Six-year-old Jason stared down the long white hall of the Replication Wing and clutched his father’s hand more tightly. He didn’t like the sterilized walls or the funny smell of chemicals that crept from some of the rooms. He especially didn’t like the hospital gown that scratched and slipped and left him feeling cold and exposed.
“This way, please,” The nurse said, guiding Jason and his parents down the hall. Jason trailed behind his father’s comforting bulk and reached for his mother’s hand, as well.
The nurse glanced at him and smiled. “Is this your first cloning?”
Jason nodded hesitantly and hung back behind his parents.
“He’s a little nervous,” his mother said apologetically.
“Well, that’s understandable,” the nurse replied, “although there’s no reason to be concerned. We use top of the line equipment here: the procedure is completely risk-free for the Original.” Her smile faded slightly as she turned and continued leading them down the hall.
Jason studied the nurse. She was a high-quality clone. Her speech was perfect and her left hand trembled only slightly — almost unnoticeably — as it hung by her side. Were it not for the blue ID tattoo on her forehead, Jason might have mistaken her for a real person.
They reached a small waiting room and the nurse motioned for them to be seated. “The doctor will be with you in a moment.” She gave a parting smile and vanished through a white door.
Waiting room chairs were not designed for six-year-olds. If Jason sat against the backrest his legs stuck straight out from the edge of the seat. If he sat forward he could swing his legs, but they still didn’t reach the floor. Neither position was truly comfortable. He fidgeted with the scratchy hospital gown and glanced restlessly around the room.
He did not like the idea of being cloned. His friend Robby said cloning machines were like giant metal mouths that swallowed you whole for hours at a time, and you had to lay perfectly still inside and hope that no one forgot to let you out. Robby said people went crazy in there, scratching their fingers bloody against the blank gray walls. He said the junkyards were full of out-dated replicators, and some of them still had bodies inside.
Jason hadn’t really believed any of Robby’s stories, but he had been concerned enough ask Mother about them anyway. She just laughed and said Robby’s parents couldn’t afford a clone, so how would he know? Then she had told Jason to stop being silly and to straighten the knots on his shoelaces.
Through an open door Jason occasionally saw figures, mostly clones, pushing carts of laundry and cleaning supplies through the back hallways of the hospital. The clones were easy to pick out. They were the kind Mother called “low-quality menial workers,” and they walked with awkward, off-balance steps.
Jason had spoken with a menial worker once, when Mother wasn’t looking. He had been playing soccer with some friends and Robby had kicked the ball clear off the field and into the bushes. Jason ran to get it and nearly toppled over the clone as he darted around the hedge.
“Watch where you’re going!” the worker snapped in a deep voice, and then appended a hastily-composed “... young Sir,” as his eyes uncrossed far enough to observe Jason’s clean forehead.
Jason mumbled a half-formed apology as he retrieved the ball and clutched it to his chest. Mother said it was beneath a human’s dignity to mingle with menials, so he had never seen a low-quality clone up close before. This one was old; old and wrinkled, and few of the lines came from smiling. The left corner of his mouth sagged and created a hollow for spittle to pool in.
Jason felt repulsed and fascinated at the same time. He tried not to stare as he edged with his ball towards the field where the other children were waiting. The clone turned back to his work, which seemed to involve changing the bags in the garbage bins, but was interrupted by a violent thrashing in his left shoulder. He grimaced and clamped a gnarled hand on his upper arm to keep it from flailing about.
Jason, whose curiosity was now overpowering social stigma, hesitated at the edge of the playing field. Children at school loved to make fun of the lurching, pidgeon-footed walk of the clone janitors. Now, standing closer to a low-quality clone than he’d ever been, Jason dared to voice the question that had fluttered, nagging, at the back of his mind for several months.
“Does — does it hurt?”
“Not the way you’re thinking,” the clone said as the thrashing subsided. He was hard to understand because his flaccid lower lip wouldn’t shape the words, but he didn’t babble nonsense like some clones. “It’s a nerve tremor. A defect introduced during replication. You don’t see them so much in the newer clones.”
The clone rubbed his forehead, making his blue ID tattoo ripple on a wave of -- [End of Preview.]