Accelerating the Honda XR650R motorbike, Justin shot through a quiet t-intersection on a poorly maintained dirt road on his way to Zone E. After his conversation with Senator Lynch, Justin had assessed that they would probably travel in a direction they had been before and he had immediately set out on his old, black motorbike. Justin had also thought about the meaning behind Senator Lynch's last words. The thought of harming two unarmed women, even if they were clones, turned his stomach.
The bike ran in complete silence with only the crunching of dirt under the wheels signalling his journey. The combustion engine ran on pure Ethanol with a filter designed to smooth out the combustion process. A crazy, old man had once told Justin that the motorbikes used to make noises but Justin found that hard to believe.
Justin passed through another empty t-intersection without slowing. No one travelled much these days as most ordinary citizens were without proper vehicles and others could not afford Ethanol. Justin did not need to worry about such things- perks of the job. Even so, the area was so flat and devoid of nature that another vehicle could be seen approaching for kilometres. The edge of Zone E contained the only forest-like area. It had once been under a protective shield, however, it had been abandoned as being financially unfeasible. It was this forest area he could see now.
Passing from Zone D into Zone E, Justin slowed to a crawl, looking for tracks on the ground. The dirt was windblown and unrevealing. Justin, following his instinct, moved over to the right-hand side of the road where a ditch had formed and struck lucky. There, dried into the moisture trapped in by the sides of the ditch, were two pairs of footprints. He followed them along the road before turning off into the forest.
Immediately Justin jumped off his motorbike and hurried into the shrubs pushing the heavy bike. Once he was concealed from the road he hid the bike, removed a backpack and walked deeper into the forest. Justin found he wasn't surprised that he hadn't walked far before stumbling upon a crumbling control hut, once used by soldiers to keep an eye on the clones who managed the area.
A broken door containing a gaping hole was facing Justin, so he moved off to the left and quickly rounded on a window. Sneaking up he peeked inside and saw the two subhumans reading a stack of papers.
Moving back into the foliage, Justin removed his backpack and found a good vantage point. Now all he had to do was wait for the cover of darkness.
Dark arrived quickly in the cloud clogged sky and Justin took action. Slipping from his position, he skirted across the ground on his tip-toes, advancing towards the door. Reaching the door, Justin peeked through the gap to locate the targets. From the shadows he determined the younger one's figure and quickly lined her up in the night vision scope of his Torrent S14 that he'd just removed from the backpack. With a barely audible "pop", a dart filled with sedative flew from the gun's muzzle and lodged into her neck.
"Nina?" the eldest whispered worriedly.
The clone's voice chilled him. He had to get in there before she ran. Immediately he stood, kicked open the door and barged in. He flicked on his gun-light, blinding her. Knocking her to the ground, he pulled her hands behind her back.
"Don't move", he hissed.
She whimpered and glanced worriedly at the other one.
"She's fine. Now, I'm going to release you. Do not try anything!"
Cautiously he removed his weight from her to watch as she hurried to cradle the little one. Eventually she turned her terrified, cloudy, brown eyes to face him.
"You're here to take us back, aren't you?" Her voice was meek but Justin could sense the growing strength behind it.
"Do you need to ask?" Justin snapped, asserting his authority. "Where are the documents? I want them in my hand now. No negotiations", he added, eyeing the elder clone's open mouth.
She appeared angered by his shouted commands but not surprised. Maybe, Justin reasoned, she had become accustomed to being her own boss. However, he knew the saying: "Clones are subjects of slavery".
He refocused his attention on the girl as she reached hesitantly forward, the documents outstretched. Justin snatched the crumpled and muddied sheets from her and immediately placed them aside. When he turned back to the clone he was shocked by the way she looked at him. There was curiosity and intrigue in her features.
If he wasn't so nonplussed by her attitude he would never have permitted the question she asked next.
"You are of Team JINX aren't you?" She didn't wait for his response. "How do you do what you do knowing what you are?"
Justin's mind boggled but he hid his confusion behind a stern expression. He continued to look at her impassively although his insides squirmed ominously.
After moments of silence, a look of dawning comprehension fell upon her face and she uttered wondrously, "Do you even know?"
By now warning signals were going off everywhere inside of him and an odd, inexplicable feeling of dread was settling deep inside the pit of his stomach.
"What do you speak of clone?" he said, feigning annoyance.
The clone smiled and pointed at the documents. "Read page twenty", she said lightly, turning her back on him.
Overall, the encounter with the clone hunter, had frightened her more than she hoped she'd let show. Sitting with her back against the wall, nursing Nina's head in her lap, Leala watched the man before her carefully. He seemed young but old at the same time. He had the appearance of a twenty year old but his grey eyes gave away the hardness of his life. The tall, black-haired clone hunter had a scar on his jaw and was dressed entirely in black.
Surprisingly, she felt pity for him. He was about to find out that his life had been a lie and that he'd been used without his knowledge. At least in her situation she knew she was being used.
Shifting Nina deeper into the lap of her enormous brown jumper, she continued observing the hunter. Throughout the following minutes she watched the expression on his face turn from confusion, to horror, to disgust and finally anger. In that whole time, Leala found her eyes being drawn down to the shiny burn on his left jaw line. Why hadn't he had it healed?
Abruptly her thoughts were broken by a scream of rage and a flutter of papers. The hunter was seething with anger and yelling to the heavens. Leala felt her fear return and moved to protect Nina in case the man turned on her. Most men did.
He suddenly stilled.
Justin wasn't sure whether it was the frightened look on her face or the way she draped herself protectively over the little one, but immediately his anger dissipated. Slowly he backed up against the wall beside the door and slid down to the ground, his head in his hands.
He could barely comprehend what he'd just read. He was a clone! He had been used! He had no life!
Moments flashed into his mind that now appeared to be bright neon beacons of truth. Like when he was ten and his "parents" had mysteriously disappeared and he had been sent to live with three other children under a foster mother. Coincidently, they all had lost their "parents" recently: one couple was murdered, another killed in a factory explosion and the others drowned in a boating accident. He should have realized then that it was all a little far-fetched, especially when a year after his "parents" disappearance, he could have sworn he'd seen his mother, running in the opposite direction from him.
Justin sighed exhaustedly and ran his hand through his already untidy, black hair. What was he to do now? This changed things, things that he preferred the way they had been. Slowly he raised his grey eyes to face the girls.
Already the younger one, called Nina-57, was stirring. Soon she will have fully recovered from the drug and would most probably be scared. Justin needed to know what he was going to do before she regained consciousness.
On one hand he could accept that he is a clone, but, then what? A clone had no life. They were the lowest of life forms and only exist to serve. Anyway, how can he encompass the thing he hates most? He had always been disgusted with a clone's complacent attitude. All other animals, the few still around nowadays, and those of old, have a certain strength and 'never-say-die' mind-set that clones seemingly lacked. To him, everything about clones was unnatural, but now, he was a clone…
The more Justin thought about it, the fewer positive aspects he found for living the life of a clone.
Leala shifted Nina into a position so that she could hug her tightly when she awoke. She knew how terrified Nina would be when she awoke and she was already preparing herself to handle the situation. Stroking Nina's dark, tight, curly hair, Leala glanced at the hunter.
He had fallen awfully silent since his fit of rage and this worried Leala more than anything. It meant that he was calculating his options, choosing what suited him best, and that, may not necessarily be good for herself or Nina. However, she noticed now that he had come to a decision.
He stood up and faced her with a look of steely determination.
"When she awakes you can inform her that the two of you are going to be returned to your Master", he said coolly.
Leala's heart fell. Any hope that she might have had of gaining his help vanished. As she turned dejectedly to look at him, she thought that maybe she had witnessed a fleeting glimpse of uncertainty cross his features. Maybe there was still hope…
Nina let out a small cough. Quickly Leala began talking to her softly, assuring her of her safety. As Leala explained their circumstances, Nina eyed the hunter hesitantly.
The man nodded and spoke, "We will leave in the morning."
Justin couldn't sleep for the rest of the night. Instead he sat in front of the door, guarding it in case they tried to escape, thinking about whether or not he should tell the other members of the Team. Would they believe him? They would want proof. What if they still didn't believe him? Would they report him? If the Government realised how much he knew they might dispose of him for the safety of their plan.
A slight rustling noise from the girls reached his ears. Justin flicked on his gun-light and lit up Leala-129's grubby face. She squinted against the light and looked away. He kept the light trained on her but lowered it from her face.
"Can't sleep", she stated to explain her movement.
Justin said nothing. It felt too weird. He was finding that he thought of her less and less as a clone he was told to capture and more like a human.
"So, which letter of Team JINX are you?" she asked conversationally- it sounded forced.
"The J. For Justin", he answered shortly.
She nodded slowly. "Does that mean you're the leader? Being the first letter and all?"
The conversation died.
For the rest of the night and into the early morning they sat in silence; Leala-129 finding reasons to keep her eyes averted from Justin and Justin finding his eyes always being drawn back to her. He studied her for signs of weakness because she was a clone, but only found her characteristics decidedly human. Her gaunt, undernourished appearance resembled that of a human without proper food; her loose, mismatched, dirty clothes were similar to those worn by normal, lower class humans; and her deep, brown eyes gazed out at the world exactly the same as his did. And she felt pain!
Big, pearly tears were rolling slowly down her face, past her dirty blonde hair to splash onto her knee length, black skirt. Justin thought about helping her but he didn't know what to say, so he looked awkwardly away.