Since I was late on last week’s MidWeek Flash, it’s already time for another one. But this simply gorgeous photo clicked with a thought and voila.
I stood on the old pier watching the beginning of the end. Conflicting memories danced in my head as the sky turned molten around us. Lilia’s fearful whimper tugged at me and I tucked her in close. Her body trembled against my side. Whether the result of my presence or the sky, I couldn’t be sure.
“We have to go,” I urged.
“I’m tired,” she said, “tired of … all of you.”
“The ship is waiting.”
“Maybe I don’t want to go.” Though soft and halting, she cast the words at me like a challenge.
I gazed down on the face I’d known all my life, the face of my purpose. This woman was very reason I was alive. Her guarded hazel eyes met mine, testing my resolve. Haunted by a hundred deaths, she silently dared me to argue. Her lips were a hard line, yet I couldn’t resist reliving the memory of them playing over my skin, kissing me in ways that heated my blood.
I thrust the images away. Those were the Prime’s memories. I’d met her only an hour ago.
“It’s not just about you anymore,” I said with a pointed glance at her rounded belly. That had been a previous iteration’s brilliant idea. A cruel one at that, born of the need to control her.
But the look on her face as she smoothed a hand over her stomach sent a pang of longing through me. “You’re right,” she acquiesced.
I wondered then how many of us she’d known. How many iterations wearing her lover’s face had walked in—and out—of her life. Yet this had been the Prime’s plan from the start. Keep her safe at all costs. And wait for his return.
Logically, his return was impossible except in the most abstract theoretical way. But that wasn’t my call to make. And no previous iteration could have questioned the sanity of it. If the approaching collapse hadn’t hurried my timeline, I wouldn’t have had an opinion of my own to offer either. I would have been truncated too, pruned in preparation for the Prime’s neural overlay. But I was still here.
“You look… different.,” she said, perturbed.
“Not sure.” She squinted at me as if that would help her figure it out. Her hand trailed down the snug shirt to feel the flat planes of my abdomen. “He definitely didn’t look like this.”
I frowned, irrationally worried that I’d disappointed her. I could feel the Prime’s affection, but even without that there was something about her that drew me. Those high cheekbones and large eyes reminded me of a magical creature to be cherished and preserved.
“Close enough.” She smiled.
A memory prodded me. “Sometimes close enough…”
“…is as good as it gets,” she finished with me. She reached up and pulled me into a desperate kiss full of yearning for something, someone she couldn’t have. My arms unconsciously closed around her as my lips parted, allowing her tongue to tease mine. Desire as molten as the sky burned through us. But I stopped us, pulling away.
“Not sure we know each other well enough for that.”
Surprise paled her face. “You are a clone, right?”
“An overlay,” she confirmed.
“Yes, but … no prep.”
Her hand went to her mouth in horror. “You remember?”
I had to smile. “It’s better this way. More like having a job.”
And I get to keep my soul in the bargain, I thought.
She took a respectful step back. “So cruel.” As if what she had gone through these past decades had been humane.
Her compassion for my plight endeared her to me more, mixing with echoes of the Prime’s devotion. Forbidden thoughts of a future with her, a life of my own, teased at me. Where we were going it would be possible to get lost. To give up the madness the Prime had started and start something of our own.
Unfortunately, with the accelerants required to mature me in time, I’d burn out long before she died.
Time left for one last perfect iteration. It was a Prime thought, generated by the overlay.
But I wasn’t him and, thanks to circumstances, I didn’t have to be. Perhaps this was the best gift I could give her, a complete life with a true ending. Even the life I had left would give me enough time to make her love me for me.