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art by Junior McLean

Selfless

Kenneth Kao is the Doctor and co-owner of Vital Balance Chiropractic, is an instructor in Parkour and Freerunning at APEX Movement, and is a fight choreographer for a few independent films. Besides being a devoted husband, writing is his biggest passion.
My name is...John.

I am...
I have a wife and a daughter. They are visiting me today. Their names--
Alice. And Anna.
I can see, sort of. Everything is blurry. I am submerged in a coffin, a clear coffin with green water. There's a tube in my mouth so that I can breath, machine-like.
My legs are transparent. I see veins and arteries, thin muscles that look like spiderwebs bundled together. The doctors say my memory will be fuzzy. It's supposed to come back quickly.
I am...
Happy. I love my job. I work with credit. I help people fix their lives with financial counseling.
But I have a disease.
The spiderwebs are growing. Tiny red dots appear under my skin like fresh wounds bleeding.
I see dark shadows outside the coffin. My wife? Beside her is another silhouette, a skinny teen with short brown hair. It is my daughter. I am sure of it.
I HAD a disease.
It was a flesh eating bacteria, resistant to everything. It shut down my body limb by limb, organ by organ.
A sudden loud noise all around me. It sounds like a muffled engine blasting in my ears. It hurts but fades and becomes tolerable. My head, then my face and chest lift out of the water.
Panic overwhelms me and I grip the tube in my mouth with both hands. I pull, wanting to breath on my own. Gloved hands catch my arms. I am frail. They tear my hands from the tube.
Seconds later something jerks from my stomach. The tube retracts. I gasp. The hands let go of me and I wipe my face in one big stroke. Slimy green is everywhere.
Alice and Anna, they are beside me and their familiar voices are soothing and calming. Other voices, Doctor Holly Anderson and her assistant... I can't remember her assistant's name. They are speaking to my family. They explain that the treatment was successful.
The treatment was successful.
Alice leans over the BAC--Biological Accelerator Chamber. She hugs me, I see her tears. I smell the acute smell of butter, coconut oil, and sweet bread. She had a pastry recently, probably from the local farmers market. It is her comfort food.
My daughter smiles at me but does not approach. I wave her over and my voice comes out. A deep and smooth baritone. "Anna, come here."
She hesitates, but she comes forward.
"How's your boyfriend doing? Jake, is it?"
Her mouth opens and closes like a fish. I laugh. "He ain't the smartest," I say, imitating Jake's accent. "But he's no lack of heart." I grin. I have a full set of teeth. Real teeth. Modern technology is amazing.
Anna nods, smiles shyly, kisses me. "Dad, I love--"
Doctor Holly cuts Anna off. She says they have to leave. I have to return to the BAC.
I am... suddenly confused. Something is wrong.
I look at my legs, they are normal again. Better than normal. The old scar on my shin is gone.
Alice and Anna leave, Doctor Holly comes around, looks at me. Above at some monitors. Back to me.
She isn't looking at me, though. It's this cold and calculated thing. She's studying me like a bug. I don't like it.
She leaves the room without a word.
They do not re-submerge me. Instead, minutes tick by. I can count them by my heartbeats. I've have sixty beats to the minute, exactly.
Doctor Holly returns. She carts a man with black hair and a stubble on his chin. He has bandages around most of his face. Only his eyes and mouth show. He is crippled.
He is me.
"You are a clone," he says. "My clone."
I've already realized it. My legs are whole. My scars are gone. I must be the clone, even if my mind believes that I am not.
"As your memory comes back from the cellular holographic imprints, you'll remember that there is no cure for my disease. You'll remember that we want MY family to have a whole husband and a whole father."
More and more memories, of everything. The discovery that an entire human's memory is stored within each cell and that with more cells, the details of memory--like increased pixels on a screen--is improved.
"I have one request." He narrows his gaze on me. I know what he is going to ask. It is what I want, too. "You can never tell the truth of who you are."
I understand. I want my wife and daughter to have a good life, unburdened by my illness. "I promise," I say.
He stares at me, and nods.
But both of us know that I will tell them, someday. Once he is gone. It is our personality. "I'll visit and tell you about them," I say, choosing my words carefully. I don't say "us."
He smiles and mostly relaxes. "I'd like that," he answers.
But there is a gleam in his eye.
I know it is jealousy and I am afraid, because I am just a clone. I don't have his disease. I will change just as he will change and we will no longer be the same.
And where there is one clone, there can always be another.
"I'll do anything you want," I say.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 14th, 2011


The toughest part of this piece was finding a unique approach to clones. I failed in that regard. But, I did feel that I uncovered an interesting relationship between clone and its prime. "Selfless" began as a story-in-a-weekend prompt from Codex Writers' Forum in which I wondered what it would feel like to watch your clone live in your home, reap from your relationships, live your life. All for the sake of preserving those very things you cared most about. And when that jealousy begins piling up, then what?

- Kenneth S Kao

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