Chapter 11:- Clone City
“She doesn’t like that thing,” Zora whined. She kicked her feet in the air, but the clone carrying her just kept walking.
“I thought you said it wouldn’t hurt her?” Murray asked. She reclined at a forty-five degree angle on the triangular travois. Bob had had it fashioned from bits of jungle foliage when Murray declined his offer to carry her. Now she lounged comfortably, if not slightly embarrassed, while Rook dragged the thing behind him.
“But she’s miserable. Look at her.” Zora stuck out her lower lip and pointed over the clone’s shoulder. She didn’t need to tell Murray to look. Facing the rear of the group meant that she had a continual view of the giant slug. It towered over the sea of clones, dripping slime and, she had to admit, looking fairly pathetic. The long eyestalks drooped unhappily to either side of its wide mouth.
“I don’t believe the sound causes any physical discomfort,” Rook said. He swiveled his metal head around so that it faced the rear. His body still plodded steadily forward. “But it could be considered unpleasant.”
“He’s right. I’m not exactly enjoying it either.” Murray said. In fact, the steady hum of the sonic emitter was making her teeth hurt.
“Can you not do that?” Zora grimaced at Rook’s backward head. “It creeps me out.”
Rook spun forward without comment.
“Mur,” Zora whispered and rolled her eyes, nodding to the front of the travois.
“What? What’s up with…” Zora nodded fiercely in the android’s direction.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Murray said. She ignored the nervous murmur from her conscience.
“Sure,” Zora said. “Whatever. Holy shit!”
“What?” Murray twisted on the travois, which jolted to a stop. Zora’s escort stopped along side, and let her down.
Zora pointed ahead of them. “Mur, you gotta see this.”
The mob behind them halted as well. Murray took one look at the hulking pink form of the space slug looming over them and hopped off her sled. The long rest had done wonders for her aching muscles, though she moved a tad stiffly as she rounded the travois and stood beside her android. “Holy shit,”she said.
They’d left the jungle behind as they skirted the lake. Now, nearly to the far end, the grassy expanse fell away abruptly into cliffs, and the view opened out below. The horizon stretched in the distance, covered as far as the eye could see with more of the lumpy, tufted grass. A golden sky arched over the plain, but it broke and gave precedence to the bubbling skyline of a huge domed city.
“It’s beautiful,” Murray said. She stared at the curves of the city, tinted champagne in the light from the system’s small sun. “Is it as big as it looks?”
“I believe so,” Rook answered. “A city of this size certainly should have appeared in the planetary records.”
“Maybe they wanted to keep it off the record,” Zora said. “Maybe they’re not into being found.” She stood on the other side of Rook, but leaned forward and caught Murray’s eye around the android. Her eyes widened, and she jerked her head to indicate Rook again.
“Cut it out, Zor,” Murray said. “Ask your clone friends why they’re running things incognito down here.”
“Ha. You ask ‘em. I’m not that stupid.”
Before Murray could think of a comeback, or pick from the many that came to mind, one of the clones joined them. “We’re stopping,” he said.
The clone gave them each a puzzled look and then continued. “We will spend the evening atop the cliffs, where we may gaze upon the splendor of the Emperor’s domain.”
“Bob?” Murray asked.
“Sorry, I’m Evander. Would you like me to get Bob?”
“No!” Murray glared at Zora, who made suggestive faces behind Evander’s back. “That’s fine. We’ll be camping then?” The daylight certainly seemed to be waning.
“You may sleep, if you desire,” Evander said, as if sleep were a luxury enjoyed only by the lazy. He nodded politely to them in turn, and rejoined the milling clones gathered around them along the top of the cliff.
“Perhaps I should keep guard,” Rook suggested. “So that you two may sleep without concern.”
“What sort of concern are you worried about?” Zora asked.
“This is an unknown world, with no record of civilization, yet…”
“I get it.” She waved him away. “Why don’t you go talk the clone crew into providing us with something to eat instead?”
“I am a little hungry,” Murray confessed. In truth, her stomach had been complaining for hours.
“Very well.” Rook folded briefly into a partial bow, spun around and strode toward the clones.
“All right,” Murray said. “What?”
“Don’t give me that.” Murray waited.
Zora ran her hand along the travois support, walked around the side of the sled and then flopped onto the woven branches. She bounced softly and nodded. “Nice.Comfy.”
“All right, don’t you think your metal man is acting a little bit odd?” she said.
“Come on, Mur, he’s…oh.” Zora rolled onto her belly and put her chin on her folded hands. “So you finally noticed.”
“He is acting strangely for an android, yes.” Murray frowned. “But I’m not remotely familiar with his programming.”
“Come on, Mur. He totally copped a feel on you back there.”
“I hardly think it could be called…”
“And he’s acting jealous of the clones.”
“Listen, I don’t know…oh, just shut up. He’s coming back.”
Zora sat up and looked around, pasting an overly innocent expression on her face. Murray sighed and turned to where Rook and one of the clones broke from the crowd. They both carried familiar, square orange boxes.
“Rations?” Zora said. “Yuck.”
“When we reach the city,” the clone said. “You will enjoy the bounty of the Emperor’s harvest.”
“Do your people live there?” Murray asked. She accepted the ration pack from Rook, and sat with it on the ground.
“Yes. We enjoy a rich life of service to the Emperor.”
“Is the Emperor like you?” Murray asked. She fumbled for the proper wording. “Is he one of your people?”
“The Emperor is not a clone. My people are aware of our nature.”
“Nice job, Mur.”
“The Emperor is unique, may he…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Zora said. “May he live for a billion years and never get a pimple.”
The clone stared at her.
“He’s unique?” Murry drew his attention away.
“The Emperor is unique,” the clone repeated. “He rules over all his children, and we are of his making.”
“He rules over, wait, he made you?” Murray zipped open her ration package and withdrew a dull, gray slab.
“It is certain.”
“Is he single?” Zora piped in.
“The Emperor has many wives, may we bring him honor always.”
“Yeah, Zora.” Murray chewed one rubber bite and grinned. She turned and gazed at the city shimmering below them. What sort of Emperor ruled an army of clones unregistered with the Federal database? “The Emperor has many wives,” she said. “Duh.”