Between LaShawn’s fingers oozed a greyish yellow goo.
“See,” he said, holding the goo out for me to inspect, “no blood.”
I leaned in and peered at the strange substance, then poked it with my finger.
“Huh,” I said. “It’s like dough, runny dough.”
“Exactly. No brains, no fragments of skull, just this stuff.”
It made sense. Normally (I imagine), if you were to dig your fingers into the exit wound of a gunshot to the head, you would scoop out a bloody stew of brain and bone, but when LaShawn did it to this Rory lookalike, all he got was goo. He gave the goo a curious sniff and then wiped it on the dead body’s shirt.
“That isn’t Rory then,” I said, with unfathomable relief.
LaShawn helped me to my feet.
“Then who is it?” I said. “Or what is it?”
“It’s a clone,” said LaShawn.
“Come with me,” he said, leading me along the tunnel.
As we hastened through the narrow underground lane, LaShawn explained to me that in planning to face Jimmy O’Shea’s attack, he and the guys had thought it a good idea to have a decoy Rory. In fact, they thought the more decoy Rorys the better. We came to a fork in the tunnel and turned left. The clone whose death I had just witnessed was the first one he made. Yes, LaShawn made the clone himself, using blueprints for a cloning machine provided by Nils. That first clone was a test run, and a more advanced type than the ones that followed.
“So how many clones did you make?” I asked, as we arrived at a dead end, and another ladder to the surface.
“Sixteen,” said LaShawn. “Not including the first one, the dead one.”
“Where are they?” I said.
LaShawn smiled and pointed up.
He climbed up the ladder, thumped on the trap door with his fist, and then climbed back down. A couple of voices mumbled above ground, there was a creak and a clank, and then the door lifted to reveal the inside of the shed, and two men looking down at us—they were both Rory. A third Rory popped his head into frame and smiled.
“LaShawn, Miles!” he said. “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hey, Rory,” said LaShawn. “It’s go time. Are you guys ready?”
One of the other Rorys asked, “Is Biscuits here?”
LaShawn nodded. The Rorys’ eyes narrowed simultaneously, and one by one they descended the ladder into the tunnel. LaShawn opened a wooden chest hidden in the shadows in the corner. The chest contained sixteen rifles and a small amount of ammunition. As the Rorys entered the tunnel, LaShawn handed each one a loaded rifle and sent him on his way with a pat on the back. He also wished each one a happy birthday. I watched them pass by.
“They know they’re clones, right?” I whispered to LaShawn.
One of the Rorys gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder and said, “It’s gonna be a hell of a night, eh Miles?”
I nodded. I should have added a smile or some words or given a return friendly punch, but I was dumbfounded looking at this replica of Rory.
“LaShawn,” I said, taking him aside, “do they know they’re clones?”
“Here, watch,” he said. He grabbed the nearest clone lining up for his weapon. “Hey, who are you?”
The clone looked surprised (in just the same manner Rory would have looked surprised). “What do you mean?” he said. “I’m Rory.”
“Yeah, of course,” said LaShawn. “And who are all these other guys?”
“They’re my friends,” said the clone.
“Ah, yes,” said LaShawn. He handed the clone a gun. “Happy birthday, bro.”
The clone took the gun, gave me a wink, and then ran off down the tunnel. LaShawn handed the next clone in line a rifle.
“Are you Rory?” he asked.
“What do you mean, ‘Am I Rory?’” said the clone. “Are you drunk? Of course I’m Rory.”
LaShawn nodded. “You know, that last guy told me he was Rory.”
The clone scoffed. “What a weirdo.”
He took the gun, gave me a pat on the shoulder with a “Hey miles, how’s it going?” and then ran off.
“Can they not see they all look alike?” I said.
“They can see,” said LaShawn, handing a rifle to another fake Rory, “They’re just not… aware.”
The clone hugged me and marched off after the others.
The remaining clones received their weapons and disappeared along the tunnel.
“I counted fifteen,” said LaShawn. “How many did you get?”
“I wasn’t counting,” I said.
He rummaged in the chest and pulled out one last rifle.
“We’re missing a Rory.”
There was a scuffle and some muttering above ground, and then the final Rory clone backed down the ladder.
“Ah, here we go,” said LaShawn.
“Here I come,” said the clone, in a squeezed, higher pitched version of Rory’s voice.
He closed the door to the surface, then jumped down from the third rung and turned to face us. LaShawn and I jumped back and stared.
“Hi Miles,” said the clone, far louder than the enclosed space required. “Hi LaShawn.”
LaShawn cleared his throat. “Hey, uh… Hey Rory. How are you feeling?”
The clone smiled—I think. It was hard to tell. You know how when you make pancakes, sometimes after cooking a lot of big, even sized ones, there will be a little bit of pancake mix left in the bowl, so you make a final, tiny pancake? And maybe a lot of blueberries have sunk to the bottom of the mix, so the last pancake, as well as being undersize, is overloaded with berries and looks ugly? This last clone might have been that pancake. He was about two and a half feet shorter than Rory, and so the clothes he was wearing were ridiculously baggy, giving him an Oliver Twist scruffy orphan look. Proportionally, he was a match for Rory from his feet to his shoulders, but above his shoulders there was a noticeable difference. While Rory’s head was a fairly standard shape, this runt of the clone litter had a thin cylinder-shaped head. That’s not an exaggeration. His head and all its features were compacted into a neat and horrifying prism, of similar dimensions to those containers they sell tennis balls in.
The clone leaned toward us with a glint in his eye (I could only see one eye; the other was at the back of his head). LaShawn and I stepped back.
“I feel bloody brilliant,” squeaked the clone, and he snatched the last rifle from LaShawn’s hand. “Is this thing loaded?”
“Hello—earth to LaShawn,” said the clone, waving his hand in front of LaShawn’s face. “Has this thing got ammo, or what? Jimmy O’Shea thinks he can come here and threaten my friends? Well, let me tell you, when I find him, I’m gonna take this gun and shove it right up…”
(I’ll spare you the clone’s entire speech. It was about five minutes long, every second of it filled with graphic descriptions of disturbing brutality. By the end of it, the clone was red and sweaty, and LaShawn and I had taken another two steps back.)
“…just a mound of f**king mincemeat, so even his own mother won’t be able to identify him!”
There was a long silence while the clone caught his breath.
“So,” he said to LaShawn finally, “you got ammo for this gun?”
LaShawn glanced at me. I subtly shook my head.
“Uh… yeah,” said LaShawn. “Yep, that gun is already loaded. I used invisible bullets… so the enemy won’t be able to see them.”
The clone stared at LaShawn.
“Really?” he said. “Invisible bullets? Good idea, mate. The bastard will never see it coming.”
The clone slung the strap of the imaginarily loaded rifle over his narrow head and then ran off down the tunnel, tripping over twice.
After watching the clone disappear, I turned to LaShawn.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “We measured everything exactly. I followed the recipe. Why didn’t that clone turn out like the others? He was half their size.”
“He was pretty aggressive too,” I said, “compared to the others.”
“Yes! I know, right? Well, physically he was only about half of Rory, so maybe he only got half of Rory’s personality as well.”
“You reckon?” I said.
LaShawn shrugged. “I dunno. This is my first time cloning someone.”
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