Charlotte stared at the woman—the clone—in the hospital bed. It was frightening: the mottled splotch crawling from beneath her hospital gown like some kind of living thing, the wheezing catch in her breath. This wasn’t the clone sickness, the cure for which rested against Charlotte’s hip. This was something else entirely.
In her hand, Charlotte’s phone buzzed incessantly, a droning mosquito as Alison sent a dozen texts, rapid-fire:
What r u talking about????
Not the clone sickness??
But is she sick??
CHARLOTTE WHATS GOING ON
YOUNG LADY UR NOT ANSWERING ME WHY DON’T I SEE YOU TYPING
Dana, the clone, sucked in a breath as she startled from sleep. Charlotte took a step back, shoving her phone into the back pocket of her jeans, while Alison continued her assault. She turned toward the plastic casing of the tent, hands fumbling for the zipper, but stopped herself. Now all the quarantine procedures made sense. For an illness that it now seemed she had no cure for after all. She was trapped, at least until she got answers or, hopefully, treatment. Answers this woman, likely completely unaware of her clone status, probably couldn’t provide.
“Hey,” Dana mumbled, eyes still heavily lidded. “You’re up.”
Panic clawed up Charlotte’s throat, stubborn as a rash. Who did she think Charlotte was? Charlotte clenched her hands into tight fists and hoped Dana’s obvious grogginess would provide some cover.
“I . . .” Her voice came out scratchy, so she tried again. “I wanted to . . . see how you were doing.”
There. A nice, bland response. She could be anyone. Charlotte mentally patted herself on the back.
“I—Oh. Sorry. Thought you were Bridget.” Dana closed her eyes as she sank back into her pillows, and Charlotte exhaled through her nose. Quickly, before Dana could wake back up again, she snatched the chart dangling from the wall beside Dana’s bed and scanned it. Information, she needed more information—
Her eyes landed on the woman’s DOB, printed plainly across the top of the chart, confirming what they’d suspected. 1993. This clone hadn’t come from Project Leda.
“Wait.” Dana surged up again, blinking away the sedative glaze from her eyes. “You’re not . . .” Charlotte’s brain hop-skipped across the words Dana almost said: You’re not one of us. She knows she’s a clone. She knows other clones . . . “How did you . . .”
With unexpected speed, Dana lurched forward and stretched for the call button on the wall panel beside her bed.
“Please! Don’t!” Charlotte cried. “I can explain everything—”
Dana’s arm hovered, trembling, as she gave Charlotte a pointed look.
“Well—okay, I can explain some things,” she conceded. Dana snorted at that. “But I need answers, too.”
“You’re young,” Dana said flatly.
Charlotte winced. “So everyone likes to remind me.”
Dana’s head tilted as she studied Charlotte, some mental calculus taking place that Charlotte could only guess at. Her surprise hadn’t stemmed from Charlotte’s identical face after all. Only that she hadn’t been this “Bridget.” Was Bridget another clone, too?
Finally, Dana’s hand dropped, the call button unpressed, and she slumped back into her bed. “I thought we knew everything,” Dana said. She gestured to herself, the cord from her finger’s oximeter trailing. “And then this . . .”
“Is it contagious?” Charlotte asked. Once more, her phone rattled against her butt.
“It only seems to affect me and my, uh . . .” Dana’s eyebrows drew down. “Cousins.”
She was baiting Charlotte. Daring her to admit what she knew.
Charlotte dragged the flimsy visitor’s chair up to the side of Dana’s bed and settled in. “How about I go first?”
“See what I mean? She’s looking and acting exactly like Alison,” Donnie said, his face pixelating on the emergency group call. He’d shared a video clip from their house’s doorbell security camera, showing a clone who could certainly be Alison approaching the door and working her way inside. Except she couldn’t be Alison, because Alison was currently in her minivan outside of a hospital in Boston. Donnie squinted as he leaned closer to the screen. “Although I guess she is . . . a little . . .”
Cosima and Delphine exchanged a look over the laptop, out of view of the sestras.
“Less put together?” Alison asked, nostrils flaring.