"How about this one?"
The blonde concentrated. "Three wavy lines?"
Number 6 smiled, "Good, and this one?"
The redhead glanced at the card, which featured a red star. She nodded, "Yup, good guess."
"You should know by now that it's not a guess. I can just... tell," Number 14 said.
"Can you tell what I'm thinking right now?"
The blonde blushed and replied, "I think I might have some idea." She shook her head and proposed, "Why don't we try one more? I've got to get to the laboratory."
"Sure thing," the redhead said as she picked up another card. "How about it?"
"Good guess, er, answer," Number 6 replied.
Number 14 smiled, stood up and asked, "Can I take a picture of you? I've been practicing photography for the Village Crafts Festival. Are you entering?"
The redhead grinned and said, "Take all the pictures you want, but I don't think I have anything crafty enough to enter into the Festival. Me plus art equals spaz. Besides, don't you have something to tell me? I thought this was a business meeting, lamp in the window and all."
"Y-yes. I found out my mother was moved from a hospital in Glasgow to London. It's supposedly for her to receive better care, but I'm worried there is another reason. I'm going to try to find out what that reason is. I thought you should know. Now... say cheese."
The blonde snapped the photo as the redhead wore a concerned look on her face. Number 14 said, "That might not turn out so well."
Number 6 inquired, "Because there isn't a lot of light?"
"No, because you weren't smiling. I better get going."
"Thanks for the info, blondie. I was planning on hitting the library today, see what I can learn. Let me know if anything comes up?"
The blonde nodded and said, "Of course, have a good day," as she walked out of the cave.
The redhead tiptoed up to blow out an elevated candle. As did so, she bumped a candle over with her ankle and quickly swooped down to prevent the carpet from catching on fire. The flame singed her finger, which she pulled away and cooled off with her tongue. She carefully extinguished the remaining candles before emerging into the morning light, her finger still smarting from the burn.
"How is our baby coming along?"
Number 515 took off his goggles and responded, "Almost finished. And she's got everything you asked for. All the extra programming, tons of world knowledge. She's the real deal."
Number 2 smiled. Her short, graying blonde hair made her appear more austere than her lab coat and grim expression implied. She asked, "When will she be ready to wake up?"
"Few more hours. I need to run a few response tests, and we'll be ready to roll," the man answered.
The redhead could not believe how depressing her day had been. After she left the cave, she did research about cancer. Then, another maid spontaneously burst into tears, the sky was overcast, and there was no lamp in the window of Number 14's apartment when she passed before curfew. 'Good times. Throw in a little rectal surgery and it's my best day ever!' The sarcastic thought made her think of her old friend. She missed him, and wished she had his ear. It would be nice to have someone to discuss her situation.
She returned to her apartment, made herself a cup of tea, and prepared for bed. She made a note to buy ointment for her blister at the general store the next day. She laid down in bed and thought about happier times before she closed her eyes and fell asleep.
The light above her bed began to flash. It slowly fell closer to the redhead's face until it covered it completely. The flashing continued.
Number 2 smirked, "Excellent. When will the dispatch retrieve her?"
Number 515 responded, "They're on their way. She should be completely hypnotized. We will begin the process as soon as we can get her to the dwelling."
"Good. Failure to fully reeducate, everything we've worked for could end tonight. Do not release her until you are certain she is ready."
"Hey, easy there. When we're finished, she won't know herself."
"Good morning, good morning, good morning. Rise and shine, rise and shine! Here are today's announcements. All citizens are encouraged to participate in the Village Crafts Festival. The weather today will be sunny and mild."
The woman opened her eyes and took in the altered decor of her apartment. She swung her legs out of bed and caught her reflection in the mirror. Where she should have seen red locks and green eyes, she saw black hair and dark brown eyes.
'Okay, is it Halloween? Do they even have Halloween? What would be the point, when no one is who they seem to be anyway,' she thought. She examined her surroundings, and could find no clue to explain where she was, or why she didn't wake up in her own bed.
The woman decided to dress and go outside. As she walked toward the cafe, a woman in a multicolored cape nodded and said, "Good morning, Number 12."
She turned her head and asked, "What? Why did you call me Number 12?"
The woman looked at her quizzically and replied, "Well, because that's what I called you the last time I saw you."
The brunette woman shook her head and walked toward Number 2's green dome. She figured that she might as well confront Number 2 and let him, or whoever it was, know that she was hip to their plan. 'Don't want to be too much of a pain, though, lest they resort to more drastic measures,' she thought. She walked through the doors to Number 2's chamber just as the butler finished setting up a tray into the room.
Number 2 stood and exclaimed, "Good to see you, old girl. Please join me for breakfast!"
Number 12 walked to the tray and removed the cover off a tray of pancakes. She had to admit that she was a little hungry, and pancakes sounded good. Number 2 said jovially, "Do you remember how we used to call you 'Flapjack Jane?'" At the redhead's confused look she continued, "Ah, of course, way to start living the part, Number 12. You see, we're trying to determine why she resigned her post. I think you'll find everything in this folder. Complete psychological profile, personal and professional history, everything."
Number 2 handed the folder to Number 12. She informed the brunette, "You certainly look the part. We'll just have a couple girls work you over, get you all ready. Oh but don't worry, they're very pretty."
The brunette remained silent. Number 2 eyed her and said, "If there are no more questions, let's get started. Oh, and one more thing. In case things get mixed up, the password is 'gemini.'"
'Something is up, but I'll have to go along with it if I want to figure out what they're trying to do,' the brunette thought. Number 2 guided her through a pair of doors and down a flight of stairs to a room with two women and a large chair in the center. Number 2 gestured for her to sit down.
The brunette sat in the chair and whistled to no one in particular as the women dyed her hair bright red, and changed her eyes to the usual green. Number 2 leaned over her shoulder as she looked in the mirror and said, "Amazing. And those aren't contacts, either, Number 12. We've developed a technique to actually change the color of your eyes. Well now, I think you're ready for action."
Number 12 walked through the Village to the apartment of Number 6, thinking that perhaps the inhabitant of her apartment could answer some questions. As she walked through the door, she did a triple-take. Before her stood a figure that looked exactly like her. If she didn't know better, she would have thought she was looking in a mirror.
The figure turned around and looked the intruder up and down. "Oh... hello. Well now, are you one of those double agents we hear so much about these days? Nifty, really nifty."
Number 12 took a few more steps into the apartment to inspect what looked like herself, Number 6. She examined her face and noted, "Well look at me. You know I never realized I had so many freckles."
Number 6 retorted, "Must be all that sun I get. This Village is quite the vacation spot, I don't know why they don't advertise this place. Club Med for the underground set. Everybody would be jumping at the chance to give up their freedom and their identity and their sanity, if they knew there was a good tan in it for them."
"I know that I've enjoyed my time here, as Number 6."
"Now, now, Number 12. As cliched a tactic as this is, why don't we try a little test. Magic, perhaps? Let's see how powerful you are," said Number 6.
Number 12 threw her eyes to the ground sheepishly and replied, "I can't."
Number 6 crossed her arms across her chest and looked the other redhead square in the eye to ask, "Can't, or won't?"
"Both. But since - and I can't believe I'd ever insist this - I am Number 6, perhaps something else? A physical test?"
"Fine, let's go to the gymnasium," Number 6 said as she graciously gestured to the door. The pair exited and made their way to the gymnasium.
Number 2 watched the scene in her chamber. As the figures danced across the screen, Number 14 walked through her chamber doors.
"Hello, Number 14. Is there something you needed?"
The blonde nodded before her eye caught the action on the screen. 'What?! I didn't know this was going to happen,' she thought in a panic. "Y-yes. I wanted to know m-more about the coven binding spell on Number 6. I think it might have had some adverse effects on the subject, and I'd just like to look over the spell for myself. I've been having trouble reading Number 6 the last couple of days."
"I'll see what I can do, Number 14, but I'm rather occupied at the moment. That reminds me, should the occasion arise, be sure to identify Number 6 as the real Number 6. Remember, the real Number 6 has a mole on her wrist. Look for that, and speak accordingly. Number 515 and I are running an experiment, and we cannot afford any loose ends. Don't worry, we're all on the same side. It's only our methods that differ. We use the latest in scientific technology and you, if I'm not mistaken, talk about your feelings?"
Number 14 swallowed anxiously. "It's a little more complicated than that."
Number 2 smiled and responded, "Oh, I've no doubt. Just as I have no doubt that you will do the right thing. I'll get that file to you as soon as possible. Goodbye, Number 14."
"Sorry, old girl. Number 6 is a right-handed shot. It seems that I certainly shoot more like me than you do," the woman said to a frustrated Number 12. They had tried fencing and target-shooting, both convinced that they were the genuine article.
Number 12 proposed, "Why don't we try hacking? I'll bet I can get into the U.S. DoD faster than you can. That is very much like me."
Number 6 laughed, "Did you have your crazy flakes today? Or have you forgotten that the only thing you can hack in this place is the Library Card Catalog? Now THAT's edgy, in that literary, super-nerd-power activate kinda way. You seem desperate, and I get it. Ya know, with the mind games and the cabin fever and the rovers and the unflappable good manners everyone around here seems to have."
Number 12 let her shoulders droop. "I guess I did forget. Besides, you certainly babble like me." She thought, 'What is going on? I AM right-handed, why am I using my left? What's really happening? Who am I?'
"I've got it. If you're really me, then you will know why I resigned. So, how about it? Why did I resign?"
Number 12 cast a suspicious eye at her counterpart. "I'm surprised at Number 2, these agents just aren't what they used to be. Why don't we go to the green dome and figure this out. I'm sure the people in charge will be just as intrigued as we are"
Number 6 shrugged and responded, "Fine. Finey McFine. They might not even know about this, though it's doubtful. I'll follow you, assuming you know the way."
The pair walked to the green dome. They walked through the doors to Number 2's chamber as the short-haired woman spun around in her chair. "Welcome, ladies. I'm surprised it's taken you this long to come to me. Won't you have a seat?"
"No thanks," both redheads replied together. They looked askance and both cleared their throats. Number 6 burst, "Look, what do you people want with Number 6? Other than having me teach my synthetic twin how to fence and shoot?"
Number 2 responded, "That should be pretty obvious by now. But there are more pressing matters at hand. Why don't we settle this?" She picked up a phone and spoke, "Number 14, please come to my chambers immediately."
The interim minutes were spent with leering eyes and awkward silence. The blonde entered with an anxious look on her face, which was not helped as she saw the group in the room. Number 2 said, "Hello, Number 14. I think you might be able to be of assistance."
"O-of course. What can I do?"
"I'd like you to examine these two women and tell me which is the real Number 6. Is it the woman that seems to be Number 6, or Number 12?"
Number 14 was beside herself. "I can try, but isn't there a better way to do this? With DNA samples or something?" She felt six inches tall under the glares in the room.
Number 6 inserted, "The trouble with science is that it can always be perverted. I believe in human instinct."
Number 12 said, "Yes, well. I'm sure that we won't need to worry about that. In a minute, she will confirm that I am the original, and you are the economy pack." She looked at the blonde earnestly and prompted her, "Well, who's the real deal?"
The blonde remembered Number 2's order. Every muscle in her arm hurt as she pointed to Number 6, whose smile stretched clear across her face. Number 2 clapped her hands and said, "Glad we could clear that up!"
"There was a much simpler way to know. Number 6 has a mole on her wrist, and this Number 12 has no mole," Number 14 informed the group.
"Thank you very much, Number 14. You're excused."
The blonde folder her hands behind her back and walked out. She tried to catch Number 12's eye before her exit, but only found downcast eyes.
After Number 14's figure disappeared, Number 2 turned to the pair of redheads. "Well, Number 6. Sorry for the confusion. You can be on your way, as I think I have a few questions for our impostor here."
Number 6 left the room, and Number 2 picked up a phone. The image of Number 515 appeared on screen as he answered the phone. "Number 515, what is the meaning of this!? You forgot to put a mole on Number 12's wrist! Do you have any idea what your little mistake cost us?"
Number 515 shook his head as he answered, "No, sir. I could have sworn everything was up to your specifications."
"You were wrong. You know the rules, you know I hate exceptions. That is all."
Number 2 terminated the call and looked at Number 12. "I'm sorry, old girl. I thought we had you totally prepared to find out why Number 6 resigned. Oh well. You'll leave tomorrow."
Number 12 returned to her apartment. She was bordering on despondent and ecstatic. 'Who am I? And did they say I could leave tomorrow? Actually leave? Will they actually let me go? Praise the Goddess and her minions!' As she looked at herself in the mirror, her inner dialogue raged on. 'What will happen to Number 14, and her mother? Why do I care? Sure we made a deal, but couldn't I help her from the outside world? And how do I know I can really trust her, after she didn't even recognize me?'
She turned away and went to the kitchen. She picked up the tea kettle with her left hand, and an image flashed through her mind of an electric prod jolting her right hand. She reached for a plate and another image flashed, this time with three plates of breakfast foods. She looked down at her hand and noticed the blister on her finger. A swarm of images flooded her mind. She was eating flapjacks, batting away a prod with her left hand, and using the internet.
'Whoa, there'd a deja vu party in my head and everyone's invited,' she thought. 'Maybe that explains the new tendencies? You know your captors are smarter than you thought when they make you doubt your own identity.' She heard, "Attention citizens. The time is now 10:15 p.m. 15 minutes to curfew," from the speaker along the wall. She walked toward the door thinking, 'I'm not going to get any answers in here.'
As she crept behind a row of bushes, the redhead head the announcement "The time is now 10:30 p.m. Sleep well, citizens." She made her way toward the road to Number 6's apartment when she was suddenly confronted by two very large men.
One of them asked, "What's the password?"
"Good guess, wrong answer." They moved toward her, fists clenched.
The redhead struggled, but eventually managed to get the two guards on either side of her. She quickly ducked as they swung their fists and knocked each other out. As she ran to Number 6's apartment she thought, 'Hey, some things don't just work in the movies!'
She crouched outside the apartment and found the door unlocked. She found Number 6 sleeping, and decided a firm grab on the neck would wake her up. Her hand tightened around the figure's neck, and a hand came up to move her arm. Number 6's eyes opened.
"That's not very nice," she said as one hand held Number 12's arm and the other punched her in the stomach.
Number 12 fell back against the wall, fists raised to defend herself and, if possible, beat the truth out of this impostor. Number 6 rose from the bed and assumed a classic fighting stance. They squared off and looked each other in the eye.
Number 6 made the first move. Her right fist thrust toward the other woman's face as her left went toward her abdomen. Number 12 deflected the blow to her face, but neglected to block her stomach. She doubled over, hoping that she hadn't broken a rib.
From her position close to the ground, she swung her legs and knocked Number 6's legs out from under her. A swift kick to the head left Number 6 on her belly, neck twisted half way around her body.
Number 12 slowly rose to her feet, assessing her opponent. She nudged the still figure with her foot. Number 6's body made no movement, yet her eyelids fluttered. Number 12 ventured, "Um, you alright?"
From her position on the floor, Number 6 replied, "I'm sorry, I don't understand that question. But thank you for asking!"
"Okay, can you get up? Maybe we should get you to a doctor, help straighten out your neck."
Number 6 braced herself and stood up. She turned her head forward, and asked, "Would you like me to run this program again?"
Number 12 gaped at the other woman. "How about you sit down, and tell me what is going on."
Number 6 looked up and said, "You're Number 6. Your password is "gemini." You're good with magic and computers, and you're gay. Would you like to sword fight?" A spark shot out of her mouth.
"Great, a robot. At least I know I'm me. How do I escape the Village?"
The robot merrily responded, "I'm not authorized to answer that question. Please try another!"
"Okay, what is your objective?"
"Force Number 12 to doubt her identity, and prove herself to me by revealing her reason for resignation. But that's easy. Would you like to read my "Doogie Howser" fanfic? It's very smutty."
The redhead's left eyebrow twitched before she recoiled, "Ah... no thank you. What is your password?"
"Schizoid girl. Can I go now? I have to return to Number 515 when I break."
"Let's go together. After you," the redhead politely gestured to the door. The robot began walking and Number 12 decided enough was enough. She slammed the robot in the neck and kicked the back of its knee to send it toppling to the ground. Two more precise blows left the robot a puddle of appendages.
She made her way to the telephone and picked up the telephone. "Number 2 please... yes, hello, Number 2? It's Number 6... the password is "schizoid girl"... Anyway, I'm all broken and hot. Can I report to you and Number 515, even though it's after curfew?... Thanks!"
The redhead ended the call and exited the apartment.
As she walked through the darkness of the Village, she noticed that Number 14 had left a lamp lit in her window. 'Great, that should be good. Might as well show up and try to charm some information out of her before I tell her to hit the road,' she thought.
She walked through the doors to Number 2's chamber and saw the woman and Number 515 sitting and reading files. Number 515 shot up asked, "So what happened to you?"
"Number 12 attacked me. She is very angry, kept muttering something about the apocalypse and frogs. She snapped my neck and ran away. I put it back in place, but I don't feel right. Will you check me out, Number 515?"
As Number 515 approached the redhead, Number 2 picked up a receiver and ordered, "Control Room! Locate Number 12 immediately."
The dark-haired man turned the redhead around to open her panel. When his attempts to push her back did not yield the panel, he checked her pulse and shouted, "Sir! We have a heartbeat!"
The redhead spun around and looked at the flabbergasted pair. She announced, "Good plan, I'll admit, trying to make me doubt my identity. Too bad the desperate can also be desperately unpredictable. Ciao."
She walked out, the ringing sound of the large red phone echoing through the chamber.
The next morning, the redhead woke in her own bed. 'Gee, I never thought I'd be glad to be Number 6,' she thought as she walked to the bathroom. She took a quick shower and headed down to the beach. Taking the necessary precautions, she finally reached the cave.
She entered to find the blonde already sitting before the altar. She alerted Number 14 to her presence as she said, "This better be good."
Number 14 stood up and tucked her hair behind her ear. She said, "Oh thank god, I wasn't sure if you would come. I needed to explain about yesterday."
Number 6 shrugged her shoulders and replied, "There's no need to explain. You were looking out for yourself. I get it. Meanwhile, I got a fun make-over. I'd love to know what the people that thought black hair and dark eyes would look good were smoking. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment with the undefeated chess champion at the Old People's Home."
She was almost to the mouth of the cave when she felt a hand grab her elbow. She turned around to face Number 14. The blonde looked at her with desperate eyes and said, "I'm ashamed of what I did yesterday. It was a betrayal. I would like a second chance."
"This was your second chance. You messed with me once already, remember?"
The blonde bowed her head and responded, "Tw... twice, actually. I just - I wanted to be honest with you. I do care about you, and I'm so sorry."
The redhead felt a brief pang of guilt and gently replied, "Look, I'm sorry about everything. You're cute and all, but I'd rather just go it alone. They were talking about letting me leave, and I missed that chance."
The blonde let out a laugh of disbelief. "They weren't actually going to let you leave. They wanted to sustain the perception that you weren't you."
"At least I know I can trust myself. Goodbye."
"But - my mother. I f-found out why she was moved. Her health took a turn for the w-worse. They're keeping her in permanent stasis in a facility just north of London. She won't die, but they have an ever tighter grip on me now. At least... please think about helping me. I've already gotten a copy of the binding spell they used on you, though I haven't had time to analyze it. Please," she said with an unshed tear, "we can survive this together."
Number 6 replied, "I'll think about it blondie. For now, you ought to work on your bluffing skills. That almost-crying bit is so played out. I'll contact you when I've made my decision."
The redhead walked out of the cave as the blonde let her tears fall.