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"I'm your dream, make you real! I'm your eyes when you must steal!
I'm your pain when you can't feel... sad but true!
I'm your truth, telling lies! I'm your reasoned alibis!
I'm inside, open your eyes.. I'm YOU!! Sad but true!"
- Metallica, Sad but True

It was my third day out on the streets of suburban Chicago, and I was tired and hungry. It's glamorized in movies and television, but in reality, it's crap. No one will help you if you're ten years old and running away (despite what anything or anyone tells you, Christianity is as dead as its leader), except the cops who will just come and take you to an orphanage or something. That's why I didn't run away from them this time, like I did so many times before out of simple paranoia. My parents died in a car wreck and for some reason which I couldn't fathom, I felt like I had to get away from something, and I had no idea what. I just... ran. And ran. And kept running, for three days straight. Since I had no extended family, there was no one to take care of me, except a foster-home agency or an orphanage... fuck it. I can't run forever. Even if an orphanage has rules, assholes, stupid bitches, and other assorted crap, it can't be as bad as grubbing for food (I've always needed to eat a lot) and getting away from weirdoes- although I'm not sure what happened to the last guy who tried to touch me... what the hell could I have done to him? Dislocated his wrist through some kind of luck and physics.. I felt like a refugee, and I was running away with other people's food about every six hours.

This time, I just walked up to the nearest cop and looked at him. He knew who I was immediately; my easily-recognizable face has been in the mail and on posters. I'm hard to catch when I want to be- he thought I was just going to run like I did so many times before, and slip into the nearest crowd or sewer. Forget that. Even though you are an oinker, piggy boy (and I'm scared out of my shit), I'm going to get a bed and some real food tonight. "Billy Bohecker?", he asked. I nodded. He nodded and smiled, and told me some things about how I shouldn't have been running away. Yeah.. yeah.. whatever.

He just wore an Officer Friendly smile (scare me more, why don't ya.. to be blunt, I'd prefer the handcuffs), showed me the back of the car, and talked into a cell phone as he drove. I only heard one side of the conversation though.

"Hey, guess what. I found that kid, that Billy Bohecker. No.. I didn't have to catch him. He walked right up to me. Any paperwork.. done already? Heh, I'm not surprised one has a spot open for him." He then reached back where I was, messed up my hair (I really hate that, and could have darted out of the way... but that really freaks everyone out, including me) and said that if the crooks were like me, his job would be a lot harder. He drove me right over to the children's home- Happy Valley cow urine or something, saying that I wouldn't be there long. I knew that, of course. For a lot of kids my age, it's a permanent residence for the retards and everyone who always keeps running away from their parents- at school, it's talked of in deathly tones. You don't want to end up in the home, do you? I don't think I'd have any problems getting foster parents though; everyone knows who I am. Being an albino mutant makes one noticeable, if nothing else.

The cop walked me right in, told them who I was, and I had a room and clothes in less than an hour after some bureaucracy. A whole lot of kids seemed to be waiting for me in the bunks, surprised at my looks. A couple of young ones asked me why I didn't keep running away after I ended up telling them what happened. A few others, older, looked at me, and knew. I wasn't really harassed at the place like I thought I would be. I was just another easy-come, easy-go, regardless of my physical features. I don't have the problems other kids in there do with their minds and bodies either- of course the majority of them are pretty fucked up in some way or another. Not that I'm an exception to that. The day just went by in some forced orderly fashion.

That night, I was exhausted. I wonder why they gave me a private room- doesn't make sense, this place is crowded, they need the beds, everyone else is sleeping in a bunk room. I was awake all night.. couldn't sleep. There was a hissing coming from a wall, and I listened to it half-heartedly until I just passed out. I should have checked to see what the hissing was, I should have figured it out, I should have ran out of the unlocked room (but was it?), I should have stayed paranoid, and I should have never, ever allowed myself to pass out.

When I woke up, it was still dark out, and four guys were holding on to each of my limbs. The fifth guy put something really weird over my mouth. I screamed and screamed and nothing happened. Soundproof, I thought, as they brought me out to their van- and if Murphy's Law holds up, there's not going to be any witnesses. Four of them were still holding on to me painfully (they were strong as hell) when the fifth guy put something over my head, and I heard another hissing from it, and went straight into blackness. I fell, screaming into nothingness, for what seemed to be a couple of seconds- then I finally landed...

Onto a nice, cool, clean, soft bed with unwrinkled white sheets. There was some sunlight and cool, rain-tasting air that was devoid of normal Chicago pollution. I relaxed in the comfort of... hold the fuck up.. what the hell happened?

How did I get here?! I don't even have my own bed anymore- this isn't my room! Where am I? I stopped a moment to check the place out. There was a closet full of various clothes, all looked to be about my size. The walls were made of a nonreflective metal. A large, circular window was open near the top of the room, and it didn't seem to have anywhere to close it from. Some large computer system filled the far wall, and what looked to be drawers of some sort were etched into the other walls as if someone had taken a blowtorch and simply carved lines into the wall. The bed was bigger than the ones in the orphanage, and the room was about twice the size of even the big bunk rooms. I was wearing some loose-fitting grey pajamas I didn't even realize I put on (probably because you didn't, I told myself). The door was closed- I figured locked- until I opened it and could barely catch my breath.

The place is huge. This.. mansion (what else could it be?) is the biggest house I've ever been in. Big enough for everything you'd want to fit in it but probably not quite so big as to stop you from getting to the bathroom quickly. Not many rooms, but large rooms, with the same metal-walls motif everywhere. I looked over the railing and saw myself opening presents for my tenth birthday- that's right, if it's Monday, it's my tenth birthday, I reminded myself- not just imagining it but actually seeing it, with my doppelganger stripping the wrapping off of more gifts than I've seen given to anyone in my whole life. I never imagined myself being frustrated not being able to find something in the presents though- if this is a dream, it's a fucking good one. I started breathing harder than normal watching myself open presents- things that looked excessively expensive and some super high-tech shit I didn't recognize. And then he looked up and heard me and part of me stepped from the land of real things into the land of nightmares.

"Billy?", he asked in the middle of his torn wrapping papers, with a big smile on his face. I was scared to paralysis, and I started stuttering and maybe even crying. How the hell does he know my name and look just like me? Is he my twin? Is he my.. replacement?! The events of the past few seconds (hours? days? How long was I out?) caught up to me. I was finally able to fit my tongue back into my mouth again and tell him the obvious.

"You- you're me!!", I exclaimed with an ability I've only used a couple of times before. No shit, he's me. But at least I'd maybe get a reply.

My other self laughed. "No," he said with some bemusement, "I'm not you. I'm the Grand Inheritor, but you can call me Howard. Down there's Sarah." A thirteen year old girl wearing some black tights and an expression I didn't understand waved at me. I was still freaking out. "Come on, Billy, sit down. I've got a lot to tell you." I went down and sat down on his big couch, my ass sinking into the unfamiliar material- and why the hell did I do that? Okay, now this is getting just plain weird. Five mobsters brought me here to talk to my clone, and I don't even know why I'm doing things.

Sarah sat down right next to me and said in a pretty, high voice, "Don't worry. You'll eventually get used to it." What the heck isn't that bad?! Oh man. I really think I'm in for a deep load of shit. That's the last time I ever lose my paranoia again, if I ever get out of here.

"Used to WHAT?!", I screamed. I was really freaking out. It's not every day you get captured and then brought to a big mansion with a nice girl and someone who looks like yourself. I felt like I was on that old show "Nowhere Man". Shit. I must have been dreaming, obviously. I jumped up, pinched myself and ran around the really big room dazedly, trying to get myself to wake up. I couldn't.

Howard said, in my voice again, "Billy, you're not dreaming." It's possible to have nightmares when you're awake? "Sit down and calm down and stay seated down and calmed down until I tell you you can get up." He isn't seriously expecting me to.. and I sat down on the couch again and kinda slowed myself down. I tried- but didn't try- to stand up. I tried again. And again. My ass wasn't glued to the couch, so I tried again. My legs and my body stayed right where they were. The muscles didn't even contract. Oh shit, I'm fucked. And why the hell is he so happy- that The Conspiracy finally managed to get me and bring me to him? Yeah, that's got to be it..

I started trying to say "what the hell did you do to me?!", "why do I have to do exactly what you say?!", and "how the hell did you do that?!" all at once. Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and James Bond never get into situations like this unless they can get out. And I'm none of those guys (or am I? There's been a few times..). I grabbed Howard's arm, hoping for answers fast.

"You won't hurt me, nor will you do anything to my possessions or leave the island without my permission.", he said as if he were reciting it from memory. I felt my grip loosen. I really began to panic- how do the movie (that's what this has gotta be..) heroes get out if they can't even kill the bad guy or leave the place? I realized I should have deftly slammed his nose into his brain when I had the chance- could I have, if he's as fast as me? Oh shit shit shit shit... I eventually got a single sentence out of my mouth, filled with expletives as it needed to be.

"How the fucking damn shitty hell do you make me do things?!", I exploded. I was at the point of tears. I felt like a five year old not understanding simple magic tricks. He just touched my forehead, and then I realized what had happened. They had done something to my mind. Well, that would be fitting, considering the rampant insanity. "No.. nonono.. that's impossible.. has to be..", I said at the bottom of my voice. I was getting really shaky by now, and I couldn't even control myself.. that's because he controls me..!! Dude I'm screwed!! Rational thought gave way for a few instants and then rematerialized in a slightly different form.

"Forget it.", he said. "They're below the skull. Besides, I told you not to hurt my possessions; that includes you." Then it's final. Free will, exit stage left. I thought mind control implants were simply outside the realm of possibility. If I can possibly get out of this, I'm never returning to anything vaguely resembling civilization... Oh man. I felt like an elephant was standing on top of me. I just froze up, like being shocked by 500 volts of DC- every muscle in your body contracts at once. I was barely able to look at Howard and I noticed something very simple. He was exactly like me, only a lot happier. Self-control will never mean the same thing to me again.

Sarah held my hand just then, looked at me, and told me the most terrifying thing I could have possibly heard. "Billy, I really don't think he's going to hurt you. He's been waiting for you for a week and a half now, and I doubt he's going to do anything to you. Calm down. You will get used to it." He had me here for a purpose, then. Probably something really fucking diabolical too. She then looked past me at Howard, who was right next to me too, and chilled me further. "Why didn't he tell him?! It would have at least helped." Helped in WHAT?! And who the fuck is 'he'? I started breathing better again, and I unfroze some. Insanity danced through my mind like a ballerina on crack. This is just plain old downright NUTS...

I didn't say anything for a few minutes. Nothing made sense. 'Shock' isn't strong enough, Trauma' barely scratches the surface, and 'Panic' isn't even close. Add all three of the words, then put twenty exclamation points on the end of them, and maybe you'll get the idea. I would have strangled him then right there if I could, on the general principle that one does not leave one's ultimate controller alive.

My thought process (if you can call it that) was interrupted by Howard's calm voice. "Billy, I'm sure you have a lot of questions. I'll try to answer them all." All right, doppelganger- here's the one you were expecting. An answer might have redoubled the nightmare; but I have to know this much, at least.

"Why have you brought me here?", I asked in the deepest, roughest, nastiest voice I could muster. If I'm going to be captured by the evil empire, I might as well act the part. Besides, my throat was clogging up anyway.

"Because it's my tenth birthday. No one told you anything?", he asked in my semi-euphoric voice. Consider the nightmare redoubled. I started talking to myself, something I occasionally do in my sleep. When I wake up, I'll be out of this damn mansion, and there will be only one Billy Bohecker...

He heard me. "Finish your sentence, at least.", he said, and I realized I fucked up again. I looked him square in the eye, and told him what I believed at the moment. "When I wake up, it will be my tenth birthday, I will be at the orphanage, and you won't exist."

He cackled in a way that I've only done once before- not very loudly, but sinister. "Well, if I didn't exist, Daddy'd just have somebody else doing this. Now tell me what the last thing you remember before you got here is.", he replied. Now why.. he's checking to see if the procedures were carried out properly, isn't he. God damn. Just how powerful IS this joker, anyway? And who the hell is 'Daddy'?

"I remember people in dark suits carrying me out of my bed, I remember them putting something over my face, and then I woke up here, wherever here is.", my mouth said. Again, I was forced to say something I really didn't want to- how long before he makes me sing his praises, lick his boots, suck his... I pushed that train of thought right out of my mind. I'm going crazy enough as it is.

"You're on my island, about 100 miles off the coast of Oregon." And it figures that he'd own the island too. Dr. No doesn't hold a candle to him. At least the super powerful bad guy was me. I felt a sick sense of pride. I put my hand on my head and groaned. "It's big, about a hundred acres or so." Yeesh. That's one big privately-owned island. Great place to conduct science experiments... oh shit.

Well, not everything was completely screwy. He said it was his tenth birthday; that must make me some kind of present. And what better gift to a rajah than a new servant or hundred? I was finally calming down, despite my rising internal panic and some serious nausea. "All right... Howard? Why am I here for your tenth birthday?", I asked, looking him in my face.

Why the fuck did I ask that? He didn't command me to, either. "You're here because Daddy wanted me to have you." Wait a second. If he owns an island.. what the hell does Daddy own, the planet? "Sooner or later, you're going to help me run things, you're going to be my new taskmaster when the workers get here, you're going to tell me all about your 'normal' view of the world, and you're going to do lots of things you've never even considered doing before." So he meant for me to whip people while he's whipping me. Sounds like some kind of sick S&M. And he sounds sheltered, he must be. No surprise there. "I'm going to play with you a lot too, it'll be fun.", he said, sounding just slightly more evil.. to rile me, on purpose (it's WORKING, okay?!), because he's enjoying this. And somehow, I don't think he meant that in the 'friend' sense of the word.. more like the 'toy' or the 'pet' sense. Fuck. I thought of another question, but decided to shut up.

"What were you going to say, Billy?", he asked. How much do I have to hide from him so he won't know what I'm thinking? The same amount of hiding I'd have to do from myself, and I'm perceptive as hell. Great. Just great.

"Why.. did you bring me here.. for my tenth birthday?", I asked, wondering how my alter ego could do this. It would be interesting to hear his reply, at least.

"Well, if we're clones, we do have the same birthday.", was his nonchalant, still somewhat exhilarated reply. "Besides, I didn't bring you here. Daddy did. Daddy runs the Illuminati.", he said, in a voice obviously intended to cause me to panic. Well, I'm panicking-- he runs the WHAAAAAT?! Am I in an episode of 'Nowhere Man' or 'Gargoyles' here? "He can do anything he wants, even give me friends like you." I was ready to ask his definition of the word "friend" but I decided I really didn't want the answer to that. It more than likely is something I DON'T want to hear. Just then, I smelled something really good with a lot of sugar in it. Birthday cake, must be. And for his- not my- birthday.

"Oh, that's the cake. I think it's done.", said Sarah, who got up from the couch. So did Howard. I couldn't move from my sitting position.

"Is it ready now?", I heard Howard say. What was it? What were they putting in there? For a minute I was thinking me, but then I remembered he had other plans for this meat. Maybe he wants me to stir fresh chunks of dead baby with a seasoning of ground rat? (that's an insane thought..) No, that's American-style, freshly baked birthday cake. It smells too good to be much else.

"Yes, Howard.", Sarah said in a voice more sugared than the cake. Either he makes her always answer him like that, or she's got some serious malevolent intent. I guessed the latter.

He told her to tell him what she was thinking. So he does it to her too.

Then I heard the words that would shatter my image of Howard as a demigod forever. "It's very ready for you, all four hundred degrees of it, you little numb fuck! Eat and burn!", she replied. I broke into hysterics. It was so funny. He says all that shit about himself, he has so much control, he owns the island, his dad runs the biggest conspiracy in the world, and his ego is just as deflatable as anyone else's. I could almost hear the hot air rushing out. It's always nice to know that the guy you hate and fear most is still remotely considered human.

"Billy, don't laugh at me ever again.", he said with some irritation, and I couldn't anymore. Saddam Hussein doesn't stand a chance in an evil dictator contest with my duplicate- Saddam might have fanatically loyal Iraqis for his murderous schemes, but Howard just controls people absolutely. I felt sorry for myself and some of that sick pride again.

I couldn't hear them too well after that. I took a look around the room. I was sitting on a big red plush couch with a huge video screen in front of me. There was a lot of paper everywhere, and I could read the names on some of the boxes of presents. "5 billion hertz working prototype" read one. "Useful Asskicking Stuff for High Levels" read another. What the fuck? God dammit Dad (note to self: if he's my twin, who are my real parents anyway?), why the hell didn't you ever get me anything like that for MY birthday? A strange-looking white bodysuit was draped over the side of its box, partially lying on the floor. 'The Suit.', the box read, and through my naturally superior vision I could tell that there were no other, smaller words near it. Question: Who the hell sends anyone a box with just the words 'The Suit' on it?

I also saw two small books placed carefully on the table. "Comprehensive List of Exactly Phrased Useful Commands that Cannot Be Misinterpreted" and an eye-in-triangle symbol was on the cover of a small black leather-bound one; "Guide to all rooms. Happy tenth birthday, Howard." read the paper covering another.

I would have gladly read them both if not for Howard's calling me to sit down near where he was. I went through the huge kitchen with all the signs of cake-baking in it, turned through the door, and came into the big dining room where he was sitting at the head of the table. I sat down next to him and looked at the biggest cake I've ever seen in my life. Watch him eat it for himself. That's crazy. This thing's big enough to feed India for a year. Even for someone like me- and I eat way more than anyone else, and I suppose he's the same- that'll take a fucking eternity to eat... damn, it's my tenth birthday, and I'm forced to sit back and watch as all the presents and probably the majority of the cake is given to someone else. I must be dead, and this is the deepest level of Hell. What did I do so wrong? Oh well. If this is eternity, might as well sit back and pretend to enjoy it.

No. I'm not in Hell. In Hell, it's much more pleasant, and they only torture you with fire and stuff. God would never sentence anyone to this, and even Satan couldn't be this nasty. Images of things I didn't want to think about flitted through my mind. The three words 'anything he wants'- and all their connotations- danced through my head.

Sarah brought out a big knife (for me? Billy chops already? That's just an insane thought..) and cut the cake into eighths. "How much?", she asked.

The answer, like most of the stuff I'd heard in the past 10 minutes, surprised me to no end. "Two. Give Billy two, too. He looks like he's starving. And eat one for yourself.", he said, still smiling and happy. I looked down, decided it wasn't rat poison, blew on it because it was oven fresh, and took a few bites. It was delicious and really rich. Wow. Nice place, too bad it's not mine. And Billy, too bad he's not mine anymore either.. that thought just jarred my head like a blow. Then I thought of something else.

"Howard?", I asked.

"Yeah, Billy?", he said, looking at me as if I were some rare specimen or something, still smiling.

"How long am I going to be here, anyway?"

"Well, forever. Until you die.", he said before he went back to his cake. I wasn't too surprised this time. What the fuck was I thinking, would he just keep me for a while and then let me go? Of course not. And something tells me that he can't release me anyway. What if I told someone? These people obviously value their secrecy..

"Figured.", I said, as I went back to the cake. I guess this is my surprise party- 'Your life is now in the hands of your exact duplicate and you have to do whatever he says, surprise!! Welcome to HELL, Billy!!!' I started picturing scenes from Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure. Oh well. At least it's warm in here, and the birthday cake is tasty. My thinking started to slow down and stay straightforward right about now, and I finally, rationally, seriously wondered exactly what my location was and exactly how the hell do I get this.. this effect he has off me? I can't even begin to fight it. It's like doing what you're not doing. Still, Sarah was right. He is at least pretending to be nice, at least sometimes. That made it worse. Couldn't he at least do torture like a proper evil dictator?

And why am I getting this nagging feeling that I always knew something like this would happen?

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