Am I dreaming? Princess Dolores thought, the sky resolving above her waking eyes. Is this a dream? No… it is real. I’m going home.
Moving her neck, the Princess could just see the four bullet-headed medical drones carrying the Google Creche like pallbearers.
“Where are the other two—” she started, voice croaking with age and lack of use.
“To remind your highness,” said the Creche, its di-polar computer the model of politeness, “one drone was lost to the slow-mutants. The fifth is now ranging as a lookout for further threats.”
“Mm,” said the Princess, barely surprised at the computer’s existence. Things were now forgotten, remembered and forgotten again so often.
“Have we seen any people? I—” she stopped, “Have I asked that already?” After leaving the relative safety of D.C.’s iDome two things were clear: the human population of America was lower than expected, and the mutant population much, much higher.
Her age was what it was. She should have made this journey years ago, while her mind was still quick.
“Never mind, your highness,” said the Creche. “It’s all right. I’ve been in contact with the remnants of the SkyNet satellites. If you’ll remember, they said a sizeable portion of the tech-elite were uploaded into the Singularity.”
“That’s nice,” said the Princess. She paused. “And what about the rest?”
“Oh, eaten by mutants, I’m afraid. But they were poor. If I may venture an opinion, they’re really better off this way.”
“If you say so,” the Princess said dreamily, her attention wandering, then drifting into slumber.
She heard Daddy and Kellyanne talking about boring political things early in her time at the White House. She was young again, small, not the weighty middle-aged woman she would spend most of her life as, or the sagging senescent creature she was now. She’d been forced to listen, stuck while playing hide-and-seek under the Oval Office couch.
“The fact is,” Kellyanne had said, “we were the ones who understood America.” “No,” said Daddy. Somehow his face was in shadow, though the room did not strike Dolores as dark. “I won because I am America.”
Half-consciousness. The sky again, or a dream of it. Was that true? Did it happen? No matter, she told herself, as long as she believed in it hard enough.
Daddy. She had called him “Señor President” at first. A mistake, she learned, by the back of his hand.
“Don’t ever speak that filth in front of me!” he had shouted, then turned gentle, the wild swings in mood characteristic of him. “Call me Daddy.”
And she would. Perhaps he had never struck her, never raised his voice. Regardless, he was Daddy.
The heads of three marching drones flanked the sky above, the Creche’s inertial dampeners softening their robotic march.
“Creche—” she started, uncertain.
“Nothing to be alarmed about,” said the computer. “Everything is under control.”
“Is it?” she said.
“Yes,” it answered.
“Oh,” she said. “Good. I’m so looking forward to seeing home again. I need to.”
“We know that, your highness. We are making maximum effort to fulfill your desires.”
“This is the fourth time you’ve tried to run away.”
She was in front of his desk. Again—or was it before?—she could not see his face.
“Each time you were brought back here,” he continued. “No matter how far you got, you were brought back here.”
“You don’t own the whole world,” her voice snapped, like someone else’s.
“Enough of it to make sure that you’ll always be brought back here.”
That seemed familiar, but—it couldn’t be true. She loved Daddy, she had always loved Daddy. Perhaps that had been a movie she’d seen. She’d always loved movies, while they’d still happened.
Daddy, “Emperor-Elect” Daddy now, she’d been told, was just finishing a draft of a bill punishing the wearing of glasses with execution.
“Glasses,” the increasingly hulking, shadow-faced figure was saying, “Can’t trust ‘em. We don’t know what’s going on behind there. Probably climate terrorists. Ah!” He noticed her. “Good, I needed to talk to you. How old would you say you are now?”
“Fifteen….” she said uncertainly.
“Getting up there, right? I think it’s time we talk about retirement.”
She was puzzled, was about to say something, but he stopped her with a gesture.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be completely taken care of. Daddy doesn’t skimp. But it’s time you see… well, boys, bring her in.”
The door to the Oval Office opened, and a small child strode in. The child looked, almost exactly, like she had once upon a time.
“They call it a quick-clone,” Daddy said, salivation audible in his voice. “Dolly II. They can dial it to whatever age you want. It’s perfect, isn’t it? Just like you were.”
She was speechless. This wasn’t happening. But it continued to happen, lost in a slideshow blur of the memory, or dream, as she was politely but firmly led away from the Office to give Daddy and the new Dolly some alone time.
It was some days later, so engaged were Daddy and the interloper, that she was able to encounter Dolly II alone. The new Dolly was playing on the Green Room furniture, like Dolly herself had done and grown out of. When Dolly II saw her original, she froze.
“I love you,” she told her young doppelgänger as she twisted her little neck.
The quick-cloned Dolly III had made her act futile, the therapists had assured her. There was an infinite source of cells from which a line of eternally-young Dollys could be produced for Daddy. But, she had thought and continued to think, it had been worth it. The beautiful love of Daddy wasn’t a burden she would share if she could help it. She killed as many Dollys as she could, before they eventually made moves to stop her.
So many years of being a ghost in the White House, while the Emperor moved the capital to New York and the Tower. She barely registered his death, after the Thielfarm infusions ceased to work, and he was reduced, rumour had it, to an orange, pustulant blob of a corpse found on his golden toilet. The autodoc was unable to identify the thirty pounds of black mass in his colon, nor explain the fact that he was naked saving a modest bra.
Her desire to return to her homeland began then, but she was afraid. Even if the slo-trans monorails had still been operational, she had been sheltered, taken care of for so long that travel into the outside world frightened her. It was only now, as the effect of the Thiel blood began to lose its rejuvenating effect on her as well, that she knew she would have to attempt the journey if she would complete it ever. The gestation Creche for the clones was retrofitted by the drones to serve as a life-support and transportation pod, and the drones themselves the locomotion. How many had there been, at first? It seemed incongruous to the present number, but she didn’t know how. Her memory did not feel as clear as she thought it should be.
No, it was clear, it was just focused on what was really important: her home in the slums of Tijuana, now, after years of obscurity. The poverty, the chaos, but also a love from the people around her that she barely remembered, distant and different from Daddy’s love. Her last day there, a limousine slowly pulled through her neighbourhood. Were they lost? She had been alarmed, but also enrapt by the sight of such opulence. And then it stopped, the door opened, and the orange man leaned out.
“Beautiful! Gorgeous!” he exclaimed. “I love it! Look at the skin, doesn’t she look white to you?”
The other men in the car didn’t seem to need an order to know what to do. They darted out, seized her, pulled her into the limo as she squeaked with surprise, then began to cry.
“Mamá, Papá!” she had screamed.
“Shhh,” said the orange man. “We’ll take care of your mommy and daddy. Everything is going to be all right.”
And it had been, hadn’t it? There were… things that didn’t quite add up, but if she just believed everything was okay then it was, wasn’t it? Just like she believed she had not heard two sharp, efficient gun shots before the other men got back into the limo, and they all sped off into the future.
Dolly stared up into the cloudless blue sky. No pallbearer drones marred the expanse, and they had become so gentle she could no longer feel their movement. If she wasn’t so sure, she would say they weren’t moving at all.
It’s going to be so wonderful to finally get back home, she thought. It’s going to be great. It’ll be huge.