Shelly knew that things
were going really bad with Oren, but she had still hoped that things
would improve from that point on...
Then his dinosaur
Shed just closed
the front door to their loft when she heard his shout, but it hadnt
been quite enough warning. Before she knew it the pterodactyl came
swooping down upon her, nearly crushing her beneath its girth. The
wings were swept forward, hitting the floor before anything else,
successfully pinning Shellys legs to the spot. Her body
wriggled frantically, but to no avail; she was very much stuck.
cried, pushing against the enormous mass. Help me!
Oren, gliding down a short stepladder out of her view. He wiped his
hands against the stained coveralls he was wearing, which were coated
with a chalky white substance, and adjusted the bandage wrapping on
his head. The sucker got away from me there...
said Oren, ignoring her question. He was examining one of the long
ivory wings of the bird. Broke off the talon on this side.
Well, I suppose its fixable. Maybe. Still, its probably
going to show a crack...
With a great effort he managed to lift the white dinosaur a few
inches off of the ground, just enough to free Shellys pinned
legs, before setting the beast back down with a groan. Wow,
They both took a few
moments to catch their breath then, Oren wiping chalk from his hands,
Shelly straightening her business attire (her skirt was ruined, it
seemed) before addressing her estranged boyfriend once again.
took a breath, Is? another breath, This?
Oren blinked back at her
as though she had asked something as simple as what color the sky was
before saying, A sculpture.
I can see that,
she said back. But why is it in our home?
I made it, he
answered with a touch of pride. Its limestone. I was
about to paint it too, but then you...well, it fell over. You like
When did you...
she began, then shook her head. You know how to sculpt?
He shrugged. Yeah,
I guess. I dont know why, but earlier today I just had
this...this urge, like I absolutely had to make this thing
before I did anything else. You ever have those urges?
To sculpt a
dinosaur? Shelly laughed nervously. No, never.
Well, I cant
explain it. One of his hands scratched at the bandage on his
head, a nervous tick of his. Just had to do it.
They both stared at the
fallen white creature a few more moments before Shellys senses
gathered themselves completely. Did you leave the loft? To get
this block of granite or whatever?
Oren corrected, then nodded sheepishly. Yeah, I had to go to
that art supply place down on Brenner Boulevard...
said Shelly, her voice a touch more stern. You know you
shouldnt have done that.
It didnt cost
Thats not the
point, you...wait a minute. How did you pay for this?
Oren stared at his feet.
With that cookie jar money...
emergencies! Shelly gaped at him, then sighed. Well,
fine. Whatever. Point is, you know youre not supposed to get up
and go walking around and overexert yourself like that, and stop
scratching your bandage!
Orens hand whipped
down to his side. Sorry. It itches.
Shelly smirked and beat
some more limestone residue off of her blouse (does limestone wash
out of silk? she wondered) as Oren went back to propping the ugly
white monstrosity back onto its pedestal, which bothered her a bit.
Arent you even concerned as to whether or not Im
The question elicited a
strange expression from her boyfriends face, something akin to
constipation. But youre fine. See? Youre not
bruised or cut or crying or anything.
And on that note Shelly
stormed off to the living room adjacent. Oren didnt follow,
bent over his pet project, whispering little nonsensical things to
himself. Once she stopped to look back at him, meaning to say
something, but decided instead to refer to the guidebook shed
brought home, hoping it could shed some light on his weird behavior.
She plopped down on the
worn black leather couch in the living room, the glass coffee table
cluttered with various magazines and unopened mail. The Soulmate
Guidebook sat atop this mess, its blue and gold cover invitingly
simple. She picked it up and opened it almost immediately (something
she had been doing more and more lately) and turned to the chapter
titled, When the Honeymoons Over. The opening
Over time youll
find that your mate (as well as you yourself) is changing, for better
or worse, since you first established your relationship and began to
get to know one another. This is natural, as over time your
experiences, both shared and unshared, will effect your relations
from that point on.
Shelly commented, flipping ahead a few pages.
Studies find that it
is detrimental to bask in the afterglow. Though it is
wonderful to recall the good times, these recollections
should not overshadow your experiences with your mate in the present.
With any relationship there will be noticeable changes that occur, in
both you and your mate, so you must learn to take these in stride.
Change is, after all, the very spice of life.
Easy for you to
say, she grumbled. You didnt just have a limestone
pterodactyl nearly kill you...
Oren had apparently
abandoned his project for the time being, standing over her shoulder
behind the couch. She could smell the sweat on his coveralls, he was
You should take a
shower, she said, shutting the book quickly. You stink.
Dinner was reheated
leftovers, slightly tepid roast chicken and despondent mixed
vegetables (Oren had let dinner preparations slide that evening,
thanks to the great white bird glaring at both of them from the
corner of the dining room). Awful, Shelly thought to herself as her
fork stabbed the dry chicken breast. Just like how their relationship
had been going lately. Simply awful...
Across the table Oren was
managing just a touch better, his utensils picking away at the dead
slab on his plate, his eyes focused on nothing in particular. Shelly
let her fork drop with a clatter.
going to ask how my day went? she said.
Orens knife and
fork froze over his plate. Why? Did something new happen?
Well, no, she
admitted. Nothing special, I guess.
His knife and fork
recommenced immediately, almost as though they hadnt been
interrupted at all. Shelly took note of this in her mind as she said,
said, then frowned as though not satisfied with his answer. Well,
I wouldnt say Ive taken it up, really.
No. Its more
like...well, its kind of like I always could, you know? Like
when you get back onto a bicycle and still know how to ride it even
though you havent done it for years and years and years...
Orens eyes began to
lose their focus once again, gazing off somewhere invisible to
Shellys eyes, someplace hidden and mysterious and unknown.
I see, she
From the corner of the
room the pterodactyl continued to stare at her defiantly, its
unblinking white eyes glaring as she sawed silently away at the rest
of her food. She looked down into her plate deliberately, avoiding
its gaze. She decided to just let the topic drop.
After dinner she left
Oren to clear the table, twice reminding him to take his medication
before retiring to the living room. He was whistling to himself as he
gathered up the dishes, the tune strange yet vaguely familiar to
Shelly at the same time. She struggled to place it in her mind as her
fingers walked along the row of magazines filed in one of the
wall-high bookshelves, forgetting about the tune as she found the
copy shed been searching for.
The magazine she pulled
out was one of those entertainment zines, dated approximately a year
ago. The dog-eared article was titled, Celebrity Profile: Oren
Sinclair, Hollywoods New Darling. Her eyes darted across
the copy, most of it already committed to memory. It took a few
minutes before she came across the section concerning Orens
personal interests. Sure enough, there was a paragraph about
sculpting. She mustve forgotten about that, she supposed, but
it didnt really answer the question that was scratching away at
Was it really possible?
she wondered. Was he actually beginning to retrieve his memories?
From the kitchen Oren
continued to hum that vaguely familiar tune, which only made Shelly
worry that much more.
Work began to pile up on
her the next day. Seven separate case files sat on her desk
untouched, her pen thumping against one of the manila folders in a
nonsense rhythm, her mind completely elsewhere. Suddenly she realized
that she should open one of them so that she would at least appear to
be busy. After all, that would be enough to satisfy Dr. Halmstead,
So she opened one of the
files, letting its contents dance across her eyes. None of the
information permeated her thoughts, though. It couldnt be
helped; she was still preoccupied with Orens weird
behavior...and his stupid pterodactyl...
piped, looking up quickly. Dr. Halmsteads kind gray beard
ruffled into an amused grin, his hands in the pockets of his long
Do you have Ms.
Embretsons file handy? he asked.
Um, she said,
shuffling through the case files for several seconds before realizing
it was the one she already had open in front of her. Yes,
Embretson! Here you go!
Her bosss eyes
twinkled as he took the file from her. Thank you, Shelly. And
where was your mind off to, I wonder?
She couldnt help
blushing. Dr. Halmstead had always been able to interpret her
behaviors without fail. Im sorry, sir.
your sweetheart again?
No! she said
in mock disdain. Well...okay, yes.
This evoked a chuckle
from her boss as he patted her shoulder in a fatherly fashion. Ah,
good old Oren Sinclair, actor extraordinaire! The silly rhyme
still made him snort. Every womans fantasy, to be sure!
(just like my daughter, oh but I suppose that just figures). You
still have that lock of his hair, you silly girl?
Shelly nodded sheepishly.
Ha! I knew it! A
bit disgusting, though. Yes? Keeping someones dead hair? Oh,
but I suppose you dont care as long as the dead hair is his.
Well! Hopefully hell reappear, hmm?
Shelly blushed even
hotter. Hopefully so.
disappeared...how long ago was it? Six or seven months?
About that long, I
guess. Her smile faded slightly.
fret. Im sure hes just off vacationing someplace, having
a grand old time making everyone scared to death about him! (or at
least the majority of the female population, it seems!). Dr.
Halmstead turned to go back to his office, then stopped abruptly.
Before I forget, heres a copy of that notice I mentioned
earlier. He handed her a sheet titled Memorandum.
Youll be kind enough to keep an eye out, right?
Shellys red cheeks
dimpled into an uncomfortable smile. Of course, sir.
Halmstead said, then sighed and shook his head. Somethings
got to be done, you know. All this office theft, missing meds, not to
mention a CF-160 unit as well, (hate to have to install security
cameras, against my values, so intrusive, so very intrusive, theyd
even put them in the lavatories, how revolting to be sure) Ah! Hello,
Her boss continued to
talk as he disappeared into his nearby office with his client in tow.
Turning back to the memo, Shellys felt her face glow even
hotter, the list of missing items all too familiar to her eyes.
Back at home Shelly
discovered a saber-toothed tiger, white as frost, poised to pounce on
her in the front vestibule of the loft.
Oren, brandishing a small rock hammer near the tigers rump.
Hows it look to you? Pretty good? I think its
began, trying her best not to explode. Im glad that
youre enjoying this...this sculpting stuff, but--
But what? he
interrupted, looking hurt. His eyes were beautiful when he gave her
that hurt look...
She tried to remain firm.
Couldnt you, I dont know, just do something else?
Like painting, maybe?
said the word slowly, deliberately, as if his lips were trying out
the word for the first time. A hand went to the wrapping around his
head, scratching pensively. Painting. Huh. Yeah, I could try
She left him to finish up
his work on the tiger, hurrying off to the living room to
double-check her resources. No mention of painting in any of the
articles, though. Surely if he had learned how to sculpt, then it
couldnt be a far cry to do something else artistically...
Orens call from the
vestibule made her drop the magazine in spite of herself. You
dont have to shout, sweetie!
said, walking into the living room. Whats that you got
said, filing the magazine back in the shelf. Just an old
article I was reading.
Later, after surveying
the tiger alongside Oren for what seemed like an uncomfortably long
time, she turned back to her blue and gold guidebook, praying for
some sensible answers in the chapter titled, Interests:
Cultivate or Criticize? It read:
In any relationship it
is important to provide your mate with an environment in which his or
her interests can thrive. Your mate may even have hobbies, interests,
or goals that you were never even aware of, but you should never
address them as detrimental or dangerous. If anything, the expression
of these interests should be seen as a valid attempt by your mate to
share those things he or she truly cherishes, which is an essential
aspect to the very healthiest of relationships...
Shelly, shutting the book. Doesnt mean he should go
downright weird on me, though.
At dinner she noticed
Oren humming that same odd tune to himself again. As she gnawed at
the half-cooked steak hed wrangled from the fridge she suddenly
managed to place it in her mind.
she whispered. Oren stopped humming immediately.
said, but that was it. Thats where the tune had come from. The
theme music from Cave Hunters, the very last picture he had appeared
So how much do you
think painting supplies cost? Oren asked brightly.
Ill pick some
up for you.
Thats okay. I
can go to the shop...
No, she said
in a flat tone, avoiding his gaze. Hed been out at least two
times already. Surely someone would recognize him on the street if it
continued. You shouldnt be leaving the loft. You...you
need to take it easy.
But I feel fine.
fine, sweetheart, she said. You need more time to
recover. Her eyes wandered to the clock hanging beside the
sneering pterodactyl in the corner of the room. Speaking of
which, you should probably take your medicine now.
After dinner Oren
continued to press her about it to the point that she felt she would
burst, his questions flooding into every conversation, too numerous
and too distinct to evade. If he felt fine, why the medicine? Why
stay in the loft? Why be a prisoner? After all, didnt she love
him? Didnt she care about him? Couldnt she see that he
Finally, after an hour of
shared silence sitting on the couch, she relented and went quickly to
the bookshelf and retrieved one of the magazines. It fell open to the
dog-eared page on the coffee table, her ruby-red fingernail pointing
to his celebrity photo.
said in a tired tone. This is who you are.
His hands cradled the
magazine as though it was a fragile, precious treasure, his face
He couldnt find the words, giggling excitedly. This is
me! Im a movie star?
Shelly, not sharing his excited tone. You were an actor
before...well, before your accident.
He continued to look over
the pages in astonishment, but his smile quickly faded. Why
didnt you tell me?
You needed time,
dear, she explained, thinking rather quickly. Time to
recover. You lost your memory, after all. Your head injury was pretty
He rubbed the bandage on
his head. The head injury...
right. It was only a little more than a month ago that you woke up.
Oh, Oren said
quietly. Oh yeah...
So you see? You
needed this time to recover, to get acclimated all over again. And
besides, her finger tapped the article, you never enjoyed
being seen in public anyway. You were always getting mobbed by your
My fans, he
said, half-smiling. Huh.
said soothingly. Sit back against the couch. There you go.
Youre heads probably reeling from all this.
Oren managed a grin as
she knelt to rest beside him. Its so much...hard to
believe, but at the same time it makes sense...
Yes, she said
softly. I know.
Then Oren sat straight
up. But what about my family? My friends? Where are they?
Arent they concerned?
Shelly bit her lip. Your
parents passed away, darling. As for your friends... Her eyes
searched up into the ceiling. Well, as far as theyre
concerned youre on hiatus. Until youre fully recovered,
But I feel
perfectly normal, he insisted, but Shelly placed a finger over
his lips to shush him.
They said you need
more time, she said.
doctor...Halmstead. Doctor Halmstead, remember?
Well, can we go
talk to him or something?
Shelly shushed him again,
pecking his cheek. Just lie down, sweetie. She helped him
flatten out on the couch, lying beside him. Thats it.
She kissed him full on the lips and he didnt stop her, but he
continued to frown. Stop worrying, sweetheart. Youre
going to be fine. Kiss me again.
He began to, his eyes
half-closed, then pulled back. My parents, he said.
she whispered as she rolled on top of him. Im afraid they
The guidebook came with
Shelly to work the next day, but she wasnt going to get her
hopes up about finding any new useful information. She was pretty
sure even before she opened it at her desk that there wouldnt
be a chapter on the topic she needed, but she poured over it
regardless, page by page, disregarding the growing pile of case files
She was so immersed in
the books contents, in fact, that she didnt even notice
when her coworker Connie walked up.
actually reading that? she asked.
Shelly gasped, shutting
the book quickly. You scared me, Connie!
said, prying the book away. So, are you looking to score points
with the boss or something?
Oh, no, said
Shelly, faking a laugh. Im just, you know, trying to get
all the lingo down and stuff. For the clients. Yup. She eyed
the book nervously.
Connie, pursing her lips. Whered you get this, anyway? Is
it your own personal copy?
began, forcing herself to make eye contact. No. Its the
doctors. Im borrowing it.
Connie once again, smirking. You read that memo from a few days
ago? The one about the missing supplies and all? I wonder. Her
manicured fingernails (more like claws, Shelly thought to herself)
drummed against the books cover. I wonder if they have
said Shelly, taking the book back. You think Id steal all
those things? Besides, how often have you had to reorder supplies? I
bet Doctor Halmstead would be shocked if he looked at your invoices
for the past year...
Connie hissed, but she was smiling as well, forgetting about the
guidebook. Hed have my butt!
you said, Connie?
It was Dr. Halmstead,
speak of the Devil, standing outside the door to his office. Both
women snickered as he smiled at them.
You two have
nothing better to do than talk about anatomy? he said.
said Connie. I mean yes, sir. Back to work I go.
narrowed as she watched her coworker disappear around the corner, but
turned quickly back to her boss. He seemed quite pleased with her.
What is it,
doctor? she asked.
My book! he
replied, gesturing to her hands, which were clutching the book in
question rather firmly. I didnt realize you had an
Oh, yes, she
said, nodding. A little.
Good! Good! I think
its a good little guide, dont you? Quite good, quite
thorough, gives you all the ins and outs and all that, yes? Dont
you think? Shelly? Are you all right, dear? Are you having a spasm?
The whole time Shelly had
simply been nodding mechanically to her bosss remarks, which
she finally ceased, blushing deeply.
Halmstead, she said. Its a very good guide.
But not a great
one! Eh? His eyes twinkled. Perhaps you and I could go
over the finer points, yes? It would be very interesting, I think.
He began to walk off as another client arrived at his door, still
mumbling. (Yes, quite interesting, getting her thoughts, why
didnt I think of that before, must be losing my wits) Hello,
Mr. Kincaid! How are you? Your girls right in here...
Shelly exhaled deeply as
her boss disappeared into his office. She hadnt realized that
she had been holding her breath.
It took her until she
arrived at her front door to realize that she had forgotten to pick
up Orens painting supplies. A fierce bit of cursing escaped her
lips as she keyed the lock and walked inside, her teeth gnashing a
bit behind her tight mouth, preparing for Orens tantrum that
would inevitably follow this failure on her part...
But he wasnt home.
She found a note lying
amidst a mess of magazines on the coffee table. It read: Went out.
Be back later. Dont worry about me being spotted. Got a
Beneath the note lay
several of the magazines Shelly had so carefully kept filed away, all
featuring articles about Oren. The top ones title read: The
Case of Mr. Sinclair: Kidnapped or Killed? It was about the
disappearance seven months back. She wondered just how much of it he
had managed to read.
The rest of the living
room was in disarray as well, especially around the bookshelves and
the entertainment unit in the corner. She recognized the movie boxes
sitting open at the foot of the television, all of his old features
shed bought. Had he sat and watched those as well? she
wondered. The movie in the player was Cave Hunters, of course, the
box featuring none other than Oren himself wearing a furry loin cloth
and vest, saddled upon an enormous saber-toothed tiger, brandishing a
spear at a wicked-looking flying reptile that bore more than a
passing resemblance to their beloved dining room pterodactyl...
Shelly could sense
everything falling apart then. It would be impossible to keep the
rest from him now. He already knew too much. Shed meant to ease
him into it all more gradually, wait for the buzz surrounding the
disappearance to fade, then take him back into the public view with
her, happily together, but now...
The wall phone rang. The
number on the display was Connies. She picked up the receiver
Oh, good! You're
home! Connie spat back quickly. Have you seen it?
Oh, dear Lord!
Connies voice laughed hysterically. You cant miss
this! Turn on the TV! Channel nine! Do it now!
Shelly plodded back to
the couch, flipping on the TV with the remote. The words NEWS
FLASH! appeared in the upper left corner of the screen. The word
LIVE appeared in the bottom right. A very recent still photo
of Orens bemused face with the word FOUND below it
appeared smack dab in the center.
Oh my God...
Connie piped. Hes back!
mashed the volume button feverishly, flooding the room with the
animated voice-over of Channel Nines street reporter.
for his whereabouts for the past seven months, but was first spotted
here on the street by our very own film crew only two hours
The show cut to video
feed of the reporter chasing after a man in dirty coveralls and
lugging a brand new easel down Brenner Boulevard. As the camera
zoomed in Shelly saw that it was Oren, except that he was wearing a
false moustache (which didnt even come close to matching his
hair color, Shelly couldnt help noticing). A bundle of paint
brushes were wedged between his teeth as he clumsily continued to
sprint down the street, then the feed cut off, returning to the
earlier stock photo.
She stared at the screen,
her mind racing. Hed been found! What could she do now? She
couldnt cover this up; there was no possible way at this point,
especially if Oren had actually talked to them. Oh God, if he had
talked to them...and where was he, anyway?
said Connie through the receiver. You still there? Hellooo...
Shelly hung up the phone
abruptly, her hands going to her face. Dear God, she thought to
herself. Everything really was falling apart after all...
The phone rang again
suddenly. She picked it up on the first ring.
Sorry, Connie. I
didnt mean to be rude--
Who? said a
mans voice, rather distant. Is that you, Shelly?
nearly shrieked, unable to conceal her frazzled tone. Where are
Im on a
plane! he replied. His voice sounded rather happy to relate
this news, which made Shelly growl. A little private one!
Apparently I own it! They wont let me pilot it, though.
They? Who are they,
Oh, my agent (at
least thats who he says he is) and some press people. He picked
me up off the street, saw me running away from that camera crew. Did
you catch that on TV, by the way? Anyway, he and his driver threw me
into their limo and started screaming at me for disappearing on them,
What did you tell
them? Shelly interrupted.
lowered his voice to a whisper. Theyre pretty mad at you,
Shelly. They think you kidnapped me or something. I tried to tell
them that you were my girlfriend and that I was on...what was that
word you used? High eights?
Yeah, that word.
Anyway, they say you were making it all up since Im married
already and all. Did you know that, Shelly? Im married! I have
a wife! Isnt that just weird? Man, I wonder what she looks
snapped. What do you mean when you say theyre mad at me?
Oh, they want an
investigation done. With police detectives and stuff. I told them
since you were my girlfriend and all that itd be mean to make
you go to jail, considering how well you took care of me. So dont
worry, honey. I wont press charges! But hey! My heads
fine except for this weird scar on my scalp...
Im coming to
see you, Oren. Where is your plane heading?
I dont know!
he replied, giggling. Isnt that cool? Its kind of
like an adventure! Anyway, Im not allowed to see you. My agent
(I think his names Ted) is convinced youre some
love-crazed fanatic whos trying to imprison me or something.
A muffled voice in the background growled something at that point.
What? Oh, hey Ted. Oh, sorry, I meant Todd. Me? Just talkin
on the phone...to my, er, art dealer! But I dont wanna hang up
yet. Oh, really? That expensive? I gotta go, sweetie, er...Miss Art
Dealer Lady. Bye!
The connection cut off.
Shelly stood frozen, the receiver still up to her ear, trying to fend
off the bombardment of thoughts pummeling her mind. Just like that,
she thought to herself. It was over...
Oren was gone.
The next few weeks were a
veritable nightmare for Shelly as she watched her lovely Oren quickly
imbue himself back into the Hollywood scene. Programs popped up on
every station about him, buzzing with excitement about his latest
projects. There was the long-delayed production of the Cave Hunters
sequel (which Oren had originally walked out on), not to mention the
coffee shop rumors about his new art exhibit set to debut in less
than two weeks (Oren was calling it Prehistoria or
something equally stupid. Hed already called her four times
about mailing him back his sculptures), and already the three major
networks were advertising for their competing made-for-TV movies
chronicling the strange circumstances surrounding his disappearance,
each set to air right after the Super Bowl...
Shelly was rather miffed
to find that in each teaser they had chosen a rather dumpy-looking
woman to play her character. And mean, to boot (she hadnt been
too keen when the producers approached her with the scripts and
contracts only days after Oren was discovered. She supposed that they
had taken it personally).
After all this she didnt
want to wonder if it could possibly get any worse as she came back
from work, tired and lonely and depressed...
Then it did.
The phone was already
ringing as she walked into the living room. It was Connie, of course.
Turn on the TV!
she squealed. Channel seven! You wont believe it!
Shelly complied, though
fear was already rising within her. The television screen popped to
life and she flipped to channel seven, none too surprised to see that
the program was about Oren. Except it wasnt the same Oren. Not
exactly. Or was it? She couldnt really tell. She turned up the
volume. The commentators voice rose quickly:
and mysterious turn, Oren Sinclair has returned...again! The
show cut to footage of a somewhat disheveled version of Oren
departing from a small jet at a California airport, his face covered
in a bushy grizzle of hair, dressed in what looked to be clothing one
might wear on a safari. Next to him stood his celebrity wife in
similar garb, looking more than pleased to be back on familiar
ground. Thats right, folks. This is Mr. Sinclair getting
off a charter plane with his wife, Eliza, only forty-five minutes
ago. Mr. Sinclair requested that the press be present for his
arrival. He and his wife have been out of the country for the past
several months in a small village in Africa, and Mr. Sinclair told us
he only recently heard the news that he had returned to the limelight
a few weeks ago...while he was still in Africa!
Oh my God...
Connie chimed in.
...came as quite a
shock to the other Oren Sinclair as well, who was picked up by
authorities only minutes ago while hosting his art exhibit at the
Burbank Community Center. Police investigator Wilhelm states their
medical examiner positively identified the impersonator as a clone,
more specifically a CF-160 belonging to the Halmstead Corporation, as
indicated by a trademark biochip in the impersonators scalp.
Dr. Halmstead was unavailable for comment...
Shelly mumbled, hanging up the phone in a daze. Its just
But it was, and she knew
it. She buried her face in her hands, trying to fend off tears. She
couldnt help it now. How could it be? He wasnt supposed
to return. He had been all but declared dead, for crying out loud,
but now he was back. Now they would know everything...
The next thirty minutes
were spent throwing as many things as she could fit into a
medium-sized carry-on bag. Enough to live out of for a few days until
she bought more clothes. Enough to keep her and her Oren going once
they got out of the state. She grunted as her body squeezed the
overfilled bag shut, sweat breaking out along her forehead.
She stopped suddenly,
realizing the worst. Her Oren was with the authorities. How was she
supposed to get to him without being taken in herself? She needed a
plan, that was all. She had to think of a plan...
She jumped in place as
the doorbell rang. Cautiously she tiptoed down the stairs from the
bedroom and over to the front door, peering through the peephole. Dr.
Halmsteads ovalesque visage was grinning back.
dear, he said cheerily enough. Im not going to bite
you or anything! Come now, open up!
Though still unsure, she
opened the door regardless. Seeing her boss there, looking at her in
a paternal fashion, she couldnt help but break down as he
Halmstead, cradling her head on his shoulder. Youve been
a bad girl, havent you?
He led her back to her
couch, listening to her patiently as the confession flooded out of
her amidst heavy, choking sobs. About the stolen clone fetus, the
meds, the accelerated incubation equipment, the lock of hair she used
for DNA replication, everything. She couldnt even look at him
once she had finished, looking down at the floor as she wiped a
stream of tears off her cheek.
Weve got a
recall team already out to retrieve him, said Halmstead
gravely. But we still need the initiation code from you.
code? Shelly asked, frowning. What good is that?
Halmstead explained, then narrowed his eyes at her. So we can
blank out his memory store and hopefully recycle the unit. Didnt
you read the rest of my guide book?
said Halmstead, and then he spoke as though quoting: Not
every relationship is successful, which is just the nature of
humanity. Conflicting matches, identity crises, and schizotypal
disorders are always a danger when cloning a mate, especially in the
case that the host human is still alive. But in such a case you may
start over, and its as simple as reciting the first words you
spoke to your mate.
Shelly, laughing nervously. I wish Id read that far.
Here. He took out a small piece of paper and a pen. Just
write it down here. She complied, scribbling three words
quickly. Halmstead read them with a grin: My Private Idol.
Do you have to do
it? Shelly asked. Do you have to...erase him?
Ah, my dear.
Halmstead patted her head. Im sorry, we must.
But if I kept him
here, she began, then stopped herself, realizing how foolish
she sounded. The same thing would probably happen again.
Halmstead nodded. I
can only imagine it was tough, having Oren Sinclair disappear, you
two growing so close, having your very own perfect mate come into
your life and then depart. Yes, I can understand your sadness. But I
can fix that, Shelly. I can make you feel better.
Shelly moved back a
touch. How do you mean?
And then Halmstead spoke
three words, slowly and carefully. Father. Loves. Daughter.
As easily as that,
Shellys face went blank, her eyes vacant, staring off into some
unseen place, her mind suddenly empty, her body completely limp.
There you are,
said Halmstead. Oops! Better write that down! There. You. Are.
Thats your new code, Shelly, you mischievous little girl. My
daughter, rest in peace, youre her to a tee. Shouldve
known better than to clone my kin, but it couldnt be helped, I
missed you so much, Shelly...
Shelly. That is
your name, love. You. You Shelly. Me Doctor Halmstead. This way,
He mumbled a few more
words and she blanked out completely once again as he led her toward
the door and to his awaiting recall van, where attendants folded her
up and stored her away in a large gray recycling receptacle.
Halmstead looked on and sighed as they piled into the van.
Its such a
hassle, he mused. Such an unbelievably enormous hassle
starting over with these things.