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Shadows of the Mind Collection Part Two
By Mandi Jourdan
July 26, 2232
Mia made her way to the parking lot and the small black car that waited for her. She slipped into the driver’s seat and began to sift through her purse for her keys. Driving wasn’t entirely necessary, as she could have run the distance between the warehouse and the hotel room she’d been renting without difficulty. But she was trying to blend in, and there was nothing normal about running ten-plus miles without so much as breaking a sweat, especially at the pace she knew she could reach.
Blending in. It’s never going to be that simple, is it?
It wasn’t that she didn’t look human. To all outside appearances, she was a typical American woman in her mid-20s. She was thin at 5’9”, with brown eyes and sharp facial features. She didn’t look out of the ordinary, but the fact that she’d technically never been born kept her from holding a legitimate driver’s license. It and the rest of her personal documents had been forged to avoid drawing unwanted attention.
She withdrew her keys and wallet from her purse, opening the wallet and glancing at the fake driver’s license within.
Mia closed the wallet and replaced it in her purse, inserting her key into the ignition and starting the car. She pulled out of the parking lot and onto Park Avenue. Her car propelled itself upward automatically to fill the vacant space in the third tier of traffic, and she mentally cursed the buzzing, honking cluster that always filled Manhattan’s streets.
After this, all I have left to do is wipe the LDE files. Shouldn’t be that hard. Might as well check on him…
She turned right onto Gramercy Park South and followed it to its intersection with Irving and the large brick house that belonged to Eddie. She knew he had his father’s luck in striking oil, which had all but vanished a century earlier, to thank for such a large property within the city’s boundaries, and she couldn’t rid her mind of the image of herself standing beside Eddie on that spotless, green lawn.
“Soon,” she muttered with a tight shake of her head.
Eddie drummed his fingers against the table in front of him. He fought the itch at the back of his mind telling him to glance over his shoulder and kept his eyes focused on the empty booth in front of him. He’d been given no details about whomever he was supposed to be meeting, and the long he spent in the café, the more certain he became that he had been deceived.
In his periphery, he saw the middle-aged brunette from the table to his right stand and approach him. He pulled in a breath and rolled his shoulders backward.
She slipped into the bench opposite him, and he took in her navy suit jacket and the determined set of her lips.
“Mr. Dodson.” She inclined her head to him.
Eddie blinked. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours. That’s hardly fair.”
She nodded and extended a hand. “You have a point. I’m Clarisse.”
Eddie hesitated for the span of a heartbeat and then shook her hand.
“Not to be rude, Clarisse,” he said, “but what is it exactly that you want from me?”
“Down to business already? All right.” She shrugged. “I’d like to start by saying that it’s not me that wants anything from you. It’s the organization I work for. We’ve been watching you for quite some time now,” Clarisse continued, “and we’ve come to learn a few things about you.”
Eddie attempted to keep his tone devoid of emotion, though his discomfort was growing with each word she spoke. “Such as?”
“You’re always doing everything you can to prove yourself, be it to your business partners, their family, or anyone else.”
He said nothing. He felt no obligation to confirm something she’d evidently gathered by spying on him.
“Each of the LDE founders brings something different to the table. Damian Lawrence is the visionary, while Derek’s more practical. And you’re the real technical genius.”
“Does any of this have a point?” The longer Eddie sat with Clarisse, the more he wished to get away from her.
“Yes, it does. Because we also know that you tend to go out of your way to help people. We need your help.”
She took a deep breath. “As you may have heard, the army is in a bit of a bad spot, at the moment.”
Eddie’s stomach turned.
“A few years ago, they decided that the reason for their failure was simple: soldiers are human.”
Eddie raised an eyebrow. “Yes, they are.”
“That’s where my organization comes in. We reasoned that, without the possibility of human error, our armed forces would have a much better chance at holding their own against their enemies. Picture this: what if we didn’t send human soldiers into battle? What if, instead, we sent–?”
She can’t be serious,Eddie thought. LDE doesn’t build soldiers.
“Exactly.” Clarisse nodded.
“But… why come to me? Doesn’t the government have anyone capable of doing this?”
Clarisse closed her eyes. “We thought so, once. During the last conflict in the Middle East, we assembled a group of people consisting of some of the greatest minds in the nation. We had the goal of creating the perfect soldier, and at one point, we thought we’d succeeded. We wanted the androids to be able to work effectively in all situations and without emotions disrupting the execution of their orders. Unfortunately, our plans worked too well. The androids did what they were supposed to; they took out a small group of enemy forces.” She opened her eyes but did not look at Eddie. Instead, she folded her hands on the table and stared down at them. “But they didn’t stop there. Apparently, a member of the enemy group escaped to a nearby town, and the androids followed him. They… they destroyed the entire town and everyone in it.”
Eddie lowered his hands to rest on his knees beneath the table to keep Clarisse from seeing them tighten into fists. He’d never heard of such an atrocity being committed by androids. Try as he might, he could never imagine Lila, his company’s first creation, doing something that heartless. But Clarisse had said that the military androids had been designed to act without emotion, and Eddie surmised that this was what separated them from his own creations. Lawrence-Dodson Enterprises thrived on being the only company that had mastered the near-human android.
Clarisse shook her head. “That was a long time ago. The fighting eventually ended, and… that was that. We didn’t know what to do next. Without the pressure of an ongoing conflict, we didn’t feel the need to give ourselves a time limit to perfect the process of creating the soldiers. We kept trying, testing our creations on a much smaller scale than before. They just… never seemed to work quite right. There was always a flaw. What that flaw was varied from one attempt to the next. The complete lack of morals, a physical problem like succumbing too easily to enemy fire, or any number of other things… we just couldn’t get it right. But because it was a time of peace, we weren’t too concerned. But now, with what’s going on in Asia…”
“You’re going to try again.”
“Yes. But we’ve lost what little faith we had in the team that was supposed to be in charge of creating the soldiers.” She took a deep breath. “You have no idea how long we’ve been watching you, and the others. In my personal opinion, if anyone can do this, it’s you.”
Clarisse rose from her seat.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Dodson. I’ll be in touch.” Without another word, she departed.
Eddie laid his elbow on the table and dropped his face into his hand. “This is ludicrous,” he mumbled.
Nevertheless, he was intrigued.
July 26, 2232
Mia drove past Eddie’s home and toward the hotel. A few minutes later, she pulled into another parking lot and turned off the car. She took a deep breath and opened the glove compartment, reaching inside and removing the holofiles she’d stolen from Eddie’s office at LDE. After she’d slipped the files safely into her purse, she opened the door, stepped out onto the pavement, and locked the car.
I can’t believe I’m not more upset about this, she thought idly as she made her way toward the hotel.
The large front doors swung open at Mia’s unspoken request, and she entered the lobby. She paid little attention to the smiling faces of the workers, to the smell of freshly ground coffee wafting from a machine in the corner, or to the other guests milling about. Instead she ignored it all and proceeded across the lobby, down the adjacent hallway, and into an elevator.
This part is almost over, she told herself as the elevator began to ascend. She felt a twinge of an emotion that she couldn’t quite identify at this thought. It was foreign to her, this feeling brought on by the knowledge that she was about to terminate all evidence of the way she had come into existence. Though she would never know for certain if it was at all similar, she likened it somewhat to a human feeding her birth certificate to a paper shredder.
A paper shredder, she thought. Wouldn’t that be easier?
But no. She knew what she had to do, and it was much more drastic than a paper shredder.
The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. Mia stepped out into the hallway and turned left, reflexively following the path that led to room 407. This path was one that she had learned well over the past few weeks. She withdrew her keycard from her purse and scanned it through the panel beside the door.
“Welcome, Miss Warren.”
Mia gave a hollow laugh at the automatic greeting and entered her room.
Eddie threw open the door of the base and darted outside into the blinding sunlight. He scanned his surroundings frantically for the source of the crash he’d heard from within the building. His heart thumped so rapidly it nauseated him, and he couldn’t rid himself of the flashes of Mia snapping the assault rifles of the soldiers tasked with testing her abilities. An image of her snapping the arm of one of the men turned Eddie’s blood cold.
I don’t know what I expected, but I wasn’t ready for this.
Damian and Derek hadn’t wanted their work weaponized. Eddie had hoped that Mia could be used to save the lives of soldiers, but now, he had no idea of what she was capable.
Two blocks down the road, a crowd was gathering–around what, Eddie couldn’t tell. A police car had already arrived, and multiple other vehicles had ceased to move on the ground level of traffic while the cars flying above it continued onward. Eddie strained his eyes in an attempt to see what was happening.
“I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this.”
Eddie jumped. He turned to see Mia standing behind him. Her cropped auburn hair fell to her chin, and hesitation lurked in her eyes. Otherwise, her face was expressionless, but there was a strange quality in her voice that he did not recognize. It unnerved him.
What has she done?
“What are you talking about?”
“I never should have run. It was a mistake.”
“Mia, what happened?” demanded Eddie.
She opened her mouth as though to speak and then shut it again. She turned and strode off down the street and away from the gathering mass of people.
She continued to walk away. Eddie hesitated, torn by the obligation to follow her and the desire to see for himself what she was avoiding. He cursed under his breath and started toward the expanding crowd.
By the time he reached the scene, two more police cars had arrived along with an ambulance. Silently, he wove his way through the crowd, attempting to piece together a rough interpretation of what had happened.
“…wasn’t paying attention…”
“…can’t believe the idiocy…”
“Someone ran in front of me!” exclaimed a man in a red jacket. He spoke frantically to one of the police officers and a gaggle of eavesdroppers. Eddie pretended not to be listening as he passed them. “I swerved–I didn’t want to hit her, officer–and–and–I hit them! I didn’t mean to, I swear! It wasn’t my fault!”
Eddie’s breath swept from his lungs as he caught sight of the accident.
A van was embedded in the side of a small black car. The latter was reduced to a nearly unrecognizable heap of metal. It lay upside-down, and both front doors had been removed. No one was inside.
EMTs were lifting two stretchers into the ambulance. The person on each was covered with a white blanket from head to toe. After the ambulance had been loaded, two of the EMTs shut the doors and climbed into the vehicle.
“Did they make it out alright?” Eddie asked one of the uniformed medics who remained. He already knew the answer, but he could not process it. If Mia was responsible for this, he couldn’t allow himself to believe people had died because of her. This wasn’t combat. These people hadn’t been soldiers.
The EMT turned to him and shook her head sadly. “The media’s going to have a field day.”
“I’m sorry,” Eddie breathed.
A hand gripped his shoulder.
“We need to go,” said Mia’s voice in his ear.
“Did you run in front of that van?” Eddie hissed, his voice too low for the EMT to hear.
“Come on. We need to get out of–”
“Who were they?” Eddie asked the EMT, ignoring Mia entirely.
The woman sighed as she climbed into the front seat of the ambulance. She called to Eddie over her shoulder. “Senator Henry Lawrence and his wife.”
And the world was spinning. Eddie couldn’t breathe.
This isn’t happening.
He backed up slowly, his mind reeling as he stepped off the road and began retracing his steps toward West Point, Mia keeping pace at his side.
No. This isn’t possible. They weren’t supposed to be here. They were supposed to be back in New York.
A glance back to the scene of the accident told him that the media had arrived. News vans and paparazzi swarmed the demolished car. Eddie tuned them out. He didn’t need to know anything more. It had happened, and it was his fault.
Damian and Derek will never forgive me. And Desdemona…
“Don’t.” He turned to face Mia, staring at her coldly. “Don’t even try.”
He did not know what he would do with her, now. He couldn’t stand to look at her for more than a moment, and he averted his eyes to the ground at her feet. Eddie took a deep breath.
“Come on,” he said. “We were never here.”
And you never existed.
July 26, 2232
Mia surveyed the window that would look out onto the street below, were the heavily embroidered ivory curtains not drawn to shut out the light from outside. She eyed small collection of books that lay spread out on the table, some with dog-eared pages saving the place of the woman who couldn’t seem to focus on one of them for an extended period of time. She glanced at the bed and the unmade blankets that matched the curtains.
And the fireplace.
Mia moved to stand beside it, rummaging through her purse until she was absolutely certain that she had collected every last file from it. She then flipped the switch on the wall beside the hearth, and the logs ignited with a burst of flame and bathed the room in flickering light.
Mia tossed the holofiles onto the fire, watching as the flames licked at them. Tearing her eyes away from the sight, Mia surveyed the room again. The curtains, which would keep the outside world from seeing what she was about to do. The books, which had to be considered acceptable losses. Replaceable. The bed, which was one of only a few reminders that she had slept here. That she lived here.
That she lived at all, if that was indeed what she did.
Eddie stared unblinkingly at the perfect replica of himself.
This is wrong.
He examined the short, dark hair and grey eyes he’d seen in the mirror all his life as they were now reflected back at him in the form of the android copy he’d agreed to allow.
Eddie remembered the moment that Damian, turned away to stare out the window of his office with his hands braced on the sill, had suggested they use their work to find a way to preserve human life after death. Consumed by guilt for the part he’d played in the death of Damian and Derek’s parents, Eddie had allowed himself to be the test subject. He’d allowed the invasive procedure to copy his memories, his mannerisms, his entire personality into this duplicate body.
I want it decommissioned and hidden in the warehouse. I don’t want anyone to know we did this.
If the experiment could keep someone from losing all of a loved one to death, he’d believed it was worth it.
As the duplicate blinked and pulled in a breath, Eddie questioned whether that was true.
July 26, 2232
Mia moved in a flash to the table and picked up the paperback copy of A Separate Peace she’d left face down on it. She was fond of this volume, but she could buy another copy. There were few things in her life that weren’t disposable.
She returned to the fireplace and watched the files burn. As each was destroyed, it projected its contents randomly into the air. Fragments of sentences overlapped as the files attempted to make known the information they held for the final time.
“…is extremely dangerous…” “…deactivated after the incident at West Point…” “…will serve as the replacement for human soldiers…” “…responsible for the deaths of Henry and Samantha Lawrence in June of 2224…” “…no emotional inhibitions…” “…does not hesitate to kill…”
Mia had seen enough.
After a few moments, the last of the files had dissolved into ash. Mia held the copy of A Separate Peace out toward the fireplace and took a few steps forward. She held the book over the flames until the top right corner sparked and the fire began to blacken it. She then threw the book across the room, and it fell to the ground at the hem of the curtains.
July 24, 2232
Eddie watched her as she descended the steps of the police station. Her dark-blond hair was a bit disheveled as it fell in waves past her shoulders, and her eyes were ringed with dark circles. Still, Desi was just as beautiful as she’d always been.
Eddie remembered how peaceful she’d looked when he’d awoken in the middle of the night to see her sleeping beside him. He’d tucked a lock of hair behind her ear to give him a better view of her face and watched her until he’d fallen asleep again.
When he’d awoken the next morning, she’d been gone.
Eddie smiled slightly and pushed off of the car he’d been leaning against to open the passenger door for her. A light blush tinted her cheeks, and she brushed past him silently to climb into the car.
He rolled his shoulders backward and closed the door before sliding into his seat and starting the car. He turned to study her, and she found her eyes closed. He returned his focus to the road and spurred the car forward.
“Are you all right?” he asked as he drove. He tried to keep his mind on the vehicles surrounding him, but he found it hard to think about anything but Desi.
“Were my brothers too busy to bail me out themselves?” she asked.
“Damian’s still out of town until tomorrow, and Derek won’t be back until the day after.”
She sighed heavily, and he glanced toward her, his heart leaping into his throat at the sight of the blue eyes he’d come to adore. When she turned away to stare out the window, he felt as though the floor of the car had dropped out from under him to leave him to the road below.
“Sorry to disappoint you,” he muttered.
“No, I appreciate you coming to get me. Thank you.”
A pause followed, and the only sound was that of the outside traffic.
“Desi, I have told you that I’m here if you need to talk, haven’t I? About absolutely anything?”
“Appreciate it. And Desdemona, please.”
“Desdemona,” he repeated with a sigh. “Yes, of course.”
I suppose it doesn’t matter what’s happened between us, does it?
Eddie nearly forgot to turn on the blinker before following a large white truck around the corner onto Amsterdam Avenue. A sedan sped past them on the layer of traffic hovering above Eddie’s car, and he briefly debated turning on the radio to alleviate the tension.
“How mad is Damian?” Desi asked.
Eddie shrugged. “He didn’t say. Honestly, I think he’s more worried about you than anything.”
Desi sighed, drumming her fingertips against the console between the seats. “I’m fine.”
He glanced toward her, and she met his eyes for a moment before looking away, directing her attention out the windshield.
“I didn’t actually do anything illegal,” she continued, hoping this was slightly more convincing than her last statement. “Marley was the one who was going to try to drive, and her boyfriend tripped into the table. I offered to pay for it, but–”
“Drunk and disorderly conduct. That’s what they’re charging you with. Desdemona, I can smell the alcohol on you from here.”
She sighed, tipping her head back to stare at the roof of the car as she blinked back tears. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” she muttered. Several seconds passed in silence before Eddie spoke softly.
“What do you mean? Now, or in general?”
“Either. I–I don’t know. Damian and Derek both have everything figured out. They’ve been working on the damned company since they were in high school, and you’ve been right there with them, all of you completely sure what you want out of life and how to get it. And what did I do? I studied four years of theater and haven’t even been to an audition in months, and what the hell did those robotics classes do for me? You can’t honestly tell me the three of you would even think about hiring me. And Damian always has this–this disappointment in his eyes when he looks at me, and I can’t handle it. He’s got everything he’s always wanted, and what do I have?”
Me. If you’ll just see that.
She watched him for a moment, exasperation in the set of her lips and regret in her eyes.
“Please don’t tell him I said anything,” she implored, her voice cracking on the last word.
Eddie reached out to rest his hand on hers, and relief swept over him when she did not draw back from the touch.
“I won’t,” he said. “You have my word.”
She nodded stiffly and turned away to stare out the window once again. Eddie’s heart raced, and the words burst from his lips before he could stop them.
“Desdemona… can we please talk about–”
July 26, 2232
As Mia watched, the fire began to spread up the embroidered ivory material. The flames leapt around the room, beginning to engulf it.
“I think it’s time to check out.”
Mia turned on her heel and opened the door, closing it briskly behind her as she started swiftly down the hallway.
The elevator no longer awaited her. Mia pressed the down button and glanced up at the lights above the golden doors, which told her the elevator was on its way up from the lobby. She tapped her left foot impatiently. There were other ways out of the building, but this was the least conspicuous.
Humans are too lazy for the stairs unless they know something’s wrong.
The doors dinged and opened at last, and a man in a white button-down shirt stepped out. He smiled at her as they switched places, a gesture which she returned as she pressed the button for the first floor.
His smile faded as abruptly as it had appeared. “Do you smell smoke?” he asked.
Mia took a deep breath, pulling in the charred smell that now filled the hallway.
“Yeah, I do.”
The man’s expression of alarm disappeared behind the elevator doors, and Mia moved downward toward the lobby.
July 25, 2232
Eddie heaved a sigh and stared at the holographic readout in front of him without seeing a single projected word.
He hated that no matter how he tried, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Her beautiful blue eyes, her bright smile, the perfect softness of her lips against his, the warmth of her skin…
Stop it, he ordered himself. Now.
He closed his eyes and lowered his head into his hand.
What good will it do? She doesn’t love you.
For a moment, it had seemed as though she’d loved him. She’d let him see her in a way he liked to think no one else had. Desi had always been private about her innermost emotions, and even if it had been a momentary lapse in judgment on her part, she had confided in him about her parents’ deaths.
She wouldn’t have, if she’d known they were your fault.
His jaw tightened. He’d wanted to tell her for years how much she meant to him, how much he cared for her. He’d finally found a way to show her, and if only for a moment, she’d shown him something similar. Or perhaps she’d just wanted the night of comfort and the illusion of reciprocated feelings. Perhaps she hadn’t actually cared for him or expected him to truly care for her at all.
She wouldn’t use you that way.
Eddie was certain the feeling of nausea that had settled in the pit of his stomach was a permanent one. He’d been unable to escape it since the morning Desi had left his bedroom with an apologetic glance and a few words about how they couldn’t sleep together again.
He couldn’t let her go that easily. He cared too much–he loved her too much.
“I have to do right by you,” he muttered.
Eddie let the holofile fall from his grasp, and it clanged against the shining metal surface of his desk. He pushed his chair backward and slid to his feet, his jaw set and his eyes fixed on the panel set into the wall opposite him. Within a few strides, he had reached the panel, and he pressed his palm to the scanner.
He said nothing in reply to the machine’s automated female voice; he focused his thoughts on pulling forth the proper model from the storage vaults in the warehouse’s unmapped depths. Since LDE’s creation, Eddie had been able to access and store any prototype he was so inclined to attempt, as had Derek and Damian. Eddie had no idea what the others might have stored within the warehouse, and the knowledge that they could not access his private experiments had helped him to sleep on several tortured nights.
I can’t give your parents back to you, he thought, only half-wishing Desi could hear him, but I can start to pay for what I’ve done.
He concentrated on using the warehouse’s neural interface to bring Mia from her place in the basement level of the warehouse’s storage area. Within moments, the silver doors set into the wall just to the left of where Eddie stood cracked open, and the familiar metallic pod pushed through the opening.
The whoosh-hiss of decompression broke the silence pressing in on Eddie. He watched as the pod’s glass lid de-fogged and the figure within became clearer.
“It’s my fault,” Eddie breathed. “But I will do everything I can to fix it.”
July 25, 2232
Mia tightened her grip on Eddie’s throat. The mechanical heart he’d placed in her chest was close to thrumming its way out of her, and for the first time in her life, she felt true regret. She didn’t want to hurt him.
“You want to shut me down? For her?” she snapped.
Eddie pulled at Mia’s fingers, working unsuccessfully to pry them from his neck.
“You–are–dangerous,” he choked.
“Whose fault is that?” she cried.
Her arm trembled as she held him off the ground, and she briefly wondered whether she’d been built with the capacity to shed tears.
“I’m what you made me,” she continued. “And you’re supposed to love me.”
Eddie’s lips moved once more, but no sound left them. His grey eyes fluttered shut.
Mia glanced to the cryogenic tube she’d been trapped inside for the better part of six years. She loosened her grip and began to lower Eddie to the floor.
“Maybe the other you will,” she whispered.
About the Author
Mandi Joudan studies Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Her prose has appeared in four anthologies by Sinister Saints Press, Coming Around Again by the Central Arkansas Speculative Fiction Writers Group, Quickfic, Beyond Science Fiction Digital Magazine, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Theme of Absence, the 2015 and 2016 editions of Grassroots Literary Magazine, and the Kaskaskia College Scroll. She has stories forthcoming in 9Tales, Digital Science Fiction, and the 2017 edition of Grassroots Literary Magazine. She can be found on Amazon and on Twitter (@MandiJourdan), or at Whatever Our Souls (whateveroursouls.com), the literary magazine she co-edits.