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April 10th, 2022
Lucilius bent over coughing, and when the spell had finally passed, he rubbed his bleary and bloodshot eyes. He sat back up, and breathed deeply, exhausted, but determined to make progress. He leaned forward to look into the microscope, and as he did, all went dark.
When he finally awoke, it was to a rhythmic and sterile beep. He could feel the restraints before he could see them, binding him to the hospital bed. He didn’t struggle, but simply noticed them. He looked around. It was a private room, and he could recognize some of the best equipment in the world, all gathered to monitor his condition.
The door opened, and a familiar face appeared, his advisor in research.
“What am I doing here?” Lucilius cried out at him.
“You collapsed, Lucilius, your condition is far worse than you lead us to believe, so we had to bring you here.”
Lucilius lifted his hands in futility to emphasize the fact that he was in restraints.
“Is this really necessary?”
The man sighed and closed his eyes as he nodded.
“Yes, unfortunately. Your research is too important and we can’t let you jeopardize yourself. We need you to finish the research. What are we supposed to do if your body gives out before you figure it out?”
“How am I going to do my research like this!” Lucilius cried out, exasperated.
“You have multi-organ failure. We are going to start transplanting as soon as possible.”
Lucilius laughed. “And how do you plan to do that? With my blood type? My condition? Multiple organs…” he wheezed. “It’s impossible to match all of that and expect me to survive. You should just let me keep working, this is a waste of time!” He yelled, struggling against the restraints, but he was instantly winded, heaving in his breath.
The man came closer to Lucilius. “Rest, Lucilius, we have it figured out. Just rest and soon you’ll be better, and you’ll be able to finish the work.”
The man left and Lucilius closed his eyes and calmed himself. His mind scanned the conversation over and over as he breathed.
“Figured it out?” Lucilius muttered to himself. “Impossible.. There’s no way… just no way-“
A memory fluttered into his mind from not too long ago. A confirmation experiment in another branch of the corporation that he’d heard about. Something he’d figured was impossible, something he figured was misreported - just gossip. Early experiments had apparently achieved organ replication in animals like pigs and monkeys. Lucilius had been disgusted that the company was pursuing such areas, but they also funded his research and provided him with everything he ever wanted.
He thought about the possibility of some sedated animal, somewhere in another room - to be carved up for parts so he could live. It wasn’t too much different from a slaughterhouse - and probably better, he glumly figured. The animal probably had a very good life if they were optimizing for organ health, especially with human DNA. Lucilius looked down at his thinly veiled body. He was certain the answer would be simple, despite the complicated ways he had tried to investigate the issue.
There was no denying it - he had to know more before they cut him open. At the end of the day he was a researcher and he simply didn’t trust an expertise that wasn’t his own.
He looked down at the restraints. Somehow he wasn’t surprised. The company had changed so much over the years, it had become so large, and so powerful. He was at once both not surprised, and unfazed that he didn’t see something like this coming.
He was wondering how he might free himself when the door opened again. There was a gasp before Lucilius could even look over at the door.
“No…” he heard.
Standing at the door was a woman in a lab coat, holding a tablet, her face was drained of its color.
Lucilius smiled, and chuckled. “I should have figured you’d be here.” But the woman did not move, shocked still, and Lucilius grew both puzzled and suspicious about his former student.
She fell back against the door and slunk down to the floor, letting the tablet clatter to the floor as she buried her face in her hands.
For the briefest moment Lucilius realized how bizarre it was to be in physical restraints while in the presence of someone he wanted to comfort. He searched for the right words, but she spoke.
“You have to forgive me. I didn’t know. I just found out.”
“Found out what?” Lucilius asked.
The woman looked up. She wiped her face and hauled herself up. She sat on the side of Lucilius’ bed. She taped at her tablet, disabling the room’s camera’s and then set about taking off his restraints.
“I can’t believe they would do this to you. To you, of all people.”
And when his hands were free, the two embraced.
“Now tell me, what is going on here?”
“I just found out, I had no idea where they were coming from.”
“Where what was coming from?”
“The organs,” she said. “I’m head transplant surgeon for the company.”
“Where are they coming from?”
“Well, I was lead to believe it they were human cloned organs stabilized in animal substrates. Everyone knows the crazy resources the company dumped into organ generation once it was clear that autonomous driving would wipe out supply..”
Lucilius was confused, and now very worried. “Where are they coming from.”
The woman’s face crumbled as she bit her lips. “Human clones. They are cloning the whole person.”
“What?” Lucilius breathed in disbelief.
The woman collapsed into Lucilius. “I had no idea,” she muttered through sobs. “ I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t know where they are coming from.”
“How many?” Lucilius asked.
“Thousands. Incredible retention. I should have known, with such a huge drop in rejections…it was too good to be true. I didn’t understand why the company wasn’t more vocal about it, but now it all makes sense.”
“How did you find out?”
She shook her head, as if suddenly aware of things happening elsewhere. “It doesn’t matter - someone else’s mistake, I wasn’t supposed to know, but I know where your clone is. And we have to move fast.”
With the help of his old student, Lucilius navigated the hospital labyrinth until they were standing before a door and she was sliding her keycard into the lock slot.
“I have to get back to cover for us. Stay here with the clone and bar the door from the inside until I get back.”
The door opened and Lucilius slipped in before she closed the door behind him. Inside was a capsule the size of a coffin, with a window glowing pink. Lucilius knelt over and peered into the window, and suspended in a glowing gel was his own face and form, intubated with breathing tubes fed into his nostrils and mouth. Wires laced over his head and neck, all collecting data.
Lucilius backed away and studied the capsule. A screen displayed vital stats and Lucilius smiled, marveling at the health of this copy of himself. He tapped the screen, and explored its functionality, realizing the capsule could deliver nearly any concoction of drug available. He peered back into the window, looking at himself, and wondered about the engineers who had designed the capsule. Clearly it was built to do more than intended, Lucilius thought. It was at the tap of a button he was sure he could wake the clone.
He suddenly choked on a breath and started coughing, doubling over, and falling to his knees. His face grew hot with sweat and when finally it passed, he wiped a forearm against his face, and realized how weak he was. He imagined a struggle at the door. Even if his student returned, she would be overpowered with him.
It was only a matter of time, Lucilius realized as he stood back up and looked at his clone in the window. It was then he realized. He squinted, and bent forward for a closer look. The trapezius’ on the clone, the deltoids and the sight of the upper chest. This clone was far healthier, stronger than Lucilius. He was certain his problems stemmed from a genetic cause, not an environmental one. But this clone was different, and seemed no younger.
It didn’t matter. Lucilius tapped away at the screen and initiated a delivery of Epinephrine and Zolpidem. Within a moment, the clone’s eyes snapped open, and then its face scrunched as it squinted against the light and began to struggle. Lucilius looked back to the screen and swiped to a different panel, and within a moment of frantic tapping the capsule sounded a loud hiss. A top edge lifted and slid to the side, and as the band of pink light widened, a hand reached out from the gel and grasped a side. The clone sat up and grasped at the tubes in its mouth and nose. Lucilius helped, tilting the clone’s head back as the tubes were pulled free and the clone gasped.
After a few long and heavy breaths, the clone looked at Lucilius, and grew sickened and puzzled at the sight.
“What the actual —“
“Yea, I just found out about you too,” Lucilius said.
“But you look horrible,” said the clone. “I didn’t even recognize you for a second.”
Lucilius laughed. “Thanks.”
The clone looked around, and down at the glowing gel.
“Oh, your kidding. I’m a clone aren’t I?”
Lucilius nodded, painfully, as the clone peeled off small hardware discs adhered to his temples.
The clone sighed letting his head fall back in exasperation. “Uh, that means Cindy probably doesn’t exist. What waste. We were having such a good time.”
The clone sighed. “Oh well. So what is going on? And what are you like 9,000 years old?”
Lucilius laughed. “Thanks.”
“No really, I mean it, you look terrible.”
“I’m not sure, I’ve narrowed it down to about a dozen different regions of the genome - “
“Oh, you haven’t figured that out yet?”
“Excuse me?” Lucilius said.
The clone gave him a skeptical and disbelieving look. “Look at me, clearly I don’t have it. Obviously I figured it out. A long time ago, I might add.”
“What do you mean you figured it out?”
“I had the same issue, we’re cut from the same cloth, remember? There’s no way a clone would magically develop without the same genetic issue.”
“How old do you think you are?” Lucilius asked.
Lucilius stood up in disbelief, shocked.
“Why how long do people usually live?” The clone asked. He looked back at the discs he’d peeled from his temples. “Maybe my time was dilated.”
“Wait, you said you figured it out? My research?”
“Yea, we can get you fixed up no problem.”
“But,” Lucilius squeezed his forehead. “This doesn’t make any sense, you can’t perform a medical procedure on yourself from within some sort of simulation they have you dreaming. This is impossible.”
“I can’t feed myself either.”
“What?” Lucilius stated.
“How did I eat? Or get sick, or pop supplements? Those are cold hard physical realities that you can’t dream up, but which are sort of necessary, wouldn’t you agree?”
Lucilius was momentarily lost in the strangeness of the situation, conversing with his clone who was still sitting in a bath of suspension fluid.
The clone patted the side of the capsule. “I’m willing to bet this thing is pretty capable. We can probably use it to cure you.”
“I repurposed a virus to splice parts of our genome. It took a lot of work, but whatever super computer runs the simulation for clones has already crunched the numbers and printed the virus at least once before.”
“You actually figured it out?”
“Yes, like a bajillion years ago. What were you going to do? Cut me open and use me for replacement parts?”
Lucilius was quiet and the clone looked around. “Hm, so reality is an actual dystopia, huh?”
The clone chuckled. “Heh, funny. I guess we got our work cut out for us then.”
“Sure, let’s turn this sucker into a paradise. I mean - after we get you fixed up, of course.”
Lucilius thought about the hospital, the restraints, his student crying in his arms, wondering if she’d been caught. If there were company guards on their way right now. Any moment the door could burst open.
The clone stretched, flexing, and yawned. Lucilius looked at the chiseled recesses of skin pulled taught around the clone’s muscles. And in his stress, and sickness, Lucilius was overcome with confusion.
“How… are you so calm with all this?”
“Dude,” the clone said. “I have like 7 centuries of meditation behind me. Waking up in a vat of goo isn’t terribly surprising after a certain point. Either this is a wicked dream or I’m just playing hopscotch across the multiverse.”
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