I struggled to stay conscious as my clone strangled me, fighting for every breath I took, when I heard the most unusual noise considering my circumstances.
It was clapping. One person, excitedly clapping their hands.
“Wow, Cody!” Exclaimed a familiar, female voice. “I have to admit, when you put on a show you really don’t disappoint!”
The squeezing of my throat relented, and we looked around to realize that me and my clone were both surrounded by a group of Mi-Go. They kept a respectful distance, standing in a rough semi-circle surrounding us, but their attention was unmistakably on our tableau: me being strangled by my other self, both of us bloodied and wounded, illuminated from the warm lights of the hotel behind us and the eerie blue glow of the cave in front of us. In the middle of the Mi-Go, sitting comfortably on one of the weird growths that littered the cave, was Suzy in her usual yellow hoodie and cheerful grin.
She had a bag of popcorn on her hand.
Before our eyes, she took and handful and popped it in her mouth, chewing while her eyes remained fixed on us.
“Most people, when faced with a copy of themselves, try to start a conversation. Some even try screwing themselves. But killing themselves? That’s a new one!” She shook her head ruefully and ate another popcorn, grinning all the while.
“What is this…?” My clone asked feebly to no-one in particular. He looked increasingly small and frightened as he looked around at the Mi-Go, at Suzy, and then back at me. He did not fight back when I pushed him off and got up on my feet, while gasping long deep breaths, but stayed on the ground on his hands and knees. His body was limp and his wide eyes darted from corner to corner as he cowered there.
I looked away. It was too painful to see myself that way.
“You knew?” I asked Suzy, resignation in my voice. A rhetorical question.
She hopped off her sitting spot and, after carefully propping her popcorn bag on her seat so it wouldn’t fall, cheerfully walked towards us.
“Well, duh. I was counting on it to be honest. And you didn’t disappoint! A truly wonderful performance!”
“Performance?” Whispered my clone. Suzy smiled back at him and he cringed away in fear.
“And…The Mi-Go?” I asked.
“It was an interesting experiment to them too.” Suzy shrugged while the Mi-Go turned to the others beside them and communicated with each other in their silent language. Yet I could still see some of them turning their empty faces towards me and my clone, hungry and attentive in their expressionless gaze.
“So… What? You arranged this to happen? Was this all just...” I let a mirthless chuckle escape my lips, searching for words and failing. “Is that what I was doing? Nothing but dancing to your tune like a little puppet?”
“You could say that I saw a situation starting and… Picked a good spot to enjoy it from.” She grinned at the clone still lying down on the ground, then looked back at me. “But I did not completely predict or control you, Cody. The only puppet I have in this stage is the one talking to you right now.”
Her arms flopped down and her legs buckled as her body went limp, until she looked like a puppet hanging loosely from its strings. Her head was tilted unnaturally to the side, sporting an amused smile, but it was the only part of her that looked alive. With jerky movements, her right hand went up and waved hello awkwardly at me.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Cody,” she said. “Murdering your clone? Fighting against him? That was all your idea. And if I’m honest, I still have no idea WHY you would do such a thing. It is utterly incomprehensible to me.”
Her grin widened. “But that’s what makes watching you so much FUN.”
I swallowed my wounded pride and looked back at the hotel room for a moment. The carpet was stained with blood and covered in shards from the broken lamp. As I idly wiped at my forehead, my hands got stained with the blood covering most of my forehead and I blinked in surprise. I had forgotten it was there.
All this pain, all this struggle… Nothing but theater.
“To hell with it,” I said, “show’s over. What happens now?”
Suzy looked down at the other version of me huddling on the floor. “That’s up to you. You can stay here at the resort and try it out more if you want. Or we can leave and try to save humanity some other way. It’s your choice, as always.”
“What about...” I gestured vaguely at my clone. His eyes darted to me, then back to Suzy, but he did not say or react in any other way. Tears were running from his empty eyes down his cheeks.
“Do what you want with him. I’ve warned the Mi-Go, he’s all yours,” Suzy replied nonchalantly. My clone shivered in response, looking back at me with eyes wide with fear.
There was a quiet moment when nobody moved, not even the Mi-Go, who still surrounded us. The distant noises from the other Mi-Go further away and the dull hubbub of other people staying at the different rooms of the hotel, all might as well have been sounds from a distant world.
“I need some time to think things through. Can you give me and my clone some space? And ask the Mi-Go to do the same.” I asked Suzy. She grinned in response.
“I will be looking from far away if something interesting happens! Call if you need me.” She took her cell phone from inside her hoodie and showed its screen to me. “The reception on these things are great!”
I took out my own cell phone from my pocket and found that, indeed, it still had signal even in an alien outpost in Pluto.
Then her head exploded once again into a mass of tentacles that formed a Mi-Go head, which sent my clone crawling away with a scream. She ignored him and moved towards the other Mi-Go. After brief communication, they all walked away from me and my clone, now as alone as we could be in that gigantic cavern.
I sighed and sat down next to him. He looked afraid that I might bite his head off. Poor bastard.
“Is… Is this really happening?” He whispered at last, as if hoping I could say no. Tell him that it was all a dream and everything would be alright. But I was never one for telling lies.
“Yes,” I replied.
“And am I... Am I really, a clone?” He huddled on the floor, wrapping his arms around his knees while he buried his head down, unable to face me.
“I’m afraid so.” I hesitated, but after all that happened it was pointless to not explain things. “You are my clone, but without my memories of the past two weeks. So… You’re like a previous version of me, I guess.”
We looked at each other, and it was an eerie, unpleasant sensation. We were so similar, yet so different. Hard to believe that two weeks could so thoroughly separate someone from who they once were.
“Was that before you were abducted by these aliens?” He asked, taking another look at our surroundings. I winced at his hamfisted rationalization of what was happening around him, yet could I fault him? Or could I explain to him everything that had happened since that night in the theater? For the first time, I found myself sympathizing with Suzy, when she had to explain me something difficult.
“Sort of… It’s been a long two weeks,” I told him.
“And… What will happen to us?” He asked, again in that fearful tone, afraid of what my answer might be.
“I will leave this place soon. I’m going… I don’t even know where I’m going. Far away, probably. As for you...” I looked back at him and my stomach lurched as I realized that there was no nice way of explaining the next part to him.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You were meant to be an… An experiment - like a specimen - for the aliens. Now? I don’t know. I could try talking them out of it, maybe. Send you back to earth? I can try.”
Of course, my words did nothing to reassure him. He huddled himself smaller while glancing back at the hotel with the missing fourth wall. From here, all he could see is his old room, and a hint of the rest of the hotel as it stretched up into the darkness above.
“An experiment?” He asked, fear in his voice.
“They wouldn’t hurt you. And they would probably erase your memories if they keep you here,” I said, in a poor attempt at comforting him.
“And that is why you were trying to kill me,” he said, looking at me as it dawned on his face, realization and horror both. “You were preventing me from… Being an experiment.”
“It’s what I would have wanted, if our places were switched. I think,” I said, but I frowned now, looking uncertain. I remembered well how hard he clung to life as we fought, how desperately he struggled against me, despite being confused and surprised by what was happening.
Now all fight had gone out of him, and his eyes were empty, staring at nothing in particular. “I don’t want to go on living in here… Not like this.”
His eyes glanced at the other side of the cavern now. At the Mi-Go crawling or flying like gigantic insects, with purpose neither of us could comprehend. He saw the biomechanical engineering and architecture that covered the other half of the cavern, with its undulating tendrils and chitinous growths that seemed to breathe as we watched. Far into the distance, I recognized a yellow figure with a jolt; she was so far I could not see her face, and there was no way she should have seen ours either. So, of course, she waved us from across that dark cavern, and my clone shivered in fear.
“I could try to get you back to earth. You could pretend to be me,” I suggested tentatively. There were problems with that option too, but I did not dare explain more if I could help it.
“Could you?” He asked, slowly looking back at me with something resembling hope in his eyes. “Could you bring me back to… To earth? With my girlfriend and my family, and my friends and even my stupid university course...”
I looked away from him and did not meet his eyes. It did not matter that I had not said anything, he understood immediately that something was fundamentally wrong. He knew me too well.
“Could you do that?” He asked again, but with fear coloring his voice instead of hope.
“Our girlfriend… She is dead,” I told him at last.
Neither of us said anything for a moment, in stunned, horrifying silence. Even saying those words was painful to me, and I still refused to look at him. I knew how he must feel, and I did not need to see that again.
“No fucking way,” I heard him whisper. “No, it’s gotta be a lie.”
I didn’t reply or try to convince him otherwise. He sobbed once, desperately trying to remain calm despite the news I had just given him.
“If… If they cloned me. Couldn’t they make a clone of her too? I’m sure they can do it, right?” I heard him ask me. Pleading, almost. I heard his voice crack at the end.
Still averting my eyes, I replied. “It’s complicated, but... She is more than dead. It’s as if she never existed. There’s nothing we can do to bring her back.”
“No...” I heard him whisper, and his grief found an echo in my own heart. Both of us plunged into silence, not moving from our places on the ground as the distant sounds of the cavern washed over us like waves over a rock. This silence stretched for a long time, neither of us willing to break it, to move to what came next.
“Kill me,” he asked, at last.
With those words, I turned to face him. His eyes were rimmed red from crying and the tears were still drying on his cheeks, but his mouth was closed tightly into a determined expression.
“Are you sure?” I asked him.
He nodded slowly back at me. “I’m a copy anyways. And this world… It has no place for me in it.”
“You… You could try and find a new place,” I suggested.
He closed his eyes for a moment. “No. I… I don’t want that. I can’t... Please. Just let me die.” He pleaded to me, his voice tired and weak. “If you don’t want to do it then please, ask for someone else...”
“I will do it,” I told him. Despite my words, however, I remained frozen in place, willing the courage to take the first step in what I had promised to do.
I am not sure what made me take that first step, if it was courage or pain, that made me get up and walk back to the hotel room, where I carefully searched for where the knife had fallen. I found it on the alien side, it was covered in blood and blended in with the organic ground. After finding a good grip, I slowly walked back to my other self, who was carefully looking away and ignoring me.
“I’ll ask once again. Are you sure?” I asked.
He nodded, looking back at me. He was shaking with fear.
In the end it was an incredibly simple thing. I sliced his throat in a single sweep of the blade, and he toppled to the ground, on a growing pool of his own blood. His last action was to reach his hand to his neck where I slashed it, and I could not understand why. Was he trying to stop the flow of blood, or was he in pain? Was it to confirm that the wound was real?
But then his eyes stopped moving and his breathing stilled, and I realized that I would never be able to ask him why. I would never know why reached for his throat in his last moments. He would take that knowledge with him to the grave.
“So, did you finish thinking?” Asked Suzy, walking lazily towards me, her hands in her coat pockets.
“Something like that.” I was back in our hotel room, staring at the cavern outside. Once you realized the fourth wall wasn’t there, a lot of its charm was lost. Even the jacuzzi. Especially the jacuzzi.
“I have my misgivings with this place.” I continued, frowning. “It’s better than humanity going extinct, but… Can living in this place even be called living? Always under the whims of other powerful creatures. Never truly knowing freedom. It’s a prisoner’s life.”
“Well, just because you decided this place is a bad deal doesn’t mean other people would think the same. A place where they can live for the rest of their lives, well-fed and without fearing violence or privation? To some people this might fit their definition of heaven,” she countered.
“I wonder if animals feel the same way when they’re put in a zoo,” I grumbled. “But… Yeah. Maybe other people would see differently.”
“Iit is your decision, Cody.” Said Suzy firmly. “You’re the one who’s here, not someone else.”
“I think… We should check our other options. This doesn’t feel like a great choice to me.”
“Sure, we can do that,” she said, her grin disappearing as her expression hardened. “But let me give you a warning, Cody. This place? Even with the Mi-Go in charge and the lack of freedom? It will still change humanity less than any other method I can give you.”
“What? This?” I said, glancing at the alien cavern just outside our cozy hotel room, with all of its tentacles and growths and crawling with alien creatures.
“Humanity can’t save itself without outside help,” she explained. “But any contact between humanity and an outside power will inevitably change those affected. The bigger the difference in power, the greater the change. This here,” she added, gesturing at both our surroundings, “this is as normal as it gets. The best way to preserve humanity as it is now, unchanged.”
There was a pause as I considered her words, an uneasy feeling sinking inside my mind.
“There might still be a better way,” I said. “And if there is? I have to find it.”
“It’s decided then.” She smiled cheerfully at me. Then she took Wolfy out of her pocket as her head once again dissolved into a circle of tentacles imitating a Mi-Go head.
“Let me just tell the Mi-Go here about your decision,” said Wolfy, turning its head to face me while Suzy walked. “Heh, the poor head researcher will be so disappointed you’re not staying. He was quite interested in you.”
“Alright, I have to ask. Why do you keep turning your head into a bunch of tentacles? You could turn only your arm, I’ve seen you do it before.” I frowned, crossing my arms. “Is it just to gross me out? Is that it?”
Her response was, of course, horrifying. She raised her other arm and her hand shifted and merged into a round ball of flesh, which grew a nose, mouth, hair and eyes, which opened to stare at me while balancing on what once was a wrist.
“Sorry about that,” replied the small head, the size of a balled fist. You could even see its lips move as it blinked and breathed like a normal human face, but in miniature. “The Mi-Go can be a little squeamish when they see what’s their normal faces popping from somewhere other than the center of the body. Weird, huh?”
Then the small face grinned as its eyes focused on me.
“Alright, alright. You’ve made your point,” I said, looking away in disgust. “Just use Wolfy, that’s fine.”
“Funny how a fake head can be less disconcerting than a real one, huh?” I heard Wolfy say. And when I turned back to look, her left hand was back to normal, while the puppet on her right leered at me.
When we reached a portion of the cavern that seemed to have more Mi-Go than usual, one of them separated from the group and communicated with Suzy. The others were clearly paying attention, turned towards her, but still kept their distance. I still couldn’t tell one Mi-Go apart from another, but I suppose this was the head researcher we had met on the first day.
“It’s trying to convince you to stay. Asking if the rooms were comfortable or the food was good.” Wolfy chuckled. “Quite hospitable, isn’t it?”
Like an alien hotel manager, trying to keep its job. “The food was fine,” I said. “But the problems are more basic than that. Don’t think you can convince them to make a place for humans and then leave them alone?”
“Without any way to research or gather knowledge?” Wolfy somehow snorted in amusement, impressive when you don’t have nostrils. “The Mi-Go wouldn’t even be able to understand it. To them doing something without the objective of increasing knowledge is unfathomably bizarre.”
I looked back at the hotel. It was distant, but I could still see the room where I fought against my clone, and if I squinted hard I could see my clone’s corpse lying on the ground in front of it.
“We must look so alien to them,” I commented.
“You have NO idea,” replied Wolfy.
The communication between Suzy and the other Mi-Go seemed to be wrapping up. The one I called the head researcher moved away and so her head reformed into a human shape again. I paid close attention to the reaction of the other aliens surrounding us, and noticed they seemed to turn away as she transformed. Were they grossed out too? Or uncomfortable? Perhaps we had some few things in common.
“We will be ready to leave in a moment, they want to give you one last parting gift.”
“How nice,” I said, raising my eyebrows skeptically. “Is it another kitten? Or a… An evil clone with a goatee, or...? Hell, why did they gave me those ‘gifts’ before in the first place? You said yourself they don’t do anything but research… Oh.” I blinked, silent for a moment as the pieces came together. “They were studying my reaction?”
“You figured it out,” said Suzy with a big smile, like a proud teacher when her student answered a question right.
I groaned and rubbed my forehead in anticipation of whatever weird thing the Mi-Go would throw at me. “Can’t we just leave before they experiment on me one last time?”
“That would be rude,” Suzy replied in a theatrically prim and proper voice. She managed to make a beatic expression, complete with a faint, calm smile, before she broke into her usual shit-eating grin.
“You just want to make me suffer,” I muttered darkly, watching as the Mi-Go moved aside to let the head researcher through. It carried a small, round-ish object in its arms, and it seemed to be wrapped up in something. It was only when he came close I noticed what it was. A wrapped cheeseburger.
“Since you enjoyed the food, they offer this cheeseburger as a parting gift. And hope you will visit them again in the future,” translated Suzy, before commenting, “huh, that’s not too bad for them, actually. They understand human customs better than I thought.”
“Why a cheeseburger?” I mumbled, still staring blankly at the greasy wrapping offered by the creature, its expression utterly unknowable.
“Popular staple human food, isn’t it?” Replied the Queen in Yellow with a shrug. “Maybe they just thought you were hungry? Or maybe they ran through your clone’s memories and found something that drew a strong emotional response despite being a seemingly common, mundane object? I don’t know. Mi-Go are weird.”
The alien silently offered me the cheeseburger again, gently pushing it in my direction.
“Tell him I don’t want it” I said, taking a step back while my hands balled into fists, almost involuntarily. I took a deep breath, in an attempt to keep calm and in control. The head researcher seemed to notice my reticence, and stopped offering me the sandwich.
“Alright then, time to go,” said Suzy, grabbing my hand gently. My vision blurred, but the last thing I saw in that faraway base in Pluto was the Mi-Go head researcher, holding the useless cheeseburger in its pincer while its empty mouth and tentacles all faced me. Was it disappointed? Sad? Curious?
I could not know. Until the very end, I could never understand them. We parted as we met, each alien to the other’s eyes.
End of Act 4