Billy watched as his clone looked down into the car. It felt as if time had stopped, as if the hail had become suspended in the cold gray air. Then the soldier looked away and disappeared.
A few minutes later Jude was back in the car.
They drove in silence for twenty minutes before she pulled over and let him out of his hiding space.
“That was close, dude.” She said. She was still shaking.
“You could’ve been shot right there,” he said as he climbed into the front.
They sat in silence as she drove. Eventually the hail dissipated and she brought the car into the air again.
“I felt so… helpless,” said Billy. “Like a coward. Hiding while you took all the risk.”
“We were both taking a risk. You did what you had to do.”
“Like I’ve been doing ever since Ethiopia,” he said. “Running.”
“As opposed to what? Dying with the rest of your platoon? You did right. You couldn’t go up against the entire military.”
He didn’t feel like it was right. He felt as if he’d abandoned part of himself, left his clones behind. The silence in his head was unbearable.
Jude asked him softly: “What exactly did happen, Billy.”
He sighed. “I can’t remember it all. It was dark and I think I blacked out. All I know is that everybody went crazy. There were faces all around; my faces, lit up in the firefight. We were just shooting each other—I mean ourselves—to pieces.” He shook his head. “It was insane. We chewed each other up. I panicked and ran. I guess it was just luck that I found the mission where your people sedated me and smuggled me back to New York.”
“It sounds like you were infected by a hacker virus that imbedded a suicidal compulsion. Why would the military do that?”
Billy shrugged. “Maybe we’d been infected with something else and the suicide bombing was clean up.”
“Maybe,” Jude said uncertainly. “A viral infection can cause one bad thought to rip through the entire conglomerate. The Pentagon would look at your platoon’s destruction like they were lancing out a tumor, a sick cell. It’s horrible, but I understand the logic.”
Dread had trickled from Billy’s chest out through the veins in his arms; he flexed his fists uncomfortably. He turned to watch her drive.
“Tell me something,” he said. “What’s this to you? Why do you care?”
“I’m a clone,” she said. “The Underground saved me, too.”
Darkness had begun to settle like ink and the hills slowly sequined with lights. Jude flipped on the headlights.
“Military?” said Billy.
“Academic.” She snorted. “My original was a biophysicist at MIT who got involved in the free clone movement, a group of intellectuals who believed the technology should be shared regardless of class. Immortality for all, they said.”
“It was hardly a movement. A few utopian cranks who were silenced pretty quickly, the way I heard it. All their illicit clones were destroyed.”
She stared straight ahead, and Billy felt his face flush. “Sorry.”
“Change of subject, huh? Tell me about your girl.”
Billy closed his eyes and pictured Angelica.