CHLOE THE CLONE
Clonal Transplants, Inc. Sanitary Tech Marcus Washington pushed a broom along a narrow path between lines of clone crèches. They ranged as far as he could see in the dim light under the high ceiling of the Great Hall. At least that's what honorable president and CEO, Demetri Andropov liked to call it.
The Great Hall gave Marcus the willies.
Twenty thousand square feet of office‑warehouse, it was one of many office‑warehouses lining Havana Street in Denver. Offices fronted the warehouse and looked out onto a landscape of gravel, a couple of struggling junipers and a pot‑holed parking lot. The ceiling towered twenty-five feet high with pre-cast double tee beams, an occasional skylight and swamp coolers that rattled when they worked at all. Floor mounted floodlights shone upward, making everything in the vast space seem upside down. Despite a new tar and gravel roof, drips fell from the ceiling, clear drops plunging out of the gloom and spattering onto the clear Perspex covers of the crèches.
Andropov shared one of the larger offices with a secretary. Clonal's technical staff took up the other two offices with their array of chemicals, beakers and tubes.
As far as Marcus could figure, they didn't need a lot of space to make an embryo.
Although he had worked for Clonal for a year, he had never met Andropov. It was a small company, not more than one of them cottage industries growing look-a-likes. And with only six employees, counting his‑self and Lamont plus the lab guy Andropov canned last week, Marcus figured he should have met the fat prick by now.
But Andropov kept to himself. He rarely came back to look at the clones, at least according to the lab techs. Andropov had his secretary handle all the public relations, usually stayed late, probably no home life, and only gave someone a raise when they threatened to quit.
As far as Marcus was concerned, Andropov could shove the Great Hall and all them wormy things up his arrogant ass.
Sanitary Tech Lamont Royale broomed from a cross isle and nearly knocked Marcus over.
Marcus grabbed Lamont by the lapels of his white janitorial suit. "What the fuck, dude?" He sniffed. "You been smoking that shit again, haven't you?"
"What's it to you?"
"I don't give a motherfuck if you get juiced on your time," Marcus scolded, "but if you screw up, we're going to get our asses canned."
Lamont tried to focus. "Okay, already. I'm cool." He clasped his broom tightly and propped it against his chest to keep from swaying. "But you ain't gonna believe what I found."
"Seriously." A drop from the ceiling spattered on Lamont's shaved scalp. He ducked instinctively.
Marcus smirked. "Okay, what?"
"C'mere." Lamont scowled and wiped his head with his hand as he led Marcus over to a crèche on the far side of the warehouse.
The crèche was like all the other crèches in the hall, a shaped fiberglass mount that rose off the floor encasing a mass of machinery, monitors and feeding tubes from clustered bottles. Electronic cables and tubes snaked up and through watertight seals to an oblong bowl. The crèche bowls held amniotic fluid for the youngest clones, but were dry for the older ones.
This bowl was dry. A clone lay inside.
It looked to be about ten years old, naked, obviously female, white by racial reckoning, and very thin with blond hair splayed out around her head. Probably not more than two years in the tank. Andropov liked to accelerate growth.
"So?" Marcus gave Lamont a sidelong glance and was about to go after him again for smoking weed.
"See them wires? I never seen wires like that connected to a product. They's stimulating her muscles. See...there...she jerks a little."
"That don't mean she's sentient."
Lamont put both hands on his hips and thrust his face close to Marcus. "Yeah? Then what the hell else do you think being hooked up to cable TV means?"
"We got cable here?"
"Fuck off." Lamont waved a dismissive hand, then bent to a knee and fingered a thick black co‑ax that ended in a silvery male compression fitting. The compression fitting screwed into a black converter box partially hidden under the splayed feet of the fiberglass mount. From the box, wires traveled up the side of the support, slid inconspicuously under the Perspex cover and were taped to each of the clone's temples. "She's probably watching Animal Planet or something."
"Damn..." Marcus squatted next to Lamont. "How come we got a sentient? Them lab guys always nuke sentients, inject 'em with some shit and makes 'em brain‑dead."
"We gotta tell Andropov," Lamont said. "He's going to be pissed if he finds out one of his lab guys let a sentient get by."
Marcus stood. "We don't gotta tell Andropov nothin'. I bet he already knows 'bout this. I bet that's how come he fired Nathan. I bet Andropov is walking a fine line down the middle of the road, right now. On one side he's got this here sentient female look-a-like who is ripe for a transplant. On the other side, he don't want no one to know she's sentient."
"So why don't he nuke her?" Lamont asked.
"Because, butthead, she's too old. You can only nuke 'em when they's little. If you nuke one as old as her, she's gonna die. And...if you let them live, then they's also gonna die unless you keep them stimulated. Hence, the muscle twitchers and the cable TV."
"How come you so all knowing, all of a sudden?"
"Yo, you oughta pay more attention to what you're doing than scrambling your brain. Nathan was real informative."
"Amen. So, my man, as I sees it, motherfucker Andropov's got one helluva problem."
Marcus peered at Lamont like he was an imbecile. "Yeah, he does. Us."
Lamont frowned, confused.
Marcus did a little shuffle step. "If Mr. Andropov don't want no law on his fat ass, then he's gonna have to make us feel real good. Know what I mean?"
Sam Turner squinted at the alarm clock. 6:32 AM.
Why do I always wake up at 6:32?
His Colorado country home sat up high at a flatlander's nose bleed elevation of seventy‑five hundred feet above sea level. It didn't seem high since the surrounding countryside, all part of El Paso County, was more or less the same elevation.
Red rocks loomed close to the house. Thick Ponderosa Pine carpeted smoothly to the plain below where a north-south rail line wound its way. A frontal range of mountains filled the view to the west with Pikes Peak dominating in the distance. To the east, high plains spread out flat eventually ending up in Kansas. A cloudless sky, giving over to first light, domed overhead.
Maybe it's a train. Maybe it's the sun rising and hitting the rocks.
But the sun's rising was always changing and his awakening was not. It must be a train. Still, the coincidence bothered him. Sam hated coincidences he couldn't explain.
He lay still. Getting out of bed was something he dreaded. His doctor had told him, "Don't rush getting out of bed. You'd be surprised how many people with your condition drop dead standing up too quickly. First, count to one hundred and fifty."
One hundred forty-eight, one hundred forty-nine, one hundred-fifty. Okay.
He stood, feeling an ache in his back, cramps in his legs, but thankfully nothing in his chest. After pulling on his robe, he made his way to the bathroom. With his bent over progress he thought he must look ten years older than his hard‑fought fifty-six.
But that's what heart disease will do to a person.
Brush my teeth. He sat down on the edge of the tub while guiding the electric toothbrush around his mouth. He followed the thirty second beeping guides the brush emitted--stay in one location until the beep--until the programmed instrument stopped after two minutes. Sam was locked into a routine. Sam liked routine.
Shave. Also sitting down. It eased his back, but forced him to rub his right hand--he held the electric razor in his left--over his face to monitor his progress in the absence of a mirror.
When everything felt smooth, he stepped to the washbasin, extra height to save him bending over for a face splash with cold water. Hair--what little was left--wetted and brushed.
Medications. Way too many.
Dead. Death. Dying. The thoughts always came after taking the meds. He hadn't thought much about dying before...before heart disease. But now it was an obsession. He supposed he could be excused the indulgence. After all, if he realized he could drop dead on a moment's notice, what else was there to think about?
He returned to the bedroom to dress.
At least I'm still cognizant enough to put my pants on before my shoes.
Sam smiled at his humor.
After pulling his belt tight, he went to the head of the stairs for the descent to the kitchen on the floor below, then paused out of habit. When he and Karen, may she rest in peace, had bought the house twenty years ago, they had never considered its vertical organization would become an issue. Garage on the lowest floor. Half a flight up to the living room. Another half to the kitchen, dining, TV room, then another flight of steps to the bedrooms.
At first, Sam had thought all this verticality would do him good. Keep him fit. Keep his heart pumping strong. But these days, forgetting to take the keys to the car from the bureau beside the bed precipitated an agonized climb back up.
At this elevation, his Colorado home had become a...health challenge. He questioned his euphemistic choice of words. He could have thought of his house as a hazard but decided health challenge was the better way to go. It seemed more in keeping with the times.
Damn heart disease. Sam knew his legs were strong from climbing stairs back and forth for every forgotten thing, but his heart wasn't up to pumping the energy his legs now demanded.
That Karen had preceded him in death always angered him despite doctor's orders to avoid thoughts that would anger him. She had been the more athletic, but cancer didn't know athleticism from dirt. Five years without her. About the same time his heart condition had been diagnosed.
This morning, he remembered to put his car keys in his pocket, so he took the stairs down slowly with a firm grip on the handrail. His doctor had encouraged him to install a mechanized stair‑chair but the stair zigzagged between too many landings for that. A hydraulic elevator would have worked as well. He could afford it, and he had actually investigated putting one in, but never got beyond preliminary. Maybe he was too fatalistic.
Once in the kitchen, he started the coffee maker. Weak coffee, even though it was decaf, because even decaffeinated coffee had caffeine. Yesterday's mail sat unopened on the counter. A couple of magazines, a letter from Clonal Transplants, three missives of junk mail and a self‑addressed stamped envelope that no doubt held a rejection slip. He had chosen to ignore it, yesterday playing out as a good day he didn't want to spoil.
While the coffee maker sputtered and dripped water through the coffee grounds, Sam sat and tore open the SASE. A quick glance at the salutation...Dear Author, and he knew the rest. He flipped the letter to one side.
Another two minutes for the coffee. He eased off the counter stool and stared at the appointment calendar hanging on the wall next to the refrigerator.
Doctor's appointment at 10:00 AM. Then nothing until a meeting with his cardiac support group at 7:00 PM. He hated days that had obligations in them, and this was going to be one of those days. He supposed his annoyance derived from his early retirement, which at first had provided him the free time he had sought. Golden years early. But now, in retrospect, without Karen, he couldn't imagine his life getting much worse.
The letter from Clonal Transplants sat in plain view almost begging to be opened. He tore off the end of the envelope and pulled out the letter.
An ostentatious gold letterhead heralded Clonal Transplants with their motto underneath, Personalized Attention to your Personal Extension.
Corny. He read the letter.
Clonal Transplants, Inc. October 29, 2020
3465 North Havana Street
Denver, CO 80239
Mr. Samuel Johns Turner
6634 Orion Drive
Monument, CO 80132
Re: House Joint Resolution No.54
Dear Mr. Turner,
As a valued customer, your satisfaction is our highest priority. To that end, we at Clonal Transplants feel it necessary to advise you of certain possible consequences that could derive from recent legislation passed by our government.
You are perhaps aware that on October 17, 2020, Congress passed H.J.Res.54 popularly known as The Control and Isolation of Clonal Transplanting Act of 2020. The President signed it into law last week.
Whereas, this legislation, now law, does not prohibit cloning for medical purposes, it does promulgate very strict guidelines under which cloning can take place. We expect pressure will be brought to bear on our procedures, which hopefully will not alter or affect cloning that is already underway or near completion. However, given that the law is new and untested by the courts, we fully anticipate the more zealous members of Congress who supported the legislation will insure its statutes are pursued vigorously by federal law enforcement. The upshot of such action is that the smaller clone farms, such as Clonal Transplants, may be driven out of business.
Until such time as the law can be tested in the courts, our operations will necessarily proceed ambiguously.
We trust in the end, we shall prevail and continue to be able to offer our customers quality organs at a cost effective price.
Rest assured no matter what happens, your interests will always remain paramount.
We wish to thank you again for being a valued customer.
President and CEO of Clonal Transplants, Inc.
Sam reread the letter, trying to keep his hands from shaking.
I should have gone with one of the big clone farms.
But Doctor Collins had recommended Clonal Transplants, and he knew Doctor Walsh who did all their surgeries. It had been a package deal, twenty-five percent cheaper than the competition.
Andropov wasn't saying it, but there seemed to be a possibility he was going to be shut down. Then what? What will happen to the clones?
What will happen to my clone?
Sam had been waiting two years. His clone should be nearly ready. Maybe they'll test the law in the courts. But that could take months.
I could be dead by then.
Alice had just put Demetri's morning cup of coffee on his desk when the phone rang. Demetri thought to answer it, then decided that was why he had a secretary.
"Clonal Transplants," Alice said. She listened. "One moment, please."
She covered the mouthpiece with her hand. "FBI."
Demetri gave out a resigned sigh. Hopefully, this was a routine call. He stabbed the speakerphone button on his console and leaned forward. "Andropov, here."
"Mr. Dematry Androp?"
Christ, don't they ever get anything right? "I'm Demetri Andropov."
"Mr. Androp, this is Agent Bernard Wellstone with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I'd like to ask you a few questions."
The voice was off‑putting. Given its smarmy obsequiousness it sounded like it came from a small man. "Certainly, Agent Wellstone," Demetri said, "or can I call you Bernard?" Demetri nodded at Alice. He could be smarmy and obsequious as well.
"Agent Wellstone will do," Wellstone said flatly.
"Then Agent Wellstone it is." Demetri tried to inject a lightheartedness into his voice he didn't feel. "How can I be of service?"
"Your cooperation is appreciated." Wellstone coughed. "Excuse me. I presume you've heard that the President signed HJR 54 into law last week."
"Yeah, yeah, I know all about it. That damn piece of legislation could put me out of business. And I didn't vote for our current President." Demetri hated the legislation almost as much as he hated the current President. The guy seemed to have a fixation on shutting down small clone farms like Clonal. Hell, it didn't hurt anybody to rent a warehouse, hire a few biology majors and set up shop. What was wrong with private enterprise?
But the feds were coming after him with the stealth approach. We don't have any problem with you cloning people for their organs, but we're going to regulate you to death and put you out of business. Of course the big clone farms had lobbyist. Demetri had squat.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Wellstone said.
"What did you say?" Demetri had been so far away in his personal reverie he had no clue what Wellstone was talking about.
"The possibility of you going out of business," Wellstone said. "As for the President, we don't comment on political matters. In any case, that isn't the intent of the legislation. You must understand the Bureau has no position on legislation, but once it becomes law, we are beholden...by oath, actually, to uphold the law."
"You are forgiven."
"Nothing. I was agreeing with you having to uphold the law."
"Thank you. Now, if I may, I'd like to proceed with a few questions. Just routine."
"Just routine. What objection could I possibly have to routine questions?" Demetri covered the speakerphone mike with his hand. "Alice, get me Simon." Simon Garulli was Demetri's lawyer.
"He's out of town, remember?"
"Damn." Removing his hand, Demetri said, "Fire away."
"Mr. Androp, I must advise you that you are being recorded and statements you make could be held against you in a court of law. Do you understand?"
This Wellstone was getting on Demetri's nerves. "Agent Wellstone, why is the FBI asking me questions? What gives federal law enforcement the right to meddle in this jurisdiction?"
"You ship across state lines."
"Oh." Demetri rolled his eyes at Alice. "Of course, of course, Agent Wellstone. I'm no fool. You guys have been after me for years."
"Sir, if you persist in displaying what I perceive as a flippant attitude, I will be forced to put it in my report."
"Okay, I get it."
"Thank you. Mr. Androp, are you the owner and chief executive officer of the clone farm known as Clonal Transplants, Incorporated."
"You know damn well I am."
"Please be patient. I have to ask some of these questions for the record."
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"Nothing. Something from Seinfeld."
"It was a popular comedy series many years ago. You can catch the reruns at BroadTube.com."
"I'm sure. Now, Mr. Androp, having incubated over a hundred clones in the last five years, have any of them been sentient?"
Demetri closed his eyes and pressed his temples. He stared out the one window that gave him a view of the outside. They can't possibly know. What to say?
"Yeah, yeah, I'm here. No, none. Absolutely none. I know the law." Demetri strode to the window and snapped the blinds closed. "I maintain a strict quality control on my operations." He raised his voice to be heard by the speakerphone on the desk behind him. "And I can assure you none of my clones have been sentient. In fact, the whole thought of a sentient clone giving up its organs to a client is abhorrent to me."
"I can barely hear you," Wellstone said. "Are you saying for the record none of your clones is or ever has been sentient?"
Demetri returned to his chair. His knees felt weak. They know. He sat down hard, stabbed a button turning off the speakerphone and snatched the handset. "You can be assured we at Clonal Transplants have only the highest ethical practices in mind."
"You didn't answer my question, Mr. Androp."
Demetri hammered the handset on the top of his desk leaving three dents in the polished wood. "I'm sorry, Agent Wellstone, there seems to be something wrong with the phone."
"Can you hear me now?" Wellstone asked.
"Just barely." Demetri spoke holding his nose.
"Sir, I wasn't born yesterday. Please let go of your nose and listen carefully. I don't want to take up any more of your time. Are you listening?"
"Yes," Demetri said still holding his nose.
"Good. Under Executive Order No.34Z, Transparency in Government, I must advise you we will be dispatching a team within the next forty‑eight hours to inspect your facility. Our visit will be a necessary follow up on my report of this conversation."
"God damn it, Wellstone," Demetri shouted. "How can you fuck me over like that?"
But the line had gone dead.
Demetri slammed the handset back onto its carriage.
Alice cringed against a far wall. "Mr. Andropov, please."
"I'm sorry, Alice. That...that fucker upset me. You can go home early today. You know what I mean. I'm giving you free time off. Alice, please go."
Alice grabbed her coat, shrugged into it and bolted for the door.
Damn. Damn. Damn sentient. I should never have kept her. I should have injected her right there and then. No. I made the right decision. She'd have died. Fucking Nathan. What was he thinking? Why? I wasn't mean to him. Okay, he was underpaid but I was trying to help him out, a deadbeat doctor from the old country, and without a green card.
But there must have been something else wrong with Nathan. Who would spend his entire time at Clonal growing a sentient? Not only growing her, but raising her. Demetri couldn't have been more surprised when he took one of his infrequent tours of the back warehouse. There was Nathan, clapping his hands dementedly as the clone ran around the warehouse. "Careful, deary, don't knock over any of the crèches." He was crazy. He fed her solid food every day. Talked to her. Saw she got her exercise. He even wired her to a cable TV feed from the break room. Who did stuff like that?
Demetri had asked but got nothing back but obscenities. He had no choice but to fire the bastard. Then the decisions. The clone only had a couple of weeks to term. No sense killing a viable product. No one would ever know she was sentient if he shipped her sedated. Only two weeks. A lot of money was at stake. Keep her wired and head for the finish line.
So who tipped the feds? Nathan wouldn't. He'd get deported. What about that janitor, Washington. Fucker comes in and says he wants cash to keep quiet about a sentient he's discovered in the back. But I paid him off. Sure, he wasn't happy, but what did he expect? I'm not made out of money.
Whose clone is she, anyway?