This story is by Jackie Valacich and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The blood-soaked images of the mangled cast-off bodies swirled in Dr. James Trader’s head while his footsteps echoed through the deserted halls of the underground CMAN–Cloning, Metaphysics and Nanobot–biotechnology facility in Arlington, Virginia. He stopped in front of a door marked ‘METAGENESIS’ and swiped the I.D. badge hanging from the lanyard around his neck through the reader on the door.
The Chinese recently succeeded in cloning multiple past Emperors and Premieres. James would be held responsible for the national embarrassment associated with the inability of the U.S. to keep up. He had to figure out what was going wrong soon or, as Head of Cloning, he would be out of a job.
No one’s career could survive a collection of mentally-challenged, once-dead presidents on a homicidal rampage. He didn’t want to entertain the idea of what ‘out of a job’ really meant; he shuddered at the repeated gory memories. If he didn’t deliver, the government body would clone him, dispose of him in the cast-off tank and take a chance on his first generation clone, enhanced by his new mutagen serum, to get the job done.
A green light flashed and the airlock seal released with a hiss. The warm, moist smell of urine-soaked cedar chips, wet fur and feces, hung in the air. The door self-locked while he inhaled with a satisfied smile, snapped on latex gloves and retrieved a logbook from the acrylic box on the wall. He needed to find the new batch of rats alive and well after the evening injections.
Struggling to contain his anticipation, he made his way to the bank of cages on the wall. He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until he released it in an audible rush. A cage full of pink-eyed, whiskered faces stared back at him. Each rat was marked with a number; one, two or three, tattooed in ink on its back. The color-coded originals were kept in a separate cage. Most importantly, all of the clones were all thriving.
A lab tech had fed, watered, and administered injections and medications according to number, recording it all in the logbook earlier. He glanced at the clock on the wall. The mutagen-enhanced generation test was scheduled to begin shortly.
After a quick perusal of the data, James replaced the book, walked to the far end of the laboratory and held his eye in front of the scanner on the wall. A thick cement door opened inward.
His heart raced as he entered the observation room and took his seat in front of the two-way mirror next to his colleague, Dr. Jenny Fischer. “Have they started yet?”
“You’re just in time. We have a first and a third generation clone.”
President John F Kennedy Number One sat across from President Abraham Lincoln Number Three at a small table in the bright and clinically stark room on the other side of the mirror. They smiled at one another and conversed softly.
“So far so good,” James said. “The new formula seems to have worked on the rats as well.” His rapid heartbeat slowed.
Dr. Fischer flipped a switch and spoke into a microphone on the control panel in front of them. “Good evening, sirs. President Kennedy, would you please ask President Lincoln the questions on the paper in front of you?”
“Certainly,” JFK flashed his brilliant smile and read. “Finish this sentence; A house divided against itself…?”
“Equals two,” the lanky bean-pole stated matter-of-factly. Abe smiled and stroked his whiskered chin, took off his top hat, placed it on the table top and scratched his head.
“The answah is, ‘cannot stand.’” JFK furled his brow and his cool-gray eyes darkened. “Ah you guys kiddin’ me?” he asked the two-way mirror on the wall.
“Damn,” James said.
“Another question, Mr. President,” Dr. Fischer said.
“Okay,” Abe said to the speaker mounted in the corner.
JFK ran a hand through his thick sandy hair and lifted the paper to his face. “Most folks ah about as happy as…?” He lowered the paper and looked hopefully at Abe.
“A clown.” Abe nodded and folded his arms across his chest.
“Come on!” JFK stood up, slapped the paper on his creased pant-leg and then meticulously straightened his thin maroon necktie in the two-way mirror while mouthing, <‘what is wrong with him?’>
Likewise, Abe stood in front of the two-way mirror and twisted his bow tie. Then licked his hand and flattened a cowlick before leaning in and picking something from between his teeth.
“One more please, President Kennedy,” Dr. Fischer said.
JFK stepped close to Abe. “Concentrate, Abe. You ah famous for sayin’ these things.”
Abe retrieved his top hat from the table, fumbled and dropped it, picked it up and slapped it on his head. “I’m famous.”
JFK rolled his eyes. “Bettah to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove…?”
“Your hat!” Abe threw his hat on the floor and jumped on it.
“Ridiculous.” JFK let the sheet of paper drift to the floor while he stalked out of the room.
Abe jumped up and down on his hat, smashing it into a black pancake. He giggled and jumped until an orderly dressed in white entered and led him out of the room.
James swallowed around the lump in his throat while he turned off the intercom and the lights in the observation room. “The mutagen takes away the homicidal aggressiveness but still does nothing to correct diminished mental capacity in subsequent generations.”
“We’re lucky.” Dr. Fischer made notes on a ledger. “The only thing President Lincoln killed this time was his hat.”