It began with images of death.
Not from the outside—like the time he had nightmares for a month after he’d watched a Sudanese terrorist lob off his clone’s head with a machete and it bounced off a rock into the brown sludge of the Nile. Or the time in the Khartoum market when the suicide bomb sent steel and glass and mortar through five of his clones… and three of them almost survived. The nightmares hadn’t lasted as long that time; instead Billy lay awake nights worrying if he was getting too used to that kind of thing and wondering what that might mean about him.
No, these images were from the inside, through his clones’ eyes, evoking a different kind of terror. Some hit suddenly—a bright flash of light, a burst of pain shearing mercifully off into nothing. Others took time. His heart thumping out blood like a cavitating oil pump. Trembling so hard his elbows dug into the dirt. Light slowly leeching out of his vision. Trying to scratch his nose and wondering why his hand wouldn’t move, or why it was two yards away. The exact moment of death felt different every time.
There was supposed to be a firewall against those images. The quantum non-locality of thought should shutter closed, the group consciousness break, before you could feel them. Yet he sank into them now as if drowning in a bottomless ocean. He could barely hear his own screams under their cold weight.
Jude had warned him. “I wish I knew a way around it,” she said. “But once I’ve injected you with the virobots all the military’s programming falls apart and the shunted memories hit you hard before there’s been time to cut you off from the other minds. Just remember it will end.”
And it did. Only after he’d come to an end a hundred times. He spent the night gasping. Waves of loneliness rocked his body; he floated on them, nauseous and trembling. Jude tried to soothe him in the dark, but he wouldn’t allow it. This was the kind of deep, pure loneliness that couldn’t be disturbed and he resented anyone’s attempt to do so—especially some filthy Neo-Weather Underground hippie like Jude.
In the morning things were different. He rose from the cot, pulled on his fatigues and stumbled through the camp Jude used as her lab, smelling coffee in the kitchen. The front door was open. Pouring himself a cup, he considered the silence stretching out around him in an ever expanding ring. His throat caught and tears welled in his eyes. He sipped and walked out to the narrow deck overlooking the pond. It was mid-autumn and the air was a contradicting crisp and warm. The trees down the bank had exploded in gold and umber and vermillion.
Billy set his cup on the wood railing and was about to call Jude’s name when he saw her at the bottom of the crooked stairs, her jeans and tie dye abandoned on the half-rotten dock. Red hair fell across her narrow back and the meat of her ass twitched slightly under those cotton panties as she stepped toward the edge. Then she slid like a pale needle into the stillness of the pond. Billy hardly heard a splash, and the golden leaves scattering the water’s surface barely moved in the expanding circles where she’d disappeared.
Then her head broke the surface and she blew spray out her nostrils. As she dragged herself back up to the dock Billy couldn’t help watching how she filled out her bra, how she quivered, and what the cold water had done to her. He watched as she wrung out her hair and dried off her thin legs with the t-shirt. Asian women and redheads, Billy always said. Always stunningly beautiful or really homely; there’s no continuum. As Jude pulled worn denim up her long legs he tried to decide which of the two extremes she fell into. And reminded himself he didn’t like hippies.
He must have moved because she looked up, all freckles and fly away ears in a ray of sun that made it through the dappling trees.
“Spying on me, perv boy?” she said.
He watched her decide not to be offended.
“I swim whenever I come here no matter how cold it is.” She twisted water out of her shirt and pulled it over her head. “This is one of the last almost natural places in the world. I like to appreciate it.”
The last place Billy remembered being was some back street in the ghettoes of Manhattan, the high levee walls looming like a dark band behind the roofs of the tenement houses. That’s where Jude, masked herself, had blindfolded him, “for his own good.” “They’ll have clones of you tuned to your thoughts, if they don’t already, Billy. You’ve gone AWOL. They can’t let you cut yourself out without their debriefing. That might expose you to the truth.”
Billy had been scared. As far as he knew the army had managed to kill his whole platoon. Still, he didn’t like Jude’s attitude. “What truth?” he pressed the energy of his terror into a sneer.
“Listen, man. I can help but you’ve got to trust me.”
Eventually, fear won out and he’d put the blindfold over his head.
Jude was halfway up the stairs before she looked at him again, apparently recalling his ignorance. She turned toward the pond and pointed to the arc of hills rising out of the forest. “Those are the Adirondack foothills,” she said. “The casino resorts on the high peaks are that way. This is one of the safest places in the world. Solid ground. Hardly any earthquakes, floods, hurricanes or—”
She reached the deck and regarded him. “Found the coffee,” she said. “How you feeling?”
Trying to find words to describe the silence, Billy’s throat ached again. “How many times have you done this?” he asked.
She shrugged under coils of wet hair. “A couple.”
“Anyone… like me?”
“No, I’ve never cut anyone from your model,” she said. “Mostly newer conglomerates, like those genetically tuned special forces units.” She let out a sigh. “Listen, man, I hate to rush you but you’ve got some choices to make.”
“I know.” He slugged down more coffee.
“I mean now that you’re free you might want to just live and let live, you know? Remember that anything you thought about doing before you were cut from the group consciousness could have been—I mean probably was—overheard by William clones working with Homeland Security.”
“You don’t have to help me,” Billy said.
“That’s not the point. I’ll still help you, no matter what you decide. I just need you to understand the dangers. If you go searching for your long lost love right now, the HSCO might have a good idea where to start looking for you.”
“Thinking about Angelica back home was the only thing that got me through this. Understand? There’s no point to my survival if I can’t find her.” Billy meant every word. The slight twitch of something like guilt at his watching Jude swim in her underwear was easily ignored, like the momentary tremor of a pulse in his wrist. Angelica was his soul mate, his high school sweetheart, his prom queen.
“So where do we start? I mean, how much do you remember of your civilian life?”
“I remember my father,” he said. “We could ask him about her.”
Jude’s chin wrinkled thoughtfully. “I’ll help you, Billy. But you should know that in my experience these things don’t turn out the way you want. Think about it. How many of you are deployed around the world? Thousands? And you all have the same girl in your head.”
“It doesn’t matter. There’s only me here now. You’ve made sure of that.”
Judge Joel Robbins smiled beside the gold-edged office bar in his Albany mansion and poured wild turkey.
He had to believe there’d been a time when Reverend Patterson enjoyed visiting him, but that time had ended at least ten years ago. Joel had clones back then, but hadn’t yet become the massive conglomerate he was now. The Joel Robbins Group was world famous now, a superhuman being, a Supreme Court judge and philanthropist. A legend. Few conglomerates in the world could compete. And he knew it. He also knew the Reverend believed Joel scorned him and others like him, men with the means who still refused to clone themselves. Maybe he did. Clearly they couldn’t compete with just one body, one mind.
“Cheers, RP. It’s great to see you.”
They clicked glasses and Joel wondered how long it would take them to resume the argument they’d indulged for the last decade. For that had to be, more than anything, why the Reverend stopped by anymore, beyond the formality of their friendship. Joel watched the old man scratch his bald pate and extend his glass for a refill.
“How many are you up to these days?” The old TV evangelist smiled.
Not long at all, Joel thought; maybe even a record. He gestured, rings glistening, and they took their drinks to the leather chairs.
“Fifty… fifty three.”
“Good Lord.” Reverend Patterson shook his head. “How do you keep track of them all.”
“By now you don’t understand on purpose, RP. Even under the law it’s established that while any clone remains a part of the diffused consciousness, he is that person.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about your legal definitions. It’s only human nature there’d be jockeying for dominance among your selves.”
Joel shook his head. “My left hand doesn’t compete with my right foot. Right now one of my clones is preparing for court in Washington. Another is at an Adirondack casino. Many of us are here in the mansion doing various things. I don’t have to concentrate on any one of them to know they are doing what I would do because they are me. And just as you might lend a little conscious attention to your hand if you were, say, learning to tie a new knot, I experience through any of their eyes whenever I wish.” Joel paused. A dozen of his clones were women. Identical, otherwise. It was harder to see through their minds; the differences in structural and metabolic function caused interference with quantum thought. Still, they were tuned and connected; the supporting technology had come a long way these last few years.
He lingered over a clone changing in a bedroom, eyed his breasts in the mirror, squeezed nipple into palm. He wasn’t about to tell the Reverend about that right now. He smiled. He probably shouldn’t mention the orgy room either.
“So you say,” said the Reverend. “It’s still a sin.”
“It was research with twins experiencing telepathy that led us to the technology. Are identical twins unnatural?”
“Twins aren’t clones. I’ve been telling you this since I married you to your second wife in ’92.”
“And look how that turned out.”
“Denise was a wonderful woman. She’d still be with you, even if you had a clone or two. But you’re obsessed.”
“It’s not clones I’m obsessed with, RP. It’s power and money, just like you.” The old man’s face reddened.
Joel touched Reverend Patterson’s wrist. “Sorry. I just can’t stand this narrow-mindedness. You’re missing an opportunity, as a minister and a moralist. Think of all the good to be done. Think of all the social ills to be avoided when people diffuse among their clones and take responsibility for their own minds. Every self-destructive impulse, every deviant desire can be played out among the struggling soul’s clones instead of harming others. Everything from pedophilia and suicide to rape and homosexuality—”
Joel had just let a young man in through the rear entrance of the mansion. It was as if every clone of the conglomerate jolted at once: downstairs, Joel was talking to his dead son Billy.
“What are you doing here?”
“Hello Dad, It’s good to see you, too.”
“Are you… are you still connected?”
“Actually, I’m AWOL.”
Upstairs, the Reverend was saying it again: “Just what are you implying?”
Joel took the Reverend’s glass and got them another drink, downing his immediately and refilling. When he sat down again, Reverend Patterson’s expression had changed.
“Are you all right? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
“It’s the booze; I should have eaten breakfast. Where were we?”
The Reverend huffed. “You were telling me with a straight face that it’s all right under the Lord to make a clone of yourself and kill it, or have sex with your younger self to satisfy unnatural urges.”
“It’s a healing opportunity,” Joel said vaguely. The edges of his thoughts had blurred. “As long as a member of the group mind survives, you haven’t killed anyone. It’s more like snipping a toenail. Consciousness doesn’t diminish, just redistributes. It’s therapy, without the outcome of sin.”
“Sex with your self?”
“Technically masturbation, wouldn’t you say?”
“No, I wouldn’t. And even then, Onan was damned.”
“Onan was cursed because he disobeyed God’s wish that he reproduce, not because—”
As much as he enjoyed scandalizing the Reverend, Joel knew he was losing control. The whiskey had been a bad idea. Combined with the shock of Billy downstairs, it had weakened his restraint.
“I need your help, Dad. I’ve never asked for anything.”
“What’s the point in going AWOL? You realize now you can be killed?”
“That’s not important.”
Not important? Of course it was important when you’ve already seen your boy die a real death once, before he’d had a chance to become a man, get married, start a business… Seeing Billy now dredged all the memories back. The car accident, dragging the kid out of the accordioned air car, blood foaming his cheek, the hospital. Selling the rights to his DNA had been the only way to bring him back to life back then, there just weren’t that many opportunities for cloning; there was still the total ban in the private sector. And sure, that sale had begun Joel’s road to success, too—given him the capitol to invest in the summer polar shipping companies—but that was just beside the point. He would have done anything to resurrect his son. Joel took a long breath and slowly eased it out, closing his eyes.
When he opened them again, he said, “It is good to see you.” He watched the boy’s face for even the hint of the old grin. Twice he half-convinced himself it was there.
“I need some civilian clothes. And cash.”
“But the real reason I’m here, Dad, is that I want you to tell me where Angelica is.”
“Tell me,” said the Reverend upstairs, “that you don’t do that. Have sex with your clones.”
“Damn it Patterson, you old son of a bitch. Of course I do.” It was like watching another self in a railcar wreck in slow motion and there was nothing he could do about it: “And as far as I’m concerned that’s the only reason you haven’t purchased cloning rights yourself. I know about the biweekly massage and hand job, I’m not one of your stupid TV fans. You’re afraid of all the things you might talk yourself into doing. My mild little kinks are nothing compared to what lurks in you.”
It took Joel a minute to recall who Angelica was.
“Why the Hell do you want to find her?”
“She’s all I have left.”
“Well I have no idea where she is, or even if she’s alive.”
“Where did she go when I went into the army?”
“It’s not that simple, Billy.”
“She was asked to leave the country.” Actually, she’d been paid to leave.
“So where did she go?”
Joel scrutinized his son’s face and saw the twisted mask of fear and need. Hope tangled the twitch of muscle around his eyes, too. He couldn’t imagine himself shattering it, as little as there was, and he told the boy the truth. Chances are he wouldn’t find her anyway.
Joel let the Reverend splutter, finish his whiskey, and splutter some more before he said, “Why did you come here, RP? I’m sure it wasn’t for this.”
Reverend Patterson immediately quieted. “I think you know. Maybe that’s why you want to insult me so.”
Joel snickered. “You want to know how I’ll be voting on the Trump vs. Trump Conglomerate case.”
“It seems pretty clear to me. The clone who’s been culled from the group should be entitled to a cut of the net worth. Isn’t that fair?”
“I heard he’d become Born Again, this clone.”
“I can assure you that as a court justice I’ll judge the case on its legal merits, RP. You can tell your friend that.”
“Horseshit, Joel. You have an opinion.”
“Well I’m not aware of all the variables involved. How the Hell did he come undone from the conglomerate in the first place? Something’s fishy to me.”
“Why is it strange to think one of Trump’s clones wanted to be free?”
“You still don’t get it, do you? They’re all the same man.”
“That’s not what some people believe.”
“If you’re talking about the original body myth, forget about it. I’m a conglomerate. I can tell you it’s not true. The original is not the mystical seat of consciousness. Where do people come up with this shit? It’s like those crack pots who still want to teach the Book of Genesis in biogenetics class.”
“You don’t understand Faith?”
Downstairs, Joel tried to shake his son’s hand and was surprised when Billy grasped him tightly around the shoulders.
“Thanks, Dad. Maybe when things settle down I’ll see you again.”
Not if you’re sneaking across the border, Joel thought. It’s easier to get out than it is to get in; there’s a reason for that. But he didn’t say anything, just accepted the hug, arms pinned to his sides.
Deep in the heart of the mansion, Joel’s ancient, desiccated limbs twitched beneath the feel of that hug. His eyes rolled down the length of his useless body and then retreated back downstairs to watch Billy slip out the door.
Ever since the clone lost contact with his AWOL counterpart, Field Agent Oppenheimer had been fantasizing about pressing the barrel of his ancient Luger against the private’s temple and squeezing off a couple shots. After all, protocol aside, Billy was pretty useless to him now that he couldn’t see through the other clone’s eyes. It wasn’t as if he’d be killing the man and it would feel pretty satisfying. But Oppenheimer was already having enough trouble with his HSCO branch. Three months of Probationary Performance Counseling to go, all because he stood up to the branch head, that lousy three clone conglomerate, that bastard Nelson.
Oppenheimer would turn sixty before his probation was over. And still an entry level Field Agent. He lived in a studio apartment along the edge of the Arbor Hill slums in Albany he could barely afford. Most of his salary went to child support his ex-wife used to shower gifts on her new boy friend, some handicapped black kid with a disability pension. He couldn’t even start a new family if he wanted to because his salary fell below the legal cut-off to have more than the two boys he’d already lost. And forget about retiring; he’d already borrowed against his retirement fund just to get through Christmas six years ago.
He’d always been poor. His dad had passed the condition on. He didn’t have the money for even the most basic cloning license. Employers wanted conglomerates now for higher positions; they were more efficient and salaries could be pro-rated among clones. Like Nelson, the bastard. A single man couldn’t compete. Oppenheimer looked across the air car cab at the private and thought about his Luger. And evening the playing field, just a little.
Clouds like dirty sponges slowly passing in the window beyond him, Billy caught Oppenheimer’s look. “Yes sir?” said the soldier.
All right. It was unfair to put this Billy kid into the same category as the other conglomerates. He wasn’t rich. Just some dumb schmuck the government had cloned into an army. How did the campaign ads go? While one clone survives, the individual never dies. America will never send its sons and daughters to die again. Support our cloned troops and vote four more years for the President Rufus Conglomerate.
The poor kid would probably never see civilian life again. The army was obligated only to send one “Billy” back from the war, after all. Oppenheimer shook his head and flipped the car into manual as they entered Albany air space.
Still, he thought, I haven’t shot a clone in months. And he wasted my time with this damn trip to New York. I should have known the Weather Underground would disconnect the deserter before they could get to him; they were getting too damn good at it these days. They flew the rest of the way to the HSCO branch building in silence. Oppenheimer landed them on the roof and they rode the elevator down a throat of glass and steel to the lobby. Security hardly glanced at them as they left the building to cross the street to Starbucks.
Reverend Patterson waved to them from a table in the back, and Oppenheimer noticed Billy’s eyes widen. The power of celebrity.
“Billy. Go get us a couple double lattes.”
The kid hesitated. “Yes… sir.”
The Reverend’s eyes followed the private to the shuffling line. “What have you gotten me involved in, Leo?” he said, as Oppenheimer took a chair across from him. “You know how much I hate seeing the judge.”
“HSCO can’t just waltz into Judge Robbins’ estate without just cause, Reverend. I appreciate your help.” Oppenheimer tried to ignore how the Reverend’s gaze focused disapprovingly on the frayed edges of his cheap brown suit. Did you learn anything?”
Reverend Patterson sipped his coffee then cleared his throat. “Well, something was bothering Joel, you can be certain of that.” He nodded toward the private, jostling wattles of old skin. “That’s his son, isn’t it?”
Oppenheimer tensed in excitement. “He was there? You recognize him?”
“Of course recognize him, you idiot. One of his platoons was wiped out in Ethiopia three days ago. It’s all over the news. There’s going to be a congressional hearing, for crying out loud.”
“I get it,” said the Reverend suddenly. “A deserter?”
“Yeah. Do you think Robbins has seen him?”
“As I said, he was very upset about something. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had. Or at least knew what was going on.”
“I can quote you on that, for my report? So when I go to question him your testimony will back me up?”
“You’re such a little bureaucrat.”
“Without the compulsion of your assertions, the force I may need to bring to bear on one of the most powerful conglomerates in the country might be questioned.”
Rubbing his bald head, Patterson looked up. Oppenheimer turned and took one of the cardboard cups from Billy, who stood staring at the evangelist.
“Reverend Patterson,” said the kid, putting his own cup down and leaning across the table to shake the Reverend’s hand. “I’m a huge fan.”
“Thank you, son,” Patterson said, glancing at Oppenheimer.
“You blessed us last year, at the Yemen base. And I saw you on TV that time you cured that gay priest in front of that whole crowd.”
Oppenheimer grasped Billy’s arm to silence him. “I can count on your testimony?” he said to the Reverend.
Patterson nodded. “Of course you can. I don’t want any of this foolishness to get in the way of our larger goals. Go do what you do best.”
Oppenheimer rose, his hand still on Billy’s arm. Something about Patterson’s tone bothered him. The Reverend pretended to be in charge, as if Oppenheimer did his bidding. Didn’t the old man know that it was Oppenheimer who’d used him?
On the way out he tossed his full cup into the trash.
He hated double lattes.
She said it a moment before the hail storm hit: “You kind of like me, huh? I mean in spite of your self.”
Billy couldn’t read her expression. And then the ice fell, hammering the air car’s roof.
“I hate everything you stand for,” he said softly. “I hate how you dress up like a mythic historical figure and sneak around sabotaging the greatest country in the world.
Jude glanced at him, still steering in manual. “What?” she hollered. “I couldn’t hear you over the…” She rolled her eyes upward at the storm. It was chilly in the cab. Her nipples stuck up under her tie dyed tee shirt like a couple thumbs. Billy told himself he hated those, too, even though he’d been looking at them the whole time she’d worked on locating Angelica’s address from the information his father had supplied. He shook his head; he’d been in the army too long.
“Maybe now’s not a good time to talk,” she yelled, “but a lot of the clones we liberate choose to work with us. That’s an open invitation. We take care of our own, and there aren’t many places for you to go, you know.”
This time he raised his voice enough for her to hear as the wind shook them. “I’d turn myself in before I worked with you,” he said.
“That’s funny, since we saved your hide.”
Billy sniffed sullenly. “I didn’t have many choices.”
“No,” she said, then watched the hail, frowning. She flipped back her red hair. “I don’t understand. The military sacrificed your entire platoon. What do you think you owe them?”
A few miles from Niagara Falls, the sniper towers and an occasional edge of high voltage fence were visible through the storm. They were already in the no fly zone, so Jude kept the car on the road cracked with frost heaves, lifting only to pass trees fallen in the storm. Eventually, she pulled over and left the car idling.
“There’s a space behind the back seat,” she said. They spent the next ten minutes positioning Billy into it. When they were finished, he couldn’t move. There was a crack in the upholstery along the edge of the seat back. As long as he kept one eye there, peaking up at the rear window where ice balls pelted the glass, he could keep the claustrophobic panic away.
“Don’t move until I tell you,” said Jude. As if he could.
They had clones at the borders. Maybe even Williams. In spite of himself, he searched his mind for any surviving shard of the diffused mind. How could it be gone so simply? They’d taught him it was part of him, that the telepathy was a natural extension of the self. The flow and shift of neurotransmitters, the firing of neurons, all those physical manifestations in the macrocosmic mind, were only one aspect of thought. But there was a quantum level as well. If identical people were properly tuned with a combination of psychological conditioning and virobots to limit as many variables as possible—even down to inhibiting the transposons, the jumping genes, that could alter brain function among the clones—they became responsive to thought on that quantum level. In the microcosmic world, thought could split off like particles of light and exist anywhere in the universe simultaneously. There had been times when Billy had heard the thoughts of his other clones less clearly, as if from a distance. But the sense of distance was an illusion; what he was really experiencing was the effect of physical variables clouding the clones’ tuning.
Billy heard gunfire popping through the clatter of the storm. They were probably executing some border jumpers coming down from Canada. Border patrol clones were lucky; they had license to get their job done by whatever means necessary. You couldn’t screw around with border security when the population had surpassed the fifteen billion mark and every starving sand nigger, beaner, canuck and hajji were…
Billy remembered suddenly that he was a border jumper himself, and caught his breath. The car had slowed to a crawl. Aside from the occasional pop of rifle fire, he couldn’t hear anything through the storm. That didn’t mean anything; the clones performed their job just fine without talking.
He wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard Jude murmur, “shit,” and then the car came to a halt. A familiar voice hollered something outside and Jude’s door clicked open. Helplessly, he watched the hail plummet straight down at him.
“No, of course not,” he heard Jude say, and then, “My ID.”
A moment later the car jolted, as if she’d been thrown against it. And distinctly through the roar of the storm he heard an automatic rifle cock back. Then a face appeared in the window over him.
Lying in his bed in the center of the mansion, Joel imagined he was a spider, connected by the strands of his web to all the other minds that contained him. A very old spider with an oxygen feed up his nose, with useless tired limbs and wrinkled flesh and blossoming bed sores. It didn’t matter. The others laughed and stroked each other in the orgy suite. Joel smiled, contemplating multiple orgasms.
How could he explain it to anyone who’d never had a clone—to old Reverend Patterson? The overwhelming sensation of being filled, moistened, dilated, thrust, and swollen stretched out across the sea of the glistened flesh of twenty bodies. It was almost unbearable, an unending epileptic fit of stimulation bordering on divine presence.
When Joel had been a kid he used to lie in bed pretending that his consciousness was a separate body from the flesh flung out across his mattress, a body that spanned downward through the bed itself, in another dimension; he was in a cockpit that controlled those legs and arms and torso. What he felt now, with his male and female bodies in the orgy suite, was something like that, but fuller, myriad and more real than he could have imagined.
And he attained it here, in complete safety, tucked away from the rot and contamination of the world. He could trust himself; no need to worry about betrayal or disease.
Joel had no illusions; he knew he was a coward.
All that bluster and hyperbole about experimentation and freedom he liked to toss at RP was foolishness. Joel was just a dirty old man hiding in his room, afraid to die. He knew his consciousness was diffused across the clones; he knew that he would live on among them with not even the slightest blip in the continuity of his self-awareness. Still, he just couldn’t bring himself to accept the thought of his original body’s death.
What made it even worse was the fact that his doctors had been telling him for years now that it was getting harder and harder to re-tune him to the group. The more his body fell apart, the more different he became from the others, the more difficult it was to maintain a connection to the diffused mind. The more he changed the more he risked becoming a separate, mortal entity, an insignificant eddy in the stream of consciousness, cut off from the rest. He needed to kill this old body before that happened.
But not yet, he told himself. Yes, he was a coward. Caught between dying for immortality—or living to risk a final death. A foolish, paralyzed coward, lost in waves of pleasure.
He didn’t even notice the HSCO field agent in his ridiculous suit at first, sweeping past the hot tub and the forest of trembling limbs. Not until the man’s luger pressed the back of his female, seventeen year old head. Joel opened his eyes—her eyes—hand rising to the powder blue negligee as he slid off the clone below.
“Don’t move another muscle,” the agent grated. “None of you.” He said that last as he leered around the room.
Joel was filled with amusement and outrage, mingling through the consciousness of all his selves watching the man. What did the little peon think he was going to do? He was completely surrounded.
He said as much as he—as she—squatted by the hot tub, turning to look up the stretch of the agent’s arm.
“I know I’m outnumbered,” the man said. “But I also know you don’t want me to shoot any of your precious clones; you don’t want to feel those deaths.”
“You’re not going to shoot anyone—”
The gun went off and the clone fell, her negligee floating up from her breasts.
It was a blinding burst and then a haunting emptiness spilling like freezing water through them all.
The luger pressed against the nearest clone’s jawline before Joel could react.
“Now I have your attention.” The agent laughed. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”
“You’re dead,” said Joel. “Do you have any idea who you’re fucking with?”
“What’s a little assault and property damage? An extra page of paperwork.”
But for an instant Joel saw the flicker of fear. He twisted his head against the gun barrel to glare directly up at him. “What do you want?” he grated. In the central bedroom, his lungs heaved.
“I’ve got it on good intelligence you’re aiding and abetting a deserter.”
Joel felt a sinking sensation all through his bodies.
The agent grinned again. “You know exactly who I’m talking about. It’s a federal offence, judge. Why don’t you tell me where your son is, hmm?”
“You’re so finished, you stupid little man—”
The gun went off again and Joel froze in dread; every one of him did.
The agent had already raised the luger to Joel’s nearest forehead and shrugged. “It’s worth it,” he spat.
Read on to Part 2 for the conclusion to Andrew Tisbert’s novella Diffusion, only available here on The Colored Lens
Andrew Tisbert’s work has been nominated for a Sidewise Award and short listed for a BFA. He has also received A Mary Shelley award from Rosebud Magazine. Andrew’s work has appeared in various anthologies and magazines such as Panverse One, Paradox, Talebones, Subtle Edens, Barren Worlds, GUD, Son and Foe, L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Vol. XX, Read by Dawn, and other markets. His work has been honorably mentioned in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, as well as Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction.