Mato was a strapping young man. He didn’t remember much more than the reservation. He sat in a wooden boat watching the ocean around them. Nothing stood out, not much to see besides more water. He hated it; he hated it for its beauty and boredom. It moved in endless waves of nothingness.
Handling his spear, he stood up now with the other young men his age. They looked around at each other in their makeshift goggles and snorkels, wearing random scraps of leather and any waterproof material they could find. The sun shone in his eyes, interfering with his ability to see over the side of the boat. The other men, the clones, for they all looked exactly like him, started to dive. This was the task created for his model. This was the way they contributed to the community waiting for them on the shore.
Mato listened for the signal, a long whistle, and yelp that would tell them when to dive with their spears in hand. They would capture a whale that day, enough food to last for weeks, which would be nice. There wasn’t always enough food to go around. The reservation was sparsely populated and located on an artificial island. Not much grew on the shore; it was just sand and rocky caves that they took to hiding in when the rains came.
It was time. Eyota blew the whistle, and they were off. Eyota stood out like a sore thumb. He looked nothing like the ragged boys he called brothers. Eyota tried to dress down. He tried to wear tattered clothes that came in natural tones, but everyone could tell the difference. The materials were not the same. They were too new for any clone to afford. The wear patterns were fake and stylized, Mato didn’t think Eyota knew any better. The clothes made him believe that this is what he would look like if he were rich and tried to look poor. I would look silly, that's what I would I look like.
I shouldn’t think such ill will towards Eyota. He is one of the only reasons their home existed. His money personally flowed through the reservation like a river giving it life. Eyota stayed on the boat steering and driving it as the young men jumped off.
The light shinned reflecting off the water blinding Mato for a split second just enough to offset his dive. He stumbled and knocked his head on the side of the boat, sending a quick stream of blood down his face. The other boys who were after him were concerned, and they started to sound a simple alarm. His brothers leaped to his aide.
The others dove down, looking deep into the sea. The clones who had makeshift scuba gear dove down deeper than the rest. They reported back with their hands, making signals up as they went, moving their hands in basic patterns while they swam. The whale they thought they were fishing for started to swim towards them in a strange, illogical way. Panic spread like a shock wave and grabbed them harder than the cold ocean. The unprepared young men speared underneath the waves. They stabbed at the darkness. The large harsh eyes that stared back at them was no whale. It was something new, a monster that they had never encountered before.
The panicked clones tried to swim for the surface, tried anything to get themselves above the water and away from this beast of the sea. It seemed to laugh at their flailing and inept attempts to swim away. The young had taken the wrong bait today. What looked like one known giant monster of the sea was not that at all. Soon the singular set of eyes that they saw became many. What they were looking at was a school of great chameleon sharks. They swarmed the spear fishermen and ate at their bodies. Blood filled the water around them. The ocean turned from deep blue to a maroon of blood, and severed clone body parts floated without their owners.
Mato had been unconscious as his rescuers swum with him away from the massacre. His rescuers looked back in horror as their friends jumped in, not knowing the full scale of the danger that lurked below. More and more clones abandoned the boat to try and save their friends. This only fed the sharks more. Mato started to wake, he stirred his hands and feet suddenly, and his rescuers let him take more control of his own swimming. He awoke to a sight he had trouble comprehending blood in the water and some kind of danger below that he couldn’t see. The rescuers panicked, and Eyota, the sole benefactor of one of the last clone reservations, was left the sole occupant of their boat. This was no longer a fishing expedition. Mato swam towards the danger.
“Don't go that way you fool!” his clone brothers shouted.
Mato pointed at the terrified man. “If Eyota dies, we all starve.”
“He's about to jump into the water. He is as good as dead over there,” they replied. I can't let that happen.
He swam towards the danger, leaving his brothers to slow the pace of their retreat and look at each other.
“How is he so fearless?” one of his brothers asked.
“We are the same as him,” another said.
“We can do anything he can.”
Turning, his brothers followed Mato into danger. They shoved their fear of sharks to the side. The ball of terrifying dread sat in their stomachs as they swam towards the boat.
They swam with urgency, feeling the cold waters against their mostly unprotected skin, slapping it hard with what was turning into a limited supply of energy. They could see Eyota in a daze as he walked towards the edge of the boat.
“Don't jump in,” They all yelled separately and desperately. Mato flailed his arms as a warning to not jump in. Fear and panic spread across his face as Eyota misinterpreted this as an invitation to jump to safety. The other young clone men tried to swim even faster as they couldn't let that happen. With the way, the galaxy was today if Eyota was gone their whole race might not make it. The vessel bobbed in the water, and the men looked around to see if they could make the extra twenty-five feet to the boat.
Eyota jumped in. They were too late. The fins of a shark, still hungry from snacking on one of their brothers, swam towards Eyota. Mato had to act fast. I have to stop this, but how? There is no time to waste. He saw his brother slightly ahead of him by only a couple of seconds, and they would be next to Eyota, but then what? What could I do to change what’s going to happen? Mato touched his head noticing the cut that he’d sustained. That's it, time for action.
Mato rubbed his face and dove down, spreading the scent of his blood in the water for the sharks to smell. He looked up at the floating carnage. Body parts freely floated above him. He grabbed at them quickly, wielding a severed arm and leg like mallets made of flesh. He waved them around, mixing all the blood with the ocean. This got the shark’s attention. It turned towards Mato and ignored Eyota and his other clone brothers who rushed to save the rich man. The shark's eyes locked on Mato, giving the boy its full attention. The shark began to accelerate to full speed.
Mato watched as the clones pushed Eyota back and struggled to get back to the boat.
The shark moved closer. Mato ferociously whacked it in the face again and again with his makeshift weapons, knocking the shark off course. It circled around, giving Mato a chance to look at how Eyota and his brothers were doing. He didn’t have any strength left for the shock of seeing two more sharks swimming directly at his brothers. As the shark came at him again, he dropped the arm and leg he’d been using and rolled up onto its back. Using it as a springboard, he jumped towards the boat. Flinging himself over the last couple of yards, he made it back on board. Coming back up onto his feet, he picked up a spear and jabbed into the ocean.
Distressed, he realized that Eyota was the only one left to save. His brothers had been dragged under the ocean leaving him to rage at the water.
“Help me,” Eyota cried out.
Mato lent his hand and helped the man up onto the boat.
“This is not what I wanted. I couldn’t have known,” Eyota muttered.
Mato stabbed again at the bloody ocean.
Eyota got his attention. “Do you smell that?”
Eyota looked around while Mato continued to stab at the water. Mato's heart raced, causing him to scream. All of his emotions mixed and intertwined in his noise. Mato himself couldn't tell what the intention of the sounds was. Was it a deep laugh? A heartfelt cry? He just threw the spear back on the deck of the boat while the sharks feasted on his brothers, making odd splashing sounds. Mato fell to knees and he noticed the ocean. He watched the fins circle the boat and pull body parts below the water.
“Fire,” Eyota yelled.
Mato stood, turning to look at the smoke that rose from the lower level.
“Don't just sit there grab a bucket,” Eyota ordered.
“Yes, we need to put this out, or we're going back into the ocean with those monsters!”
“Maybe we should,” said Mato. “Maybe this is our fate.”
“Don't get melodramatic on me now. We need to save ourselves then figure out what fate has to say about it later.” Eyota grabbed a bucket and fearlessly dipped it into the water catching some blood and clone body parts with it. He didn't have time to filter the recent carnage from it. He just grabbed the bucket and ran towards the hatches on the deck of the ship, throwing a stream onto the fire.
Come on boy, it’s now or never. What happened to that unyielding spirit from a couple of minutes ago? Don't tell me that you can't lift a bucket after what I just saw. Mato got up and grabbed the nearest bucket. Still seeing the fins of the sharks circling he looked down over the edge of the boat. He turned his head away and refused to look at what he scooped up. Afraid it could be pieces of flesh identical to his own, and to see the red tint of his brothers’ blood. I have to do this. There is no other way. He tried to clear his mind while he lifted the water and threw it towards fire on the lower level of the boat. Eyota did the same. One man rushed in with water while the other filled a bucket. They were careful not to get into each other’s way. The smoke started to get back burning their eyes each time they went back into the boat. They shoveled bucket after bucket onto burning wood until the flames went out. Smoke and steam filled the air around them; a small cloud of haze followed the boat staying just above it while it floated on the ocean.
“Thank you. I'm glad you snapped out of it,” Eyota stated.
“I didn't do this for you,” Mato replied
“I know son.”
“I'm not your son. I'm no one's son. I am only a brother.”
“Never thought of it like that. It's certainly true, and you have plenty more back home.”
“They are the reason why I saved you.”
Eyota raised his finger to point at Mato. “You don't have to be so blatant.”
“I don't know of any other way.”
“Time will teach you.”
The two men seemed to lose interest in talking at the same time. They went back to trying to breathe while the dissipating smoke still filled their lungs. Tired and emotionally drained, they lay on the hard floor of the boat’s deck while it rocked to the waves of the ocean. It was quiet again, no other sounds besides the waves and the rocking of the boat. It was somehow so tranquil, shockingly so after what had transpired only moments before.
Mato lay on his back and looked at the stars. He could see the lights of spaceships orbiting the planet as they streaked across the sky. He could see the uncountable number of little white dots in the black sky. The light from them and from the planet’s two moons lit up the ocean and the boat in a subtle glow. It was beautiful and awkward to gaze at. Mato wished his brothers could see this again, instead of being sacrificed for a rich man's fishing trip. Eyota fell asleep sitting, hunched over by the interior door. It seemed he did not trust that the fire was gone entirely. Soon Mato's eyes weighed heavy, and he was asleep before he even noticed the change.
A bright spotlight shone in Mato's face from the airship as it hovered above them. Its engines were loud and booming, interrupting the quiet. A downward wind from the ship pressed against Mato. He covered his eyes in an attempt to adjust to his sudden awakening. He realized all the smoke had gone away, and they could be clearly seen. Eyota was waving at the airship, moving his hands from side to side. It turned, revealing a large bay door that opened. It was then Mato that saw more of his cloned brothers. They must have been out searching for them because the boat could no longer check-in. The clones dropped a rope ladder to Mato and Eyota so they could pull themselves up to the airship.
Mato had no problem climbing to join his clone brothers in the airship. He was greeted by all of his brothers who clapped and hollered once he was among them. Eyota struggled to pull himself up the rough and scratchy rope, so Mato’s brothers hauled the rope ladder back into the airship dragging Eyota along. They all sighed in relief once Eyota was secured. Marco, one of the most renowned clones in their reservation smacked the side of the ship signaling the captain that it was time to head back.
“We are glad you are back, Eyota. We need your help. The rain has almost started,” said Marco
“This early? It's getting to be more frequent,” said Eyota
“That is not all. We have visitors who are looking for ya.”
“What type of visitors?” he asked
“Soldiers or maybe mercenaries. I'm not sure how to tell the difference.”
“Interesting. Must not be too bad. They would have already wrecked the place if it was.”
Marco and Mato shared a look of concern. The engines thundered as they started back to the reservation.
“Don't worry, the reservation has nothing to be concerned about,” Eyota stated.
The airship flew over the ocean, its spotlights shining on the blue waters. The doors remained open creating a breeze the chilled Mato. He clutched his seat in the airship and brought his knees to his chest while he thought about his return. He thought about the tent he lived in and how it would be empty now. This made him sad.
They reached and saw the shore of the dry, sandy island that they’d come to call home. They watched as the sand gave way to small farms and a rocky desert plain. Further on, this led its way into canyons and caves. They lived on the plains, past the old run-down casinos. Mato could see the long cords of power lines that ran from the towers into the land and back out again. The illegal siphoning kept his people alive. Mato thought about how the casinos with their large neon signs and robotic repair equipment didn't need the power anymore. They’d had their time. No one visited them anymore, and lucky for them. A visitor would complain about the wires which sometimes sparked and burned themselves out. His brothers were always out at the casinos repairing a siphon or starting a new one. It was dangerous work, for sometimes the security system of the old casinos would turn back on, firing lasers at anyone who dared mess with the old buildings. It was so hazardous Mato thought that instead he would take the easier job of fishing. That just didn't work out. His luck wasn't so good.
The airship flew closer to the reservation, and Mato could see the wires reach a point and spread out to cover the walls of a huge gravel pit. It was large enough to fit all the casinos before they were abandoned decades ago. The wires lined the pit, and all the clones could connect to any power line they needed to. It was unreliable but actually quite convenient for what it was. The beige walls of the pits clouded with dust as the airship came to a landing in its designated spot.
The reservation had five airships parked on the flattest area of the cavity. Only two of the five airships worked, the rest were used as luxury houses for the elder clones of the reservation. Eyota looked towards the only permanent structure, his residence, a condo that was carved out of the side of the pit. It had a large panel wall that kept it out of sight from the rest of the reservation. It hid treasures that Mato did not understand. Eyota said he didn't like to rough it for too long in his Condo. Mato had no idea what Eyota considered a real luxury at one of his actual residences. Eyota's place served as a makeshift command center and government administration building for the reservation. When they need to deal with matters off-world the elders came to Eyota and used his equipment.
They landed, and Mato was rushed by the elder clones to the medical tent. He was put on a stretcher and was laid in one of the cots that were what they used as hospital beds. Eyota was escorted back to his condo. He disappeared into it. Mato looked around while in his bed. He enjoyed the rest, of not being on his feet, and the calmness of being back in the place that he knew as home. Even if it was inside the medical tent. The lead nurse came over to examine him. He was no stranger to being hurt, but he hadn't met the head nurse often. Usually one of the other girls his age would help him, or it would be the occasional missionary that came and went. He enjoyed taking pictures with them because sometimes they would let him get a glimpse of the broader galaxy. Mato didn't understand much of what they showed him. They told him about The Acolytes and The Whilom Lytes; they told him the history of the collapse of the CDF. He wondered what it would have been like to be born years ago when the galaxy was at war, and his people rivaled the powers that be instead of hiding and cowering.
The lead nurse bent down. “Are you feeling ok?” she asked.
“Yes, have you heard of me? Give me some drugs, and I will be fine,” he replied.
“Do you hurt anywhere? All I see is the usual scratches and bruises you late models always have. I heard about what you did. You might have saved all of our asses,” said the nurse
“It was nothing. Your model has done way more than we have.” He looked at her more closely. “Aren't you a pleasure model?”
She straightened up, her blue eyes lost her warmth, and she grabbed an old beaten down clipboard that was placed by Mato's right side.
“We aren't called pleasure models, we are BCW14s. I know that you know that,” she answered.
“Sorry, didn't realize you old lady clones were so sensitive,” he replied.
“Old lady? My relative age is 47 cycles,” she countered
“Like I said, old lady models,” Mato replied. The nurse sneered, pressed intently on her digital board, and moved on.
“You seem fine,” she muttered and turned to walk away.
“Hey what about my drugs?” he raised his voice.
“Ask a late model nurse. Oh, wait they don't have access, do they?” she replied.
Mato laid back down and tried to close his eyes. I can leave in the morning. Nothing beats my own cot, but this will do for tonight. His eyes narrowed, and he mentally closed the noises of the reservation down until he only heard the sounds of the powerlines. The gentle crackling that was almost omnipresent relaxed him as he went to sleep.
Mato awoke to Eyota staring over him along with some of the elderly models. The lead nurse looked on in the background. “Good morning. I never had a chance to thank you for saving my life. I have been told by our friends outside the planet that the rain is about to start. Your clone elders told me that they want to bestow an honor upon you,” Eyota stated.
“When the rain begins, we want you to start the drums. We are giving you the honorary drumstick,” an elder stated.
He presents Mato with a large wooden stick with a soft white fur head. Electronic pegs retracted as he handed it over. “Umm, I guess this is an honor, right?” Mato asked.
“Yes, it is. Don't cock it up.” Eyota stated as he left.
The elders followed him, but some stopped briefly as they went through the medical tent, saying hello and visiting the sick that weren't contagious. They seem to rush through the other patients as they moved on back to Eyota's residence.
“You see I'm a big deal. Personal friends with Eyota. You better give me the drugs I ask for, or I will tell him myself.”
The lead nurse rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn't dignify Mato's request with a response.
A group of nurses looked at him, the later models that were his age.
“Don't play with your stick,” one said.
“Ya put that away,” from another. They giggled.
Mato looked embarrassed, his cheeks filling up with a rosy glow. Mato got up and moved to vacate the medical tent, but suddenly he felt sore from all the action of the day past. He tried to continue but was stopped when he saw a stretcher with a strange looking person, the likes of which he had never seen before. They were just arriving, and they were going to use the cot he had just left. Wow, looks like I am already old news.
“Hey, Mato. Mr. big stick hero man.” One of the stretcher bearers --a clone --called to him.
Mato recognized him, the slight differences in their appearance stood out glaringly. It was L2. “What are you talking about?” Mato asked.
“Need some drugs?” L2 replied.
“No, I was only trying to have some fun with the nurses. I'll be fine. I'm not really hurt that bad,” Mato said.
“I'm not talking about drugs for your body. I'm talking about drugs for your mind. Some of the best that Natties can offer.”
“I don't really mess with that,” said Mato.
“Yea, you do. Mr. Big Man. You are literally carrying the biggest stick around, you can have some Derailler. It will derail your mind of troubles.”
Mato thought about it for a second. “No, I can't be doing that right now. Like you said, everyone is looking at me now. I'm going to start the rain ceremony, and I want my head clear for that,” said Mato.
“Suit yourself, big man. Before long, you will be coming to me,” said L2.