This story is by Justin Caldwell and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I’ve always prided myself on being smarter than others. It’s how I earned an advanced degree from Stanford and how I became one of the most sought after young minds in Silicon Valley. But you know the verse from the Bible about pride coming before a fall? There’s a reason it’s a cliché. I had offers from many reputable firms making groundbreaking strides in my field of expertise, but what did I do? I chased the money. Like an idiot.
The ad was straightforward. Exciting opportunity in the field of genetic cloning with excellent pay! It promised. There was more, of course, and it didn’t take me long to decipher that it was a government position. That made it even more enticing. Who knew what kind of secret experiments we would be working on? In the end, it was enough to get me to an interview, which I aced. I tried to conceal my excitement when they told us the pay was a cool quarter of a million a year, but I doubt I did.
They made their choices right there on the spot, making us do the same. We were each given half of our year’s salary and told we had thirty days to do whatever we wanted with it. After that we belonged to the facility and had to follow their rules and regulations. We signed our contracts, took our money and split. Now I look back on it and realize how foolish we were. Not one of us thought to stop and ask any questions. We were blinded by greed.
I can’t speak to what everyone else did with their money, but I took a vacation. Living in luxury for a month was something I could get used to. I checked off all those places I had ever wanted to visit: London, Paris, Rome, Sydney, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. For a solid thirty days I stayed in the best rooms in the best hotels eating the best food money could buy. I think back on it quite often.
Hindsight is better than foresight…another common cliché that easily applies to my life. It’s obvious now just how cheaply they got us. Sure, I’ll be a millionaire many times over when we finish this project, but who says they’re going to let us leave once it’s done? Cloning Presidents isn’t exactly your every-day-run-of-the-mill genetics job. We’ve been down here for a decade now. Ten years of artificial light, processed food and recycled air.
There are a few perks, but I would trade any one of them for fifteen minutes of fresh air. We get every channel known to man in our apartments (and I use the term loosely). They did have the foresight to give us our own private quarters, even if it is just a living room, bedroom and bathroom. We eat together. “It establishes rapport and builds relationships,” they told us. I like the folks I work with, so I don’t mind it too much.
We have an unlimited selection of books. Television is okay for those moments when you just don’t want to think for a few hours, but most of us enjoy reading. They gave us each a Kindle; all we have to do is request a book and a few minutes later it’ll be available. For those who prefer physical books, the same principal applies, but it just takes a little longer. I like a mixture of both, and I’m not ashamed to disclose that I’ve amassed quite the collection. It breaks my heart that I won’t be able to keep it.
But like I said, I would trade all of those for just a few minutes outside. I can’t remember the last time I felt the sun as it kissed my face, or the wind as it caressed my skin. They keep us under lock and key. Constant surveillance is a part of everyday life down here. Once we talked about revolting, but they caught on and killed one of us just to prove a point. We weren’t going anywhere and anything less than total compliance would not be tolerated.
Ten years I’ve worked tirelessly with my fellow geneticists to clone past presidents of the United States of America. We decided to start with Washington and work our way down the line. Last month we successfully cloned Zachary Taylor, number twelve. We’re almost a quarter of the way done. That means another thirty years in this place unless we make some considerable improvements on the process.
I’ve been sneaking cloth napkins back to my room for the past eight months. Only one a week, but that’s enough to keep me occupied. I’ve braided the thread from the napkin into a skinny rope, which I keep in a baggy tucked in the tank of my toilet. The bathroom might be the only place we’re not watched by those intrusive cameras.
It broke the first few times I tried it, but I think I’ve determined what the problem is. I plan on testing it again tonight.