This story is by Stephanie Abello and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I start all of my lectures the same way.
“Let’s say I take a photo of this crowd. Each one of you has a different outfit, different things on your desk, and a different expression on your face. I give you prints of the picture, a microscope, and tell you to find a difference between the two. It could be something as obvious as an entire person missing from a seat, or as small as a freckle that’s missing from someone’s cheek. You spend each day obsessing over each corner, each-“ a student stood up and raised her hand.
“Natasha Adams, Aerospace Engineering,” she introduced herself. “But Dr. Barns, didn’t you say they’re copies of the same picture?” she asked.
I smiled. “Exactly. That’s how we went about creating the cloning process; only we were trying to make sure that the two were identical,” I said. “You in the back.”
“Andrew Slavedka, Biomechanical,” he said. “Didn’t the CIA put you on the project because of your predicted success in regenerative limbs for veteran amputees?”
“Yes, I’ll talk about that later.”
“Did you ever finish that project?”
“No,” I swallowed, picturing the empty pant leg in my buried father’s military uniform. “No I did not.”
The next day I touched down in D.C. and went straight to Dr. Clifton’s office.
“Ahh Dr. Barns,” he said and pulled out a sheet of paper. “This is a list of all of the former presidents that we need cloned, and from what year. We need t-“
“I’m sorry,” I said, “the year?”
“Yes. We need to be able to select the particular time period so each president’s mindset fulfills how he’s needed today.”
“That was never a part of the original project,” I replied.
“Things change. And don’t forget, Dr. Barns, that we are doing this so that they can provide solutions that we have too narrow of a perspective to come up with ourselves. We’ll be cr-“
“I understand,” I said. He might as well have said we’ll ‘make America great again.’
I walked out of the room and back to my office, ready to do loads of research, but there were only five years on the page. 1775, 1861, 1917, 1941, 1964. I typed them into Google. An article titled, “America’s 10 Deadliest Wars” popped up. I took notes.
1775 – American Revolution
1861 – Civil War
1917 – WWI
1941 – WWII
1964 – Vietnam
I looked at the picture of my father on my desk. 2003 – Iraq.
Adding time to the cloning equation wasn’t difficult. Turning decayed fingers into hearts and minds and bodies was the hard part; now we just had to determine which tissue to use.
A month later, even as I was preparing the machine for its big revelation, I didn’t understand it. Doesn’t a politician’s ability to provide solutions that we have too narrow of a perspective to come up with depend on their mind and creativity? Sure, they would have different experiences at different times, but since we already know what happened, couldn’t we just tell them? Isn’t it their new ideas that we need, not the ones that we know have led us here?
“Hello,” Dr. Clifton interrupted.
“I’m all ready to go. The POTUS Pod is behind the curtains, I’ve got people lined up for-“
“That won’t be necessary,” he said. “I’m doing the presentation.”
I took a step back. “With all due respect Dr. Clifton, this is my research, and it’s-“
“But it is my commission,” he said.
Commission? What commission?
“You can stand in the audience,” he said, motioning for the security guards to escort me.
I waved them off and wandered into the sea of people here to see the big unveiling – my big unveiling. I looked down in my hand at the motherboard I had taken from inside the POTUS Pod. Maybe it was a bit immature of me to take it, but when the Pod doesn’t work mid-presentation, he’ll have to put me up there. I scanned the crowd and furrowed my eyebrows; there wasn’t a single CIA badge in sight.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Clifton’s voice rang through the lab, “please take your seats.” The lights dimmed, so that the only focus was Clifton and the big curtain behind him. “I’m happy you’re here tonight, and I hope that you all feel honored to have been selected.”
“As you know, our organization has been looking for an opportunity to bring this country back to and beyond its former glory. Now, with leaps in technological advancement, we are able to provide not only a solution to politics, but to the politicians themselves.”
He pulled back the curtain, and air gasped out of the crowd. “The POTUS Pod. Designed to replicate and clone entire humans from mere portions of their tissue.” He smiled. “Dead or alive.”
“Our commission has lacked a key component. I have spent years gathering you – engineers, economists, military men, and more – so that once we are have taken our place in this government…“
“…will be able to stay there. So that no world figure will be able to stand up against the leadership that we have now, ladies and gentlemen. We will not only be led by once great presidents, but once great presidents that led us into…”
I didn’t have to stay in the lab to know what he’d say next. American Revolution. Civil War. World War I. World War II. Vietnam.
I gripped the motherboard and made my way through the crowd. I slipped it into my purse and approached an exit with two security guards.
“Excuse me, gentlemen. I need to get my make up from my car…”
One of their hands grasped my arm, “I’m sorry, Dr. Barns,” he said. Another man ripped my purse off of my shoulder, and I heard ruffling through it behind me.
“I’m afraid he can’t let you do that,” the other man said.
I froze; I hadn’t heard that voice in fourteen years.