Finally, Beta was called to appear before the council.
“Don’t worry,” Zenith reassured her as Beta readied herself in front of Zenith’s mirror. She was borrowing some of Zenith’s clothes--nothing too dramatic, but everything felt like a big change after her drab training school uniform that she had worn some version of her whole life. “Everyone wants you to be here. That’s why we risked so much to get our helicopter in first before the FCC could nab you.”
Zenith led Beta to the assembly room and gave her one last smile. She opened the door and directed Beta to stand at the front, while she found an empty stretch of wall and leaned against it. Beta looked levelly at the room. A dozen leaders occupied comfortable chairs around a trapezoid shaped table. Diana sat alone at the smaller base of the table. Other members of the Cause crowded around the perimeter of the room. Beta felt as though she were on trial.
“Beta,” Diana began. “We are happy you are here. We have rescued you from the Society and from a life of toil in the Atrophy camps. As you might surmise, there is danger involved with what we do and the Society would like to bring us down in any way possible. We cannot risk Zenith’s life and frankly, I am invaluable too. I’m sure you will agree that the Society must not be successful in thwarting us. We invite you to join us. To . . .” And here Diana paused and uncharacteristically fidgeted with her papers, “. . .to essentially work as a decoy in case a mission calls for it.”
One of Beta’s eyebrows arched upward of its own accord. “Really? You want me as a body double?”
Beta glanced around the room. Zenith stared at the ground and her body language indicated to Beta that she didn’t know this was coming. She finally looked up and met Beta’s gaze and then almost imperceptibly shook her head no.
It was bad enough that almost everyone expected Beta to jump right in with the kind of zeal only a lifelong member of the Cause could muster. They were trying to take down the Society and stop cloning. What was so wrong with cloning anyway? If cloning was so wrong, what must they all think of her?
And it didn’t even make sense. The Society knew what she looked like already. Surely they knew Diana existed and possibly Zenith too. Certainly if she was Zenith’s clone--which was still a question that needled Beta’s every waking moment like a stubborn sliver--they knew she existed. What did she really know about the Cause?
Beta again looked around the room. At the eager, open faces. Would she join?
“Beta?” Diana asked in a tone that demanded an answer to the invitation, but also went beyond that, to inquire about Beta herself.
Beta continued her frozen stance. Had her life as a clone been so bad? She had the esteem of her cohort family. She had always known that she had been created to fulfill an express need in the community. The whole room was aware of Zenith and Diana’s intelligence and yet, they didn’t want to put Beta’s formidable mind to work. They only wanted her because she could protect Zenith by playing the part of imposter. She knew she could serve them so much better by putting her intellect to use. Did they doubt her intelligence? Were they prejudiced because she was possibly a clone of a clone raised by the Society? Was her life worth less than Zenith’s because she wasn’t raised by a family?
And could she even trust these people? What would the FCC have really done if it had gotten its hands on her? Who’s to say she would have even ended up in an Atrophy camp?
All these questions zapped through Beta’s neurons as she stood like a statue at the base of the trapezoid table.
“I decline.” Beta’s voice was low in volume, but strong in conviction.
The assembly was audibly surprised. The whole room squirmed. “I urge you to reconsider,” Diana intoned.
Beta gave no verbal response.
“What will you do Beta?”
Beta needed to discover who she was. Who was her unwilling donor? Diana or Zenith? What was Beta’s life story? Her origin? How did she come to live in the training center? There wasn’t even a term for a clone of a clone, if that was indeed what she was. Beta would have to make up her own term: c-squared maybe. Beta suspected that a lot of clones of clones never made it out of the petri dish--that it was generally incompatible with life. However she had gotten here, she was indeed alive and wanted to stay that way. Beta needed time to research who she was and she didn’t think that spending time risking her life for a cause she found suspect was a good way to accomplish that.
“I appreciate your hospitality and your kindness, but I cannot commit to your cause.”
Diana looked furious. “You are dismissed until further notice.”
Beta was escorted from the room, but was called back in shortly. She faced Diana and the assembly. “We are prepared to relocate you. But you should remember that you’re not set up to live life as a natural born,” Diana spoke, her words clipped, her tone disapproving. “Your training didn’t prepare you to fake yourself through life as anything but a clone. You’ll stick out. Your neighbors might not figure it out right away, but they’ll know there’s something different about you. We’ll take you to your home city and set you up in a housing arrangement, but if you refuse to work for the Cause, we will wash our hands of you. You will be responsible for getting a job and providing for yourself.”
Beta believed Diana’s words to be a lie. She was positive they would continue to monitor her as long as they were able. Maybe they were just trying to lull her into a false sense of security. She almost couldn’t believe they would let her go. She suspected she was of real worth to the Cause.
Zenith looked rather stricken. The two had become close over the few weeks Beta had stayed here. Beta felt bereft too. She had never lacked close friends within the self-containment of the training center, but her relationship with Zenith was different; the two had begun to feel like family.
“You are making a terrible mistake. And you are dismissed,” Diana announced pushing her chair back.
Beta shuffled the duffel bag between her feet, stuffed with clothes and toiletries that they had scrounged up at the compound. The helicopter whirred and Beta knew they would be entering the city soon. They were already starting to fly over habitation with the farms looking like patchwork down below. She squeezed Zenith’s hand. “Come with me! We could pose as twins,” she whisper/shouted into Zenith’s ear. The helicopter was full. There were other missions to run that day besides setting up Beta with a new life. No one turned to them. The chop chop of the helicopter disguised their conversation.
“The two of us together? Someone would figure out we were clones in no time. Besides, I’ve grown up here. The Cause is part of who I am. I can’t just abandon it. My mother would never forgive me,” Zenith lamented.
Beta wondered why Diana had never seemed to take more than a passing interest in her. Beta could certainly get inside Zenith’s head, but, for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why Diana did the things she did.
The helicopter landed on a skyscraper that bore practically no distinction from its neighbors. Beta knew she would remember--she always did, but wondered how most people found their way around. A leader that Beta had only met that morning led her from the helicopter. They hunch walked until they reached the safety of a doorway and beyond that an elevator. The leader tossed her tousled hair behind her and handed Beta a small device. Beta switched her duffel bag to the other hand and tried to scan through the device as the elevator quickly descended.
“You have all your info here. The address to the apartment. The rent is paid for the next two months. You’ll need to find work immediately if you want to keep your housing beyond that.” The floors sped by. “Your thumbprint will get you into the apartment.” The leader broke off from her monologue and waited until Beta looked her in the eye. “If you change your mind about working with us, there are instruction for how to contact Diana. It’s encoded in case you lose the device, but rumor has it you’ll be able to figure out the encryption and remember it.” The leader gave a brief smile and the elevator bounced slightly as it reached the main floor. “Good luck,” the leader instructed as she put her hand on Beta’s shoulder and gently pushed her out the metal doors. The elevator was gone again almost before Beta realized she was now alone. She walked across the abandoned lobby and peered out the great double doors. In all her life, Beta had never been alone. She considered the device and felt the weight of it in her hand. Her fist closed around it. She would keep it for now. She wasn’t quite ready to rid herself of the Cause for good.
Beta squared her shoulders and stepped out into the bustling sidewalk. She had chosen her new pathway.
We hope you enjoyed the story!