I’m hiding in a wardrobe, wondering how long I have left to live. It’s not a comfortable feeling even if we knew it was going to come to this eventually. The set-up: the House, an old country mansion, still grand but it had obviously been abandoned for decades before the company bought it and redecorated. Inside it looks how you’d imagine the wealthy lived: deep carpets, animal heads on the walls, an excess of textured wallpaper and wood panelling. They don’t make much of an effort to hide the bullet holes, though some effort is plainly made to clean the carpets and furnishings. I guess there’s only so much point in a thorough cleaning when another murder party is coming in. Not that it’s a continuous flow of killers – this is an expensive outfit, available only to the hyper-rich who simply cannot be touched by the law.
Fuck, there’s someone coming in the room – one sec.
Who doesn’t look in a wardrobe? Not that I’m complaining, but I’m pretty sure that guy was me. Or rather, I’m him. That’s unusual, apparently. I should explain. I, and the other five (scratch that – four) hiding in the house aren’t just some random homeless people rounded up by the company. Nothing so simple. We’re force-grown clones, created and matured solely for the purpose of being murdered by the rich and famous. At first they did acquire homeless people, abducted immigrants and the like from people trafficking operations, and let them loose in the House. While it was fun, it wasn’t enough for the billionaires. The next phase was plastic surgery, so the poor bastards were made to look like whoever it was the customers hated most. Still not good enough, so when human cloning was fully banned under any circumstances, naturally the company picked up the right tech and people to truly tailor their operation to their customers’ needs and desires. Exes, government ministers, movie stars, your family… you could have the company breed up a set of clones to take out your worst impulses on, the people you most want to kill but can’t quite afford to. They might be above the law, but even their elite scum still frowns a little on publicly killing your own children, even if they’re really obnoxious. So… us.
We get about six months of life. Not quite as much as your average lamb. We have to be up and running for a while because otherwise we’re just drooling idiots slumped on a chair, and while that might well suit a certain fucked kink, it’s so much better if we can run, defend ourselves a little and fundamentally understand that we’re going to die. We’re even briefed on who we’re clones of and who’s going to be killing us. I realise this makes us all sound really passive, but for half that time we’re reeling from the forced growth, getting muscle control and learning how to talk. It’s fast, but for most of the six months we don’t even know what we’re for. I wonder sometimes if real people know what they’re for, or if they just make it up as they go along. Seems like the people hunting us today have it all already.
The one whose face I have is a tech trillionaire, and the idea that he wants to kill himself is undoubtedly a fascinating psychological trauma, as is knowing that the rest of our little cohort are made from his wife, parents, uncle, and two people he once worked with. We know enough to look and sound like them, but there’s only so much point in learning to be them. I mean, they’re going to kill us regardless. Officially, in the company labs we’re just called substitutes, but I once heard one of the development techs call us something else when he thought I wasn’t listening: “killables.”
There are two killers in the house – the trillionaire and his twin sister. I caught a glimpse of them kissing after they shot his mother, so I guess this is all playing out some ghastly family psychodrama that I’ll never get the chance to understand. There’s a weird agony to the situation that I didn’t expect: we’re here to die and there’s no prospect of survival because we’re in the House, which is fenced in (at a decent distance so you can’t see it from the House) and surrounded and monitored by the company. And yet… if there were a way to live on, I’d take it, surely? Even though our lifespans are naturally short; all that forced growth comes at a cost. At most, a clone grown like me has a couple of years before cancer and organ breakdown aggressively overwhelm my body. But it’s better than six months.
It’s a thought that carries me out of the wardrobe and stealthily climbing the stairs to the second floor. That carpet’s good for lots of things. I duck below the banister as the killers step out onto the landing, shoving his wife hard into the railing. She’s bleeding from the shoulder and head. I’ve known her all my life. With a laugh and a shout, the trillionaire hoists her up and pushes her over the rail. It’s two floors down to a hard wooden floor. Someone’s running, and the twin-sister heads off alone down the hall towards the guest suites. It turns out that surprise is really useful: I follow the trillionaire as he walks back into the bedroom where they found his wife. He’s left his pistol on the bed. I take my chance. With an ungainly leap I knock him down before he gets to the bed. In the forced growth training there’s a lot of gym work to inject decades-worth of muscle growth and strength in just a few months. We’re slightly over-muscled as a result, and it makes up for my slacker reflexes and speed. My weight carries him to the floor and his head makes an incredible sound against the ridiculous animal claw carving on the feet of the bed. Quickly, I strip him and me, and I put on his clothes. Whatever they’re made of feels nothing like anything that’s ever touched my skin before.
Shots ring out elsewhere in the house, and I hurry to stuff the trillionaire’s unresponsive limbs into my clothes. It’s not easy, but they’re on him. Then I pick up the pistol. I’ve never held one before, but I’ve seen this pair use them. Flick this little catch just so, then I shoot the trillionaire in the back of the head. I feel dizzy, like I’ve just killed myself. Is this hope that I feel in my heart, this fluttering sensation? Is it fear that I’ve broken my purpose, done the opposite of what I’m for? I step unsteadily back out onto the landing and his – my – twin comes back up the hall. She’s whistling and spinning her own pistol around in her fingers. She looks happy. I don’t say anything, just gesture to the corpse of me in the bedroom. She squeals and tells me well done, then throws her arms around my neck and kisses me hard. It’s my first kiss, and I’m utterly carried away, lost in the sensation, the warmth and closeness.
At last we detach, and she steps back slightly, a frown growing on her face. I don’t wait. I shove her hard, and she flips back over the same railing they threw my wife over. So. I’m him now. And if I’m him, and if I want to leave this place as him and live whatever kind of life he lived, even if it’s just for a year, I need to do what he would do. I pick up my twin-sister’s gun from the floor, make sure it’s still loaded. Then I go looking for the other killables.