Author: Leo James Topp
Late night, deep in the Volkov Tower data-centre. I stand at one of the consoles, tapping furiously at the interface, hard drive’s smooth black casing jacked into the terminal.
Alex is taking cover behind a server bank, aiming the carbine down a row of blinking cabinets, blue LEDs the room’s only illumination.
The download 90% complete. 91%.
“Aral!” I look around and the doorway is occupied. A skinny middle-aged security guard, bored middle-of-shift expression turning wide-eyed. One hand pulling his radio to his mouth, the other reaching for his side-arm. Alex lets off a rattle of fire and he ducks behind the wall.
94%. A siren starts to wail overhead.
“All according to plan, right?” Alex shouts over his shoulder.
“All according to plan,” I reply.
95%. The blue progress bar on the interface agonisingly slow.
“I just need a couple of minutes,” I shout, as two helmeted Volkov Security heads pop around the doorway. Alex pulls the trigger and they snap back, only to reappear accompanied by rifle muzzles.
Alex jerks back behind the server bank as they let off a hail of fire, bullets ricocheting off consoles. Several sets of lights go dark.
“What do you want to do?”
“One more minute, or he’ll be corrupted.”
“OK, only ‘cause it’s you.” After another burst of fire from the doorway, he sticks his head around the corner, opens fire.
We both hear the click.
The guards dart into the passageway. Alex slams another clip in, aims downrange, and they slide behind one of the banks. Less than a dozen metres away.
“You have to go now, Aral.”
I stare at the interface. Bullets fly – I’ve lost track of direction.
I pull the hard drive, vault on top of the console, lift myself into the overhead duct. Spin around, stick my head out, reach down for Alex. But he isn’t there.
I hesitate. Another burst of fire.
“Go! Get him out of here!”
The copy of the Prince heavy in my pocket.
I push myself up, force the grate back into place, and head for the roof.
I’d hidden the two-seat glider behind a line of trees in the Volkov Tower’s rooftop gardens. I launch off the roof, leaving behind shouts and blasts of radio chatter from the stairwell, replacing them with wind whipping past my ears.
I pitch down, low over the peaks of domescrapers, weaving a path as clear as possible of what little traffic there is this late at night. The city lights stretch out below, the dome stretches out above, and there’s a moment of calm.
My earpiece buzzes, and I accept the call.
The Prince’s voice: “Did you get me?”
“You’re safe in my pocket as we speak.”
“That’s it then, nothing left for it.”
“You don’t have to go through with it, you know. Plenty of people live as two copies.”
“I want to be over there with you. How can I do that if I’m here?”
“I’ll see you on the other side, then. You’re going to love it over there.”
“Thank you, Aral, for everything.”
He hangs up. The last time I’ll ever hear the original Prince, the voice that promised me on the night we met that one day he’d sail away with me.
I clutch the copy’s hard, smooth casing in my pocket, and angle the glider for the final approach to the docks.