As much as she tried, Aurelia couldn't contact Nicholas at all. In the end, she left him a message and went to bed. Her sleep was interrupted, filled with nightmares and dreams. In some she was with Jonathon, in some with Nicholas. Sometimes she was a brave Resistance fighter; in others she was a traitor. When the dome slowly started to change shade to a lighter blue, Aurelia pulled herself out of bed and took a shower. If she wasn't going to be rested, at least she could work. And working always helped her think better. Sometimes taking her mind away from a problem was all she needed to do to solve it. She checked her intercom before she left, but there was no message from Nicholas, nor from Jonathon.
The hospital was buzzing, and she found plenty to keep her busy. As head of trauma (with the red-and-white flash on her uniform sleeve to prove it now), she saw cases that were interesting or difficult and found that the challenges, no matter how hard, were surmountable. Jason, her grinning Second in command, was turning out to be a very skilled physician in his own right, and Aurelia enjoyed working with him. He even remembered to bring her a coffee every now and again, which surprised and pleased her. It was early afternoon when he brought her a fresh cup.
“There's someone looking for you,” he told her, placing the cup on a counter next to her screen.
Aurelia, who was trying to decipher some hospital paperwork, didn't even look up. “Yes?”
“It's a Clone.”
The dismissal in his voice was obvious. Like a Clone wasn't important enough for her to step away from her desk. Sure, he'd helped her out in the Clone ward, and done a good job too, but he still had the same attitude as anyone else in Lunar.
“Did he give you a name?” Aurelia asked him, wrenching her aching eyes from the flashing screen.
Jason shrugged. “I didn't ask. I just overheard him asking for you at reception.”
Aurelia took a gulp of her coffee, then grimaced. It was hot. She rolled her screen up and stood, stretching. “I'll go there, then,” she said. “Oh, thanks for the coffee.”
“No probs.” Jason smiled, watching her walk out the door.
Weird, thought Aurelia as she made her way through the corridors to the hospital's main reception. He was so worried about being seen together or overheard before, and then he just shows up here like it's perfectly natural? She saw him before he saw her.
He turned, and she could see that he was pale, worried looking. But when he saw her he smiled.
“Sure, why?” she asked.
“Just...well, I was just worried that maybe I'd put you in danger or something, that's all.”
His voice was quiet, and she could tell that he really had been worried about her. It was sweet in a way. She could also tell that he was nervous about being seen or overheard, despite his trip to the hospital.
“Fancy a coffee?” she asked him.
“Now?” he said, with surprise.
“One of the pluses of being head of trauma is that there are other people to do the work sometimes.” She smiled. “Besides, things are quiet now. I was just catching up on some paperwork.”
“You know,” said Nicholas, as they began walking back into the main hospital itself, “paperwork used to be actually done on paper.”
Aurelia laughed. She remembered that he'd talked about coffee being made from beans when they'd met at the shuttle bay. He seemed to take an interest in history. “I know,” she said. “Thank Gods that it's not now; I'd be killing three trees a day with the amount of forms I need to fill in.”
She took him to the cafeteria and grabbed both of them a coffee before finding a small table in a corner.
“So, everything went okay?” he asked once they were seated.
“That depends,” said Aurelia. “Well, no, not really, well...” She pursed her lips. Where to start?
“But you're okay?” he pressed.
His concern was touching, though she didn't understand quite why he was so worried. “I'm fine. Why do you keep asking?”
He frowned. “Because I've potentially put you in danger, that's why.”
And she could see that he felt guilty for this. A pleasant change from Jonathon and Elza, she thought; they seemed to feel no guilt about placing her in this position.
“Look, I think we should probably go upstairs,” she told him. “So that we can talk properly. Okay?”
He nodded. “Fine.”
She quickly arranged for Jason to cover for her absence and met Nicholas back at the elevator. They didn't speak again until they were in her room. Then the story spilled out.
“I was fairly sure he was Resistance,” said Nicholas, after she had told him. “I've been tracking the guy, after all, and some things didn't add up.”
“If you could figure that out, then so could someone else,” Aurelia pointed out. “Which could be why you're supposed to kill him.”
“Doesn't make much of a difference, really,” Nicholas said. “And what about you? Are you comfortable with your decision to join them?”
“Maybe,” she said, thoughtfully. “It's the right thing to do, I guess. But where does that leave us?”
“You didn't mention us?”
Aurelia shook her head. “You're supposed to kill him, so, no, I didn't exactly say anything.”
Nicholas was beginning to get angry. “Do you understand how short time is?” he asked her. “How few days we have to get things sorted out?” He stood and began pacing around the living pod. “What's at stake here?”
She understood his anger, knew he had to let it out. But she didn't have the chance to respond to him.
The door slid open, though she hadn't rung anyone in or given anyone her code. Elza strode into the living pod, something metal and shining in her hand. In one movement, and before Aurelia could even get up, Elza had extended her arm and clicked something. Nicholas opened his eyes wide, then collapsed to the floor.
Elza turned to Aurelia. “We trusted you,” she hissed. “We believed in you.”
She manipulated the metal device again, but Aurelia held up her hands. “Wait!”
“Elza, what are you doing? What are you talking about?”
The woman laughed bitterly. “I heard, Aurelia. I heard everything.”
“Heard what?” Things just weren't making sense.
“You told him everything,” she said, gesturing towards Nicholas lying prostrate on the floor. “You told Jonathon's assassin everything. We trusted you!”
Aurelia was starting to panic. She could feel her breathing getting faster, her mouth drying. What in hell was going on? She glanced over at Nicholas.
“He's stunned, that's all, for the time being,” said Elza.
“I don't understand,” Aurelia blurted out, and she didn't.
“I heard everything.” Elza's voice was cold, the device was ready in her hand, but she didn't move it.
Aurelia thought back over the conversation that she'd just had with Nicholas. Gods. She saw how it could be misinterpreted, looking like she was feeding him information.
“But, but you said it was safe to talk in here!” Aurelia was playing for time, trying to think of a way out of this.
Elza laughed that bitter laugh again. “Do you honestly think that anywhere on Lunar is completely safe? The only reason I knew that no one else could hear you in here was because I knew that the Resistance were the ones listening to you. We had to check you out, make sure you were as trustworthy as you appeared. And it seems like it was a good job we did.”
Aurelia took deep breaths. She tried to relax her muscles and seem as nonthreatening as she could. “Elza, you don't understand. This isn't at all what you think it is.”
“So Nicholas wasn't sent to kill Jonathon?”
“Yes, he was, but listen...”
“No, you listen. All you had to say was no. All you had to do was turn around and leave the restaurant, and we'd have let you go. But this.” Elza shook her head. “This can't go unpunished.”
Aurelia was thinking as quickly as she could but could come up with no way to get out of the room. “Elza, will you let me explain things?”
“Why should I?”
Hurry, hurry, think - what was the right answer to that? “You're right, you shouldn't,” said Aurelia. “But Jonathon should. I'm sure you'd agree that I owe him an explanation.”
Elza ran her tongue over her teeth. Then she nodded. “Fine. Get him here. Intercom him and get him to come, and then we'll see which of us he believes.”
It was a start. A small one. She wondered why Elza was making her make the call, but then, it was her home. And Jonathon would respond faster to her voice; she knew he would. Very slowly she got up off the couch and walked to the intercom on the wall. Elza's eyes never left her. With shaking hands she pressed the appropriate icons. To her relief, Jonathon answered immediately.
“Jonathon, I need you to come to my quarters.”
“Sure, I can drop by later this evening; is that okay?”
“No, now, please. Quickly.”
“Aurelia, is everything alright?”
She wanted to scream “no” but controlled herself. She didn't need Elza getting excited. “I just need you over here, please. It's a bit of an emergency, but I'm alright right now.”
“I'm on my way.”
The intercom clicked off, and Aurelia turned, making sure both of her hands were in full view. “He's coming. Do you think we can relax a little now?”
Elza nodded towards the couch with her head, and Aurelia took her seat. The doctor then took a chair opposite her.
“Elza, I promise you that I can explain everything. Please believe me. I thought we were friends.”
“I don't befriend traitors.” Her mouth was a thin line.
“I understand how you must be feeling, what you're trying to do.” Aurelia's voice was as smooth and calming as she could make it. “You're only trying to protect what's yours. But I'm not a traitor.”
“Protect what's mine? You have no idea, girl. No idea at all. You're so young.” She sounded almost sad at that.
Aurelia remembered that Elza had been recruited in much the same way she had. She presumed that she'd been torn away from Earth, had left her family, her friends. And then had been forced to live a double life. It was hard to feel sympathy for someone who thought you were a traitor, but at the same time Aurelia found herself feeling bad for Elza.
“I'm old enough to hear you out when you explain things to me,” countered Aurelia. “To listen to what you have to say about the Resistance. To decide to help you.”
But Elza's eyes were blank; she obviously didn't want to listen to reason. She kept flickering her gaze down to Nicholas on the floor, then back up to Aurelia, as though daring either of them to do anything. Nicholas wasn't about to help, though. Aurelia saw that his breathing was deep and even, but his eyes were firmly closed.
She decided that it was pointless to talk to Elza further. She wasn't listening, and she was angry. It was far better just to sit and wait, and then Jonathon would be there. For a Second she worried that he might not listen to her either. Elza was head of the hospital and presumably had worked with Jonathon for a long time. Would he take Elza's word over her own? She didn't think so, honestly didn't. She trusted him, though she had no real reason for doing so.
The minutes ticked by. Elza seemed jumpy, but Aurelia guessed that was understandable. Aurelia concentrated on getting her story straight. She wanted to explain to Jonathon in as few words as possible what had happened here. The dome outside was slowly changing in hue, becoming darker, and Aurelia was just about to switch the lights on when there was a knock.
Elza stood and opened the door, and Jonathon rushed in. He took one look at Nicholas on the floor, Aurelia on the couch and the device in Elza's hand, and stopped. He looked around cautiously, and the door slid shut.
“Aurelia, are you alright?”
She nodded, dumbly. He crossed to her and gently pressed her back to the couch.
“Elza, what's going on here?”
“She's a traitor, Jonathon. We made a mistake. I heard them.” She nodded towards Nicholas on the floor. “He was your assassin.”
“I can explain everything,” Aurelia cut in. “But you have to listen to me, please.”
Elza began to speak again, and Jonathon held a hand up to her. “Let her speak,” he said. “If she's going to be accused of something, she should be allowed to defend herself.”
Aurelia suddenly felt very, very tired. She craved the stimulant patches that Elza had given her on the night of the accident. Her whole body felt weighed down. And now she had to find the words to rescue not only herself but Nicholas too. She laid her head back on the couch and closed her eyes.
“Let's start with the truth,” she said after a few moments. “Nicholas was sent to kill you.”
She heard Jonathon draw in a breath, but he said nothing. She opened her eyes and looked at him.
“But he didn't. He saved you. It was Nicholas who pulled you into the stairwell on the shuttle, thinking that it was the safest place for you to be. The plan was that you would either be killed in the attack or he would kill you in the chaos of the aftermath. But instead he saved you.”
She thought about telling them why, but the story was too long and complicated. She had to find a way to simplify things. As briefly as she could, she explained that Nicholas had asked for her help, asked that she communicate a message to Jonathon. All that had happened this afternoon was Nicholas checking on the status of the message. She also admitted to telling him about the Resistance.
“But you never told me not to,” she pointed out. “I trust him as much as I do you, and I decided to help him for much the same reasons that I decided to help you.”
Elza gave her frozen laugh. “An excellent story, but it doesn't hold up, does it? How are we supposed to know that you and the Clone weren't in it together?” She spat out the word Clone.
“Why would he save him, then?” Aurelia said, her anger rising. “That makes no sense.”
“Maybe he didn't; maybe things went wrong and he couldn't kill Jonathon when he needed to. Gods know, maybe you were going to blackmail Jonathon for something. There are a million reasons that Jonathon could have got off that ship alive.”
Okay, the story was weak. But it was the truth, and the truth was so often less satisfactory than a lie. Sometimes that was what told you something was the truth, Aurelia thought.
“I don't know how to prove myself,” she said, quietly. “It's the truth, but I don't know what I'm supposed to do to convince you.”
Jonathon had been silent. Aurelia sensed that he was turning matters over in his head.
“Elza is right,” he said, finally. He looked at Aurelia, and she saw pain in his eyes. “I want to believe you, Aurelia - I do, but I can't take chances. Not now. Not when I'm so close to getting where I need to be.” His voice sounded miserable.
“So what?” Aurelia demanded. “So you're going to kill me here and now? Inject me? Turn me over to the authorities? What?”
Jonathon tapped his fingers on his leg, thinking. “There is one thing we could do,” he said.
“Anything,” Aurelia said, rubbing her tired eyes. “Just tell me what it is.”
“It's not nice.” Jonathon sat back on the couch. “But, technically, we could get inside your head. See if you're telling the truth.”
“That's against the Convention,” Elza said.
Jonathon shrugged. “So? If Aurelia gives her consent, then I think we're okay. What do you think, Aurelia?”
The thought of Jonathon’s being inside her head made her anxious; the thought of Elza’s being there terrified her at the moment. She had little choice, though. She nodded. “I'll do it.”
Jonathon was all business now. “Elza, go and get what we need from the main hospital, please.”
She looked far from pleased about this development, but she did as she was told, leaving the room with a backward glance at Nicholas, who was still lying on the floor.
“Jonathon, I had nothing to do with any of this, I promise you.”
He gave her a small smile. “My heart believes you, Aurelia, but my head says that I have to be careful. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I think so.”
They sat apart on the couch until Elza returned with the device that was needed. Aurelia sat quietly through the exam; there was no feeling involved, and she didn't have a sense of anything changing inside her mind. Elza and Jonathon asked her questions, and she responded with one-word answers. That was all.
“She's clean,” Jonathon said finally, standing up.
“Fine,” said Elza. “But the Clone isn't.”
“Wait!” Aurelia said. “He is - I told you he is.”
They weren't prepared to stake anything on the life of a mere Clone, however. The decision was made to take Nicholas out of the hospital.
“We'll interrogate him, find out what he knows,” Jonathon explained.
The only concession that Aurelia could get was that she was allowed to go with them.
No one noticed the three of them carrying Nicholas through the corridors, or if they did, they said nothing. An unconscious body in a hospital was nothing to be remarked upon, anyway. Jonathon's personal transport pod was waiting at the gates, and they laid Nicholas in the back. Aurelia buckled her seatbelt and sat back.
“We should blind her,” Elza said.
Jonathon shook his head. “No, Elza. She's trustworthy. You have the proof now. She can see where we're going.”
Elza kept silent after that.
Aurelia watched Nicholas with one eye and the landscape with the other. Nicholas seemed to be fine; his breathing and colour were both good. She thought she saw his eyelids flicker a time or two but couldn't be sure. The landscape was odd, different. The pod had turned away from the centre of Lunar and was making its way through narrower streets than Aurelia had seen before. There were no neon lights here, and the buildings, whilst still tall, had a decrepit look about them.
“Worker housing,” said Jonathon, noticing her watching.
Towards the outskirts of the city, the pod began to drop down as the dome over the city grew lower. It took a good twenty minutes to reach where Jonathon had planned on taking them. A large, square black building approached. Shit. She knew what that was. Just as she thought they were going to swing past it, the pod turned slightly and brought them around to the back of the building.
Getting out of the pod, Aurelia held her breath. Then she berated herself for being childish. Once she was breathing normally again, she noticed that there was not even a hint of smell from the Crematorium. With Elza and Jonathon carrying Nicholas, all she had to do was follow. They went through a small black door and down an ill-lit corridor. The place was institutional; it smelled of the same bleach soap used to clean schools and hospitals, a smell that was familiar and comforting for Aurelia, who had spent most of her life in these places.
When Jonathon used a key from his pocket to open another door, Aurelia could see a golden shaft of light pierce the corridor. The room inside was large and beautifully furnished. It was also square, the clean-angled corners seeming odd to Aurelia; she was used to rounded rooms, or at least the curved corners of hospital pods. Nicholas was laid on a couch, and Jonathon relocked the door.
“What is this place?” was Aurelia's first question.
“We've been using it for a while now,” Jonathon said, opening a cabinet in the wall and pulling out a bottle of water. “It's the perfect location. The Crematorium is no longer in use.” He looked over at Aurelia. “We send all bodies down to Earth now; didn't want to pollute our own air. Anyway, no one wants to come near the place, which means it's a great place to hide away for a while when necessary.”
Elza was bending over Nicholas, pulling his eyelids down and taking his pulse. “He'll come around in a few minutes,” she said, brusquely.
“Jonathon, I don't want you to hurt him.” Aurelia didn't want to plead, but she would if she had to. “He's my friend. I think he can explain things better than I can, but please, please don't hurt him.”
Jonathon was about to answer her when Elza gave a bark of laughter. “You understand so little, but you'll learn. Sometimes this is the way we have to do things.”
She wasn't exactly being rude; her voice was kinder towards Aurelia now, but she wasn't being her familiar self either. Aurelia guessed that the woman wasn't going to forgive her quite so easily. At the moment, though, she didn't really care.
“Jonathon, please, don't hurt him. He'll tell you what you need to know.”
Jonathon sighed. “I'll do my best, Aurelia, but things aren't always that simple. I need the information that he might have, and sometimes the best way to get people to remember things is with pain. I don't like it, but that's the way it is.”
Aurelia gritted her teeth. “That's not the way things should be, then,” she said, her voice trembling. “Nicholas saved your life; just remember that. Whatever it is that you believe, whatever he says, just remember that if it weren't for him you wouldn't be here.”
“And he was sent to kill me,” interjected Jonathon. He'd poured glasses of water for all of them and handed one to Aurelia. “I understand what you're saying, and I'll tell you again, I will do my best. But, Aurelia, he is a Clone; please remember that.”
She was boiling with anger now and could feel even her skin throbbing with emotion. The intimation was that because he was only a Clone, he wasn't worth worrying over. There was no doubt that she loved Jonathon, and even now she could feel that, but looking at his high, patrician nose and the expensive clothes he was draped in, it was hard to divorce his intentions from the fact that he was Elite. Whatever he might say or want, there would always be a piece of Ruling Class in him, and that included the way he saw Clones.
“He's waking up,” Elza said.
Nicholas was stirring, his eyes fluttering open.
“Where am I?”
His mouth was dry - Aurelia could tell from how he sounded. She went to him and, lifting his head slightly, offered him her glass of water.
“Just tell them the truth. About everything,” she whispered.
He creased his brow.
“Everything,” she repeated.
“Everything,” he said.
Jonathon came from behind and touched her elbow. “Aurelia, I think you should wait next-door; I don't think you should see anything that happens in here.”
“No. I'm staying.” She wasn't going to leave Nicholas alone here. She thought she could trust Jonathon to restrain his emotions, but she wasn't so sure about Elza.
Nicholas was quickly coming to his senses and, looking around, realised exactly what was going on. “No, Aurelia, you should leave,” he said.
Jonathon looked startled at this, but he nodded in agreement. “It's for the best.”
“And that way, my story can't be compromised; no one can say that you gave me signals or anything,” Nicholas added. “It's better, Aurelia.”
Reluctantly, she straightened up. “If that's what you both think.”
Jonathon took her arm and led her to a door different than the one she had entered by. “Wait in here,” he said. “It's comfortable.”
The small chamber had a bed and a chair, as well as an old fashioned looking cabinet which contained a decanter of water and some glasses. Everything both in here and in the room next door had looked old, antique, a reminder of Earth days long past. She contemplated lying on the bed. Her whole body was aching, but she knew if she did, she might not be able to get up fast enough if she heard sounds from the next room. Instead, she pulled the chair as close to the door as she could and sat.
She heard nothing other than the murmur of voices. No shouting, no screams.
Her life had changed incredibly fast. She had so little to cling to. But the more she thought about things, the more she came to three indisputable conclusions. First, she missed her parents - but that had always been the case, was expected and something that she could deal with. The Second was that she loved Jonathon. That had come as a surprise, but it was absolutely true. There might be things he did or said that she didn't agree with, but she had no control over the Chemicals and hormones in her body, and they had chosen that she be with him. Oddly, she felt comfortable with this. The feelings had overtaken her quickly but seemed natural, as if they had always been lying there latent, just waiting for a catalyst. The third thing was that joining the Resistance was the right thing to do.
She leaned her head on the back of the chair and wished that she'd got herself a glass of water before she sat down. Now her legs seeMed too heavy to get up again. The Resistance. She believed everything she had been told. It wasn't a question of naivety, or simply because she loved Jonathon. It was because the more she heard, the more things made sense. It was like she'd seen flashes of pieces of a picture all her life, but it was only now that she was being given the opportunity to see all the pieces together.
And that meant that the life she had known, the Earth she had known, was all based on a lie. The ideals of sacrifice, giving yourself to help society rather than to help yourself, educating yourself to help all people, were all wrong. Or at least misguided. From what she could see, it boiled down to the fact that she, as all other Workers, had been moulded into exactly what it was the Empire needed so that the rich could go on being rich. The reason her parents would never have the other children they had so desperately wanted, the reason the Fails were taken from their schools and families and eventually euthanised, the reason that she herself had injected a woman whose name she didn't even know, all those reasons were the same. Greed. Not on her part, or even that of anyone she knew, but on the part of a small group of people who wanted to live lives of luxury.
Her head was beginning to ache. She persuaded herself to get up out of her chair and pour a glass of water, which she drank straight down. She had always had a sense of fairness, and that sense had always seemed satisfied by the way she’d lived. Now, though, she was ready to change things. Do what needed to be done. She wanted no one else to have to live the kind of life that she had had, though it hadn't been a terrible life by any means. Finding that everything you had lived so far had been a lie, though…that was like having the ground ripped out from under your feet.
She placed the glass back on the cabinet. And then there was Nicholas. As far as she could tell, all these issues were very much interconnected. She could see no reason why the Clones and Resistance wouldn't join forces; they wanted more or less the same thing, though for different groups of people. The only thing standing in their way was a prejudice that had been deliberately created to keep the Clones separate.
There was a bang from the next room, followed by a scream and then thudding. She froze for a brief Second and then jerked herself into action. Aurelia moved so quickly she knocked over the glass, which shattered. She threw open the door. Jonathon was clutching his arm. Nicholas was jumping to his feet. Elza was lying on the ground. Her eyes were closed.