For a second time I set out from the Institute. This time even more in turmoil than before. Last time I had been a blank slate, nothing behind me but sterile white walls, nothing in front of me but endless possibilities. This time I had the entire self identity I'd built up fighting with the doctor's one little potent aside -- "what makes you so sure you're a clone?"
It didn't make any sense. I'm pretty sure he was just messing with me, and I deeply resent it.
Still though, for the first time in my short life I'd put together a conception of things based on my own observations, and now I am experiencing a new first -- doubt. I cannot fathom who I am if not a clone, why I'd be in this situation, but still, I can't dismiss the doubt he's introduced into my mind.
I step off the white concrete sidewalk outside the institute on to the soft grass and wait for Dorothy, who has graciously offered to pick me up. The thought that I have a friend, someone who thinks of me as a real person, makes me smile again for a moment. I'd really feel lost if it weren't for that one rock to cling to. About that though... it's probably time to break it to her that I'm not a real person.
"Well, you're real to me!" she says, squeezing my arm as she drives. I couldn't keep everything I needed to talk out bottled up any longer, so I'd started the conversation on the drive.
"But I'm not!" I say, pulling up my sleeve to show her the number tattooed on my arm. "I'm a number! A manufactured product!"
"Well, for practical purposes how does that actually make you any less of a person than anyone else?"
"Well I have no identity whatsoever for one thing! No past! How can I lead a normal life with no identity and no job experience?"
"Hmmmm" she purses her lips to the side in thought. "Well, there've been stories on the news about other clones having some quite complex jobs, do you know what your original did?"
"I have no idea except that the knowledge I seem to have inherited from him seems to pertain to all kinds of obscure subjects, but all of it is just a murky vague recollection."
We continue the conversation all the way back to her place, and spend the evening talking about all sorts of things, exploring what I do or do not know about the world. She's extremely sweet and caring and wants to help me get on my feet. She just lost her housemate and it would be awhile before she could replace her again anyway, so she offers that I can stay at her place for the time being while I try to figure things out.
That night I fall asleep happily on her living-room couch (the "wicked witch of the west" hasn't moved out of her room yet), with Dorothy's cat purring softly on my chest.
I had been walking among banana trees, the dried leaves crunching beneath my feet. Suddenly I'm jolted to awake by something landing on my chest. I immediately open my eyes wide to see a small mammalian predator that has just jumped up onto my chest. Or rather onto the banket, for I appear to be wrapped in a blanket on a couch. I hold perfectly still but it's clearly too late to go unnoticed, as the creature walks towards my face. I search the depths of my subconscious memory for what it might be. Some kind of feline... lynx? bobcat? caracal? It doesn't seem entirely malevolent, in fact it might even look friendly.
It licks my face with its rough tuna breath tongue. Ah yes the domestic housecat, in my alarm I had skipped over that one. I sit up wiping the cat saliva from my face.
I'm in a cozy looking room with armchairs, bookshelves, a television, and a generally cozy decor, lots of sunny yellow and copper-coloured accents. One corner of the room opens into a kitchen and eating nook, glowing with the morning sun.
"I see you've met my little lion" says Dorothy with a laugh, through a mouthful of grapenuts cereal from where she is sitting in the breakfast nook.
"Haha yeah, he gave me quite the start" I say with sheepish smile, rising and padding across the room in my now-wrinkly scrubs.
"Coffee?" she asks, gesturing towards a pot of delicious smelling dark brown liquid.
Looking out the window I see that it is a beautiful sunny day. She has a small yard full of flowers, and it appears there are a fair number of bees traveling too and form some point above the window.
Dorothy notices me looking at them and says "yeah they moved in a few days go, freaked me out at first but I'm becoming rather fond of my little flying monkeys"
After possibly the most delicious breakfast of my relatively short life --rye toast with butter and honey, and freshly ground coffee-- Dorothy invited me to come do some errands about town with her. She did her best to politely downplay her surprise at my lack of knowledge of things she considered incredibly basic, while at the same time I found I knew a lot about things many people didn’t understand. I knew that banana trees are all clones of eachother, but not what year it is or the shocking political developments in Iran that apparently everyone was talking about.
Life seemed much more do-able now that I had a friend though. Yesterday's bizarre goose chase began to seem so far away. I felt a newfound sense of having opinions about my lot in life and interest in what the future might hold. There was so much more to the world than I had been previously led to believe. With this newfound confidence I asked Dorothy to bring me by the Institute I had come from, they couldn't just toss me out with nothing at all.
Slowly I feel myself drift from the warm black void of sleep to a painful red headache of wakefulness. Feeling rather sick and unfortunate I keep my eyes closed and wish for the solaceful unconsciousness of sleep but unfortunately it doesn’t come. Being as I’m nestled under a soft warm blanket that does not feel hospital-issue and the air does not smell like the sterile filtered controlled air of the cloning facility, I’m clearly not in the same bed I’ve woken up in every other night of my life. I’m a bit hesitant to open my eyes and find out where exactly I am, and anyway I suspect light would make my headache worse. I try to bury my head in the pillow instead, making an involuntary groaning noise, and try to remember how I got here.
After my release from the facility yesterday I had wandered about more or less aimlessly for much of the day. I had no idea where to go or what to do. Gradually I became hungrier and hungrier but I had no food nor money to purchase food with. Determined not to be helpless I wracked my brain for ideas. Among the general ideas I had inherited was knowledge that people had not always depended on metaphysical concepts of wealth that they exchanged with each other for products and services (I watched, mystified, as someone swipe a plastic card at a shop and receive some bananas in exchange). I had an image in my head of a landscape with no houses, building, or roads. A landscape in which man found his food growing on plants or hunted giant woolly elephants with spears. For all I know this elephant creature, much less a woolly one, might entirely be a figment of my imagination. How am I to know what’s a latent memory from my original and what’s just me imagining things?
Nevertheless, I kept an eye out for fruits or berries on trees or shrubs. As I walked I wondered, what if I was, in fact, a cloned copy of one of these pre-modern humans?
I never did find any edible vegetable matter, and presently found myself in a public park and feeling ravenous. There were a number of large geese in the park – time to try that “hunting” thing. After casting about a bit, I saw a fallen branch from a nearby tree. I broke off the flimsy narrow end so I was left with a relatively straight and stout branch. Now how to sharpen it? I had nothing with which to sharpen it nor to affix a sharp rock (let alone sharpen a rock!!) like was done in my mental picture. Being a caveman was starting to seem a rather difficult!
After attempting to scrape it on the concrete for a bit with nearly nothing to show for it I started to imagine just clocking the giant bird in the side of the head with the stick. Yes, if I was going to eat tonight that was definitely going to be the ticket. In my mental picture the bird attacked me with a horrible hooked beak these geese clearly didn’t have, but it made me nervous nevertheless.
I very carefully stalked up a small hillside towards the poor devils, every muscle tense with concentration on stealthiness. As I poised to make my lunge, a goose waddled up right behind me and honked, startling me. Surprise quickly changed to anger and I swung at the saucy fellow’s head with all my strength. The bird saw it coming however and dodged, taking flight squawking cacophonously followed by the other geese, leaving only a shower of feathers around me.
“HEY!” I looked up to see a very angry looking police officer starting towards me. My own flight instinct kicked in and I slid down the hillside out of his view, ran a hundred yards or so to the right dove under a hedge.
Poking my head out a little later, I saw the coast was clear and crawled out. An older fellow sitting on the edge of a fountain with an amused expression was staring at me from across the path. He waved me over, laughing.
“That was some stunt you pulled, young man. What in the heck were you doing?”
I shrugged, “I was hungry.”
The old man laughed even harder, probably thinking my answer was not the serious, honest one.
“Well, you look like you could use a drink anyway. It’s on me. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time.” The old man got up and began walking away. I hesitated for only a moment, the possibility of food being too great for me to pass up.
Turns out his name was Henry. We followed the sidewalk out of the park and down the street. We stopped at a green storefront with a sign declaring it to be “Heinlein’s First and Last Chance”. Henry walked in and sat at a table like he knew the place well. The bartender walked over and greeted Henry by name.
“Don,” Henry told the bartender, “set me and my friend up with a few Tornado Imperial IPAs please.”
I had no clue what I was getting into. I was ravenously hungry and if liquid was all I was going to get it was better than nothing. Don the bartender brought some mugs filled with a dark liquid topped with foam. Henry picked his up and held it out to me expectantly, so I did the same with my own.
“Cheers,” he said, and took a large swallow. I raised an eyebrow at my mug and shrugged, doing the same. Well it was certainly a lot thicker than the water I drank at the Institute. Hungrily, I eagerly downed several rounds with Henry as he plied me with stories and questions. He didn’t ask anything too personal, as he seemed to sense I wasn’t too keen on sharing a whole lot. I was starting to feel strangely comfortable with my situation. At the end of the fourth drink, Henry put up his hand.
“I think that’s going to do me for one night. I noticed some girls on the far side of the room were checking you out, they might be better company for you, anyway,” he said with a sly wink. “Thanks for the entertainment.”
Henry offered me his hand and I shook it. He wandered over to settle the tab with Don before walking out, leaving me sitting at the table alone.
The world was slightly off-kilter, but it didn’t really concern me too much. I was feeling pretty good, despite the way the day went. I looked at my mostly empty glass and took the last swallow. This beer stuff was really growing on me. What had I been missing out on all this time? I didn’t even feel hungry any more.
The server brought me another beer and I drank it lost in thought. Suddenly I was broken out of my reverie when one of the girls, a tall blonde, stood next to my table smiling engagingly.
“Hey I saw you drinking alone over here, why don't you come join us?” she said motioning with her head towards the table.
“Oh, hi, yeah, thanks!” I stammered, quickly putting on the most nonchalant smile I could muster. Getting to my feet I was shocked to find myself more unsteady on my feet than I’d ever been in my life, the room seemed to be moving! I started after her when another girl stepped in.
"Oh, there you are! I was looking all over for you!" She slid her arm into the crook of my elbow and led me off toward the front door.
"Thanks!" she smiled and waved at the blonde girl, who gave her a dirty look. She and I walked out and a little ways down the street, where she let go of my arm and turned to look at me.
“Hi, I’m Dorothy,” she said, extending her hand.
It was the first choice I'd ever been given. Sure I'd been asked a lot of questions to gauge my reaction to carefully controlled stimuli, but never before had I actually had a choice that would effect me later. Then suddenly, I'm faced with a simple choice which would radically alter my future.
Mr. Brunswick had just explained that recent legal precedents had established that clones like me were not just experimental lab rats, that once we were created we had "basic human rights" and were not entirely the legal property of the corporation that created us.
"What do you mean by basic human rights?" I asked.
"Well, we're still working on citizenship issues, there's some silly arguments about potentially flooding elections with clones, but in the mean time you have a right not to be held against your will and research may only be conducted on you with your informed consent."
At this point the Institution's lawyer, who was also sitting across from me at the table but spaced a bit away from Mr. Brunswick, coughed and interjected, speaking emphatically, but without emotion, "And on that note, we've got some documents for you to sign." He produced about three pages of small print. I set about carefully reading through it and he impatiently brought my attention to the signature line on the last page.
" And if I choose not to sign it?" I asked.
"Well, a great deal of research will be irreversibly damaged if you insist on leaving the institution, and you're not at all prepared for the outside world, so we'd of course have to formally advise you that we cannot take any responsibility for your welfare out there, and you'll need to sign this acknowledging that" he replied, pulling a one page document out of his briefcase.
Quickly reading the document it seemed to me not to have any trickery, just a lot of disclaiming any liability for me if I opted to leave the care of the Institution. Just in case, though, I slid it over to Mr. Brunswick, he being the closest thing to my lawyer, and asked him "This is what it looks like right?" He looked for it and passed it back, nodding.
Of the two pens on the table, I picked up the blue one, found the signature line, and wrote as elegantly as I could "Experiment 33469712".
It's not that I particularly resented my time at the Institution, mainly I'd been very ambivalent to it because I didn't think I had a choice about it. I was fed, I was warm, I was kept occupied. But given the opportunity to leave, it wasn't much of a question to me what I was going to choose: I was going to choose the unknown. I may or may not be a real person, but I'd rather live a life with real choices.
Hours later, somewhere at the intersection of a suburban street and another one that looks just like it, I'm starting to have my doubts. I have no money, no identity, I'm not sure I could get a job without having any previous experience at anything at all. I have a picture in the back of my mind of a time when people lived in caves and hunted their own food, made their own fire. I wonder if I could provide for myself that way. I saw some large geese in a park, maybe I'll go find a sharp stick....
In the movies clones always wake up thinking they are the original, and then are shocked when informed they are not. Well, no one informed me of anything. Which isn't to say I thought I was the original either, since I couldn't remember a thing prior to waking up in that room.
My first few weeks consisted of sterile off-white rooms connected by quite sterile off-white hallways, through which I'd be ushered gently. It was always slightly chilly -- 72 degrees is a bit crisp when all you're wearing is a hospital gown! People in white coats constantly checking on my health, jotting down notes, whispering to eachother.
They'd ask me how I felt, --in a cold clinical manner that conveyed they weren't inquiring to be polite-- they'd ask me to put a thermometer under my tongue, they'd ask me if it hurt when they pricked my arm in a particular place, but they never asked how my day was going or if there was something I'd rather be doing. Which was fine with me. I didn't feel like getting to know them either.
So I passed my time in a world of cold sterile rooms and hallways. Never alone, yet always alone. They kept me occupied enough not to be bored -- all kinds of tests, from math to history to logic to ethics. While I didn't remember anything specific from prior to waking up on the table, I seemed to remember all kinds of general knowledge.
I felt relatively ambivalent about my life, it was all I knew, after all. In fact I felt pretty ambivalent about everything. For all I knew they were just planning on harvesting my heart for the original or something. Some of their tests involved having me read things or watch things and tell them how I felt. They tried not to skew my perfectly blank slate by letting on their opinions of my test results, but they also often forgot I was in the room. I could tell they were vaguely concerned that nothing seemed to have an emotional effect on me. But when your life isn't really your life you feel a bit like a tin man.
Earlier today they led me to a small room and sat me at a table, and instead of someone in a white coat coming in with another test for me, the door opened and a man in a brown suit came in. He smiled enthusiastically, set his briefcase down and reached forward to shake my hand saying "Hi, I'm Mr Brunswick."
"Hi I'm.... well I don't have a name" I said shaking his hand uncertainly. This was highly unusual. He looked slighly disconcerted himself for a minute but quickly recovered. "I'm from the Action Committee For the Rights of Clones, and recently we've won a major victory ... according to the Supreme Court you now have rights!"
He looked at me like I should be overjoyed. Frankly I didn't really have an opinion on the matter.
Some bewildering paperwork, sour looking scientists and a few hours later, I find myself standing outside in the "fresh air" for the first time. They were kind enough to give me a pair of scrubs to wear, which I gather are more socially acceptable in the outside world that a hospital gown. But here I am, no possessions, no name, no identity. I'm not entirely sure I share Mr Brunswick's enthusiasm for my release. A road with a yellow line in the middle of it leads away through the open gate towards a city, I start walking.