Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Cohn
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IT’S ME SHE WANTS TO PURCHASE.
The fancy lady claims she came into the resort boutique looking to buy a sweater, but she can’t take her eyes off me. She wears a diamond-studded ivory silk suit perfectly tailored to her hourglass figure, her luminous face is flawless despite her being middle-aged, and her chestnut hair falls in lustrous waves down her shoulders. Her smooth hands are manicured, the fingers bejeweled with precious stones. She looks as if a beautician constantly hovered around her, ensuring that her every moment was aesthetically pleasing. She is flanked by two male bodyguards, tall, tanned, and blond, with bodybuilders’ physiques. Each has glazed fuchsia eyes and a violet fleur-de-lis tattoo on his right temple, like me.
The fancy lady’s pale-pink fingers rummage a baby-blue cashmere cardigan, discerning the quality of the material, but her own eyes remain fixed on me. She is judging the quality of me. “Is she available?” she finally asks Marisa, the boutique manager. Her voice is breathy, childlike, and she asks the question casually but quietly, as if she were splurging on an enormous slice of decadent, high-calorie cream cake. Marisa, who is also the most elite broker on Demesne, nods discreetly. This store sells apparel—and people.
If we can be considered people. Here on Demesne, the humans call us “clones.” I call myself Elysia, because that’s what Dr. Lusardi told me to call myself.
I emerged just weeks ago. But I am a sixteen-year-old girl. I know nothing of my First, the girl I was cloned from. Nor will I likely ever know anything about her. In order for me to be made, she had to die.
We’re in a private room, just me, the fancy lady, and Marisa. No bodyguards, no other customers, no other clone specimens. The room’s walls are stark white. Sheer opaque curtains billow as they usher in Demesne’s prized super-oxygenated air from large bay windows. The room is meant to convey the peace and tranquility for which this island lodged in the equatorial seas is famous. The windows offer a broad view out toward Io, the bubbling violet-blue sea that surrounds Demesne. I wonder how it is that Io’s waters can feel so special. It’s not something I am meant to understand; the reason has to do with human feeling and nothing to do with logic. People spend their life savings to experience one moment luxuriating in Io. You could toss me into Io to absorb all of its supposed mystical properties and it would have no effect on me.
I have no soul.
The fancy lady prods me as one might poke a piece of fruit at the market. She gently pokes my flesh, first my arms, then my thighs. She presses her hands against my back to test its firmness, then runs her hand through my hair.
“She’s exquisite,” the fancy lady says.
Marisa cautions her. “Mrs. Bratton, for our own liability, I need to make sure you understand. She is a Beta. Dr. Lusardi has not perfected the teen line yet.” Marisa’s hand reaches to my shoulders to pull my hair aside so the customer can clearly see the laser-branded tattoo on the back of my neck: BETA in violet lettering.
“I assume that will be reflected in the price, then,” the fancy lady called Mrs. Bratton says in her soft voice.
My chip tells me this is called bargain hunting.
“Of course,” Marisa says. “Dr. Lusardi will be thrilled to know someone of your stature is willing to take a chance on a teen Beta.”
Mrs. Bratton directs her gaze toward me. “What is your name, dear?”
“Elysia,” I say. El-EE-zee-ya. El-EE-zee-ya. I can still hear Dr. Lusardi making me practice saying my name, and the island’s name, Deh-MEZ-nay, when I first emerged. Clones don’t just wake up and automatically know how to speak. It takes a day or two after stasis.
“I think you might make a wonderful addition to our household, Elysia. We’re so badly missing a teenage girl ever since Astrid, my eldest, went off to college on the Mainland.” She pauses. “Biome University.”
“Congratulations,” I say, because I know that’s the appropriate thing to say to a parent whose child has gained admittance to an ultracompetitive learning institution. “You must be very proud.”
Mrs. Bratton’s face brightens. “I am! But Astrid’s so unnecessarily devoted to her studies. She insists on not traveling home to Demesne during the school year to visit us. We miss her so. Her younger brother and sister have been so whiny since she left.” She pauses to look me up and down one more time. “Yes, a new girl is just what the family needs. Would you like to be that girl?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I say. It doesn’t matter to me whether I exist in this store or at her home. But my internal feed tells me how to intone the enthusiasm that makes the humans feel good about their decision to buy me.
“Her manners are exquisite,” Marisa brags.
“Indeed!” Mrs. Bratton says. “An excellent improvement on the insolence of real teens, and I should know.” She smiles. “I’ve raised a few.”
Marisa sends me back into the store while she finishes the negotiations with Mrs. Bratton. I am to pick out some nice but modest clothing to take to my new home, where I shall serve my new owner. I choose the baby-blue sweater Mrs. Bratton was admiring, along with a white blouse and a plain blue skirt to match the sweater. A starter uniform. I change into the outfit. There is nothing else I need.
Except to say good-bye to Becky.
Becky is the other Beta teen available at this boutique. When I first arrived, Becky informed me that Betas were harder to sell as a buyer cannot be one-hundred-percent assured that a Beta will always operate as programmed. Becky and I are teen Betas, the first of our kind. Becky said when she first emerged, Dr. Lusardi informed her that while some buyers liked the cachet of being the first to own a new model, the teen Betas were not expected to do well because not that many adult humans actually like teens; in fact, many actively try to forget they’d once been teens themselves. According to Becky, Beta teens would serve as experiments until Dr. Lusardi could manufacture actual babies and children, who could potentially “blow the market wide open.”
While Becky is technically available for purchase, there’s no expectation of a sale for her, and so she’s consigned to work in the boutique, keeping it tidy, fetching beverages, and straightening up after customers. With her unfortunate aesthetic, Becky will never ascend to the upper caste of clones and work as a companion, chef, butler, oxygen leveler, sporting instructor, or—the most prized role of all—a luxisstant, an organizer of residents’ luxury needs. Becky e
According to Dr. Lusardi, I am her finest Beta, teen or otherwise. My aesthetic accentuates the Demesne lifestyle, as clones are intended to do. My holographic brochure says my measurements are “model perfect.” I have muscle tone suggesting that my First might have been an athlete or a dancer. Dr. Lusardi said I am a veritable “Tasty.” I have luxurious honey-blond hair, sun-kissed skin, and a complexion of peaches and cream. The trickiest part, according to Dr. Lusardi—my eyes—came out just right, like bright fuchsia pieces of hard candy, with almond-shaped lids and thick brown lashes, designed to convey docility and not creep out owners. From a distance, a clone’s luminous eyes are meant to draw in humans and make them feel safe. Up close, the eyes appear hollow. Because of that, humans tend not to look into our eyes too closely, which I’ve been told is socially preferable, as eyes without souls behind them can be frightening.
“So you’re to be a companion,” says Becky. “How excellent for you.”
Suddenly I feel a pang in my heart, as if I will miss this other teen Beta, but I know the reaction occurs because my chip knows how to mimic human responses, and not because I am capable of actually missing Becky. We feel nothing for each other. We don’t need to. I don’t know why my stomach also experiences a hollow emptiness at the thought of leaving this other teen Beta. There is so much for me to learn—about this island, about my own body chemistry. I am so new.
Becky adds, “You’ve only just come onto the market. You’re a quick sell. Congratulations.”
“Perhaps once I am settled in my new home, I could inquire if any roles there might be suitable for you.”
“Thank you,” says Becky, emulating gratitude for a promise we both know is unlikely to be kept. “It is perfectly satisfactory for me to serve here too.”
Mrs. Bratton and I depart in a chauffeured Aviate, a gliding, low-altitude luxury-utility vehicle. The LUV’s windows appear darkened from the outside, and inside it smells like jasmine and has seats that feel as if they are caressing their passengers. I sit in the back with Mrs. Bratton while her two bodyguards occupy the front. The bodyguards gaze intently out the windows, as if threats could loom in the paradise outside this vehicle. Perhaps they stare so seriously because they don’t know what else to do. The Aviate drives itself.
As the Aviate glides over the terrain, Mrs. Bratton swipes her right hand along her inner left arm from elbow to wrist. Her Relay screen appears beneath her skin and she begins Relaying messages, her interest in her new purchase—me—apparently evaporated. It is my duty to please and not bore her, but my chip lets me know that humans sometimes need quiet time for Relaying, so I do not try to engage her at this moment. Instead, I watch the scenery go by: tall palm trees secluding luxury villas, turquoise lagoons, and gardens full of blooming jacarandas, lilies, passionflowers, dahlias, orchids, and hibiscuses. In the distance, I see the placid, lulling Io Sea, and up above, farther away, the emerald-green forested mountains that loom over the island. Although I can’t see it from the Aviate’s view, I remember that those mountains descend on the other side into a wild rain forest, where Dr. Lusardi’s compound, the place I came from, is hidden.
I have never lived anywhere but Demesne so I cannot compare it to other places, but even without a chip telling me so, I think I could understand that this island is an ideal, an embodiment of perfection. Breathing in the silken air is like having warm honey trickling sweetly down your throat. The contrast of colors—Io’s violet-blue, the lush green plants and tall trees, the flowers’ bursting plumes of bright pinks, yellows, oranges, reds, purples, and golds everywhere—intoxicates the eyes.
Excitement bubbles within me, a direct antidote to the earlier anxiety I experienced being separated from Becky. I have an owner now, and we are on our way to my new home, on the most desirable place on Earth. What will my newly emerged life on Demesne be like?
A response comes through on Mrs. Bratton’s Relay, and she sighs. “Oh, dear. The Governor, he’s not happy about this at all.”
My interface flashes an image of an imposing bald man wearing a military uniform adorned with many medals. It informs me that the Governor is a retired general who is now the island’s chief executive officer, hired by Demesne’s board of directors. “How do you know the Governor?” I ask Mrs. Bratton.
“He’s my husband, silly.”
I suppose this affiliation explains her security detail, although the very idea of needing security on such a perfect and tranquil place confuses me. But these are things I do not question. I am only a clone, and a Beta at that.
“Why is he called ‘the Governor’?” I ask Mrs. Bratton.
“It’s a nickname, pet. Like from colonial times. CEO sounds so…boring.”
“I understand, Mrs. Bratton,” I say. Even though I don’t. As part of my orientation program when I first emerged, I learned to use this as a useful phrase to fill silences with humans. Whether I actually understand is irrelevant.
“Don’t call me Mrs. Bratton. That’s so formal.”
“What shall I call you?” I ask Mrs. Bratton.
“You may call me Mother.”
WHEN I FIRST AWOKE, I DID NOT KNOW THE concept of a mother. I had the knowledge gap typical of a new Emergent, with a basic grasp of language and symbols from my First, but no context.
As my eyes slowly opened, the first thing I saw was the face I would later know as Dr. Lusardi’s. She was observing my awakening. My vision was blurry, but her coloring was so distinct that she came into a hazy focus. She had a mass of red corkscrew hair surrounding a pale face of orange freckles and blood-red eyes, and wore a white lab coat. I could hear the whir of machines behind her, dings and beeps creating a soft symphony of electronic noise that made no sense to me.
If I could have, I would have leaped up off the table and run—hard and fast. But that was not possible. Only later would I comprehend what had happened in my first waking moment, when the things attached to my arms—my hands—felt clammy, and the thing in the upper left corner of my torso—my heart—felt like it was furiously racing against that thing in my head—my brain—to see which body attachment could experience full-on meltdown first. Once my chip was implanted, I understood that feeling was called panic. After I received the chip, I would never again have to experience that unnecessary sensation. That’s only what came first.
The one sensation I truly understood first awakening was bitter cold, made distinct by the shivers sweeping across my body as I lay naked and uncovered on the frigid metal table attached to Dr. Lusardi’s master invention—the human duplication machine. The machine from which I emerged resembled an open casket, with tubes attached to its ends, directing matter into the machine from an attachment on another raised metal table parallel to it. The parallel table was the one my First had lain upon as she was duplicated into me. But her dead body was no longer lying there when I awoke.
A voice near Dr. Lusardi—an assistant’s, I suppose—said, “Looking good for a Beta. This one’s a Tasty, for sure.”
I felt moist flesh on my forehead, which was Dr. Lusardi’s hand, checking me for fever. She said, “Emergence appears to be successful. Give her a couple hours just to make sure she’s not a Fail, but I’m not worried about this one. Give her a mild tranquilizer now to calm her down. Once her blood pressure and body temperature stabilize, put her under general anesthesia, brand her face, and implant the chips.”
The second time I awoke, after my chips had been implanted, Dr. Lusardi was again standing over me.
“Mother?” I asked. My surroundings, which had been vague in my first panicked awakening, now registered more clearly. I understood that Dr. Lusardi had been responsible for making me.
“Creator!” Dr. Lusardi said sternly
I sat up, feeling light-headed as I experienced the effect of gravity on my anatomy. My vision was still hazy, but I comprehended enough to realize that I was in some kind of medical laboratory. I saw wall-size information displays showing anatomical images of the human body along with scientific formulas, storage units marked as containing DNA samples, and life-size skeletons. As I gazed around the white-walled, windowless medical laboratory room, I saw floor-to-ceiling data interfaces with illuminated numbers and symbols scrolling across them. Behind the interface was a table holding surgical instruments—scalpels, specula, fiber-optic devices, laser-cutting guides, syringes and needles, and measurement devices—a laser ruler and calipers. Beyond the table, the wall was lined with shelves of medical texts, and jars, so many jars—jars of blood, and jars of gelatinous molds containing spare body parts, such as fingers, toes, nipples, ears, and eyeballs.
Dr. Lusardi poked her fingers around my flesh. She examined my physical attributes, then announced, “Skin tone’s a bit waxy, but that’s common after stasis; it will wear off. You are indeed exquisite. You’ll need a commensurate name. I shall call you…Elysia. Say it after me. El-EE-zee-ya.”
“Zha,” was all I could sputter.
Dr. Lusardi nodded. “You’ll need another day before orientation, I see.” She addressed a hollow-eyed male orderly standing in the corner. Perhaps he too had woken up on the same table upon which I now sat. “Take her to the waiting chamber until she’s ready for orientation. And give her some clothes.”
Dr. Lusardi started to walk away, then she turned back around to inspect me one more time. She said, “You should fetch an excellent price, Elysia. Even for a Beta.”
The waiting chamber was a windowless room with a row of single beds lining the wall and no other furnishings. There were four other new Emergents like me, also awaiting orientation, dressed in green hospital scrubs like the ones I had been issued. The other new clones, two females and two males, appeared older than me—in their twenties and thirties, human age—and were notable for their exceptional aesthetics, with physical attributes humans consider superior, such as lean bodies and faces with high cheekbones, full lips, and full heads of hair. Their faces reflected nil variance. While my database flashed me examples of human facial expressions, with labels such as HAPPY, SAD, ANGRY, and LOVING, these other Emergents exhibited no expressions other than BLANK.