focus was on the Monitor
as he spoke. To see those empty chairs would be to admit that yesterday,
beings like himself had sat there. Beings who had disappeared in
the night. As the thought moved through McQueen's mind, he tried
to clamp down on it, but he couldn't. He saw what had happened yesterday
when the man directly to his right had raised his hand and asked the Monitor
that dreadful word, "why?" The word had been repeated by the man
further down. It had taken all of McQueen's strength to keep from
adding his own question, but he had stopped himself. So now, where
three men had sat, there was only one.
'*The Monitor was wrong,' McQueen thought, as the blasphemy of
the idea rocked him. '*There was much to be gained from remembering
what had happened in the past.*'
Asteroid Belt Mines Around Omicron Draconis, July 2044
Of the ninety-five in-vitros that had started work mining the
asteroids that trailed the double binary that was Omicron Draconis, only
forty were still alive. They were worked for sixteen hours with one
break for lunch. When they fell into their bunks at night, they were
too exhausted to do anything except sleep. This was the life that
McQueen had known for the two years he had been in existence. The
peaceful memories of his time in the tank were like a dream that had happened
to someone else.
It was late and he was stumbling back to the barracks that held
the dwindling number of in-vitros, when he stopped to pick up some trash
someone had left behind. His first thought being, '*maybe there was
some extra food.*"
Reaching into the crumpled bag he found empty sandwich wrappers.
Then his fingers touched something strange. Turning his back so that
he was in the shadows, he pulled the object from the bag. It was
an old paperback book. He had never seen the likes before.
His hands trembled as he quickly stuffed it in his coat and left the area.
The book had belonged to one of the Monitors, he was sure of that, but
it had been thrown away with the remains of a snack. McQueen was
sure this was something that he shouldn't have, but he was even more sure
that it was something that he had to have.
After the Monitor did his nightly bed check, McQueen crawled quietly
out of his bunk and sat in the corner by the window, where the light from
the corridor shone into the room. He pulled out the book, Shane by
Jack Schaefer. McQueen read the title a second time then looked at
the picture on the front cover. It was of a man dressed in black,
looking tough and serious. He was reaching for a gun as a storm brew
around him, but the look on his face was deadly calm.
He read a few pages that night, savoring each as he went.
He realized that his mind had been as hungry for what was in the book as
his belly had been for extra food when he had searched through the empty
snack bag. McQueen spent three months reading and rereading Shane.
It was filled with new words: mother, father, kid, family. And new
ideas: right, wrong, weak over coming strong. But there was
something very familiar about the man it told of, this Shane. He
was a man alone, someone who had no one and came from nowhere. He
was doing lesser tasks because he was looked down upon. At first
McQueen had thought Shane was an in-vitro, but the book didn't mention
his kind or Monitors, just people.
Then Shane changed. He was a man of great strength, a man
who fought evil. McQueen could feel the longing in Shane to stay
in the quiet peace of the family that had taken him in, but this Shane
did the impossible, he turned into a Warrior to save them. It was
something that was unheard of in McQueen's world. A man with
a quiet strength that gave his all for the things he believed in and that
Over the next three years, the tattered copy of Shane stayed hidden
in McQueen's possessions. The book was a small window on a world
that he hadn't known existed. It was a world the in-vitro wanted
very much to be a part of, but first he needed to survive the one he lived
in, now. Slowly a change had begun taking place in the man who had
read the book. It was almost a year before McQueen realized that
he was looking at things through the eyes of the man he believed Shane
to be. Whatever perspective that added, didn't
fail him, because he was one of seven in-vitros to walk out of the mines
of Omicron Draconis' asteroid belt, in the Fall of 2047.
Space Carrier Blackhawk, en route to Earth October 2047
McQueen lay in his bunk wondering if he had made the right decision.
After leaving the mines, Aerotech had told the seven in-vitros they were
free, their indentured servitude over. Since they were free men they
were expected to pay their passage back to Earth. They were given
a choice, two more years in the mines to earn the credits for the passage
or join the Marine Corps. There was a war on and they were needed.
At the time it seemed to McQueen that it was providence calling
him. He would be a Warrior, fight for what was right. That
had been before he had joined the fifty other men heading for Earth to
fight. Unlike most of the other men on the ship, McQueen was in-vitro.
For the first time he was learning exactly what that meant. In the
few days he had traveled he was taught more about hate than he had been
in the last five years.
November 2047, Camp Pendelton Marine Base, Boot Camp
In Boot Camp, McQueen discovered three things that changed his
life forever, the Pacific Ocean, a library, and a little old man
who thought of him as an equal.
The first time he saw the Pacific, it took his breath away.
He didn't realize it was so vast. Space was huge, but it was punctuated
by stars and it was silent and still. The endless body of moving
water was alive and spoke to him in a language he understood. Part
of him longed to be covered by the water and feel it against his skin.
The sounds of the waves picked at a deep buried memory. In the memory
he was floating and warm, but that was as much as he could recall.
The Marines in the 110th In-Vitro Platoon were encouraged to read
the books on the carefully scrutinized, 'Approved For In-Vitros Reading
List.' McQueen spent extra time at the computer he was allowed to
use, reading. He was disappointed to discover that Shane wasn't on
that list. He had been forced to leave his one book back in the barracks
in the mines. He was sure it never would have passed the tight security
each man had been given on leaving.
On his first afternoon off, McQueen headed into the small sea
side town that could be accessed by bus. As he walked down Del Mar
Avenue, heading for the beach, he saw an old restored building on his right.
LIBRARY OF THE CITY OF SAN CLEMENTE, the old sign read. He could
feel his blood quicken as the words filled his brain. Was this a
He walked in the front door of the building and found a very old
man sitting at the large desk facing the door.
"Sure you didn't take a wrong turn, young fella?" The man
asked. "Most you Marines head for the bars on Camino Royal, or the
beach," he squiggled his bushy eyebrows and winked at the in-vitro.
"No, Sir," McQueen stood very straight, unable to take his eyes
off the rows and rows of books. "This is the library isn't it?"
"Sure is. Most people now-a-days, just want to use their
computers," the old man shook his head in disgust. "Now me,
I like to feel what I'm reading. There's nothing like the weight
of a book in your hands. The way the binding feels against your skin
and the smooth feel of pages as you turn them."
"Do you have a copy of Shane?"
"Sure do," the old man came from around the desk and led the way
into the large room that was filled with bookshelves. "That was one
of my favorites when I was a kid. I almost forgot about it.
I guess I'm going to have to read it again," as the man walked on
he hadn't noticed that the young Marine had stopped and stood in awe of
"Here's the book," the old man handed McQueen the first hardbound
book he had ever held. "Say, you one of those made-up people?"
The man had taken a good look at the Marine and knew there was something
different about him.
"In-vitro, Sir," McQueen stood at attention, hoping he wasn't
going to be asked to leave.
"Well, I'll be," he shook his head. "I've read about 'em,
but never thought I'd meet one." He could see the uncertainty in
the young person's eyes and smiled, "it doesn't make me no never mind.
The Missus, God rest her soul, and I couldn't have children. I know
it would have pleased her no end to have had one of you to mother."
He could tell his comment had made the Marine uncomfortable, though he
hadn't meant it that way. "Young man, you look around, if there
is anything I can help you with let me know."
"Yes, Sir," he watched the old man make his way slowly back to
the desk by the door. McQueen didn't know what to say to the man,
so he followed a rule that was fast becoming ingrained. '*When in
doubt, say nothing at all.*' The old man was right, there was something
wonderful about the site and feel of all the books.
McQueen left the library two hours later, his head spinning from
the heady experience of being treated like an equal and the scent and feel
of real books. For as long as he lived, he was never able to completely
separate the two.
Two days later McQueen woke up in Sickbay. He had been mugged
and beaten while walking back from the Mess Hall late at night. The
Armed Forces Network had carried the news: in-vitros were refusing
to fight in the Artificial Intelligence war. Every where recently
freed in-vitros were sitting out the war, often in the brig or stockade,
rather than fight in a war that they declared was not their war.
And everywhere indignant natural-borns were retaliating with hate and prejudice.
Laying in bed that first night in Sickbay, the young Marine was
filled with anger, but he knew he had to keep it hidden. He didn't
understand what was going on around him, but vowed to find out.
Watch for DEFINING MOMENTS, THE WAR YEARS. Next in the series
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