DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Vague spoilers for the first season.
FEEDBACK: To Tamoline[at]gmail.com
Memories from the Clone Factory
You've never known what it's like to be alone.
You've never known what it's like to be *not* alone.
Your earliest memory is of your room - your first room - the one you shared with Amanda and Amelia. The two of them on the bunk bed, whispering amongst themselves. You by yourself on your bed, across the room.
Not that it matters now. You have your own room - your own suite, even.
And you're away from *there*.
You're going to be away from *there* for months for the first time in your life.
Not that it matters. You can still feel the cameras watching every move you make, the bugs recording every sound.
You're not alone, you're never alone.
Not even when there's no one else around.
You have a memory. You were in a class. It- you think it must have been before you were ten, because you're sure that Betty still had a full head of hair. So call it when you were nine, Eight, maybe.
It was an average school day.
You had staked out a claim to a desk near the front. Caroline and Mary were huddled in a corner together, wearing the same clothes, displaying the same hairstyle as ever, probably talking in that twin speak of theirs. Amelia and Amanda were somewhere in the middle, so they could talk to you and anybody else that met their fancy if they tired of each other. Betty was in the class for once, though by a window, staring out, ignoring everyone else whilst she drew idly in her book.
Mr Higgins entered the room - and you're sure it was him, so it must have been when you were past the age of six - and busied himself with his things at the front, not addressing the class.
Of course he did.
Because *she* hadn't arrived yet.
Finally, *she* deigned to appear at the entrance to the room. Mr Higgins made sure that you all knew this by clearing his throat, and saying, "Good morning, Elspeth."
*She* acknowledged him with a nod, then regally walked to an empty desk and claimed it. Today she chose one near the back, which meant that today you'd be getting less attention from all the teachers, just for being further away from *her*.
Finally, Mr Higgins started the lesson by announcing your marks from the test yesterday. You remember grinding your teeth as you only received a B+, despite having *slaved* over preparation for the test.
*She* got an A.
You've never even seen her crack open a book outside of lessons.
The rest of the class were a mixture of Bs and Cs. At least no one else - your true competition in this class - got a B+.
You're fairly sure that Betty was desultorily awarded an F, which meant that she had actually bothered to do the test yesterday, for a change.
But everything else was normal.
Just an average school day.
University - Oxford - is nothing like what you expect. It takes you almost a day just to leave your suite.
There's so much empty space outside - not enclosed or encapsulated or *contained* - that it makes you feel naked just looking out at it.
And not in the way that you're used to, the way that you know somebody is looking every time you take off your clothing.
It's not that you've never seen the outside before, but before now you've never really appreciated what it *means*.
What it's like to be out there, alone. Without a classmate, or even a watcher.
Not that you're going to let *that* stop you. Not that you're going to something as ephemeral as unaccompanied empty space beat you.
You spend hours staring defiantly out of a window, willing it to back down and submit before you.
It doesn't work - and it isn't as though you're not fully used to a universe which ignores your whims - but just the effort ignites a cold rage within you, and you open the door and exit your rooms.
You're not going to let *this* beat you.
You remember a course on human biology. Elspeth was there, but Mary wasn't - you distinctly recall Caroline huddled by a wall, gazing blankly into space, in a drugged stupor. So you must have been twelve or thirteen.
The lesson was on the development of human embryos. About how, in the very early stages, human cells are an undifferentiated mass, before the embryo grows, the cells specialise and become different.
You remember raising your hand.
After a glance to check with *her* - who made no sign of caring one way or the other - Ms Dari said, "You have a question, Rachel?"
"When do we differentiate, Ms Dari?" you asked. Because you'd seen adults of different shapes and sizes, different hues of hair and skin.
But all the children you'd ever seen - all seven of you. They'd all been the same shape and size, had the same pale skin and dark hair.
Ms Dari got an odd, tight expression on her face.
That was the day you learned the word 'clone'.
The people are a different matter. You'd never really thought of your world as small though there was a fairly steady core to your world even outside the children - enough people, from all around the world, appeared (and disappeared, often never to be seen again) that you'd thought yourself quite cosmopolitan.
But you'd been a *presence* to these other people. Even if they weren't interested in speaking to you, you'd always been of at least peripheral interest to them. They'd known who you were.
You spend the first few months here just wishing that the people around you would admit that they know who you are. It's like a constant itch where you can see their eyes sliding over you as though you're not there, and you're *convinced* that they're studying you behind your back.
It all comes to a head one day when, tired of this constant pretence, you slam a boy against a wall and scream at him to. Just. Stop. Pretending. He looks at you wide eyed, frozen, even though he's much larger than you.
The spell breaks when some nearby people friends of his probably drag you off him, and you run back to your room, blowing off the rest of the day's lectures. There's a knock on the door about an hour later. It's the psychologist who's been assigned to you here, and he wants to talk to you about the incident.
It takes many sessions, but you get better about dealing with your fellow students over time. You file the whole thing as an embarrassment and try to forget all about it.
Nothing else ever comes of your assault, not that this particularly surprises you.
It just reinforces your supposition. The people in power the staff they're the ones in league with *there*.
They're the people you have to look out for.
They had a system *there*, controlling everything, even if they did try and obfuscate it as much as possible. You can't remember exactly when you became consciously aware that it existed. You think that you've always known on some level.
You don't think that even the staff quite knew how it worked. As far as you could tell, they were given their instructions, and expected to carry them out.
They were being watched almost as much as you.
They had their own sub-systems of rivalries and resentments, friendships and loyalties, though.
Ms MacNee almost always smiled slightly whenever she saw Ms Dari. Mr Hunt's face almost always froze slightly when he was around Mr Esteroff, but he always obeyed the latter's suggestions to the letter.
Ms Davies' eyes almost always wistfully followed Mr Eskine whenever he was in view. Mr Galvin and Mr Aldis made sure never to look at each other with a deliberateness that seemed almost forced.
Mr Waddilow always insisted that the children call him Kyle when he was trying to be approachable, but his smiles never reached his eyes. Ms Sulaman always appeared reserved, but could occasionally be softened by strategic use of her first name, Raia.
And *this* you could learn, *this* you could manipulate.
Even whilst they were teaching you from their curriculum, you were learning other lessons entirely at the same time.
The leeway they could grant might have only been limited. But you learned to take it for all that it was worth.
Slowly, slowly, you manage to learn how to do the same thing at university. The social systems there may be far more complex, with far different constraints built in far less investment in you as a person, far less for you to barter with - but there was something. Always something.
This lecturer likes it when you praise Austrian economics, that teaching assistant blushes slightly when you remember her name.
Lines of information, lines of control. Those are the things you learn to trace.
And to make... strategic adjustments.
You've spent so long in an enclosed environment, hiding yourself for you own protection, with people who just *got* you on a meat level no one out here can hope to understand...
You can't quite make yourself open up, to anyone. There are far too many secrets buried beneath your skin that you know that no one - no one - can ever know, that you can never quite find it within yourself to relax completely.
You're aware that you seem unapproachable. (Though that by itself seems enough to attract a certain sort of person.)
You never make close friends, of the sort everyone else around you seems to delight in.
That's alright though.
You have other strengths. And other reasons that people seek you out.
To try and use you, granted, but that's alright too.
It means you have no compunction about using them right back.
Other people came to visit *there* too, of course.
People who, if you ever learned their names, it was only because one of the staff slipped up.
You didn't need to be, well, you to figure out that these were the people who ran things.
And, on bad days, the days that Elspeth decided to pick on you, rather than Betty or one of the others, you'd take the abuse with bowed head but slitted eyes, and promise yourself.
One day, you'd be one of *them*.
One day, you'd run things.
One day, you'd make the Elspeths of the world *crawl*.
It's partly this that leads you back to *them* after you've earned your first in Economics and Management.
There are the workers, the thinkers, the people who get things done.
There are the people who everyone thinks are in charge, the politicians and the obvious opinion leaders.
And then there are the people who are actually in charge, the people who stand in shadows, the people who direct the people behind the cameras.
You've never aspired to be anything other than a member of the third group. And, all your life, all power has flowed from *them*.
So, really, it's only natural that you seek to join *them*.
It isn't that easy, of course. You're going to have to work your way up. But a clone seeking to help study clones... seems to amuse *them*. As you thought it might.
Which gives you at least a toe in the door.
"Here's where the magic happens," Dr Leekie says, gesturing expansively at the lab as he starts his tour. You can't help wondering if he thinks the smile hides the mockery in his eyes, or if he just doesn't care.
A set of laboratories isn't much. It certainly isn't anything you've been trained for.
But you rather suspect that's the point. To throw you in at the deep end, to see if you sink or swim.
Just another experiment.
Just another test.
"Thank you," you say, smiling equally as politely.
"Feel free to take a look around. Everyone here is eager to meet you," he says.
Indeed, you're the focus of everyone's attention. You wonder if you are the first actual subject they've seen, the only thing apart from samples and test results they've had to study.
They're not looking at you as a person, but like you're an interesting experiment come to life.
You rather suppose this might unnerve many people.
For you, it just feels like coming home.
The next few weeks are a whirlwind of activity. Ostensibly, you're here as an administrative assistant, 'to improve laboratory efficiency'.
Unofficially, of course, everyone wants to ask you their own pet questions.
It's not exactly a problem.
Who asks you questions, how they ask you questions, in what order they ask you questions.
It all helps you work out the lab dynamics.
Lines of information, lines of control.
At the moment... at the moment you're looking for someone who knows a lot - who the lines of information flow through - without necessarily being in charge.
Someone who is necessary without being appreciated, to put it bluntly.
After two weeks, there are only a few people who haven't asked you questions.
Most of them are the non-scientific staff.
But there's one - a blonde post grad, who tends to speak quietly in french-accented english, who everyone seems to treat as a dogsbody, the current lowest in the lab pecking order, who simply hasn't had the time or the standing to approach you - who can't seem to help throw you fascinated glances whenever she can.
And you smile internally.
It seems you may have found your someone.
You remember seeking out Betty was shortly after Mary...
"Elizabeth," you tried quietly, when no one else was around.
She looked cautiously up at the use of her real name, the name she'd had before Elspeth had decided that was too close to her own, and that she should now be called Betty.
All the staff, as always, had gone along with the slightest of Elspeth's suggestions, and the rest of the children had followed suit, to avoid punitive edicts that Elspeth would levy at the slightest sign of dissent.
To be enforced by the staff naturally.
Years later, you figure out that this was just another experiment, with Elspeth treated like an alpha and Betty as an omega. Probably just to see what you'd all do, how you'd react.
But at the time, it just seemed like a natural law.
(And years after that, you'd hear about another Elizabeth, and wonder if she'd had anything in common with your Betty.)
"Yeah?" she asked.
You remember taking a breath. "Do you mind if I sit down here for a while?"
She'd raised an eyebrow. "Sure," she said laconically, then rolled over, reflected light glinting through the fuzz growing in on her head. It almost covered the cuts she somehow always managed to inflict whenever she shaved.
You all had your ways of standing out from each other.
Yours is your bleached blonde hair.
Mary's had been...
You all had them.
"Thank you," you said, and sat down neatly next to her.
You both just stayed there in silence for a few hours.
And, well, you couldn't help noting the flash of gratitude in Betty's eyes that someone was finally paying attention to her.
The most powerless are so often grateful for the least specks of consideration.
And, really, that went for the both of you.
You start it off very simply. You walk over to where she's sitting having lunch.
"Hello," you say. "I think you were somehow missed in the general introductions. Rachel Duncan."
She ducks her head shyly. "I am pleased to meet you. My name is Delphine Cormier."
"Would you mind if I sit down here? It'd be nice to share a table with someone who hasn't been treating me like a lab specimen for the last few weeks," you say a little dryly.
It's not that you precisely mind. But it makes for a good opening line.
She has the good grace to flush a little. "Certainly," she says, clearing a space for you.
"So, what do you do here?" I ask as I sit down. "I'm sure it's far more interesting than my current assignment."
That's all it takes to get her started - she's still new enough here, and still enthusiastic enough about science in general, that she quite happily fills up the rest of the lunchbreak.
A lot of the jargon you don't exactly understand, not yet - though you can get the gist - and, besides, that's not really the point, is it?
Just by asking you've brightened her day, made her more positively inclined towards you.
Laid the groundwork for the next step.
Language, amongst the children, was always... something else.
There was a common pool of words and terms - not quite English, but your own unique slang, built up out of shared experiences and in jokes. (Not to mention the same basic wiring.)
It was useful for the day-to-day things, as well as frustrating the monitors and staff who seemed to have problems following you all sometimes.
(Of course, the thought now lingers - did they really have those problems, or had it just been an act, to make you *feel* like you were getting away with something, like at least one aspect of your existence had been your own?)
The standard english you speak now seems almost... lacking in flavour and consistency, and you found the opportunity for mistakes and misunderstandings almost overwhelming initially.
But you survived. You prospered.
And even back *there*...
Even back there, Amelia and Amanda, Caroline and Mary, the two pairs of children who could never be - were never - separated from each other.
They had wrinkles on your common tongue they didn't share with anyone else.
A barrier that somehow marked them as more of a pair than anything else.
Back then, after Mary, you'd had the thought that you could reach out to Caroline, maybe find your own pair. But she'd just retreated into herself, would barely speak at all anymore.
And Amelia and Amanda retreated into each other as well. Your only memories of them at around this point in time are that they were always touching, always holding, almost clinging to each other.
Looking back, you almost wish that you didn't still blame them so much. After all, if one member of a pair could go... Well, there was only one pair left.
But you didn't think like that at the time, *couldn't* think like that.
All you knew is that they'd left you more alone than ever, even when you were in the same room.
Elspeth was being a prize bitch, as ever.
So that left Betty. Pariah, but...
But there. At least potentially. And you couldn't help remembering that just being with her had helped after Mary.
And so you tried to patch things up with her again for, well, the final time.
(You'd tried before, but it'd never lasted. The price of Elspeth's wrath had been too great.)
You started making sure that you ran into each other, a feat more difficult than it seemed, given the limited number of rooms *there*.
Betty always did have a talent for disappearing.
Once you'd located her, it generally wasn't too hard to come up with a convenient reason you actually must stay in the same room. And, though you never discussed it, you're fairly sure she understood the excuse was just that.
And, occasionally, you'd speak to each other. Not much, trying not to waste a spare word.
Because it wasn't like you were *friends* or anything.
You'll never forget the moment that you realised, for the first time, that you and Betty had a shared joke that no one else knew.
You'll never forget when she said, almost shyly, "I like it when you call me Elizabeth."
"My brasiliensis stock cultures have been contaminated," Delphine says in a particularly huffy tone of voice that, combined with her accent, makes it actually almost difficult for you to avoid smiling at. But it wouldn't be the wisest course of action, and so you abstain as she continues. "Which means I'm going to have to set up a whole new extraction now. This is the second time this has happened, and all because certain people do not seem to understand the meaning of the words 'aseptic technique'!" she finishes, throwing her hands up in the air.
"So your little worms are dying because of Richard's laziness," you summarise. The very fact that you've managed to get such a grasp on the language the lab uses in the weeks you've been there, well...
The time you've spent cultivating Delphine's friendship has not been wasted.
"Yes," she mimics savagely. "My little wormies are dying. And all because Richard cannot find his arse with both 'ands."
"Another drink?" you ask.
"I think that is the least you can do after mocking my pain," she says and you let the smirk you've been hiding fully bloom across your face.
So maybe you weren't hiding your amusement as well as you could have.
You've been meeting outside the labs for a while now. Both because it's a more informal atmosphere, relaxing her, making it easier for you to pump her for information and because it's harder for the watchers to figure out exactly what she's been telling you.
And, well, lately because it's been good to get out of the labs, just relax with someone who doesn't view you as a specimen *all* of the time.
Besides, keeping an eye out for the people assigned to watch you is only good practise. (They're always there, always looking. The art involves managing exactly what they see.)
You order a couple of pints at the bar, then carry them back, placing one in front of her.
"So," you ask casually. "What are you planning to do about it?"
She gives you a dour look. "What *can* I do? 'E is sufficiently above me in the ranks that no one is going to listen if I make a complaint." She takes a long drink from her beer, then gives you a closer look. "What?" she asks. "You've got that look in your eyes. You're making one of your little plans again, aren't you?"
She really is getting better at reading you. Because it's true - you'd just been musing about how Richard is *already* irritating Judith, and if you started pushing all the paperwork from the requests he's been making for materials, combined with some bills for cleaning various machines in the lab (which you may or may not have to fabricate) in her direction, well...
It probably wouldn't be good for him. And should solve the problem one way or another.
You shrug and let a trace of a smirk flicker across your face again. "Maybe," you allow.
"I knew it!" she crows, then pushes gently against you with one hand. "You are a sneaky one, no? I am so glad that you are working with me rather than against me."
You freeze under her touch.
It shouldn't matter. You've almost gotten used to how tactile she is, as opposed to where you were brought up, as opposed to the English in general, really.
It shouldn't matter. You shouldn't feel anything apart from the push of an almost friendly hand, of someone you can almost (but not quite) trust.
But it does. And the thought that maybe it's not that she's getting better at reading you worms its way into your head.
Maybe she'd not getting better at reading you.
Maybe you're starting to let her in, instead.
Oh, shit is all you can numbly think.
Puberty, for you, was a confusing affair.
You knew - you all knew - why your bodies were changing, developing. At least on an intellectual level.
On an emotional level...
You remember starting to *notice* people in a way that you hadn't before. Some of the younger staff, even some of the other children. Eyes glancing off, sticking to, parts you had never paid attention to before.
And you remember having inchoate dreams, where you would wake, gasping, *wanting*...
Even if, at that stage, you were never too sure what exactly it *was* that you wanted.
It was confusing, overwhelming, made you feel like you were out of control.
And so, as best you were able, you shut down.
Not that it really mattered. No one was really paying attention to you.
And certainly not your room-mates, Amanda and Amelia, who still slept on their bunk bed, separated from you by a gulf of empty space.
You remember being awoken one night by the sound of them giggling.
It hadn't been the first time this had happened, but...
This time there were other noises too.
The sound of flesh on flesh.
The pop of lips.
Murmurs containing an emotion that you hadn't ever heard before.
You didn't really understand what was happening over there - not then - but after that...
The formlessness of those dreams had taken on more of a shape, and the wanting had become more real.
Sex is something you've certainly tried whilst you've been away from *there*, with both women and men.
You've even tried a relationship once or twice - a pale skinned boy called Adrian, a richer skinned girl called Nadia - but it has never really worked out for you. They always want more, want to eventually get inside those shields of yours.
It isn't something you're prepared to compromise on. If they're from *there* - as you can't help, even now, thinking is all too likely - then letting them get too close is a weakness you can't afford. And if, by chance, they're not, then letting them in is just an invitation to get them either co-opted or...
So you've got to be completely insane if you're thinking about changing that now.
Especially because you don't know if she's even interested - *could* be interested. The questions she poses are too close too important for you to trust even your normally impeccable people sense.
And yet, the clearly irrational part of your mind goes, and yet...
She knows the basics about you already. And surely no one could have predicted that you'd be interested in her.
You're probably fooling yourself, but you can't rid yourself of the hope that she isn't suborned - well, no more than working for *them* would entail, anyway.
It's been so long since you've had a friend - even wanted to have a friend - let alone anything more...
It's a form of paralysis that probably explains what you're doing here right now, in the dark, huddled up next to her on a distinctly second-hand sofa that's apparently all she can afford on her salary.
Because somehow watching movies together has become one of your traditions. Already.
This time it's her turn to pick the movie, which explains why you're currently watching a black and white film in French without so much as a hint of subtitles, and only years old lessons to provide any kind of elucidation.
But it's not so bad. This isn't the first French film she's shown you, and the language is slowly coming back to you, enough for comprehension anyway. And people are people more so, even, within the stylised confines of the television. And once you understand them, the rest comes a little easier.
And it's not so bad, because Delphine is next to you, smiling and reciting lines so softly they're almost under her breath. Every few minutes, you can see her glance towards you, feel her eyes glance off your face as she studies how you react to some new twist of the plot.
And part of the fun, of course, is trying to figure out how you should react from her expression. She has such an expressive face that you simply can't help glancing at it in turn, waiting for the sparkle of excitement in her eyes, the bit lip of anticipation, the damp eyes of emotion.
"You haven't understood a word of this, have you?" Delphine murmurs.
"A word, here and there," you protest half-heartedly.
Because, of course, trying to do all of this at once is just setting yourself up for failure. Especially since you continually find yourself more interested in her face than the film.
It's a problem.
"You are *so* bad," she teases, poking your side with a bony hand. "How am I ever going to teach you about the superiority of French culture if your primitive Anglo-Saxon brain cannot even focus for the duration of a movie?"
Unable to stop yourself laughing, you twist around, as much so you can face her properly as to shield your side from her fingers. "Maybe if you weren't so distracting " you say, then find yourself far too close to her face. You swallow. "Maybe if you weren't so distracting," you repeat, more slowly, unable to stop looking at her.
You're so close that you can see your breath whisper against her eyelashes, feel hers ghost against you.
You're so close that you can see her pupils blow wide open.
Oh, you think. Oh.
You may not be alone in this after all.
You may be the one to press in, to initiate the kiss.
But the response?
That's all hers.
Sharing things, when you were *there*, was always a risky affair.
Nothing in the future was ever fully guaranteed.
(Apart from for Elspeth. *She* never had to worry about a future lack.)
Sometimes, when you worked together, you were rewarded with more, something extra, a sign of beneficence from *them*.
Sometimes, your only reward was any increased efficiency resulting from your cooperation.
And sometimes, sometimes it seemed like you were being punished for working together, and something, some allotment was reduced.
And even though you never talked to, or did anything with, Betty when other people were around which meant by the unspoken rules that you lived by, you couldn't be punished for it directly that, often, after you had shared something with Betty, you received a little less from your weekly allowance.
It's left you with tendency to hoard your possessions and your time.
To be wary about helping others.
Quite frankly, nowadays sharing anything just gives you an itch along the back of your neck, as you wait for the axe to fall.
"So why you do like staring out of big windows, ma cherie?" Delphine asks.
You're out. The excuse is shopping, but really it's just good to be outside. Away from, well, everything.
Delphine knows enough by now not to ask you anything personal whilst you're inside. If you're going to expose anything about yourself, you're not going to make it so easy on the watchers as to do it where they can record your words.
You're at least going to make them work for it by debriefing Delphine.
And maybe, maybe she isn't actually reporting everything you say.
But you can't let yourself believe that, not totally, because hope is dangerous.
Despite how much you want to.
You consider telling her that you do it because it's a safe way to view the world, that you've never managed to quite beat your agoraphobia.
You consider telling her that you do it because it's like being on the right side of the monitor screen, for once.
But you don't. Not at the moment. Not quite yet. Maybe someday. You settle for a lesser truth, instead. "It's because the view is so big and varied compared to where I grew up."
"The institute, no?"
You nod, but can't quite bring yourself to say anything.
It's not like you were scarred by your experiences there.
But you've moved on now.
It's in the past.
"Are you still in contact with the other clones?" she asks after a moment.
"No," you say shortly. She doesn't say anything in response, but her hand finds yours all the same. After a minute or so, you relent and add, "We don't really have anything in common nowadays."
Not after they virtually shunned you back *there*.
Delphine looks at you for a moment. "I hope we have something in common now?" she asks teasingly.
"I would hope so," you say dryly, and pull her in for a kiss.
She tenses for a moment - like she always does when you're in public - but then relaxes into it, into you.
It's moments like this that actually remind you of some of the differences between you.
Because, for you, vast open spaces feel far more private than being back at your house.
Ending - soft endings, the kind where a person just disappears from your life, and you never know if you'll ever see them again - have always been a part of your life.
Staff came and went *there* and you were rarely, if ever, given any advance warnings or explanations.
You learned early to cling to your fixed points - the other children, the few permanent staff.
Hard endings - the endings that other people don't come back from.
Those came later.
The first was Mary. You didn't actually see it take place. No one did - not even Caroline, her semi perpetual shadow. The first sign that something was wrong was a commotion out in the corridor.
You went to investigate - you all went to investigate, even Betty - but all you could see was a cluster of the staff around the entrance to the bathroom.
They wouldn't let you get close.
But you remember the world going quiet as a puddle of red liquid slowly started expanding past the bathroom door.
Oh, you remember thinking. Oh.
And: Where's Mary?
Caroline started screaming. And there's an image stuck in your head of everyone joining in, even Elspeth. Even Betty.
You never saw Mary again, not even her body.
It made the whole thing unreal, like, maybe, they'd just taken her away, and she'd be returned to you someday.
You're fairly sure that Caroline clutched to that belief for years afterwards.
The second time was worse.
The second time you were there.
Elspeth was wending her way down the corridor, and she obviously caught sight of Betty walking the other way and evidently decided to play one of her dominance games with her.
She veered off towards Betty, and blocked her path.
"Get out of my way," she said.
Betty hunched down a little, and tried her best to comply, but Elspeth was apparently not feeling in an obliging mood. Every time Betty tried to move around her, she'd step in the way and repeat, "Get out of my way," with some epithet attached.
Each time, you could see Betty getting more and more tense. There was a part of you that would have liked to help, but you'd known this would only make you a target as well.
So you didn't.
So you kept quiet.
Like you always had.
And if this had played out like it always had before, sooner or later Betty would have just retreated, or performed whatever ridiculous act of penance Elspeth would dictate.
But it didn't.
Instead, when Elspeth said, "I can't believe that your *stupidity* has delayed me so much. I think you should clean my shoes as recompense. Now," Betty tensed even more.
And then she exploded.
She shoved Elspeth backwards, into a door frame. Elspeth's head slammed back into an edge, red exploding outwards.
For a moment, you thought that was going to be it. That Betty would back away, and be restrained when more muscular members of the staff arrived.
They were surely already on their way.
She didn't though. She just maintained her grip on Elspeth, and pulled her forwards, and slammed her back again.
And you just stood there, frozen.
By the time that the staff did arrive, Betty was panting on the ground, next to Elspeth.
Elspeth's eyes were open, but they were staring at nothing at all.
You never saw either of them ever again.
The end, when it comes, somehow surprises you, even though it really shouldn't.
You look up from where you're working as someone approaches.
"Dr Leekie," you say, a coldly polite smile on your lips. "How delightful to see you."
He doesn't return the smile, not even one of his insincere ones.
You'd rather thought that might be the case.
Working here - at the lab - was never a long term move of yours. It had been where you were placed, by *them*, more or less as a joke, you suspect.
Their little pet clone, slaving away for them.
There are other departments where your skillset could flourish. And not all of them are run by people friendly to the good doctor.
It's amazing, really, what you can find out when you deal with a lab's admin. And it's amazing what the right people will give you for embarrassing information on a rival.
You're moving to somewhere you'll be more appreciated, soon. London, actually. Still close enough that you'll be able to maintain your relationship with Delphine, but far more central to european operations.
You'll wager Leekie has just found this out. And maybe what it's cost him.
"Rachel," he says. "I was delighted to hear about your promotion." He bares his teeth. "I hope you get everything that's coming to you."
"Thank you," you say, sweetly. "I certainly intend to make sure that I do."
His smile gets harder. "You'll understand if I have to reassign your watcher," he says, and his eyes flicker towards where Delphine is working on a lab bench.
As if there's any confusion about what he meant.
"I wouldn't want to cross departmental jurisdictions, after all," he adds, but you barely hear him.
Can hardly do anything at all, apart from watch as he strides over to Delphine, and places a casual arm around her.
She doesn't react.
And she never looks at you.
It's almost surprising how easy it is for you to believe that everything between you was just a lie.
Just another game.
Just another way of prodding at you to get data.
After all, it's what you had been telling yourself all along.
Trying to save yourself from this moment.
It didn't work.
The pain, the rage, is an ice cold clotted lump around your heart.
You had *known* this. You *should* have known this.
It had never been going to end any other way.
And even if - somehow - it hadn't been like that, if she hadn't just been a spy, well...
The way she *doesn't* talk to you, the way she *doesn't* try and tell you her side of things?
It speaks *volumes* about whose side she is really on.
And you'll be *damned* if you're going to be the first one to break.
You leave the next week, and you don't look back.
It takes years for you to rise through the organisation.
It takes years, but no one can say that you didn't learn your lesson. You haven't exactly been a nun, but you haven't let anyone close to your heart again. The only people you trust are those you know you can destroy if they step out of line.
It takes years, but you finally manage to get hold of your files - the unexpurgated version - the ones that explain far too much about your childhood.
The ones that explain that everything was part of a complicated psychological game.
Even your names.
The way they treated Elspeth.
The way they treated Betty.
The reason that Caroline and Mary always looked identical - the staff made sure that they only had identical clothing and identical haircuts.
The way they'd just noted that Mary was a cutter - writing down her differences in the only she could - and didn't realise that it might escalate.
And just how much they managed to mould you - looking to express different psychological traits in your group - and how successful they were.
As well as their failures.
You're marked a success, you bitterly note - a loyal recruit to the group who has managed to accomplish great things. Who's expected to achieve much more.
You spend an entire weekend reading through all of the notes.
And then you spend an entire night staring up the ceiling, filled with the kind of black, clotted rage you haven't felt since...
At least there hadn't been any note in the files that she had indeed been your watcher.
Not at the start anyway. Later, well... she still worked there, and there are transcripts to attest to that fact.
You may not be able to forgive, not yet.
But maybe it's time to start reaching out again.
And the other clones you'd been raised with...
Ever since you left *there*, ever since you'd left years of almost silence from those that remained...
You'd *hated* them, hadn't wanted to even think about them again, let alone talk to them.
Maybe it is time to reach out to them again.
Maybe you should do that first.
"Rachel," Amelia says, beaming at you as she stands up to hug you.
You're having this meeting in a coffee shop - a carefully neutral location that she suggested.
"Amelia," you say as you release her and stand back. "You're looking well."
Amelia looks you up and down. "I could say the same. You look good in a business suit."
"How's Amanda?" you ask.
"Doing well. Loving life as a primary school teacher," she says. "We're with different people now," she adds. "But you knew that, didn't you?"
You don't bother trying to lie. "It was in your file."
"Of course it was," she says bitterly. "So what can I do for you?" she asks, and, suddenly, she's looking at you the way you all used to look at *them.*
It makes you feel unexpectedly nauseous.
"What makes you think I want anything from you?" you temporise.
She gives you a look. "I knew you growing up, remember." She bites her lip. "I'm sorry- I always meant to say that I was sorry that I wasn't there for you more."
You can clearly see her assessing you, categorising you, reading you, like you can read her.
Only with a far kinder edge than you could ever manage.
"I'm glad that you've finally decided to answer my emails," she says softly.
You press your lips together before answering. "Like I said, I've read the files. All of them."
Oh, she mouths, and you can see the glint of curiosity in her eyes. She's a clinical psychologist now - probably looking for answers, just like you, only following a different path.
"Would you like to see them?" you ask, and she nods, face bright with interest. "Come work for me," you tell her.
Her face immediately closes. "What?" she says. "I'm out of there, Rachel. I'm not going to go back and work for the group. Not even for you."
"It doesn't have to be full time," you tell her. "I need someone with your training that I can trust," or at least *know*, with the kind of bone deep telepathy that only clones raised *there* can really share. "And once you're working for me, however technically, I can give you access to the files."
She doesn't look convinced.
"There are other clones out there," you say. "Ones that were raised in the wild. Do you want the only people looking over their files to be the same kind of people that looked over ours?"
She looks tempted, but she still doesn't respond. So you lay down your trump card.
"Elizabeth is *alive*," you tell her. "She's been used as a general purpose test subject. But she's *alive*. And she needs our help. Work for me, and I can get access for you."
It's enough. You'd known it would be, but still.
She leans forward, and nods slowly. "Okay. I'm in. I'll help you fix your mistakes."
Being the closest thing Betty had to a friend had never been exactly easy. She was moody, irritable and had a hair trigger temper that could escalate a disagreement into a screaming match at the drop of a hat.
It was difficult to always remember to call her Elizabeth when you were alone. Outside, she always had to be Betty, lest the wrath of Elspeth descend upon you.
Normally, Betty just shouted at you if you called her that.
But there had been times when you'd found yourself on the ground, being hit by Betty.
And the sad thing is, that even as the blows landed, even as anger bit deep into your gut, you suppressed it. Because Betty was the closest thing to a friend you had.
Even as you hated her.
Even as you defiantly called her Betty in the privacy of your own mind.
Betty. Betty. Betty.
Looking back, you can see the signs.
Recognise the way that you built her up, carefully, carefully.
Tell her she's worth more than this, more than how she's treated.
Boosting her ego up enough that one day, she'd actually think enough of herself to direct that rage against Elspeth.
Twist, twist, twist.
Two birds with one stone. And no blowback for you.
And then it happened, far more suddenly and shockingly than you'd ever expected.
And all you were left with was a sense of muted guilt - both guilt that you'd caused this, and guilt that you weren't feeling enough.
And everyone else seemed to feel the same way.
From that day forwards, Amanda and Amelia, and even Caroline, shunned you.
You moved into Elspeth's old room - the big room, the one you'd coveted for so long.
And you'd choked on that victory until the day you'd left for Oxford.
Delphine is still working for Leekie - a full doctor now, no less - and you've been cautiously interacting over email for a while.
There are days that some shred of your better self emerges, that you wish you could start to forgive her.
But every time you think that, you can feel your anger like a stone in your chest.
Even if she's innocent - sort of - she still left you.
So you settle.
You may not be able to forgive her.
But you can certainly talk.
You've managed to get her to open up, a little, and now her emails contain all the details about her laboratory life - all the successes, failures and frustrations.
She never talks about you, though, or what you had.
She never says sorry, though the guilt threading through her words is sometimes almost overwhelming.
And she never talks about Dr Leekie, not directly.
You can access the reports her laboratory submits, see what rewards she getting, and what she's not.
Leekie is keeping her close by - you hear rumours that they are lovers - even when her career would be improved by getting her own workgroup, but her emails don't read like she's in love with him.
Awe, yes. Love, no.
And this, this you can work with.
You give her supportive messages.
Tell her that she should have her own lab by now, given the work she's done.
Tell her that she deserves her own life, outside of the Dyad Institute.
Twist, twist, twist.
You can feel the frustration growing.
Sooner or later, she's going to make a move and, as close as she is to Leekie, it's going to be something you can take advantage of.
Twist, twist, twist.
Still, it's a surprise when she emails you that she's being assigned as a watcher to one of your clones.
And a surprise when she calls you, almost in a panic, with the news that the clone had kissed her.
"What should I do?" she asks you.
"Well, I wouldn't tell her that you freaked out because you thought of one of her clones," you say, a little numbly.
It's a surprise, really, the things that still have the power to hurt you.
She shouldn't need much more twisting, you think after putting down the phone.
She sounds about ready to blow.
And now here you are, looking at yet another of your clones.
You were raised as one of seven. But, from the files, it should have been eight, and maybe that's where things went wrong for you.
Maybe if Sarah had been raised with you, like she was supposed to have been, you wouldn't have been so alone when you were younger.
You're a little surprised at how much anger you feel at the thought, but you keep it close to your heart, congealed and cold and black, and never let it show.
Sarah's a punk.
She's angry, she doesn't want to become part of *their* machinery and she's looking for a place to direct her rage.
And you're more than happy to help her.
Twist, twist, twist.
You bring the reality of the situation home to her.
Let her realise quite how much she is trapped.
Let her know that she's going to have to submit.
Twist, twist, twist.
You can tell she's going to explode - soon, even. Whether it's before or after she signs is... an irrelevance, in the big picture.
Because between you, between *all* of you, you're going to bring this whole place down.
And you're going to bury *them* all.
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