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The rule of mirrors, p.27
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       The Rule of Mirrors, p.27

           Caragh M. O'Brien
 

  I choked out a laugh and hugged my arms around myself.

  “She’s different from how she was on The Forge Show,” he said. “She’s a little scary, to be honest.”

  “She’s changed. It only makes sense.”

  “But she talks a lot like you, too,” he went on. “It’s not her voice, but, the whole thing’s just bizarre.”

  “Because we’re the same person,” I said.

  I’d barely glanced at Linus’s room when we’d walked in, but now I took in the angled ceiling, the windows, and the single, neatly made bed. Had she spent the night with him here? A lump tightened in my chest. That should have been me.

  “What do you want to do?” Tom asked.

  “Stay here, obviously. Figure this out.”

  Footsteps came slowly up the stairs again, and Linus leaned in the door. It was painful to be in the same room with him when he looked at me in such a measuring way.

  “She’s okay,” he said. “She just needs a little time to herself.”

  “When did she get here?” I asked.

  “Last night.”

  “I wish you’d called me,” I said.

  “We were busy,” he said.

  Was that color tinting his cheeks?

  “I bet,” I said.

  He looked pointedly at my belly. “I notice you managed to omit that you were pregnant when we talked on the phone.”

  “Like it would matter to you?” I said.

  “Thea,” Tom said quietly.

  I ignored him. “The truth is, I had a hard enough time getting you even to listen to me. I knew you wouldn’t understand about this,” I said to Linus.

  “You’re wrong,” he said. “I understand pregnancy. What I still don’t understand is how you know so much about me and Rosie.”

  “I told you,” I said. “I am Rosie. I have the same mind as her. Didn’t I just prove it? Rosie knows me. And how can you be sleeping with her? She looks like a fragile wreck.”

  “You’re the one who just upset her,” Linus said.

  “Thea, this isn’t helping,” Tom said.

  “Leave me alone!” I snapped at him. “You weren’t there, okay? You don’t have anything to do with this!”

  Tom stiffened. He eyed me coolly. “I’ll be downstairs,” he said, and headed out.

  I pressed a hand to my forehead. I was a total jerk. No wonder nobody liked me.

  “I’m sorry,” I said.

  Linus reached for a mug on the bedside table, and I knew in another second, he’d be going downstairs to get away from me, like everyone else.

  “I mean it. I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not like this.”

  “No?”

  I threw out a hand. “Will you try for just one second to imagine how frustrating this is for me? I don’t want to be like this. This isn’t my body. Nobody understands who I am.”

  A sharpness flickered in his eyes. “I tried,” he said. “When we talked on the phone, I really believed you were Rosie. Even with the wrong voice, you convinced me. But you’re nothing like her.”

  “Why? Because I lost my temper?”

  He watched me intently. “Because it turns out you lied. You lied about the baby and who knows what else.”

  “You think Rosie never lies to you?” I asked. “I’d bet you anything she’s acting all sweet and trusting, but she isn’t. She doesn’t know how to trust anybody anymore. That’s who she is. That’s what the vault does to you.”

  “Try speaking for yourself,” Linus said.

  “I am! I’m speaking for both of us. She was in the vault even longer than I was and I’m angry as anything.”

  “At Berg.”

  “At you!” I said, with all my heartache and fury boiling over. “All this time, you let him win!”

  Linus stood tensely, frowning down at the mug in his hand. He shook his head, as if he had a thousand words pent up.

  “Go on,” I said, my voice low. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

  “I only have these kinds of conversations with Rosie,” he said. “She’s the only one who can make me feel this.”

  “This what?”

  He looked up at me, his gaze hard. “Worthless,” he said. “Excuse me.”

  He stepped out of the room.

  I sank slowly to the edge of the bed and crushed my hands together. My anger evaporated. I had utterly and completely blown it. I was a crappy person. A mean, crappy person. So why did my heart feel slashed apart?

  Another one of my false contractions came creeping over my belly, tightening everything inward. It wasn’t painful, but it seemed like Althea’s body was mocking me.

  “Perfect,” I muttered.

  I was still tired from walking the long tunnel under Forge, and rattled from my meeting with Berg. All this time, I had wanted to find Rosie as if I owed her something or could help her somehow. What a joke. She wanted nothing to do with me, and I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t want anything to do with myself, either.

  From the hall, light footsteps were approaching, and I glanced up as Rosie appeared in the doorway. She crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe, studying me with obvious skepticism.

  “That didn’t take you long,” she said. “You managed to alienate all three of us.”

  “It’s my special skill.”

  She briefly pursed her lips. “Tom said you went to Forge today. Did you find out anything?”

  “Actually, I did. I talked to Berg.”

  “Really? How?”

  “He found me in the basement, by the vault of dreamers. I went down to investigate.”

  She leaned her head forward. “Are you serious? Tom didn’t mention that.”

  “Because I didn’t tell him I went down there.”

  Her eyebrows lifted in surprise. She came further in, and I could tell she was curious. “What did Berg say?”

  “Nothing much, but he knows my name now,” I said. “He’s going to figure out I was at Chimera, and I’m guessing he’ll know pretty soon that your dreams were seeded into me. That can’t be good for either of us.”

  “How many of my memories do you have?”

  “I have the same memories as you up to the point that I left the vault.”

  She looked at me thoughtfully. “Do you remember Ian?” she asked.

  “He was one of our keepers in the vault,” I said. “Dr. Ash mentioned his name. Creepy guy.”

  “He was disgusting,” Rosie said. “I got him to lighten up on my meds by pretending to be his girlfriend. Then I snuck out one night and stole a car. I nearly froze to death, but I got free.” She considered me another minute. “How long have you been in the States?”

  “A week. We came home from Chimera last Monday.” For a second, I considered telling her about Orson, our father, but this wasn’t the time. I ought to tell her about seeing Dubbs and Ma and Larry, too.

  “Does your new family know about you?” Rosie asked.

  I nodded. “They’re having a hard time accepting it. They keep hoping I’ll wake up as Althea one of these days.” I took a deep breath. “Listen, you might as well believe me. Why would I make this up?”

  “I don’t know. That’s what I’m wondering,” she said.

  “Ask me anything,” I said.

  “Where did we go for vacation when I was ten?”

  “The Grand Canyon. We took a road trip there. Larry got poison ivy and complained all the way back.”

  She smiled. “Where do I hide my journal?”

  “You don’t keep one, but Dubbs does,” I said “She hides it under our bed. She sleeps on the top bunk so you have to pass it up to her each night.”

  She nodded. “What’s her favorite stuffed animal?”

  “Elmo. It’s so old the black rubbed off its eyes, so you drew it on again with a Sharpie.”

  “This is deeply weird,” Rosie said.

  “I know,” I said.

  “How do you feel about Linus?” she asked.

  My heart stopped. I glanced side
ways, toward a Swiss Army knife on his desk. I made him feel worthless.

  “Crap,” Rosie said.

  I couldn’t help it. I had to know. “Did you sleep with him?” I asked.

  She slid her hands down into her pockets. “No,” she said. “I mean, yes, I slept with him, but we didn’t have sex.” She smiled, then made a goofy, embarrassed face. “How are you and Tom?”

  “Awkward,” I said. “He misses the real Althea, but he’s such a decent guy that he’s trying to take care of me.”

  A clanking noise came from the kitchen below, and I listened a moment for more.

  “Tell me what you found out at Forge today,” Rosie said.

  “The vault itself was empty, but I followed the tunnel past the clock tower pit,” I said. “It slopes down a long way and ends at a locked door. I heard mooing on the other side, which means—”

  “The dairy barn,” she said. “I was trying to think how Berg moved all the dreamers out so quickly. It fits. They could have loaded all the dreamers into ice cream trucks and driven them away. Nobody would have noticed. Does Tom know?”

  I shook my head. “I was too freaked out by seeing Berg. I didn’t really want to talk. I just wanted to come here and see Linus in case he knew where you were.”

  “This is good,” Rosie said. “Don’t tell either of them. It’s not their problem.”

  “What are you going to do?” I asked.

  “I’m still working that out,” she said.

  “You wouldn’t kill anybody.”

  She looked at me oddly. “I wouldn’t admit it.”

  My heartbeat kicked in, and I wasn’t certain what to say. I believed, deep down, that Rosie could want to kill Berg because part of me wanted to, too. But I wouldn’t actually go through with it.

  “You’re too smart to mess up your life that much,” I said doubtfully.

  She gave a faint, feline smile. “Just promise me you won’t tell anybody about the tunnel,” she said. “Do that for me, and I’ll keep your secrets, too.”

  “Okay,” I said. “I promise.”

  30

  ROSIE

  BAGELS

  WHEN WE GET DOWN to the kitchen, Linus has cleared away the cutting board and the mess. He brings over a bag of bagels. On the stove, a pot of marinara sauce is simmering, and the juicy smell is beyond amazing. The shades, pulled down to cover the windows, are backlit with gold from the evening sun. It feels like a totally ordinary kitchen, but this is arguably the strangest day of my life. I want to dismiss Thea’s entire claim that she has my mind, but I’m also so shocked by her that I guess I am believing her. She has me second-guessing everything I say or do. It’s like how I felt the first time with all the cameras at Forge, only a million times worse. When I lift my hand, I’m seeing the motion through my own eyes and wondering how it looks to her through her eyes at the same time.

  Tom is in a chair at the table already, peeling an orange. Thea quietly apologizes to him about something, and though he seems a bit stiff, he says not to worry. He offers her a wedge of orange, which she accepts. She sits heavily in the chair beside him and lounges back in a relaxed, elegant way, as if she deserves to make herself comfortable.

  I slouch.

  “Coffee,” Linus says, and puts a steaming metal pot beside the bagels. “We’re out of milk. Help yourselves.”

  Thea and I pick raisin bagels from the bag and both smear cream cheese the same way, in dabs. I lick my fingers, knowing I shouldn’t. She uses her napkin, which she rests on the top of her belly. What I don’t understand is this poise of hers. If we have the same brain, I don’t get why she’s smarter and calmer than I am. Unless she only seems smarter and calmer. Could be she’s as restless as I am inside.

  She looks at Linus sometimes when he isn’t looking at her, and I can’t tell if she’s wistful or chagrined. He hardly looks at her at all. He doesn’t sit with us. Instead, he positions the fourth chair where Thea can put her feet up on it and tells her to do so. Then he goes back to brace his hand on the counter beside him.

  I am not deceived. Some friction unites them. I don’t want to care, but it eats at me because I don’t understand it.

  “Do you have déjà vus anymore, or any headaches?” Thea asks me.

  I’ve never talked about the déjà vus in front of a stranger like Tom before, so the question makes me uneasy. “No. Do you?”

  “I’ve been getting headaches,” she says. “They’re bad, but they don’t last long. I also had a déjà vu in the clock tower today.”

  “She’s supposed to report any headaches,” Tom says. “They could mean a problem with her surgery.”

  “I’m not going back for any more tweaks,” she says.

  She fills us in about her recovery at the Chimera Centre, and she describes the lab she found there. I can see why she’s not psyched to have any more surgeries.

  “What if they had never put Rosie’s seed in a new body?” Linus asks her.

  Thea turns to him. “I’d be stuck in a petri dish, like all those other dream seeds,” she says. “I doubt I’d even know I exist.”

  “What about Thea? What would have happened to her?” Linus asks.

  “I don’t know,” she says. “Diego and Madeline were keeping me—I mean her—alive for the baby’s sake.”

  Linus glances briefly toward Tom, and then back to Thea. He looks like he has more questions, but he doesn’t ask them. Instead, he aims his eyes toward his feet.

  “What’s going on?” I ask.

  Linus lifts his gaze toward Thea, as if she’ll answer for them. She stares back at him, waiting likewise. I set down my bagel. This testy vibe of theirs bugs me. They had, what, two phone conversations together? I slept in his bed last night. I thought that counted for something.

  “You might as well tell me,” I say. “I can’t read your mind.”

  “It’s no big deal,” Thea says. “Apparently, Linus thinks I’m nothing like you.”

  Linus crosses his arms. “That’s not exactly true,” he says.

  “How are we different?” I ask.

  “He likes the way you’re trusting and sweet,” Thea says, with her gaze still on Linus.

  “I’m not,” I say.

  “I guess then we are similar,” Thea says.

  Tom lets out a low whistle.

  Linus steps over to the stove. “You can stop anytime,” he says quietly.

  Steam escapes as he lifts the lid and gives his red sauce a stir.

  “So, Thea,” Tom says in a cheery, clear voice. “Did you tell Rosie about our trip to Doli?”

  “What?” I ask.

  Thea gives me a small smile. “I wanted to tell you I saw Dubbs yesterday,” she says. “We went to visit Doli, Tom and I. Ma and Larry were there, too.”

  “Really? How were they all?” I ask.

  “They were fine,” she says. “They didn’t recognize me, of course. They miss you. Dubbs looks good. I can’t go home, but you could.”

  “Maybe someday,” I say, and look toward the window. It’s getting late. In a couple of hours, it will be dark out. All I want to do is get revenge on Berg. Nothing has changed that. I need to call Burnham and finalize my plans. It helps now that I know a secret way into Forge.

  “You could also come with us to Holdum,” Thea continues. “Althea’s family would be glad to have you. The ranch is beautiful. I’ve been thinking about this, actually. You could take one of the bedrooms on the third floor near mine. We could sit out on the porch with the baby on sunny days and take turns pushing her swing.”

  Her fantasy is so unlikely that I don’t even know where to begin. I lean back, studying her, and then I realize she’s trying to give me alternatives to my revenge plans.

  “Do you ever hear voices?” she asks.

  “No.”

  “Me, neither. Do you ever miss it?”

  Again, I feel awkward discussing this in front of others. “Sometimes,” I say.

  “What voices do you mean?” Tom asks
.

  Thea shifts her feet on the extra chair, and it squeaks against the floor. “I started hearing a voice in my head back when I was at Forge,” she says. “It wasn’t just a normal voice, like when you talk to yourself. It felt like another side of me with a will of her own.” She glances at me. “Right? From deep inside?”

  I nod. It’s so strange to hear her explaining out loud what I have only known inside my mind.

  “First she would just show up randomly and say something, but then we started having conversations,” Thea continues. “Arguments, sometimes. After we were stuck in the vault, we talked even more.”

  “I think it started because Berg was mining us,” I say. “It was a kind of response to that. A defense.”

  “A subconscious thing,” Thea says.

  “I suggested that before,” Linus says. “Rosie Id and Rose Ego.”

  “No, we were really more us,” I say. “Two voices but the same individual. Subconscious or conscious didn’t matter much by the end.” I face Thea again. “You decided to leave,” I say.

  “Yes,” she agrees. “It was better than waiting it out in the vault, sleeping our life away while they mined us down to nothing.”

  She sounds a little too superior to me.

  “But leaving was suicide,” I say, feeling my resentment kick in again.

  Thea spreads her hands on the table. “Apparently not, since I’m still alive. I thought staying was suicide.” She glances toward Tom as she goes on. “So we split. I took the conscious side of me and left.”

  “But I was conscious by then, too,” I insist. “Just as conscious as you. You should have listened to me.”

  She looks surprised. “I did listen,” Thea says. “But your main reason to stay was that you were afraid.”

  I stand up, ready to smash something: bagels, plates, anything. “I was not!”

  “Calm down. It’s not like I deliberately left you behind,” Thea says. “I just did the best I could at the time. I was only trying to survive.”

  “Don’t tell me to calm down!” I say. “I don’t care what your excuse is. You left me in that hell. They kept mining me for months, Thea. Months! I’ll never be the same!” I pull down the neckline of my shirt to show the port that still bulges under my skin.

  Thea, Linus, and Tom go motionless. Tension sucks the air out of the room.

 
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