A Game of Keys, Stage 3 – ch. VI

Final… stage…?

“… the hell!?” I heard Cuán say beside me, voicing my own thoughts on the matter. “What’s going on here?”

I, too, wondered if perhaps this was all a bad dream. A nightmare. Or maybe someone had drugged me. How many copies of Cuán were walking this planet anyway? I decided to ask C1 straight out. This information was crucial, too important to ignore.

Before I breached that particular topic, however, I felt that a different issue had to be addressed. “Cuán…” I cleared my throat uncomfortably. “Would you mind, ehm…?”

Blinking, Cuán turned to look at me, oblivious. “Huh… what?” he asked.

“You’re, uh… erm…” I felt myself blushing and turned away.

“What is it?” he pressed.

“Your clothes,” I said.

For a moment, I sensed no reaction coming from him. Then…


Finally, my little brother seemed to have realized that he wasn’t exactly covered up. “Uhm… I don’t have any clothes, though. I was like this when I woke up here.” He shrugged, and his hand traveled down to scratch his bellybutton for a moment. He didn’t seem in the least bit to be feeling awkward about his nudity.

I repressed the urge to roll my eyes in annoyance. Yes, of course, he woke up like this. Damn it! Fate was out to get me, wasn’t it?

I sighed inwardly, then forcefully recomposed myself. Keeping control of myself, I turned to glare at C1’s image projected in the hologram. “How many clones of Cuán were made?” I demanded.

C1 smiled cutely at me, but his lifeless eyes betrayed his true self to me. He was not Cuán. “Two,” he answered. “And one of us just died.”

“How do we know if you’re not lying to us?” Cuán asked. He gave his double a suspicious look, but C1 only smiled back at him.

“I’ll answer you the same way C2 did your brother,” C1 said teasingly, “You simply can’t know. You’ll just have to trust me on my word.”

Cuán cursed. “Why the hell should I –”

“And for what reason were you made?” I cut through Cuán’s outburst. Now was really not the time to piss off the one who had just made our kidnapper explode. Who knows, he might make us explode next. It was better to keep the thing placated, and extract as much information from him as possible, hoping that he might be speaking the truth as the other had done.

C1 regarded me with a long indecipherable look, as if he were hesitant of something. Then, finally, he said, “It’s not up to me to tell you this.”

“Then it’s up to my father?”

C1’s silence spoke volumes to me. I instantly knew that it was my own father who was behind the creation of these unnatural things. Another more foreboding thought also came to mind. Was my father possibly also taking part in this twisted abduction?

“Where is my father?” I demanded. C1 remained silent – again, hesitating.

I sized him up momentarily, then felt my manipulative inner-self crawl up to take advantage of the weakness that I had spotted in my new enemy. I suppressed the smirk that I felt tugging at my lips. “Where is he?!” I bellowed loudly. Though his eyes remained lifeless, I noticed the barely visible flinch in C1’s posture. His weakness.

Apparently, C1 was sensitive to authority.

“He’s at the lab,” C1 told me. “He’s working to get you out of the basement as quickly as possible, because your oxygen will run low in fifty eight minutes.”

That information made me frown in contemplation. Father was trying to get me out of the basement? Then father was not responsible for my abduction? I thought about this new perspective a little longer, and decided that I had been foolish to think that father would ever try to kidnap me. Perhaps I’d been growing paranoid inside this basement, because I knew deep in my heart that father was simply not that kind of person.

In retrospect, it had been my own doubt about my knowledge concerning Cuán that had caused me to mistake C2 for him. If I started doubting father too, then I would make that same mistake again.

It worried me that we had only one hour left though.

“Are you behind my kidnapping?” I demanded, making sure to give C1 my most imposing look.

Quickly, C1 shook his head in denial. “No,” he said, “I would never do such a thing! This is all C2’s fault.”

“C2 is dead,” I pointed out to him.

“Yes,” C1 said, “I erased him, when I found out what he had done. I also reported my findings to daddy.”

Daddy? I barely refrained from puking on the control panel in disgust. Was that what this thing called my father? Even Cuán used the shortened and more mature ‘dad’. Hearing such a childlike and affectionate term of endearment roll from this thing’s tongue made my skin crawl.

Taking a deep breath, I said. “So supposedly you saved us from C2. Now what? We’re still locked inside. And what the hell is with this ‘final stage’?”

C1 blinked his lifeless eyes a few times, then said, “The setting was all entirely planned by C2. At the moment, I’m trying to hack into the system, but the protective software installed in the Dowers Generation CX is extremely advanced. This would have been a lot easier, had I been complete.”

“Wait, rewind that,” Cuán interjected. “What do you mean by ‘complete’? You were supposed to be dead, but instead you’re an unfinished product now? Am I missing something here?”

“I’m sorry,” C1 started, “but daddy says I can’t give confidential –”

“Explain!” I demanded, cutting into C1’s excuses. I realized that being authoritative was the best way to deal with this one.

“I… I’m an incomplete android.”

“What a surprise…” I commented sarcastically. “We’ve already been there before, you know.”

“There’s a difference between an android and a cyborg,” Cuán pointed out to me, “An android is a robot with human features, while a cyborg is a human, or in this case a clone, with robot parts in its body.”

Did he really have to be smart about this? Right now, I really wanted to destroy Cuán’s movie collection.


“Right…” I said doubtfully, as I tried to make sense of the situation. “So you’re saying that you’re not a clone like C2. But I remember that you said that there were two clones made. And since one died, there should still be one left. Where is the other one?” Seeing that C1 was hesitating again, I gave him one of my stern looks. “Explain!” I ordered.

“I…” He shifted a bit, an indication that he was nervous, but continued despite that. “I used to be that other clone…” he said.

“But that doesn‘t make any sense,” said Cuán. “If you were once a clone, then you should have become a cyborg too, because androids are robots, they’re not alive like clones and cyborgs.”

I quickly made a mental note to confiscate Cuán’s entire movie collection, while I waited for an explanation from C1. Cuán’s mind was young and impressionable, it could easily be swayed by all that rubbish shown in those movies, and I did not want strange ideas to be implanted into my little brother’s head. I was also quite certain that too much TV could not possibly be healthy for his growing body. Call me a hypocrite, but I had the opinion that even a movie fanatic should know his limits, and my limits started where my little brother became involved.

“Well?” I demanded, “we’re waiting for a clarification.”

“C2… he said that I had died, didn’t he?” C1 blinked a few times with his lifeless eyes, another subtle clue to his discomfort. “When I had to undergo the surgical procedure in order to become a cyborg in the same fashion C2 had become one, my clone-body had been unable to handle the pressure. That body did indeed die that day, but the scientists managed to preserve my mind on a computer. Daddy just downloaded a copy of the data into this body.”

“So, let me get this straight,” I said, “Your body is dead, but your soul still lives on?

“Technically, yes.”

Of course. Figured. Not only were there clones running around rampant, but now my father had also found a way to contain the souls of the dead. What was my old man doing? Trying to play God? I realized that this was probably also the explanation for the extreme lifelessness which I had noticed in C1’s eyes. He was a robot, an ‘android’ as Cuán would call it, he was an artificial vessel to preserve the soul.

Grumbling under my breath, I made a vow to myself. I was certainly going to burn Cuán’s movie collection once I got out of here!

“You’re the only Cuán-clone left, right?” I asked. “We won‘t run into a C3 or something of the likes?”

“No,” C1 shook his head. “I am the only one left of the C-project.”

“If you and C2 are both clones of me,” Cuán interjected, “Then why did you die and C2 didn’t?”

Cuán had a point there. The bodies were cloned and should therefore be identical, so why could one body not handle the pressure that the other did? Unless C1 was a failure…? But if that were true, then some other things did not add up. C1 was the one to blow up C2, and from the way he said it, it seemed that he had father’s permission to do it. Why blow up a million, billion or perhaps even trillion dollar experiment? And then there was that other detail… C2 had been under the knife first. Why place the second clone under the knife first? That went against the standard conventions of any corporation, as the first product is the prototype and therefore always used to run tests on. In this light, C1 could not possibly have been the failure between the two.

C1 gave my brother a solemn look as he replied, “I was always the one with the weaker, unstable body, despite that I was the better of our two.”

“Better? How?” I demanded.

“I learned better.”

“Learned what better?” I prodded the clone that apparently was not a clone anymore.

“I learned better to be Cuán,” he replied.

“To be me…? But why would dad make all these copies of me?” Cuán said. He nervously scratched his bellybutton, seeming to be anxious about something that I was not aware of. Something was wrong here.

“I…” C1 hesitated again.

“Tell us!” I yelled, trying to intimidate him. However, this time C1 remained indecisive. I frowned deeply in thought. C1 was clearly sensitive to authority. Yet, this time he refused to yield to me despite my daunt display. Was it because the question concerned the reason why the clones were made?

“I am waiting!” I snapped at him, but then I heard his soft voice.

“… can’t tell,” he mumbled under his breath.


It became clear to me that this was one question I couldn’t coax out of him no matter how imposing I pretended to be. It was as if the reason of their creation was something so wicked, that I was definitely not to know of it. This was obviously father’s doing. He was trying to keep me out of the loop of the insane things that were going on. “Bring up my father,” I ordered.

“But –”

“Do it!”

“Y-yes, my dearest!”

If C1 could not answer my questions, then the only person left to talk to was father. That was the only alternative left. And with all that had happened, I desperately needed a long conversation with my old man. My sanity depended on it.

Wait a minute. I stopped my internal musings. Did he just call me…? My what?


I balked.

What did you just call him?” Beside me, Cuán was trying to glare a hole into the hologram that was displaying his look-alike. It seemed that he had beaten me to asking that question.

C1 moved about nervously. “I-I…” he stuttered, “I called him m-my… dea–?”

“Connor is not your dearest, damn it!” Cuán yelled. Then, suddenly with a quick turn, he whipped his head around to me and glared with such a burning intensity that I was momentarily paralyzed.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered why he was giving me that look. It was not as if I could control what that clone-android said. Besides, in the first place, why would Cuán care about whatever C1 decided to call me? Wasn’t I the annoying older brother whom he wanted far, far away whenever he decided to bring someone back home? And why didn’t he hate me for constantly belittling him and calling him things like ‘dog shit’ and ‘dog crap’?

Suddenly the memories of that time came back to me. My stepmother, who back then had still just been my nanny, had been pregnant with Cuán. I still remembered clearly what had happened that day, more than fifteen years ago.

“It’s going to be a boy, Connor,” she’d said to me. “If you’d like, you can name him for me.”

Back then, I had glowed with pride and happiness. I was going to be the one naming this baby and he would be my little brother. It would have to be special, I decided, and so I thought deeply of what name I would give him, of a name that would bind him to me.

I licked my bottom lip in thought. What was the perfect name for this baby?

And then, a revelation came to me. My father had once told me that that my name, Connor, meant ‘Lover of Hounds’. If I was a lover of hounds, I reasoned, then my baby brother would have to be a hound, because then I would be able to love him. It was the simple and straightforward reasoning of a ten year old child.

Thus, I had said the following to Sarah, “His name should be Cuán. It means ‘Little Hound’.”

Sarah had smiled at me. “Oh, that’s a beautiful name!” she’d exclaimed, and once again, I’d glowed with happiness.

I knew very well that my little brother treasured his name as the one thing that bound him to our family. Yet, I cruelly insulted this name, calling him anything that was related to dogs. I knew that he had always felt insecure about his position in our family, especially after I began treating him with the cold shoulder, but despite that, I trampled his feelings into the ground. It was my way, the only way I knew to protect him and defend myself against the inappropriate feelings I had for him.

Those harsh words had been defining for our relationship in these last ten years or so, ever since I consciously began to put a safe distance between us. He should have despised me, resented me, for them. Yet, even though Cuán had fought with me on an almost daily basis, I never felt any hatred from his side. Yes, he had been irritated, even angry with me plenty of times, and yes, he had given me many harsh words and even punched me a few good ones. Still, there had never been hatred in his eyes, just the hurt and rejection of a lonely child, who was continuously let down by his big brother.

Why? I had never understood this side of him. It pained me to see him hurt like this, and even though I’d always feared the day that I would see his resentment or revulsion directed at me, I had wished many times that Cuán would just hate me and be disgusted with me. I deserved it. Yet, he never did.

I decided then that I would stop degrading his name. Turning, I focused back to Cuán. “Don’t give me that look, brat,” I said. Then I dismissed him and turned my eyes back to the holographic image.

“Give me my father,” I ordered C1.

“As you wish, my dearest.”

I ignored the endearment directed towards me and put my attention to the new image projected by the hologram. It was the image of my father, his hair graying, and dark circles under his eyes. I regarded him as he was busy typing away on his control board, most likely trying to hack into the system that was keeping me locked here.


My old man looked up from his work and blinked. “C-Connor?” he stuttered. Then, while glaring, “C1, I thought I told you to not let anyone disturb me!”

C1 bent his head down and mumbled a soft, “Sorry daddy.” I caught a glimpse of his eyes, and noticed that they seemed kind of sad, even guilty maybe. And possibly even human…

“Father, what’s going on here?” I asked.

“Not now, Connor, I’m trying to get you out of there.”

“In the first place, the reason why I’m in here is because of your mad experimentation’s. What’s this I hear about cloning Cuán? Saving human memories on computers? And building robots? What the hell is going on here!”

My father remained impassively silent.

“You always keep me in the dark, father, but I need answers now! You cannot expect me to stay silent on this matter, not after what happened here! Your psychopathic clone C2 locked me up here with Cuán and planned to rape me!”

I felt a cold shiver run up my spine as the word ‘rape’ left my mouth. It was as if I had not completely digested the idea up until now, that what had happened here had not been real. Yet, talking about it, voicing it aloud, had given the incident a form. Now that the main threat was gone, I was finally given a chance to reassess the experience and my feelings regarding it, and the full implications of what had been happening to me here finally hit home. I suddenly felt weak in my knees. I sagged onto the floor and breathed heavily.

“Father, please,” I begged, “you have to tell me what’s going on here.”

“I love you, Connor.”

The confession was so sudden, so unexpected, that I looked up. I saw my father giving me his warm smile. Reserved as he was, he had not shown that smile in a long time. It made me smile too, despite the predicament I was in.

“I know you do, father.”

“No, you don’t.”

That caught me off guard. What did he mean – I don’t?

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