I open my eyes, but the view hasn't changed. I feel as though I have been here forever. The fluid that surrounds me is green and translucent, and I can see through my glass prison into the blurry shadows beyond. But that is all I see. He took my glasses away. He said I wouldn't need them anymore—told me he could perfect my sight.
John Bishop. Strangely enough, I wish he were here now. I'm lonely, although I know I'm not alone. Through the blur and darkness I perceive other glass cylinders like mine, with vague shapes floating inside. I'm trying not to think about them too much. Instead, I concentrate and bring Merritt's face into my mind. She sparkles at the top of my thoughts for a moment before dropping back beneath the darkening surface. I don't know why it's getting so hard to hang onto her image.
I was in the archive back in Baton Rouge when he found me. His voice sounded flat and dull in the closet-like space between the stacks. The effect was much like being doused with ice water.
"Gabriel, at last. You've been running for a long time."
I didn't try to escape—there was nowhere to go—just placed the journal in his outstretched hand and waited for…what? A fight to the death? I'm a pudgy guy with eyestrain, asthma, and a bad back. He stands about half a foot taller than me, a pillar of lean muscle and killer instincts wrapped up in a Brooks Brothers suit. And let's not forget the sunglasses—he kept those on, even in the dim light of the archive. I'm sort of glad he did; I wasn't eager to look into those eyes. I knew too much about what they'd seen over the years.
My best guess was that he'd kill me quietly and leave me there on the floor between the stacks. Part of me figured that an ironic death was better than a staged suicide or poisoning or grisly axe murder. In reality, I had come to terms with my impending end somewhere in the air over North Carolina. I wasn't prepared to live.
"You're descended from a great man," he said. "A hero."
"I know." Strangely, hearing my grandfather's story from Bishop's lips comforted me and I felt some of the fear drop away. Maybe a bit of Major Villere's courage had found a genetic resting place in his otherwise geeky descendent.
"I can see him in you, although there are obvious…differences. We all thought his line had died out, that there'd be no chance of bringing him back." Bishop paused here, and I closed my eyes, waiting for the deathblow.
"Gabriel, I'd like to make you an offer, if you'd care to listen."
Laughter exploded from my lips in short, choking bursts. My whole body shook, scattering droplets of sweat in every direction. Bishop drew a hand across his cheek, wiping some of the salty fluid away, but otherwise waited patiently until I calmed down.
"I'm listening," I finally managed, waiting for the next wave of hysteria to hit.
"Major Villere died long before we had mastered the invaders' Life Technology and harnessed it for our own purposes. I did everything I could at the time to keep him alive, but we simply didn't have the knowledge or experience. I was forced to bury my friend."
I shrunk against the shelf behind me as he reached over and wiped the river of sweat from my cheek, absently rubbing the fluid between his fingers.
"With recent advances in the science of cloning, I saw that there was a chance to fulfill the promise of immortality that I made to my friend on his deathbed. His son died without producing any children. But Villere's other family—his slave offspring—well, we weren't in a position to look for them until this year. You are the last surviving male. You can provide the DNA necessary for us to bring your ancestor back from the dead."
I processed that for a minute. John Bishop wasn't trying to silence my research; I had value to him as a source of genetic material.
"When?" I demanded, realization dawning. "When did you find me?"
He ignored my question. "When I learned you were traveling here to use the archive, I decided to leave you a little gift." He tucked the journal into his breast pocket.
"You planted your journal and the photographs for me?"
"You needed to know how vital it is that you cooperate with our cause. You needed more perspective on your nation's history. And you needed to know that you can rise above this"—gesturing at the stacks of dusty books—"and fulfill your destiny."
As I exhale, large bubbles rise lazily through the slime around my face. I like it; it makes me feel weightless and cool. The blurry darkness is peaceful, until Merritt sparkles up again—then I want to yell that I didn't choose this, would never have renounced my life. I want to tell her that, but then she sinks away. It's peaceful.
AN: If you've stuck with me this far, I appreciate it! Thanks very much for reading, I hope it was enjoyable.