Clambering to his feet, Alec stumbled down the aisles, as entering people for the morning mass gasped at his disheveled appearance before hurrying away out of the pew in alarm. Blindly, he flew through the exit doors of the church, mind spinning as he tried to process what had just happened and what would ultimately result. How many places could he hide in? Being in the city would put innocent people in danger, and besides, Alec didn't feel like having the police and Ben after him. Maybe if he made it to the forest and got Ben out of the vicinity of the rest of the population, then maybe, there would be a chance at victory. And, if someone was to die, Alec didn't want Max to be present for her comrade's death.
Tripping, staggering, teetering like a drunk running for his life, Alec hurtled over the tree roots, which pushed themselves upward through the dirt; he slipped against the mud that was accumulating from the rain above and creating miniature monsoons beneath his feet. There were smears up and down his jeans where he had fallen, and twigs and leaves were etched into his hair, forming a crown upon his head for him; the victor who had somehow managed to outwit the genetic mistakes Ben had been dealt.
Pausing to catch his ragged breath, Alec's fingers closed spasmodically around the knife's handle as he sank heavily against a tree, listening to the thunder roll above his head in a great multitude of reverberations. The sky, now an inky gray with the hint of ultimate blackness, not only sobbed hysterically down upon him, washing away his sweat and creating a slick field for him to run, but it also covered up the earth, which made it harder for him to see. He pressed his back against the rough bark of the tree, and peered upward through the branches, letting cool rain slide over his dirty skin.
"Your genetic makeup and his are almost the exact same. He is your twin, 494. X5-493 is what you would have been. What youcould have been."
Suddenly, a jagged scar of lightning splintered the sky in two as the thunder cracked in the distance. Heavy wind gushed through the trees, slashing at Alec's clothing and body before surging onward to torture another living object. If he remained out there, in that desolate Seattle forest, he was almost positive that the storm alone would destroy him. And, Alec was forced to remind himself with a grimace, storms came in many forms. Some that ripped across the land and some that raged in men's minds.
"You are the only one who understands why he is killing!"
"No, sir, I-"
A violent slap across the face sent his head ricocheting backward, snapping on its neck and causing blood to erupt from his nose. Fiercely, the captain grabbed him by the shoulders, pinching the skin between his fingers for even more pain and glared into his eyes which rattled in his skull.
"You do understand! Don't you dare tell me you don't!"
Shoving himself away from the tree, Alec continued onward, close to hysterics and outright fury. After two years of brainwashing, torturing, and running, he thought that he had finally escaped Ben. Escaped the pain of what being the twin of X5-493 had brought him. Even through the assassinations, the proud salutes or even the successful undercover missions, he had been unable to deny what his DNA said. All of his accomplishments would be worthless because deep down, past his blue eyes and blonde hair, or the finely toned muscles and superior lung capacity, everyone believed that he would snap.
Snap like Ben had.
"Permission to speak, sir."
"Permission granted, 494."
"Am I to understand that I shall hunt down 493 and bring him back to Manticore, sir?"
"Loosely speaking, yes, soldier. There are other matters, though, that need to be addressed first."
"Just a routine evaluation of your psychiatric behavior...totally routine...of course..." But as the captain turned his back, he still could see the lie in the commanding officer's eyes.
As if being the twin of 493 hadn't been wretched enough, he just had to get mixed up with Max. Everything would have been so much simpler if his partner was a perfectly normal Manticorian X5 female. One who would have willingly copulated, and then have been on her way without a single worry in either her or his life from that point onward. He could have handled that. Manticore stud service delivered to you by 494. Easy enough.
But, fate, the cruel devil that it was, would see otherwise. Alec's breeding partner turned out to be the sister of the very man he had been running from for so long. Then, after Manticore-the only home he had ever known-burned to the ground, Alec found himself associating more and more with Max, which dragged him even further into her world. And, as if that wasn't enough, might as well add in the fact that Ben, who should have been committed to an insane asylum for genetically engineered soldiers was out for Alec's teeth on the Blue Lady's pedestal.
Life just wasn't fair, now was it?
"Someone must stop 493 and it will be 494. We will not rest until one of them is dead."
"You wish to sacrifice one soldier for another?" another man asked the captain.
They both glanced at him, shifting back and forth, wondering what they were discussing now from their position across the room. He seemed so unaware, so unflawed by the disease that had crippled 493, yet beneath the surface a mental storm was brewing.
"He's disposable. Capturing 493 will be the real prize."
Driving onward against the torrent of wind and rain, Alec tramped through the forests, feeling the onset of a headache and a cramp in his side. Suddenly, as he was clambering up a steep hill, he slipped and fell flat on his face; mud climbed inside of his nostrils and mouth, threatening to suffocate him. Yanking himself upward, Alec spat out the grit, tasting salty blood in his mouth where he had accidentally bit down on his lip during his plunge. Above, the lightning hissed and the thunder chuckled, teasing him for all of his pain that Ben had and was causing him.
He managed to pull himself to his feet, weary and beaten after all of his running and panicking. Gazing upward at the sky, he wondered why, of all the X5s made in Manticore, he had to be Ben's twin. Why him?
"494 is not cooperating, sir."
"What? What do you mean?"
"He's refusing to assist in the examination of the 493 case."
"Fine, bring him in for psy-op evaluation."
They tore him out of his cell, as he kicked and screamed, knowing what lay ahead for he had overheard them talking and saw what these men had done to his fellow soldiers. Sedatives were injected into his veins, but they seemed to do little good against him, for he merely fought back against them.
"I'm not like him! Goddamn you!" he bellowed, using the disgraceful words he had been taught in Common Verbal Usage. "I'm not him!"
Hissing beneath his breath, Alec held the knife out in front of him, watching the rain form tiny crystals on the glittering steel. A knife that had probably been stolen from a fine pawn shop, and would eventually bring the death of one man. "Damn you..." he hissed again, as his breath formed steam clouds around his mouth. "Damn you back to the hell from which you came."
They strapped him down, while he screamed and spat like a rabid animal the entire way. Trying to tranquilize him was difficult, since the nurses failed to hold his arm still long enough to stab the thick syringe into a bursting vein. Yet, two larger X5s managed to cinch the leather straps good and tight around his wrists, his ankles, and his waist. Writhing under the bonds, he screamed obscenities that the staff ignored. At last, a nurse tapped a fluid filled syringe and plunged it down deep into his arm, releasing the burning poison.
"Leave me alone! Why won't you leave me alone?!"
Slowly, a drugged peacefulness came over his body, and the staff managed to position the laser through his eye and set up the TV for him to watch the words, "Duty", "Discipline", and "Mission" flash across the screen. 494 would return to them soon enough.
Angrily, Alec stabbed the blade of the knife into the side of a tree, just to combat his frustration. Still clutching the knife, he sank down against the wood, hearing the sound of blood thud in his ears. At last, after a brief moment of reconsidering what he was about to do, he turned around, determined to find Ben and kill him once and for all. Screw the good guy hero stuff, he fumed, "Blue Lady's" little servant would die.
Led by ominous thunder, he plodded back through the forests, following his muddy footprints that would make it easy for Ben to find him. But, at the moment, that was exactly what Alec wanted. He wanted to see Ben face to face again. See him and rip his damn jugular out to show the mental rogue what it was like to be tortured for merely being you.
He managed to overcome the sedatives that were supposed to silence him by screaming like he had never screamed before. Mind over matter-right? His throat burned from his own saliva, and his lips were dry, on the verge of cracking and bleeding before they finally inserted a thick plastic tube across his mouth to shut him up.
Yet, he wouldn't give up.
At last, one of the captains groaned. "God, let me take care of him. He's too damn strong. It's obvious that he is just as crazy as the other one." Then, lowering his voice to a volume he thought his prisoner couldn't hear, he said to the others, "Once we find 493, we get rid of this one, and there will be no more trouble."
Alec slid down the muddy bank, landing in an ankle deep puddle. Just as he had turned off to his right to investigate a formidable sound he had heard, a bullet whizzed past his left shoulder, sending blood and flesh flying. Instinctively, he reached up with one hand to protect the wound, glancing at it, and when he gazed upward, he saw the shadowy figure of Ben who stood a few yards away in the rain.
"Ben," Alec growled, feeling his warm blood seep through the cracks of his fingers. The wind was decreasing, but the rain still poured down from the never-ending blackness above.
"Can't run forever, little twin," Ben mocked.
"You sneaky son of a bitch." Alec then chuckled with a cynical tone of voice. "The anomalies should have eaten you when they had the chance."
"She'll protect me from them."
"You wouldn't know anything about her," Ben argued, moving closer to Alec through the sheets of rain. "It's not like you would understand."
"Try me," Alec hissed, sick of being told that "he wouldn't understand", when, in truth, he understood more than anybody he knew. He had seen both Max's and Ben's world, how they interlocked, and the secrets that stood behind it all. He understood. "Max told me the same thing: I wouldn't understand-"
"Leave Max out of this. She's not important."
"Well, guess what?" Alec continued, having barely heard Ben. "You think I don't understand? I understand more than you-or Max-could even imagine." His tone of voice was raspy and a look of animalistic hunger had overtaken his eyes, resembling the same look a lion gets before the hunt. "You know, you've caused me a lot of trouble...more than a stupid rogue like you should be worth."
With a fierce growl, Ben lunged himself at Alec-believing 494 was weak amidst his babbling-as a pair of pliers were pointed outward to gouge Alec's pulsating heart. Quickly, though, Alec ducked, leaving Ben to topple onto his belly and then hastily rise as the pliers and knife fell, forgotten in the brush. The two men circled each other with one, each holding different beliefs about one another and relation to the Blue Lady.
"I never wanted to leave Manticore," Ben snapped back, "so that shows how much you 'understand'."
"Quit putting words in my mouth. I never said you left Manticore on your own terms. Still, you left Manticore, and that makes you a rogue. A filthy rogue at that-"
"That's destroyed my entire life all because you decided to go off and have a little bit of fun ripping out teeth-"
"I said 'shut up'!" Ben bellowed.
But, Alec wouldn't be quieted. For the first time, he felt freed from all of the pain Manticore had caused him, and now of all times, he would not be silenced.
"Do you have any idea what they put me through just because I was your twin? Burn a laser through the eye, gag me, bind me, slap me around...All. Because. Of. You. And, now you want to kill me?"
"I will kill you."
"Not surprising that you'd be a cocky killer too," he chuckled, peering through his matted hair and managing to discover a direct connection to his flow of adrenaline, which powered him with unmatchable amounts of energy. Alec kept fists close to his face in order to ward off any oncoming blows. The bullet wound still ate at his flesh, but he knew that for him to survive, he would need to ignore it.
Ben sneered, almost humoring Alec's sudden insanity. "You've always known that you will die at my hands-haven't you? Back at Manticore, they wanted me to destroy you mentally...and since I apparently failed there, I will destroy you physically right here. Right now."
Unable to find a proper comeback to the horrid truth Ben spoke, Alec merely glared through the rain at his twin.
"See?" Ben mocked. "You can't deny it. So, who's the insane one, now?"
"Die," Alec snarled and launched himself at Ben, who stood, ridiculing him. During Ben's descent, he managed to kick Alec in the chin, but fell to the ground nonetheless under the opposing momentum. An involuntary grunt of protest escaped Ben's lips as he was thrust onto his back with Alec's desire for blood equal to Ben's own.
The two rogues rolled on the muddy forest ground, trampling innocent ferns and destroying fragile puddles. Mud was smeared across Alec's face, masking bloody claw marks, while Ben's nose dribbled a bright red. Piles of dirt were flung into the air as one of them would attempt to scramble back to his feet, only to be relentlessly brought down to the ground by the other.
As one of the clones straddled the body of the other in a vain attempt to achieve some leverage to smash the grounded twin's face in, the bottom man reached up in a powerful motion and snapped the other X5's neck at the second vertebra. The move, although horridly simplistic, had completed the desired task, and at last, the fight was done. At last a victor could claim his throne.
The dead body crumpled down upon the remaining rogue, who lay for a minute under the carcass, gasping heavily and feeling slightly exhilarated in defeating his enemy. The death did indeed satisfy him, and he relished in the blood of his twin upon his clothing. Finally, though, he shoved the body aside and rose to his feet, kicking away the nearby knife with a disgusted flick of his heel, wanting to be rid of the poisoned instrument his twin had adulterated. Yet, before he turned and left the corpse behind, he grabbed the pliers off the floor of the forest and fixated them around one of the teeth of the body, knowing that there was a duty to serve the Blue Lady. He would have stayed to complete the entire body displaying, but he needed to keep on moving. Keep his mind focused on the important things, which didn't include the man he had met only an hour ago.
Once the tooth was removed, he straightened himself and brushed off what dirt he could from his clothing, almost lamenting the tear in his new jacket. The tooth, slimy with blood and saliva, slipped around his fingers as if it was just a trivial toy. Moving slowly through the darkened forests as the moon twinkled eerily overhead, barely masked by the depleting rain, he began to plan his departure of the city because he could no longer stay in Seattle. Briefly, his disoriented mind flickered over to the thought of Max, remembering how she had been mentioned in the conversation with his twin. And if she just happened to see him like he was-dirty and bloody-he wondered what he was going to tell her.