Cylee and Kelly drove north. There’s no way to make that go faster. The car’s solar system was barely good enough to handle a standard 100 kph, so speeding wasn’t really an option. They were more or less off the grid, only occasionally brushing the edges of municipal networks on the road, and only occasionally diving into small towns to buy food and water.
The drive couldn’t have come at a better time, emotionally. They learned a good system: if the other one cries, talk about it.
So when Kelly started crying as they drove through the dark of night, Cylee said, “What did you remember?”
Kelly took her time, they had grown used to pauses.
“Auntie Tamara wasn’t a good cook when she brought me home; I remember that. The first thing she made me was a grilled cheese sandwich, except she didn’t like cheese, so she made grilled peanut butter and honey. The honey melted into the bread and was way too hot. Neither of us realized how hot it was going to be until I picked it up and it burned my fingertips. I screamed and dropped it on my lap and she jumped and…anyway after we figured out what had happened she just shook her head and kept saying 'I’m a Doctor. I should have realized what one-hundred-degree honey would do to fingers'. She spent the next few weeks learning how to cook, with ever improving results.” Kelly laughed a little and Cylee smiled. In her mind she saw the scene, saw a much younger Tamara and the confusion and chagrin and overwhelmed-ness on her face. Her heart reached out to her fallen friend, and to Kelly.
They pulled into a small, sleepy town that advertised a clean motel. Cylee realized, as they went into their room, that she was feeling shy. At home she generally just slept in a big t-shirt, or just underwear, but somehow that didn’t seem appropriate. Kelly seemed to sense her stress.
Kelly: Look in the suitcase Mitzi gave you. I added a little present!
Cylee opened the suitcase. There was a pair of pajamas, fuzzy felt, in Cylee’s size. They were blue with rocket ships and stars on them. Cylee could feel Kelly laughing.
Kelly: I ordered them when you were sick. I thought we should dress you in some pajamas instead of that hospital gown, but Auntie Tammy said no. The stars glow in the dark. Cylee: They’re lovely. I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep with all those glowing stars, but I’ll give it a shot. Kelly: Hehehehe Cylee: Silly sister. Kelly: Oh, I like that. I’m Cylee’s Silly Sister!
Cylee got dressed and felt just a little bit ridiculous, but it was worth it. Kelly came back into the bedroom from the small en suite bathroom and said, “hey, looking good!” and Cylee laughed.
And then the mood changed and they were both sad about being able to laugh so few hours after Tamara died. And then it was okay. Not good, not “all better”, but okay, for now.
They climbed into their beds. Cylee turned off the lights and Kelly said, “Awwww, I hoped the stars would glow brighter than that!” And Cylee laughed and it was okay.
After a few moments of laying in the dark Kelly said, “Cylee?”
“Did you know your mom?”
“Well, yeah. She raised me until I was conscripted. So I was about eight when I last saw her.”
“How many years ago was that?”
“Okay. But… can you tell me about her? I either don’t have a mom, or you’re my mom, or Tamara was my mom and just got killed, or your mom is also my mom. In any case…could you tell me about her?”
“Well, some. It’s been a long time and they…did some stuff to my brain in training, so I’m not sure how much I really remember, but I’ll do my best. She was taller then me, but then, I was eight. She had long dark hair that she liked to braid, but she didn’t always have time. She was raising me alone.”
“What about your dad?”
“He worked on a cruise ship that would come into Seward every few weeks, and on his shore leave he an Mom would meet up. All she would ever really tell me was that he was four inches shorter than her, happy, kind, excitable, and Filipino. She said he was from the island of Luzon and spoke Tagalog. Which is how I got my middle name.”
“What is your middle name?” Kelly asked.
“Ligaya. It’s Tagalog for “Joy”, or maybe “Joyful”, Mom wasn’t sure. She says Dad insisted on it when he found out she was expecting. But shortly before I was born he was transferred to a different ship and didn’t come up to Seward as often.” Cylee left out her own thoughts about why her father would suddenly change assignments.
“So we’re Filipinos? Er, Filipinas, I guess?”
“Only half. Mom is pure Native Alaskan. She and her brother moved from their own place to Kenai, and mom found work there. So did my Uncle. He got married when I was about six and moved away to live with his wife.”
“What was your mom like?”
“She was happy when she had time to be. She was a busy, working to keep us fed, then keeping the house in order when she got home every day. After my uncle moved out she worked two jobs and I didn’t see her much except on weekends. She usually got half of Saturday or Sunday off and all of the other day. So we’d go walk around in the forests or go down to a lake and paddle around, or just play board games in the winter when it was too cold to do anything else.”
“And then Pacifica took you?”
“And then Pacifica took me.”
“What was that like?” Kelly asked.
“Terrible and frightening at first, then just terrible as I got good at things, and then terrible and frightening again when we went into the field.”
“What was terrible?”
“A lot of things. They were training us to be soldiers, so they worked us hard and expected us to become hard. They did a lot of things to us, and a lot of people…disappeared. We were conscripts, and were told over and over that we were property of the government. We didn’t realize until we were given our first dress uniforms which government they meant. I don’t really know what happened to the soldiers who disappeared during training.”
“When did you first see the clones?”
“About three months before they sent us south. We were told, when we were down to five in the training program, that we were to be the leaders of the Expeditionary Forces. None of us had ever heard of that group, but we’d never heard of the “Ghosts” either, and we had been called Ghosts almost since day one. We knew we were a special force. Not least because we were all children when training started. Some of the rumors were that we were going to lead a strategic force into China to stir up insurrections and then take over. As stupid as that sounds, I’m not sure that our real purpose wasn’t even stupider.”
Cylee sighed and thought back on those days in training. She didn’t do that often.
“Who were the Ghosts?” Kelly asked.
“I was the first, Code name 'Zero'. Then Wes a.k.a. 'Watt'. Shaun was Sagittarius, and Little Kimmy was Zeta. I was entirely surprised Kim made it through training, honestly. She was too kind, too small, too diffident to be a good leader. Or so we all thought until she took command of a squadron. Her commands were quiet but brilliant and her strategies flowed around enemies like a river around a stone. I guess we all had different styles.”
“Like what? What was your style?” Kelly said. She was laying on her side, head propped up on her hand.
“I was…deliberate, I guess. I tried to have a plan B, and a plan C, and a plan D…and to move and make new decisions as information presented itself. I wasn’t as fast to respond as Zeta, who seemed to move before an attack was even obvious. Wes is more direct. His style was…well, what you’ve seen. He shot first and shot a lot. And Shaun preferred to stay in the back and use long range strikes. We were never sure if his nickname came from that, or if he started behaving that way when he got his nickname. Either way, he was good to have with you in a fight. You always knew you had cover.”
Kelly shuddered. “I don’t think I could do that. I don’t think I could look at living breathing person and still decide to shoot them.”
Cylee looked at the ceiling.
“I used non-lethal weapons as much as possible. There are many reasons; an injured soldier slows down their comrades who now have to get them to safety, so you can take three units out of the field for the price of one. But part of it was just that: I didn’t like killing people. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to find we have things in common, should we?” Cylee said.
Cylee looked at the ceiling for a long moment.
“I still don’t know what we will have to do to free the others. Will we be able to communicate with them like we can with each other?” Cylee asked, and realized she was asking a four year old fourteen year old about how a semi- (or possibly) fully-sentient symbiotic life form communicates.
Cylee: Why can’t we communicate with Wes? And why couldn’t I communicate with the others like I can with Kelly? Agent (Cylee): We were still figuring out how your mind worked back then. And you weren’t really open to listening to us, entirely. Also Kelly has been with us her entire life, so she knows us better. But whatever is in Wes isn’t…us. Agent (Kelly): We were able to get a sense of what it is, but we’re not compatible.
“Huh.” Cylee said out loud.
Cylee: What about the others? What about Kim and Shaun? Agent (Cylee): It’s been a long time, and we weren’t sure what we were doing back then. If we could get near Kim perhaps we could learn about the agent in her. Perhaps. Cylee: Well, it’s academic anyway. Nobody really knows where Kim went when we split up. Kelly: Maybe…Aunty Tammy knew. Cylee: What?!? Kelly: She said a few things that made me think that, possibly, she had an idea. Let me think. Cylee: This is weird. Even if she knew how could we find out? Kelly: Not sure yet, sis. Let me think.
“Okay, good night, I guess,” Cylee said, out loud, just because it felt more…human.
“Good night!” Kelly said. She smiled at Cylee, rolled over and went to sleep.