Snow was falling as I stepped off the platform and into the retirement town. This was it for the rest of my life, contained in one spot by the company that made me. At least the place looked pretty.
A woman stood by an all terrain car in the parking lot. She pulled the scarf down from across her mouth, revealing my face but with a scar running down her left cheek. ZK-class clones were bred as specialists, scattered around the world in mountain rescue teams, and I’d only encountered two others in my career. Even knowing it was coming, the experience was uncanny.
“I’m ZK-334,” she said. “You can call me Nora. And you must be 418.”
I didn’t shake the hand she offered, instead fiddling with the strap of my bag. It was too weird seeing my own face on a stranger.
“Everyone finds it unsettling at first,” Nora said. “You’ll get used to it.”
As she drove me into town, Nora talked about the people and possibilities the settlement held. All I could do was stare through the windows of the shops and restaurants we passed, seeing hundreds of faces like my own. I pulled my jacket tight and settled my hand on my belly, trying to calm its quivering. There’s nothing wrong, I told myself. This is just what you expected. But I couldn’t help scrutinising those faces, wishing there was someone different from me.
Nora laughed when I opened the door, revealing my outfit of tartan trousers and a bright pink hoodie. My distress must have shown, because she stifled her grin and offered a sympathetic smile.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Everyone goes through something like this when they arrive. It’s part of adjusting.”
I should have invited her in, but my home was the only place where that face was confined to the mirror. Even dressed the way I was, I didn’t feel like my own person in the rest of the settlement: no clothes could make me unique when everyone else had my eyes. Still, I clung to those clothes like they were a safety line and I was hanging over a crevasse.
“You don’t dress like this,” I said, twisting my neon watch.
“When I first got here, I wore outrageous Hawaiian shirts for a month. It gave me something to do while I got settled.”
“It’s been a month. I don’t feel settled.”
“It was easier for me.” She ran a finger down her scar. “I’d had this for a decade, and no-one without it looks quite like me.”
I nodded. That scar was part of why I could stand to see her.
“You pick a name yet?” she asked.
I shook my head. I had always been ZK-418. I got the principle of picking a name to mark the end of my service period, but no name would have sounded like me.
“Why don’t you come out for coffee,” she said. “Meet some people. It gets easier once you find out more about them.”
“No.” Just the thought of being around them made me feel faint. “Thank you.”
I stepped back and shut the door.
I looked in the bathroom mirror. There it was, the same face I saw everywhere. The same face as everyone I knew. Maybe if I had spent my life surrounded by it, like the military clones did, then I could have lived in this place, but to suddenly be robbed of my individuality, to dissolve into an identical multitude, was like falling from a mountain side, feeling solid support fall away as I hurtled powerless through the void.
I couldn’t even stand to see myself any more. I slammed my fist into the mirror and it shattered, slivers of glass ringing out as they landed in the sink. My knuckles stung and blood dripped down my middle finger.
A blood spot on glass stared up at me like a single, unblinking eye. Hypnotised by its gaze, I finally saw the answer. Nora had found a way to make it all bearable, and so could I.
I picked up a shard the length of my hand and raised it to my face. A scar like Nora’s wouldn’t do: this had to make me unique. The thought of doing it made me feel cold as ice, but it had to be done.
The doorbell rang. I turned, too numb to think beyond automatic reactions, and went to answer.
Nora’s smile lasted all of a second before she saw the look on my face and the glass in my hand.
“Oh, honey!” She looked at me with such sympathy that I could have cried. “That’s not the answer.”
Gently, she took hold of my hand and pried the glass from between my fingers.
“This is why you need to meet people,” she said, laying her hands on my shoulders. “It’s not what’s on the outside that makes us unique. It’s the people inside, and once you meet them, you’ll see more than just your own face looking back. This,” she tapped her scar, “it was a lifeline while I settled in, but it’s not what’s kept me sane.”
“I can’t,” I whispered. “Can’t go out. Can’t face them. I…”
“Then let me come in. I’ll tell you how my accident changed me, all the things I’ve done since that you haven’t. And if that’s okay, tomorrow I’ll bring Judy, the lady with all the piercings, so she can tell you how she went from mountaineer to DJ. How does that sound?”
It sounded terrifying. But so did the clink of shattered mirror falling into the sink, a reminder of the bloody alternative.
I stepped back from the doorway and let Nora in.
I have a Commando comic out this week, Face of a Thousand Heroes. Unusually for Commando, it’s a science fiction story instead of a historical one, a tale about cloned soldiers fighting in a future conflict. I wrote this story to show another side of that comic’s world. If you’re interested in reading more, you can find Commando on Comixology or in newsagents.
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Lies We Will Tell Ourselves
A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.
A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.
A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.
We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.
Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.