Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Jack withdrew the blade slowly, knowing with the sudden swell of blood from the wound that the blow was fatal.

“Nothing personal mate, it’s a survival of the fittest thing and I’m simply better than you.”

He felt the body beneath him go limp, the fierce tension of just moments ago slipping away limb by limb. Jack counted to twenty before dropping the blade as he rolled off the body. He dragged himself painfully to a nearby wall, propped himself up and surveyed the damage.

The man, for all his advanced years, had put up quite a fight, and Jack was perforated heavily from the short blade his opponent had employed. He took a deep breath and regretted it, broken ribs grinding painfully in his side.

“Jack, Jack, Jack,” there was something unnervingly familiar about the voice, and he twisted too quickly around to see, the room spinning briefly out of focus. “That may have been the poorest excuse for a fight I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few.”

In the doorway Jack could barely make out the silhouette of the man. There was a brief flare of an ignition patch as the stranger breathed a cigarette to life.

“I imagine you’ll be wanting one of these,” in a practiced arc the cigarette pack landed in Jack’s lap, “it’s our brand.”

Jack’s jaw hung slack for the briefest of moments as the reality of the moment set in.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jack started, “You aren’t supposed to be here, Christ you’re not even supposed to exist unless…” The stranger cut him off.

“Unless you’re dead Jack, well the odds weren’t exactly stacking up in your column now, were they?” He chuckled, stepping into the room. Jack couldn’t help but marvel at the resemblance.

“That’s not how it works, there can’t be a recovery while the prime is still alive,” Jack fumbled with the cigarette package but his battered hands wouldn’t work the fastener, “whoever decanted you into that suit’s broken a shit-ton of rules.”

“Jack, you’ve just kneeled on a Senator’s chest while he bled out on the hardwood, and unless I’m mistaken the fire in the archival suite next door is your handiwork,” he clenched the cigarette between his teeth as he pulled each of his shirt cuffs straight in turn, “we’re not exactly the type to adhere to the rules now, are we?”

Jack pulled one heavily booted foot up under his body, letting the cigarette pack fall to the floor unopened, and forced himself upright. His teeth clenched reflexively as he was reminded again of his broken bones. He felt his own shirt sticking to his body, slick with blood and sweat. He swallowed the pain and forced himself to focus.

“So, what do we do now? We can’t both be here, and they can’t exactly put you back in the tank now, can they?”

The man walked slowly across the floor, ignoring the blood and broken glass as his boots picked up both on the leather and in the coarse treads. He bent over the dead man on the floor and with great ceremony checked his pulse, shaking his head. Rising again he closed the distance between he and Jack and stood face to face, surveying the broken man around the smolder of his cigarette.

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle Jack, you know that. I know you know what happens now, because I know exactly what you’d do if you were me.” He smiled, leaning in close to whisper in Jack’s ear as he slipped the blade he’d palmed from the corpse into Jack’s ribcage, pushing between the broken bones until it pierced his heart. “Nothing personal Jack, it’s a survival of the fittest thing, and I’m simply the better you.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows