By C. S. Wachter
A drum beat throbs, anchoring the guitar riff spilling out the front door of Maisy’s Blue Dandelion. Only Charlene can play the blues like that—with her soul riding on each note, her very life poured into the music. Exposed. Honest. Alive.
I pull in a breath of moisture-laden air. Lightning flashes in the distance, exposing the underbelly of churning clouds and the glint of a ship heading off-world in the nighttime darkness.
Hope rises from the ashes of my fear. The Unit 12 Repos are nowhere in sight. For now.
The acrid scent of burning trash stirs in the quickening breeze. I blink, my eyes tearing at some chemical compound in the smoke.
The door opens; flickering light and loud voices splatter the sidewalk. A couple entwined in each other’s arms stumble out. I slip in.
Bodies block my sight line—at five-foot-nothing, there’s no surprise there—so I weave through the throng while scanning the bar for Maisy. She slides a drink to a customer while watching the band. My gaze tracks her line of sight.
Highlighted by a single spotlight, Charlene paces, her feet drumming the floor as she bends over her guitar. Focused. Taller and slimmer than I, her black hair shines blue in the light. She glances up and the illumination catches on eyes the cerulean blue of a Terran summer’s day. Eyes like mine.
I run my hand through my close-cropped black hair, then squeeze between two large men at the bar. “Maisy.” I thump the wood to draw her attention.
“Sam!” Her eyes shift. “I mean, Captain Sherman. What’s wrong? Why are you here?”
“I gotta get Charlene out. Now.”
A rough-looking man breathes down my neck. “Hey, missy, I was here first.”
I puff out a frustrated breath. “Back off.” I finger the handle of my laser pistol, giving the oaf a clear view of the captain’s bars on my jacket.
“Sure. Sure. No prob.”
My attention reverts to Maisy as she signals the band to cut for a break. Charlene’s head shoots up, her eyebrows raised in question. Charlene is a cyborg-clone hybrid—CHAR15Le3. One of the first. And with my help, the only one to escape the Medical Research arm of the United Galaxy Coalition.
The song ends and I nod to Charlene. Dancer-like grace defines her movements as she cases her guitar and waves me backstage.
When I reach the dressing room, she’s already packed, wiping down surfaces to remove any trace of her presence. “Hello, Samantha. What are you doing here?”
“What do you think?”
Charlene flings up her hands, disgust written in the deep lines framing her mouth. “I have to run again. Yeah, I get that.”
“It’s that or get turned into scrap. You know what they did to the others.”
“Sam, I’m tired. And you must be tired of saving me.” Her brows drop over stormy eyes.
I feel her frustration, deep and unnerving just like my own. I ignore it. “I have a shuttle at the Center City docks. Got everything you need?”
Charlene drops the rag and pulls her guitar case to her chest, wrapping her arms around its worn black shell. “Yes.”
It was all she had ever wanted: to play the blues and be left in peace. Maybe someday. Not today.
I scan the back street before waving Charlene out. As we round the side of the building, a sharp breath hisses through my teeth. Repos.
The black-clad men start toward us. I drag Charlene across the street and into a dark pocket between graffiti-covered buildings. “Go down this alley. If I’m not there in five minutes, run.”
Charlene vanishes in the shadows. In the darkness of the alley mouth, I watch the Repos shove through the milling crowd. Fingers tighten around my combat knife and I pull it from the sheath beneath my jacket. With my back to the wall, I wait.
Thunder rumbles in the distance. Voices filter through the humid air.
Movement. In seconds, both men are down. I swallow bile as a grimace locks my teeth.
It had to be done.
Wiping the knife on my jacket, I sprint to where Charlene waits. From there we hoof it to the docks.
I maneuver the shuttle into the loading bay of my titan-class cruiser, Orion. Stepping out of the small craft, I stretch my neck, cracking the bones and releasing the tension trapped there.
We reach the captain’s cabin. Charlene slams her guitar down on one of the leather couches in the lounge area and vanishes into the lavatory. I run my hands down the front of my blood-spattered uniform and pace, hoping Charlene will calm down.
Later, as I step out of the sanitation unit, a familiar rumble seeps through the cabin. The Orion is moving into hyper-drive. In minutes we’ll pass through the Azure Rift and come out lightyears away from the United Galaxy Coalition Repos.
But best of all, music fills the air with a gentle peace, settling my nerves like a vodka martini.
I dry my hair and step into the lounge. Charlene sits on the couch, eyes closed, nodding as she picks out a slow, sensitive song. A moment later, she opens her eyes and meets my gaze. A slight smile emerges as she pushes onto her feet and ramps up into one of my favorite hardcore blues rock pieces. The music takes hold and the last remnants of tension fade.
As I watch Charlene move, memories of my sister invade my consciousness—her smile, the way she laughed when I burned the brownies, the way she swayed to any blues tune.
CHAR15Le3. The first. The best. My brilliant little sister’s creation. My little sister’s clone.
The powers that be insist that cyborg-clones are nothing but soulless machines. They’re wrong. Charlene’s soul makes an appearance every time she plays the blues. I may not have been able to save my sister, but I will move Heaven and Earth to protect her clone.