Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sci-fi · #1276611
Can a clone really do the job? Word count approx 4000
|Rachel walked through the forest vista. She brandished a sword, cutting down an unnamed monster. She whirled on her heel to look for other enemies and felt the swish of heavy fabric in her cape as it caught up to her. The sword cut through the air as she turned. She saw movement on the horizon. She readied her weapon to meet the threat. |
Warning lights flashed around her eyes. The sword evaporated. She felt the armor melting off and the trees faded from view.
Rachel reacquainted herself with the room. She lay on a firm bed attached to her virtual reality system. The mirror showed an average woman with brown eyes and mahogany hair. Her café au lait skin had paled due to lack of sun exposure. She considered using the effect for one of her virtual characters, then discarded the idea. Since she could look like anyone, she preferred to enhance her characters with beauty rather than reality.
Glancing at the clock, she knew she had to get ready for work. She had slept during the simulation for a time. She thought Cyberia made her dreams more vivid. She did not remember the last time she slept in her real bed. Reluctantly she shut off her computer and dressed. She marked one more day off the calendar. Today was the last day she worked.
She checked on the sleeping form in her bedroom. Her replica in almost every way, Moiré slept. Rachel flipped the lights to wake her, and left. She needed to get used to the schedule. Starting tomorrow, Moiré, not Rachel, would head to work.
Rachel kept an eye on the clock throughout the day. She took detailed notes at the regular meeting of the Committee for Just Compensation so her successor would seamlessly take over. Rachel tried to keep her mind on the meeting. The difficulty stemmed from her excitement to escape the insurance world. At quitting time she hurried home.
Rachel double-checked the ID and other contents of her double’s wallet. Her driver’s license listed Rachel Moiré Gretter as opposed to her original license, which said Rachel Marie Gretter. The guys she paid for Moiré had a subtle touch. Everything else only listed Rachel M. Gretter. Their explanation had something to do with the programming of the clone’s brain. Rachel had not listened to specifics. It did not matter to her what made the clone work; Rachel only needed someone to take over her mundane existence.
She plugged herself into the system and turned it on. She set the clock to warn her for a regular checkup on her double. She saw the trees becoming clearer. Her armor weighed heavily over her and she drew her sword as it materialized. She would hunt for more creatures.
She stalked the night in search of prey.
Moiré pulled her sweater sleeve over her wrist self-consciously. Rachel had not left Cyberia for three weeks, but no one noticed her disappearance. The Committee for Just Compensation concluded its studies, which relieved everyone. She did not think she could manage one more day on the Committee. Yesterday they debated for four hours the suitability of $350,000 for someone who severed a hand or foot during their employment. Reminding herself of her ineligibility due to her clone status, she waited out the meetings instead of cutting off her foot to avoid them. The conclusion of the study left her free to pursue less dreadful tasks. If they found out now that Rachel had been replaced, they would reconduct the entire study. None of them would trust Moiré’s judgment, and it would likely mean her destruction. After three weeks, Moiré felt she understood why Rachel wanted to leave.
She had not placed Rachel in Cyberia against her will. Rachel had created Moiré to pay the bills. Dismal insurance numbers hardly compared with the glamorous virtual place Rachel constructed. Moiré answered her calls, cleaned the house, tended Rachel, and recently covered her job. She kept the calendar current, in case Rachel wanted to take part in her own life. Moiré knew Rachel no longer found this necessary, but Rachel created the rules to which Moiré must abide.
Tending Rachel turned out to be the worst part. The virtually inclined, as Rachel termed them, rarely gave thought to that. She had to check Rachel’s IV, bathe her, run her muscular therapy program, and check her connections to ascertain maximum efficiency. Moiré knew her dependence on Rachel compelled her to do these things for which she would never volunteer. Rachel seemed to be in a coma, although Moiré knew she could return anytime she chose. Moiré gazed at the monitor into Rachel's world and felt trapped in her role. As a clone, she had no rights beyond what her creator, her original, allowed her. Rachel created a replacement to exist in the mundane world while she lived in a virtual reality, commonly called Cyberia by its residents.
Monday morning Moiré received a message as she logged into the network. As usual, her boss’s taciturn style spoke volumes. “Research Partner: Patrick Finney. Assignment: Report. Topic: Insuring clones within employment companies. Scope: full ramifications. Regards, Gunther Wolfanger.”
Patrick Finney had a self-assured air that annoyed Moiré instantly. She knew he had been out with half the women in the office and she expected a proposition from him since she had been assigned a project with him. Moiré knew from Rachel’s notes that he had a short attention span for women he dated. It would not be easy to work with him for the next month or more. His close cropped brown hair had a touch of gray and his eyes were bright green. He towered over Moiré by several inches.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to dinner this evening?” Patrick asked her as they left for the day.
She shook her head. “I have plans tonight. Sorry.”
She refused to mention her plans had to do with Rachel. She locked the secret door of the room behind her and looked down at her original. She brushed Rachel’s hair for a long time as she updated Rachel’s diary with the voice recorder. She moved on to her other tasks.
“Go out with him.”
Moiré jumped, spilling the IV refill. Dismayed, she faced the computer screen. Her view showed a worried Rachel in a room that mirrored the one she stood in. Moiré had not thought Rachel would check up on her. The disembodied voice chilled her.
“I am a clone. I can’t go out with him. I’ll be discovered!” Moiré’s hands shook.
“Worse if you don’t go. He doesn’t take ‘no’ lightly.”
“It’s too risky. It’s my life!” Silence met Moiré’s words. Rachel had removed her presence. The monitor held a more familiar view of Rachel lounging on a velvet divan in the company of a man. Moiré felt compelled to follow Rachel’s orders, no matter what her personal feelings were. She cursed herself underneath her breath. If only she lied in the diary…
Her research on clone employment proved her misgivings on sharing her replacement status. Moiré found reports on other individuals who had cloned themselves for various reasons, and all met with undesirable ends. The only legal employment allowed for clones included manual labor for the city or other large institutions. All the hotel chains used them as maids. The city coordinator kept them busy cleaning graffiti off the walls. She could not find any instance of a task that required thinking. She wondered if she could include an interview with a clone doctor on her report.
The history of cloning showed the first instance of a complex animal, a sheep, cloned nearly two hundred years ago. Since then, fierce debates ensued over the ethics and the legal issues nipped at their heels. The decision to only allow clones with underdeveloped brains had calmed enough of the lawmakers to agree to use them as the primary labor force. True to the letter of the law, the underdeveloped brain enticed questionable characters to petition to use these clones for purposes that horrified Moiré. She found pictures of the medical testing subjected to the clones. Many of the doctors felt anesthesia wasted on them because of the lower brain function. Hand on her mouth, she fought to keep the bile down.
She avoided Patrick the rest of the day with an interview of the city clone supervisor. Moiré saw the nameless drones identified by numbers on the back of their coveralls. Dirty and neglected, they trudged through their tasks. Her assignment would determine the proper insurance premiums and payouts. Moiré tried not to call attention to the mark on her wrist. She thought she kept it well covered by her clipboard as she took furious notes while the supervisor spoke.
“The City only goes for the cheap clones, you know. The technology is out there to create replicas that cannot be distinguished from real people. They’re expensive, though, and don’t greatly improve the amount of work completed every day. Plus, they require entertainment because their brainpower is equal to ours. So they get these scaled down versions. It’s a lot like stripping a car, really. You only need the engine to work, so you get a shell and you make the engine tick.”
“How does that affect your job loads?” Moiré did her best to sound curious instead of scandalized.
“Well, if they’d just upgrade everything but the brain, we’d get more done around here. I have to train these lumps every few years because they get broken beyond repair. The manufacturer’s warranty is one year, and they last up to five.”
“How would it change your job if they upgraded them?”
“Well, take Number 4A5CD over there.” He pointed to one that jerked with each movement. At Moiré’s nod, he continued. “It’s a shame, really. Only had it four months before those tics began. I can’t leave it to paint anything, so I ended up making it shovel snow and rake leaves. It’s difficult to find appropriate tasks for it. I think there’s a short in the nerves somewhere, but it isn’t covered under warranty. If it had been an upgraded model, I could have it repaired or replaced for free. Then I would not have to keep such long files on which clones can do certain tasks.”
“Is there such a difference in price, then?”
“Well, 4A5CD cost nearly five thousand dollars. It’s right in line with most of the workers here. The government subsidizes them. There’s a black market out there; the illegal ones are more. A fully functioning body minus brain usually ranges seventy to eighty grand. The illegal replicas are the most expensive, and I have heard they cost around half a million.”
“What makes the big difference in cost?”
“Usually it’s brainpower. See, the clone is usually delivered fully-grown. This means basic functions must be programmed into the brain. Things like balance and coordination must be taught before it’s delivered, or you’ll have a huge mess on your hands the first time you need it to move. I’ve also heard the fully developed brain has a longer incubation period. Language has to be taught before delivery. The clones for the city have their own basic lingo and have trouble learning more words. That’s why there are so many taskmasters for their force – if there is a problem it has to be dealt with by a real person. It can tell you if there is trouble, but nothing more.”
“Thank you. I think I have what I need.” Her hands shook as she put her notes in her bag and closed it. Moiré walked past the clones at work back to her car.
Her mind reeled as she returned to the office. The city supervisor had given her a great deal to think about. How much had Rachel spent on her? How long would she ‘last?’ It bothered her the way he referred to each clone as an ‘it’. She noticed the difference between the males and females. Her stomach started tying itself in knots, so Patrick caught her unprepared.
“How about dinner tonight?”
Moiré jumped. Her heart pounded in her chest. “Uh…”
“I’ll pick you up at eight.”
“You don’t know where I live.”
“I’ll find it.” He smiled.
She finally noticed his clear blue eyes. She nodded, remembering Rachel’s words.
She found a cab to take her home. She noticed the workers more than usual. After discovery, the illegal clones disappeared. Moiré did not know how she would keep the secret from Patrick. It only took one glance at her wrist to see her mark.
She fumbled with her keys at her door, and ended up dropping them. They landed on a package addressed to Rachel Gretter. She finally unlocked the door, and closed it absently behind her, all of her attention focused on the parcel.
A gold wrist cuff with an inlaid pattern of rainbow onyx lay in the box. Moiré slowly twisted it on her wrist, admiring the bauble. Rachel thought of everything.
Patrick picked her up at eight sharp. She wore a black dress that reached her knees. The clean lines clung to her curves and the wrist cuff provided the only cover on her arms. She grabbed a shawl on the way out the door and almost tripped in the doorway with her heels. Recovering quickly, she minded the steps and got into his car.
“Beware door frames. They’re out to get you.” Patrick smiled.
“They must be.”
“That, or your shoes are attracted to them.”
Moiré giggled. “Oh, no. Must be the shoes. What will I do?”
“You might take them off before going through doors?” Patrick pulled away from her house.
“It might take me awhile to get anywhere.”
“Who needs shoes anyway? I could carry you instead.”
Moiré heard a mocking invitation in his tone. She fell silent, unsure of an answer. She watched him drive. At the restaurant, she concentrated on her feet to keep her balance. The shoes cut into her feet. She wished she had worn a more comfortable pair.
Patrick opened the door for her, then followed into the building. He gave his name to the hostess and she sat them right away.
Moiré wondered how long ago he made the reservations. This restaurant had a reputation for long waiting lists.
He charmed her through dinner like he did in the car. Moiré found herself laughing. The diary kept nagging in the back of her mind. She had to decide how much to divulge to Rachel.
As he dropped her off for the evening, he walked her to the door. She fumbled with the keys in her purse, wondering if he expected to come in. He stopped outside her door. He stared at her, which made her a bit self-conscious. He leaned over her, taking her by both hands and making her step close to him. His lips brushed hers softly, an invitation she could not refuse. Her heart beat faster as his tongue teased against her teeth to beg a further intrusion. She opened her jaw a little, allowing entrance. His hands grazed her sides and back while he deepened the kiss. Finally he let go and Moiré struggled to stay upright.
“I wanted to make sure the door didn’t get your shoes this time.”
She did not know what to say. Patrick took her keys and opened the door. He lifted her, set her on the other side of the doorjamb, and dazzled her with his perfect smile. He closed the door behind him to leave her alone with her thoughts.
Moiré sat on the recliner in her living room until she felt steady enough to update the diary. She typed a similar version of the evening’s events to what actually happened and saved. She left Rachel’s secret room and headed to bed.
Patrick called the next afternoon to invite her to a movie Sunday evening. She found herself smiling at the phone as she accepted.
She kept agonizing over what to wear. Throwing clothes on the bed, she emptied Rachel’s closet before finding an outfit she decided would work. He picked her up at five. They walked into the movie theater together and looked at the options.
“What do you want to see?” Moiré fidgeted with her sleeve as she looked at the posters.
Her choices ranged from science fiction, action, romantic comedy and a children’s animated feature. “How about that one?” She pointed at the action flick; it seemed more Patrick’s style than the others.
“Sounds good to me.” He flashed a smile at her before getting in line for the tickets.
They shared a large popcorn and had their own sodas. She tried to keep her focus on the movie, but Patrick presented a distraction difficult to ignore. Dazzled, she followed him out of the theater at the end of the movie. He grabbed her hand and kept her close to him. They walked toward his car. Her heart fluttered as he pinned her against the closed passenger door. She stared in his eyes. He leaned down to kiss her and she felt the heat from his body. She lost track of her surroundings until he let her go.
“I’ll take you home.”
Moiré’s hands covered her face. She got into the car and he shut the door. She watched him as he drove back to her house. He walked her to her door again. “Do you want to come inside?” Her voice uttered the words, though she thought herself too nervous to speak.
He seemed to take the measure of her, and nodded. She closed the door behind her, glad she had taken care of Rachel earlier. She closed the door behind him and turned around to find his hands capturing her face. She had no more words as he kissed her.
The next morning she woke next to Patrick. She wondered how she managed to keep her wrist cuff on all night. All her jewelry remained, the ring on her right hand and her earrings. She got up and showered. When she stepped out, Patrick grinned at her from the doorway.
Moiré held the towel around herself, crossing her arms in front of her to cover the mark on her wrist.
“I have to go change if I’m going to get to work on time.” He kissed her softly and left.
She wondered if he had seen the mark. She put it from her mind as she dressed and left for the office.
Patrick brought her pictures and files of clones at work for her report. She compiled her notes into a lengthy description of the things she had learned. Patrick’s closeness distracted her and she found it easier to type the words when she focused on something besides the meaning behind them. Rachel had been alone a long time; Moiré did not understand it. Thinking of Patrick, she kept thinking about the next time she would see him outside of work. A few days seemed like forever to her. She hated to wait to see him again.
Moiré knew she was falling for him. He surprised her when he took her to his home instead of hers one Friday night three weeks after they started dating. She bit her lip as he killed the engine. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. The need for an escape and the desire to be with him warred within her.
He dragged her inside by the arm. Her reluctance showed. He sat her on the couch and turned to face her. “You have something to clear up for me.”
“Take off the wrist cuff.”
Moiré met his eyes fearfully. “Why?” Her voice wavered.
“Just take it off.” His voice held a note of command.
She shook her head, half in denial and half in fear. He grabbed her arm and pulled it off. She shrank back, waiting for the ax to fall. He held her arm out, examining the signature on her inner wrist. He nodded. “Come with me.” Moiré trembled.
He turned away from her. Moiré gasped as a concealed door revealed Patrick, lying on a bed with IV and computer connections. The double image of Patrick unnerved her. She realized the connections had many similarities to Rachel’s. Relief flooded through her.
He smiled at her. “Logan.”
“Moiré.” She whispered, afraid her voice would fail her.
“I love you.”
“I… love you, too.” She wondered how he knew. “Don’t you have a mark?”
“It’s under my hairline.” He parted his hair so she could see part of his scalp with a jagged line running across it.
“How did you know?” She searched his face for the answer.
He grinned. “I saw that mark the first night. I thought it was a birthmark at first.”
Moiré nodded. From that moment, they were inseparable. As weeks passed, they decided to cement the bond between them.
Rachel waited in the monitor when Moiré came to tend her soon after. “You can’t marry him, Moiré.”
Moiré almost jumped out of her skin. “Rachel.” She paused, uncomfortable. “You made me go out with him. The rest just followed from there.”
“I didn’t say to marry him, did I? If they find out you’re a clone, you’re dead.”
“And what about you? You won’t be able to live in Cyberia without me.” Moiré’s eyes widened at her impertinence. She never spoke to Rachel that way.
“You’ll stay in there until I take care of this.” Rachel’s whisper hinted at her fury.
Moiré watched the monitor where Rachel had locked her in the secret room. It took longer for Rachel to realize she never moved from her bed. Moiré shook her head and waited until she had Rachel’s attention again. “No, Rachel. This isn’t Cyberia. You cannot will the world your way. I have lived through your choices. It’s your turn to live through mine. You’ve been gone for months; your muscular therapy program doesn’t compensate for total lack of movement.”
Rachel’s connection provided her outlet to scream.
“We were apprehended at the courthouse. I swore they’d condemn us to medical testing.”
Logan nodded at Moiré’s statement. “The judge was furious that we’d attempt to get married ‘like real people.’ He looked ready to sign execution orders immediately.”
“We didn’t know there were markers in our blood. I always thought the signature on my wrist was the only difference between Rachel and me.” Moiré picked up the story again. “I knew my fingerprints passed for hers and never worried about the rest.”
A few of their new bunkmates nodded in understanding. They lived in the labor camp now.
“You’re lucky you didn’t get sent to medical testing. That happened to my friend.” Silence reigned for a moment. They were lucky to end up here, on the island. Running factories and farming led to a simpler existence, away from the politics so prevalent in the prestigious world of originals.
“Do you know how you’re built?”
Moiré shook her head and looked at Logan.
He grimaced. “Short term, five years max. She’s a full-term replacement with full upgrades, virtually indistinguishable from the original. I don’t know how she paid for it; Patrick couldn’t figure it out.”
Moiré’s eyes widened. She had not considered the differences in investment between the two of them. Patrick had not needed Logan that long, but Rachel had envisioned a long life in cyberspace and needed the best that money could buy. “Rachel never told me how she paid for me. She never talked about how I was made at all.”
Logan put his arm around Moiré. “I wanted to tell you, but…”
Moiré shivered. No one else said anything. They understood the implications as well as she did, and some of them better. She did not know how to span the differences between them. She remembered her visit to the city clone supervisor and his words about the clone with the tics. Not covered under warranty and needed replacement, but the city never spent the money for that. Moiré doubted they spent it in the labor camps. She felt time pressing on her, knowing Logan had only a short time with her compared to her projected lifespan.
“Did you find them?” Logan asked one evening as she returned from the library.
Moiré slowly nodded. “Patrick’s in prison. Illegal cloning.”
“That’s the official story. I’m sure he’ll be on another assignment soon enough.”
“You’re that disposable? Nobody worries about how much you ‘cost’ so long as they root out another illegal clone?”
“It’s not that simple. Disposable is a relative thing where we’re concerned, right? Patrick had trouble proving Rachel’s case. You’re extremely difficult to tell apart.”
Moiré nodded. “She tried to make sure we were indistinguishable.”
Logan waited a moment for her to continue, but she did not. “And Rachel?”
“She, uh…” Moiré closed her eyes. “Her arrest disrupted her connection. To Cyberia, I mean. She’s not expected to recover. Termination of life support is scheduled for next week.”
Logan embraced her. “You know it’s not your fault.”
“It’s not your fault.”