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It’s nine in the morning when Clone Eryk finally arrives back at the Bacall mansion. What a fucking party. What a fucking dame that Shepherd turned out to be. A lot like Malia in some very important ways, he thinks.

He stumbles through the house, still mostly drunk and sporting a lampshade that rests on his head like a hat, and crashes into a four-foot vase.

As it crashes on the floor and breaks into a million pieces, all he can really think is, why the hell would someone put something so fragile in his way? They must have known this would happen eventually. After all, Clone Eryk is not known for his nimbleness; he is known mostly for his incredible [Power] and [Strength] that can obliterate any and all foes he has ever faced.

As many drunk people tend to be, Clone Eryk is vastly hungry. So he travels into the dining room, hitting the walls a few times in his staggering walk, and sees what the hell the butlers have prepared for breakfast. He’s going to gobble up a hundred thousand calories if his stomach can take it.

Then he hears an annoying high-pitched crying sound, and looks to see little Victoria wailing at the sight of him as she sits with a gourmet meal on her plate. Oh, get over it. So what if Clone Eryk is a little disheveled? That’s what happens after L.A. parties.

Taylor picks Victoria up out of her high chair and glares menacingly at him. He heeds it not, and instead begins shoveling the food from Victoria’s plate into his mouth. Mm, yummy.

“Get out,” Taylor says. “You are not allowed in my house.”

“Ha.” He shakes his head, and then the lampshade falls off. “How come security’s not coming for me, then? What, because you know I’m royalty? Because you know I’m way too strong for all you Earthlings? No point in telling me to get out if you can’t back it up.”

“What a dick,” she says.

Then Victoria also says, “What a dick,” copying her mother. She pats her on the head rewardingly.

“Where’s Francis and Delta?” he asks.

She shakes her head, but says nothing to answer him. He hates this so much. If she didn’t have that small girl with her as a shield, he wouldn’t be so kind to her. But she does, so all he does is turn and run through the halls into his and Francis’s bedroom.

Nobody’s here. Damn.

Then he runs into Delta’s hot tub room.

Ah. There they are.

Delta and Francis, fully dressed and suitcases almost completely packed.

What the hell? They’re leaving?

“You aren’t leaving,” Eryk says as soon as he enters. “You’re staying with me until I’m done with you.”

He is not sure if he has a use for them any longer, but he also knows that he hasn’t fully developed his plan to conquer Hollywood, then America, then the Earth, then the multiverse. They are still valuable allies until that plan comes to fruition.

“You STILL haven’t apologized to us,” Delta says. “Not a single time since you went nuts. We’re not even going to acknowledge your presence anymore.”

“I’m way too strong to be ignored. I can lift a thousand dumbbells at once.”

She doesn’t respond, and the two of them pass him through the doorway.

“You don’t get it, do you?” he asks. “I’m famous now. I’ve met celebrities like Anderson Cooper. Barty Anderson. Barry Levinson. The top of the top. I wield like, so much power. It’s unbelievable. I’m an influencer now!”

No response, still.

“Come on!” he exclaims. “I don’t even like you guys, but I thought you liked me. We’re supposed to stay in L.A. longer than this. You’re supposed to take me to the Grand Canyon and stuff.”

Now, finally, Delta responds. “Fuck that,” she says. “Five days with you is well more than you deserve. We’re leaving and you can do whatever you want.”

They reach the foyer, where Taylor stands, still holding Victoria. Francis goes over to his niece to play with her one last time, and says, “I wish we could stay longer, Vicky. I’ll see you next time.”

“Uncle France, don’t go.”

“Sorry.”

Then Francis turns around to face Clone Eryk, as if he’s been holding something in all this time that he wants to let out. After last night, he pretty much said everything he needed to for Clone Eryk to stop caring about him as anything other than a guide, but it looks like he has something else.

Then...

...

He doesn’t say anything. Cowardly, Clone Eryk thinks.

Instead, he says something to Delta. “L.A. was all just a mistake.”

“Always has been,” she replies.

Clone Eryk refuses to accept this. “You cannot simply abandon me, your Systemless ally,” he says. “I need you to guide me across the country to help spread my fame!”

Now, finally, this gets a rise out of Francis. “It was a mistake to ever meet you. You changed so much since we first met you, and none of it was for the better.”

He shrugs. “Not my fault. If you want the original Eryk, you can go find him. I don’t know where the hell he is, but until he shows up, you’re all stuck with me, buddy.”

“Wait... ‘original Eryk?’”

“I’m just a clone, bro. I don’t care what that other guy’s doing. If you like me less, that’s just that much less I have to care. As long as you help me, that’s all that matters.”

“Wait a minute, you’re being an even bigger dick,” Francis says. “Don’t pretend to be a clone just to get out of blame. I’m done with your system shit.”

“The system is irrelevant. I barely even need it except to keep myself alive.”

“Clone or not,” he says, “You’re still Eryk, and you’re still responsible for your actions. I hate you forever, and I’ll never forgive you, and I’ll never see you again as long as I live. Goodbye.”

Clone Eryk considers striking him, but before he can, he senses a mighty aura nearby. An overwhelming sense of strength just beyond the walls of the mansion.

What the...

Ding-dong. The doorbell rings.

The door opens.

And a red-haired, glasses-wearing, skinny white woman steps into the mansion. She has on a fashionable pantsuit and an incredibly neutral expression. Her eyes do not peer towards Eryk’s, but instead to the other two holding their suitcases.

“Julie!” Delta exclaims. She rushes over to her and gives her a tight hug that lasts longer than any Clone Eryk has ever seen.

He sighs. He doesn’t have time for such pleasantries. Someone with an aura like that absolutely must be dealt with immediately.

“Hey, you,” he says. “What’s your deal?”

She looks at him for the first time. The very first meeting of Eryk and Julie.

And her gaze is as piercing as it is indecipherable.

“You think you can just barge in here and take my allies?” he asks. “You can’t. I’m Eryk Solbourne, or at least a clone of him. I’m literally royalty, and I’m not going to deal with the kind of—“

Julie raises an open palm and strikes Eryk across the face.

A slap so powerful it shatters the glass case to a nearby china set.

Clone Eryk spins around so hard he makes a complete three hundred and sixty degree rotation, and then crashes on the ground, belly up.

Just a second ago, his eyes were locked on Julie’s. Now he sees the giant chandelier above him, and nothing else. The pain hasn’t even set in yet. The realization that he has been beaten up, also, hasn’t even set in yet. He’s just too shocked.

“Let’s go back to San Francisco, you two,” Julie says. “How about In-N-Out on the way up?”

“I’d love it,” Delta says.

Clone Eryk hops to his feet, gritting his teeth angrily. “Now just you wait a minute!” Then the pain across his face finally reaches his brain, and he falls to the floor, rubbing his cheek.

Francis shakes his head. “Get a life.”

“Wait, but I have so much to offer!” he exclaims, still on his knees. “I’m famous, and I’m going to be a hero by taking over all of Hollywood with my dashing good looks! I’m so—“

Poof.

The five days are up.

A wisp of smoke is all that remains of what was once Clone Eryk.

Now Delta, Francis, Julie, Taylor, and Victoria are alone in the foyer, staring at the empty spot where a human once knelt.

“Huh, he really was a clone,” Delta says.

Victoria reaches out her hand to touch the smoke as it quickly disperses into the air.

Francis blinks rapidly. “Wait, so if that was a clone Eryk, then... Where is the real Eryk?”

Taylor shrugs. “I have no idea. But I sort of don’t care at all. That guy was awful.”

“But he... Huh.”

They never do discover the fate of the real Eryk Solbourne. Julie, Delta, and Francis go home to San Francisco without answers, and with that, the great Systemless Squad California Trip is officially over.

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Thedude3445

Bio: I like to watch movies.

Avatar art by Mikayla Buan. https://twitter.com/mikayla_buan

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