Chapter 22:

Hiding on Ceres

Red Storm Over Ganymede


**Isul**

Ceres’ population was, as I had feared, made up of mostly the cutthroat and disenfranchised from both the Empire and the Martian Republic. The planetoid had long ago been a site of contention between the two powers over the vast mineral wealth it contained. These days, the place was stripped, and the only evidence of the planetoid’s boom-town heyday were the huge, abandoned mining facilities.

A week into our stay in this Jove-forsaken hellhole, the transmissions from Ganymede had begun. The story that there was a clone of Emperor Tristan running around trying to stir up trouble, and if anyone had any information they were to contact Imperial Security at the first opportunity. I almost laughed when they suggested it might be a Martian plot against the Empire, when the whole thing had been a plot of the very people who now controlled the throne from behind.

It was true, however, that mixing a lie with the truth was the most dangerous thing of all. By suggesting that the real Tristan was the clone, it meant that nobody would ever trust his word. Not with his doppelganger sitting on the the throne with the Empress at his side.

Tristan was unshaven, and his eyes were bloodshot. He had been up all night again last night, drinking caf, desperate for any information from the Empire. We both were. I hadn’t said anything to him yet, but my private computations concluded very unlikely the Admiral wasn’t coming for us. Far more likely she had been court-martialed and thrown in the brig after being discovered having entered the command to shut down the ship.

But I couldn’t tell that to Tristan. He walked a razor’s edge these days, and I feared bad news would send him tumbling into the abyss.

“Anything on the channels?” I asked.

He shook his head. I dropped the supplies and sat down next to him. My olfactory receptors registered the stale smell of sweat and booze. Tristan must have remembered the alcohol stash he kept on board. “You need a shower,” I said.

Tristan shook his head again and said nothing. Simply kept working on the radio, trying to boost its signal. Without the suppressing effects of the new antlers, I probably would have yelled, screamed, pleaded with him to give up and do something. This waiting to be rescued thing was not like him.

Instead, I said, “That’s it. You’re coming into Proserpina with me tomorrow. You need to get out of this ship. I’ll not have you holed up in here drinking yourself to death.”

Tristan turned his red-rimmed eyes on me. “I’ll drink myself to death if I want.”

Anger began running through me, and I took a moment to recompile my feelings before speaking. “Winne didn’t die for this.”

Tristan’s fist shot out and struck the wall, where it left a bloody smear. “But she did die because of me.”

“Because she believed in you,” I shot back. “Something I’m beginning to wonder if she was wrong about.”

Tristan growled and dropped his face into his hands. “Of course she was. Nobody should have ever put any faith in me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Tristan didn’t meet my eyes. “I have no more right to the throne than the clone that’s there now.”

I folded my arms across my chest. “Don’t be dramatic, Tristan. Of course you do.”

Our eyes locked across the small cabin then, and he looked despondently at me, “One clone or another, what does it matter?”

It took my processor a moment to register his words.

Tristan. My Tristan. A clone.

“Since when?” I asked in a calm voice.

“I think since the accident. I think the real Tristan died there, and that’s the real reason I don’t have memories from before then,” Tristan said, his voice flat and monotone.

I shook my head emphatically. “That can’t be true. I held you in the escape pod. You were breathing.”

“But afterward, the one-sixth revolution I spent in recovery on Miranda. It’s the time needed to fully grow a clone,” he said.

“You’re being ridiculous,” I said, but my positron brain was beginning to piece the information together. “I was there with you six months after they recovered you. After you were well enough that your grandmother allowed people to see you.”

“Six months is enough time to grow a clone to a little over two revolutions,” he said quietly.

I replayed memories of that time over and over in my brain. I had had to help Tristan relearn so many basic things in addition to the royal information. Eating with a knife and fork, using the toilet, sleeping in a bed.

“But what about the Tristan I saved?” I pleaded, wanting so badly for this to be him.

“Anoxic brain injury. He was braindead after the accident, so they pulled the plug and grew me in his place to prevent the Empire from descending into civil war,” Tristan said.

I thought of the Before the Accident Tristan, shy, but always smiling. My Tristan had always been confrontational ever since the accident. He was contrary to a fault, and had his mood swings, but I never doubted his heart was good. I eventually even got him to see it as well.

“So what? So what if you’re not the original? You’ve trained, trained hard, for the last ten years to be worthy of your name. People have fought and died in your name. Don’t throw away their sacrifices,” I pleaded.

Tristan looked as if I had struck him across the face. “How can you say ‘so what’? So what means that all those people fought and died for a lie. My whole life is a lie, Winnie died for a lie!” he said.

I knew that Tristan hated nothing more than lies. And now he was what he had always despised.

Even so, I could not sit by and let Tristan bury himself in self-doubt. “If your whole life was a lie, then what was the purpose of my existence? Helper to a lie? Lover of a lie? No, you are more than that!”

Tristan’s eyes flashed in anger. “No, I’m not. I’m just another failed experiment.”

“So you’re just giving up? Just going to let the Uranians win and subject the citizens - and Bio-droids - to the tyrannical rule of a puppet Emperor? That’s not the Tristan I know,” I yelled back.

Tristan’s lips compressed into a thin line and I saw the muscles in his jaw tighten. “Then maybe you don’t know me as well as you think.”

With that, Tristan pushed past me, threw on his jacket, activated the controls to the gangplank, and tromped off the ship, leaving only echoing footfalls in his wake.

By Jove, I had screwed up. 

Steward McOy
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