|My head was killing me. It felt like my brain trying to expand beyond the confines of my skull. I winced as I opened my eyes and blinked against the harsh lighting in the room. I tried to get up off the operating table, but faltered. Several doctors rushed to my aid, but I waved them off.
"Just give me a minute," I barked, more harshly than I had intended.
The doctors gave me space and I maneuvered myself around so I could sit up.
I felt an immediate wave of nausea wash over me. I clasped a hand over my mouth to prevent myself from vomiting. My stomach was churning and the room was spinning. This was the worst part about the process; I always felt so sick afterward.
I tried to remember what happened.
Then, it all came flooding back to me.
It started with the gunshot. No, wait. It started with the speech. I was speaking to a crowd of people. I always got nervous talking in front of people, so I would periodically slip my hand into my pocket and run my fingers over the engraved cigarette lighter in my pocket. I didn't smoke anymore, but I kept it around in memory of the men in my unit who had given it to me before our last tour of service.
I was delivering my speech, and then I remember a distinct searing pain in my chest, followed by another right next to it. When the sound of the gunshots reached my ears seconds later, and I looked down and found my neatly pressed white dress shirt stained a bright crimson red... almost the same color as the tie I was wearing that my wife gave me for Christmas last year. I remember having a hard time breathing, gasping for air as I tried to choke out a cry for help.
After that, things got a little fuzzy. I remember feeling lightheaded, like I was going to pass out. I remember people screaming, and I recalled falling to the floor... and the people crowding around me. I vaguely remember being lifted onto something and being taken off the stage.
And that's the last memory in my head before waking up here. Even now, things in my head are hazy. I'm having trouble discerning between thoughts and memories.
The room was familiar. I had been here before. More than once, I think. And I knew one of the doctors. Even though her face was obscured by the sea foam green scrubs and a white lab coat, I recognized her eyes. They were a piercing hazel color that was utterly unforgettable. Once she realized that I recognized her, she smiled and let out a small sigh of relief.
She waved to a glass-paned room above the operating room, giving a thumbs-up sign. I squinted against the bright lights of the room, unable to see the faceless strangers that had apparently watched the procedure.
The doctor pointed me in the direction of a small changing screen with some clothes piled up on a chair. I summoned the strength to climb off of the operating table and slowly make my way to the changing screen. I looked over the clothes they had provided me... an expensive suit, freshly-pressed white shirt... and the red tie my wife had given me for Christmas last year. I slipped into the clothes, and felt better. The nausea was starting to subside and my strength was returning. I felt like myself again as my mind started to clear.
Dr. Rosette. That was the name of the woman doctor with the hazel eyes. I remembered now. It was all coming back to me. I knew what this room was, and how I had gotten here.
"Mr. President," Dr. Rosette asked tentatively. "How do you feel?"
I looked myself over. Everything checked out... even my chest, where I had been shot twice, just this afternoon. There wasn't a single scar or marking to indicate anything had taken place. All in all, I seemed to be in perfect working condition.
"I feel great. Excellent work as always, Dr. Rosette."
"Thank you, Mr. President. What would you like us to do with the old one?"
I followed her gaze to the operating table that had been behind me the entire time. On it was a man... a man who looked almost identical to me. No, wait... a man who was identical to me. Aside from the two bullet holes in his chest and the fact that he was dead, this man and I were exactly the same.
"Same as always."
Dr. Rosette nodded and waved over two of her staff.
"Take the body down to the incinerator."
The staff nodded and transferred to the body to a gurney, which they began to wheel away. Before they took him away, I grabbed the gurney and stopped them. Remembering, I fished around in the man's right pants pocket and extracted the engraved lighter.
"Almost forgot," I explained to the doctor.
"Of course," Dr. Rosette replied.
"How many times is this?" I asked in earnest.
Dr. Rosette seemed to mull the question over.
"Either the eighth or the ninth, Mr. President. I've lost count."
"So have I."
I smiled at Dr. Rosette as I headed for the door.
"Are the Joint Chiefs upstairs in the gallery?"
"Yes, sir. They're waiting for you."
I was halfway out of the room when I stopped and turned.
"Oh, and Dr. Rosette?"
"Yes, Mr. President?"
"You're welcome, sir."
I exited the room and walked through the complex toward the viewing gallery. As I walked, I passed dozens of tall, cylindrical chambers lining the far wall. I didn't bother to look in the illuminated, frosted windows of any of them. I already knew what was inside.
The days of the Secret Service being the last line of defense for a president were over. This was the last line of defense. Dr. Rosette's revolutionary cloning and memory transference procedure have brought me back from boating accidents, paralysis, terminal illness and assassination attempts. I couldn't help but smile at the sense of incredible power I had at my disposal. I was practically an immortal.
It truly is a brave new world out there.