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Sydney tried to skim through the pile of sim transcriptions on the ride to Donoterase, but he couldn't concentrate. It was too much like a cattle car. He had never actually been on any of the infamous death trains as a child, but the archetypal experience was seared into his consciousness nonetheless. He, his hastily packaged luggage and twenty other people were crammed in the back of a small semi, completely windowless, with only one small light above them to see by. They were part of a procession of three trucks that had left the Centre's north loading dock at a gloomy five in the morning, Monday, November 22, 1998. Two carrying personnel, one supplies. The weekly supply run he was told. They were bringing in turkeys special for Thanksgiving, according to the people he heard chatting while boarding up. There would be nothing else in or out of Donoterase for following seven days, unless Raines decided to pay a visit.
Plenty of the other occupants of the truck gave Sydney curious glances, but no one spoke after the doors slammed shut. Perhaps it was tradition, perhaps they were unsure of who he was and what he was doing mixed in with the regular employees. Sydney considered breaking the silence and pumping them for information, but the discipline of the staff spoke volumes about how the place was run, and he decided to save it for Hansen.
He doubled up on his efforts to read the simulations, a thick sheaf of which he had been handed back on the dock by a bleary Tower intern. Besides the one on the Wallace girl, these were his only clues to the mindset of the child he was about to meet. Assuming he was a child, that is. Sydney had first heard rumors of the Gemini project all the way back before Catherine Parker's death, so in theory the clone could be as old as his late twenties by now. Somehow Sydney doubted it, though. He had bluffed and muscled his way through a dozen pompous high level meetings to get himself assigned to this project, insinuating that he knew much more than he did, but in the final confrontation with Raines the sickly old man had simply referred to the child as "the boy." Obviously he wasn't a very young boy, judging by the contents of the sims. Jarod had been at least eight by the time he could handle topics of that complexity.
After 35 interminable minutes the vehicles rolled to a stop, dangerously close together from the sound of it. Then the truck suddenly jerked down, and Sydney realized they were on some sort of giant elevator. Donoterase was underground. Besides the specially-selected sweepers assigned as drivers -- who knew nothing about what was going on down there -- supposedly only four people were aware of the actual location of the facility: Mr. Parker, Raines, Lyle, and Aaron Hansen, lead geneticist and operations manager. Everyone else was kept in this claustrophobic darkness, no matter how many years they had worked there. Sydney idly wondered what happened to the people that built the place, then decided he didn't want to know.
At a buzzing signal the staff popped open the truck doors and clambered out to have a stretch. There was a massive cluster of activity, as the supply truck was unloaded, refuse piled in, and the outgoing weekly shift clustered around the incoming, urgently discussing all matters of continuity between the weeks.
"Yeah, Bertha's been throwing up again. BRAT diet and psyllium for at least the next five days."
"Air circulation unit 405 broke down again. Tweaking didn't work this time, replacement fan should be on the truck."
"Your transcription experiment was a complete bust, Mac. Crash and burn, total mess of a result. Left a couple of ideas in the notebook."
"You at least did the damn dishes, I hope? My room had better not be a disgusting mess this week."
Sydney waited patiently on the sidelines, observing all the interactions. At last the tall aquiline-faced man arrived to fetch him. Sydney had met Hansen two days ago at the second-to-last meeting, and liked the man. He seemed guarded but also had the air of smooth confidence of someone with both competence and authority. Sydney had the distinct impression at the meeting that Hansen himself had requested the job interview, to personally screen him for entrance to Donoterase. The two of them were the only ones in the loading bay wearing button-collared shirts and slacks.
"Sydney. So glad you could make it on this week's transport. We've informed Gemini that there were going to be changes to his project, but haven't told him the details yet. You can do the honors."
Sydney glanced around at this casual dropping of the ultra-secret Gemini project's name, but no one around him batted an eye. "Does everyone here know about him?"
"Of course. There are only 87 people who work at Donoterase over both the red and blue shifts, now counting you. And many of them were involved in his project ... before he was born. They do not know your half of things of course."
"Does the boy know what he is?"
Hansen paused at that, longer than Sydney would have anticipated for simple yes or no question. "Raines has standing orders that he is not be informed. And he's never asked me or anyone else, so far as I know. Raines told him his parents were killed when he was a baby."
He didn't answer the question, thought Sydney. Hansen clearly suspected the boy had an inkling of where he came from.
"Come on, let's get your things to your room and you can meet him." He picked up one of Sydney's weighty suitcases and bade him to follow. They wandered through a gray concrete maze of hallways, following several others also heading to their quarters. Sydney's room was tiny and utilitarian, barely 8 x 10 and containing only a bed, desk, chair, and an empty bookcase. At least it was a private space, apparently without cameras.
They walked through down around the corner to reach Gemini's room. His was on the same wing as the rest of the staff quarters. There didn't seem to be a lock on the door, Sydney was surprised to note. In fact there were precious few locks to seen at all so far. Perhaps locking them all in the building for the week was considered to be security enough.
They entered the room without knocking, and there was a teenage Jarod, sitting at a desk by a large pile of books, dressed and ready for the day despite the fact that it was not yet six am. Or so it seemed to Sydney, who had to stop to recover his composure for an instant before proceeding. The boy looked exactly the way Jarod had circa 72' or 73', just prior to his big adolescent growth spurt. Like a ghost from a DSA, rebirthed in full technicolor.
The boy jumped up at their arrival and nervously wiped his hands on his pants, but deferentially did not speak. Sydney stepped forward to fill the void.
"Hello, my name is Sydney. I'll be taking care of you for a little while." He extended his hand.
"It is nice to meet you, Dr. Sydney," the boy stiffly responded. His voice was very soft. Again, the sound was like a memory jumping out the brain into the present.
Syd shook his head. "Just 'Sydney' is fine. And what is your name?"
The boy's eyes shifted to Hansen, widening in what could have been fear. "My project name is Gemini, Doc ... Sydney, sir."
"Is that what they call you around here?"
Again the boy glanced at Hansen for some kind of permission. Out of the corner of his eye Sydney saw him give a tiny nod yes. "People sometimes call me James now."
Sydney didn't press what was before the "now." "Is that what you prefer to be called?"
"Very well, then, James it is. Did anyone tell you why I am here, James?"
"Not exactly. Are you working for Mr. Raines?"
"Not exactly," Sydney repeated, and smiled. The boy did not smile in return. He looked as if he was still trying to get a grasp of the situation, figure out how much he could say or ask, perhaps Pretend Sydney himself a bit to to predict the appropriate response. He had seen that act before on many occasions, although even as a child Jarod had vastly less anxiety about it. "I do not work directly for Raines, although I do report to the Tower. I will be directing your project day-to-day from now on."
"So Mr. Raines isn't going to come any more to have me perform simulations?"
"He might drop by on occasion to observe, but I will be running the simulations."
Hansen cleared his throat and broke in. "I have some things to do related to the shift change. James, can you give Sydney a tour, then drop him off at my office? We have some things to discuss." Sydney was surprised by the request, and so was the young man. It was a signal to them both: James had evidently been allowed to roam Donoterase, and Hansen didn't mind that Sydney knew that fact.
They walked together down the hall away from the personal quarters. Sydney sensed that James wanted to ask more questions, but was unsure how far to push things. It might take awhile, to gain his trust after being under the likely capricious care of Raines for so many years. So Sydney asked him for mundane details about Donoterase instead, to get him talking and put him at ease.
It soon became apparent that James was intimately aware of everyone and everything going on at the facility. The building was huge, given the small number of people working there. They had about twenty working labs, each equipped with a bewildering array of machines that rolled off James' tongue: Polymerase chain reaction, microarray, oligonucleotide synthesizer, micromanipulator. There were more than thirty animal rooms, half currently filled with chickens, five rat, five mouse, one with rhesus monkeys. A veterinary clinic room. Necropsy. Pathology. A cold room full of Cray supercomputers. Maintenance facilities. Walk-in freezer. Offices. An office converted into a library and reading room. A large communal kitchen and dining area. A rec room with a pool table and board games. An arboretum, which judging by the smell was maintained using chicken manure from the animal rooms. Six more cavernous spaces filled with bright lights and plant seedlings. Exersize room, so the scientists had their own rodent wheel to run on. The sim lab, much smaller than the one back at Blue Cove. Security room, with all camera footage from the labs and hallways.
The latter, of course, wasn't just to keep intruders out. It was to keep everyone else in.
Everywhere they went they encountered the scientists and technicians starting their day and work week. To a person they smiled at James and waved, and he gave them beauteous full-dimpled grins back. Clearly he was beloved by the staff. As they went through everything, Sydney stopped analyzing every move James was making, and listened to the content of his narration. He could see why Hansen hedged on the cloning question. The kid absolutely knew enough to put two and two together, were he emotionally primed for it.
"So here's our one monkey room at the moment. We used to have a lot more but the last macaque project finished a few years ago, they're only monitoring a few animals for the long-term now. Those two fat ones are Bertha and her daughter Sadie. Sadie was the second primate clone produced from differentiated adult cells. There were two others but they've already been sent to necropsy. Sometimes I just sit in here and watch them, although they don't like being stared at. They like peanuts. Do you have a recent TB test? You have to have a negative PPD within the past six months to go into the monkey room."
"I found out I was assigned here somewhat last minute, so I do not have a recent PPD. But I'm fine skipping the monkey introductions."
James tipped his head, considering. A delicate question was coming, Sydney was sure. He had warmed up on the tour, encouraged by Sydney's lack of rebuke and open interest in him. The young man's personality still seemed to be reticent and repressed, so very different from Jarod's confidence and frequent emotional outbursts at that age. But Syd was sure that insatiable curiosity was bubbling below the surface, just like Jarod. "How did you get assigned to me? We don't get many new people in here. Was Mr. Raines disappointed in something I did?" The latter possibility seemed to terrify him.
"No. I heard nothing but boasts from Raines about your abilities. But I have worked with some gifted young people in the past, and I was sent both to assess you and guide you to the next level."
"Are we going to do a sim today?"
"I need to speak with Hansen and review your history. Perhaps tomorrow. What have you been working on while Raines has been gone?"
James shrugged. "He didn't leave me anything specific to study this time, so I've been helping Dr. Terry from blue week with his genomics stats. And Miss Mac needs some help with her triticum transcription study. Stuff like that."
"I see. Well let's finish the tour, then you can drop me off at Hansen's and go eat. It must be time for your morning supplement by now. You can do whatever you usually do for today, and we'll see about giving you a more focused project by tomorrow."
The boy lowered his eyes in submission and pointed at the contents of the next room.
Half an hour later over in Hansen's office, Sydney settled into a chair.
"So, was your tour informative?"
"Very. You've turned the boy into quite the little scientist. Did Raines know about that?"
"Of course not. Raines' orders were for James to be locked in his room 24/7, studying nothing but sims and the bare walls. If we had done it his way the child would be a gibbering autistic rocking in a corner. But this is my facility, and when Raines isn't here things go as I say, so instead James has turned into a delightful young man."
"Why do you call him James?"
"Ah, well, calling him Gemini is a little indiscreet, isn't it? Even amongst ourselves. The staff called him Jim for a long time, short for Gemini. Raines found out about it a couple of years ago and pitched a fit, so I changed it to James, on pain of immediately firing if anybody slipped up in front of our delightful bald friend."
"And do you still consider yourself to have ultimate authority over him, now that I am here as project coordinator?"
"Obviously you will have unlimited access to his time, and the sim lab, and have all the resources you need to run your simulations. I will not interfere with the Pretender project. But unlike Raines, you live here now, under my auspices just as James does. That means both of you live by Donoterase rules. And in fact, I have some bad news on that front."
Sydney crossed his arms and smiled. Direct confrontation. How refreshing. "Go ahead."
"The Tower has directed me to inform you that they expect your absolute dedication to this project. As such, you are to stay at Donoterase with Gemini until such time as the project is moved to another location. If you leave Donoterase at any time for any reason, your participation in this project will be terminated."
"I see." Bad news indeed. "So they decided to only tell me this after I arrived here?"
"Well. It is the Centre. Never be honest when a good hard manipulation will do."
"I have some books and other materials at my home and office back at the Centre that I may need."
Hansen waved his hand like it was a trifle. "Send me a list of what you want and I will have it sent on the next transport. Any books or other resources you need for James too, the boy's mind is like a sponge. They're taking care of your house and bills so you don't need to worry about that."
"Good thing I don't have a family or any pets."
His counterpart snorted. "No one at Donoterase has family or pets. Welcome to our family, Sydney."
And Syd knew with sinking certainty that, every bit as much as Jarod's young doppelganger, he too was now a prisoner.
As a consolation prize for the bad news, Hansen had sent him off with the complete DSA record of Gemini's life. Sydney plopped down at his desk in his new spartan home, intending to start at the end, the most recent sims, to get a better picture of the boy's current capabilities. Soon though the allure of the formative years called to the psychiatrist in him, and he popped in the earliest disk.
Jarod had only been four years old when Sydney first met him, but he already arrived with full language capabilities and a strong intact personality. So it was both strange and fascinating to go back in time before that, to a squalling red-faced blank slate of a human. The tapes didn't show the surrogate who birthed him, but they started soon after with a tiny newborn with mesmerizing black eyes. And from what Sydney remembered of infant behavior, James was unusual from the start. For one thing he only slept half as much time as a newborn should, perhaps eight or nine hours per day. Jarod had sleep problems from early boyhood, which Sydney had assumed was an unconscious side effect of the stress of doing sims and living in confinement. But perhaps his brain had been wired strangely for sleep from the beginning, as some unusual correlate of his genius abilities.
Those additional waking hours were not spent crying or fussing, but observing the world through those wide luscious eyes. And most astonishing of all, there actually was something to look at. Sydney was sure that Raines would demand an ascetic, isolated, possibly even abusive environment for the child. That wasn't at all what the tapes showed however. Instead he found a strangely regimented social program, designed for Gemini to develop a fully integrated personality while preventing too much attachment to any one person.
From birth to age three, Raines was hardly ever present in the boy's life. Instead there was a constant stream of caregivers, all young females, three at any given time. They appeared to be fired and replaced at random intervals every few months, so James would not grow overly fond of any one of them. Instead he had an attachment object that was constant through all the caregiver changes, a soft yellow bear that became increasingly ragged and filthy as the years progressed.
The caregivers kept a strict schedule. From birth to age one, he was within arms reach of one of the young women at all times, lugged around most of the day in a series of slings. For exactly four hours per day at least one caregiver spoke to the boy, alone. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the speech, just something. Some of them read, some of them sang songs, some simply babbled in his presence. When his first words began at six months, they riffed on that, interacting as much as possible for the requisite four waking hours. For another three hours per day the caregivers spoke even more, but with each other while he played or hung on them or was fed. The conversations were as banal as one would expect from people trapped in a underground bunker for weeks on end, but it was the social interaction that mattered.
Someone had clearly been reading the latest research of language development, noting the necessity of live people interacting to model it. And Harlow's infamous monkey studies as well, which had demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that touch, movement and attachment to something tactile, even if only a stuffed animal, was required for normal psychological development in primates. In fact the whole situation reeked of the output of a simulation. Since even Raines wasn't stupid enough to have Jarod run a sim on How to Raise a Sane Human in Captivity, someone else must have done it. Kyle, Sydney guessed.
By age one James was speaking in multi-word sentences, and the regime changed. He was made to sleep on his own at night, although caregivers were still constantly there during the day and responsive at night if he was upset. The free speech was reduced to two hours, the time replaced by tutoring to work on his fine and gross motor skills and symbol recognition. By age two he could read and speak in long compound sentences, and was working on the hand-eye coordination for writing. At two the routine was altered again, with caretakers now withdrawn at night no matter how much he cried, and he was left with some independent time alone during the day to read and play as well. The tutoring increased to five hours a day. But the bear was his constant companion through it all.
Then at age three the regime changed yet again, and his world fell out from underneath him.
At each of what Sydney presumed was his birthdays, James was sedated for a series of biopsies and other medical tests. Naturally the next day he woke up from this cranky and sore, and at three was not in the mood for the ubiquitous tutoring now taking over his existence. It was at this fragile moment that Raines decided to make dramatic entrance into the boy's life.
James was literally backtalking the tutor, who had been trying to get him to do a writing assignment for the previous hour. He had an expression that Sydney wryly recognized as Classic Jarod Petulance, arms crossed with the bear tucked in his armpit and refusing to even sit down. "No! I won't do it! My arm hurts! The paper is too purple! I need to take a nap! You can't make me!"
Raines and a sweeper burst in at that moment, the sweeper lifting the little boy up on top of a table so they were closer to eye contact. James looked at Raines with alarm, but still had his arms crossed in defiance.
"I am Mr. Raines. Do you remember me?" The boy nodded. "I will be directly supervising your education from now on. He is fired." Raines gestured toward the astonished tutor, who was unceremoniously picked up and shoved out the door by the sweeper.
"Your behavior is completely unacceptable. You will sit down, you will do the task assigned to you to the best of your abilities, and you will not complain. If you fail to obey me, there will be consequences." He plucked the bear out of his arms, and in an action that was clearly premeditated, pulled some scissors out of his pocket and chopped off a leg.
Gemini began to shriek at the very top of his lungs. Raines grabbed his shirt and struck him clean across the face, then dangled the mutilated bear in front of the sobbing boy's eyes. "Get control of yourself. Now. I don't want to hear you cry, ever." He managed to suck it in, lower lip still quivering. The sweeper placed him back on the floor and pointed at the table where the writing assignment was still waiting. After he quietly completed it, Raines gave him back the three-limbed stuffed animal.
Sydney began to skip ahead at that point, so he missed some of the key incidents. But the bear was whittled down little by little, and Gemini's emotions were whittled down with it. He withdrew within himself, didn't smile, didn't fuss, just tried to do everything put in front of him with steely determination. By the time the head of the bear went, around age six, it wasn't even for crying. He never cried anymore, at least in front of others. It was for failing to perform a simulation to Raines' satisfaction. After that Sydney saw no sign of the bear again, although he would bet good money that James still had a piece of it he kept with him, even right on down to today.
Throughout all of these early years there was very little sign of Hansen or any of the other activities going on at Donoterase, although sometimes things could be heard in the background. When James was a baby there was clear evidence of another child, often heard wailing in the background. The crying stopped by the time he was two. Sydney thought of the three rhesus monkey clones, and how two of them had "already been sent to necropsy." The attempts, and the failures.
Raines started Gemini on simple simulations when he was five, and here another major problem cropped up, a direct consequence of the old man's severe authoritarian repression in Sydney's opinion. Gemini was very good at simulations which were essentially physics or engineering problems. He arrived at the solutions fluidly, without diversion. But add in any sort of human emotion to the scenario and the boy was hopeless. The incident which resulted in the bear's beheading was the penultimate example. The scenario involved a mother having to choose between saving the life of her child and her pet. A simple one to solve, but James just couldn't get at the heart of the problem without memorizing the correct answer. And how indeed is a child raised underneath the world supposed to understand the motivations of his fellow human beings? Raines apparently gave up on the boy in disgust for a short time, disappearing from the DSAs for about six weeks.
Then, upon Raines' return, Gemini suddenly was able to get it. His performance on the emotional sims improved dramatically, to Raines' leering approval. Sydney had to rewind and take a look at those six weeks to determine what on earth happened. There was nothing in his daily tutoring that would provoke such a massive change in cognition. Then he realized what was missing from all the disks he had reviewed: Night footage, when James was supposedly asleep. Which, if Jarod's lifelong sleep habits was any indication, often didn't involve sleep at all.
Sydney got up to stretch and take walk. It was four in the afternoon, only a couple of hours before dinner, but he wanted to solve this one mystery for the day. He stopped at the security office and demanded the footage, without bothering to ask if it existed. He knew it did. The Centre kept every scrap somewhere. The sweeper scowled at him but dug into a locked closet for the filed-away disk from the designated time period.
Back in his room Sydney played the disk, and indeed within two days of Raines leaving his training he saw the telltale pinpoint light indicating James was surreptitiously reading something in his dark room at night. It took a half hour of zooming in and freeze framing for Syd to figure out what it was. "ddlemar" was finally decipherable. Middlemarch. Someone was feeding him fine literature to educate him about human behavior. A genius idea itself.
Through the six weeks and even after Raines' return, he devoured dozens of books. Dickens. Dostoyevsky. Austen. Tolstoy. Twain. Some modern ones, too: Hemingway, Woolf, Morrison, Marquez, Rushdie. The late night reading continued through the end of the DSA. It could still be going on today. Perhaps if he gained enough trust, Sydney could ask him about it one day.
At six in the evening Sydney stopped his examinations for the day and went down to dinner. Here, too he was able to observe James in a way Raines likely never had. This one meal a day was served communally, with everyone present. With Raines absent, Hansen clearly wasn't enforcing the nutritional supplement protocol, for James ate spaghetti and salad and garlic bread with the rest of them. After eating the young man ran around talking to everyone, helping them out with problems they encountered during the day, happy in a way never visible with Raines or doing a sim.
These people were his family, Sydney realized. A family that in the not-too distant future would be taken away. For Sydney had no intention of living at Donoterase for years on end. The Centre had tied his hands, so the only way out now was through the front door. To get them both out he was going to have to convince them that Gemini could take Jarod's place in Blue Cove.
There were plenty more DSAs to go through, to get from that terrified six-year-old illicitly reading George Eliot under his covers to the thoughtful fourteen-year-old with a modicum of freedom in front of him. But Sydney was done with recordings. Time to get to know the boy himself. Simulations would commence tomorrow.
I know, another J-name. No way to make everyone happy with that one. But I think it will be clear through the story that Gemini is not a copy of Jarod.