Lieutenant Richard Deering places the gun on the table of a vacant booth in Sapna’s Seaside café. He sits and wipes the sweat and sand from his brow. He unbuttons the top button of his still-pressed shirt, hikes the top of his pants and spreads his knees. His chuckle echoes around the dining area as he swivels the gun so the barrel points towards the kitchen. He takes a deep breath. Burnt breadcrumbs, stale coffee and the sickly sweet smell of Sapna’s Sticky Date Surprise fill his lungs. He runs his finger through grooves that spell out RD + JM 4EVA before banging a fist on the table.
“Who do I have to kill to get a meal?”
The cook emerges from the kitchen carrying a pot of coffee and a plate of toasted sandwiches. She drops the plate on the table. A sandwich topples into his lap.
“What the—?” Richard stands, but bangs his knees on the table. “You stupid bloody—”
“Sorry.” She picks the sandwich up off the floor, drops it back on the plate and offers Richard a napkin.
Richard retrieves a handkerchief from his pocket. “You know I’ve killed for less.” He swats breadcrumbs from his pants.
“I should be so lucky,” she mumbles.
Richard rests his hand on his gun. “Do you know who I am?”
“Sure, I do,” she says, standing upright, hand on her waist, chest and belly puffed out. “Your mum used to bring you here each year for your birthday. Each year she’d order you a sticky date pudding, and then another, and you’d eat and eat until it’d send you running to the bathroom. I remember,” she says, covering her mouth to smother a laugh, “this one time you didn’t quite make it—,” She stops at the click.
Richard rests his chin on his hand and looks up at her along the barrel. “I do so love the sweet metallic smell of blood.”
She leans closer to the barrel, her bosom threatening to spill out of her uniform. “Wouldn’t you prefer a serve of my mother’s Sticky Date Surprise?”
“Ha!” Richard waves the gun at her. “It’s always the fat, ugly ones who have the best sense of humour.”
A bell dings and the coastal wind howls through the door, bringing with it the stench of salt, dead fish and rotten seaweed. Richard and the cook turn and see a young officer at the threshold. The officer turns to the side and a girl, no older than sixteen, enters the cafe. She is dressed in a perfectly tailored charcoal jumpsuit and military boots. The girl looks at the cook.
Richard lowers his gun. “Bowers! Isn’t this a pleasant surprise? Here for lunch?”
The cook tries to smile at the officer, but can feel her cheeks trembling. “Can I get you a coffee? What about some of Sapna’s infamous Sticky Date Surprise?”
The officer takes off his cap. “I’m alright, thank you—”
“Amara,” the cook says warily, detecting a tremor in his voice.
Richard eyes the perfectly-proportioned girl in the jumpsuit. He stands and offers the girl his hand. “I know what you are.” The girl glances back at the officer, who nods. She places her hand in Richard’s and smiles. He grips her wrist and turns her hand over, exposing the alpha numeric code on her wrist. “Just as I thought,” he says, “you’re a Gen One”.
Gen One looks back to the officer. She stiffens, bracing to move.
The officer shakes his head.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Richard says, “don’t look at him.” Richard pulls her by the wrist. She trips over her feet, falling and banging her head on the side of the table. Richard rises from his seat and points to the girl. “You see, Bowers, that’s why we’re never going to win the war with first generation clones – they’ve got no spirit.”
The officer clears his throat. “Baird, sir.”
“Come again?” Richard crouches down to help the girl to her feet.
“My name is Lieutenant Jeremy Baird.”
With arms firmly clenching her shoulders, Richard guides her to sit in the booth. “Do you know who I am, Bowers?”
“Lieutenant Richard Deering. The youngest to ever make the rank of Lieutenant in the history of the Guardianship.”
“And, why is that, Bowers?”
“Because your uncle is General Wicker.”
“Exactly.” Richard takes the girl’s hand in his. “I could say I got here as a result of natural born talent and hard work, but we don’t live in a fair world where everyone’s on a level playing field, do we?” He smells Gen One’s hand. “You’re a walking embodiment of that, my dear.” Richard laughs. “That smile! It doesn’t quite fit, does it? It’s like I just gave you a cute little puppy. Would you still smile if I blew its head off?”
Her smile doesn’t waver.
“I thought as much. Tell me, Gen One, how old are you?”
“Sixteen years, eight months, twenty-three days, fifteen hours, fifty-eight minutes and—”
“Are you sure you weren’t born yesterday? You have got to be the most dim-witted Gen One model I’ve met.”
“Actually, she is only six days old,” Jeremy says. “She was in the acceleration tank. Today is her first day out, and her first patrol.”
“That’s all well and good, but it is only a Gen One,” Richard sighs, picking up his gun and pressing it against her temple. “I’d heard rumours that training had begun with fourth gens.” He turns to Amara. “I’ve recently been reassigned, you see, so I’m no longer privy to Strategic Division. Apparently, I don’t play well with clones.” He looks back to the clone. “They have a habit of dying. Not that they complain. That’s the thing about clones, they don’t have souls.” Her smile broadens. Richard laughs and pokes her cheek with the barrel. “Okay, at this point I’m starting to wonder whether I’d actually be doing you a favour by putting you down.”
“Why don’t I get you each a nice bowl of Sticky Date Surprise?” Amara hurries to kitchen. She re-emerges carrying a tray with three ready-made bowls of pudding, a saucer with a dollop of cream and three silver spoons. The tray clangs as she places it on the table. The ting of spoons hitting the tiles echoes around the dining area. Amara, Richard, Jeremy and the clone all look down at the spoons.
“Sorry,” Amara says.
Jeremy bends down and picks up the spoons. “No need to apologise.”
Amara takes the spoons from Jeremy and holds them to her chest. “I’ll go get fresh ones.”
Richard snatches a spoon from Amara. “Don’t bother.” He reaches for a bowl and ladles cream on top. “I had my first date here. I offered to buy her lunch, but she said she wasn’t hungry. So, I ordered the Sticky Date Surprise.” He takes a mouthful of the pudding. He furrows his brows while he chews, closing his eyes and smiling. “Just as I remember it.” He opens his eyes. “I knew if she could just have one mouthful she would be begging for more. We’d share a spoon. I’d let her have the last mouthful. This café would be our café. We’d come back on our second and third dates, and on birthdays and anniversaries. But she didn’t have any of the Sticky Date Surprise because she was watching her weight. She was also watching the time. She barely even touched her water before she left.” He looks up at the clone and sighs. He raises his gun and fires. The still-smiling clone falls to the ground, her hand touching her bloody cheek not in agony, but intrigue.
Jeremy draws his own weapon.
Richard points his gun at Jeremy. He looks at Jeremy’s trembling arms and smiles.
“I remember,” Amara blurts out.
Richard turns the gun on Amara. “Remember what?”
“I remember your first date. It was my first day as a cook. Until then I had been a kitchen hand, but I’d been practising at home for a year and that day Mum let me cook in the café for the first time. You came in when we opened. You wanted to make sure you were here in case your date arrived early. She was seventy-five minutes late.”
Richard lowers his gun. “You worked here back then?”
Amara nods as she takes a step back so the blood doesn’t reach her shoes. “I’ve always worked here. I guess you didn’t notice because I’m always in the kitchen. But Mum let me make my first Sticky Date Surprise that day. You got the first one. I brought it over myself.”
“Huh.” With one hand still pointing the gun at Amara, he picks up the spoon. “Hang on a second. Sapna is your mother?” Richard places another spoonful of Sticky Date Surprise in his mouth.
“Yes. She was.”
Richard leans back and licks his lips.
“Sir,” Jeremy says. “Clones are government property. It’s treasonous to kill one.”
Richard sighs. “How can it be treasonous if it’s not a real human?” Not garnering a reaction from Jeremy, Richard wipes his mouth with his handkerchief. He throws his gun at Amara.
She instinctively catches it, then drops it.
Richard retrieves a side arm from his ankle strap. He places it on the table. “Poor Amara could no longer cope with having the enemy at her doorstep, so she lined her staff up by the dumpster out the back and shot them.”
Jeremy looks from the dead clone to the Amara, to Richard. “Shot who?”
“You were passing by with Gen One. You saw the dead bodies out the back.”
Jeremy licks his lips. “Out back?”
“Yes, yes. Keep up. You stopped to intervene, but Amara killed the clone, too. She ran out the back door, where you shot and killed her.”
Jeremy points at the weapon. “It’s your gun.”
“No, it’s just a little something I picked up off the black market. Or, Amara did. You see, I was never here.” Richard looks at Jeremy’s trembling arms and smiles. “Well, the other option is I kill you both. Actually, that would be preferable. I’d get a commendation for killing the crazed woman who murdered a clone and a soldier.” He laughs. “Might even get myself back into Strategic Division.”
Amara can do nothing but shake her head.
Richard takes another spoonful of the Sticky Date Surprise. “So, what’s it going to be, Bowers? I think we can safely say you wouldn’t do well in a gun fight.”
Jeremy aims his gun at Amara. “Sorry.”
“Good boy,” Richard says, taking another bite. “Take her out back. I’ll come supervise the clean-up once I’ve finished my pudding.”
With the barrel of his gun pressed into the back of her neck, Jeremy directs Amara away from the corpse and Richard, and through the kitchen. Amara opens the back door. The bodies of three women are lying in a row by the dumpster. Jeremy kicks the door closed behind him and leans against it. Amara shakes as she walks over to the bodies and crouches down beside one of the bodies. “He should be dead. They should all be dead.”
Jeremy lowers his weapon. “What are you doing?”
Amara angrily wipes away a tear. “If I’m going to die, I will die with my family.”
Jeremy swallows the bile back down his throat. “Richard killed your family?”
Amara nods. “My mother.” She takes her mother’s hand and kisses it. “My aunt and my cousin.”
“General Wicker ordered me to bring Richard in. He knew Richard was responsible for killing his assigned clone. Wicker wanted Richard brought in quietly. It was his nephew, after all. So he sent me. Wicker trusts me; I’ve been his executive assistant for three years.” Jeremy looks at the door, then back at Amara. “I haven’t been in combat in…it’s been a while.” Jeremy checks his clip. “Amara?”
She looks up at him.
He fires his weapon.
Liz McShane has been published in Other States of Mind, Gargouille, Voiceworks, Dot Dot Dash and Even More Poems to Make You Puke. She blogs about YA at lizkatemshane.wordpress.com and Tweets about YA, Buffy, feminism, Disney and llamas at @Liz_McShane.