When the day came, Avery found that it explained most of the little inconsistencies she’d noticed throughout her life. Little things, like the advanced age of her parents and the rigidity of her school coursework. Big things, to a teenager, like conversations that stopped when she came into the room, the combat arts training she couldn’t give up, and the careful curating of her time and acquaintances.
“You are the clone daughter and sister of the original warrior to face the Guardian of the Causeway,” intoned the Colonial Development Secretary. “Trial and error have shown us that he will tolerate only you, but then…,” his voice trailed off. “There are recordings of our previous attempts to gain passage across the Causeway to the resources beyond the remains of the First Diaspora colony.”
Avery watched those recordings, every single one. It didn’t take as long as she would have hoped for the number of instances involved. “You have been trained to be stronger and faster than your sisters,” the Secretary assured her. “You will be the one to win us passage off this island.”
Avery looked at the almost ruins on the far shore and wondered how many times he’d made that little speech. She turned around to ask one thing but then, “What are my parents doing here?”
“We try to replicate the circumstances of that first meeting as exactly as possible,” the Secretary replied gravely.
Avery looked at him, appalled, and went over to her parents, ignoring the minor officials who tried to steer her back to where she’d been. “I’ve seen the records of what happened before,” she told them. “They shouldn’t have made you come.” There was something in the look her mother gave her back that made her ask, very quietly so as not to be overheard, “How many of me have you raised?”
Her mother, older than Avery’s classmates’ grandparents, replied just as quietly, “You’re the fifth.”
“And they’ve made you come here each time?” She looked at them, dear as her heart to her but nothing like her in appearance.
Her father simply nodded.
“Then it’s up to me to get a better outcome,” she said and hugged them both.
Avery let the officials dress her in their equipment and send her down to the causeway.
The Guardian stood there and, remembering what her predecessors had done and how that had worked out, Avery mirrored his at-rest posture. A voice squawked in her ear piece, “What are you doing?” It was the Secretary. “You should be en guard! You’ve seen how fast-.” Avery shut off the little annoying voice.
“Why do you come?” It was the Guardian who spoke now. “This point marks the border between our two lands.”
“My people seek passage through your lands to the fertile lands and mineral sands beyond your city. Your people do not seem to be using them and we would benefit from more of those than we have.” Avery had been given a card with the words on it and done her best to memorise them.
“My price, as always, is your heart.” The Guardian remained at rest.
Avery realised that this was the point where her previous selves had attacked. Instead, she didn’t change her posture and asked, “Are we taking literally or metaphorically? Because I’m sure medical science will let me hand my still beating heart to you on a platter, if that’s what you want, but honestly, I’d rather not.”
Half an hour later, Avery walked back up the hill to the waiting crowd, a bigger crowd than when she’d left. She hugged her parents again and then turned to the Secretary, “You have your access through the city, sir. On a set of designated paths and not completely unfettered, because there’s a curfew and several seasonal limitations but otherwise, no restrictions.”
“But how? You didn’t fight!” The Secretary looked incredulous.
“If we had, I would have lost,” Avery told him frankly. “What no-one else came back to tell you is that he’s heavily cyborged and in a combat suit. Possibly he’s cyborged into the combat suit.” She shrugged. “Whatever. The agreement is that I live with him in exchange for the access, so I’ll just go and get my stuff-.”
“Wait,” the Secretary grabbed her arm as she turned to go, “you can’t just go off with him like that! It, it’s immoral!”
Avery took his hand off her arm and said loudly, “I’m sorry, but if you think me going to live with him in exchange for what we need is worse than sending how many people to their deaths trying to take the same thing, then perhaps you should take a good, long look at yourself.” She dropped his hand. “And all those versions of me you’ve got growing up right now, you can drop them into the normal schooling stream and start giving them choices. They and their parents get to be free.”
“Secretary,” she smiled at him, “we have a solution to our problem. Please don’t make me think that you’re a new problem.”