The Clone Betrayal

Steven L. Kent - Author

Paperback: Mass Market | $7.99 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780441017874 | 384 pages | 27 Oct 2009 | Ace | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP
Summary of The Clone Betrayal Summary of The Clone Betrayal Reviews for The Clone Betrayal An Excerpt from The Clone Betrayal
Lt. Wayson Harris was born and bred as the ultimate soldier. But he is unique, possessing independence of thought. And when the military brass decide to blame the clones for the decimation of the U.A. republic, Lt. Harris decides to stop being the scapegoat, with all the firepower he can muster.

Earthdate: October 3, a.d. 2516

Location: Fort Bliss, outside El Paso, Texas

Planet: Earth

Galactic Position: Orion Arm

I sat alone on a row of aluminum bleachers overlooking a parade field on which squads of newly recruited natural-born soldiers drilled. I paid no attention to the platoons doing jumping jacks and running. Instead, I concentrated on squads learning how to fight with pugil sticks. I had endured these same drills nine years and two wars ago. Boot camp was tougher back then, we had veteran drill instructors. The natural-born DIs drilling these boys were fresh out of diapers themselves.

Sergeant Major Lewis Herrington quietly came up and sat on the bleachers behind mine.

I would have demanded a salute from anyone else. As the highest-ranking guest of the Clonetown detention facility, I had that right; but Herrington and I were members of an exclusive club. He and I had both survived the final battle of the Avatari war, a claim only four people in the entire universe could make. He did not need to salute.

"How do they look, sir?"

"Like conquering heroes," I said.

As natural-borns, the five thousand recruits on the field came in all shapes and sizes. Many of them did not fit well into their government-issue tees and shorts. There was a time when one size fitted all enlisted men because every enlisted man came from the same helix. Some clones packed on a few extra pounds in the orphanages and some reported to boot camp looking skinny. I had five inches on everybody going through boot camp, but that's how things go when you are a one-of-a-kind clone.

Herrington, who had just turned fifty, had more white hair than brown. He was the oldest inmate in our little camp, but he was bred in a laboratory and born in a tube like the rest of us. We were all created for the same calling, to serve in the military. He had gone through boot camp thirty years before me, but he saw what I saw—substandard training.

Some of the natural-born recruits on the parade ground looked like they could fight, but most of them looked better suited for writing poetry. Unlike us, they grew up civilians, never suspecting they might one day be drafted. Many of them were clearly less than enthusiastic about their new life in the military.

Perhaps as many as a hundred soldiers had paired off for sparring with pugil sticks. In one match, a tall, lanky kid came out swinging against a short, chubby opponent. The short one looked like he wanted to drop his stick and beg for mercy.

The whole point of skirmishing with pugil sticks was to simulate long rifles and bayonets at close range—antiquated stuff, but a good discipline builder. The sticks were four feet long with padded ends, not that "padded" meant "soft." A solid blow with a pugil stick could break an opponent's ribs or leave him with a concussion.

The combatants were supposed to hold their hands a shoulder's width apart and pivot the stick back and forth while they struck with the ends; but this tall kid came out choking one end of the stick with both hands and swinging it like a baseball bat. If the shorter kid had even the slightest idea about how to fight, he could have blocked one of the other guy's crazy-ass swings and sent him down for the count; but the kid kept backing away.

I could not decide which bothered me more, the rube swinging his damn stick like a bat, the miscreant cowering in fear, or the pathetic specimen of humanity masquerading as a drill instructor. The man leading the squad was a lieutenant. The Army of the Unified Authority no longer had any actual sergeants to drill its recruits. Sergeants were noncommissioned officers. The military had not seen a natural-born below the rank of lieutenant for over two hundred years. Now that they were building their "more invested" army, they had to use officers to train the first generation of grunts. When it came to the in-your-face nastiness needed to drill new recruits, the silver-spoon boys of the officer corps just did not cut it.

Having eliminated their cloned conscripts, the natural-born officers now found themselves performing tasks formerly relegated to clones. From here on out they'd use natural-borns to rush enemy strongholds, peel potatoes, and mop latrines. The satisfying irony of the situation did not go unnoticed around Clonetown.

Down on the parade grounds, several platoons had pugil stick fights going, but Herrington spotted the fight that interested me at once. "God help them if they ever go to war," he said. "Those boys would need to improve just to qualify for shit."

"They're not all like that," I said. Just a few feet away from the brute and the wimp, two boys went toe-to-toe, really hacking at each other. Neither man showed any inclination to defend himself. With all the blows they were taking, it looked like they were pummeling each other with pillows. Their drill sergeant should have stepped in and decked them both.

It was late in the afternoon, with the sun still high in the sky. The day had cooled from miserable to unpleasant, and long shadows stretched across the desiccated ground.

Behind us, veterans with actual fighting experience headed back to camp. Clonetown was a fifteen-acre compound built to house ten thousand men and currently hosting thirty thousand. Dual barbed-wire fences surrounded the compound, and sharpshooters with rifles manned the towers along the outer fence, but we were allowed to leave the compound during the day. I came here every day to watch the high comedy of these natural-born recruits; but once the sun went down, I had to report back. We had nightly roll calls, violations would not go unnoticed. After roll call, the guards closed the gates, and we turned in for the night.

"The general population cannot possibly feel safer with these speckers protecting them," Herrington commented.

"The average citizen doesn't know and doesn't care," I said. "As far as John Citizen is concerned, the sun still rises in the east and the sky is still blue. He sleeps cozy in his bed every night safe in the knowledge that Congress has his back."

Down on the parade ground, the drill instructor finally broke up the mismatch between the tall guy and his squat victim. I actually felt sorry for these new recruits. How many hundreds of years had passed since the days when the regular Army was made up of regular men?

Herrington sat in silence watching the recruits for a couple of minutes, then asked what we were all wondering: "Sir, how long do you think they're going to keep us locked up out here?"

"You got someplace to go, Sergeant?" I asked.

"No, sir."

I knew three answers to his question. As an officer, my job was to give the party line—a simple, We'll leave as soon as we receive our orders, would suffice. Then there was the honest answer, the answer Herrington deserved. That answer would be more along the lines of, Wherever they send us, it won't be any better than this. But there was a third train of thought, one that I even hid from myself. The new Army had approximately sixty thousand new dumb-shit recruits guarding the thirty thousand trained fighting machines now residing in this camp. They had the guns and the numbers, but we had the know-how, and the experience. If we decided to make a break, some of us would survive.

Down on the parade grounds, the drill instructor yanked the pugil stick out of the hands of his timid recruit and shook it in the air. He demonstrated the proper way to hold the stick by waving it in the man's face. I could not hear him from this distance, but it looked like he was giving the entire platoon a good drubbing. You learn how to read DI body language in boot camp. It's a lesson you never forget.

"The guys we had in our platoon back on New Copenhagen . . . I bet we could have taken every man on that field," Herrington said.

"I bet we could," I said, knowing he was both joking and speaking a truth. We couldn't really have routed five thousand men with forty-three Marines, but we would have given them a beating they would not have soon forgotten. We had a veteran force—forty-three fully trained and seasoned fighting Marines. Forty of them did not make it off that planet. "Hooha, Marine," I said. "We would've knocked them flat on their asses."

Herrington watched the raw recruits for several seconds, then said, "General Smith wasn't even on New Copenhagen. Why does Congress give a shit what that speck thinks?"

I heard what Herrington said, but a different thought ran through my mind, and I laughed.

Herrington misread my laughter. "Do you think it was our fault we lost those planets, sir? Do you think the clones ran scared?" He sounded defensive. Even though he thought of himself as natural-born, Herrington grouped himself with the synthetics. He was an enlisted man. In our world, the terms "enlisted" and "cloned" were synonymous.

"I just had this mental image of Smith leading a squad of grounded fighter pilots into the Avatari cave," I said. That was the first time I thought about the cave that the aliens had dug on New Copenhagen without an involuntary shudder. That cave . . . I took a full platoon and two civilians into that cave. Nearly fifty of us went in, but only four of us made it out. On that mission, I discovered a newfound appreciation for Dante and the hell he traveled through in the Inferno.

"General Glade said he would . . ." Herrington began.

I cut him off. "Herrington, they have us locked up in a camp in a desert. Who do you think cut the orders that put us here?"

"General Smith was the one who . . ."

"And has Glade done anything to get us out?" As commandant of the Corps and a survivor of New Copenhagen, Glade was generally seen as one of the good guys by most Marines.

"Son of a bitch," Herrington whispered.

"Yeah, son of a bitch," I repeated. "These days, it's a whole lot better to be a son of a bitch than a bastard bred in a tube."

Herrington snickered, an uncomfortable sort of snicker that hinted that his neural programming was still intact. Even now, locked up in a relocation camp in Texas, he didn't like saying bad things about superior officers.

Down on the field, the drill instructor gave the stick back to his timid recruit. He pushed the boy back out to fight. The little guy and his bigger opponent circled each other like crabs, occasionally feigning an attack but never committing themselves. After more than a minute, the drill instructor stepped in between them, cuffing them both on their helmets and probably daring them to strike him instead of each other. Neither took the bait.

"I'm glad I didn't have to babysit assholes like that on New Copenhagen," I said.

Herrington relaxed and laughed. "Yeah, that would have been bad," he said.

We watched the drills in silence. After a few minutes, Herrington gave me a nod and went back to the barracks. He was a good Marine, a tough Marine, a man ruled by duty and integrity. His hair had gone white, and some of the starch was missing from his shoulders, but I could still count on him. When the shooting started, Herrington would never cut and run.

Compared to Clonetown with its tin-and-tent architecture, Fort Bliss looked like a civilization meant to endure. It had brick buildings, tree-lined streets, and grass-covered lawns. Our car pulled up to a two-story building that could have passed for an old-fashioned schoolhouse. Lights blazed in the windows, and guards waited just inside the doors.

"What happened to the rain?" General Smith asked as he stepped out of the car.

I ignored him.

The storm might have vanished, but the air felt as humid as a wet towel. Doldrums. At least the temperature had dropped a few degrees.

Four guards held the doors open for General Smith and me to enter. They led us into a small conference room with an eight-man table, audiovisual equipment, and a screen. Smith asked me if I planned to behave myself. When I assured him I did, he told the guards to wait outside.

Now that we were in an air-conditioned office, I missed the heat. My clothes were damp from sweat and rain, and the overchilled air gave me a shiver.

I had long ago dismissed any illusions that General Smith cared for my welfare. Whatever he had up his sleeve, it would only get me far enough out of the frying pan to assure that I landed in the fire. "You served under Admiral Klyber, didn't you?" he asked. That was all I needed to hear to know that I was headed to the Scutum-Crux Fleet. The late Admiral Bryce Klyber had spent more than a quarter of a century commanding that fleet.

I said that I had.

"Did you ever visit Terraneau?" Terraneau was the capital of the Scutum-Crux Arm.

"No, sir," I said.

"I see. It's a beautiful planet. Lakes, oceans; it's a lot like Earth." He slid a folder across the table.

"It's been four years since the Avatari captured Terraneau, Harris. The first two years, we had no idea how to get through the ion layer in which the Avatari sealed the planet. After the experiments you ran on New Copenhagen, of course, we picked up a few new tricks."

The fat old man with the graying hair and the piglike eyes, watched me closely as he spoke. He was cordial, but I sensed a sharp blade inside his voice. He did not care what happened to me or the clones who had once served under his command.

"We haven't tried to reclaim any of the planets we lost during the war. As things now stand, the U.A. doesn't have enough population to restart lost colonies; and quite frankly, I doubt Congress has the stomach for it." General Smith slid into briefing mode that quickly. The conversation portion of our interview had ended, and he was giving me my next assignment.

"We have fleets orbiting fifteen of our lost colonies."

The man had a knack for putting a positive spin on a dismal situation. Our fleets were orbiting those planets because they were trapped. Without the Broadcast Network transmitting our ships across space, our fleets could not travel between solar systems.

"We have attempted to make contact with those planets," Smith continued. "Nothing big, mind you. Following your lead, we fired nuclear-tipped torpedoes into the ion curtains surrounding those planets and tried radioing in, but until last week, we've never made contact.

"Last week the Scutum-Crux Fleet picked up a signal from Terraneau. We're sending you to look for survivors and retake the planet."

"Am I going in alone?" I was being sarcastic. We'd stationed over a million men on New Copenhagen, and the Avatari damn near annihilated us.

General Smith ignored my comment. "We don't know how many survivors are on the planet. We won't know anything until you report back, but we're guessing that the Avatari have done whatever damage they were planning to do and have gone home."

The damage the Avatari planned on doing to New Copenhagen included doping the planet with poisonous chemicals, then charbroiling the place. They had bored a mine deep into the planet and saturated it with a toxic gas. I saw a man blister and die from breathing the fumes.

"What happens if I find the place crawling with Avatari?" I asked.

"Liberate it," Smith said in a matter-of-fact tone. "That's your specialty, right? If anyone can retake Terraneau, it's you."

Early in my career with the Marines, I developed a taste for philosophy. Now, listening to General Smith, I remembered a line from Nietzsche: A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

"Just like that?" I asked. "Here's a planet, go capture it?"

Smith laughed. "You'll have the entire SC Fleet for support. Take whatever you need to get the job done."

"And once I retake the planet, then what? You said you didn't have enough people to reestablish lost colonies."

"If I were you, I'd start by establishing a base. That's your call, Harris. We're transferring our officers out of the Scutum-Crux Arm. Once they are gone, you will assume command of the fleet." He made it sound so specking magnanimous.

"You're sending me to the farthest corner of the galaxy to assume command of an abandoned fleet which you want me to use to retake an alien-held planet. Is that right? What if I say no?"

"I'll hang your ass from the nearest guard tower," Smith said without a moment's hesitation.

Another quote from Friedrich Nietzsche occurred to me: Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.

Has your career as a video game reviewer influenced your writing? Do you ever visualize the scenes you write as they would appear in a video game?

Exactly! You know that final battle between Mario and Bowzer in Super Mario 64…just kidding.

Yes, sadly, video games, paintball, and Laser Tag have dramatically impacted the way I write combat scenes. Video games have removed a level of separation from battle that movies could not. An entire generation of young men (and some young women) has grown up experiencing combat as depicted in games. You can't experience the fear through games, but games probably make combat a more visceral experience than movies do.

The way the Call of Duty games portrayed the landing on Normandy probably had more impact on my writing than any other moment in any video games.

The game-based combat experience suits Harris well as he is a character who feels a bit of a disconnect from the fear and chaos of battle.

The clones in your series have a history of their own, as seen in this book in Harris' visit to the exhibit on clones in the Smithsonian. Did the history you had already built in the series seem to demand a clone rebellion? Where did you come up with the idea of a clone army fighting for their rights against natural-born humans?

The Harris books have long demanded a rebellion of some sort.

Back when I was writing The Clone Elite, I received a message from a reader asking when the clones would finally "go Spartacus?" Actually, I got that question a lot. After the betrayal on the Mogat home world, they pretty much had to rebel.

I wanted to have the clones to rebel on New Copenhagen, but decided they had more pressing matters. That said, I did what I could to foreshadow future events by having them act out against their programming.

What challenges do you face in writing Harris, who has independent thoughts even as a clone, but who still feels the addiction to battle that he was programmed with? Is it difficult to write from the point of view of a character who isn't quite human?

The second book in the series, Rogue Clone, had this on-going thread asking if clones could have souls. It finally climaxed in an argument between Harris and Archie Freeman, a Baptist minister, who posited that there was no “soul gene” and that souls were not duplicated along with DNA.

The argument was my attempt at rummaging an answer to a question that has bothered me since I first started writing this series. It's all hypothetical, of course; but I don't think of Harris as being almost human. I consider him human.

At the risk of sounding politically ridiculous, I will say one thing more. One of the points I want to make with these books is that our origins do not define us as much as the decisions we make. Harris is a wolf that has decided to live the life of a golden retriever. Granted, he may never retire to that house on the hill and he will never have children; but I like him more than I like the officers who do get ahead in my books.

The Wayson Harris series began with The Clone Republic, published in 2006. How do you think your writing habits or styles have evolved since then?

When I wrote the first three Harris books, I generally gave copies of my first draft to a few friends and asked for suggestions. I worked some of their ideas into my next draft, gave it to a proofreader to clean out the typos, and that was what I submitted to Ace.

Beginning with The Clone Betrayal, that system changed dramatically. My first draft came out so weak that one of my friends could not even finish it. My second draft was such an improvement that I jumped right into a third. By the fourth draft, I had added new details and conflicts. The eyeliner-wearing sailors, for instance, did not appear until the fourth draft.

I was halfway through the sixth draft when the lovely and talented Anne, my editor at Ace, pointed out that I was three months late with my manuscript. I apologized and accidentally submitted my third draft. When she sent it back for revisions, I realized I had sent her the wrong draft and had to make one of the most embarrassing phone calls of my life. On the other hand, she got more and better revisions than she expected.

In your author's note to the book, you take some time to respond to reviews and questions about your books from readers and contributors on your own blog. How does having an ongoing dialog with readers and bloggers help you shape your work?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about writing novels as if they are a letter from you to your "ideal reader."

The people posting on Sad Sam's are my ideal readers. Getting to know them has been very helpful for shaping ideas. When I write, I try to imagine how they will respond to this twist or that joke. I also appreciate their encouragement.

Because it is such a small website, I am able to respond to the people who post and we have gotten to know each other pretty well.

Who are the authors and/or which are the books that have inspired you most in your own writing? What's next on your to-be-read list?

As a writer, the book that has made the biggest difference for me is On Writing, by Stephen King. I don't think we would be having this conversation if it were not for that book.

I am currently reading

The Zozer Brotherhood,

by Robert Elliot Wiese.

My top ten novels, in no particular order are:

  • The Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman
  • The Green Mile, by Steven King
  • The Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • The Razor's Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham
  • Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith
  • The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (and no, I am not faking it)
  • Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  • Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
  • Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • As a member of the speculative fiction community, I am always impressed by the works of Neal Stephenson, Orson Scott Card, Jim Butcher, John Scalzi, Jack Campbell/John Hemry, Suzanne Collins, and Dave Farland/Dave Wolverton.

    Unified Authority and the universe you've built for these novels begin with a decline in the U.S. economy in the early 21st century. What other modern trends have you drawn from to construct the future world you write about? What developments in the novels do you think are most plausible in our own world?

    The Unified Authority is the antithesis of The Jetsons. Well, maybe that's not quite accurate. It's a synthesis of The Jetsons, Blade Runner, and our world today.

    I wanted the Unified Authority to feel like our society, only with the added component of space travel. If somebody suddenly opened the door to colonizing the galaxy, the vast majority of our technological advances would involve colonization. We would care more about having a galactic army than designing 'the kitchen of the future' and cars that drove in the air.

    I have a friend who likes to point out that, "While times change, people don't." The Unified Authority military faces the same challenge that our military faces, public perception. Society loves its military in times of fear and hates the military in times of peace.

    When we feel threatened, we treat the men and women who serve our nation like heroes. During we feel safe, we gripe about the money "being wasted" on national defense.

    Will you be exploring more storylines in this universe?

    Yes. As long as people want them, I will keep writing them.

    Your website says that what you've learned through experiences such as growing up torch fishing and skin diving in Hawaii and working as a missionary in Idaho have shown up in your writing. Are there any real-life experiences that made their way into The Clone Betrayal that you'd like to share?

    I was a "graphic artist" at Sprouse Reitz, one of the last five-and-dime chains during its last years. I watched the political infighting that occurred when new leadership was brought in to save the sinking ship. I based some of the infighting in Betrayal on that experience.

    The spacewalk scenes always draw on the experience of night diving. The ocean is very different in the dark.

    The scene in which Harris is trapped in the dead ship with battleships patrolling the area is based on a lifelong phobia about sharks.

    I know, this sounds boring; but from mundane events spring the grandest dreams.

    Can you give us some hints about what's next for Wayson Harris?

    I am one year upstream from you chronologically. I submitted The Clone Betrayal last October. The Clone Empire is my current project—I am just finishing up my third draft.

    Harris begins his next adventure stranded on Terraneau, hated by all who know him, and wondering if he has lost his combat reflex forever. His fleet is gone, he has very few Marines, and the locals want him off their planet. Ellery Doctorow emerges as an important man on Terraneau. He is a leader driven by utopian ideals that leave no room for outside influences.

    And things get worse when Harris finally does make it off the planet. In The Clone Empire, the war between the Enlisted Man's Empire and the Unified Authority has gone cold, and somebody is assassinating the Empire's highest-ranking officers. Harris is definitely a prime target.

    I would never call any of the Harris books "hard science fiction," but I will say that there is more science to be found in The Clone Empire than in previous books.

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