Spacer Hunting the Eye of the Storm! 13
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    "Hi, Sasha. Is something wrong?" She sounded concerned.
    I couldn't think of a good way to ask, wasn't even sure what I was asking. "Is—Do I have a twin sister you never told me about?"
    "What? No, what are—what's wrong?"
    Reilly was looking at me oddly, motioning for my attention. "What—hang on, Mom. I'll call you right back." I hung up. "What?"
    "How does she sound."
    "Worried. Big surprise."
    "Ah." He hesitated. "Needle... you never picked up the phone."
    I stared at him blankly for a moment, wondering if this was some sort of very strange joke, but he looked honestly worried. Very slowly, I redialed. "Hello."
    "Yes, look honey, would you please—"
    He was shaking his head. I sat down, trembling.
    "What's the number?" He dialed carefully. "Hello? Who's speaking? Oh. Is this 812-476-9003? I see. And how long have you lived there? Uh-huh...."
    The rest of the team showed up in the meantime; I explained as well as I could what was happening, more than half-convinced that I had lost my mind. Reilly hung up the phone.
    "Mr. Stavros has lived at that number for ten years and doesn't know anyone named Banks. You're sure that's the right number?"
    "Of course I'm sure!" Elaborate plots and fancies spun up from my imagination, each less likely than the last, while Reilly checked my file and confirmed the number, tried it again with no different results and apologized again for bothering him at this hour.
    "Who did her background check?" Phoenix wanted to know.
    "Matthews. He was killed a few months ago. Robbery, the guy came out of a convenience store and shot him point-blank. Never even had a chance to draw his gun."
    For a moment the room was silent. Then Lucky offered, "Maybe we should call Chandler?" No one opposed the suggestion. She dialed and handed me the receiver.
    "Chandler, it's Sasha. Could you come over the station?"
    "What's up?" He sounded half-asleep.
    "I'm talking to people who aren't there. And I had a close brush with mind control last night." I desperately hoped that that would turn out to be the cause; otherwise, I had no idea what to think about any of this.
    "Oh. Why don't you come out to my place, then."
    "Because I'm afraid to leave." My voice was shaking. How could I know if this was real? If anything was?
    "Oh. Okay, then. I'll be right out." He got there not too much later, did a few obscure things with candles while I told him the situation in more detail.
    "Hm. Not really conclusive. I could find out more at my house. I promise," he added, "the world is still there."
    It was a quiet ride, made eventful only when Lucky started playing with a freeze gun she had picked up during a bank robbery she and Talon had foiled earlier this morning—I don't know the details, and right now I'm afraid I don't care. When she fired it, it started growing a ball of ice around itself which quickly became very large. She threw it out of the car. It finally stopped when it was about five feet high. Phoenix broke the ice, and when I picked up the gun (without touching it), it shattered entirely. At his home, Chandler engaged in his usual business, all of which was entirely inscrutable to me.
    "Well," he concluded at last, "you're not under a spell, and you're not mind-controlled." From the kitchen I could hear Phoenix and Lucky clattering around, trying to make orange juice. "From the evidence we have, the remaining possibility is that one of you is a clone."
    "I was afraid you would say that. How do we find out?" Not that there was much doubt, given what we knew already, but I couldn't quite face that yet. Can't.
    "You have an address book?"
    "Back at my place." It was another silent trip. I found the book in a desk drawer and opened it hesitantly. It didn't take long to find the pattern. Anything more than eighteen months old was a wrong number or one that didn't exist. Old roommates, coworkers, acquaintances in a half dozen cities—nothing. Family... I dialed my cousin Jean in Denver and heard her voice answer. Chandler tried it. We're sorry, the number you have dialed is not in service. Please check the number and try again.
    Eighteen months ago I lost my job. I moved to this apartment. Before that, I no longer have any idea.
    After a silence Chandler looked over at me. "Well."
    "Well," I echoed numbly, sitting with my arms tightly folded while I stared at the phone.
    "If you want," he said slowly, "I could make you forget about this. This whole morning never happened."
    "No." It took a second for me to regain control after that instant of panic; in the midst of my growing understanding of just how my mind has been manipulated, I doubt anything could have frightened me more than submitting to more of the same. "No, thank you. No."
    "All right. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
    "Thanks." I looked up at him with what was probably a hideous attempt at a smile. "Could you... leave, please?"
    He nodded understandingly, collected his coat and left, closing the door quietly.
    That was a couple hours ago. I feel... I don't know. As if something has been physically ripped away from me. A little better than I did, having written this. The illusion of having some control, over something. I think I'm too stunned to cry.
    I've got my one thin photo album on the coffee table, open to the last Christmas before I moved out here. I remember being there.

    Seventh of Ten. Oh, god.

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© 1999 Rebecca J. Stevenson