Bracken was confused.
One minute she was having yet another cryptic conversation with Esmeralda, the next she was onstage in front of a crowd of strangers baying for her blood. It was almost as if time had skipped a beat somehow. Maybe she’d fallen asleep for a couple of minutes and been moved here? Or more likely, Esmeralda had employed some kind of sneaky trick.
She looked about, blinking a lot and trying to smooth out her appearance a little. Al was there, she noticed, and the guy who sometimes gave Adric a ride home from the library on his motorbike. There was also a dog, and a suited gent who looked the spitting image of a daytime television presenter whose name she couldn’t place.
“Ricky something,” she wondered aloud, stretching her head. As she did so she became aware that she had the mother of all headaches. “No, that’s not right.”
“Welcome to the show, Bracken,” the man was saying. “How are you today?”
“Confused,” she replied truthfully. “I’ve had a lot going on lately.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, apparently sympathetically, “what sort of thing? Work, studies and so on?”
“Well up to a point,” she agreed hesitantly, “but also my flat burned down and my Uncle and baby went missing so that’s been quite stressful.”
“Your child went missing,” he responded slowly and thoughtfully, “so you stopped looking for him to come on here and build up a career as a Z-List celebrity?”
“Well no, that’s not – “
“Wanted to get a book deal, did you? Sell the story to all the papers and ladies magazines?”
“I know your type. You sicken me. I might literally be sick just from looking at you and your sickening face.”
“Hey,” Al butted in, “that’s pretty unfair. You don’t even know her.”
“Oh but I do,” the Kylienator responded with a shark like grin, “I know her better than she knows herself.”
“Sake,” Bracken muttered, “you’re worse than Esmeralda.”
“My name isn’t Esmeralda,” announced the woman who up until a couple of moments ago we had thought was Esmeralda. “It’s Magenta.”
“Magenta?” Al spluttered incredulously, “as in Esmeralda’s long lost sister Magenta? The evil one who tried to kill her?”
“I think she may have succeeded on that front,” Bracken informed him.
“Sorry, what’s going on?” Jeremy asked, having lost the thread somewhat. “I’ve been employing you for over a year now, Esmeralda, and now you turn round and say you’re actually Magenta?”
“Yes. It’s not that much of a struggle, we’re identical twins. The only adjustment you need to make is to the first name you call me by.”
“Identical twins, huh,” Tim mused. “That’s the sort of thing that always happens in crappy romance fiction, or daytime telly like Diagnosis Murder. It never happens in real life. And I should know, I spend half of my real life dealing with the mythical and/or inexplicable.”
“So did the memory switch take place or not?” Bracken asked.
“Partially. I took on much of Esmeralda’s academic knowledge, but none of her… emotional baggage,” she enunciated with the smallest of nods in Al’s direction.
“What memory switch? What are you two talking about?” chorused Al and Tim. The audience were long gone, and most were engaged in a competition to see who could count how many hairs were on Brian to the nearest hair. How they would check and verify a final result was yet to be determined.
“Why don’t you tell them that, Jeremy,” suggested Magenta/Esmeralda with a toothy grin. “You did commission a lot of this work, after all.”
Jeremy Kyle’s lip wobbled. He looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. And not in a good way.
“I don’t know what you’re referring to,” he ventured, in a foolhardy way. Of course she was going to call his bluff, she had nothing much to lose, except the albatross of a dead twin around her neck.
“The work I’ve been doing to condition the perfect guests for your show,” she replied cheerfully. “You know, implanting false memories in groups of people who look right for the parts you create for them. So Bracken, here, was chosen to be a single mum. Nicky was to be her eccentric uncle. The baby used was created in a lab, and one of my guards was used as a surrogate.”
“That’s preposterous,” Kyle blustered, “why would I bother?”
“Because you’re afraid,” the artist who was previously known as Esmeralda explained, enjoying herself immensely. “You’re worried that your show will be a failure, because your guests are always the same. You have the same people back for two or three follow up show a year and they’re always still stuck in the same pathetic rut they were in when you met them for the first time.”
“Bibble,” Jeremy Kyle offered in his defense. It didn’t wash.
“You got wind of the work I was doing in South America, under my sainted sister’s name because my own is cursed in the world of science. And you hired me, no questions asked, to create contestants for your shows that would turn out to have hidden depths. I got the money to support my research, you got the perfect blend of daytime television.”
“Not true,” Kyle said, aware that he was fighting a losing battle but encouraged by the fact that his studio audience didn’t seem to have noticed.
“I can’t believe you’re Magenta,” said Al, rather slow to react. “What did you do to Esmeralda, exactly?”
“Oh, you don’t want all the gory details,” she smiled sanguinely. “But she’s been dead a long long time.”
“That was you, when I thought it was her, returning from her travels.”
“Explains a lot,” he admitted.
“Yes, it does. The fact I didn’t know where anything was unless it related directly to science. The lack of emotional memory or attachment. The point that I suddenly loved sun dried tomatoes, whereas previously I loathed them to the point that even just seeing a jar made me want to hurl.”
“Es didn’t hate sun dried tomatoes that much,” Al said vaguely, although if he was honest he couldn’t really remember.
After all, she must have been dead for a number of years now.
“Why did you do it?” he asked.
“For science,” came the reply.
“I don’t mean the brain stuff,” he frowned, “I mean killing your twin.”
“So do I,” she countered. “I killed her for science. And partly out of jealously, I suppose.”
“Don’t even think about trying to escape,” Al turned to Jezza, “or you’ll be sorry.”
The man himself blushed and stopped his embarrassing attempt to scale the studio wall. It would have crumpled his fine Italian suit, anyway, he told himself.
“So hold up and rewind a bit,” Bracken said, “you conditioned me and Nicky to think that we were related, but we’re not?” She looked around her. “Speaking of which, where is Nicky?”
“Here,” came a weak voice from the front row. Nicky was curled up in a cluster of middle aged women, to whom he was deeply allergic.
“I’m not even going to ask how you got there,” Bracken decided, it’s just been that sort of a day.
“It’s true,” Magenta admitted, “you two are not actually related. But Nicky is at least related to the wean.”
“Oh, that’s the results of the DNA test,” she said. “Although I knew already because I oversaw the procedure. Nicky provided the egg that created the wean.”
“The egg?” Bracken exclaimed, “surely you mean the sp-the other stuff?”
“No,” Magenta said definitely, “I know what I mean and I mean the egg.”
“But that’d mean Nicky was a… I don’t even know. A hermaphrodite?”
“More than that even,” Magenta explained. “Nicky is actually a woman.”