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Prometheus the Second
Once upon a time there were brothers. The twins Prometheus, forethought, and Epimethius, hindsight.
There was once a petty and cruel leader over the gods, Zeus. Walking among Men, Prometheus, clever and quick, in turn gives them fire, a gift only for gods.
In retaliation, Zeus sends Pandora forth to Epimethius, and Pandora, the dull brother’s bride, releases all war and famine upon Man.
And so Prometheus, believer in Mankind, is punished for his crimes against the gods, and his siding with Man.
That is the tale of Prometheus. This is his other story.
We are the cuckoos in the songbirds' nest. We look like you. We act like you. We could be you. And we do. But we aren't you.
If our planets are siblings, then we are Hephaestus, you Ares. We create. You destroy. To live we hide. Interfere with your satellites, a few false images of poisoned clouds and smothering atmosphere. An illusion of a deathtrap. A wasteland. Humans destroy what you do not understand. This is why we hide.
Yet you fascinate us. From this twisted interest is born the Doppelganger Project. The offspring of Greats were switched with the human children of Commons. We grew in your shoes. We played your part and read your lines. We were the scientists, the messengers, the spies, for our kind.
My name is Seth Freeman. My switch is now called Dolos. Sometimes I still feel him. Still experience his senses. Still connect to the Chip. That single bit of technology among grey matter. The final link between surrogate and stolen. But the Project has been murdered by Dux, leader of Venus, and all members ordered to cease study or cease life. But the Project is my life. My stolen life. Work fills a void. Mankind needs the chance.
But now my world seeks me with bullet because I believed in yours.
I do not have much time.
Coming, coming. Running, running, running. What is to happen when I keel?
Beware Venus’s intolerant leader and his iron fist. Dux cannot stand being made the fool. He is petty. He is fickle. But he is in power. Like any society, there is an underlying but unwritten order of Venus. One: do not insult Dux.
Two: do not incur the wrath of Neith.
Seth is crafty, that is true, but Neith is cunning, that is more. Seth can hunt. Neith can snare. She is wily, she is feared. Neith, giver of all but hope. The woman is devious. She is a true assassin. And Dux has her on Seth’s tail. That boy, that insolent boy, made a mockery of Dux. But he will not last long. No, not long at all. None ever do against Neith. Never, never.
Soon, soon, soon.
A conceited grin plays across Dux's lips as he twists two worlds in the palm of his hand. Life is chess. He is king. Little does he realize Neith positions the pieces.
We are born. We live. We die. But what if the order is inverted? What if distorted? For Dolos it was. He was born. He was replaced. Now he lives a lie.
Lately the Chip has haunted him. Stirs his waking hours. Weaves itself through his dreams. His nightmares. Of terror. Of sweat and blood. Of give and take and run and chase.
Of fear. Seth fears.
Dux knows. He knows. He acts. Neith comes. Dux needs information, information Dolos has. But Dolos refuses.
He does not trust the man who stole his life.
I toggle the controls of the craft that borne me here. That maintained correspondence. That continued the Project I gamble all life on. Worth it? Yes. No. I do not know. Will I live? Yes, I must, of course. But what if I don’t? Then I died for belief, a martyr in science, in future, in step forward. But what if I die? I can’t, I will live, I must. But what if?
What if, what if?
Incoming ship. Approaching fast. It can't be. I shouldn't be. Oh, but it is. Neith is coming. Neith, giver of all but hope. She is nearing. So close, so close. I vie for speed. Swerve for an edge. Sweat and fidget and pray for a chance. A chance, a chance, why am I never given a chance? Why caught in cruel twist and this dangerous dance?
I test the capacity of Venus’s technology. Faster. Swifter. There must be more power. There must be, must be, must be.
But what if there is not? What if, what if?
Flare of strength, trying barriers of matter and space.
Lapse in engine.
Spiraling, spiraling, spiraling... down, down, down, caught in the orbit of Venus, the home that was not mine. But I know it is hopeless. I know where I land. The name is difficult to pronounce with Earth tongue. The translation barely breeches on its feral nature, the cruelty in nature. I am headed to the heart of the Morass, where the water is poison and the food can make a meal of you.
Now I am in it with Neith. A classic torment. Predator, prey, and harsh environment.
I know which I am.
“I have him in my sights,” Neith informs Dux, via communicator, “Stolen ship. Crash landing.”
Dux grunts, muttering in rapid Venusian, “Find him. Finish him. I want his head on my wall.”
“I'm afraid that might not work,” Neith smirks. She strokes the communicator in anticipation, “You see, I don't know what will be left. He is in the Morass. With me.”
“A fitting end.” Dux chuckles. None can see the irony but him. But who will refute? You might be the next scattered skeleton under bog in Morass.
Dolos stirs. The Chip is troubling him. Again. The images burn, the sounds needle, the feelings are fire. He paces. Wrings his hands. Is Seth alright? Does it matter, he was supposed to be Seth. But they are two, and one, a pair from the start. What if he is dying? So what. What if? It cannot be. It can't. It can't.
The communicator interrupts his nerve raking.
“You know who it is,” it is Neith's whisper, “Do you have information?”
Dolos says what he has always told her. Repeats what he always does. He ceases talking. Clicks the communicator shut.
Closing the connection to Neith.
I spring aside and spring the snare. Profanity, both Earthling and Venusian alike. I tear away, blind I am so frantic. A rhythmic pounding throbs in my temple. Com-ing, com-ing. I'm here, I'm here.
Neith has that affect. That is why she is does what she does. Why she excels at it. How long have I been in the Morass? Hours? Weeks? Time fails to be real, to simply be. Has the sun risen? When have I last eaten? Is she coming? Is she coming? Is she here?
This must be the role of the pray animal. My head clears and I regain reason. I am being hunted on a time schedule. Eventually it must halt, a mouth must be fed, a throat wet, an eye shut. But I cannot rest until she does, and Neith cannot have rest until mine is eternal. No food until I have no need of it. Who am I kidding? What food satisfies Neith? Only the bloody and fresh. And she plays with her food first.
There is only one thing of which I am sure.
I cannot keep running till I keel. If I am to survive, I must fight. I must learn to hunt.
“It is your duty to your world,” Dux says, “The choice is yours.”
Dolos extends his hands on the table. The fingers are splayed. The palms face down. The crook of his elbow traces a flawless right angle. It’s not my world, he thinks. But he cannot say this. No, he will find himself with Seth. Do not insult Dux. He is at the top. He is the top. Dolos has nothing, nothing but a chip in his brain. And an alternate on the run.
“I've told you,” he grits his teeth, “Again and again. I've got nothing.”
“Nothing? Or nothing to tell me?”
“I don't understand. He's in trouble. He's afraid. I— I don't have much else.” he stumbles in the last sentence. He catches himself. Orients. Prays Dux does not notice. Will he? Surely not. But what if? What if? What if?
“I see,” Dux answers. Of course he does not. But would he ever say so?
A claw of thorns and ivy. Meant to snap, to clamp. I examine my work, prepare to conceal myself. It is a distraction, the variable that will perhaps tip the scales, the obstacle to slow her. Then I must finish Venus's greatest assassin off manually. I shudder.
I admire the trap once more. It is located by the only stream that will not be vile on your tongue and bleach in your lungs. Either she knows I will need to be here at one point, or she will come herself. This is the ideal bank, the ideal position. Decent. But is decent good enough? How can one snare the mistress of traps?
Backing for a farther view, I realize my mistake. My weight triggers the catch. The net encloses instantaneously, I suspended in the tangle. The huntress. The weaver of webs. The weaver of war. Ironically, I recall the Venus flytrap. What a cruel dark humor.
So Neith predicted my coming here, the trap. How? How? She is a huntress, that is true. But how should she know? She knows the mind of the prey gone predator. But how could she know? She is skilled. They call her best with reason. But how should she know?
She knows mind of prey. But how should she know mind of me? She does not know me. Does she? Perhaps. But how? How? What has occurred for her to know?
How, oh, how?
Dolos's figure retreats. Boards the hovercraft. Dux strokes his chin, considering, considering. Perhaps? A long shot. But a straight one. Worth the risk?
Dux caresses the communicator. Decides.
“Redirect his flight,” he hisses to the pilot, “Up the speed. I want him at these coordinates. And I don't want him to know a thing.” Pleased, Dux relines deeply into the chair. His ankles are elevated and crossed on the desk. His hands clasped and rested across his torso. His lips drawn up in a smirk covering his face.
Let Dolos have a taste of the Morass. Perhaps then he would be eager to say where Seth was. Perhaps not. Maybe... maybe....
It did not matter either way to Dux.
I do not know how long I waited. How long I sweated. How long my eyes drew wide and stung, how long my throat grew rough with grit, how long my heart throbbed to tempo so erratic. The sun lowered in the heavens, though my ups were downs and rights and offs. The direction distorted, my vision clouded. The net is knit close. The weaver had supplied enough for breath. Perhaps so I'd last longer. Scream louder. Be excruciatingly aware for the last.
What was the delay? Did she not yet know? Unlikely. Was she too far from here, so far the hike was long as painful day? Probably.
Was she toying with me? Was it deliberate?
I do not know how long I waited. Only that the long shadows grew darker. Bleaker with the stale air. Blacker with my thoughts. I. Am. Coming, my pulse pounded, I. Am. Here.
I am ready, so pleadingly ready just for the close of this vigil. For the end, whether rest in blankets or breath or shackles or death. The net is cut. I still in the knot. The weaver's work is still a vice. I glace at who mutilated by chrysalis, where I would’ve transformed from pupa to pulp.
“Dolos!” I exclaim. Is that hope? Could it be? Have I escaped? Where is she? “Dolos, help me! Neith is coming!”
“Yes,” he agrees, “Yes, she is.”
“Help me out! I'm out of time!”
“Yes. You are.”
His eyes peer from down the barrel. He raises the arm, directs the gun. The bullet lodges in my brain, impaling the Chip. Dolos is gone. The Morass is gone. Hope is gone.
“Just when I think you can't get better,” Dux congratulates Neith, “You prove me wrong. Another job well done.”
“Thank you,” Neith's mouth curls slyly. Her eyes glint, “Though I didn't do it alone.”
“Yes,” Dux seconds, “but he only sped it up. You could've done it. I never did find out the whole story. What did Dolos do?”
“He doesn't trust you, but that doesn't mean the same for me. I can entice. I can persuade.” She grins, the metallic light of Dux's office on her teeth, “Dolos acts out of anger. He doesn't think ahead. And he has no love for his replacement. Every time I called he could give me more help. Betrayed Seth right down to the end.”
“A liability, though,” a shadow crosses Dux's eye, “I expect you to finish him soon.”
“I'm on it,” Neith replies lazily, “He'll be dead before dawn. He trusts me. His mistake.” Mistake. Like Seth. Believing in Mankind, making fool of Dux, receiving Neith in retaliation. She smiles at her employer. Soon. Soon. The empire would fall, and she’d rein in the ashes. All she had to do was tug the strings of the marionette, and Dux was at her whim. He’d lose power to her. Discontent. Political civil war.
Like turning brother against brother.