"Lies and secrets, Tessa, they are like a cancer in the soul. They eat away what is good and leave only destruction behind."
- Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince.
"Give him ten seconds then shoot him," The clone did as the woman instructed and walked straight to Cutter, the end of the gun level with the top of the man's head, gently brushing his skin. Nick Cutter stood still, watching the scene with observant eyes. The clone, an exact copy of himself, was just a couple feet away from him. The same growing blonde hair, the same big blue eyes, everything down to the bone was completely identical to him. The clone began counting; following the orders it was given. The numbers echoed through Nick's head, each word cutting his time short, in just a few moments, he would be instructed to shoot. Nick had to do something. He had to try.
"Don't do it," The man reasoned, but the woman, Helen, countered, "You can't appeal to his feelings, Nick, he doesn't have any. Now tell me what this is," Despite the persistence of his ex-wife, Nick continued speaking to the clone, ignoring her. "You don't have to do what she says, you know. You have a choice," He stated firmly, keeping solid eye contact with him, hoping that somehow, he would understand, that somehow he would listen.
His whole body relaxed, relief flooding him as Nick watched the clone lower the weapon. His hope was short-lived. Almost instantly, the gun was brought back up to his head, the counting continuing to where it had left off. The clone didn't want to disobey its master, but Nick wasn't going to let that stop him. He wouldn't let Helen get away with this. He had to play her; he had to act like he knew. The excitement in her eyes seemed difficult to contain as he informed his ex-wife that he would tell her what she desired to know, he'd tell her what the artefact was. Before he even had a chance to conjure up some form of a lie, luck saved him. The familiar sound of Helen's voice suddenly filled the internal audio system, and edited voice recording from her, instructing all of the clones to stop obeying her. The cleaner clones that stood around the ARC, protecting Helen, immediately obeyed the recording, dropping their weapons as if it were Helen's actual voice ordering them to stop listening to her. Yet his own clone did not change, he kept the weapon held high. It was confusing for him, is mind was all of a sudden filled with the conflict of obeying and disobeying; the possibility of free will. He didn't know what to do. Helen had turned frantic though, desperation seeping through her voice as she tried to convince the other clones it wasn't her, it was no use for them. They followed the command to stop obeying her, there was no way she could alter their minds.
Nick smiled at his ex-wife, and he couldn't help but look a little smug as he saw her plan falling apart right in front of her, "It's over, Helen," The man stated. For Helen, it wasn't. She believed otherwise, she believed that there was still hope for part of the plan to be completed.
Helen turned to face the clone, her dark eyes stuck on the identical copy of her husband, determined to not let him finish obeying her. "Listen to my voice," She instructed; her tone softer now, an attempt to soothe the clone, to make it listen. "Complete your mission."
Nick's eyes followed her as she ran towards the exit of the room, pausing at the doors. He watched her cautiously, observing her actions, trying to discover what she was up to. The clone's sudden movement brought his gaze back to it, his eyes widening as the clone clicked open a suitcase beside it. A suitcase containing a bomb.
He still had time; he could still try to reason. The gun was away from the man's head, he was able to run towards the clone, watching it as buttons were pressed, initiating the bomb and the trigger.
"Look, I know you can hear me. I know you can understand. You don't have to obey her," Nick told him, placing a gentle hand on the clone's shoulder, attempting to turn its attention onto him; it might make it easier to convince it to stop if it could look at him.
"But, she made me," Was all Nick received in response. The words were spoken so simply, as if it were the only answer it could have possibly have said. After all does any living creature ever dare go against its creator? Then again, does any other living creature have someone to go against? Do they have to obey direct orders like he did?
"You're a human being, you have a choice," Nick retorted, watching his cloned self stare down at the bomb. He desperately hoped the clone was thinking about the words he was speaking, he needed it to understand.
"Don't listen to him. Follow your instruction," Helen ordered, still standing by the exit, her eyes flickering between the corridor ahead and the clone in the room. Most likely debating whether she should run yet.
"You're not a machine, you're a free man," Nick continued to persuade, and the more the clone listened to his real self, the more Nick seemed to make sense in his mind. "You don't want to die," The man argued. But that was wrong.
"I don't know what death is," The clone stated, glancing over at the real Nick Cutter, then down at the detonator he held in his hands. He wasn't sure what to do anymore. It felt wrong going against his orders, it was like there was a force, a barrier, inside his head, and every time he attempted to cross it, every time he thought about disobeying her, he was pushed back, was he strong enough to do it?
"Trust me, life's better," Nick informed, his voice soft, gentle, inviting. It was as if the clone could feel the warmth of life in his words, of not being ordered around like a machine. Could life be better?
"Don't listen to him!" Helen yelled, before slipping out between the doors, her footsteps echoing through the corridors as she pushed herself onwards, ready to get away from the oncoming explosion.
The clone ignored her, turning to face his real self before letting one simple command escape his own lips, "Save yourself,"
Nick was confused for a moment, his expression showing every inch of it, until he fully grasped what the clone had ordered him to do. He ran. His legs forced him to run as far away from the bomb and the clone as possible. It had listened to him; the clone had at least partly understood his words. It had given Nick a chance to live.
The clone watched as his real self ran through the doors, leaving his sight. He glanced down at the bomb, his mind still filled with too many thoughts, thoughts that confused him, that made him question his entire existence. He took another look at the doors, then back at the bomb. Before he knew it, his own legs were making him move towards the exit. He wasn't sure whether it was to experience the life that his real self had assured him he could have, or whether it was to return to his creator. Either way, as he pressed the button on the detonator, he knew he had at least run far enough away to chance a survival. The bomb exploded, the heat attacking the clone as the force pressed him forward into the ground. As the waves of pressure from the bomb rang through the ARC, the building went down, rooms turning into complete destruction, all of the equipment ripped apart by the explosion. The bomb had been initiated, and it had taken the ARC down with it.
Captain Becker, head of security, and Connor Temple, genius of the ARC, stormed through the rooms that were once offices of the ARC. It wasn't long until they found who they were looking for. Nick Cutter. The only problem was that looks could often be deceiving. The clone felt the debris lifting off him, and a fresh wave of pain fell through him. He had never felt pain like it. Burns, bruises, wounds, blood. It was all new to him. And he didn't like it. Connor managed to lift the man he assumed to be Nick Cutter up from the ground, with help from Becker. Once secured across their shoulders, the two men carried the clone out of the crumbling ARC in order to meet the rest of their team. The fresh, chill air hit them swiftly once they were safely out from the plumes of smoke. The clone wasn't focused on the air around him; he only wanted to find one person. He glanced around the faces he recognised as his real self's team members, but where was his creator?
"Where's Helen?" The clone questioned, desperately hoping someone had an answer.
"Think she's still inside," Connor coughed out, hands rested on his knees as his lungs drew in sharp breaths of fresh air, clearing the smoke from within. The blonde woman, whom he identified as Abby Maitland, wandered over to the man, rubbing his back with a gentle hand in comfort. What had happened to Helen though, and the important object she had? He had to find her, to help her, it was part of the mission he was brought to do. It was all he knew how to do. The clone swiped the flashlight from the ground beside him and began to walk back inside, only taking notice of his surroundings once again as the woman known as Jenny Lewis appeared by his side.
"Nick! She wouldn't lift a finger to save you," Jenny reasoned, her chocolaty eyes focused on his, the sun highlighting the amber flecks inside. The clone smiled at her as he remembered his, or at least his real self's memories, of Helen Cutter.
"Yeah, I know," He responded, speaking only the truth. That wasn't the point, the point was that he had to save her, he had to help her; it was what he was supposed to do.
"Don't go," She pleaded, desperation falling easily through her fragile tone, "This is a mistake," Everything she said triggered memories of a Claudia Brown, from what his real self's memories told him, was an identical copy of this woman here, only different. Some form of timeline fracture was the only apparent explanation for that situation. His real self had never found the truth. It was the words that she spoke which brought these memories back to him, they were practically the same words that Claudia had spoken before his real self had entered an anomaly, and then she disappeared, never to be seen or heard of again.
"I'll be fine," He assured her, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, something he had picked up on as a comforting thing to do. It was dropped almost immediately as his sense of duty returned; he had to get Helen back. Without another glance back, the clone wandered back inside the building, determined to find his creator.
Debris shifted on the ground, wood and dry wall falling off from the person underneath. Nick Cutter managed to rise from the destruction, rotating his shoulders slightly as he tried to free the aching his muscles were filled with. Helen had really out done herself this time. The man tried to manoeuvre around the fizzling wires and flames that began travelling along the wreckage, leaving intimidating shadows against what was left of the walls. Nick glanced around, he needed to find a way out; he needed to find his team members.
The clone flinched away from the flames that licked the walls around him, the heat radiated against his skin, leaving his skin to feeling uncomfortable. He hadn't found any sign of Helen yet, but he had to keep looking, he needed to find her. The clone instantly drew away from a doorway near him for fear of back draft, he knew not to trust the fire, the way the flames danced around him, drawn to his skin, determined to get their hands on him. He wouldn't let them. He knew fire would be painful, and he really didn't want to feel any more pain. He hadn't realised how truly vulnerable he was, not until now.
Certain routes cut Nick Cutter off from finding his way out. The rubble was too much to shift in some cases, in others, there were too many flames blocking his continuation down the corridors. As he turned another corner, he couldn't help but let his mind wander, what had happened to Helen? Where was the artefact? Was it safe? Where was she? Did she make it out alive? What was the artefact actually for? How did it work? Would he ever find the answers he was so desperate to know?
The clone entered another room, soon spotting the important object that his creator wanted so badly to protect and understand. It was situated near the unconscious brunette, Helen. Before he even comprehended what was happening, he slid the jacket off from his body and wrapped it around the important object. The clone stashed it away, hiding underneath some fallen rubble before he attempted to rouse Helen. There was something special about the object, he knew it was important, his creator had said it herself, but there was something else. For some reason, he felt in his mind that it might not be safe in her hands. That led to more confusion. He really didn't understand how his mind was now working. It felt so free, so different to what he was accustomed to, to what Helen had forced upon him, but that simply created more uncertainty. He wasn't sure what to believe, what to think. Should he follow his initiative, or his creator, Helen? His ears picked up on the coughs created by Helen as she awoke; he glanced back down at her. At least she was alive.
The woman looked at him, her dark eyes almost penetrating though his skin as she spoke, "You came back for me?" Her voice was riddled with surprise. That puzzled the clone even more. She had instructed him to be loyal to her, to help her, why was she so shocked to see him.
He replied simply, not knowing what else to say other than, "Yeah,"
"You were always so sentimental," Helen stated, her voice different to how she usually spoke to him. It was soft, yet it still wore that certain hint of sarcasm. The clone couldn't help but think she assumed a little too much. "Where's the artefact?" And just like that, her tone changed, it was more demanding, as if she simply came back to her senses. She wanted the object, he knew where it was, and part of him longed to tell her, yet another part insisted that it was best left alone, in the hands of his real self. He would know what to do.
"I don't know. It'll be wherever you left it," The clone informed; avoiding eye contact. He was unsure as to whether she would be able to tell if he was lying, he thought he had a better chance of getting away from it if he didn't make eye contact. The eyes showed too much in the majority of people, they were like their own special gateways into emotion.
"What did it do, Nick? Why is it so important?" She continued, and it was the way she spoke to him that triggered what flickered onto his mind just moments ago, in this moment she believed him to be his real self, not the clone of Nick Cutter.
However, this time he could answer her question truthfully, "I haven't the faintest idea. Now, you coming or aren't you?" He queried, determined to keep her from realising that he was the clone, not his real self. The flames around were starting to unnerve him, he really wanted to leave this place and never come back.
"I'm sorry, Nick," Helen called out, stepping forward a few steps, watching him as he stopped in his tracks, "But I can't let you go."
"What the hell are you talking about now?" The clone questioned, turning to face her, instead he found a gun in front of her, pointed straight at her. Now he knew how his real self had felt, it wasn't the nicest feeling having a gun level with you. In a moment's astonishment, he turned around and then back again to fix his gaze to her. "Oh, for god's sake" He muttered under his breath, realising this was how he was going to die, after everything that had just happened, he was going to die by the hands of his real self's ex-wife.
He watched her, waiting for whatever she was planning to do, instead she chose to somewhat explain her reasons; "Things have to change, Nick. The future is more important than either of us,"
He could have rolled his eyes as he responded to her little comment, "You really know how to pick your moments, don't you?" He stated, his voice edged with sarcasm.
"If you'd seen what I've seen then you would understand," She continued, despite the distance between them the clone could have sworn he saw tears in her eyes. She really was going to kill him, her own husband, or at least what she believed. "I'm so sorry, Nick," She added, reaching to cock the gun, until deciding on her final words, "I wish there was another way."
Those last words rang in his mind, if she wished there was another way then why couldn't she find it. Why did she have to do this? That was what he didn't understand. As he stood waiting for her to press the trigger, he decided that he wouldn't reveal himself, he owed it to his real self, the one who made him believe, that maybe, just maybe, if things had been different, he could have had a chance to be human. After all, his real self told him that that was what he was, and strangely, he began to believe him, he really did have his own free will. And now he chose to die. He chose to protect his real self. One thing had left to be said, one thing he really wanted her to hear.
"You know what, Helen? You're not as smart as I thought you were," He stated. He once thought the world of her for creating him. Yet now, now that he knew she was unable to tell the difference between him, the copy, and her real husband, his opinion of her greatly diminished. She wasn't doing the right thing like she planned, he understood now; killing his real self couldn't possibly change what she wanted to change. He knew it in his heart that his real self wasn't responsible for the damage she accused him of. His thought train was stopped as his eyes focused on her hand, he watched as she pulled the trigger, he heard the shot as it rang out but nothing could prepare his body for the pain he felt afterwards. The cold and loneliness that soon followed as Helen ran off leaving him to die. Through all of the pain that echoed through his body, he forced himself to limp back into the room where he had stashed the important object. It was there that he collapsed in a heap against the wall, unable to hold himself up any longer.
The silence around the ARC was broken as a shot sounded out and Nick Cutter discovered it had come from the other side of the ARC building. Realizing that Helen possibly had a gun on her, he quickly rushed as fast as he could through the debris, tripping and stumbling as his mind filled with nightmarish thoughts. What if she had hurt one of his team members? He desperately hoped she hadn't been foolish enough to take her anger out on them. The corridors were so full of wreckage that he had trouble finding a suitable route towards where he planned to go. There was a door to his left that was still standing, that could lead to a free corridor. His hand swiftly reached out for the handle, pushing it down as it swung open revealing something he didn't have time to register in his mind. His determination to find his team members had unwillingly pushed his legs on further and he found himself being pulled in before comprehending what exactly he had run into. The ground beneath him changed from concrete to soft pine cones and dirt so swiftly that it had felt almost impossible. His lungs soaked in the clean air around him, free of smoke, free of the fire that crackled in his ears. The area was open, it appeared to be a forest, from his quick observations he settled on the cretaceous period. There was no time to marvel at the scene around; he had to go back to the ARC. His body spun around, expecting to find the anomaly he had entered this place through, but found nothing. Frantically, he turned around, his gaze flickering in a variety of directions as he hoped to find the glowing ball of light that had led him to this different time period. There was no light. No anomaly. No way home. He was trapped.
After the fire in the ARC burst through parts of the ceiling, the heavy smoke covering the pale blue sky above, Connor finally received permission from Abby to find Cutter. The man ran as fast as his poor legs could muster, his brain barely registering the flames, the falling pipes, the insulation and the spark of broken wires around him. The building was a wreck. He searched room after room, as quickly as possible each time in an effort to find his mentor, preferably alive. The thick smoke continued to blind him, stinging his eyes causing small tears to fall from them, but he eventually found the man he was looking for, unfortunately nothing could have prepared the young man from the sight he was forced to see. Nick Cutter lay hunched up against the wall, his hand clutching his chest, blood seeping across the skin from the bullet wound.
"Cutter…" Connor's words died away, his voice barely above a whisper as he watched the man cough in agony.
Through the memories of his real self embedded inside of him, the clone recognised the young man, "Connor," He murmured in return, acknowledging the man as he stood, his eyes filled with devastation. His memories told him that Connor always did the right thing, and the clone knew he was terribly brave for risking his own life to find who he thought was the real Nick Cutter.
"Listen, I'm going to get you out of…" Connor began, his voice full of desperation, as he tried to lift the man but the clone moaned in agony, he couldn't do it, he couldn't move, the pain was too intense.
"Don't… Don't do that," He requested, slumping back against Connor, and resting on the wall behind him.
"Sorry," The young man responded, sincerity in his eyes. The clone only wished he could have met more kind people like Connor Temple in his short life.
"It's okay," He reassured him, lifting his hand, which felt as heavy as lead, and gently putting it on Connor's, "Just sit with me, alright?" He asked, hoping to die beside the kind man who had tried to help him.
Connor managed to speak an ok in reply as he stayed positioned beside the clone. The clone noticed how solemn Connor was; leading him to remember how he most likely thought it was the real Nick Cutter dying. He probably should have corrected the assumption but he knew his real self would find Connor soon, he knew he was alive, he could feel it. Besides, there were more pressing matters to attend to in the short time they had.
Connor glanced beside him as the clone managed to sit up and reveal the important object from his wrapped up jacket. "Listen," He began, handing the object to Connor, "This matters, I don't know why but it does. So you have to find out what it means, okay?" He asked, and Connor agreed despite not wanting to come to terms with the fact that his mentor was dying. "It's on you now," Cutter began but Connor shook his head this time. "Don't worry," Cutter assured as his voice weakened, "You have your whole team to help you. You have your friends and you have your life. Be happy about that Connor, please."
Connor nodded much to his own disapproval to the clone, biting his lip as more water spilled from his eyes which had reddened from the smoke and tears, "Come on, we can do this together. We've always done it together." The young man argued, his voice trembling, his breath shaking with each word.
Cutter's clone nodded before saying, "You will and you can, just not with me per se," He could see that Connor was confused, but soon he wouldn't be, soon his real self would explain. Yet he felt as if his real self's memories were flooding into his own brain more than usual, it was like he wasn't only recognising them, he was starting to live them. It was becoming harder and harder to distinguish his own short-lived life with that of the real Nick Cutter. The clone assumed that it was from the state he was in, he was becoming muddled because he was dying, his life was slowly fading away, a life that he felt he didn't deserve, that didn't properly belong to him, but one he was grateful for anyway.
"Tell, tell Claudia Brown…" No, he decided that was best for his real self to do, "Never mind. Doesn't matter," He finished; his voice more quiet now, weaker. He leaned back, resting his shoulder against the kind young man and closed his eyes. If he truly were human like his real self had said then he hoped he had redeemed himself, he hoped he had done the right thing. He hoped his real self would prove Helen wrong, he knew he could, he knew it. His mind was becoming more difficult to understand now, everything was fading; he was fading. This was what death felt like. It turned out that the real Nick Cutter was right, he didn't want to die, but apparently, for things to work out how they were supposed to, it was the right thing to do.