Arts, Comedy, Fun Stuff, Intro

Space Force 6 (Chapter Excerpt)

Draft Written by Alex Gross (copyright 2019)

Doctor Thomas Fenton wasn’t a real doctor. Not really. He called himself “doctor,” signed documents as “Doctor,” and introduced himself to his second, and third wife as “doctor,” but he wasn’t really a doctor at all. It bothered him of course, that he wasn’t really a doctor. But the consolation prize of calling one’s self “doctor” is that no one—in polite conversation—ever truly asks, “So—are you a real doctor?” It really never comes up.

Schooling was something Dr. Thomas Fenton always found very hard. In fact, there were a great number of things that Dr. Thomas Fenton felt were quite hard. Except for himself, that is, which may explain his first and second failed marriages.

Cunning, however, was something that Dr. Thomas Fenton had in buckets. He knew if he acted the part, looked the part, and spoke with an impressive array of complicated words, he would get by just fine. He dressed in a solidly outdated manner; always with a vest and tie tucked neatly beneath a faded corduroy suit that fit him poorly. Wire-framed glasses pushed inexplicably to the very tip of his long pointed nose.

“Mmm mmm hmm ‘splodin,” he hummed quietly the words on an old song written and recorded before he was born.

He could seldom believe they would buy it, but any time he was under any kind of immediate pressure, stress, or made to answer a question that only a true learned medical professional would know the response to, he would simply feign aggravation or temporary migraine until the problem went away.

“Hmm hmmm mmm hmm…floatin’.”

It also helped that he was a bit of a drunk. In his experience, many doctors and academics (the real ones) avoided copious amounts of alcohol and, by circumstance, avoided copious amounts of alcoholics. A phony doctor who stank of booze, rubbing his temples and stumbling over his words was shockingly not a difficult role to play. What was shocking was how well it worked, and how excellent Dr. Thomas Fenton was at playing the part. He often thought that if he had concentrated and worked as hard on his actual studies as he had done for the last 30-odd years on his elaborate charade, he may have actually become a doctor. But this was much simpler, he thought. And he’d thought that for many years, until that very moment.

“Hmmm mmm mmm to kill…but not for votin’.”

At that very moment, fake doctor, real drunk, Thomas Fenton was nearly 60 years old sitting in a very bright and very white laboratory, surrounded by all manners of gadgets and gizmos, quietly beeping and blinking the way that gadgets and gizmos are apt to do. In front of him, an electronic device bearing many words he didn’t understand, and very few that he did. Beside that, a steel and sterile-looking mug holding the steaming remains of a warm alcoholic concoction of his own invention, and beside that, a half-consumed lemon and orange donut from Marseille Croissant Boulangerie, a local faux-French Korean pastry shop that made him feel just the right amount of pretentious. He’d sworn off of the addictive pastries weeks ago, but this was one of those occasions where he swore it was medically necessary due to the insurmountable stress and it would definitely be his very last one.

“Mmm hmmm gun yer totin’.”

Imaginary doctor Thomas Fenton had stopped eating, stopped drinking, and started to rub aggressively at his temples. But this time it wasn’t an act.

The facility where Dr. Thomas Fenton sat was tremendously temperature-controlled. But in his body, it might as well have been over a hundred degrees. Beads of sweat began to form on his forehead and his palms left greasy wet streaks on the long glass table and the screen of the digital device that consumed his entire existence in that moment.

Though he could think about little else, there were a few things in that moment that he knew for certain. The first and foremost on that very short list was that he was expected to do something. Something that he wasn’t sure if he could do. And in that something were a tight bundle of other somethings, each one considerably worse than the last. And the second major item on that list was that he had precious little time to decide.

It was quite a dilemma for the phony doctor, and he’d wished he had more time. He wished, while his vision began to blur, that he would have listened to his Guidance Councilor, who also happened to be his physical education teacher, who also happened to not like him very much, and become a fisherman.

Fishermen, thought the good—but fake—doctor, had an easy life. He wouldn’t have been like those big boat crabbing fisherman he’d seen on TV shows, risking life and limb so that some broke twenty-something could take a date to some seafood themed chain restaurant. Just a fisherman. A normal fisherman. A guy with no title on a small boat with rods and reels and…nets, maybe? He wasn’t sure. Being a fisherman was a skill he never worked hard enough to pretend to be.

Why a fisherman? Why would Mr. Hillenbrand, a gym teacher who always seemed to have it out for an adolescent Tommy Fenton, suggest that because he had a poor physique and slightly below average reading skills, he would somehow be cut out for the illustrious career of hunting albacore? Ironically, and perhaps poetically, it would be fish that would become Dr. Thomas Fenton’s first of many projects with Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals. And it would be his successful career as a con artist that would eventually lead him here, perhaps at the end of that career, sitting in a Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals testing facility, feeling like he was about to ruin a perfectly good digital reading device with the regurgitated remains of a perfectly good half-donut from Marseille Croissant Boulangerie.

Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals, where Dr. Thomas Fenton had managed to hold down a mid-range management position, was a cutting edge 21st Century corporation with headquarters based in both the United States and South Korea. It was so widely known for the most progressive and wholistic solutions in medical technology that whenever spoken of in polite Korean conversation, the men and women who had even a fleeting understanding of the company’s many business endeavors would say, “와우! 어떤 최첨단 21 세기 기업!” which, roughly translated, means: “Wow! What a cutting edge 21st Century corporation!”

One of the earliest of many ambitious projects Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals sought to perfect, outside of typical off-brand recreations of already-existing pills to ward off early-onset dementia—or help students have a really really really lit psychedelic long holiday weekend, was in the highly experimental and often illegal practice of cloning. And like other scientific pursuits before them, RFP first began their experiments using animals; mice at first, then fish.

Fish cloning, surprisingly unlike mouse cloning, received very little objection from the reactionary press or the even-more-reactionary animal rights groups. Perhaps it was due to their refreshingly endearing PR campaigns relating to the reproduction of goldfish in various sizes and colors. Their largest success was a few years prior to employing pseudo-doctor Thomas Fenton when they created an aquamarine rainbow spectacle at the W. Wilson Goode Elementary Science classroom which they popularized with the title “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Goldfish.” Not the most clever title, but it captured everyone’s imagination. But they were just elementary school children, so what did they know?

Consequently, it was just after seeing the media frenzy surrounding this publicity stunt that Dr. Fenton decided he would seek employment at Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals. He remembered reading an NPCN headline that read “A School of Fish” and being intellectually frustrated by the lazy writing. “I could do better than that,” he’d thought before personally delivering his carefully fabricated credentials for a position within the company. In retrospect, he almost certainly should have made a fatuous resumé for the news network and not for the puzzlingly complex commercial medical science conglomerate. He knew just as little about the synthetic reproduction of fish as he did about the medical field, and if he were being quite honest with himself, even less about journalism. Being barely literate never seemed to hurt anyone else’s career in journalistic media.

What if mean old divorced Mr. Hillenbrand had inadvertently triggered some kind of metaphysical timeline-collapsing psychological vortex that sent poor, inadequate Thomas Fenton spiraling to some kind of fish-obsessed divorce-plagued deterministic endgame? Nonsense, he thought, it was just good old fashioned bad luck. Fish. What were the odds it would be fish?

It was fish that would become Doctor Thomas Fenton’s first major project at Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals. He would be in charge of managing the work of actual scientists, ones who had gone to actual science school, passed their actual science tests, done actual science work, and not fudged their actual science certifications, in the controversial endeavor of repopulating and regenerating the extinct but delicious bluefin tuna.

The replenishing of the bluefin tuna population would send the unaccomplished doctor, who had previously never set foot out of New Jersey, to the coast of Japan and the Red Falcon headquarters in South Korea. It would be in that facility that Dr. Fenton would learn to truly loathe fish in a way he never thought possible. After working in otherwise spotless East Asian labs filled with the pungency of failed fish experiments, he would come to wish that after his team of skilled bioengineers successfully cloned and repopulated the oceans with thriving bluefin tuna, he could be tasked with sending the whole godawful population of beasts back into the threat of existential crisis. And he wanted the fish to know it.

As a result of the bluefin replication project, Fenton became intrigued, and gradually sympathetic with his bioengineering team’s sentiments about the ethics of the process. He would usually only eavesdrop, as he felt too intimidated to join in on the conversation and wanted to preserve his reputation as a reclusive genius. But from what he gathered, they would often harp on what they referred to as the “Jurassic Park Principle,” which was expressed as “Scientists worry about whether or not they could, and never stop to think if they should.” This principle was ironically derived from a quote by another great fictional doctor who was a character in the classic film Jurassic Park—one of fictional doctor Thomas Fenton’s favorite films from the 20th century.

It was the stern warning that fictional doctor, Ian Malcolm, spoke in that 20th century movie that sat heavily on the shoulders of real-life fictional doctor Thomas Fenton in that moment. As his trembling hands grasped the rubber handle of the steel mug of the now solidly room-temperature alcoholic beverage, Fenton shut his eyes. He took a long sip and lowered the cup back down to the glass table, streaked with sweat. He opened his eyes and unblurred his vision to focus on the inscrutable legal jargon displayed on the digital device before him.

Contracts were unsettlingly ubiquitous in 21st century society. People signed contracts to listen to music, sign up for mobile internet services, and even use the bathroom in some states. They were almost always just standard operating procedure, a boilerplate of ass-covering minutia meant to lure the poor saps who signed them into a false sense of complacency. From what Doctor Thomas Fenton could determine, this contract was pretty standard mumbo-jumbo. The context, however, is what caused him to feel about as queasy as he felt in the South Korean bluefin tuna labs when the central air conditioning was on the fritz.

Somehow, someway, somewhere along the line, fake doctor, Thomas Fenton, was found out. After decades of fake work with the very real and very serious bioengineering company, he had been outed as an imposter. Admittedly, he wasn’t the most convincing of liars, but things had been going swimmingly thus far. Doing nothing seemed to be working out for him. Doing nothing was what he was best at. Although, doing nothing may have been the reason a certain divorced physical education teacher had cursed him with a hypothetical career in fish mongering, that was neither here nor there.

It couldn’t have possibly been the constant questions. He never asked any. Was it his distaste for tuna fish? Many of the scientists seemed to enjoy it. He may have mentioned on occasion that he thought canned tuna both looked like and tasted like cat food. Could the higher-ups been so morbidly fascinated with a pescatarian lifestyle? Was it the drinking? Why not just fire him? He couldn’t have been so aloof that he messed up anything important. He never touched anything. His current interaction with the digital display on a mobile reading device may have been the most physical contact he’s ever had with any piece of lab technology. What about when he mistakenly referred to a brand new experimental piece of lab equipment by saying “what’s this a stethoscope or something?” Couldn’t be. Everyone thought that was a joke. The uncomfortable laughter was palpable.

“Hmmm mmmmm over and over and over again…”

Whatever it was that sent the powers that be into a legal frenzy, resulting in the document that lay before him, it was undeniably his fault.

“Aww ya don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction,” he half-heartedly sang to himself beneath his breath.

The corporate culture at Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals hadn’t been the same since a wealthy young industrialist had bought the company. Had it been any other situation, Thomas Fenton would have assumed that it was a generic corporate restructuring. Out with the old, in with the new. After all, this new ownership was notoriously obsessed with keeping the absolute cream of the crop on staff and weeding out the unprofessional, inexperienced, and genetically inferior. And as much as he hated to admit it, fake Doctor Thomas Fenton checked all three boxes. It would’ve been easy to accept that; but this was deliberate, specific, and personal.

Supposedly, this young multi-billionaire was the son of a United States President, a prodigy, the kind of charismatic hyper-vigilant universally praised renaissance man genius that only existed in comic books and insane asylums. Thomas Fenton didn’t know much about the guy. He never met him personally. All he knew was his name, and that he started his business enterprise, The Lockwood Company, when he was only seventeen years old. He was twice as old now, and the Lockwood company was worth more than any corporate entity in history. Surely a lot of lowly civilians had been crushed under the might of such a company, though almost all of the press surrounding The Lockwood Company was positive, but Fenton, who had gumped his way into being the head of bioengineering at Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals, had been personally targeted for the kind of termination that resulted in a psychological and personal dilemma.

There had been an exceptional amount of political turmoil. Complicated, divisive stuff that Doctor Thomas Fenton would know nothing about. Some of it was exciting, some devastating. Space travel, the Aries Project on Mars, the celebrations and parades thrown for the renowned Colonel Regan Milhouse Fisher, the first off-earth wedding that the tabloid media sensationally referred to as the first “extraterrestrial wedding.” Pretty cool stuff, thought Fenton, even though it all made him feel more desperately insignificant. Then again, he had to remind himself that had he been talented, intelligent, tall, strong, articulate, and brave like his younger brother Johnny, he could have been in some kind of dire compromising circumstance like the members of the Elite 15 out there on Mars. Then again, he had to remind himself that despite his now defunct position, he was not, in fact, a real manager of bioengineering, not a real doctor, and, according to his third wife, not a real man.

From what the now-defunct fake doctor could surmise from the contract and what he could calculate from what he had been told, however vague, was that his prolonged history of fraudulent behavior could, would, and should result in him facing some serious legal jeopardy and quite plausible prison time.

Part of him was filled with morbid curiosity about the nature of the new penal system. It seemed luxurious, despite certain highly-publicized horror stories. After all, if the conservative media was correct in their predictions, all of the most dangerous criminals would be transferred to the hypothetically reformed Mars Detention Centers anyway, leaving only the best criminals here on Earth. It might be pretty spectacular, actually; a glorified vacation resort with three meals per day, a steady job of folding various bedding, and he’d only have to interact with other fake doctors, post-birth abortionists, and the occasional university student who had been falsely accused of kissing his girlfriend against her will. In a world of novelty pizza and opium chains, and movie theaters where gender non-binary stewardesses serve you tequila and discreet hand jobs, what’s the worst punishment they could give a phony bioengineering manager in all moral honesty?

The document that sat before him didn’t mention his potential punishment. It didn’t mention the very real possibility that the rest of his life could be spent in a prison cell, no matter how luxurious it may sound. It didn’t mention the also very real possibility that, should he not sign this controversial contract, the fake doctor could be taken behind an all-too-real alley way dumpster and have his very real, but very inadequate, brains blown out.

What the contract did mention, in elaborate litigious detail, was that he would be turning all responsibility and authority regarding the use of human cloning over to the Lockwood Company and, more specifically, its young handsome, former First Boy of the United States CEO.

It wasn’t as if human cloning was anything new. The first human had been cloned many years before then, but it was a divisive moral outrage that rocked the western world. The progressive left, while enthusiastic about the scientific endeavor and the plethora of medical applications, were furious about the racial, social and political ramifications. Images of Nazi scientists perfecting the ideal ubermensch, filtering out genetic imperfections, and raising a new race of perfect synthetic human beings immune to disease, mental disorder, or intellectual failing—and that ushered in the potential worse human failing of becoming a member of the progressive left. The conservative side were far more concerned with the idea of man playing god; the inherent suspicion that replicating new human beings through convoluted scientific procedures made the entire ordeal a perfect breeding ground for elaborate conspiracy theories, and most of them would be entirely too apt, considering it would only be a matter of time before this entire operation was funded and manipulated by the government, if it wasn’t already.

And it was. To everyone else, Space Force One officer Johnny Fenton had just been a genetically superior version of fake Doctor Thomas Fenton. But the fake doctor knew the real truth. He knew that Elite 15 Officer Johnny Fenton was a clone…an exponentially superior clone, of the fake doctor himself. Not comic book superior, that would be silly. He wasn’t some kind of super soldier with lightning quick intellect, a body of steel, limitless healing potential, and invulnerability to harm. If that were the case, he may have survived the two-hundred pound barbell that had fallen on his throat during a suspiciously standard weight-lifting session, crushing his esophagus. No, he was vulnerable; far less vulnerable, however, than the good, but still very much fake doctor who was about to sign a document that he wasn’t sure he could live with.

Cloning wasn’t commonplace by any means. The government had selected, or rather, created, brother Johnny as a test. They surely didn’t quite know what to expect from him when he reached a certain age, qualifying him for the very first Space Force Mission, the all-important Aries Mission, the one that would warp his body and mind as it did so many others. But they knew he was in peak physical condition. Better condition than many of the other Elite 15 who had trained most of their lives just for this very gig. He was smart, motivated, cautious and lucid. Which made the accident all the more curious.

This contract featured three logos at the top. The first was the soon-to-be defunct Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals logo, a graphic outline of a falcon with some Korean lettering underneath reading “…to the future,” an ironically inspirational and naive slogan. The second, the bold, stark imprint of the Lockwood Company. Indiscreet and uninformative, but impressive nonetheless. The third, and most petrifying, was the seal of the United States Government and their North American Alliance—never called a “Union” like the shattered remains of Europe’s failed social experiment—but an Alliance, which conveyed a feeling of peace, trust and unity, when in reality it meant absolutely nothing.

In truth, Doctor Thomas Fenton was terrified of going to prison, no matter what the circumstances. His morality meant nothing, he knew that. His image in history meant nothing. Any mention of him would be a footnote on an Internet search for his dead brother, which would either read “Siblings: Unknown” or “Siblings: Infamous Fraud Thomas Fenton” depending on his decision, presumably.

At long last, he had made his decision. Doctor Thomas Fenton sipped the last drops of his now cooled alcoholic beverage, all but tapping the bottom of the cup to make all of the remaining liquid was inside him. There were laws about signing a legal document intoxicated right? Under duress? Even if there were, it wouldn’t matter. Admitting to signing it under any circumstances would be outing himself as a fraud. He need to remain publicly anonymous if any of this were going to work. He picked up a stylus and signed his name at the very bottom. Printed his name underneath. He left out the “Dr” prefix. The charade had gone on long enough.

Now, because of his signature, the Gov’t had a clean bill of health for the development of clone technology. He had agreed that it was safe and advisable. Two things that he could neither conform, nor deny. He had no idea. But it was done. Now, by the hand of who anyone would report was a qualified and vastly experienced bioengineering professional, it was advisable. And the head of the Lockwood Company had clearance to go forward with his plan.

His plan seemed straightforward enough. He wanted to clone himself a son. Incapable of having one on his own, and being much to precious of a human being to go forward with joining a potentially dangerous space mission, he would conceive himself a son who could go in his stead. How long it would take to find the proper specimen was anyone’s guess. But as of this moment, it was no longer Doctor Thomas Fenton’s problem. He, at least, was finally free. Free of pretending, free of hiding, free of acting as if he was a reclusive, arrogant, cynical and obstinate drunk, even though many of those descriptions were accurate.

The document was signed. And with a shaking, slightly wrinkled finger, he pressed “Send.”

Fake Doctor Thomas Fenton stood and exited the lab. He left his cup, left the napkin the delicious pastry had sat upon, left the digital device, and left behind any past notion of being called “Doctor.” He was done with all that. Done with pretending. He would sink away into obscurity, constantly battling in his mind with the decision that he’d made, but fuck it. What’s the worst that could possibly happen? A rich man wanted a son, and wanted to allow human experimentation to continue. Was that really any of his business? Was he the arbiter of morality or scientific progress? He didn’t even really know what a stethoscope was.

As Thomas Fenton, finally free of his former monicker, stepped out of the building which held the labs on the now obsolete Red Falcon Pharmaceuticals corporation, he felt a feeling he hadn’t felt in quite some time. Relief. He was an old man and pretending to be something he wasn’t was growing burdensome. The sun was setting, traffic was an absolute mess. But he only lived several city blocks away in a relatively humble government-funded condominium that was only moderate coated in graffiti.

The graffiti now seemed clearer to him. Perhaps it was, he hypothesized, the scribblings of people just like him, who wanted notoriety but just weren’t as good at lying as they were with a can of aerosol and paint. He liked that. He was nothing. And nothing, at long last, was everything.

Thomas Fenton stepped out into the perfect weather, a light breeze whipped under the cuffs of his pant legs, blew his collar slightly, tickled the bottom hairs of his almost entirely grey beard, and a small truck marked with the minimalistic logo of Marseille Croissant Boulangerie came to an abrupt halt just after it had stricken the life from his body. The taste on his tongue at the moment was a bit of booze and a hint of lemon and orange donut. He’d been trying to cut down, and this was his very last one.

The year was 2040. And the Earth was pretty much the same as it ever was.

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