The Nature of the Beast
Chapter Four: Shaken
She had clung to him like a scared little girl, so full of despair he’d thought she might cry forever. Holding her close, he had whispered words of comfort, but he wasn’t sure they’d even gotten through. Eventually she’d fallen into an exhausted sleep and he had sat and watched over her as his anger built. Anger at the kind of people who could create something as amazing as Riana and then lie and manipulate her thoughts and emotions in an attempt to make her their personal killing machine; she was so much more than that, but all they’d ever seen was a power to be harnessed.
He’d gone back into the woods then, intent on seeking out the trackers he had seen earlier. Finding them had been simple, and even though he’d been right in front of the bastards they hadn’t seen him until he’d let them. They’d followed him deeper and deeper into his territory and then, one by one, he’d killed them. He’d had a hard time restraining himself from killing the last one, but he’d figured it was best to be sure the commander got his message. When he’d returned home she had still been sleeping.
In her dreams, Riana was being hunted. She ran through the woods, branches scratching at her arms and face, slowing her down. Her breathing was harsh and ragged as she stumbled through the brush, glancing back over her shoulder fearfully. Strong hands pulled her down behind a fallen tree, and relief washed over her when she saw it was the commander. Her happy smile turned into a choked gasp as his hands wound around her throat and he pushed her to the ground, his grip tightening painfully. She clawed desperately at his arms as she began to lose consciousness. Her eyes rolled back, but before she blacked out she saw Luke and Sara leaning over her. They were smiling.
She woke to find Luke watching her. She stared at him, unsure of what to say. What did you say to someone who had held and comforted you while you sobbed uncontrollably? What did you say when everything you’d been so sure of only a few hours ago turned out to be lies and half-truths? When suddenly the man you knew to be your enemy…wasn’t. What then? Luke seemed to understand her confusion and attempted to ease the tension of the moment.
“I thought you might like something warm to drink,” he said as he headed for the door. She sat silently for a moment before wrapping the blanket around her shoulders and following him into the kitchen.
“Not that crap you gave me earlier,” she muttered as she dropped into a chair at the table.
“No,” he said, laughing. “Not coffee, hot chocolate.” He handed her the mug and she stared at it uncertainly. “You’ll love it; I promise.” She took a sip and nodded in appreciation. Luke sat down across from her and they descended into silence again as she stared at the table. He watched her as she cradled the mug in her hands, and wondered what she was thinking.
“How did you know my sister?” So they were getting right into it. Good, he thought.
“I was her mission.” Riana’s head snapped up.
“What does that mean?”
“The people that made you sent her to kill me.”
“You looked awfully cozy with someone who was supposed to be your assassin,” she muttered, her gaze dropping back to the table.
“How much do you remember about your sister?”
“What do you mean?”
“What was she like? What are your memories of her?” She tilted her head slightly as she thought about it.
“When we were younger she was very protective of me, over protective even. She didn’t let me talk to the soldiers; she’d bring me my meals and we’d eat in my room. When we got older she wasn’t around as much, and when she was she seemed kinda, I don’t know, sad maybe? Then when I was fifteen she died.” Despair blossomed in her eyes and her voice flattened out. “They killed her.” She took a big swallow of her drink.
“Are you sure?” he asked quietly, and she looked at him with bitterness raging in her eyes.
“Sure that she’s dead? How can you even ask me that? I saw… they showed me pictures!” Her voice broke and he moved to kneel in front of her, pulling her into his arms.
“I’m sorry.” She struggled briefly before collapsing against him and dropping her head on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered into her hair.
“I don’t understand anything anymore.” Her words were soft and muffled, and he felt her tears against his neck.
“I didn’t mean – before, I didn’t mean were you sure about…that.” She didn’t say anything and he pulled back to look at her. He wasn’t sure how much more she could take. “Never mind. We can talk about this later.” She straightened up, wiping the tears off her face.
“No, I- I can handle it. I want to know what you meant.” He looked uncertain. “I’m sick of all the secrets and lies; just…tell me everything. Please.” He helped her back into her seat before dragging his chair over closer to hers. “So, what did you mean?”
“Are you sure that your memories of Sara are, uh…real?” She shook her head in confusion.
“What?” He shifted uncomfortably.
“I think some of your memories may be…false.”
“How? How would that even be possible?”
“How are you possible?”
“But that’s – that’s different.” She looked up at him, seeking reassurance. “Creating false memories, manipulating someone’s mind…” She shook her head, her voice thready and uncertain. “It’s not possible.”
“You think subjugating your free will and turning you into a compliant, faithful servant is that different from ‘fixing’ memories?”
“Wait a minute!” She snapped, a bit of her old attitude returning. “Why are you so sure my memories are wrong?”
“Because they didn’t activate Sara until you were ten years old.”
“Activate? What are you talking about?”
“Sara was created through reproductive cloning. They remove the DNA from an ovum, replacing it with DNA from the cell of an adult human, and implant it in the womb to-”
“Cell nuclear replacement, yeah I’ve heard of it. I didn’t know they did that with humans; I didn’t know they were allowed to.”
“They’re not…really, but they’ve been doing it for years.” She looked at him with growing horror.
“Is that what I am?”
“No,” he assured her. “You… you’re something completely different.” She didn’t know how to read the expression on his face so she stared into her mug.
“You said they ‘activated’ her when I was ten, but reproductive cloning, aside from the oddness of conception, still has a somewhat normal birth. I mean, she didn’t spring from the womb fully grown.” She glanced up. “Did she?”
“No, she was born normally and they let her live a normal, well…semi-normal life, till she was about fifteen.” He rubbed his face wearily. “Then they put her in stasis. When you were ten, they woke her up.”
“You are so full of shit! Do you actually expect me to believe all this? With – with the cloning, and the stasis, and, and planting memories in my brain? It’s like some kind of horror movie!” He shook his head.
“I assure you it’s all very real.”
“So what the hell am I?” He leaned back and crossed his arms.
“Now that is a much longer story.” She pushed her mug aside and leaned forward intently.
“I seem to be stuck here for the time being; I’ve got all the time in the world.”
“For you to understand what you are, I have to explain what I am.”
“Yeah, ‘cause I only exist because of you, right?” she bit out sarcastically.
“It’s true, you know. They made you to stop me.” He grinned bitterly. “I’m their little mistake.”
“They made you?” she asked.
“Well, un-complicate it!” She stood up, pacing around the room in agitation. “Isn’t this what you’ve been waiting for? Me, listening and believing? Haven’t you been dying to disillusion me about my life?”
“I never wanted that,” he said wearily.
“Oh, really? Wasn’t that you that gave me the big speech about setting me free? Weren’t you the one that tried to rub my face in the fact that I’d been lied to all my life?”
“Are you happy now; does my misery make you smile? Is this what you were hoping for? Does it make you feel like a man to tear my world apart, and then comfort me in your big, strong arms when I finally crack?” She turned to find him standing right behind her; she hadn’t even heard him move. “Well, does it?” she demanded.
“I’ve already told you that I don’t want to hurt you.” She made to turn away, but he grabbed her arms and pulled her back. “I’m not the one that lied to you; I didn’t make your life what it is. I know you’re angry and confused and the only way you know how to deal is to lash out at somebody. Anybody, but I didn’t bring you here to rejoice in your pain.”
“Why did you bring me here, then?”
“I thought you deserved to know the truth,” he told her. “I thought someone as special, as unbelievably amazing as you shouldn’t be locked away in a cage and used for someone else’s amusement. Is that what you wanted?” he demanded. “To be hunted down like an animal, and locked back up? To stay in your pretty little fantasy world where the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys live in the shadows, and right and wrong are absolute and everyone always lives happily ever after?” He shook his head. “That’s not the real world, princess. The real world is hard and scary and beautiful and mysterious, and they never would have let you experience that. They would have killed you first. Is that what you want?” He pushed her away in disgust. “Because if you do…you’re not who I thought you were.” She wrapped her arms around herself, and watched him stalk back to the table.
“I- Luke, I never said that.” He glanced at her; she looked so fragile, so lost. He couldn’t take it. Collapsing into his chair, he pushed his hair back and trained his gaze on the floor. She moved to stand behind him, but he refused to turn and look at her. “Please- please don’t-” He felt her hand touch his shoulder, and her voice broke on a whisper. “I can’t take you…ignoring me.”
“Don’t you understand?” he turned his head slightly, his voice tense. “I didn’t do this to hurt you.”
“No. You don’t,” he interrupted. “I keep telling you, but you don’t believe me. Not really.” He stood, shrugging her hand off his shoulder. “I could never hurt you.” She took his arm and turned him around to face her.
“You have to understand how hard this is. Everything I’ve ever known is gone. For most of my life I thought that you were my greatest enemy, and then for the last six years I was told you had brutally murdered my sister.” Her hand shook as she pushed her hair off her face. “It's just…too much.” His heart ached when he saw the pain crawl across her face. “You were right before; I am angry and confused. I can’t ever go home, and I don’t know who to trust anymore.” He reached out, his fingers gentle against her skin as they brushed away a tear.
“You can trust me.” The look on his face made her breath catch in her throat, and she whispered,
“I’m trying to.”