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by Caleb Wimble

part 2

I’m staring at me. Not in a mirror or on a screen. Me, my body, here, breathing almost undetectably slowly behind the plexiglass in front of me. Or at least what it used to be; I’m fully aware that my skeletal arms, sunken eyes, and pallid skin leave me with little resemblance to my healthy, well-muscled tabula rasa.

I’ve heard that seeing your organ tab can be a mentally jarring, even dangerously disturbing experience, and I now understand why it’s usually prohibited by health services. Everyone knows their tab — or tabs, if you’re rich enough to splurge or just have some incredible corporate health insurance — is out there, of course, stored in some vast medical storage facility just waiting to provide them with that life-saving heart, lung, bone marrow, or hell, even teeth, but you never think of it as being anything more than a high-tech biological storage bin.

This is me (granted, a mindless, tube-grown me), down to every detail but the scars and the sun-induced freckles. I shiver, and it’s not from the constant cold I’ve felt since I lost every bit of insulating fat in my body. But in spite of the spine chill and the dull pain in my skull, I grin at the research assistant standing nearby and make a half-assed attempt at humor.

“‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,’ right? If Frankenstein was playing in God’s domain, we must be hosting a five-keg frat party in it.”

He laughs with me. Humor the patient.

O’Neill described the procedure to me in detail, but somehow I still imagined myself — the me me, that is, not the tab — being unconscious for it, despite the lack of logical reason for it. And I certainly thought it would look more interesting than this. Sure, the tab’s had two dozen surgical nanite needles sticking out his — my — head for the past hour, but other than that there’s no visible sign of surgery. The most complex, revolutionary, unbelievable medical procedure in the history of humanity — the procedure that could save my life — and it’s downright boring.

The first opportunity anyone has ever had to talk with himself, and I don’t want to wait around to take advantage of it. Go figure. It’s irrational, I know, but I’m just too disturbed at the thought to wait around for.... him? me?... to wake up.

I’m surprised how calm I am at the prospect of the injection, and it surprises O’Neill too — not that I’ve chosen that route, but that I want to take it so soon. It’s bizarre; here I am facing the same prospect of death I was a few hours ago, but now there doesn’t seem to be a thing in it to fear or wish delayed.

I know full well my “soul” isn’t going anywhere but oblivion the moment my synapses cease firing, and that the “other” me’s consciousness is now a fully separate stream from my own, yet somehow it doesn’t feel like dying at all. Which is why I want to take the shot now: I’m worried I’ll change my mind if I stick around long enough. Here’s to life — L’chayyim!

* * *

As my face appears on the wall monitors with the news broadcast, I feel heads begin to turn in my direction, pick out my name from hushed — and not-so-hushed — conversations around the gym. Emotions of their expressions range across the board. I do my best to keep my eyes glued down to the treadmill readout, but I can’t do much about my hearing.

That’s him, the clone kid! Can you believe it? Here? Do you think he’d sign something for me?

It looks so... alive. So normal. Just like a real person!

Why the hell is that thing allowed out in public is what I want to know. Shouldn’t the government be studying it in some military lab or something?

More irritating are the photos and videos half of them are streaming from their phones. Good to know images of me soaked with sweat on a treadmill will have millions of hits on YouTube within a few hours or so. I’m going to have to buy a home gym set or something.

Home. My head floods with painful images at the thought. Not of my parents’ place but of my old apartment with Ryan. He hasn’t spoken to me once since he stormed out that first day. I can’t get his eyes out of my head. Not the bright, playful eyes that caught me every time, but the clouded, terrified eyes that greeted me when I showed up in our room two days after he had last heard from me, my decrepit, cancer-ravaged corpse replaced by an Olympian model of my former self.

He’s blocked my number, but I still call to leave a voicemail every morning, and every time my phone vibrates I eagerly check to see if it’s him. I shouldn’t bother; it’s never anyone anymore but my parents or Dr. O’Neill’s lab calling for a checkup.

It happened yesterday for the first time. I knew it was coming — I didn’t need Dr. O’Neill to warn me about that — but ever since the procedure I’ve been running around with a conceit of immortality to rival the dumbest teenager’s. Just some religious nut job on the street as I came out of Starbucks, only managed to get one wide shot a mile over my head before the traffic cop had him, but I can’t get his face out of my mind. The pure loathing in his eyes as he ran at me screaming “Abomination!” Over and over, as many times as he could spit out the words, even after he took the cop’s bullet.

I’ve never had anyone look at me that way before, not even in public with Ryan all the years he and I have... had been together. The look in this guy’s eyes... this was something realer, somehow, and horrifying for its purity. I couldn’t sleep last night, couldn’t close my eyes for even a minute without seeing those eyes, hearing that scream. I keep telling myself it was just one random psycho. I’m fine, right? Not a scratch on me. And this isn’t going to happen again.

But I never was a very competent liar, not even to myself.

If I thought I was famous before, I don’t know what I am now. Since the congressional debate began I haven’t been able to turn on the TV without seeing my mug — one of my old Facebook defaults, I think — smiling back at me in blissful ignorance. From the little I catch on C-SPAN, it doesn’t look good for the future of the technology — “tabbing,” they’re calling it, which strikes me as an incredibly stupid moniker for arguably the most monumental scientific advance in the history of our species.

The hostility is a hell of a lot sharper than anything I would’ve predicted, though the arguments are about as infantile as you’d expect. The usual “playing in God’s domain,” “degradation of humanity,” “unnatural” anti-scientific bullroar. The same fecal matter they finally got tired of hurling at stem cell researchers and the original tab manufacturers, though that breakthrough had the distinct advantage of strong self-preservational appeal to an increasingly decrepit horde of law-making sixty-somethings.

O’Neill’s been surprisingly blasé about the whole thing. If I were a scientist whose entire life work were potentially about to be outlawed by a couple of moralizing millionaire WASPS with big bad biblical axes to grind, I can tell you I’d be at least a little more pissed than he seems to be. O’Neill’s played his hand, and God help anyone who thought he was bluffing.

Not that they know it was him; he was pretty damn careful about sweeping away what little data trail there was to begin with. Between the dozens of researchers on the project and their small army of lab assistants and techs, the FBI has slim to zero chances of ever discovering the source of the leak. Not that it would matter. Pandora’s box is open, and there’s no closing it now. Even as the president ratified the legislature to outlaw all future research and application of neural transference, news of the data leak was exploding across the net.

By the time the U.N. passed its equivalent legislation two weeks later, the estimated number of neurological facilities around the world implementing the technology had grown to over three thousand and climbing. It doesn’t look like Interpol’s going to have any more success enforcing the legislation globally than the FBI did stateside. Sure, they’ve raided a couple private labs owned by a few less than adequately subtle millionaires too eager to take the proper precautions, but at this point I’d be surprised if there’s a single research institution in the country without its own secret facilities.

O’Neill’s genius is obvious in retrospect, really. Why bother clinging to proprietary ownership and fighting the system alone when by simply sharing you can recruit every like-minded scientist and transhumanist thinker on the planet to your cause? There’s always a price, isn’t there?

We were delusional if we thought humanity would just embrace immortality with open arms. I recognize now that the crushing isolation I’ve experienced since the procedure has only been the smallest glimpse of what’s in store for people like me. So I’ve left my parents’ place for their own safety. Had to pack and bail while they were out without saying a word; they’d never have gone along with it, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to put their lives in danger one minute longer than I have already.

* * *

Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2012 by Caleb Wimble

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