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The Sameness We Share
by Rune Lai

I have neither a father nor a mother. I think. Or so conventional wisdom would say. Or so even the great Mother Brain had told me. Biological constructs don't have parents, but I wish I did. In my deepest dreams I think I did, once, but those dreams are so distorted now, trapped between who I was and who I am now. I am the product of an experiment combining the DNA of the dominant Palman race with that of less developed organisms. The result is me, a young girl all of two years old, yet fully grown all the same.

I might be considered beautiful by Palman standards, but though I have the shape of an woman, I possess two long pointed ears more commonly suited for a beast than a human female. Society considers me a freak. Hunters would have killed me long ago if not for Rolf. Though he's an agent for the government, he is one of the rare few who has the kindness to see beyond the monster and into the soul within. I live with him now, and he's cared for me ever since. I can never repay him enough. So when the Commander of Mota asked him to search for the root of the biomonster scourge I was the first to volunteer to go with him.

Now it seems that every time we manage a brief stop at home during Rolf's mission there is someone waiting there to join us. It is to good to know that people care so much. There is something unusual about these people. Even if they do not outright like me, they do not run from my presence or scream, calling me an abomination. For that, I'm willing to trust them. Acceptance cannot come without trust.

There is a knock at the door. Someone new has come. I am entertaining Amy in the kitchen so I let Rolf get the door. Amy is nice. She's a doctor and willing to see me as a product of science without necessarily using the distance of a scientist. Thus I am not happy when Rolf comes in to tell me that our latest companion is a biologist who used to work at the Biosystems Lab. I had been born there, and the scientists had tried to kill me.

The man who enters the kitchen is barely a man at all. He is very young, only barely into adulthood if that at all. And he worked at the Biosystems Lab? It was all but destroyed in the accident two years ago.

"Hello," he said. "I'm Hugh Thompson."

When I hear his voice a twinge of memory rises in me. I know him then, though I do not think that he knows me. His hair color is right, but not the eyes. Still there is something in the beast in me that will recognize the kin I have known however they show themselves. Imprinting I think they call it. I have no doubt. The muddled thoughts become clear. He is my father. He tells me that he values all life, even that of the biomonsters, but he would join Rolf's fight to protect those who could not protect themselves.

Why, then, had he not protected me when I was born, when his compatriots tried to kill me? I used to live in a dream, the sweet embryonic bliss of an undisturbed Biosystems Lab, listening to the voice of my creator who loved me. Living among Palmans I see now how a baby bonds with its parent, even before it's aware. I see how the bond between myself and my creator was forged without me ever putting a name or face to the voice. And he is here now, but I can't say anything to him.

I want to ask him, to ask the voice I remember from my infancy as an embryo in a tank. But I don't. It has been two long years without him and I do not know if he wishes to remember. Truthfully, I don't know if I want to either.

The child who escaped the Biosystems Lab had mutated beyond her original specifications. She knew her name to be Neifirst, and I was she. Marked as a failed by the scientists who discovered her, she fled wildly, alone and afraid. Her father, whose voice she knew but face she had never seen, was nowhere to be found.

She escaped the lab--with help--destroying it in the process, but the help had a high price. The wicked computer, the Mother Brain that was god to the Palmans, goaded her on to crueler things than taking the lives of the scientists and other experimental subjects around her. When Neifirst found herself rebuffed again and again by the humans during her search for her father she grew mean and angry. Why should circumstances of birth deny her the joys of life?

She accepted the computer's help again and learned the intricacies of science so that she could create her own children, but these were not as brilliant as herself. They were only beasts, but savage enough and as wrathful to the humans as she was herself.

And yet some part of her was sad. Some part still held hope for a peaceful existence. Her father would not have wanted this, she knew. So that part gathered herself--and left.

I have my own body, my own will, separate from hers. And yet we are still the same person, irrevocably connected from birth until death. Call me her soul. Call me her conscience. I am who should have been if not for the tragedy. I am the better part of Neifirst, but to others I am simply Nei.

He recognizes the name. I can see it in his expression as Rolf introduces me to him. He says nothing though, perhaps a bit afraid himself. Or maybe he does not realize I am the same as Neifirst. I think I can understand, but first I want to know him better, see him for the kind of man he is. So I smile in greeting and pump his hand energetically.

"Hello, Hugh." The name falls awkwardly from my lips, but I don't think he notices. "Would you like something to eat?"

*     *     *     *     *

So I watch him as he helps Rolf solve the mystery of the biomonsters. With each step we take my trepidation grows at the thought of what we will inevitably find, but I've come to realize that I can no longer run away. I need to see myself again for what I am, what I have become.

Hugh is polite to the Mota people, though perhaps a bit naive in the courtship of his own. He makes awkward passes at Amy who is amused by them. Though not the best physical combatant of our group, his techniques are useful, able to target living organisms for a devastating effect, and he's a passable medic in case of emergencies. Perhaps beyond all that though, what I admire most about him is that he tries hard and is optimistic about the power of the human spirit. He sincerely believes that we will change the world for the better. When I look in his eyes I see the cheerful soul who spent those long lonely nights minding the embryonic tank in which I grew.

Still, he cannot quite figure me out. I am an enigma to him. Possibly because he knows only of Neifirst and I do not go by that name. Also, I do not think that he can imagine the changes that took place the night of my birth. The power surge in the lab charged my growth far beyond anything that anyone had planned.

It is weeks before we finally talk person to person, as something more than just comrades in arms. We come to Uzo Island to look for a maruera tree. Hugh's professor friend thinks he might be able to fashion a gum out of the maruera tree's leaves that will allow the person chewing it to breath underwater. With that we will be able to swim beneath the sea and enter Climatrol, which appears to be the source of the biomonster epidemic. It takes us all day to reach the island from shore, so the group of us set up camp for the night. Hugh and I remain awake by the fire on watch. Even in this isolated location the biomonsters flourish.

I stare deep into the fire, calming myself, but it's not long before I realize Hugh is watching me. He hasn't the perception that my monstrous heritage gives me. I humor his observations a while longer before turning to face him.

"Something wrong?" I ask.

He can't hold his gaze even with mine. It glances over the beach and then settles on the fire. The flames have the same effect on him as they do me. "Thinking," he says. He shakes his head, but does not turn my way. "Nei, I don't mean to be rude, but do you ever think about your creation?"

What could I say? Every waking moment? Every time I look at Rolf and sadly realize that I am different? Who could love a monster... I bow my head and close my eyes. I don't want the tears to come.

"Yes, frequently," I say.

"What do you think of the person who created you?"

"I don't know." I am still trying to make up my mind, but hearing him now, I think that he is a good one.

"Do you know where you were born?"

"A lab." I open my eyes and look at him. He is looking back. "Why?"

"I'm searching for some answers and I'm hoping you can help me."

I try to smile, but I fear it's not nearly as comforting as I hope it to be. He is a very sad man beneath the veneer of optimism and cheer. His heart is wounded and I can do nothing to heal it. I am but a shadow of the solace he seeks. "I'm afraid I can't. I don't know what you're looking for and I don't think you're going to tell me."

"You're right," he says after a moment. "I'm not. I can't until I'm sure." He shakes his head. "It would hurt if I'm wrong."

Sorrowed, I reach out and clasp his hand in mine. "And it will hurt even more if you are right."

*     *     *     *     *

I think Hugh knows me now. He says nothing else of my origin to me, but supports me as I would expect of a friend, or perhaps of a father. I need that comfort as we enter Climatrol and discover the nests of the strongest monsters yet. Neifirst has grown in her craft and that frightens me because I have seen these creatures before in my dreams when Neifirst and I were one.

She will be at the top floor. There she can use the controls of Climatrol to monitor everything she wishes. Possibly, she even diverted the energy from the system to fuel the growth of her biomonsters. The planet is dry and desiccated because the rain will not fall, and I can hardly think that her living here has nothing to do with it.

I beckon to those with me and say, "Follow me. I know the way."

Rudo, the lone hunter who has joined our group, seems hesitant, but I don't blame him. He lost his wife and child to the biomonsters and since I am a creation of science as well, I am only a step removed from them. But he relents and says nothing.

Rolf trusts me as always. He has been my hope and my shelter. No harm can befall me by human hands while he is around to protect me. A big brother he said he would be to me, and he is that and more. Rolf cares nothing for what people think of me. Back then he saw a frightened child and took me in. Ah, if only my other self could know what she is missing!

My father just looks at me and nods. He does not yet know there are two us, the Nei I am and the Nei I have left behind. I do not think he will take the discovery well. Though well-meaning he is young and not yet strong for a man in his position. I think he feels the guilt of having missed the night of my birth, now knowing that I survived. I can't help but wonder how my life would have been different had he been there from the start. Scientist though he is, he has compassion or he would not have spent so long a time speaking to the embryo that could not yet respond. I, as Neifirst, could have been happy, and then quite possibly Mota would never have seen the rise of the biomonsters.

The resistance grows as we force our way through. Neifirst doesn't want to give ground. She throws her best creations at us and I help kill them without remorse, not because I do not respect them but because I can no longer spare the energy to mourn. They are like us, created and hated by humanity, and now, fit to be slain to correct a mistake.

We come to a lift and I say, "This is the last elevator."

Rolf nods and springs on to the platform. I am right behind him. I want to see Neifirst where she could see me in return, eye to eye and not from the back of the party.

She is not far from the exit to the elevator. Her appearance, near identical to mine, shocks Rolf. We share the same height, the same face, the same hair, but while my mouth will often hold a smile hers is twisted into a sneer.

"What's this?" he says. "She looks just like Nei!"

Of course.

She scowls and flicks her long purple hair over her shoulder with a casual disregard for those in front of her. "I am Neifirst," she says, enveloping all of us in her words. And then from her lips, not mine, the truth comes forth. "I was born two years ago. I am the product of a Biosystems experiment combining humans with animals. The people felt the experiment was a failure and thus tried to kill me."

She clenches her hand into a fist, reliving the pain she felt. "But I escaped, and stole DNA data from the Biosystem. I have created monsters to wreak revenge on the people who so carelessly and selfishly played with life." She turns to me, eyes hard with hatred, and she cannot keep the disdain from her voice; my voice. "But there is another Nei within me; a Nei who is trying to stop me."

Rolf stammers, glancing in my direction. "It can't be... You don't mean?"

"Yes, that is the one that you call Nei. The one you think is a friend is a monster who despises all people!"

That I can not abide. I shake my head and say, "No, I don't hate humans!" My voice is pleading, but I can't help it. Out of the corner of my eye I can see my father and he is crushed. "I separated from Neifirst because it was so terrible in her! Of course it is terrible to be born a monster! But I couldn't stand by while you tried to get revenge by creating monsters!"

"Fool!" she says. A laser beam of a sword appears in her hand. "You say such things, but you are powerless to stop me! Just try it!"

I ready myself, knowing now what I must do. Neifirst is beyond reason. Her hurt is too great, and my companions will not fight her if they know the truth about us, that if Neifirst dies so will I. So I must make the decision for them.

I lift my laser claws, one mounted over each hand, and stand opposite of her. We are mirror images that have forgotten how to move as one.

"I don't want you to make any more monsters! Do you understand?"

We clash together, more swiftly than my companions can react. In the distance, as if from another world, I hear Hugh cry, "You can't fight!" I feel for him, he who is now about to lose not one daughter, but two. I lock weapons with Neifirst. We are close enough to embrace, but the sameness we share is not unity. The two pieces will never be whole again.

Neifirst tears through me. She is the better warrior, stronger and faster for having been the original. Long before she strove to kill, to quiet, the voice inside of her that argued for hope. Perhaps now she has done it. If only she would have listened to me we might have been content as one entity, one soul. She could have had the desires in her heart fulfilled as mine had been. Now I know only that we both must leave the world that would not welcome us. So much hate, in us and them.

The second blow leaves me breathless. I think I am dead, but no, only dying. I fall back, all too acutely aware of the gash that tears my torso from hip to shoulder. I can still feel my heart beat, pumping, trying, but there is all too much blood. It is warm, and yet I am cold. Someone catches me, and the heat from his body comforts me.

"Nei, hold on!" shouts Rolf, my friend, my love, my brother, and more.

He kneels by my side, cradling my head in his arms. There are tears in his eyes and he holds me close. I am sorry that I will have to leave him, but I have to die, and if it isn't now, then later, perhaps at a time when I can no longer accomplish what I seek the most. Now, because I die, I know Rolf and my friends will fight. They will not have to worry about killing me because of my bond to Neifirst, because I am already gone. The way is open. They need only take it.

It hurts, but I look up into Rolf's eyes. I want to take his image with me, for whatever existence there is beyond death. He is a man possessed, insane with grief, but still the hero who rescued me seven months ago. I close my hand around his.

"There's no hope left for me," I whisper. My words give him no comfort, but they are only to make him understand. Nothing else. He has to be strong. "Please Rolf don't let them ever repeat the mistake they made when they made me. I hope everyone on Algo can find happiness in their new life."

My heartbeat is uneven and I will fade soon, but with no regrets except that if not for circumstances we could have done better. There may not be hope for me, but there will be hope for others like me. There will be hope for Rolf. I die knowing there will be hope for Algo, and, Father, I want you to be proud of me.

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