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Church of the Myriad Self

By Daniel Elliot

 

Image by Cyrsiam

 

The funeral was a jovial affair. Music, dancing, and plenty of Church beer to lubricate social strings under the warm Idaho sun. Evie did her best to enjoy herself, despite the circumstances. She would have to leave soon. The town of Always would let her stay the night, and then it was back on the bus to Boise.

“One more try,” she murmured, approaching David at the polished cedar bar. He was nursing a glass of that cherry cordial they made. Far too sweet for Evie’s taste.

“I’m sorry, Evie,” he said before she could speak. “Look, I talked to him, but—”

“I’ve never known a cult to turn away new members. Don’t they usually scoop up everyone they can?”

He sighed. “It’s not like that. We have a purpose, and there are criteria, and—”

“It’s not because I’m a woman. There are plenty of women here.”

“No, of course not! Look, I wish I could tell you, but I just can’t.”

She stared at him, knew that there was nothing for it, and slouched back against the bar.

“I’m just glad you’re happy, David. I’ll miss you.”

With a small, sad smile, he refilled her beer.

“Were you close with him?” she said after a time.

“With Josiah?” he replied. “He’s all right, I guess. Kind of abrasive, but you know. Everyone here’s doing their best.”

“To save the world.”

He laughed. “Yes, saving the world. Or at least, bringing it back after the Collapse. And for performing that sacred duty, we live eternal.”

“Someone’s read A Canticle for Leibowitz one too many times.”

The big laugh she expected didn’t come. David, sci-fi nerd that he was, looked vaguely scandalized.

“Sorry,” she murmured.

Seeking to escape the awkward moment, Evie’s eyes flicked to edge of the field, where the caterers had set up shop. Her cousins worked the grill in white chef’s coats, studiously ignoring her. Fine. She was pretty sure they had only taken the job hoping she would beg them for rescue.

As if.

“Did you tell them you were coming here?” David asked, following her gaze.

“I never tell them anything. They’re nosing around entirely of their own accord.”

David shrugged. “They’re just worried for you,” he said. “We’re the haunted house on the hill, right?”

Evie frowned, pondering that. The little encampment called Always wasn’t feared. Not exactly. The Church made good beer, after all, and whiskey, and rum, all sorts of things. They weren’t unwelcome when they set up their little stall at the farmer’s market. They were friendly enough. They didn’t cause trouble.

And they were a cult. Everyone knew that. Even though they seemed to be a benign bunch of loonies, that still carried a certain cachet. A frisson of fear when the place was mentioned, even as their neighbors came by each week to buy their little bottles of sunshine.

And then, one day, they had sent her best friend a package. And then the emails, and the videos, and the obscure little websites. Long hours later, he had made a decision. A reasoned one, he said, and she had never known him to be anything but reasonable. She trusted him, and when he said goodbye to her, she had followed shortly after. Only to be turned away.

At least she could stay the night. And after that, she would cope. She had always been one to go with the flow.

Up on stage, Leader Quesada, tapped the mic.

“All right,” he said in his deep baritone. “Let’s get a look at him.”

Everyone lined up to pay their respects, and Evie found herself with Florence and Kat, two sisters who had been nothing but friendly since her arrival.

“It’s a little icky,” Florence whispered. “You don’t have to look if you don’t want.”

“Oh, I don’t scare easy,” Evie replied. Eager to prove herself, she stepped forward.

Josiah had passed just before her arrival, but she knew it hadn’t been a good death. A thresher accident in the fields. The flat blanket that started at the waist told a grim story. Evie shivered a little, unable to keep from imagining those last moments of life, pain overtaking the brain as the machine overtook the body.

“Oof, someone did a number on this bad boy!” 

Evie turned back to see someone new standing there next to Kat. Something tickled at the back of her mind as she looked at him; she was quite sure he hadn’t been at the party, though he resembled the deceased closely. Was he a family member?

“Still sexy though, huh?” he continued.

A disgruntled twin?

“Get out of here!” Kat hissed through suppressed laughter, shooing him away. “You can’t be here!”

“Oh? Because someone might just give the big ol’ boy a big ol’ smooch?” he said, leaning into the coffin.

Evie felt sick to her stomach. This was too much. And then the man lifted his head, and her world fell apart.

“No,” she whispered, light-headed, panic flooding her mind. “No!”

Not a twin. Absolutely identical. It was the dead man. Unmistakably, it was Josiah. The face was pink and full of life, eyes twinkling with amusement as they stared at her, wide with shock for just a moment because the smile broadened even more.

“Hey, you new?” Josiah said, sticking out a hand.

Evie stumbled backwards, air seeming to roar in her ears, her pulse pounding. The world was spinning. She needed to run. She needed to escape, she—

Was falling. Evie did not scream as she slipped off the stage, nor was she wholly conscious that it was she who fell. It seemed to her that she was watching from afar, a television show gone into slow motion. There was no pain, and she realized with mounting horror that she could not move.

Faces appeared over her, staring down with pity and concern.

Soon Kat was crouched beside her, pressing a cool cloth to her forehead. Something sweet and cold dribbled over her lips. The damn cherry cordial.

“What a bummer,” Kat said, stroking Evie’s forehead. “On your first day?”

Evie stared up helpless, paralyzed. Leader Quesada was there, frowning as David whispered in his ear. Quesada nodded once, and David let out a long breath, relief obvious on his face.

“You hear that?” Kat said, leaning down to Evie. “You’re in! You’re in…”

She continued to coo and murmur, stroking Evie’s face.

“Ambulance?” Evie managed to choke out. Her voice was alarmingly liquid now, as though she were speaking with her lips clamped around a straw in a glass of soda.

“Oh no, sweetie,” Kat replied. “No, no worries there. You’re staying with us.”

Evie’s heart leapt with terror. Surely that wasn’t right. She needed treatment, a hospital, drugs, surgery.

“Ambulance!” she said again. She tried to clench her fingers around Kat’s shirt, found she could not. “Now!”

“Okay, fine,” Kat said, dropping her hand and standing up. “Someone’s grouchy.”

“Now, now, she’s dying,” Florence answered sternly. “It’s not pleasant, you know. You’re hardly one to talk about being in a snit over some pain.”

Unable to believe what she was hearing, feeling more anger than fear in her final moments, Evie died.

 

***

 

Evie awoke feeling more rested than she had in years. It was the sort of awakening that only ever happened in movies and Instagram posts. Her eyes gently fluttered open as a smile slowly spread across her face. The sheets beneath her were cool and silky, and a single beam of sunlight played over her body. She looked down and stretched, from head to toe. David was there, hands clasped at his waist, smiling. She smiled back.

And then she remembered. All of it. The taste of her own blood. The faces watching her, bored, uncaring. The terrible squelch at the end of her last moments of life.

She screamed.

“Shh, shh,” David whispered, pressing a glass into her hands. “Drink.”

It was the awful cherry stuff from the funeral. But her throat was raw, and her head ached something fierce. She took a sip.

That was better.

“What happened to me?” Evie asked, her heart slowing as calmness spread out like a cool breeze. “I thought I was going to die.”

“Oh, you most definitely did,” David replied. “But we fixed it.”

She blinked at him and took another sip. “Come again?”

David sat down on the edge of the bed. “You’re in, Evie. We’ve decided to let you into the family, and that means you get to know the family secret. Nobody dies here. We live eternal and serve our mighty purpose.”

Evie carefully set the glass on the nightstand and smoothed her hair back before answering.

“That’s real?” she said. “I thought that was just your religion. You know, eternal reward, glory everlasting. Nobody dies here, literally?”

“Not for long. We made you a new you.”

She stared into the glass, swirling around the red liquid. The stuff was beautiful.

“I thought I wasn’t welcome.”

David reached over to give her a comforting pat. “I told him either you stayed, or I left.”

She felt exuberant, like leaping out of bed and dancing around for the glory of it all.

She grinned at him. “So you can bring people back to life. That’s amazing!”

“Whoa now, don’t get it twisted. There’s no back about it. We made you a new you. You saw old Josiah, right?”

She had. And the new one, too.

“Is he a clone?” she ventured. Was she a clone?

David shrugged. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “He’s Josiah.”

Evie felt like she should be screaming again, seriously losing her mind, but somehow, she just wasn’t. The threads of her sanity held together as if by glue, her mood clamped in place by a vise.

The cordial really was quite good.

It had been a few days, apparently, and the town was back to the usual quiet bustle of people plying their trades, maintaining the houses, working the fields, brewing, distilling. There was no sign of the funeral, and Evie barely felt a shock at all when Josiah was the first one to walk up and greet her.

“It lives!” he shouted, extending his arms straight out in front of him like Frankenstein’s monster. “It lives!”

“All right, all right,” she muttered in mock annoyance.

There was another big meal waiting, and then a party, and lots of love. Everyone was so welcoming, and more than ever, Evie felt that she belonged in Always. With David, and with her new friends.

Time passed in a pleasant haze. She worked in the fields, and maintained the buildings of the village. And she read. Evie had been reluctant to delve into the Church’s beliefs at first, fearing endless prayers and devotions, Bible studies, all the things that repulsed her in her old life.

It turned out she needn’t have worried. What the Churchers venerated was knowledge. Modern-day monks, they kept a massive quantity of media of all kinds ranging from wax-coated archival books to optical discs and flash drives, to metal etchings that should survive any disaster that might befall the area. Amongst the hoard were academic journals, how-to books, a complete archive of Wikipedia and a dozen more traditional encyclopedias. Always was a library.

She had a talent for electronics, and soon she helped maintain the arcane machine that lived underground, with its glowing vats and its humming coils. That was what allowed the magic of immortality to happen. Although none but Leader Quesada truly understood how it worked, they all chipped in to keep it clean and maintained.

Occasionally, she died. A tractor out of control, a falling beam. Once she strayed into the radioactive tunnel that was the machine’s exhaust, and Kat put her out of her misery before the rays melted her lungs.

Death happened to all of them. Immortality stripped them of care, and each awakening was more pleasant than the last.

 

***

 

“Do you think they’ll ever get used to us?” she asked David one day as they operated their little stall at the farmer’s market. People would come to buy a bottle of this or that, but their primary duty was to watch over the little box under the table. This was how the Church identified people who were suited to join them, Evie had learned. It sniffed out the genetic markers that Leader Quesada knew were needed to keep the line strong.

At least, if you didn’t have a special connection to an existing member.

“You did,” David replied, smiling at a small girl who was staring at his tattoos. An older woman, perhaps the girl’s grandmother, hurried her off. “Besides, I don’t think you want them to.”

Evie followed his gaze to the old white pickup truck across the way, to her cousins operating their own little stall. They had come to see her earlier, to pass a note, which she had promptly read to David with plenty of giggles and laughter. It spoke of forgiveness, of rescue. Of nights spent in the truck at the edge of the woods, just in case she ever came running out of them.

That’s still a no, boys, she thought.

“They’re your family, Evie,” David said. “It’s okay to talk to family, you know. We’re not that kind of group, to keep you away from them.”

“You’re my family,” she countered. “The Church is my family now.”

David reached over and squeezed her shoulder.

“Just saying, you don’t have to ignore them,” he said. “No matter what dire implications the others make. Family’s important, both the ones you choose and the one you don’t.”

She was silent for a time. David was in a mood, it seemed.

“How often do they let new people in?” she asked, by way of changing the subject. “Do you think we’re the first?”

David shrugged. “The first in a while,” he replied. “Fifty years, I think? It’s always been the plan to bring in a few people each generation. Otherwise, we would completely lose touch with the culture, and that’s no good either. If you would study like you’re supposed to, you’d know this stuff!”

“Does anyone ever leave?” she asked. “Like a—what is it the Amish do?”

“Rumspringa?” he said with a chuckle. “No, it’s not allowed. The secret’s too big. But, Evie, if you needed to…”

He trailed off.

“I would help you,” he said at last.

“Not as long as I’m with you,” she said, without hesitation. “I’ve got my friends, especially you. Does it matter if I stay here or there or anywhere? We’ll all just zombie along forever, and that’s cool with me.”

A rapid crunch of footsteps, and both Churchers looked up to see a few children scampering away like frightened squirrels. They had been overheard.

Evie and David burst out into laughter together and started packing up. It was clear that the business day was over, for them.

She didn’t like to think about the ride home. The crash, the blood, David’s moans as he clutched feebly at the wood and metal sticking through his body. An awkward conversation with the police, and then home again. She hadn’t been driving, and the police didn’t want to spend long with anyone from Always. 

David was dead. For now.

At the funeral, she did her best to join in the fun and games. This had happened to all of them before, and it would again. Though a large part of her still cried out that her friend was dead and gone, she forced that part down.

For the first time since arriving in Always, she didn’t sleep well. When she awoke the next day, the light made her eyes ache. The smell of fresh fruit in the kitchen was cloying, overripe.

“Whatever,” she muttered, squeezing her temples. There was some cereal in the cupboard, and she had a quick bowl before heading outside.

The moment she set eyes on him, her heart lightened, and she rushed to greet him.

David was just stepping out of his little house next to hers, as though nothing had happened. His eyes turned to her, and he nodded once, respectfully.

“Sister Evelyn,” he said. “It is good to see you.”

Evie stopped short, her grin fading fast. “What?”

He turned towards her, and she was so shocked that she actually took a step backwards. His brown eyes were lighter. Subtly, only a couple of shades, but jarring to her.

“Was there something I could assist you with, Sister?” he asked again.

“Dude, are you okay?” she said. “You’re scaring me a little.”

“I apologize, Sister, it was not my intention,” he replied. “But if there is nothing else, I have my duties to begin.”

Chewing her lip, Evie watched as he walked off towards the old barn under which the machine lived.

Yeah, she thought. Me too.

She waited days for her David to come back, but it soon became clear that he would not. This new David was cordial, polite, and entirely unfamiliar to her. A thousand little changes suddenly became as obvious to her as blood on a snowbank.

It finally came to a head at dinner. David sat on his stool, staring into his beans and rice, taking slow, measured bites. Evie had had enough.

“What did they do to you?” she asked bluntly, marching up behind him.

David turned and regarded her with the same serene, bovine expression on his face.

“I apologize, Sister, but I don’t quite understand.”

“This!” Evie said, waving a hand at him. “The way you dress, the way you eat, the way you talk. Since you came back, it’s like you’re a different—”

She stopped. That was the answer, of course, and deep down she had known it all along.

“You’re a different person,” she finished. “They changed you. When they brought you back, they made changes.”

David merely blinked dumbly and turned back to his food. Evie, feeling light-headed, like the ground beneath her feet might literally fall away, simply went back to her house to start packing. She wasn’t surprised when Kat and Florence arrived shortly after, nor did she resist when they took her to see Leader Quesada.

She sat in the comfy chair in front of his desk, just her and him. Outside, the freshly planted garden smelled of loam and the labors of the Churchers. Flowers would grow soon, and for a moment she regretted that she would not be there to see them. The big man simply smiled at her in his beatific way, waiting for her to speak.

“You’re changing people,” she said. “David’s different.”

“Yes,” he replied simply.

A shock ran through her.

“I’m different,” she whispered.

“Yes, you are. Congratulations,” he said.

He smiled then, poured a glass of dark brew for her. Evie accepted it and took a grateful sip, feeling its calm spread through her. Her heart slowed and she took a deep breath.

“We didn’t think we would be able to repair you, you know,” he said. “You don’t have the proper genetic markers to take the treatment. But we did want David, and, well, necessity is the mother of invention. I solved quite a few problems dealing with your case.”

“Treatment?” she repeated. “You alter their bodies, their minds, without consent. It’s evil!”

He chuckled, the indulgent father listening to the rantings of a child mid-tantrum. “It’s necessary,” he repeated. “We plan to live forever here, you know. Or close to. For that to work, people need to have the right attitudes, the proper thoughts to ensure harmony. We contain myriad possibilities, but only one path leads to salvation.”

He pointed to the drink in Evie’s hand. “Take that, for example.”

She had been taking another sip without quite realizing it.

“That’s the first thing we fix,” Quesada said. “A little tweak to how we respond to alcohol. Boost the serotonin, trigger a hardwired thought path, and it makes the adjustment so much easier.”

That was, Evie knew, the most horrifying thing yet, and yet she couldn’t seem to make herself be upset at it. The fact that she knew why, and knew logically how terrifying that was, didn’t change the simple fact.

“I solved quite a few technical hurdles in your case,” he said. “As I said, you weren’t really suitable for our techniques. But we did want David, and well, necessity is the mother of invention. I believe we may be expanding soon, and it’s all thanks to you.”

She took this in, and something crystallized inside her. David had been sympathetic to her concerns, had encouraged her to talk to her family, to leave if she felt unsafe. For that, he had been altered beyond recognition. And now, Quesada spoke of doing the same to others.

She made several decisions at once.

She would never drink again. And if that made things harder for her, well, she had always been one to go with the flow.

And she would escape.

And, lastly, the most difficult of all. She would leave David behind, if need be.

There was a hard core to her now, a piece of her mind that held onto herself. Something unique that would not bend, that she held onto with all her might.

“Now that I’ve told you all that, we have to be doubly sure of you,” Quesada was saying. “The things you said to David, the influence you have on him. It’s not acceptable, child.”

He gestured, and Florence stepped forward, a syringe in hand. The last thing she felt was a pinprick at her neck, and the last thing she saw was Florence’s face, full of consternation.

“Don’t worry, Evie. Just a few more tweaks, and you’ll be perfect.”

 

***

 

She awoke to the familiar rested, energized feeling of a new body. Stretching her fingers and toes, she enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun on her skin for just a moment before opening her eyes and realizing something was very wrong.

As she stared at the familiar walls of her room, panic blossomed, uncontrollable, spiraling. The place felt like it was shrinking, as though the ceiling would close in and crush her. In silence, she leapt out of bed, snatched up her clothes, and rushed from the bedroom. The living room was no better; the more cluttered walls were if anything even more terrifying. Dressing as quickly as she could, she rushed outside, hopping into her pant leg as she reached the outside.

It was only when she was out in the open air, blue sky overhead, that she began to relax. Breathing hard, her heart pounding, she turned and regarded the house suspiciously. She had the memories still of living there, of finding the place a comfort, but no longer. How could she have ever slept in there?

How could she be inside at all?

“I’m sorry for this,” said Leader Quesada. She turned to see him, placid as always.

She stared at him for several seconds, still catching her breath.

“What have you done to me?” she whispered at last.

“A penance. A necessity.”

The smug tone, the benevolent face. The inner peace that was so important for everyone else to see. It was too much for her, and Evie snapped at last. She stepped forward, grabbed at his sleeve, pressed close to him.

“What did you do?”

“Claustrophobia,” he said simply. “Clearly, the urge to snoop around and meddle is too great. If you’re around people too much, you’ll simply cause trouble. You’ll do much better this way.”

“Better for you,” she spat, releasing him with a shove.

She paced like a caged animal. Her eyes did not meet his, nor did they go to the buildings that now held unspeakable horrors for her.

“What good am I to the community like this?” she muttered. “What am I supposed to do?”

“The fields,” he replied, following her with his gaze. “And in time, you can go inside again. It’s a phobia; nothing that you can’t overcome with time and therapy. Or, if you prefer—”

“No!”

Her eyes flicked to the tree line. Too far to go on foot. The van was nearby, always fueled, the keys in it. Tiny, enclosed. She shuddered. Her shoulders slumped.

“The fields,” she whispered, and Quesada smiled.

 

***

 

So it went for a time. Evie worked, tending the crops and gardens as she had once loved to do. The indoors sent her heart palpitating, her skin crawling. She only found peace in the blazing sun, trowel in hand. 

She was not treated unkindly, all considered. The others made her a little campsite on the edge of the fields. There was plenty of time to reflect there, under the endless star-speckled sky. They brought her food and water, sat with her. Kat even ran an extension cord so that Evie could have light and charge her phone.

David was nowhere to be seen. Evie supposed he was done with her, whether by his own choice or Quesada’s manipulations.

Sometimes she wondered why Quesada hadn’t simply manipulated her the same way, edited her to believe in this horrible place. Maybe it couldn’t be done. Maybe that was why she didn’t fit their mold.

Or maybe Quesada was simply cruel.

There was plenty of time during the long, cold nights to poke around the old barn, which was again unguarded, as it was clear to all that she would not enter.

And it was true; she wouldn’t enter. She wouldn’t need to in order to destroy the place.  There were plenty of fertilizers and chemicals around for agricultural use, and plenty of information in the dark corners of the Web about better uses for them. It wasn’t long at all before she had pieced together a compound that would serve her purpose. There was a vent near the barn where she could pour the stuff, toss in a torch, make the explosion. In the chaos, she would escape on foot. In the middle of the night, when nobody was watching, and she was alone in the great outdoors.

And then the machine would be gone, and along with it their immortality. Evie was certain they wouldn’t chase her, not with death on the line. As for the rest, as for what she would do once she was out on her own with all her newfound baggage— well, she would have time to sort that out. Once she was far away.

In the small hours of the morning, she arose to the soft beeping of her phone alarm. There were no lights on in the houses, and not a sound beyond the crickets and occasional scrabble of some animal in the brush.

Still, she walked as quietly as she could, doing her best to staunch the tide of terror within her. They had taken so much from her; she had once been so brave. And now, doing the most terrifying thing she had ever done, she felt the least prepared.

“Couldn’t sleep?” a voice called from up ahead. It was Kat, standing outside her house surrounded by a cloud of vapor. As Evie turned to peer at her through the darkness, her heart pounding, the smell of cannabis reached her nostrils.

“Just out for a walk,” she called back. “Didn’t want to wake anyone.”

When Kat didn’t answer immediately, Evie began to walk again, daring not to quicken her pace too much.

The vent was as she had left it, uncovered and unguarded. Dropping to her knees, she opened the bag and started scooping explosive powder into the vent. She found herself euphoric, grinning maniacally once the bag was light enough to lift and pour. Everything was going—

She was on the ground. There wasn’t enough time to cry out, not enough time to process what had happened. Rolling over, she peered through blurry eyes to see Kat standing over her, a large rock in hand.

“Not cool, Evie,” she said, dropping the rock to the ground with a heavy thud. She crouched down to grab Evie by the shoulders. “Not cool at all. We’re your friends. We’re your family.”

“That’s not what family does,” Evie growled through the pain. More footsteps, and she looked around to see shapes emerge from the darkness. Josiah and Florence. Leader Quesada, arms crossed, his face stern. “You’re murderers!”

“What?” Josiah said with an incredulous laugh. He held a wooden baseball pat, tapping it menacingly in the palm of his hand. “We are the complete opposite of murderers. Now, let’s just get you killed, and we’ll fix you right up. It’s for your own good.”

Evie struggled, but there was no chance of standing up to four of them. Within moments, she was on her feet and pressed up against the wall by Kat and Florence. Before her, Josiah took an experimental swing with the bat.

“This isn’t good, or right,” Evie spat. “I’ll never stop fighting you. I’ll never stop trying to get away, and I’ll tell people what you—”

The gunshot was stark in the still night air. The bullet struck Josiah full in the left side of his face, sending blood and gore spraying out the right. Kat screamed, and Quesada stumbled backwards, wide-eyed. He drew a small pistol from his robes and—

Another gunshot felled him. Evie had a sense of the origin now, flicking her eyes towards the community hall. There was a shape there, striding forward, a long rifle in his hands.

David stepped into view; the rifle pointed towards Evie. No, she thought with relief. Not towards me.

“Lay on the ground, face up, arms above your head,” he barked. His voice quavered, and the rifle shook.

The women obeyed, and Evie stumbled forward before catching herself on the edge of the barn. She turned to David. His face was haggard, his eyes haunted.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Not now. We have to run.”

Evie turned back to the vent, fumbled for the lighter.

“Evie! We have to go now! Trust me.”

They ran. Screaming echoed behind them, and a siren that Evie had never heard before.

When they reached the tree line, David stopped. Evie turned to see him panting, resting his hands on his knees. He had long since dropped the rifle, and there was an alarming amount of sweat pouring from him.

“Evie,” he wheezed. “You have to go. You have to get out of here. I’ll do what I can.”

“David, we have to keep moving,” Evie said evenly. Reunited, she felt at peace again. Strong. “I’m grateful to you for saving me, but you need to understand that you just shot two people. They’re not going to—”

“I know that!” he hissed, then took a deep breath and squeezed his temples with one hand. “I’ve done more than that. You have no idea.”

He trailed off, staring into the middle distance.

“What is it?” she asked. From the compound came the sounds of tires on gravel.

“I woke up the next one,” he whispered. “There are two of me.”

She chewed her lip, pondering that. “You woke up your clone,” she repeated. “Okay. I can see how that would be freaky. But look, we—”

“No! You don’t see!” he snapped, then took another deep breath. “You don’t know what it was like, looking into my own eyes. The hatred I saw, and that I felt. I wanted to kill him, Evie, and he wanted to kill me. I’ve never hated anything more than I hated that man with my face.”

“Programming,” she said flatly. “You’re edited to want to kill your clone so that there won’t be two of you. I probably am too. It’s just programming, David!”

“It is programming!” he cried. “Yes! That’s all I am now! That’s why you need to leave me. You know what I hope for? My one last, final hope of humanity?”

She shook her head slightly, staring into his eyes.

“I hope that when he dies, I can feel it. That there’s some connection between us, something we share. Because if there’s not—if he’s just another lump of flesh who goes up in flames and it doesn’t bother me at all—I don’t know what I’ll do. I guess I won’t have time to do anything.”

“David,” she said slowly. “Where is he? The next you?”

He looked back at her and smiled.

“We flipped a coin,” he said. “And he lost. I get to be with you, and he’ll blow up the machine.”

Evie’s flesh ran cold.

“That’s the only thing that kept us from killing each other, you know?” he continued. “We were nothing but hatred for each other, and one other thing. Love for you, Sister. Now go!”

Silently, she reached out and grabbed his arm. Something in her manner bled the resistance from him, and he allowed himself to be pulled. Reunited, she was strong. She would not lose him again.

And so they ran through the night, new bodies with old souls. The branches whipped at Evie’s face and the rocks bruised her ankles, but she didn’t care. There wasn’t time for pain. The old pickup was out there in the woods, and they swung themselves into the back, Evie shrieking for them to drive, drive, drive! There was no time for reunions until the explosion sounded behind her, and a great, mournful cry rose up from the woods. And only then did she allow herself to rest.

It was over.

 

About the author: Daniel Elliot is a freelance writer with previous careers in home security, digital marketing, and tech. For several years, he spent all his free time volunteering with an animal rescue, and he should have done more of that. Daniel lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and a large number of pets. If you would like to berate him about this story or anything else, find him on Twitter @DanElliot.

 

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My name is Jack L. Bryson and I'm the editor of Teleport. I studied literature at University of Montana. I live in Mountain View Ca, and my email is coffeeant1@gmail.com

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