**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.***
Julie sat at her desk, buried in enough paperwork to last a week, but it was usual for her job.
As always, she accomplished next to nothing that was on her personal agenda, not even the critical requirements from the corporate office. There were always crises to manage and figurative fires to extinguish. All of it was the direct result of gross incompetence at some level or another, and very often someone at a higher pay scale than she earned was at fault.
Fixing the mistakes of others, continuously, she made everything function and everyone above her pay grade looked good to their superiors. Appreciated by coworkers but unappreciated with advancements and raises in salary, mostly it was her sense of mission that drove her. Not only did she want to do a good job, but also she needed to go home with satisfaction that she’d improved things for others winning the battle for another day. Lately, others thwarted her attempts, frustrating her until the job seemed drudgery instead of challenge.
Good at what she did, very good, others depended on her personal sacrifice of her time and devotion to the task at hand. Mostly, the job left her lacking energy, any pride in accomplishment or feeling that things would improve. Her supervisors benefited directly for what she did while they did little or nothing, rarely even patting her on the back. They expected her to wear herself out on their behalf at and her expense.
Despite her overall dissatisfaction with work, she continued working for her company because she needed the meager compensation to pay bills. She earned enough that she did not suffer. She could go out to eat when she felt like it, take in a show every once in a while and go out dancing and club-hopping on weekends with her girlfriends. Her life was not that bad except that she dreaded going to work and having to deal with one crisis after another when everything she fixed her immediate supervisor took the credit for and everything that went wrong was never their blame.
It had been a couple of days since Chase shared macaroni and cheese with her and took the rest of his things with him. She must have been thorough in her cleanup effort. She had found nothing since that night that belonged to him. She had looked in the hopes of having another good excuse to call him. He had not called her even once saying he was missing anything. Apparently he did not miss her, either.
She dared not call him without cause. Although many times a day she thought about him, she had her pride. Being separated just felt wrong to her, very wrong for them. Yet she did not think she had done anything wrong. She fully understood Chase’s point of view but what she did she would do again to protect him. Why was he so stubborn that he refused to see that?
Chase was still looking for an apartment. That was what she assumed. She figured he would at least call her to tell her where he lived. They parted friends – as much as that is possible for lovers when a relationship tears apart – so she expected at least that much consideration from him to know where he lived and how he was doing.
At her behest, Kim call Chase’s temporary roommate – the guy he knew from work – and say she saw him in a club and got his work number from a friend, playing the ‘I want to get to know you better’ routine. He begged off on a date until later in the week, saying he had a houseguest and hopefully he would be out of the apartment before the weekend. So, Kim learned what Julie wanted to know.
When Julie got off from work and entered the garage where her coach was docked, there were three men in suits leaning against it. Their suits were the sorts that agents wear, not uniforms but certainly not fine business attire either. She really did not want to deal with any more questions. Long since, she had already told Yates everything she knew.
“I suppose Yates sent you to collect me,” she said as she approached her coach and the three men.
“He said there would be no problem.”
“Then why send three of you?”
“He felt that one would be a threat, two would be intimidating but three would sort of set you at ease, that we’re legitimate and not going to harm you.”
“In a weird sort of way I guess that makes some sense. I do feel more at ease.”
“We can take you in our coach or you can follow us if you like.”
“I think I’ll follow you. It will save me time getting home afterwards.”
They leaned forward and off her coach and allowed her to undock it and as they climbed into their coach, she got into hers. She knew where she was going but even so she followed them, not passing them.
When she arrived, much to her surprise, Yates was waiting outside the building and he knocked on the passenger side window. She opened the door and he climbed inside. “Let’s go for a drive,” he said.
“I hope you’re happy. Chase and I are separated now.”
“I heard. Certainly, I’m not happy about it at all. That was never my intention for any of this to come between the two of you.”
“How could it not? I only wanted to save him from any pain or grief but he feels I betrayed his friends, my friends as well. They did nothing wrong. That’s the whole point. Really they did nothing wrong.”
“Except they fled the authorities which rapidly elevated them in status to suspects.”
“They’re not dangerous.”
“There is some debate about that. You see several agents were inured in the attempts to detain and then later re-arrest them. Now, they have completely disappeared,” Yates revealed. “There’s no trace of them, still. I don’t know how they did it. I didn’t think it could be done. We’ve alerted Star City, their apparent destination, but they’ve never arrived there. They have been watching security scans from the stations frame by frame looking for them. I’m at a complete loss to explain it. Perhaps, you have some thoughts?”
“If you can’t find them, what chance would I have?”
“You know them.”
Julie pursed a smile. “My life’s a shambles. My former fiancée hates me. When my friends learn what I’ve done they’ll likely hate me as well, because everyone thought Chase and I were a perfect couple – and we were. Because I know them, you think I might know where they’re hiding. I haven’t got a clue. Cristina’s smart, very smart. Alix is resourceful in ways you’d never imagine. If they’ve been undetectable for even a day it’s remarkable considering all the technology at your disposal to keep track of people. But it doesn’t surprise me. If anyone could completely disappear it would be them.”
“I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but you’ll either find out or figure it out, eventually. They’ve been under scrutiny and some level of surveillance for all of their lives.”
“Really?” Julie asked. “And Chase as well…and me?”
“There are Twenty-Four of you.”
“Twelve sets of twins. Whether you realize it or not, each of you was born one of a set of twins.”
“I’m sure that’s significant somehow.”
“Well, it is. The significance was lost on me until this morning. I received a visit from the Director of Research at The Hosting Institute, a sort of live-in facility for twelve highly remarkable women who’ve been monitored for over two decades now,” Yates said.
“The Institute is here in Andromeda. I wasn’t even aware of its purpose until this morning. I’d heard of it in passing and knew its mission was a highly guarded secret. There’s been some speculation that they were conducting research into human fertility but what did I know?”
“I’m waiting to find out what any of this has to do with me.”
“You are one of The Twenty-Four. That’s how they refer to you in official circles. You were borne of one of The Twelve who live in The Institute.”
“Your mother lives at the Institute, Julie. Everyone else who’s one of The Twelve does.”
Julie pulled her coach over to the curb and temporarily parked it. “My mother’s dead. I have visited her grave many times.”
“That was a cover – for a purpose,” Yates said. “Your father knew. He agreed with the objectives and he lived with the consequences.”
“I never knew all the details. Certainly, nothing about the women in the facility but, yes, I suppose I knew enough. I spoke to your father. I met a number of the other husbands as well. They were amazing men in an equally extraordinary way. They had yielded their wives’ lives already, expecting them to die. Yet, when the women lived, they allowed them to participate in the research program in the interest of all humanity. Each and every one of them was a very remarkable man. In every case, they were the ones who passed on prematurely. It’s not a coincidence, but it is another part of the mystery no one understands.”
“So, you’re saying my mother’s alive?”
“Of course she is, as is Chase’s mother, Alix’s mother, Cristina and Paul’s mother and Pete’s.”
“He is the drummer in Cristina’s band.”
“I see. And suddenly, it’s okay for this to be public knowledge.”
“It’s not public knowledge. It’s being shared with me to share with you because the Colonial Authority wants to clear up a few things, and maybe by this gesture, you’ll understand they really are on your side.”
“I want to see her.”
“Of course, I’ve made the arrangements. Apparently, Cristina and Paul’s mother is in Star City. She’s seeing Paul.”
“Trying to persuade him away from the course he’s chosen.”
“I suppose it’s something like that,” Yates said, “Here’s the address. You can program it into the controller.”
As she complied her coach merged with traffic and accelerated toward the selected destination. When it arrived, both Julie and Yates exited. They were in the most remote section of the city Julie had ever been, close to the edge of the dome – beyond the circle or the ‘loop’, as it was called. They entered the building and posted at the reception desk. Yates asked for someone named Neville.
Presently a lanky gentleman, middle aged and strikingly handsome emerged through a security door. “I’m Neville.”
“I’m Yates. This is Julie. She’s one of The Twenty-Four.”
Neville frowned. “It’s highly irregular, despite the interim change in what the Colonial Authority desires.”
“These are strange times,” Yates said.
“They are, indeed. Come, I guess my present role is to introduce Julie to her mother.”
“She’s really here?” Julie held back her tears with a wall of doubt, but the sudden, immediate prospect of meeting her mother after all these years broke through any emotional barriers she might have erected. Tears trailed down her cheeks and dripped to the front of her blouse as she followed Yates and Neville down a hallway.
“Except for the testing and the continuous observation, The Twelve have led normal lives – as normal as could be permitted under the circumstances. The Colonial Authority has made a point to ensure they were treated well. They’re comfortable and never want for anything.”
“They never wanted to see us?” Julie asked.
“The stay informed as to what their children are doing. They were permitted to view surveillance when you were young. Since you’ve become adult, the monitoring was changed to weekly summaries they may access. It has frankly amazed us that two pairs of you have already found one another and have a relationship.”
“Had a relationship, in my case, anyway,” Julie corrected.
“A bump in the road,” Neville said. “We have learned through our research that, in the long run, you really don’t have much choice about your eventual mating. Whenever you meet someone who is completely compatible it may as well be carved in stone that you’ll mate.”
“And if he’s attracted to another of The Twenty-Four, as you call us?”
“Quite naturally, you all will have some regard and feelings for one another. It’s instinctual and inevitable. There may be close friendships that develop but only one will ever be compatible as a mate. It’s something quite apart from what we see in the broader population of even those with the attributes let alone humans. There’s apparently a hereditary one-to-one correspondence within The Twenty-Four, twelve pairings that can be no other way, selected by your odd natures. It’s as if it is designed and programmed into your DNA.”
“I’m not sure I like that.”
“It is what it is,” Neville said. “Here we are,” he said as he arrived at a door and knocked.
“Come in,” came the call from within.
Julie was apprehensive, even shy to venture into the room but Neville led the way. “Sylvia?”
“Neville, what a wonderful surprise. How are you? It’s been a few days.”
“Yes, it has and we now have some visitors.”
“And me looking like I just woke up,” Sylvia complained.
“You always look the same, a goddess can appear as nothing less.”
“You’re too kind – always the charmer.”
“I speak only the truth,” Yates said. “Regardless of the situation, I knew you’d want to meet your guests.”
“When they told me I doubted it was the truth – so much security for all these years.”
“How’ve you been?” Julie asked. “It’s wonderful to learn that you are alive, if it is really you.”
“Who else would I be? I guess, because I sort of work for the Colonial Authority, it should not surprise me that they told you. They had to eventually, I guess. But it took so long. Almost no one else knows.”
“I know,” Julie said.
“Oh, my,” Sylvia said even as she focused on her and a tear dripped down her cheeks. “You are just as beautiful as everyone says – more so in person than on the viewers. That’s no way to see my children! Come hug your mother, honey.”
Julie buried her face into her mother’s shoulder. “They told me you died, just like all the others.”
“Well, there are twelve of us who didn’t die and they still don’t know why,” Sylvia said. “What’s important is I’m here and now you know.”
“They tell me I have a brother.”
“Randall,” Sylvia said. “He lives in New London. He’s a criminal defense attorney.”
“Really?” Julie asked.
“Very handsome and very eligible, in case you know anyone who’s looking,” Sylvia said, with a chuckle. “Come sit down here on the bed and we can talk. I’m sure Neville can entertain Mr. Yates for a bit.”
“Yeah, we can discuss a few things,” Neville confirmed as he ushered Yates toward the door and once they were into the hallway he closed the door behind them, leaving Julie and her mother alone.
“It’s amazing, finding you here.”
“This is like a dream for me as well. I mean, I’ve known everything about you. They’ve been really good about that, telling all of us about our children. But it’s not the same as being there, picking you up when you fall down and skin a knee.”
“Father told me everything about you.”
“He had to. I told him he needed to do that.”
“He knew you were here.”
“He also knew that you couldn’t know. That tore him up inside, but he also understood and accepted it. I don’t know how he could ever endure what he did but, from what the other twelve have told me, their husbands did the very same thing as well. Maybe it was because they figured it was borrowed time that allowed us to live. They had long since decided we would die in childbirth. Having the attributes was, always before, the curse of death for the mother. So once it was diagnosed, we were reconciled to accept it. But then, somehow I survived and no one knew why. Then all the others – The Twelve – they also survived. They wanted to know answers and the answers could only come from studying us as a group.”
“But they still don’t have the answers.”
“No, they don’t,” Sylvia confirmed. “You have, or at least had, a boyfriend named Chase. I am very good friends with his mother. He had a sister named Clare. She lived in Emerald City until she was 10 then moved to Andromeda. She’s a professional musician in the City Orchestra. She plays first violin.”
“You know everyone.”
“Yes, even your friend Cristina and her brother Paul has a mother among our group. She’s a wonderful woman but greatly embarrassed by what all has been going on lately with her son. The Colonial Authority allowed her to travel to Star City to see him.”
“They have him in custody again?”
“There’s no escaping them,” Sylvia looked into her daughter’s eyes. “They have plans for the world and they’re determined the plans will be fulfilled. It’s what needs to happen, Julie. I’ve come to that realization. We’re here to save everyone else. We’re the only ones who can change things. We carry the adaptation the rest of humanity needs. So there’s not a choice. We have to do this for everyone else and their survival.”
Julie discerned a bit of sad acquiescence in her mother’s resolve, not so much as to get her into any trouble. Still, Julie could tell that being confined and unable to go anywhere else bothered her mother. She was envious of Cristina and Paul’s mother just because she had been allowed to go to another city, even if she had been ferried on a special transport, and, from what she had heard, she was already on her way back.
Silvia’s station in life was really been like confinement in a prison. Her crime was not merely having two very special babies with talents and gifts beyond the norm for humanity, but not dying immediately after they were born.
Sylvia took Julie’s hand into hers. “You need to listen to me. I know I have not been there for you but I have been watching and I’ve been proud of you in ways that you cannot understand. You’re tough. You’re a strong-willed young woman and extremely dedicated to whatever you do. You’re probably too intelligent for your own good, but you’ve never flaunted it. You may think you’re right at times, but sometimes you’re not. I think Chase is right for you.”
“He doesn’t trust me.”
“Trust is something that’s earned between two people, never a given in a relationship. A woman seeks love above all else, and it every level and facet of the experience in a relationship. Men are easier. They also need love but what they desire most is respect from the one they choose to share their life. Do you understand?”
“He feels I betrayed him and his friends.”
“What do you think?”
“I didn’t want to see him get hurt again.”
“Is that all?”
Julie started crying, expressing her emotions unintelligibly until, finally she regained some of her composure, at least enough to buck up and take a deep breath before speaking further. “I didn’t want to be left alone.”
“Yet that’s what you received for all your efforts.”
Julie lowered her eyes. Sylvia corralled her shoulders, drawing her closer. “He’s good for you. He’s the best there is. He’ll protect you and be a good father to your children.”
“But he doesn’t trust me.”
“He will in time. Go to him and tell him you respect what he did for his friends. Cherish what you can share with him, because that is all either of you will have in life. From it you will bear your children and that the most important part of your life, not only for you or them, but also for everyone else.”
“Tell him you did exactly what you had to do. It was what you felt was right and if he doesn’t understand why you did what, tell him you had to do what you thought was right and you’re sorry, but it was necessary to save his life. Then tell him you love him and completely respect his feelings about his friends, but you also deserve his respect because you were only trying to save his life. He needs to hear that you still need him in your life.”
Julie laughed, “You make it sound simple.”
“Honey, if you think he’s not hurting, you’re wrong. He misses you, maybe more than you miss him. If you open the door in a proper way, he’ll come back inside.”
“I wish I had your confidence.”
“My confidence?” Sylvia asked with chagrin, “Honey, you possess the potential to do such amazing things that you cannot imagine – things that maybe no one else in the world could ever do. You have only to discover the fullness of your abilities. You’re a uniquely incredible person. You’re special in ways none of the other Twenty-Four could ever be. You don’t lack confidence. Merely, you lack experience.”
Julie hugged her mother and wiped away a tear. “Can I come see you?”
“I would welcome the visits, if they allow it.”
“Why would they not allow it?”
“Some of their research requires isolation. There’ve been times when I was confined to my room for over a month or more to control the outside variables of some study or another.”
“They’re still studying you?”
“We’re not supposed to be alive,” Sylvia said. “Despite everything they’ve done to us, poking and prodding and watching us, they still don’t understand why. It’s our nature. We were slightly different than everyone else. That’s all, just enough that we lived while everyone else died. I’ve felt at times like the researchers treat us as if we were dead, too. But Neville, the administrator, is always quick to correct them.”
“All they have accomplished is gathering clues and coming up with more questions they can’t answer, things about us individually that are different as well as things that make us distinct as a group. They have traced our ancestry through interviews with any living relatives and us. They have mapped out each of our genomes and them to the others and what is considered normal. Of course, we’re all similar to the ninety-ninth percentile so they are looking for the one or two things out of a billion or trillion that is special and in common between all of us.”
“They haven’t found out anything?”
“In the one that one percentile of difference we share from all the rest of humanity, The Twelve are more like sisters, almost like twins born of different mothers. Haven’t you noticed the family resemblance?” she asked with a laugh.
“Maybe The Twelve have a common ancestor,” Julie offered.
“I suppose that could be said of most people in the world if you go back far enough, but they think. But yes, there is one common ancestor and he or she is the key to the differences, but it took all these hundreds of years…”
“Do you know anything about the ancestor?”
Sylvia shook her head. “Apparently that’s a secret kept even from us, but they are looking for other relatives in the general population to see if they carry any of the traits they’ve found in us. Finding others with the trait who are fertile and using their genetics to breed with others…well, they’re trying to reproduce what they believe is a random event in nature that produced us.”
“There’s nothing random about it,” Julie said. “That’s where they are wrong in their assumptions. There are no coincidences.”
“You’re right.” Silvia smiled. “We all feel that.”
“I know it. It’s more than a feeling. We’re the design.”