a not too distant future where people are expendible
|Supreme war goddess had been put out of work. Just as Bill had done whatever he had done to make her invisible, they’d done just what they needed to do to make her obsolete.
The years of testing were apparently complete. The government could successfully clone at will. There was no longer any need for supreme war goddesses. They just took up space and ate a lot of food. It didn’t help that nobody liked them. It would be that much easier to just eliminate them, in much the same way they had eliminated the donor males once they could perpetuate their seed with appropriate genetic variety without their testes needing to be in their particular body, or later on, in anybody’s body.
It was becoming a really scary society of paranoid specimens all looking about anxiously with just the slightest unspeakable question on their faces, “Will I be next? Yes, you will.” The answer is always yes. It’s just a matter of when.
As happy as she was being with Bill, as an escapee from immediate elimination, the invisible life was beginning to wear thin. She still felt vulnerable, even living as far away from her cube as she was, and she was beginning to miss the stares of disgust and hate displayed in her previous life; at least it was some type of recognition, even if derisive. She also missed the other supreme war goddesses, not that she saw any of them anymore. It was like they’d been wiped from the earth.
Only when Bill was around did she feel noticed or appreciated, with some sense of purpose. He just seemed to be around less and less often or maybe she just missed him more. The inducible clone experiments had him irritated. She would see him poring over incomprehensible notes and figures while groaning to no one in particular as he sat in front of the video monitor or animatedly talking to someone in a language she couldn’t be sure was a language. He seemed more distracted than ever. She knew she had to do something or it was likely, and she feared likely very soon, that he would just choose not to return from one of his trips. The thought of it numbed her, but what could she do? She couldn’t exactly go home.
It came to her in a dream. She realized she enjoyed having dreams. She hadn’t had them before. Her previous sleep sessions had been a perpetual nightmare of sleegards, implantations, and dead babies wrapped in camouflage khakis on an open battlefield. Since having repeated and gratifying complex sex, she could now dream in colors other than blood red or puke yellow. She knew a kaleidoscope of colors now and sometimes saw them without even being asleep. She imagined they were called orgasms.
Last night it came to her as though spoken by a good friend, “Ask Bill what is so wrong and what you can do to help?” It seemed rather straightforward and she admittedly felt kind of stupid for not figuring it out while awake. So she asked him and he’d responded.
He had to repeat himself several times, but eventually she got it. She had to sit down. Her head was spinning and she had a pounding ringing in her ears. Then she realized she was screaming. Long after the shaking and not until the sting of the slap registered did she know what she was doing.
“What do you mean, I’m a clone? How could I be a clone and not know it? And if I’m a clone, where is the original of me? And I thought you said I had to give permission to be cloned. I never gave permission.” The words came poring out as though a charge of electricity from a dormant side of her brain was energizing her mouthparts. She’d gotten them all out and gotten her answers before she realized his mouth hadn’t moved. She’d have to focus on that later. Right now she had to just seize up and pass out.
While unconscious, the quasi-sci-fi reality played out all the questions and all the answers of a woman replaced with another. She even knew the reasons why. Now she understood why the sleegards couldn’t see her and why no one could peg her as a war goddess. The sleegards were genetically programmed from portions of her placenta and could only respond to her, and since she’d been altered, they couldn’t see her anymore, though she could still smell them, all of them. The fact that she carried herself differently, since she was different, affected the way people saw her, or didn’t see her, as the case might now be.
She was a clone, all right, but a genetically altered clone that had absorbed the original. Apparently, as a war goddess, when she’d decided to continue supplying the war effort, instead of delegate her daughters, she’d in essence agreed to be cloned. That was why all the war goddesses were in danger. They were the keys to successful cloning and that was why they had been disappearing.
Bill had collected cells from her after sex, altered them, created the clone, and then had the clone absorb the original. All this, he had done in various stages over the weeks she’d known him. He had begun planning even before she’d seen him that first day on the street.
Weeks before he’d spoken to her, he’d seen her, known who and what she was, and had fallen in love. He’d known about the advances in cloning and he’d known her days were numbered.
He’d known because he’d discovered the cloning process as an adolescent science prodigy. Fortunately for him, but not for the government, he’d figured out their alternative purposes for the science he’d discovered and had left before they could force him to clone a more compliant version of himself. He also knew that a successful clone had to have permission from its original self to live. Not that they stopped trying after he’d escaped, but at each attempt, the rapidly aging cells they used to clone lost more and more mental and physical stability, and became less and less Bill.
Bill was lucky the government hadn’t discovered that the clone would seek out the original to be reunited. It was relentless and always successful. It was why Bill had to leave every few months and seek out a secure site for convergence. So far, his clones had retained enough of his intelligence to protect the origin from discovery.
The last version of Bill had actually absorbed two others, destroyed all the original cells, and then committed suicide. Somehow, it had known not to seek him out, and the other two adolescent clones had not become conscious of the desire before being absorbed. It usually took about two years to develop the relentless pursuit of the original.
Bill had known of the absorption and felt it as his energy and sense of his being had returned to normal, like polar electromagnets had suddenly been turned off. The government also didn’t know, or maybe they didn’t care, that the spirit was inextricably connected to the original DNA, no matter how many times it was cloned, much in the way progeny are attached to their parents even when they don’t want to be.
Somewhere along the line, the last functioning clone had discovered that cloning of a clone after death would only produce a suicidal or homicidal freak of nature bent upon destroying itself and resting in oblivion. And so, when he died, Bill’s clone took all of his dated knowledge of cloning with him.
It had been years since anyone had been successful in cloning anything other than fruit flies, and since they were of a dead origin, even they were suicidal. The flies drowned themselves in nectar. Since they normally only lived four days, their suicidal tendencies overcame them and became operative immediately.
Susan, ex-Supreme war goddess, awoke to guilt, an unwelcome and unnatural emotion for her. She knew what she had to do. She had to come to the aid of the other war goddesses. She felt a need to protect and help her own. But first, she had to ask Bill whether he was an altered clone or the original package, not that she meant to change anything about him. Nobody could go back, or could they? In any case, she just had to know. How was it that in her case, the clone had altered the original? Was Bill really Bill, or was he an altered Memorex? And could she bear to know?