By Adria Laycraft
This morning I wake early and lay waiting for the network to disconnect. Once the link to the Original fades, I know she rises to prepare for her own day, now complete with my memories of caring for her children yesterday. I review these memories just as she must – the laughter over breakfast, the afternoon music performance at the school, the sunshine as we walked home.
Sounds of young voices ring through the house, followed by the thunder of their descent down the stairs. I hurry to dress, logging what items I choose so the Original can wear the same outfit when she emerges from her hidden home office at the end of the day. I brush my teeth, comb my hair, apply a small amount of makeup, and make my bed. Normal things. For the Clone Agreement, I must be normal, exactly like her in every way.
I’m ready early, and I fidget at the door. The light shows red, indicating she is not ready for the exchange yet. We can’t risk being in the main part of the house at the same time. If we’re seen together it would destroy the Agreement, and I would be returned to the cryogenics lab.
I would rather die. Not that it would feel much different, I suppose.
Finally the door releases and I hurry down to the children.
“Mom! Wesley says I’m getting fat!”
“I did not! I said you will get fat, if you keep eating huge bowls of cereal like that.” Wesley grins, daring me to correct him.
I glance at Gina’s bowl and feel my eyebrows climb. “He does have a point,” I say, keeping my voice playful. “I don’t know how you fit any milk in there.”
“But I’m hungry!” Gina says. At seven, she’s always hungry, and I am proud of how she grows. Wesley’s eleven, and his bowl is as full as hers, but he shakes his head in mock disgust. Gina sticks her tongue out at him.
“You two have healthy appetites, and that’s good. Should I make some fruit smoothies to go with that cereal?”
“Yeah!” they both cry, and I smile.
I pack their school lunches, and soon we are fed and washed and ready to go. Each day it’s much the same. While the Original works, I play the role of mother, and they have no idea that two different women raise them.
In the afternoon I am helping them with homework at the table when my internal alarm sounds. I flinch, glancing at the clock. It’s nearly two hours earlier than usual. Thankfully neither child seems to notice my reaction.
“Keep going. I’ll be right back.”
Only I won’t be right back. I hurry up the stairs and into my hidden chamber. My vision blurs and I realize I’m crying. At first I am shocked at my deep emotional reaction. Why would I be so upset?
Then I understand. I don’t want to let them finish their homework without me. I was the one who talked with Gina’s teacher that day. I was the one who had helped them thus far.
I go to the monitor. I wait.
When I see my own face mirrored before me, I want to beg for more time. I want to demand to know why she is finished so early, infringing on my time. I don’t.
“Hi,” the Original says to me. She looks tired, and she has more lines under her eyes than I do. Hopefully no one will notice. “What’s happening?”
“We’re doing homework.” I explain what the teacher said, and what we’d done so far.
“Thank you. Let me get my hair right,” she says, studying me as she pulls out some of the style with a brush and wipes away the extra makeup necessary for her teleconferencing. “There.” She heaves a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I think I’m ready.”
“I’m going to pick up some new clothes. Is there anything you prefer?”
We often talk, Julie and I. Julie’s the Original. We use the computer, of course, so that if one of the children wakes and comes to find her she can claim to be chatting with a friend online.
We take no chances.
I stare, blink, and bite my lip, a strange facial tick I’m working to copy from her. To her question there is nothing in my training to give me an appropriate response.
“What I have is fine,” I decide, wanting to reassure.
She gives me a small smile. “Of the outfits you have, which are your favorite?”
To please her, I list a few.
“Good. I’ll get more like those.” She tips her head, studying me. “Otherwise, how are you doing?”
“Everything is good,” I say. She must not think otherwise, or she may terminate the Agreement.
“Do you have any questions? This must be quite strange for you.”
I want to ask why she didn’t wake the husband clone instead of me, although I think I know the answer. Clones do not have the memories and experiences that make the Originals who they are. Waking the husband clone would only make her grief worse because he would not share her memories, even if he did look the same, and he would be unable to perform the job of his Original.
This much I understand. Yet, why wake me? Why not hire a nanny instead of playing this elaborate ruse?
I gather my courage and ask this question instead.
Julie heaves a sigh. “Well, the simple answer is that my children deserve their mother, especially after losing their father. He had minimal life insurance, so I need to work to support us.” She looks away, a frown creasing her forehead. “I woke you to solve many problems – to give my children the illusion of having their mother there for them, to continue my work, and to test the memory sharing. Also…”
“What is it?”
She stares at her hands, head bowed. “Cloning laws insist that clones can’t have a real life. In fact, you were wasting away in stasis. I wanted to give you a life in return for your help.”
“To be offered the Agreement was more than I could ever expect,” I say.
“I’m glad you think so.”
Another night, another conversation. I ask about the science of cloning and all that goes with it. Like the cryogenics. Clones are made to test stasis fields and consciousness sharing. So far, the stasis allows us to be fast-grown but the aging cannot be stopped. They are working to change that, Julie tells me.
“They want to make true stasis, where the body would freeze in time.”
“Truthfully? Most of our big money donors hope to download their memories into young bodies. Immortality is a tantalizing possibility. However, our goal is to pursue interstellar travel.”
“It would be nice if they succeeded in stopping the aging process, from my own perspective. It’s strange to wake up in a forty-two-year-old body.”
She laughs, and after a moment I laugh too.
“That’s what bothers me most about cloning,” she says, serious now. “You are refused any kind of life. It’s not fair to create people and then put them to sleep. A lot of people are waking their clones in protest against the laws.”
My heart constricts in my chest. “Does it bother you I have no true life experience?” Would she decide I was not good enough to raise her children anymore?
“No, no,” she says, waving off my concern. “It’s just sad that we create people but deny them everything that makes them human.”
I go still, waiting for her to say more, to explain exactly what does make one human. When she adds nothing, nibbling on her lip as she stares at something off the screen, I take another deep breath and ask.
“What would it take, then?”
“Hmmmm?” She shakes her head a little. “Sorry, for what?”
“To be a human. You say I’ve been denied everything that makes you human. Could I still get it? Could…could I become human?”
“Oh sweetie, you are human, even though you are told otherwise. Don’t you see?”
I don’t, but I can’t bring myself to admit it to her.
“You are human, trust me,” she says to my doubtful look. “My children were created from my DNA, and so were you.”
“They were created from two people’s DNA.”
“Yes, true, but you breathe, you feel, you think, you act. How can you not be human?”
I wonder this too.
I strive to do my best each day, no matter what I might be. I long to please her, and treat the children as I know she would. In the evenings, I watch them together on the house monitor, anxious to get it just right.
Tonight they laugh over popcorn as a cartoon capers across the wallscreen. I listen to the words she says to them, study her gestures, memorize everything.
I watch as she tucks them into bed. I’m blessed to get the time I do. Even though I know this, I’m troubled by jealousy. I want to be the one cuddling on the sofa when the movie gets scary, kissing their soft cheeks, whispering good night as the door shuts.
I pull a tissue from a box in the bathroom and pace the small chamber, waiting to see if Julie will want to talk tonight.
She does, but all my emotion is caught in my throat, and I can’t voice my feelings. What good would it do?
“Thank you so much for encouraging Gina before the school play yesterday,” she says. We sit at our screens, separated only by a wall. “You are doing a wonderful job. I’m grateful to you, beyond measure. Do you understand that?”
“I do,” I say, my earlier selfish desires washing away in light of what she can only experience secondhand through me. “They are precious and deserve your time.”
She has her own tissue now. “Except it’s not me. It’s you. How are you doing with it really?”
“I love them.” I say it simply, and I mean it. “We have to just continue to do our best for them.”
“Oh, I’m so glad I decided to wake you.” She sweeps her hair off her face and lets out a sigh. I echo that sigh, and we smile, our emotions mirrored as much as our physical appearance.
I wake with a cry, afraid of all the strange images and thoughts bombarding me. As they fade I catch my breath, trying to puzzle out what has happened. Was this a dream? I have heard the children talk of dreams, of crazy happenings growing out of their own minds, but I’ve never experienced one. I don’t know if it’s because I am a clone, or if it’s because of the download process each night.
The dream is fascinating. I see newsvids and unfamiliar faces, screen shots, project sheets, even meals that I consumed…each memory is clear, as if I lived a day in the life of someone else.
My stomach drops as understanding sinks in. Our connection – the download of my memories that I give to Julie each night – has been reversed. My memories will be missing from her mind this morning. What will she do? I don’t want to go back to the lab. I avoid the computer for as long as I can, pacing the floor.
When she appears on the screen, I don’t say anything. I watch for her reaction.
“Don’t forget school’s out early today,” she says as she runs a brush through her hair. She glances at the time, her eyes widening. “Early teleconference, gotta go…have a great day!”
As I absently make routine lunches and answer mundane questions, I consider the possibilities. Could the connection go both ways? If it did, I would receive her memories too, night after night. I would learn what it was like to be a working adult. I would experience life as a real human.
That night it happens again. I know I should tell her, but I hesitate. She might feel I have violated her privacy. I understand this, because I wish I could keep my own memories to myself. And if it is a glitch that can’t be corrected, she could terminate the Agreement.
So I continue playing my part, doing my best to ignore the memories as they build over time, to act the same despite my new education.
But I’m not the same. I see newsvids that reveal clones are not a popular thing, and the laws that govern them are in question. I learn that facilities like the one I came from have been bombed by protesters. The newsvids are often cut short, and I don’t understand why people are so angry. I wish I could watch more vids on my own without giving away my secret.
In my evenings alone, I become restless, not content to just watch the family time unfold. One night while they are out, I stand at Julie’s computer. Could I log in and watch vids on it like she does? I know the passwords now. Would she recognize a memory of such actions as mine instead of her own?
I know I can’t take such a risk. So I review each memory carefully, reviewing the ones about clones over and over. Every time there is something said about “clone trials” or “mutated genes,” Julie turns the vid off.
One evening a tough situation Julie faces at work plagues me, and I turn the problem this way and that in my mind. While she takes Gina to piano lessons, runs for groceries, and tends to Wesley’s cut knee from a skateboarding fall, I study every angle, every possibility, every solution I can find with my limited experience. All I have is time.
She wants to prove the consciousness download is still a viable project, but the process keeps tripping up at the same line of code. Her memories show the various fixes they’ve tried, to no avail.
Just before I drift off to sleep, I see it. A solution, so simple it is obvious. Excited, I examine my idea and know it will work.
Then I catch my breath. This might be enough to reveal my secret. Would it show her how valuable I am? We could be an even better team than we are already.
I decide to let her discover this for herself. She will sense my memories of working out the problem and see how much I’ve helped.
The next morning I activate the monitor and wait for her to log on and thank me. However, no mention is made of my idea. Perhaps the memory did not transfer?
“Mom, why are you biting your nails?” Gina asks as we wait for the school bell.
I pull the finger from my mouth and stare at it in horror. Julie won’t have bits missing from her left index finger. Panic chokes me as I struggle for a reply.
“I don’t know,” I say with a little forced laugh. “I must be worried about something.”
Wesley is off with his friends, but Gina stays close. Closer than usual. I set my own anxiety aside and crouch down.
“What about you? Are you worried about anything?”
She stares at the group lined up by the door. “No,” she says, but I see her discomfort.
“Well, sometimes when we have worries that we keep inside, we do silly things like chew our nails.” I inspect my nail. “I’ll have to take some time from my busy day to fix this.”
Gina looks at my finger, then at me. Her eyes well up, mouth drawing down with the effort to hold the tears back. “Molly says I’m broken because Dad died.”
“Aw, baby, you’re not broken,” I say, pulling her into a hug. Her warm tears soak my shirt. Her hair smells of strawberry shampoo and I tighten my hug, as desperate for it as she is. The buzzer rings, and her little body tenses. “Listen,” I say, releasing her from my embrace, “Molly doesn’t understand what we’ve been through, that’s all. Don’t let her words frighten you.”
“Hey, Gina,” calls a girl from the line as they start going in. “Come on!”
“Who’s that?” I ask as I wipe her tears with my thumb.
“Lil,” she says, brightening. “She gives me hugs when I feel sad.”
“Well, be sure and give one back then.” I smile, kiss her cheek, and send her off.
Is she broken, I wonder? I catch myself nibbling again, tasting the salt of Gina’s tears, and marvel at the depth of my own concerns. My nail is as broken as Gina’s heart. Does this make me human?
In the evening Julie does not summon me to the monitor. I pace, my fear increasing until I have to stuff my hands in my pockets to keep from destroying my nails again.
She knows and is upset with me, I decide. Maybe she is calling the lab even now to have me removed under the cover of night. I tremble, look to the door. There is nowhere to run.
What does it matter? I tell myself. I will just sleep, knowing and feeling nothing.
It does matter. It’s the children. They have captured my heart in ways I didn’t know possible.
No one comes to take me away, and I fall into an exhausted sleep late into the night.
The next morning I see what happened. She claimed my idea for her own. Resentment curls my lip, and I catch a look at myself in the mirror. Such strong emotions will reveal me. I wonder at my reckless abandon when I realize I don’t care. Instead, I relish these new feelings. Does this make me human? I let my temper take my anger even higher until tears burn my eyes.
She gives me a long, considering look as we prep for the day, but again says nothing. I stare back, searching for words to apologize, to explain, but then she is gone before I can find the words to say. I realize I must do better before I lose everything.
The next morning I wake to the memories of the instant worldwide reaction to her – our – idea. The consciousness download is a success, but instead of causing goodwill towards clones it has caused many to decide clones aren’t needed at all, that they’re too dangerous. They talk of using AI robots for everything from preserving memories to the interstellar travel Julie spoke of.
Then a story begins about a court case, and this time she doesn’t turn it off.
“The murder trial will continue despite the confirmation of mutated genes causing the violent reaction in the clone,” the announcer says. “Agencies are demanding that all clones be tested for this gene, and many clone users are turning their clones in to police stations and cloning farms, unwilling to have them around for fear of potential violence.”
She does cut it off then, and I sense her fear. Do I have mutated genes? Is there some malfunction inside of me that could make me kill a human? I wonder if this is where my anger comes from.
Is this why I can’t be truly human?
Somehow the day continues. I focus on the children. I love them so much now, and for all my desire to test my new knowledge and grow my understanding, I cannot imagine doing anything that would take me away from them.
We are at the park, the wind catching my hair and throwing it around until I wish I had brought a tie for it. Gina, with some help from Wesley, has launched a kite and kept it aloft. She grins, and Wesley runs to grab his own kite and get it up too. I lift the camera Julie gave me and snap a few photos, knowing she will treasure the images as much as she treasures the memories she will take from my mind tonight.
The kites fly well until lunchtime, and as we sit on a blanket and enjoy a picnic, talk turns to a time I had never considered.
“I’m not just getting a college diploma,” Gina says, frowning at her brother. “I’m university material. I’ll get a degree and live in the dorm and make friends for life. Right, Mom?”
This must be something Julie has told her. I know she attended university, but I have no memories of this time. I panic for a moment, searching for the right words.
“You’re smart enough,” I say. “Both of you are.”
“But I’m going to a tech college, like Dad. There’s nothing wrong with a solid trade,” Wesley says, so sure of himself. He is eleven, after all. I smile and follow the conversation with nods and sounds of encouragement, but inside some black hole has opened and is sucking my insides away past the event horizon.
They will not need me forever. They will grow up and become real people like I never can. They will have careers, and move away from the family home. What will Julie do then? Will she still live in the same house?
The next morning, a Saturday, Julie sends a signal inviting me to the monitor. I sit, my breath shallow, my heart fluttering.
“You are afraid,” she says right away, and I know I’ve been discovered. But it’s not what I think. “You listened to them talk of their future, and you felt fear for your own.”
I see nothing but genuine concern in her face, no anger or accusation causing that little line between her brows. “I did,” I admit.
“I am not going to send you back, okay? Please, don’t be afraid…it makes for a really bad night’s sleep.”
I carry this promise with me, wondering if I can trust her to keep her word. Those other humans, they were returning their clones like some faulty item. I want desperately to ask her about the newsvids, but there is no way. I’m not supposed to concern myself with these things. It’s part of the Agreement.
She has to work today, despite the weekend. I prepare a lovely breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and granola. Today is Halloween, and the children will need good nutrition now to counter the sugar overload later. Will Julie appreciate my thoughtfulness? Will it be enough if I’m caught?
Each day for the last few weeks I have carefully constructed a costume for each of them. Wesley’s is a bat made from silky black material that Julie found. Gina’s is a princess, simple but frilly enough to please a little girl.
“Mom, this is amazing,” Wesley says, his eyes wide and shining as he extends his batwings and twirls around.
“Beautiful!” Gina agrees, hugging me. “Can we trick or treat all the way to Sara’s house? Pleeeease?”
“We’ll see,” is all I can say, fighting down bitter disappointment. Julie would be taking them, not me. I can’t answer Gina’s question. Later, when they leave in their fine, handmade costumes, I sit in my little locked bedroom fighting useless tears.
The next morning, Sunday, I’m not needed. I turn away from the screen as they sit down to pancakes, Julie the hero for agreeing to make them.
Lying on my bed, I sift through the memories of Julie’s overtime from the day before, anxious for any tidbit.
The first newsvid shows two identical people backing away from an angry crowd armed with sticks and baseball bats, each claiming the other is the clone. The scene cuts off just as the mob closes in on both of them, only to show a different vid of some smoking ruins. Ambulances and fire trucks litter the scene, and a headline ticker scrolls the words: Courts expected to rule against clone rights.
“Uprisings continue across the country as people strike out in fear against the clones,” says the announcer. “Governments worldwide will have to decide whether to repeal the current laws allowing for clones to exist. If they decide the mutant gene scan isn’t enough, new laws will be put in place immediately.”
The screen skips again, and the new vid channel holds many of the same visuals. This announcer’s face takes on a gleeful look. “While we wait for an update on the court rulings, here is a clip of an old interview with Julie Howe, an advocate of clone rights and author of the infamous article Living Two Lives.”
The newsvid switches to a scene with Julie and a journalist sitting across from one another. “At the time you wrote your article, did you really believe we could use clones to be in two places at one time and share the memories?”
Julie gives a sad smile to the journalist. “I did believe. It follows my work in studying how consciousness downloads.”
“So you think we should use clones to download ourselves? Some say this is wrong, that we are stealing another’s life.”
“I agree. The initial work was over fifteen years ago, and I’ve met and talked with clones since then. They are people, and we have no right to take their lives from them for our own greedy desire to live longer.”
“Others believe that clones are an abomination against God, and want to see them outlawed. They go as far as to say the clones we’ve made must be destroyed.”
I see that the mild threats of that time have become the reality.
“I understand their objections,” the younger Julie says on the screen. “But we created these beings and we can’t take that back now. That would be murder. We have to treat them with the same dignity that we would hope for if our roles were reversed. I don’t believe cloning was a moral thing to do if we were not prepared to treat these creations as people in their own right. That’s why I’m not in the stasis research program anymore.”
The interview fades and a new announcer appears. “Five years ago Julie Howe gave this interview, sparking new debates in the morality of cloning and human rights for those already in existence. Today’s ruling may go down in history as proving we cannot accept our own constructs as equal to nature or God. Events prove that those against were right to protest…”
In the memory, Julie shuts the vid down and glances at the emailed request for a new interview. She deletes the request, but three more appear in its place. Soon a flood of similar requests fills her message box, and she ignores them while flipping between newsfeeds.
“…mutated genes are said to be the cause of the clone’s dementia…”
“…newly released records reveal dozens of clones have been convicted of serious crimes, most violent…”
“…tests may not reveal the problem in time…”
I examine myself in the mirror. Am I defective, a walking time bomb?
“The decisions are pouring in from around the world, all in agreement. Cloning is now outlawed. All remaining labs have been shut down and the clones in stasis are being destroyed. Awakened clones are currently being rounded up and placed in military-style camps awaiting further rulings. Despite the secrecy about their locations, two have already been attacked and bombed by protesters.”
It’s the final bit that crushes me to the floor. “Authorities have announced all clones at large must turn themselves in, or suffer the full consequences of the law.”
I don’t want to be at risk of hurting Gina and Wesley. But I also don’t want to die.
I take little in my haste, pausing only to grab a jacket and my purse as I slip out the back way. They are washing up from breakfast, the simple noises of dishes rattling together covering the sound of my departure.
Outside, rain hammers the sidewalk, drenching me to the skin within moments.
I am wracked with guilt. What will Julie do tomorrow, when she has no one there for her? Already I miss the children.
The rain intensifies, and I stand at the edge of the field we picnicked in. I have no idea where to go. I can’t turn myself in, even if that’s what the law calls for. I have no money, no identification, and no rights. To make matters worse, I’ve abandoned the one person who showed me compassion.
A van passes, slowing, and I realize how strange I must look standing there in the rain. I cross into the field, holding back the desire to run, and keep going once I reach the other side. The van moves on.
I shiver and shake, and I tug my hood over my forehead and keep my head down. The only thing I can do is keep moving to stay warm. Because I have no idea where to go, I just walk and walk, paying no attention to where.
“Hey, lady, whatchu running from?”
I look up to see a group of teens lounging under an old store awning. Cigarette smoke burns my lungs, making it hard to catch a breath, and on the ground between them is a bottle of amber liquid. One steps out into the rain to block my way.
I look around at the unfamiliar terrain, then back at the boys. Rain drips from my hood onto my face, but I still catch the glint of a blade. The others come to circle me, and one snatches my purse.
“Please…” I say, but my begging is met with laughter.
“You better watch your step, man. That probation dude said you can’t get caught again.”
“Hey, she’s got no ID or nothing. Guess it wouldn’t matter what we did to her if she’s a clone on the run,” one of the other boys says. He grins at the one in front of me. “We’d be heroes for capturing her.”
The boy in front of me slides closer. “Are you a clone, darling? Got some crazy gene that’s gonna make you fight me?” His eyes light up with delight at the idea.
I tense, ready to flee, but where? Then a much more horrible question rises. Why? I’ve given up all I lived for, everyone I loved, with no hope of return. I had no reason to fight for my life … and by all accounts, no right to my life anyway.
“That’s gross, dude,” another boy says. “With a clone?” His nose wrinkles in disgust and a little bit of fear. “What if she goes berserk?” Anger floods my body. I remember my advice to Gina, to not let the words of others affect me, but I see how difficult that is now.
“If in order to be human I must hate like you do, then I would rather be what I am.”
“Get her,” the leader growls, and two jump forward to grab my arms. I don’t resist, but stare straight at the boy in front of me. All I can think of is Julie and the children. I know my comment is not a fair judgment of her.
“We should call the cops.”
“We will…later,” says the leader. He steps up to me and tugs my coat open. In one violent move that makes me flinch he rips my shirt front in two. The boys holding me snicker, but I hear uncertainty in it. They’re nervous rather than brutal as they hold me in place. The leader feels none of that. He takes my chin and twists my face around, coming in close to breathe in my ear. His other hand pushes up under my bra, groping and squeezing painfully.
“Like a sex doll, right? Not real, no law against it. They can’t toss me in the slammer over you.”
My heart thuds, and now I wonder where my rage went. I force myself to breathe, to remain still, to be calm and cold and uncaring. Maybe what he says is true. Why else would they change the laws? Yet I do not want this, with all my being I do not want this to happen, and I can’t see any way out of it.
A gunshot destroys the tense plateau, and the boys all duck. The grip on my arms slackens, and I pull free.
“This way!” I hear Julie’s voice call. She holds a pistol aimed at the boys and looks ready to use it.
The leader spits at me as I run. His cell link is already glowing in his ear, and he’s babbling to the police before I’m five steps away.
“Come on, quickly now,” Julie says as I reach her. She dodges down an alley that connects to a busier street. I stumble and drag Julie to a halt.
“What?” Julie watches beyond me, not really listening. “We have to go!”
“Why?” I grab her pistol and point it at my chest. Julie goes still. Now she watches the gun. “Tell me a good reason to put you all at risk.”
“We won’t be at risk if we get out of here now,” she says, a hard edge to her voice.
“But…” I still couldn’t reveal my knowledge, even now. “They will come for me, you’ll be in trouble…”
“Trust me, they aren’t coming for you.”
Still, the temptation to pull the trigger persists. It’s not about their risk, not about the boy’s hatred, not about any of that.
“Then…” I swallow, throat closing as I realize where my despair really lies. “Then tell me what the point is for me.”
A siren sounds in the distance, and Julie flinches. “You’re not making sense. It’s for Gina and Wesley, remember? And they’ll lose both of us if we are caught.” She looks right at me then. “You understand that, right?”
“Sure. Your children, your house, your job, your life…your name. I don’t even have my own name!”
“That’s what this is about? Having a name?” She yanks me down the alley and hails an autocab. The pistol droops in my hand. “Names are nothing, don’t you see?” she says as she pushes me into the car and directs it to circle at random. “Pick a name, it’s yours.” Her voice has an edge of hysteria. A police cruiser coasts by. We both watch, tense, until it turns out of sight.
I drop my head to stare at the gun lying in my lap. “You don’t understand. I love your children, more than I knew possible. But the moment you arrive, I’m shoved aside and locked in a room, hidden away to watch you cuddle them and laugh with them and be the mom.” My breath’s coming hard now, unable to get past the lump in my throat. “Am I supposed to feel grateful for this…this…half-life? I can’t go to school, can’t learn and grow. I can’t buy things or travel. I can’t love a man and be loved in return.” I look up to see Julie staring ahead, her mouth set hard. “I know you need me, Julie, but I want more.”
Silence settles, marked only by my sniffles and the car’s hum.
“So you’d rather be dead than have the life I can offer you?” Julie’s voice cracks a little, and I realize she is fighting for control.
I hand her the gun, guilty now, but I don’t answer her question. Her gaze turns to me, her mouth twisted and tight.
“I can’t take you back to the lab anymore. If you are really that unhappy, then the only answer is death. I can’t let you go off into the world. You understand that, right?”
“Then you have to decide. Stick to the Agreement, or die. Here, now, tonight.”
Already wet and chilled, her words make me cold right through. “You would…?”
She drops her gaze. “You don’t know how bad it is.” Her voice is soft. “You’re right about having no identity. Maybe you haven’t noticed how willing I am to share mine. All I can offer you is my Agreement.”
She sighs. “When I woke you, I destroyed any record of doing so. The Agreement is something I made up to give you some guidance while keeping you secret. I didn’t like where things were headed. But if you head off on your own, my actions could come to light. I’d lose everything.” Then her eyes narrow and she gives me a hard look. “You know about the new laws.”
It isn’t a question. I choke on my guilt.
She frowns. “How is that possible? I’d have some memory of it.”
“You haven’t recognized these memories because they are already your own.” I am only half through explaining when I see understanding dawn on her face.
“That’s remarkable,” she says.
“I-I’m so s-sorry I didn’t tell you,” I stutter out. “It was wrong of me to infringe on your privacy, to steal from you.”
Julie shakes her head in wonder. “So you saw the newsvids.”
“Well, that explains tonight.” She shakes her head and gives a little humorless laugh. “Really, you can hardly call it stealing when you give me just as much.”
“Are they really killing clones?”
“Yes. The facility you came from was destroyed today. Your records said you were still there, so you are officially dead.” Her mouth pinches in grief, and I wonder about her husband’s clone. “Clones are being killed, and people too.”
“From what I see of humanity, if it’s not this conflict, it’s another.”
“True.” She pauses, her gaze searching my face. “Thank you for being honest with me.”
“I wanted to tell you,” I say, lost in my anguish. “I thought it would be a breach of the Agreement, and you would have me put back in stasis.”
“That’s what you thought?”
She pulls me into a hug. At first I don’t know what to do. I’ve only ever hugged the children, and this feels strange at first. But Julie holds me in a desperate grip, and again I remember my advice to Gina in the schoolyard. I hug Julie back.
“It’s going to be okay,” she says into my shoulder.
“How can it be? My mutated gene…”
She pulls back. I see she is blinking away tears. Her laugh is bitter. “There is no mutation. It’s a publicity scam, leaked on purpose so the cloning companies could avoid lawsuits. Those clones in trouble only did brutal things because that’s the way they were treated.” She shakes her head in disgust. “Now it’s swept out of control, and the clones lose out. You, you’ve known love, trust. Look at all the love you have given to my children…our children. You were willing to sacrifice yourself tonight for their safety. That makes you more human than most.”
My heart seems to expand in my chest. “Truly?”
I think on this, and realize I am nibbling on my lip just the way she does. “So I won’t go crazy?”
“I meant what I said in that interview five years ago. You deserve to be treated as a human. You are a human.”
I gaze across into the living mirror of my own face. Staring into her eyes is like gauging the depths of my own soul. I make my choice.
Together we are a stronger one.