Chapter 1: Clone Three
I open my eyes. It's the first thing I think to do. The world is tilted sideways, the angles all wrong. I turn my head, feel hard, thin metal behind me, hear it bend and warble as I move. My whole body is limp, useless for the time being. Where am I? What is this place? The walls used to be blue, now coated in crusts of mold and running rust like an old disease left to fester.
On my left, what remains of a toilet bowl, the top smashed, jutting jaws of jagged porcelain teeth aimed at the ceiling. One single, flickering fluorescent bulb dangles overhead, swinging softly back and forth from the wires holding it suspended just past the dented frame.
A bathroom stall? The floor is icy cold under me, my fingers registering the stickiness of old traffic and a film of moisture left behind.
There, opposite where I half-lie, half-sit, my back propped against the wall of the stall, I see something waver at eye level, a hologram of some kind, projected onto the pitted and angry metal.
A man's face. Do I know it? I feel I should know him, from somewhere. I'm just not sure where.
"Clone Three." His voice is a softly echoing sound, volume and pitch altering as he speaks, as if over a great distance. "Pay attention, dear. Final instructions."
Is he talking to me? He must be. His eyes seem to be meeting mine, he looks at me with great expectation. And yet as I lie here and begin to regain sensation and control, I realize I not only have no idea where I am, I haven't a clue what I'm doing here.
Who am I? Clone Three. Is that me?
"Not again." His face isn't angry. Why did I fear he would be angry? Instead, even through the unclear and twitching image, I see his desperate concern.
"What's happening?" The view seems to widen as a woman's face joins him. I'm smiling suddenly. I know her, and very well. She's tied to my heart, isn't she?
My smile fades as her own worry reaches me. "Clone Three," she says, her voice calling to me as much as her words. "Please, you must listen."
"It's useless." The man sags. "She was our final hope. There is no more."
She ignores him, focused on me. I'm happy she's still there. I'm worried myself. What if she leaves me? And why does the idea of that make me feel so afraid?
"It's going to be all right," she says, smiling. I smile back. Yes, this is better. This is right. "You just need to listen carefully to what I say."
I listen with every cell in my body, every single thread of my being, because she's asked it of me.
"This is so hard." She looks at the man. "We have no idea how much she remembers."
"We are lost. We've failed." He turns away from her, leaves the image. She sighs and meets my eyes again.
Distress makes my body shake. I want to reach for her, feel my fingers twitch in response. My body is coming (back?) to life.
"Don't listen to him," she says. "Just to me. You must find the others. Do you hear me? Clone Two and Clone One. It's imperative you find them. Do you understand?"
I nod. My head and neck seem to work just fine.
"You'll know them," she says. "Just trust me."
I do. With everything.
Her image begins to crackle, waver, breaking up. A soft grunting whine escapes me as my fingertips scrabble on the dirty floor, my mind reaching for her as my body tries to obey.
She is speaking, but her words are garbled, cut into bits and bites, and I cannot understand her. A film covers my vision, the blur disappearing as something wet runs down my cheek.
She looks afraid, so afraid, and she is reaching for me too. She finally points at me, then at herself and her image fades. In her place is the vision of a statue, a tall woman, mottled green, holding a book and a torch, crowned in thorns.
It too fades, softly, shrinking until it flickers once like the flame of a candle and goes out.