Dinner with the Doctor
Dr. Tamara Patel: Are we still on for tonight? Cylee: Yep! Dr. Tamara Patel: Excellent. Any dietary restrictions I should know about? Cylee: No, not really. Dr. Tamara Patel: Okay, I’ll see you tonight then!
Cylee did laundry. Laundry was a great chore to do because in reality its a few minutes of work once an hour, but you can feel justified in wasting the rest of the hour. As a result she had her entire closet full to capacity and beyond when it was time to go to Dr. Patel’s house. Even though Mitzi wasn’t around she chose a green button-down shirt. See? She had not-black clothes.
Doctor Patel’s apartment was only about ten minutes from her own by cab, but in a much nicer building. Cylee guessed that was the difference between being a medical professional working for a shady organization and being a for-contract criminal working for a shady organization. Cylee’s Augments informed her that the revolving door had scanned her for weapons and the doorman who shook her hand and asked who she was there to see also quickly scanned her retina with his own Augmented vision. Given how obvious they were about it, it was clear that the building managers wanted everyone to know how seriously they were taking their tenants’ security. Cylee figured she could probably find ten ways to get a weapon into the building if she thought about it.
Up the elevator, and standing in front of Dr. Patel’s door. Deep breaths, try not to think about the fact that this is a doctor who works for the people who drugged you. Okay.
Cylee knocked. Dr. Patel answered far too quickly, as if she had been waiting just inside the door.
Cylee: something wrong?
Agent: There’s…something…we…need a moment.
Suddenly Cylee felt very alone.
“Cylee, you made it, hi!”
“Thank you for inviting me, Dr. Patel.” Cylee said, shaking the older woman’s hand. Cylee wasn’t tall by Fed standards, but she was a good ten centimeters taller than Dr. Patel—
“Please, when we’re not at work just call me Tamara! 'Doctor Patel' was my mother. And my father too, except he was a professor,” said Tamara.
—she was a good ten centimeters taller than Tamara.
“I didn’t really know what you like, so I just made pizza. I figure, everyone likes pizza.” Tamara said.
“That’s cool. What kinds did you get?” Cylee asked.
“Well, I made a couple of kids.”
“Wait, you made it? Like, by hand?”
“Well, yes. It’s more fun than just ordering food. So we have some kind of odd choices. I made a cheese, a pepperoni, and one with basil, roasted garlic, red peppers, and capers. And this one is eggplant curry pizza. I don’t really know what I was thinking there, except I like eggplant.” Tamara said, leading Cylee into the kitchen where four small pizzas were on the kitchen island, all very clearly handmade.
“I’ll try the basil one, I guess,” Cylee said, taking a slice, then adding a slice of the eggplant one as well. She was only vaguely aware of eggplant as a real thing. She followed Tamara back out the main living room where they sat on either end of a sofa with a coffee table in front of it.
“So…we could make small talk but I don’t want to waste your time. So…I should tell you, we’ve met before, but you probably wouldn’t have recognized me. I was a medical researcher with the Pacifican Army. I was very new and mostly just in the background, but I was there when you were…conscripted.”
Cylee felt her heart fall into her stomach. “Oh…okay…”
“I should tell you, or rather, I want to tell you that I wasn’t directly involved in any of your…care at that time. But…I was aware of what they were doing to the four of you. I never quite agreed with anything they were doing, but they didn’t really ask me to agree with it. And it seemed like a good job at the time.”
Tamara was looking down at her hands, folded gently in her lap.
“I know I can’t really ask you to forgive me…”
“No, it’s fine, Tamara. You did a job, and Pacifica worked you over. They did that to a lot of people, and apparently you and I are on that list.” Cylee found herself apologizing to someone for apologizing to her and wondered if that was entirely healthy.
“Is that all you wanted to tell me?”
“No, not entirely. You see, the reason I never worked with you directly is because I was in a different part of the project. I was more directly involved with the cloning process. There are a lot of things you should probably know about how all of that worked—“
Suddenly Cylee had a vision of the view from inside a fluid-filled tank, looking up at the ceiling. The tank opened and she saw a very worried Tamara reach down to help her sit up out of the liquid. “And I was somewhat involved in the memory lamination process.”
“The process by which we overlaid your skills and a selected set of your memories on the minds of the new clones. It…wasn’t pretty.”
Cylee felt herself in the fluid again, confused and barely able to respond to the few stimuli she could feel. She was scared, but wordlessly so. Somehow in this memory she didn’t understand words. There was a stirring near her head and suddenly her memories were…present, getting more and more solid and more and more concrete. She felt her mind flowing into the memory-mind an gasped…and the memory was gone.
“Cylee, are you okay?”
“What’s that? Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just took a funny turn is all. I guess I never really thought about how the memory implantation process worked. I just kind of figured the clone brains were built up along with their bodies, or something.”
“We didn’t really publish how we do things, of course. The process was consistently improving until we got shut down, and… well, anyway, even if I didn’t agree with how our clones were being used I always felt like the cloning process was one of the best things we had come up with in Pacifica.”
“Why? What good can come of cloning? Why not just let people have children the way they always have? Why do we need a lot of identical people?”
“We don’t need identical people per se, but we do need a way to help people with genetic of physical issues to perpetuate themselves or their genes. We can clean up genetic problems, help people who need genetic therapy…”
“Wait, are you talking about savior siblings? Creating people whose entire purpose is to be used as spare parts for a living, unhealthy person?”
“No! Although I guess the question is fair. The thing about cloning research is that it provides a lot of insight into many of the central questions of genetics, since we have to more or less build up a genome from scratch. As we study genetics we get a better picture of how humans work in general.
“Anyway, I sense I’m not going to win you over to the wonders of gene therapy.” Tamara said. “But there are two other things I thought you should know about.
“The first has to do with your Spine. You were one of the first people ever to have a Spine. Before you people were either able to make very limited use of what amounts to being a second brain. They tended to use the Spine the same way people back then were using Augmented Reality eye implants. Part of the problem was that the Spine interface was still largely based in sight and sound. But we wanted something that was more closely involved. So we invented something…” Tamara paused.
“We didn’t really have a name for it. It was a benign bacteria, which we based on one of the bacteria that colonize the spinal column. But it had a rather special quality in that it seemed to not only be conductive to electricity, but also seemed to change its form based on the local electric currents, which means it gathered around the contact points where the Spine connects to your actual spine.
“Like I said, we never really named it, we mostly just called it—“
“The agent.” Cylee interrupted.
“That’s…yes. That’s right. But…It didn’t work well. Or rather, it didn’t work consistently. It worked amazingly well with you, so we tried it on Wes. The version we gave him had been slightly iterated on; it was meant to highten his combat abilities. And while it worked…it never seemed to be as fully integrated as the connection you had. So we tried a slightly different option with Shaun, which barely worked at all. We…went a slightly different route with Kimberly. I’m afraid that all your code names came from these experiments.”
“What?” Cylee asked.
“You were our first test, so you were 'Patient Zero', or just Zero for short. Wes had a version that was amped-up, so we called him 'Watt', because 'Amp' just doesn’t sound cool. The version we gave Shaun was a long shot, hence 'Sagittarius'. And we knew Kimberly was our last chance, because it was time to be out of experimental and into actual production, so for a while we called her 'Omega' but people are tired of that, so they changed it to 'Z” and then to 'Zeta' because…well, it made sense at the time.” Tamara looked slightly embarrassed.
“So there was only four of us because of time constraints?”
“Basically. yes. The project, like every major advancement in science, took longer than we had planned.”
Cylee sat back and thought about all of this. It was never fun to think of one’s entire life as a science experiment, but honestly she’d had that feeling for years. Ever since the day she met her own clones she was aware of her status. She was a guinea pig, albeit one her government had decided to weaponize. And the Agent was part of the weapon.
“So…that’s part of why the government wants me back. I’m valuable research.”
“And irreproducible, except by cloning, as near as we can tell. Cylee, the…agent…in any form…was a failure for anyone else. Wes was somewhat successful, but it never meshed like it seems to have done with you and your clones.”
“And now I’m the last one of my type alive, so I’m the only good result you have to work from.”
“Well…that’s not entirely true. That’s the last thing I want to tell you.”
“Pacifica didn’t fully die, Cylee. And neither did the cloning program.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There are people in Alaska who are working to start up the cloning program again. There are many who feel that the war isn’t really over yet, and that we could win this time.”
Cylee felt sick. She had been a soldier and a leader of soldiers, but imagine leading soldiers that looked like your little sisters and watching them get wiped out. Imagine seeing yourself die over and over again.
“That’s sick,” Cylee said, wrapping her arms around herself. “So…what do you want? Do you want me to go help out? See if you can learn more secrets from my blood?”
Tamara shook her head. “No. Although that is what my employer thinks I’m asking you right now. But…Cylee, it’s worse than you know. The cloning program might have good results if it’s done properly, but the new Pacifica isn’t doing that…we’ve never done it properly. The clones…they aren’t just copies of you, they’re alive. They have their own minds. They are individuals.”
“No.” Cylee said.
“We didn’t think so either. We thought we laminated your personality on them early enough that there was no real chance for them to develop their own.”
“No, no, it can’t be like that…” Cylee said.
Tamara just looked down for a while. She was clearly breathing hard. “I understand what you mean, I know, at least a little, how this must feel. If the clones are really individuals, if they really have personalities, then what must we have done to them? And why did we let them all die?”
Cylee didn’t trust herself to answer. She knew that, physically, the clones were human. They were just copies of her. She also knew that they had been capable of reasoning and growth and learning, but it was always…just a little off. They never seemed fully human or fully aware. There was some comfort in that thought when you had to order them into situations that were essentially suicide. Or when they were all killed in a mass betrayal.
“Anyway, Cylee, here’s the last secret that pays for all. Here’s the one that will get me into trouble if anyone finds out. There have been three cloning runs so far. The first generated the Child Army. That was the one we performed when we had a full set of resources.
“The second wasn’t successful. We tried to bootstrap the program on a much smaller budget and the clones were all non-viable because of some of the corners we cut.
“The third, however, was successful, partially. We attempted to create thirty-two clones. Of those thirty-two we have nineteen viable copies of you. Officially. In reality, there were twenty.”
Cylee had another vision open up, this time of a living room—this room— and the back of her own head. She saw Tamara look up and nod. Cylee turned to see a young woman, maybe fourteen years old. Or, if she was a clone, maybe three years old. She had her hair tied back into a thick braid, the sort that Cylee herself often wore.
“Cylee, meet Kelly.” Tamara said.