I laid there, in that cold white room, on that stiff bed that made my back ache more than usual. I remember the uncomfortable silence, just the beeping of my heart rate monitor, and my own ragged breathing. The bright lights flickered like in a horror film. My suit and tie were hung up somewhere in the facility, but I didn’t know where. I was a slave to the revealing backless gown they had given me, the official uniform of vulnerability. Most men my age had no problem at all walking around a gym locker room on full display, but I never felt that sense of confidence. Perhaps when I was a younger man I would have thought the attire to be liberating, but as I laid there in that bed, plastic crinkling, and sticking to my back, I didn’t feel young, I wasn’t invincible, I was a dying old man, a soon-to-be corpse.
Doctors and nurses had come and gone throughout the day, prepping me physically, and mentally for my procedure, but I hadn’t seen them for an hour. I’m not sure if I was lonely, or bored, or both, but there’s just something about being alone, with nothing but the voice in my head that drives me crazy. I craved conversation like the box of cigars that waited for me on my desk back in my home office. I was used to the whole boring, uncomfortable routine, it wasn’t the first time I’d undergone the procedure, and it wouldn’t be the last. I consider myself a man of humility, but I’m also honest, and it would be a lie to say that I’m not well off financially. I was born into wealth, and as I began to work, it only continued to grow. So when the news of a life changing medical breakthrough was released to the public, back when I was in my early fifties, I was one of the first in line.
I never even looked at the price tag, the way I saw it my life was invaluable. I never bothered to find out the exact price. All I know is that every time my accountant wrote the check her hand shook, turning her pristine handwriting into chicken scratch, it must have been a lot. Back in the early days there wasn’t so much waiting around. I think they called it the BMS stage, blood, marrow, and sperm, all the things that make you, you. All the things they needed to make you live forever, that was their pitch anyway.
The door to the room beeped, hissed, and disappeared into the floor, as my doctor walked in. He swiped, and tapped on the tablet in his hands for a few moments before acknowledging me. “Your brain scans indicate optimal cognitive activity. Your blood work, heart rate, oxygen are about where we expected them to be, and your check cleared so I think we’re ready to go.” He said, smiling at the last bit. I chuckled, he told the same joke every time I came in, but it never failed to make me laugh, and ease some of the tension. “Should we bring him in now?” He asked hesitantly as if he expected me to decline. I nodded confidently, though this part of the procedure always put my stomach in knots, I was half nervous, and half terrified at what was about to happen.
Dr.Graham tapped on his tablet again, and a dim green light began to flash above the doorway. Two nurses wheeled in a table similar to mine, a young man laid in it, bound to it by leather straps. Escorting them was a security guard who looked like he might fist fight bears in his spare time. “Alright then.” Dr.Graham said. “We’ll let the two of you get acquainted.” I tried not to make eye contact with the boy they’d rolled in, not that it would have necessarily been possible at that moment given the way our tables were positioned. “Can’t we just skip this part doc?” I pleaded. “Like I told you last time John, and the time before, and the time before that, it’s procedure. Felix..” He said, motioning to the guard. “Will be right outside the door if you need him, we’ll be back in twenty minutes to begin.” He said as the room cleared out, leaving only me and the young man.
I always felt guilty at that stage, I thought that I felt trapped in the uncomfortable room, but I paid to be there, the young man really was trapped. I barely glanced in his direction, but I knew exactly what he looked like, it was what they always looked like. The only difference between them was that the thick blonde hair was always cut to conform to the style of the time, this one had a hightop fade. I could tell by his breathing that he was awake, but his eyes were shut tight. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were green like mine. His body was covered by the same backless gown, but I knew he was as slender and toned as I had been at his exact age.
I rarely talked to them, which missed the point of the exercise entirely. I hated that those twenty minutes were a requirement. The idea was to make you look at yourself in the mirror so to speak, to make you feel the gravity of the decision you were making, it never changed my mind, I don’t know why they thought it would, as I said before my life is invaluable to me.
Aside from the fact that I was biologically forty some years older than the twenty year old boy, we were identical. Our jawlines, our crooked teeth, the tiny black mole under our left eye, everything was the same. The similarities were as shallow as the size of our feet, and as deep as our blood type, A-negative. Even our IQs were the same, the doctors never ran those tests, but after the interactions I’ve had with the young men over the years, I could tell they weren’t just playing with a full deck, they had nothing but face cards. That fact did bother me sometimes, but I couldn’t think about that, I had responsibilities, people who depended on me, an empire to manage. Was it selfish of me?.. The decisions I’ve made? The answer to that is a plain and simple, yes, but you didn’t reach the level I was at by being kind and selfless, to succeed in my business meant making the tough calls.
I listened to the antique clock on the wall tick down the minutes. I hadn’t heard it before, but my unease put me on the edge of my seat, and awakened my senses to my surroundings. The plastic covering of my table squeaked as I squirmed uncomfortably, wishing the twenty minutes to end, I just wanted to get it over with. The boy let out a sigh of frustration, it startled me like a jump scare, and he could tell, he scoffed. My heart was pounding, why was I so afraid of a boy strapped to a table? Even then, after all the procedures I’d gone through with, I still didn’t understand it.
Then, with five minutes left of our time, he broke his silence like I knew he would, they all did eventually, like a criminal being interrogated by a mute detective. “I’m real you know..” He said quietly, in a defeated tone of voice. “You know this is wrong..” He said, this time almost whispering. I kept my mouth shut, I didn’t know what to say, I never did. The past few times I’d gone to that place over the decades I said nothing, I let them do the talking, say their piece, exhaust their efforts. “It ain’t right..” His voice cracked like he might have been on the verge of tears. “It isn’t fucking right!” He screamed at me. Felix peeked his head in the door to assess the situation, I gave him a hand gesture that told him everything was okay, and he left us to our remaining minutes together.
“They try to keep it from us, the truth, but I catch bits and pieces, I learn, I think, I feel.. What the hell makes you different from me? Because you’re the first?! And I’m what? The third? The eighth? The twentieth?! So what?! I AM you motherfucker! We all were! And you steal our fucking lives!” His words almost saddened me, but it was the same speech the others had given throughout the years more or less, and I had become numb to the whole thing. “We aren’t technology.. we aren’t shells.. and I am not your fucking property!” He coughed violently, his voice was beginning to go hoarse from the screaming. I knew in a couple minutes it would be over with, so I didn’t bother interrupting him.
“I! KNOW! YOU! I! KNOW! YOU!” He screamed, banging his head against his padded table. That was the point of safely securing them, just a little bit of brain damage and the whole process would have been a wash. He began to laugh and cry simultaneously like a maniac, though he didn’t shed any tears, it was involuntary, like he was a man possessed. Then he went silent for just a few seconds, enough time for me to hear the ticking of the clock again, I glanced up at it, only a minute left of his temper tantrum. “They’re wrong.. everything they tell you.. everything they tell the world about this place is fucking bullshit..” He said, again defeated. “But you know that don’t you?.. You’re a smart guy.. You can see through their lies.. So why do you choose to buy into their bullshit?..” He asked, but I had no reply, I just stayed quiet. “Answer me motherfucker! You’re gonna put me down and you don’t even have the decency to talk to me?! I wanna know why! Why do you buy into the bullshit?! Why do you listen to them?!” He screamed, then something in me just snapped.. “SO I CAN FUCKING SLEEP AT NIGHT!” I screamed at him.
Then I started my own coughing fit, it was like his, only dialed up to eleven, my lungs were shot, every time I turned sixty four it was the same, like clockwork, it was the whole point of the procedure. He laughed at me, clearly finding some satisfaction in my suffering. “I guess it could be worse..” He said “I could have grown up to be a heartless piece of shit..” As his tirade ended, and my coughing ceased, the door opened, and the doctor came back into the room wheeling in a large machine. “Are you all ready to begin Mr.Franklin?” Without hesitation, without even glancing in my clone’s direction, I answered him. “I’m ready.”
“Fuck you! FUCK YOU ALL!” The young me wailed, trying to squirm out of his constraints. The security guard held him down, and the nurses injected a sedative into his arm, then he went quiet. They rolled us onto our stomachs, and pricked a small square device into our spines, at the base of our necks. Then they gave me a sedative of my own. When I woke up I felt lighter.. stronger.. younger.. I looked at my hands, no wrinkles, no veins, just knuckle hair. Then I looked to the table beside me, the elderly body of John Franklin was already bagged up, ready to be shipped to the morgue. I jumped up from the table, rushed over to the mirror, and admired the doctor’s handywork. I smiled as I ran my hands through my thick blonde high top fade, turned to the doctor, and said: “Whelp doc.. seeya again in forty years.”