By Stephani Maari Booker
“Lydia! Lydia! Girl, where are you?” Lydia Ehemwah shouted over the comm.
“Damn, girl,” Lydia 2 responded. “What do you want?”
“Get your butt up here and help me do this inventory, that’s what!” Lydia Ehemwah barked before shutting off the comm. She turned to Lydia 3, who was standing behind her, and said, “I don’t know what’s that wench’s problem sometimes.”
“You know she likes to be defiant,” Lydia 3 offered. “She likes to do her own thing.”
“You mean prove that she’s her own woman?” Lydia Ehemwah said with sarcasm. “That’s a joke. She’s not her own woman — she’s me, just like you are. We’re all the same woman.” Lydia Ehemwah stood up from comm station and looked at Lydia 3, a woman who only differed from her by the color of her jumpsuit.
Lydia 2 climbed a ladder to the storage room, joining Lydia Ehemwah and Lydia 3. The elder of the two clones, Lydia 2 not only wore a differently colored jumpsuit from her clone sister Lydia 3 and her original Lydia Ehemwah, but she also wore a different hairstyle from the other two, long braids instead of a short haircut.
“About time you decided to join us,” Lydia Ehemwah snidely said to Lydia 2.
“Whatever,” Lydia 2 snapped back. “I’m here now. I’m ready to work. You don’t have to give me a bunch of shit.”
“I wouldn’t give you shit if you were here on time,” Lydia Ehemwah said, and then she handed Lydia 2 a palm-sized computer-scanner. After handing another computer-scanner to Lydia 3 and picking up one for herself, she declared, “Let’s start counting and adding, ladies.”
After finishing the inventory, the three women sat in the spaceship’s small community room to eat dinner from their supply of pre-made instant meals. Sitting on separate, cushioned seats with trays in their laps, the women chatted.
“We got a big haul this time, huh, Lydia E?” Lydia 3 said.
“Yep, that’s 1,000,000 credits worth once we deliver,” Lydia Ehemwah replied.
“Whew!” Lydia 2 exclaimed. “Let’s take a break and go to that resort on Fiesel Ta. I could use a volcanic mud bath.” She sat back on her seat and raised her arms in a slow stretch as she added, “Oh yeah, a night-time bath in the mud pool with Mount Gil-pre-Sa lighting up the whole place with its eruptions and lava flows — mmph!”
“I like the fizzy water soaks myself,” Lydia 3 chimed in. “That soda pool with the geyser next to it just makes me tingle.” She feigned a shiver and giggled.
“We’re not going there,” Lydia Ehemwah said.
“Why?” asked Lydia 2, putting her arms down and glaring at her original. “It’s not like we can’t afford it!”
“That’s got nothing to do with it,” Lydia Ehemwah said. “I’ve got over 100 million credits stored up. That’s more than enough for me to quit this business and go back home.”
Lydia 2 and Lydia 3 stopped eating and looked at their original. “What do you mean, go back home?” Lydia 2 asked. “We’re already home.”
“I mean back to Earth,” Lydia Ehemwah responded.
“We’re going back to Earth?” Lydia 3 asked.
“After all these years?” Lydia 2 said with an incredulous rise in her voice. “Why do you want to go back to Earth?”
“Because I have enough credits to quit working and go back, that’s why!” Lydia Ehemwah told her clones. “When people get rich enough so they don’t have to work, they quit working and settle down.”
“That doesn’t mean we have to go back to Earth,” Lydia 2 said. “We can settle down somewhere else.”
“I don’t want to live on one of the colonies,” Lydia Ehemwah responded. “I want to breathe natural air and feel open space. Those big domes on the colonies are just as confining as a spaceship.”
“I wasn’t talking about the colonies!” Lydia 2 said, glaring at Lydia Ehemwah. “I don’t want to live anywhere under Earth jurisdiction.”
“There’s no difference between living on an Earth colony and somewhere else,” Lydia Ehemwah said. “There’s no other known planet where Earthers can live without being enclosed in artificial environments but Earth. Besides, it’s home. We were born there and raised there. You need to be glad of that because that’s a privilege these days. Only Earth-born people are allowed to live there permanently.”
“I DON’T CARE ABOUT NONE OF THAT!” Lydia 2 shouted, and then she tossed her tray aside, stood up and left the room.
After a moment, Lydia Ehemwah said, “What is wrong with her?”
“I don’t know,” Lydia 3 said. “I’ll go talk to her,” she then offered, and she rose from her seat, walked to where Lydia 2 had been sitting, and picked up her tray from the floor. After placing both Lydia 2's tray and hers into a receptacle, she went to Lydia 2's sleep chamber, where she knew her clone-sister would be.
The spherical chamber’s rough-textured, dull metallic walls were adorned only with a large round window, directly opposite the chamber doorway, that showed the expanse of space outside. Lydia 2 sat on the sleep pad that made up the room’s floor; her arms were wrapped around her knees, and she faced the window.
Lydia 2's back was to Lydia 3 as she stood in the chamber doorway. “Lydia?” Lydia 3 gently called to her clone sister.
“She doesn’t care about us,” Lydia 2 sobbed. She sniffed and snorted, letting Lydia 3 know that she was crying.
“What do you mean?” Lydia 3 asked as she stepped onto the sleep pad, got on her knees and crawled over to Lydia 2.
“She...doesn’t give a damn about us!” Lydia 2 said, choking on her words as she cried.
“Please,” Lydia 3 said, sitting next to Lydia 2 and gently placing a hand on her back. “Talk to me. Tell me why you’re so upset over Lydia wanting to go back to Earth.”
Lydia 2 lifted her head and turned to Lydia 3. “What is wrong with you?” she asked in harsh, accusing tone. “If you don’t recognize why going back to Earth is the last thing I or you should want, then I don’t have anything to say to you.”
Lydia 3 was hurt and confused by this remark, but she persisted in trying to both comfort and question Lydia 2. “Why do you have to be like that? Please, you shouldn’t be mad at me when I’m here trying to listen and understand you.”
Lydia 2 clicked her tongue, rolled her eyes, and then said, “You must like being treated like dirt.”
“Uh, no I don’t,” Lydia 3 responded tentatively.
“No, you must,” Lydia 2 said more forcefully. “Because that’s how we’re going to be treated back on Earth!” With that, Lydia 2 rose up onto her hands and knees and crawled along the soft pad to the window. As she gazed through the glass at the stars outside, she said, “After all the times we’ve visited Earther colonies — you know how we’re treated, how we have to act, how it is in those places for us!”
“I know,” Lydia 3 said. “It’s hard for us when we haven’t lived in Earther jurisdiction for so long — we just visit those places every now and then — but we’ve been fortunate. We’ve had a life of travel and freedom that most people like us don’t have. And Lydia has never treated us as lower than or less than she is. She’s our big sister; she loves us...”
“She’s our original,” Lydia 2 interrupted. “She’s over us, she gets to tell us we’ve got to go live on Earth for the rest of our lives, and we can’t do anything about it — big sister, my ass!”
“Lydia, she owns this ship, and it’s her business,” Lydia 3 said. “If she wants to stop working and go back to Earth, she can do that.”
“She can do that because she’s an original and we’re clones!” Lydia 2 turned away from the window and yelled at Lydia 3. “She owns this ship and this business because we are not allowed to ownanything!”
Lydia 3 backed away from Lydia 2; she was at a loss for what to say. She had witnessed a lifetime of seeing Lydia 2 rage against any assertion of Lydia Ehemwah’s rank of “big sister”; she had seen Lydia 2 whine and pout every time they went to an Earther colony. On those visits, Lydia 2 would never leave the ship.
Lydia 3 liked the life of interplanetary resource speculating and trading that the three have lived for the past two decades: searching for various metals, liquids, gasses and other materials on various planets, moons and asteroids; trading them for other resources or selling them for credits. It was a life that started out rough and wild, but over time and with a lot of hard work and great successes it became a lucrative livelihood that afforded them freedom to indulge in the variety of sights and experiences that interplanetary travel allowed. Spa-style treatments amid natural wonders on Fiesel-Ta’s resorts weren’t the only sensual delights the three women had enjoyed in their travels: They had tasted exotic foods, sampled mind-altering substances, and experimented with a variety of activities, some considered illicit in Earther communities.
It was a great lifestyle, but none of the women were getting any younger, Lydia 3 thought — it would be nice to settle down somewhere great while they were all still young enough to enjoy the riches from their business. And Earth was still the planet of beauty and full freedom for Earthers — life without artificial supports, a low human population, the vast majority of the planet — known as the Outlands, in contrast to the urban meglopolises — given over to nature in all its splendor.
As Earth-borns, they had a right to this paradise that few humans had. For Lydia 3, going back to Earth now was a good idea. As for the social environment, she could live with it — it’s what they grew up with; she lived with it again every time she left the ship with Lydia Ehemwah on visits to Earther colonies, and she was fine with it. She was a clone; she recognized and accepted her place in Earther society.
Knowing all this, Lydia 3 couldn’t figure out a way to make Lydia 2 feel better about the situation. Lydia 3 could only say to her clone sister, “Lydia, I know you don’t like being in Earther-controlled places, but Earth is such a wonderful world. Don’t you remember that? If you want, we can travel a lot to the Outlands so you don’t have to spend a lot of time in the city. I know and you know Lydia would be fine with that.”
Lydia 2 turned her back on Lydia 3 to look out the window. “I shouldn’t have to have Lydia’s approval to do a damn thing,” she said. “Now leave me alone.”
Lydia 3 brushed back tears from her eyes before she stood up and left the chamber.
Lydia 3 found Lydia Ehemwah in the community room stretched out on one of the seats, watching a holo-video of a parrot-inhabited forest in Australia. The three of them enjoyed viewing the 3-D projections of Earth’s wonders more than any other kinds of holo-videos, and they had thousands of these videos stored in their computer.
“Australia has the greatest diversity of parrot species on Earth,” Lydia Ehemwah said. “They come in so many colors. They make South American birds of paradise look dull. It will be nice to see them.”
“Yeah,” Lydia 3 agreed, and she sat down next to her “big sister.” “We can go outside the cities and spend a lot of time in the Outlands with the credits we have now.”
“Uh-huh,” Lydia Ehemwah responded. “We sure couldn’t do that before. We can have a fun and relaxing life back on Earth. We don’t have to work, and we can travel as much as we want. I don’t get why Lydia is losing her mind over going back.”
“You know she doesn’t like being around Earthers,” Lydia 3 said.
“She doesn’t like being treated like a clone,” Lydia Ehemwah added. ”Mama raised us together to be sisters, and everything I had, you two had, too. Most clones don’t get treated like that.”
“I know,” Lydia 3 said.
“Then as soon as we grew up, we left home and started working in this business,” Lydia Ehemwah continued. “We’ve spent most of our lives being away from Earther society. In a lot of ways, she’s gotten spoiled. She’s had the privilege to not act like she’s a clone. But she is; she’s my sister, but she is my clone. She belongs to me; she is me. You both are my flesh and blood. I’ve always treated you two as good as I treat myself. That’s how Mama raised us, and that’s not going to change when we go back to Earth.”
“You should go tell her that,” Lydia 3 said.
“She already knows all that,” Lydia Ehemwah said. “Again, she doesn’t want to be treated like a clone, and I can’t control what other Earthers say or do. If she wants to just never leave our home except when we go to the Outlands, that’s fine. But we’re going back home so we can live and breathe on a planet we were born to live on.”
“Please talk to Lydia,” Lydia 3 insisted. “She thinks you don’t care about her.”
“Did she say that?” Lydia Ehemwah said, turning her head quickly to glare at Lydia.
“Yeah,” said Lydia 3. “She said you don’t care about us.”
“I love her!” Lydia Ehemwah spat out. “And she says I don’t care about her? She doesn’t know how good she has it, how good her life is because she’s my clone!” Lydia Ehemwah stood up. “I was going to just let her have her little pouting spell and just leave her alone, like I always do, but you know what? You’re right — I am going to talk to her. We’re going to have this out right now.” Lydia Ehemwah started to walk out of the room. When Lydia 3 started to rise up, Lydia Ehemwah said, “Uh-uh, don’t follow me. This is between her and me. I don’t need you trying to mediate or hold us back. It’s all coming out, and let the chips fall where they may!”
As Lydia Ehemwah left the room, Lydia 3 turned to the holo-video and watched red-tailed black cockatoo mated pairs feed and groom each other as they perched on a tree branch.
“Lydia! Lydia!” a harsh, choked-up voice sounded over the comm. Lydia 3 was startled out of her engrossment with the holo-video; she jumped up from the floor and ran to the nearest comm.
“What’s going on? You all right?” Lydia 3 answered, knowing from a lifetime of listening that it was Lydia 2 on the comm.
“Come here, right now!” Lydia 2 shouted.
Lydia 3 left the comm and hurried to Lydia 2's chamber. She stopped at the entrance, frozen with shock at what she saw: Lydia Ehemwah was lying on the sleep pad, motionless. A small blood pool was under her head. Lydia 2 was kneeling over Lydia Ehemwah, holding her original’s head in her hands.
“Lydia!” Lydia 3 screamed. “What happened? Oh, never mind what happened,” she changed her thinking from panic to action. “I’m going to get the medikit.”
“Don’t bother,” Lydia 2 said with a soft sob.
“What do you mean, ‘Don’t bother’?” Lydia 3 shouted. “Lydia’s hurt!”
“She’s more than hurt!” Lydia 2 shouted back. “She’s dead!”
Lydia 3 was stunned into silence for a moment; then she said, “You don’t know that! She could be unconscious! Or in a coma!”
“I KNOW SHE’S DEAD!” Lydia 2 screamed.
“You—don’t—know—SHIT!” Lydia 3 shouted, and then she left to retrieve the medikit.
When Lydia 3 returned to the chamber, Lydia 2 was still on her knees, holding Lydia Ehemwah’s head. Lydia 2 stepped into the room and walked to her clone sister and her original, making sure to step carefully on the cushioned floor. Once she reached the two women, she set down the medikit and sat down on her knees next to Lydia 2.
“I need you to move,” she said to Lydia 2 quietly.
Lydia 2 stayed where she was.
“Move, damnit!” Lydia 3 ordered and then pushed her clone sister, making Lydia 2 fall to the side. Lydia 3 then opened the medikit case and retrieved sensors that she planted on Lydia Ehemwah’s forehead and heart. Then she placed a mask-like device over her original’s nose and mouth.
After activating the medikit’s bioscanner with a touch on the case, Lydia 3 read the results on the case’s screen: “No heartbeat...no respiration...no brain waves...brain irreparably damaged by trauma...no resuscitation or revival possible.”
Upon hearing Lydia 3 read the bioscanner’s results, Lydia 2 slowly sat up on her knees again and reached for Lydia 3. “I told you; she’s dead,” she said quietly.
As Lydia 2 placed her hands on Lydia 3's shoulders, Lydia 3 said, “Why? How?” She turned to Lydia 2 and demanded with a rising voice, “How did her brain get ‘irreparably damaged by trauma’? How, Lydia!”
“She was going off at me!” Lydia 2 answered loudly, and then with a softer voice added, “Talking about how I’m ungrateful and spoiled and how I act like I’m not a clone and all this other mess. She yelled all that in my face, and then she started pushing me, and I pushed back, and we started fighting, and she hit her head!”
“Where?” Lydia 3 asked, holding back the flood of grief that threatened to drown her. “Where did she hit her head so she ‘irreparably damaged’ her brain?”
“Right there,” Lydia 2 said, pointing at a blood spot low on the wall, near the window.
Lydia 3 crawled over to the wall and stared and the spot, which formed an exploding burst of reddish brown on the gray metal wall.
A loud, hard sob forced its way out of Lydia 3's throat; with that, the flood of grief finally broke through. Wailing, choking, she beat the wall near the spot with her fist, pounding it over and over again.
Lydia 2 moved behind Lydia 3 and wrapped her arms around her, grabbing Lydia 3's fist and pulling her away from the wall. Holding Lydia 3 tightly, Lydia 2 rocked her clone sister as she howled and wept.
After a while, Lydia 3's crying left her exhausted, breathless and limp. Lydia 2 rose up on her feet, pulling Lydia 3 up with her. “Come on. Let me take you to your room. It’s almost sleep shift anyway,” Lydia 2 quietly urged her clone sister. With Lydia 3 leaning on Lydia 2, the clone sisters left the chamber.
Lydia 2 led her clone sister to lie down on the cushioned floor of her sleep chamber. As Lydia 3 lay curled up and sniffling, Lydia 2 sat next to her and stroked Lydia 3's forehead.
“Go to sleep now,” Lydia 2 said. “We can take care of Lydia when the sleep shift is over. Chamber! Lights off!” she commanded the chamber’s controls, and the room went dark.
Despite the shock and pain she suffered from, Lydia 3's exhaustion forced her to fall asleep.
Lydia 3 woke up to the sight of Lydia 2 sitting with her back against the wall, her arms wrapped around her knees, staring at Lydia 3.
“We’ve got to go take care of Lydia now,” Lydia 2 said flatly.
The rush of memory threatened to engulf Lydia 3 with grief again. When Lydia 3 gasped and sobbed, Lydia 2 quickly hushed her: “Shush! Don’t start crying again. Not now. We’ve got to move her.” Lydia 2 crawled across the cushion and thrust her face directly in front of Lydia 3's, her eyes boring into her clone sister’s. “I don’t want to do it, either. I don’t want to go in there, either. But we have to, all right?”
Tears continued to run down her face, but Lydia 3 nodded in agreement.
Lydia 2 stood up and helped her clone sister up. They left Lydia 3's sleep chamber and went back to Lydia 2's chamber.
The clone sisters stood at the entrance and looked into the room at the body of their “big sister” original. After a pause, Lydia 2 said, “I just thought — I’m going to go get one of her wraps from her room.”
“Why?” Lydia 3 asked weakly. Lydia Ehemwah’s full-body shawl-like wraps were her favorite garments to relax in and sleep in after a full work shift.
“A wrap will be big enough to cover her up with, and it’ll make her easier to carry,” Lydia 2 answered matter-of-factly as she left, sounding as if her clone sister had asked her for direction on how to operate a piece of equipment.
Lydia 3 looked down at Lydia Ehemwah’s body, but she didn’t enter the chamber. She felt she couldn’t go in without her clone sister — she couldn’t come near her big sister without feeling the pain and falling apart all over again.
Holding a shimmering blue wrap balled up in her arms, Lydia 2 came back to the chamber entrance and stepped past her clone sister to go inside. She set the wrap down away from Lydia Ehemwah’s body and then sat on her knees next to it. Then she started removing the medical sensors and respirator mask from the body and placing them in the medikit.
“Here, come get this,” Lydia 2 told her sister, pointing at the medikit.
Lydia 3 swallowed hard, and then she stepped into the room. When she picked up the medikit, Lydia 2 said, “Take it out of the room, then come back and help me.”
Struggling not to think about big sister lying on the floor, Lydia 3 quickly left the room to put the medikit back in its storage place. When she came back, Lydia 2 had spread the wrap on the floor so it lay in a big blue square next to Lydia Ehemwah’s body.
“Come help me roll her up in this,” Lydia 2 said as she knelt next to the body on the side opposite from where the wrap was spread. Lydia 3 stepped over to her clone sister and knelt next to her. Lydia 2 slid her hands under the body; following her clone sister’s lead, Lydia 3 did the same. Together, they lifted one side of the body and rolled it onto its side. They then pushed it over farther until it lay on its front, covering one edge of the wrap.
“Here, grab the wrap with one hand and kind of pull it up while we roll her again,” Lydia 2 said. “That way, we can wrap this around her as we roll her.”
Lydia 2 did as her clone sister said, and they both rolled the body another turn while making sure the wrap covered it. As a result, the front of the body was completely covered by the edge of the sheet.
“Now, we can just keep rolling and rolling until she’s wrapped up,” Lydia 2 said.
The clone sisters finished rolling the body, leaving it completely enshrouded in the wrap.
“Now you grab that end,” Lydia 2 said, pointing at the end of the wrap that covered the feet. Lydia 3 stood up and grasped the wrap, cinching the end with both hands.
After Lydia 2 did the same, she said, “All right, on the count of three, we’re going to pick her up. One, two, three!” The clone sisters hoisted the dead weight of their original, struggling to raise the body waist-high. “Come on, come on, let’s move her to the cold room now, before we drop her!” Lydia 2 grunted.
After the women placed the body into the cold storage chamber, Lydia 3 broke down again, sinking to the floor at the chamber door. Lydia 2 bent down to help her clone sister up.
“Come on, let’s go to the community room. Come on, get up,” Lydia 2 urged, pulling Lydia 3 up and then holding her with one arm around her waist as they walked to the room.
Lydia 2 guided Lydia 3 to a seat and then took another seat directly across from her. After watching Lydia 3 weep with her face in her hands, Lydia 3 said, “Lydia, I’m upset and hurt just like you. But we both can’t be falling apart right now. You need to listen to me.”
Lydia 3 still wept and covered her face in her hands. Lydia 2 stood up, grabbed her seat, and moved it to place it next to Lydia 3. Then she sat down and took her clone sister’s hands.
“Look at me. Now!” Lydia 2 hissed, pulling at Lydia 3's hands.
Lydia 3 allowed Lydia 2 to lower her hands from her face and hold them. Lydia 3 looked up at her clone sister with wet, red eyes. Lydia 2's eyes were dry, wide and sharp.
“Now, listen,” Lydia 2 began. “We could take Lydia to the nearest Earther colony, but we should go back to Earth because that’s what she wanted.”
That sounded right and reasonable to Lydia 3. “All right,” she agreed.
“But there’s one problem with taking her to Earth,” Lydia 2 added. She waited for Lydia 3 to respond, but her clone sister was too weary from grief to react.
Lydia 2 continued, “If we take her to Earth, or to any Earther-controlled area, they’ll take the ship from us. They’ll take the inventory from us. They’ll take the credits from us. They’ll take everything and give it all to our nearest genetic relation. That includes us.”
She paused again to get Lydia 3's reaction. Lydia 3 sniffled a little but still said nothing.
“Lydia!” Lydia 2 said with a rough voice. “Don’t you know what that means for us?”
Her clone sister’s harsh, desperate tone shook Lydia 3 out of her numb grief but left her bewildered. “I—don’t—understand,” Lydia 3 slowly, softly responded.
“Damnit!” Lydia 2 snapped, dropping Lydia 3's hands and sitting back on her seat. “Like I said, you must like being treated like dirt.” She pushed a breath out of her mouth with a harsh huff and then said, “We clones can’t own anything, remember? And we have to be in the custody of an original. So guess what? We go to Earth, we get everything taken from us, and then they give us to one of Lydia’s cousins or nieces or nephews, or whoever the hell is her closest relative. It doesn’t matter because we’ll have nothing, we’ll be stuck in Earther jurisdiction, and we’ll be treated like dirt!”
Lydia 2's anger and fear was too much for Lydia 3 to comprehend on top of the death of her big sister. Lydia 3 stared at her clone sister, overwhelmed and unable to speak.
Lydia 2 had stopped looking at her clone sister; she sat back on the seat with her arms crossed and her eyes rolled back. “You know,” she said with slow deliberation, “We could just never go to an Earther-controlled place again, keep the ship and the credits, and just cremate her and scatter her on a desert planet or moon.”
The callous-sounding suggestion knocked Lydia 3 out of her confusion and grief and into a raging reaction. “Are you crazy?” she yelled. “We are not abandoning her on some rock somewhere! Have you lost your damn mind!” Lydia 3 leapt out of her seat and grabbed Lydia 2 by her jumpsuit.
“Hey! Get off me! Let me go!” Lydia 2 yelled, grabbing her clone sister’s arms and trying to pull them away.
“We’re taking Lydia to Earth! You hear me!” Lydia 3 yelled, shaking Lydia 2 until she almost fell out of her seat. “I don’t ever want to hear you talking about dumping her on some rock again!”
“All right, all right!” Lydia 2 said. “We’re taking her to Earth! Now let me go!” Lydia 3 released her grip on Lydia 2. “Damn! What’s wrong with you?” Lydia 2 said, straightening her clothing.
“What’s wrong with you?” Lydia 3 snapped at her. “You’re the one talking that shit about dumping our big sister on a damn rock!” Lydia 3's rage was barely restrained and ready to pounce on her clone sister again.
“All right,” Lydia 2 said, lowering her voice. “I’m sorry I said that. But I was just trying to say that we could avoid going to any Earther-controlled places because if we did, we could keep everything that you and I and Lydia spent all these years earning. We don’t have to lose everything and become some Earther’s property.”
Lydia 3 still stood over her clone sister, her face tight with rage and confusion. Lydia 2 took Lydia 3's hand and said, “Please, sit down and just listen to me, all right? Like I said, we’re taking Lydia to Earth.” Lydia 2 squeezed her clone sister’s hand and looked at her with wide eyes.
After taking a deep sigh, Lydia 3 sat down and crossed her arms, looking at her clone sister with a cocked head and a tired gaze.
Placing her hand on Lydia 3's knee, Lydia 2 said, “I’ve been thinking: There is a way we can take Lydia back to Earth and not have to lose everything.” She stopped speaking to check Lydia 3's reaction. Her clone sister was still looking at her, still looking weary, still sitting, still not enraged.
Lydia 2 continued, “When we get to Earth, we can tell the authorities there that Lydia is a clone.” Again, she stopped to see what Lydia 3 would say or do.
Straightening her tilted head to look with a wrinkled brow at Lydia 2, Lydia 3 said, “Why would we want to do that?”
Taking a breath of relief at Lydia 3's relatively calm reaction, Lydia 2 explained, “If they believe Lydia is a clone and one of us is an original, then we can keep everything and live how we want without a custodian.”
Lydia 3 dropped her arms, placing her hands on her knees, and sat up slowly to lean toward Lydia 2. Her lips parted, but her mouth said nothing. After a few seconds, Lydia 3 finally said, making each word an exclamation, “Are—you—crazy? Have—you—lost—your—damn—mind?”
Mocking her clone sister, Lydia 2 said just as slowly and loudly, “No—I—haven’t—lost—my—mind! What I don’t want to lose is my life!” Lydia 2 shook her head and held up her hands, shaking and pushing at the air as if she were shoving away Lydia 3's protests. Then she took a breath and placed her hands in her lap, clasping them tightly. Lydia 2 looked up at her clone sister with eyes that were wide and wet with the beginnings of tears.
Lydia 3, moved by what she saw as her clone sister’s show of grief and pain, relented in attacking Lydia 2 for her idea. However, Lydia 3 still felt the need to address Lydia 2's proposal. “To pass Lydia off as a clone, we would have to get past the eye scan and the hand scan,” Lydia 3 said, “and you know that’s impossible.”
“It’s not impossible. We can beat them,” Lydia 2 quickly responded.
“How the hell can we beat the scans?” Lydia 3 said. “We’ll get scanned as soon as we set foot in Earther jurisdiction.”
“We can beat the scans,” Lydia 2 insisted. “You forget that we’ve got over 100 million credits, and Fiesel Ta doesn’t just have volcanic mud baths and mineral baths for sale. They also have cosmetic procedures. They can change, or transplant, anything.”
Comprehension slowly came to Lydia 3, and with it she sat back in her seat and stared hard at Lydia 2. “You want to transplant Lydia’s eyes and hands,” Lydia 3 said, “into one of us?”
“We’d just need the flesh off her palms and fingers,” Lydia 2 bluntly clarified. “And I’ll take the transplant of that and her eyes. It’s my idea, so I’ll take that on.”
Lydia 3 swallowed hard and then shook her head hard. “Lydia, our big sister — she’s — gone,” Lydia 3 forced out of herself, “and you’re talking about having her eyes cut out and her hands skinned for you to wear like a new suit!”
“It’s either that, or we lose everything and be placed in the custody of people we don’t even know!” Lydia 2 shouted. “No credits, no ship, no freedom, no life! Do you really want that?” Lydia 2 reached and took Lydia 3's face in her hands. Her face only millimeters away from her clone sister, Lydia 2 looked into Lydia 3's eyes and asked, “Do you? Do you really want that to happen?”
Lydia 3 swallowed hard, took a breath, and then said, “I don’t know. I just can’t think about it right now.”
Lydia 2 let go of her clone sister’s face and sat back in the chair, crossing her arms.
“I can’t think at all,” Lydia 3 said. “I mean, damnit, Lydia is dead!” She covered her hands with her face and started weeping.
Arms still crossed, Lydia 2 looked away from her clone sister. Lydia 2's eyes had a stare that seemed to gaze at a faraway place that no one but her could see. “Yes, Lydia is dead, and our lives as we know it could end with hers. We might as well be dead with her. I might as well be dead,” she said firmly; then she stood up and walked out of the chamber, leaving Lydia 3 to continue to weep alone.
A short time later, Lydia 2 called out over the comm, “Lydia, come to the cold room.” Lydia 3 sat up quickly, startled and puzzled by the call. Despite her confusion, she got up and left the chamber.
The door to the cold storage chamber was closed. Just when Lydia 3 approached it, Lydia 2 called out over the comm, “I’m in the chamber, but don’t open the door! Stand there and listen.
“I have a hypo-pen filled with 100 cc’s of Dormirex, and I’m holding it at my neck, at my one of the big blood vessels there,” Lydia 2 continued, her voice steady. “Losing everything we have and going back to Earth is as good as being dead to me, so I figure I might as well die.”
“NO!” Lydia 3 screamed, panic surging through her body and threatening to explode in her mind. She grabbed the door handle of the cold storage chamber and pulled it open.
“Stay right where you are or I’ll use it RIGHT NOW!” Lydia 2 shouted. She lay on a table next to the covered body of Lydia Ehemwah, holding the slim hypo-pen against her throat.
“Please, please, don’t,” Lydia 3 plead from the doorway.
“I figured I’d save you the trouble of having to put my body into the cold room,” Lydia 2 said matter-of-factly, her words pushing clouds of visible cold breath out of her mouth. “I could have just did it and not told you, and let you just find me in here. But I wanted you to know that I’m for real when I say I’d rather be dead than have nothing and be nobody back on Earth!”
The idea of having two dead sisters in less than 24 Earth hours drove itself like a spike through Lydia 3's head and made her sink to her knees. “Please, please, don’t do it,” Lydia 3 continued to beg as she choked back sobs.
“You want to go back to Earth and lose everything, fine. You go,” Lydia 2 said. “But that doesn’t mean I have to. Just make sure we both get cremated together,” she added, placing her free hand on the wrap that held her dead original. “Tell your custodian that Lydia wanted our ashes to be scattered in the Outlands.”
“DAMNIT, DON’T!” Lydia 3 screamed. “PLEEESE!” She wrapped her arms around her body and rocked on her knees. “I love you. Please don’t die. Don’t leave me alone. I couldn’t take it.”
“You say you love me, but you don’t care about how I feel,” Lydia 2 said. “You’ve known all this time that I don’t want to live in Earther jurisdiction, and you know why. Now you want us to lose everything along with Lydia, and I tell you we don’t have to do that, but you don’t care!”
“I never said that!” Lydia 3 insisted. “I just couldn’t think! You’re telling all this stuff when all I can think about is Lydia being — gone! It’s just too much!”
“Losing everything and going back to Earth to be in somebody’s custody is too much for me!” Lydia yelled back. “I’m ready to die over it. I’m ready to be cold and dead just like Lydia!”
“NO!” Lydia 3 shouted. “I didn’t say no to what you want to do. It’s just too much for me to think about. But I don’t want you to die. If your doing what you want to do — the transplant thing — means you don’t die, then go ahead and do it. I just don’t want you to die. Please, please don’t die.” Hard sobs stopped Lydia 3 from being able to plead any longer.
Lydia 2 sat up and slid off the table onto her feet. She walked slowly toward her sister, shivering from the chill in the chamber, still holding the hypo-pen in one hand. Once she stood in front of Lydia 3, she bent down to sit on her knees. Taking Lydia 3’s right hand in hers, Lydia 2 turned up Lydia 3's palm and placed the hypo-pen in it. “Here,” Lydia 2 said.
Lydia 3 quickly tossed the hypo-pen against a wall, breaking it. Then she wrapped her arms tightly around Lydia 2. As Lydia 3 cried loudly into her clone sister’s shoulder, Lydia 2 held her and shed tears as well; but Lydia 2 was silent.
Thirty-five Earth days later, the ship was docked at one of the many massive artificial islands, anchored in Earth’s oceans, constructed as small space vessel ports. Before landing, as was required, the ship had notified the Terrestrial Port Authority of its arrival and the death of a crew member as soon as it came within communication range. The two remaining crew members — after being positively identified by retinal/iris and hand-print scans as Lydia Ehemwah and her second clone — stood aside as TPA officials boarded their ship and investigated the site where the first clone died from an accidental fall, according to her original. The officials visually recorded the sleep chamber where the death occurred and then retrieved the body from the cold storage chamber, placing it in a sterile preserving casket before removing it from the ship to be sent to the nearest Thantoservice Center, where the body would get an autopsy scan and afterward be cremated. Less than 24 hours later, the TPA notified the owner of the ship that the official inquiry was completed and that she was free to leave the port with her surviving clone to claim the remains of her late clone.
An air shuttled landed on a pad at the top of a 650-meter skyscraper, one of the many that made up Michiganopolis, the mega-city that surrounded the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The Lydias were two of the passengers who disembarked and took elevators to their apartment homes in the slim, silver tower. Eventually, the Lydias arrived at the 150th floor and walked to their new home.
The two women were silent with each other throughout the short journey from the port to the Thantoservice Center and then to the skyscraper; they didn’t exchange a word until after entering the apartment.
“Ahhhhh!” Lydia 3 loudly sighed as the door closed, and she turned to hug Lydia 2 tightly.
Lydia 2 wrapped one arm around her clone sister; the other arm held a white box that contained their original’s remains. “You did good,” she said quietly. “You didn’t say much, and you cried a lot. That’s what they would expect from a clone whose sister is dead.”
“And you didn’t cry at all,” Lydia 3 said, pulling back a little to look Lydia 2 in the face. “How could you hold back and be so calm through all this?”
“Originals don’t view clone deaths as a big deal,” Lydia 2 said. “I couldn’t be carrying on crying like you when I’m supposed to be an original. As far as anybody else is concerned, I could just go grow another clone to replace Lydia and move on.”
“Damn, that’s so cold!” Lydia 3 let go of her clone sister and backed away.
“I’m just saying that’s the way they think here,” Lydia 2 said. “You know that. Besides, as an original, I had to have myself together to get us past the port authority and get us here.”
“You’re not an original,” Lydia 3 corrected.
“I am now!” Lydia 2 shouted. “From now on, that’s what I am — unless you want us both destroyed!”
Lydia 3 stared back at her clone; then she dropped her head.
“Look, you were fine with Lydia taking us back to Earth, so now we’re here,” Lydia 2 said. “As long as I don’t have to live as a clone anymore, I’m fine with staying here; but we can always just go scatter Lydia’s ashes in the Outlands and then just hop back on the ship and keep on traveling. What do you want to do?”
Lydia 3 shook her head slowly. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
Lydia 2 took a step and placed her free hand on her clone sister’s shoulder. “Look, we don’t have to decide or do anything right now. We have a lot of freedom now, and a whole lot of credits on top of that to do whatever we want. Why don’t we just get something to eat, sit down, and watch some ’net? We can just stay in and then go to the Outlands whenever we get ready.”
“I just want to go lay down,” Lydia 3 said.
“O.K., but at least let me get us both something to eat, all right?” Lydia 2 said, walking into the main room. She touched a spot on a bare-looking gray wall, and a drawer opened up. She placed the box with her original’s remains inside. After touching the front of the drawer, the drawer disappeared in the wall.
“Do you have to hide her away like that?” Lydia 3 whined.
“Where else do you want me to put her, on the floor?” Lydia 2 snapped back. As typical in the city apartments, there was only one main room, furnished only with low, plush chairs and couches surrounding an area where ’net broadcasts and holo-videos were screened. Two bedrooms and a bathroom made up the other rooms in the apartment.
Lydia 3 clicked her tongue. “I’m going to lie down,” she said as she rushed to a bedroom and closed the door.
Lydia 2 walked over to one of the couches and picked up a small handheld device. Touching a screen on the device turned it on.
“Golden Lotus,” she spoke into the device.
“Placing an order?” a voice spoke from the device.
“Yes,” Lydia 2 replied.
“Proceed,” the voice said.
Lydia 2 ordered two vegetable mei funs, two boxes of sweet biscuits with sides of sweet and sour sauce and two large cups of fizzy hibiscus tea. She then gave a code to pay with her credits and ended the transmission.
Awaiting the food delivery, Lydia 2 sat on a couch and used the same control device to turn on a ’net broadcast.
Lying on the bed in her windowless bedroom, Lydia 3 cried silently until she fell asleep. Lydia 2 awakened her. “Hey, we’ve got food. You need to eat,” she said as she shook Lydia 3's shoulder.
Lydia 3 sat up in the bed and looked at her clone sister holding a white box and a large enclosed white cup with a straw tube sticking out of the top. “Here,” Lydia 2 said, handing the box and the cup to Lydia 3. “You want to eat in here by yourself, or you want to come out of here and watch some ’net or a holo-video?”
After sniffing and rubbing her face with her hands, Lydia 3 took the food and drink and placed it in her lap. “I’ll eat in here,” she said with a scratchy voice.
“All right,” Lydia 2 said, “As long as you eat. You haven’t eaten a thing since all this happened. Let me at least see you eat and drink something before I leave you alone, okay?
Lydia 3 opened the box and pulled out the mei fun and the sugar biscuits. “Okay,” she said while pulling out a pair of chopsticks.
As Lydia 3 ate a couple mouthfuls of the mei fun noodle and vegetable mix and sipped some of her tea, Lydia 2 stood and watched, saying nothing. After a few minutes, Lydia 2 placed her hand on her clone sister’s shoulder and then walked out of the room; the door slid closed behind her.
Lydia 3 ate about half the mei fun but left the biscuits untouched. She placed the remaining food back into the box and lay back on the bed, propping herself up with pillows, eyes closed as she drank the sweet, fragrant, bubbly cold tea until it was gone. Dropping the empty cup onto the floor, she fell into a deep sleep.
[Next scene: Some days later, going to the Outlands, showing the social world of clones vs. originals along the way. Things to add: Dream or flashback of clones’ lives as children with original and her mother; some more detail about their travels in space.]
They grew up together for the most part, and they’ve lived and worked together most of their lives. They’ve worked on a spaceship for years. They often bicker. They are physiologically the same age but the clones are chronologically and maturity-wise a few years younger. Home planet places clones in slave/second-class status. In their spaceship home, the clones and the original function as equals, though the original sometimes pulls rank. Now the original wants to go home. Clones don’t. They argue. One clone initiates violence and gets reluctant 2nd clone to help her. They fight and kill original. Dominant clone proposes to impersonate the original at home — saying the one who died was a clone. Second clone is upset; she doesn’t want to do it, but 1st clone insists, reminding her that they will both be “destroyed” if anyone knows the truth.
[ID scans the clones have to avoid or beat (these things differ in identical twins):
? Fingerprints (not as reliable as the other two)
? Retina scan
? Iris scan
Eyeball transplants can beat the eye scans. Finger or hand-print scans may not even be used in the future anymore because consistent fingerprint captures are difficult and eye scans are more reliable.]
They land on the home world; they successfully tell the story of the “clone’s” death. The go home and stay. It’s only supposed to be temporary until they get back in space, but 1st clone is enjoying the life as an “original” a bit too much. As an original in a world in which natural births are restricted, she has a lot of unearned privilege. The 2nd clone is basically her slave — 2nd clone has to eat in separate facilities, ride transportation separately, etc.
Second clone runs away, finds underground of clones who are very hardcore and cult-like. They plot a Nat Turner-esqe uprising. She along with the others go raid on and kill originals. She confronts 1st clone, appeals for her to join the cause. 1st clone refuses, fights her. 2nd clone kills 1st clone.