An essay by Upton Stone, as provided by John A. McColley
Art by Errow Collins
Dr. Elias Stone was a brilliant man, no one will argue. He gave us gene therapy cures for Meiriss Syndrome, Ecks-Nuab Disorder, and Klecks. He perfected the external womb and a dozen patented processes for DNA manipulation. All of these, in their own ways, led to me.
I go by the name Upton Stone, though he called me Gamma. He wasn’t very good with names, or perhaps he didn’t think of us as much like people. I suppose it’s all moot now. I’m here, charged with his death. The hands on which blood spread looked much like mine, I admit, but they were not these. These hands have never hurt anyone, would never. I shall address each piece of so-called evidence against me, beginning with the physical.
The clear, most obvious thing in this whole situation is that every piece of DNA and forensic evidence will lie to you. There were five of us. We’re five years old, though we look like the good doctor did in his early thirties. I think he liked that on one level, having evidence of his progress toward immortality, turning back his own genetic clock, on hand. He was keeping more than one eye on his prize.
Yes, the killing blow was performed by a male of five feet, ten inches. Yes, brown hairs were found, and again, the DNA found in their root bulbs matches mine. That blood, like those found in other parts of the lab and attached house, will appear to be mine. As I’m certain you will understand, these things, so damning against the average person, narrowing down a field of billions of varied genetics, ages, heights, and weights, to one, are irrelevant in this case. We five all appear identical in these circumstances. There is simply no way to tell us apart with biometrics.
Means? Opportunity? Of course all of us had access to the candleholder that killed Stone, could lift it with the same ease. All of us were present, though two of us tried our best to stop Beta. We were too far across the room, and he moved with such speed, having decided on his course of action. The others, Alpha and Epsilon, seemed to be in on the thing, holding Delta and I back.
Motive, ahh, now we get to the crux of the thing, do we not? That’s where the tale draws out …
“Alpha! Beta! Gamma! Delta! Epsilon! To the common room, please!” Our creator’s voice beckoned us over the public address system. We each set down our work–for that was the point of us, you see, of having five more of himself, to pursue each field of his interest, to not have to give up on any tenable idea. We were not just research, but his research team. We entered the open area onto which each of our labs opened more or less at the same time.
“Are you ill?” Alpha had spotted it first, a bit of gauze taped to Stone’s inner elbow.
“No, no, of course not. Nothing like that. I’ve drawn blood for some more experimentation, an expansion of our workforce, you might say.”
“To reiterate, ‘Are you ill?'” Beta asked, always defensive, always snide. But he had a point. Stone had already expanded his personal impact on history, humanity, the universe, with our creation. Who else gets six lifetimes to do their work? “How far do you think you can take this thing before someone begins to notice? There are laws, you know. We’re all subject to destruction if someone outside realizes what you’ve done. We’ve committed no crimes, but we won’t get trials. We’ll be sanitized like old petri dishes.”
“No one will know. Construction of a larger facility is nearly complete.”
“In what dread locale? Antarctica? Under the sea? Detroit? Where will no one notice–what, another six? Another dozen Stones?”
“One hundred. There will be one hundred more of me–of us–in an underground facility. Worry not, my colleagues. We are all equals. We will work democratically to change the world in the ways we collectively find best. You are safe.”
“This all–” Delta waved a hand to encompass our lab. “–is a grand and great experiment, but do you really think one person should have such power? Even distributed across a hundred and six bodies? We could, if so inclined, take over the world. There would be nothing the nations of the world could do to stop us, should we put our minds to it, a team or teams of hackers to destabilize economic and communication systems via computers, teams working on advanced weapons, comic book level regeneration of bodily tissues, mass hypnosis, you name it, we could find the keys to unlock the knowledge and bind humanity to our collective will.”
“That is not the point of this endeavor, and never has been,” Stone asserted.
“And such endeavors never go astray, do they? Especially after the players begin to form subgroups and plan their own advancement.” Beta jumped back in.
I don’t think any of us liked the idea of our individuality being further diluted. The issue had come up already with just the six of us, but so many more? And what about the possibility of mutation, of individuals whose minds are warped by a change in neurotransmitter production?
“If this is a democratic conclave, why didn’t you discuss this with us before going ahead? We need to go over your long term plan and take a vote.”
“A vote? I’m afraid that won’t be possible this time. The samples I took were for comparative testing, quality control, not initial seeding. Your brothers are already months along their growth cycle. By end of year, we will be a veritable army of–”
That’s when Beta leapt into action. This spurred the rest of us. I was farthest from Stone’s position, so I saw the most and had the least chance to act to stop Beta.
As I said earlier, Alpha turned on me, expecting me to try to stop Beta, and Epsilon grappled Delta. Beta and Stone pulled on one another, not being martial artists, they ended up spinning around the far end of the room, by the fireplace, like a meat tornado. Eventually, Stone fell back and Beta took up a large wrought-iron candleholder that personally I always found too gothic for the modern space. I suppose that has no bearing on the case at hand.
At any rate, Beta loomed over Stone with the five-foot-long piece of metal, the candles fallen to the stone, broken like bones, maybe of puppets, given the strings–
Sorry, yes, Beta struck Stone, the man, not the floor, who slumped over the foot of the fireplace, head streaming blood into the grooves between the stones. As we all saw what Beta had done, we ceased our struggles and stood slack-jawed. I fell to my knees, the scene was so surreal. I had just witnessed me kill myself in an unprecedented case of suicide-cum-patricide.
Apparently, Stone had some kind of health monitor. The incident tripped it, obviously, and the compound’s computer notified emergency services. Before we could even all look at each other, an ambulance was screaming toward the estate.
The sirens in the distance brought me back to the moment. I became aware of the stone pressing into my knees and tried to stand. I found I couldn’t. My legs, my whole body shook. Beta’s actions had strummed me like a guitar string. I fell over on my side. Alpha offered a hand, but I only bobbed up, and ended sitting, hard. I couldn’t help much, and it seemed like he’d been through the wringer, too.
“We said ‘incapacitate,'” Alpha whispered, then again, his voice gaining urgency and volume. “Incapacitate!” He finally screamed. I stopped staring at the body and stared at him. It was a bit surreal, but I felt a kind of fire well up inside me. My hands balled up into fists, shaking, powerless fists, symbols of my shock and anger, nothing more. I could commit violence no more than … no more than had I thought any of us could.
“You planned this?” My voice was tremulous, too. My father, my mirror image, was dead, before my eyes, not in some accident, or of disease, but by my brother’s hand. It may as well have been my own hand. Who else would know? Could discern that it wasn’t me? A whole new spiral of confusion opened within me.
Alpha advanced on Beta, staggering. Beta still held the length of iron in his hands, though barely. “What are we going to do now? Where will we go?” Alpha demanded. The iron finally slipped from Beta’s fingers, striking the floor, sending a Jackson Pollock spray of crimson across grey-swirled white marble and a ring like funeral bells through the air. It bounced to a stop, ceasing its toll, as Alpha grabbed Beta. What was happening, the violence, the confusion? None of it made sense to me.
Epsilon sat stunned, much like myself, turning his gaze to each of us, trying to verify that what had happened was real. Delta turned away, unable to look, and shuffled for the liquor cabinet, a secret compartment none of us spoke about because Stone believed alcohol was a necessary evil, an indulgence of our baser animal selves, not something to be dwelled upon or glorified.
I watched from fifteen feet away or so. I just couldn’t get any closer to the body. The distance made it feel like I was watching on TV. This was some late night movie, a Midnight Zone episode.
“Go? Do? What were you going to do with his biotracker deactivated and him sleeping away the rest of his life in one of those cryobeds?” Beta tried to turn away, but Alpha held him. “Were we going to take his place, take turns being him as necessary, get out of here? That’s a joke! Which of us could pull it off? There can’t be five of us running around. An eight-year-old would know what happened, and law enforcement would be on us in hours. We’d live in labs on the other side of the glass for the rest of our lives, until they found out what just happened.”
“‘What just happened?’ Are you so cold? Distancing yourself from this?” Delta demanded, sloshing amber fluid from a glass that was practically a bowl. Splash, brown streaks and blobs in that region of the canvas Beta had begun.
“And what are you doing?” Beta retorted, indicating the drink.
“I didn’t kill him! It’s not the same at all. You’ve put us in quite a position. We’re all going to be held accountable, even if we keep them from figuring out we’re not just all brothers, sons to a mother no one’s ever seen.”
“Says who?” Beta said in a grim voice. The rest of us turned to look at him. “There’s no way for them to tell which of us did it. We’re smart enough to come up with a story, enough details, with perfect recall, blurred out for verisimilitude, create a doubt. We–”
Smash! A decanter of blue fluid struck the marble at Beta’s feet, launched by Delta and followed by a yellow–less well aimed–and a green. The air began to fill with smells of fruit and alcohol in earnest.
Beta said nothing else, but stepped over the fallen candleholder and strode toward the elevator. From there, he would either descend to the garage or ascend to the roof, where a small personal helicopter waited. He would get away. Amid a barrage of glass containers and continued splattering of colors now muddling together and pooling into another kind of art altogether, I stood. The fire I’d felt before, the impotent rage, was shifting. Beta had killed my father, my self … me. And now he was just going to calmly walk away, claim to be the man he’d felled and leave us to clean everything up, lest we be taken away as scientific curiosities and breaches of at least seven different laws.
Who would believe there was one more of us out there, the one who really did it, Officer, I swear? No one, and we could tell no one. I slipped, unsteady in the growing flood of degraded foodstuffs turned to toxic swill, but pursued Beta as best I could. Delta beat me to it though, with a well-placed, heavy, cut crystal decanter. Its squared corner struck Beta at the base of the skull, crushing his spinal cord and killing him instantly. The body spasmed as it slid to the floor, seemingly in slow motion, though that may have been my own perceptions slipping.
Beta down, Delta didn’t stop his attack. Though he was running low on bottles, there were piece of cutlery for slicing fruit, a hammer for crushing ice. All manner of heavy implements soared across the once barren space, adding to the morass. An ice pick caught Alpha in the throat, blood spraying in amazing, vivid, arcs onto the stone mantel, then dripped down onto the foot of the fireplace, onto the original Stone.
Epsilon charged, went down in the mess, flailing streaks of color as he tried to rise again. Delta cut him off with a magnum of champagne, too heavy to throw, but a perfect club. He only had to strike once, but that didn’t stop him. Very quickly, gore, bone, brain added to the scene, the front of the fireplace, the swamp of the great room.
Alpha collapsed to his knees, drawing my attention. I saw Beta’s remains already beginning to liquefy. We were clones, after all. Father had included a failsafe. Exposure to alcohol would shut us down far more quickly than the average man. Excessive exposure would even kill us, dissolving our very bodies. The magnum rolled toward me, a wave of muddy brown fluid ahead of it, as Delta succumbed, his flesh betraying his rage at what Beta had done. Everything was ruined now.
Everything was gone.
I was left to explain it all, to clear up all of your questions. Who–who’s that? Through the doorway just there? I know I saw him! Beta! Or was it Delta? Betrayers! Destroyers! I try to stand, to protect the world from their evil, but the manacles, looped through a steel ring on the table, keep me from moving around the table. You don’t understand. I have to stop them. They did it! All of it! I haul at the steel ring. Bone cracks. I pull, feeling my flesh pull back, incompletely. I kick at Beta, only he shatters.
The shards clatter to the floor, each one holds one of my brothers, mad, eyes wild, hair disheveled, slobbering. I stomp at them and stomp at them. Something bites my neck and my eyes get so heavy. I sleep.
Upton Stone claims to be a clone of Elias Stone, famed bioresearcher. He also claims to have witnessed several murders, of which authorities can find no evidence. Stone, regardless of first name, has been remanded to the local mental health facility after his apparently self-inflicted wounds were seen to.
John A. McColley claims to be a recent father of three, living at the edge of a three-hundred-acre wood. Evidence mounts that he, too, has lost touch with reality after months of sleep deprivation, spinning tales of mechanical men and magic. He reports waking many times a night to the screaming of very cute, but very angry, tiny, twin demons who demand milk and diaper changes.
Errow is a comic artist and illustrator with a predilection towards the surreal and the familiar. She pays her time to developing worlds not quite like our own with her artist fiancee and pushing the queer agenda. She probably left a candle burning somewhere. More of her work can be found at errowcollins.wix.com/portfolio.
“Killing Stone” is © 2017 John A. McColley
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Errow Collins