Actions

Work Header

Dreams, Tranquility, Solitude

Work Text:

Attn: Lunar Harvester Engineers
We're very excited to offer you an opportunity for advancement!

Lunar Industries is looking for candidates for the three-year Lunar Isolation Project. Candidates who complete the isolation experiment without incident will be eligible for the first Lunar Base Engineer position. (Pay grade A7, 100% hazard pay, 25% completion bonus.)

Apply to: J A Hamilton, Isolation Project Team Leader.

"So, how does it work, exactly?"

"We're combining two important goals," Hamilton says. "We need a psychiatric and genetic profiling tool that will allow us to sort through candidates for the lunar bases -- we can't have the lunar base engineers' work suffering as a result of the isolation. And then we thought, well, if we're doing the experiment already, why don't we do it with qualified engineers, and pick the first one to go up to the moon from observation?"

Sam eagerly scoots forward in his chair, leans against the table. "I could go to the moon."

Hamilton laughs. He's got a management laugh, that deep feigned chortle. Sam resents him in that moment: this is the guy who decides what the engineers do. This guy.

"Maybe so," Hamilton says. "There'll be a lot of candidates, but it could be you! You never know, Sam. You just never know."

Patronizing fuck.

***

"We're putting you in a safe house," Agent Sinclair tells him. "It'll probably just be until the end of the trial."

Sam's used to Agent Sinclair telling him what to do, used to the bars -- "it's not a prison, Sam, it's to keep other people out, not to keep you in" -- and the institutional light and the boredom. He's been in protective custody for more than two years, now, since the moment he landed in a helium three module in the middle of the Pacific.

It can't possibly be any worse than the last place. "Okay," he says. "Do I need to take anything?"

"No, it's fully furnished."

He pauses, tries again. "Can I take anything?"

"Just your bag of essentials. We're going to have to move quickly to meet up with the secure flight at the airport."

"Okay," Sam says. "Who are we running from this time?"

"Don't worry about it, Sam. We'll keep taking care of you."

***

... remember, thousands have applied! Doctor Barry will be sending regular bulletins with tests and guidelines. Please treat this exactly as you would a three-year contract at the lunar base.

Sam walks around the base mockup for the first time, runs his hands over the white walls and the viewscreens, pulls out all the drawers, checks the contents of the cupboards. It's empty and perfectly clean; he suppresses an impulse to draw on the walls. It probably wouldn't look good on review.

"Would you like me to get you anything, Sam?" someone says behind him.

He trips over his own feet turning around: there's a non-humanoid robot hanging from the ceiling. With a fucking smiley face on the screen. It looks worried; the mouth is wobbly. "Fuck! Who -- what are you?"

"My designation is GERTY. I am here to take care of you, Sam."

Sam's heart's still pounding from the shock. Christ, they could've warned him that he'd be spending the next three years with a robot -- with a roommate, like he's nineteen again.

"Not complete isolation, huh?"

"Of course not, Sam. That would be dangerous."

***

Sinclair walks him through the apartment, points out the thick concrete and the stainless steel mesh on all the vents. "There's nothing to worry about here, Sam. This is one of our highest security houses. We're underground, and there's only the one door, so we'll finally be able to leave you alone. Four agents will be posted outside the door in rotation. We'll screen food and entertainment and bring everything in once a week."

He nods.

She smiles, pats his shoulder on her way out. "It's completely secure. Three other agents and I are the only people who can open the door from the outside."

"Can I open the door from the inside?" he asks, but the door has already sealed behind her, the edges vanishing into the wall. He's left with nothing but the familiar hum of recirculating air.

Of course. "But it's not a prison, Sam," he says, and runs his hand over the wall: he can't even feel the edge.

He explores the safe house alone, walks down the hall between the concrete walls, his bare feet rasping against the carpeted floor. This space is more like an apartment than anywhere he's been before. He has a real kitchen; he could cook, if there were anything here to cook. He could watch movies. He could do anything.

It's almost completely silent; he can't even hear his breathing over the ventilation system.

It's nothing at all like the lunar base.

***

Sam follows all of Doc Barry and GERTY's instructions; he figures they're testing everyone on that, too.

So he maintains a daily routine. ("Consistency is very important.")

He resurrects old hobbies; he hasn't done any wood-carving since he was ten, but it seems to make Hamilton happy. ("Doctor Barry tells me that leisure activities are important to your mental health.")

He records vid messages to send to Tess, and listens to her return messages; she's the only person he's got, even if they're in the middle of the most effective trial separation ever. ("It's important to maintain human ties, Sam," GERTY tells him, when he lets a few days go by without sending a message or listening to Tess's reply.)

Once or twice a week an alarm goes off: there's something hypothetically wrong with a hypothetical harvester or a hypothetical rover or the hypothetical lunar base. He scrambles into his jumpsuit, calls for GERTY, and sweats through the repairs.

Hamilton claims that it's all just to "perfectly mimic the experience of the lunar base," but Sam knows better: it's a test of his ability to work under pressure. So he smiles, and tries to look calm, and tries not to swear or yell or tell them how fucking ridiculous their scenarios are -- they couldn't take the time to run them by any of the engineers? -- and repairs imaginary harvesters.

He's going to ace this. He's going to go to the moon.

***

There's never anyone else in the apartment.

A stern-faced young agent brings supplies and takes away the trash every Friday. After the first few weeks of silence, Sam starts to wait for him by the door.

"Hi!"

"Hello, Sam," he says. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Could I get a jump rope?" he says, to have something to say.

"Sure, no problem," the kid says, and grins.

He's back again a week later with a jump rope and the usual box of meals. "Here you go, Sam."

"Thanks," Sam says. He takes the bag from the agent. Their hands don't touch.

"I'm Agent David Li," the kid says. "I'll be back next week if you need anything. Well. You know that."

The door disappears behind him.

Sam spends the next week making a list on the back of an frozen food package: a treadmill. Ingredients for his grandma's macaroni and cheese. Wood and wood-carving tools. More books. A philodendron. GERTY.

He hands it to David on Friday. "Any chance I could get any of this?" He tries to smile.

David glances down. "Some of it for sure; I've got a standard budget for entertainment. The rest, well, I'll pass it up the line. Agent Sinclair will probably contact you about it later today."

Sam paces up and down the long hallway waiting for the call; the problem's got to be GERTY.

The screen beeps, finally, and shifts to an image of Agent Sinclair sitting at her desk. "Listen, Sam, I'll cut to the chase here. We can get you most of the things on your list -- we just can't get you the GERTY unit. It's not a free robot; it's the property of Lunar Industries."

"They seem to be getting rid everything else; why not GERTY? I could probably even afford him at their current prices."

"Well, it's likely to be evidence in the trial. We can't let anyone buy anything that could contain Lunar Industries records. And the GERTY's still in the lunar base; there no way to disconnect it and bring it down here."

"If he's got crucial information, shouldn't he be in protective custody too?" Sam's leaning forward, trying to broadcast persuasiveness, confidence, through the tiny viewscreen.

It doesn't work. "That's nonsense, Sam. We can't put a robot in protective custody."

"Oh, come on! His only job was taking care of me. There's nothing for him to do up there!"

"Not necessarily. We believe that the clone you awakened is still alive and maintaining the lunar base."

"Fuck, he's still working there? I thought you said you'd get him out!"

"We don't have jurisdiction on the moon, Sam. We can't get anything or anyone out of there until the trials conclude."

"They'd better conclude really fucking fast, then," Sam says.

"I'm sorry we can't get you a GERTY unit, Sam. Would you like a dog? We could get you a dog. A golden retriever, maybe."

"Fuck you," Sam says, runs his hand over his face. "Just -- fuck you. God."

He does the math, later, on a patch of the wall: it's been three years, two months, and five days since he woke up a new Sam Bell. He's already dead.

***

Thank you for the dedication and energy you've put into this project! As you know, several candidates have participated in the isolation project, and we have determined that another candidate is more qualified for the lunar base engineer position. We will keep your name on file for future opportunities.

"Fuck." Sam stares at the display. "Fuck." He punches the screen, runs his hand over his face.

GERTY whirs up behind him. "Please don't. You'll hurt yourself, Sam."

"Shut up," Sam says, and types in the code for home base. He waits through six cycles of hold music, drumming his fingers against the dashboard over and over.

Hamilton picks up, finally, and Sam stills his hands, steels his face, and leans forward.

"I'm sorry that you didn't make the final cut, but Sam, there's nothing I can do. And, listen, you've been getting your yearly salary, and the project completion bonus. I know you wanted to go to the moon, but it's just -- ha! -- not in the stars. Take your vacation time, go see your wife and your kid, check out Tahiti, and be back at work in the factory in September. That's all we can do."

"That's not -- I don't care about the money. I want to know why I didn't make it."

Hamilton sighs, looks away. "To put it bluntly, Sam, you don't have what it takes. You're too angry, too unpredictable."

"I'm too angry? I'm here all by myself in a fucking box! This is what you get when you stick a guy in a box."

"It's not what we got from all the candidates. Listen, Sam, I know it's difficult news."

"Well, yeah, it's difficult news! It's the end of the road, here."

"I can offer you something that might help, Sam. Lunar Industries has an interest in creating a test for genetic sequences and memory patterns best suited to isolation. I know it's not the same as a trip to the moon, but we'll compensate you for your participation in the project."

Sam squints at the screen, at Hamilton in his perfect suit and tie, at his fucking knowing smile. "What's the catch?"

"Federal law grants us the right to patent any genetic sequences or memory imprints that the project finds beneficial. But, Sam, that's almost certainly not going to affect you -- our boys down in the labs tell me that we're looking at a number of isolation project subjects who all had different responses to the experience."

Sam can't meet Hamilton's eyes anymore; he looks at his hands, completely still on the arms of the chair. "Okay. Okay. We can do that."

***

Sam asks David for a notebook the next time he makes a delivery.

"Sure, no problem," David says, "but can't you write on the computer?"

"I'm pretty sure you're watching my computer usage," he doesn't say.

"Oh, I've always liked the feeling of writing on paper," he lies. "It's so tactile."

"I'll pick something up," David says, and makes a note on his smartphone.

The next week, David pulls a little box out of the delivery box. "I wasn't quite sure what you'd want," he says. "I got a couple -- nice paper and stuff. And I figured, if you wanted tactile, that I should get you some better pens, too."

"Thanks," Sam says, touched. He sets the box down on the living room table, and waits to investigate until he's finished putting the food away.

One of the notebooks is cream-colored, soft under his fingers; it reminds him of the Fairfield village. He opens it and smoothes down the first page, picks a deep green pen out of the bag. Dear GERTY, I know you don't remember me; I'm the fifth Sam Bell. The one who escaped to Earth. I hope you're doing okay up there and that the new Sam is taking care of you and the base. Tell him I said no kick me signs allowed; if he argues, tell him I'm older and wiser than he is....

He tears the page out and runs it through the food processor when he's done.

***

Sam works designing upgrades to the harvesters for fifteen years. Fifteen years, and then Lunar Industries is turning his life upside-down again: clones, and a board of directors investigation, and the harvester factory has been shut down "for the duration." He's on mandatory leave, stuck at the house all day.

He watches the reports on the board of directors meetings all the time. He watches his face on the news, his face in the witness stand, his face frowning when he turns and looks at the reporters. He watches the tick in his cheek, and the way he crosses his arms when he's angry. He watches his hands clenching against the arms of the chair.

The anchors read internal memos as they're uncovered, and Sam makes his coffee to radiation poisoning and significant energy costs of solar particle radiation shielding, carves the Fairfield church to six prime candidates were chosen for the isolation experiment and the only subject to complete the test, kisses Eve goodnight to memory implant modification procedures include and original Sam Bell ordered to testify in the federal trial against Lunar Industries.

He's stirring the pasta when he looks up and sees the first subpoenaed footage from the lunar base construction: an endless stretch of lighted coffins, a million repetitions of his face. After they find it, the cable networks replay it every half hour, commenting on the numbers, on the construction, on ingenious inclusion of several personal effects with each clone. He keeps seeing his face.

He stops watching the news.

***

Sam watches the federal trial coverage while he exercises; it's the only live channel he gets, down here, and at least it makes enough noise to fill the room, to vanquish the dead space between the concrete walls.

The anchors smile at the camera and joke about the base; they pretend to laugh, in exactly the way Hamilton always pretended to laugh. Sam jumps rope to the clone testified and after it spoke to the CAA board, carves the Fairfield town hall to Sam Bell's fifth clone and its testimony is expected later this year, jogs on his treadmill to the clone is currently in protective custody.

He's eating an MRE when he sees the construction footage for the first time, sees the corridor below the death pod, with all the drawers lit up. He freezes the footage, counts down five drawers on the wall: that's his drawer. His body's drawer. When he lets it play again, the anchorman draws a circle over the film like it's a complicated sports play, and smiles brightly at the camera. "Prosecutors report that this was the clone who made it back to Earth."

Sam keeps watching the news; it's that or I Love Lucy.

***

Sam's walking out of the courtroom through the secure holding area, one pace behind the bailiff, when he sees his clone in person for the first time. He's skinnier, edgier: what Sam looked like fifteen, twenty years ago. The clone strides toward him, brisk, energetic, and pauses just out of arm's reach.

"Sam?" the clone says.

"Yeah?" he says, and stares over the clone's shoulder, up at the corner of the hall.

"I want to shake your hand."

Sam hesitates, frowns. He's been watching the clone for a year, now, and he thinks he's used to the idea, but it's different when the clone's standing right there in front of him.

"Please. Will you shake my hand?" Sam finally meets his eyes, and sees the desperation in the corner of his mouth, in the crease above his eyebrow.

He takes the clone's hand in his, shakes it firmly. He expects to feel a shock, a subliminal sense of recognition, of disgust. He doesn't feel anything; it's just a handshake.

He looks up again and sees a scar on the clone's cheek. It's tiny, really, just a fine line. Sam reaches out and touches it before he thinks better of it. The clone stills, blinks.

"You have a scar," Sam says. "I don't have a scar. Where'd you get it?"

"Riding down to earth like a delivery of helium three," the clone says. He brushes his fingers against the back of Sam's hand, and Sam's nerves light up, jangle under the skin. "You have a scar here."

"Yes," says Sam. "I made tea for Tess in the wrong glass pot. It exploded."

"Oh," the clone says. He doesn't move his hand, stands there with his fingers pressed against Sam's knuckles. "How's our -- how's Eve?"

"She's fine. I sent her to boarding school when, well. You know. We talk sometimes."

"I'm glad." The clone smiles, and Sam recognizes that smile, too, from when he would smile at Tess no matter how shitty he felt, so he looks up and, yeah, the clone's eyes haven't changed at all.

"Sam?" One of the guards approaches from the end of the hall. "Um, clone Sam. We have to go. They've just cleared the exit for us."

The clone steps back; their hands drop. "It was nice to meet you," he says.

"Likewise," Sam says, and means it. His guards turn him around, cluster around him, and walk him out a different door.

***

Sam watches him go out the other door: surrounded by his own set of agents, walking in a bubble of space in the middle of a crowd.

His original was different than he expected, than he remembered. He's older than Sam pictured him. He should have known better.

That's what he'll look like in fifteen years: the same gray hair at the temples, the same wrinkles around his eyes. He'll lose the welding calluses on his fingers; maybe he already has.

"That's what I'll look like in fifteen years," he tells Sinclair.

"Not if you never smile, you won't."

She hustles him out the door, into a waiting car.

"That was your last day of testimony," she says.

"Okay," he says. "What happens to me now?" He pauses, struck by a problem. "Hell, what happens to him?"

***

... were dismissed today as the cloning and termination of clones occurred outside of federal jurisdiction. Jurists concluded that the crime allegedly committed on United States soil, the theft of Sam Bell's memory imprint and genetic code, was legally permissible and legitimately patented.

In a separate trial, charges against Lunar Industries itself, including obstruction of justice, the falsification of records, deletion of financial documents, and the unlawful reproduction of Theresa Bell's messages, will likely result in fines and penalties and the termination of government contracts.

Contacted about the verdict, Lunar Industries representative John Hamilton made the following statement:

We expected these results; the fundamentals of the case have always been clear. Lunar Industries and its CEOs and staff broke no laws in our pursuit of cheap, clean energy, and we look forward to the same verdict from the international court. We of course regret any pain that Sam Bell may have felt as the result of his misinterpretation of our actions.

We respect the overwhelming public sentiment, however, and will refrain from the use of clone staff at any future lunar bases. We refuse to pass the cost of complete solar particle shielding on to the people of the world, and we have modified several GERTY units to operate outside of lunar bases; they will perform future maintenance with assistance from engineers temporarily flown in from the main moon base.

Thank you to all our customers for bearing with us through this difficult time. We're pleased to continue to serve all of Earth's energy needs.