“You look familiar,” said the Officer. 

“I get that a lot,” she said casually.

You would think having a familiar face would invite friendly conversation. Funny how it never did. In the best of cases, it granted her the power of invisibility.

The Wasteland Officer carefully inspected the contents of her metal travel case. It contained an impressive array of wires and bulbs, something that looked like an old fashioned car starter, and a control panel.

It was, of course, just a box full of junk parts she had put together in order to pass off as a researcher. She planned to hole up in the Wasteland for a couple of days, and she needed a convincing reason to apply for a permit.

“What does this tech do?” asked the Wasteland Officer, twisting the car starter in his clumsy little fingers.

“It detects and analyzes flora and fauna for radiation,” she replied matter-of-factly.

“You’re not allowed to take anything out of the area.”

“Obviously. I won’t be extracting samples. Just data.”

She sounded absolutely convincing, in her opinion.

But he kept squinting at her. “I still think I’ve seen you before.”

It was easy for her to keep a low profile, most of the time. A solitary, middle-aged female. No distinguishing characteristics. Minds her own business. What’s there to notice?

It guaranteed her the worst seats in the finest restaurants.

No one remembered her unremarkable visage when she shoplifted for sport.

And no one noticed that morning on the train when she inexplicably erupted into tears, when the heaviness got the best of her.

That’s when she knew it was time to pay a visit to the Wasteland.

“What happened?” asked one of her therapists.

“Nothing, really.” She wished she had an elaborate story to fill up the hour. 

But she didn’t.

The morning before, she had treated herself to a fancy, overpriced coffee and a walk in the high part of town. It wasn’t long before she spotted the oncoming male, oblivious to her presence. She was on her side of the sidewalk. He was in the middle. She immediately started to panic. She could make herself smaller. But today, she just didn’t want to. They collided, and her coffee spilled and burned her right hand.

“Watch it,” he mumbled, making sure he didn’t get any on her. She had come as a sudden surprise to him, despite his being in her sights for well over 50 meters.

And then the intrusive thoughts came rushing in.

She thought about splashing her arabica dark roast on his smooth-as-a-baby vintage leather shoes. 

She thought about how the host at a 5-star restaurant had offered her a seat at the bar instead of the booth she wanted. “I’d rather face the entrance,” she said ominously, just for kicks. And yet, her comment went over his head. How easy would it have been to hold up the place? Empty the register? Take all the jewelry? And no one would see it coming. Not from her.

What was she thinking? It was definitely time for a getaway.

The Officer took his sweet time inspecting the contents of her case.

“Careful with that,” she warned. “Do you want to borrow my gloves?”

He shuddered and closed the lid on the case. “You know you can’t stay here for more than 14 days out of the month, permit or not, says the Ministry of Public Health.”

It was strange how the quiet and desolation of the Wasteland was said to have a damaging psychological effect on visitors. In the Wasteland, everyone was no one. Maybe she was the only one who saw that as an escape.

She started packing up her fake gear. “We good?”

“I remember now.” He stared at her hard. “You’re that photographer.”

“I just have a familiar face. I remind everyone of someone.”

Although, “photographer” was oddly specific. She dared to think of faces she knew long ago. Faces like hers. But they were gone too, blurred into the background.

Stop. Stop ruminating, she reminded herself.

She had done well for herself. She had a nice apartment in the sky. She ate at the finest restaurants and drank exclusive imported coffee. A few days in solitary would bring her back to earth, and remind her how good she had it.

Hyper-independence was a trauma response, one of her therapists once told her. 

And so what if it was? 

It got her this far. 

She had done well for herself.

Author’s note: “Clone Alone” is sort of a sequel to “Wasteland“, which you can read here.

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