The Trail of Stars by Diane Dooley

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
The Trail of Stars by Diane Dooley
Illustration by Sue Babcock

It took me a while to tell the parentals I was dating a Fiona. I knew Mother wouldn’t be happy and, sure enough, I got the pursed lips and the steely gaze.

“You can’t even wait for the new colonists to arrive? They’ll be here within the year and there’s bound to be a suitable girl among them.”

I shrugged just to annoy her.

“Why do you always have to embarrass me, Patrick? I didn’t get us to Level 21 just so you could drag us back down the rankings.” She sipped her juice and scowled at father, who was silently stirring his porridge. “Tell the boy the trouble he could get into, at least.”

Father mumbled something about the Clone Rights Act, but mother didn’t let him finish.

“Lay one finger on that Fiona and you’re dead to us. You can earn your own rank, and your own money, for that matter.” Her eyes rested on me with distaste. “Musician. Pah! You can’t even be useful to the dome.”

What did I care? My Fiona, number ninety eight, had been certified fertile and had the highest unique-factor score of all her sisters. She was beautiful and sweet-tempered, ambitious and hard-working. Of course I loved her. Who wouldn’t?

* * *

Mother never came around, as I’d known she wouldn’t, mortified that her eternally disappointing son was now publicly involved with a clone—and an agricultural worker at that. The embarrassment she must have suffered when answering questions from her colleagues sent little shudders of happiness down my spine. She was Scientist-in-Chief of her division; we lived in one of the highest pods in the Citrus Dome; hers was one of the signatures on the Clone Rights Act. I was incandescent with glee, and I decided to go all the way, even though that meant giving up the glories of Level 21. I could get out from under mother and never have to see her. Fine with me. Those cold, hard eyes had been disapproving of me since the first time I failed calculus.

Mother was exquisitely polite when I brought my girl home for dinner the first and only time. Fiona goggled at the panoramic view of the research fields, pointing out the groves she was responsible for, boasting a little of her productivity ranking. She thanked my parents for the one-time pass that allowed her above Level 10. My mother remarked on how very unusual a Fiona she was, with her turquoise eyes and golden skin. Fiona smiled, explaining the implant surgery she’d paid for and how she worked without a suit in her fields to keep her skin uniformly tanned. My father was silent for the most part, but I didn’t fail to notice his appreciative glances at my Fee. She was beautiful. Unique. And mine. I scowled at him until he finally came up with some encouraging words after she told them of her ambition to become a sector manager within two years.

I kissed her goodbye later that evening, stroking the glossy black hair that fell to her supple waist. No other Fiona had her look. She’d even added a few imperfections and nuances: one slightly chipped tooth that lent a unique charm to her smile, a small shining tattoo of a star on the sharply-angled plane of her right cheekbone, and other things under her dull grey coveralls, things she’d only hinted about with a diffident downward sweep of her eyelashes.

She smiled and waved goodbye, starting on the long walk back to her subterranean home. I would have gladly followed her there, to her pod, to see what was under those coveralls. But most clones were sexually off-limits to citizens. By law. Unless I married one.

I sighed and turned away. It wouldn’t be long now. I could wait.

* * *

My parents didn’t attend the ceremony, of course. Mother glared at me one last time, adding a little jab of cruelty. “I suppose it’s the best you can do, after all.”

I caught my father rolling his eyes behind her back and had to suppress my smile. He understood a Fiona’s appeal; he remembered what life was like before the Act and had probably sampled some clones himself, maybe even a Fiona, back when it was still legal to use them that way. He shook my hand and wished me luck, trying to not let my mother see his smirk. I left the high rise pod for the last time, very much aware of the rank was giving up. But I didn’t care. My Fiona was more important than the social privilege my mother valued so highly. With my citizenship and Fiona’s work ethic, we wouldn’t be below ground for long.

The early evening ceremony was brief but rife with legal details. I quickly scanned and signed the documents, trying to keep my gaze from Fiona. She was dressed in a gauzy turquoise gown that matched her eyes, the first time I had seen her in anything other than her uniform. Glittering silver thread seemed to be keeping the gown together, deep slits in the skirt opening to reveal glimpses of smooth skin. A long silver braid cinched the dress at her waist. If I were to pull on that braid… I wiped my sweaty upper lip and scrawled signatures until, finally, the official stamped the papers and passed them to me with a disgusted expression. I looked down at the documents. Fiona 98, along with everything she owned and earned, was mine. Finally. Mine.

We walked hand-in-hand to her sector. We’d be living in her pod while saving up for something above ground. It should only take a few orbits if she kept up her productivity and got that promotion. Step-by-step into the depths of the dome, me following, her gown parting to reveal rock-hard calf muscles adorned with a series of shimmering stars. I swallowed, barely noticing the entrance arches to the first few levels.

I paused briefly at Level -4. I’d been here before. I glanced down the corridor. Women lounged outside their pods, all bathed in a deep red glow. I’d lost my virginity here to the very perfunctory Delilah 219. Nervous and excited, I’d only lasted a few minutes and she’d laughed at me unkindly as I paid her. I’d made sure to have her productivity ranking dropped several points for that.

I looked down the stairwell at the shimmering shoulders of my beloved. The dress had slipped a little, revealing a smattering of stars shooting across one shoulder blade. She turned and smiled at me over her shoulder, beckoning me to follow, deeper, deeper than I had ever gone before. Down I went, staring at the back of her slim neck and the elaborate arrangement of her hair, a mad excitement churning my stomach.

The further down we went, the dimmer the light became and the stronger the dankness. At last she pulled me through an arch and along a barely-lit corridor lined with a series of beige plastico panels. She slid back a panel numbered -0907.

“Level minus nine, seventh pod,” she said, before ushering me inside. “Home, sweet home.” She giggled. “Well, at least until we have enough money for something bigger and higher.”

My eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness. “Oh,” I said, when they finally did.

The room was tiny. If I stretched my arms out I could almost touch both walls.

Fiona shrugged. “I told you it was small.”

I barely registered what she said, my eyes captured by a figure that sat on the cheap two-person couch in front of me. It wasn’t human; it wasn’t even a clone. Distressed synthetic skin hung from a person-shaped metal frame, its mechanical face topped by an absurd lop-sided blonde wig. Tinny eyes opened with an audible click.

“Welcome home, dear,” the thing said, its voice a metallic monotone.

Fiona dropped to her knees beside it. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I was in such a rush I left you in the dark. I forgot to turn on the vidscreen for you.” She leaned forward, planting a kiss on the cheek that hung by a sliver of synthskin.

“That’s all right, dear.” A hand ratcheted upwards and patted Fiona on the head.

She took the metal fingers in her own. “Mother, I have something important to tell you.” She turned and smiled at me, gesturing me to come closer. I took a reluctant step forward. “This is my husband. Patrick O’Connor.” She laughed suddenly, joyously. “He’s from Level 21!”

Its head clicked towards me. One eyeball stared straight through me; the other, loose in its metal socket, gazed at the concrete floor. “Welcome, Patrick,” it said, then its leathery lips retreated into a grimacing smile. The teeth seemed to be made of wood. And one of them, yes, the same one, had exactly the same chip in it that Fiona’s did. I stared at it in horror.

With faltering steps I backed away and immediately bumped into the plastico panel behind me. Someone on the other side banged back. “Well done, F98!” From behind the panel on opposite side of the pod, a cheer rose up. “You did it, 98!”

I looked around wildly, but my eyes had hardly anywhere to go. The walls were vibrating with congratulations; a destroyed face grinned toothily at me. Heart-pounding panic welled up from my stomach and scissored into my brain with a dizzying crash. Annulment. Home to Level 21. Say sorry to mother. I spotted the door panel and made for it. I had to get out. I couldn’t live in a plastico box surrounded by an army of Fionas or with that…that… thing.

“What’s wrong, Patrick?”

Fiona stood in front of the door panel, her hands toying with the silver braid at her waist, turquoise eyes peeping up from under her lashes.

“I…I’ve changed my mind.” I watched her fingers running up and down the thick braid, feeling all the moisture in my mouth dry up.

She pouted, her bottom lip wet and pink. “But we signed a contract.” She took a step forward and placed her hand over my racing heart, then let her fingers trace down the zipper of my shirt. She stopped at my waist and looked up at me imploringly. “I belong to you now, Patrick. You can’t change that.”

I looked down at her, my eyes drifting to her cleavage. Her small breasts pressed upwards, one tiny star winking at me. I squeezed my eyes closed, then opened them again. “I didn’t realize…” I waved my arm at the walls. “I just can’t.” I pointed at the mother. “And that thing there—”

“Patrick! You’ll hurt her feelings.”

She grabbed me by the arm and, sliding back a panel, pulled me into another tiny room, this one with a bed and closet. Fiona sat on the thin mattress, pushing herself back against the pillows and stretching out her legs. I couldn’t help myself. The little stars started at her ankles and went up her legs. I couldn’t see any further than her knees where the trail of stars disappeared into the gauzy gown. Where does that trail lead? I thought I knew. And my dry mouth suddenly flooded with saliva. I swiped the back of my hand against my mouth, took a deep breath and forced myself calm. “You never mentioned a mother, Fiona.”

Her eyes opened wide. “But of course I have a mother. We all do.” She scrambled up against the pillows, revealing a golden thigh. “Didn’t you know that?”

“Well, of course. I just assumed—”

“Your scientists gave us mothers so we’d grow up balanced, able to love and function. The mothers kept us sane!”

“I did go to school, you know. I know how you were brought up. I just thought that when you left the factory—”

“Graduated, Patrick. I graduated the factory.”

“Yes, okay. I thought that your kind would—”

“My kind? You mean me and my sisters? You think we’d abandon our own mothers?”

“I assumed you grew out of the need for them. And…” I needed to take control of this situation. Fiona was not being her usual sweet self. “Lower your voice when you talk to me, Fiona.”

Her mouth turned up in an obedient smile and she sat up on her knees, one gauzy strap falling off her shoulder. I stared at the golden flesh, at the stars that dipped between her breasts. How many stars are there? Where do they lead? I shook my head, trying to clear it. Damn hard to focus on the problem at hand, what with the skin and the eyes and the stars. She’d responded to me being stern. I’d try it again.

“That…I mean… your mother. She’ll have to go into storage. Or stay with one of your kind. I mean sisters.”

I glanced up as boos and hisses resonated around the plastico walls. It sounded like every Fiona in the vicinity had been listening in our conversation. Something hit me in the face, then fell to the floor.

“Our contract. You agreed to be enjoined with me and my mother for as long as we live.”

Fiona’s beautiful eyes were no longer soft and alluring. They were hard and brilliant.


“I agreed to certain things too. And I am willing to abide by our contract.”

She jumped off the bed and grabbed me, twisting me around, and then shoving me onto the bed. Her strength amazed me. All that hard labor in the citrus fields had made her body lean and muscled. She lay on top of me before sliding downwards to rub her face over the growing bulge in my trousers. She looked up at me, smiling sweetly. Oh, how I loved that little chip in her tooth. I glanced over her head. The mother thing stared back at me from the other room, grinning, the same chip on the exact same tooth. I tried to push Fiona off me. “I can’t. Please…”

Fiona stood and stared at me, eyes glittering. She turned and shoved the panel closed. “Now, you listen to me,” she said, her voice a fierce whisper. She untied the silver braid at her waist. “That’s my mother. She fed me, rocked me, changed me, talked to me, and loved me.” She slammed a hand on a switch and the room became dark except for a pair of glowing turquoise jewels.


“My name is Fiona 98.” There was a soft rustle— and then the stars emerged. Starting at her ankles, trailing up her legs, sidestepping across her thighs, up and down her sinuous arms, encircling her breasts, the stars glowed softly phosphorescent in the dark.

I couldn’t stop myself. I reached for them. For her.

Her hand slithered up my leg, then went to my waist where she unzipped my trousers, then pulled them off. She started tugging on my shirt, so I helped her remove it. Tomorrow. I’ll go over the contract tomorrow. I’d figure out a way to keep Fiona, but get rid of the mother. I heard a hand slap against the plastico behind my head. Fine. If her clone sisters wanted to listen in, let them. I’d waited long enough to follow this trail of stars.

Fiona straddled me, sliding me inside her with a determined push and a wincing sigh. “You hear that noise, Patrick?”

I listened, arching myself into her. A rhythmic squeaking was coming from the next room, from the thing.

“You know what she’s doing?” She started to move, her hips rippling against me, her hands gripping my thighs.

I groaned. So good. Should stop. So sweet. Can’t stop.

Her movements grew more frantic, lifting and plunging, over and over. The squeaking of the bed matched the sound from the other room.

“That sound is her rocking a baby she doesn’t have.”

Fiona started to move more slowly, her hips swiveling around, taking my mind with them.

“She’s lonely. She feels useless.”

I opened my eyes, watching the stars swirl above me, following the trail around her breasts to where it ended, just above her heart.

“We’re going to give her grandchildren, Patrick. She needs them.”

Everything started to spiral out of control. Many hands slapped the plastico in a fervent rhythm. More squeaking arms rocked non-existent babies. Monotone voices started to chant.

The words grew louder.

Grandchildren. Grandchildren. Grandchildren.

Slap. Squeak. Slap. Squeak.

I tried to ignore it, focusing my eyes on the terminus of the trail of stars. One glowing word was tattooed, in old-fashioned script, over her heart.

Fiona paused above me. “I’m going to make you very happy, Patrick.” A cacophony of hands and squeaks, the noise thundering through the room, the bed, through her, and into me. She came plunging down on me, taking me over the edge, making me moan my release as she laughed, her eyes sparkling in the dark.

The slamming hands, the rhythmic squeaks slowed, then died away, leaving me spent, the only sound my gasping breaths. I collapsed back against the pillows and gazed at her star-spattered breasts, finally deciphering the script over her heart. It read ‘Mother.’

She climbed off and lay down next to me. I’d only lasted a few minutes; she hadn’t even broken a sweat. “All I want is everything you agreed to in the contract.”

Murmurs of agreement sounded from behind the walls.

“Mother will take care of the babies while I’m at work.”


“I need to work. You don’t make much money. I’m going to get that promotion, Patrick. It’s all in the contract, anyway.” She sighed. “And I want to get above ground. Mother would love a view. Level 21 is impossible, of course, but—”

“I can’t—” My heart was still pounding.

“You can. And you will.”

I could sense her smiling beside me.

“I’m just thinking of the future.” She laughed softly.” Everything I’ve ever wanted…”

I imagined the future too. I stared at the stars as her body crowded mine in the small bed. What have I done? How can I get out of this? My body was sated and at peace, but my head whirled in panic. A clone for a wife and a broken-down automaton for a mother-in-law; surrounded by Fionas, none of whom hesitated to voice their thoughts and opinions through the thin walls, and seemed happy to throw themselves into a vicarious sex life. Stuck in a plastico box nine levels below ground. What the hell have I done?

“I’m sleepy.” Fiona raised her head and called into the next room. “Mother, could you rock me to sleep?”

On the other side of the door panel, arms started to rock, the squeak, squeak, squeak grating on my every nerve.

I glanced over at Fiona. “Maybe you should close your eyes if you want to fall asleep.”

“Can’t,” she said, her voice drowsy. “I can blink, but the implants won’t let me keep them closed.” She wrapped a possessive arm around my waist. “Just as well you find them beautiful…” Her voice trailed off and soon she was asleep, emitting light snores.

I slipped out from under her arm and fumbled around on the floor until I found the contract. I read it by the light of her blank and blazing eyes. Iron clad. Nothing I could do. Even if I left her I’d still be legally and financially responsible for her and the automaton. And if I left her where could I go? Mother would never take me back; not now Fiona had fulfilled her part of the contract. Mother and her cronies had made sure the clones had their legal protections. I was trapped, stuck with Fiona and the thing and the sisters and the mothers in this fetid box for…how long? How many orbits until Fiona made enough money to get us out of here and into the light?

I slid open the door and stared at it—the mother.

She stared back, the pale turquoise light behind her eyes aglow. She’d opened the front of her floral shirt. Instead of breasts, two plastic baby bottles emerged from her chest, empty, the rubber nipples grossly plump and protuberant, dried-out and cracked. Her arms rocked back and forth tirelessly. She grinned, displaying her chipped tooth proudly.

“Welcome home, dear,” it said.

And as I slid the door closed again, I swear, I heard it giggle.


BIO: Diane Dooley was born in the Channel Islands and grew up in Scotland. She finally settled down in Upstate New York where the summers are short and the winters just might kill you. She lives with her best friend/husband and two obstreperous boy children in a falling-down farmhouse in the sticks.

Diane writes short stories and novellas in several genres, and has been published in a variety of online and print publications, as well as by several digital-first publishing houses.