Tess walked up to him slowly, trying to stop herself from shaking. The person standing in front of her looked just like Scott, but she had watched him die.
“How did you get out? I saw your body. I checked on you after the level ended.”
“We put a clone in the game,” Scott said simply. “It was me…sort of. We were controlling it. The Dark Hand was able to set it up before he died. We only have two.”
Tess felt like she wanted to scream.
“What are you talking about? How could that be a clone?”
“There was technology left down here that we worked on for years. I can show you if you want. We can set up a—”
She grabbed onto his shoulders. He looked surprised.
“I don’t want to know how you did it. Why did you do it? And why didn’t you tell me?”
“We knew The Creator would be looking for a spy…someone to figure out what you knew. We wanted to learn more about Never World, but I couldn’t let him keep me captive. The Creator bought it and was convinced my clone was actually me. I also needed to protect you,” he said. “I need you to understand…that was me, but it wasn’t really me. I had to lie a bit to get you to trust me. I had to make sure you would come here.”
“You told me to find you.”
“And you did.”
“I thought you were dead!” Tess shouted. “And I was right not to trust you. You were lying to me the whole time.”
Scott took a step back.
“It wasn’t a big deal. You’re my friend. I care about you, but that wasn’t me. It wasn’t real.”
Tess paced around the room. She caught sight of the Never World tape playing in the background. It was focused on Nate.
“Don’t they know? Aren’t you putting Nate in danger?” Tess said. “They’ll get that technology!”
“It’s fine,” Scott said. “Dr. Young disposed of it. They’ll never find it. The Creator thinks I’m dead, which is part of the plan. I need him to think I’m dead.”
“I would ask you what the plan is, but I don’t think you’d tell me the truth.”
“Tetsumi!” Tess corrected. “Just…just don’t talk to me. Bring back Nate. Or was that even part of your plan?”
“Of course it is,” he said. He reached out to touch her shoulder, but then thought better of it. “I’m sorry.”
“You should have told me. You didn’t have to pretend to like me,” Tess replied, turning away from him. “I would have played along.”
“We needed it to seem real. I also needed The Creator to believe that I was actually trying to get you to give up your secret,” he said. “And I do like you.”
When Tess didn’t say anything, Scott headed to the door.
“Let me know when Nate is back.”
“Don’t lock yourself up in here,” Scott said. “Come and get some breakfast. Nate will be here before you know it.”
He was halfway out the door before Tess stopped him.
“Did Nate know?”
Scott gave her a sad half-smile.
“He didn’t know anything. I lied to him, too.”
Tess nodded and he left the room. She sunk into the couch a little longer before heading to the hospital room to find her bag. She slung it over her shoulder and headed down to the cafeteria.
She noticed a few people putting out breakfast for everyone. It was a little bit more crowded than it had been when she was with Zeba and a lot of people were staring at her. Zeba motioned for Tess to join her at her table.
“Good morning!” Zeba said. “You can pick out a room today. They’ll all pretty much the same, but they’re all over the place.”
“That sounds good,” Tess said.
Zeba handed her an apple. When Tess eyed it curiously, Zeba smiled.
“We’re able to get up to the surface to grab somethings and perform our missions. We’re not down here all the time. We just have to be very careful about it.”
Tess ate and scanned the room. She spotted Scott sitting across the way, but someone else was sitting next to him. He had his arm around a girl with dark brown hair and bright blue eyes. She exchanged glances with Tess and then looked down at the table. She looked back up when Scott whispered something in her ear. She laughed and started talking to the other kids sitting at the table.
Zeba looked at Tess, but didn’t say anything. Tess felt embarrassed. Everyone there knew she and legitimately fallen for Scott and cared about him. Zeba was kind enough not to address it. She hoped everyone would be that way.
She tried to think about what Scott’s girlfriend must feel. She had to watch him pretend to love someone else and he did it well. She must be wondering how real it was.
That night, after Tess had picked out her room, there was a big commotion. Scott came by to visit her, looking frantic at first. Tess sat up.
“Is he okay?” She asked.
Scott ran forward and gave her a hug. He stepped back, holding onto the sides of her arms in excitement.
“He won!” Scott said. Tess couldn’t help but smile. She held onto him. “He obviously can’t come back right away, but he’s safe for now. We’ll get him as soon as we can.”
“That’s great!” Tess said. She felt relieved, but she still wanted him back. “What happens to him? What’s the plan?”
“We’ll get him in about a week when they’re done interviewing him. We also need to make sure he’s not being tracked.”
They stood holding each other arms and stared at each other for a moment. Tess was unsure how to act around him. She was still angry about what he had done to her, but she was glad Nate was safe. She would be seeing him soon.
“Anyway,” Scott said, taking a step back. “I knew you’d want to know right away. It just happened.”
“Thanks,” she said.
“I should get back.”
Tess kept to herself the next few days and often used the television room to watch Nate’s interviews. A day before Nate was to arrive she headed down past the supply room to check out the lab. She had heard about it from Zeba and was curious about the clone they had used for Scott. She just didn’t want Scott to know.
She was let in by the scientists and saw the room in its entirety. There were big machines all around and everyone looked hard at work. In the center of the room, there was a strange white object that looked like it was roughly in the shape of a human being. The face was blank.
“Is this one of them?” Tess asked.
“It took forever to get it to Scott’s likeness, but it worked perfectly. I don’t know who developed this. I can’t even believe we have this type of technology,” one of them said. He was over six feet and looked like he desperately needed sunlight. “I’m Richard.”
Tess walked forward cautiously. She circled the clone and reached out to touch its fleshy skin. It was smooth.
“How did you get it to look so real?” Tess asked.
“We could project Scott’s image onto it and the skin shapes itself around the image,” he explained. He pointed to a large chair that looked like a pod standing up. “Scott was able to sit in there and control it. He was in there all day keeping an eye on things. It responds to every thought.”
“Did you get any of it back?”
“Unfortunately no,” Richard said. “We have just one.”
Tess thanked them for their time and promised to visit again. They had a few questions they wanted to ask her about the pod, so she would need to see them again. She wondered how often they actually left that room.
The day Nate finally arrived, Scott waited with Tess by the elevator shaft. When the elevator doors open, Tess nearly tackled Nate to the ground and engulfed him in a hug. He hugged her back and collapsed to the ground, just like they had done in the cafeteria.
They brought Nate to his room and he was given a few days to rest. He came to visit her in her room when he was ready.
“Nate!” Tess shouted. She hugged him again just to make sure he was real. “How are you?”
“Fine,” Nate grumbled. His expression softened when he saw Tess’s look of concerned. “Scott told me everything, Gal.”
His fists clenched.
“I could just punch him. It’s so pointless that he lied to us. I mean…I get it in some way, but I hate it.”
“I know. Me too,” Tess said.
He sat down on the edge of her bed and she joined him.
“It’s good you didn’t tell him anything. I don’t think you should tell anyone. I think it’s a good thing—”
“But I need to tell someone,” Tess said. “I think you’re the one who should know.”
“Gal…I don’t know. It’s up to you. Don’t feel like you need to.”
Tess took a deep breath and nodded. She had to let it out because she had no idea how to solve it. She had no idea if the knowledge she had was even worth anything or if it was the ramblings of a dying man.
“The Dark Hand told me that I’m the key to shutting it down,” Tess said. “I think he might be crazy because I don’t know what he means. There’s no way I could have any involvement in this.”
“If he said it then it’s important. It must be true.”
“But how?” Tess asked.
“I guess we’ll find out.”
Tess nodded and looked down at the floor. Nate put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer. At least she had him with her. At least he would help her figure it out.
She just hoped they’d have enough time to figure it out before The Creator found them.
She had to find out before they were both dead.
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