This story is by Kristine Yarwood and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I held my coat over my head and dashed to the car. I threw the drenched coat and work bag into the passenger seat and started the ignition. Water bucketing down made it nearly impossible for me to see as I wheeled the rental car out of the high-tech business complex in Arlington, Virginia. My boss, American News Corporation News Director, Rich Randall, wasn’t going to believe what I’d just learned! I impatiently crept behind a sluggish snake of nondescript dark luxury vehicles.
Upon reaching DC proper, I pulled into a public lot. Coming to rest between two white lines, I popped it into park and kept the vehicle idling. I figured I’d prevent draining the battery while enjoying a necessary break from the late-summer Washington, DC weather and checking in with Rich. I scrolled through my contacts and dialed.
“Rich, it’s Hayden.”
“Ginny Hayden, my star correspondent! That was quick. I hope you dug up something good for me from those nerds in white coats with clipboards,” he bellowed.
“I just left the interview. Holy crap, you weren’t kidding! We’re going to win the news ratings when this goes out,” I smiled while talking, ending my sentence with a lilt, emphasizing my excitement.
Our network had suffered a hit in the ratings after one of the ex-anchors was caught in a series of lies she’d constructed to garner attention solely for the racy, salacious headlines that ran throughout the spring and summer. We needed a ratings turnaround, and fast.
“Great! Tell me everything!”
“Director Howell and Dr. Walker took me on a tour of their insanely secure building, showcasing details of their top-secret program. They’re planning a press conference for the global announcement. I have the exclusive preview. They said we can launch it anytime, as long as we give them a one-day lead before teasing it on the network or putting anything on social media.”
“Sounds huge! What’s all the fuss about? What are they up to?”
“Cloning! And, hold on. This isn’t about farm animals. Wait! You’d better sit down,” I ordered. I heard a distinctive thud as he plopped down into his metal and leather office chair.
“I’m sitting, but this had better not be about cows, goats, pigs, or llamas. Back up, and tell me what sort of science-y hoo-ha they’re doing with these… clones.” He drew the last word out like a kid pulling bubble gum out while clenching the end of it between his teeth.
“They are cloning every single – deceased – US president!”
“What?!? Why? Do they think that’s wise? What the hell are they doing that for?”
“NASA commissioned this project, planning to populate a new space station, and eventually a planet, beginning with a collection of our country’s leaders. They explained to me there are similar plans in place in other countries, as well!”
“Wow! Have they been successful yet? Did you get to see any of the clones?”
“I saw a few on closed-circuit TV. They have multiple copies of everyone, from Washington through Nixon. Oh, and one of Reagan, around the time of the assassination attempt in 1981. They’re working on more current ones since his passing. Ford, Carter, and Bush forty-one are in-progress.”
“There must be more reasons than simply populating outer space with these things,” he pondered audibly.
“Yes. They plan to rent out clones to classrooms, museums, and even to the presidential libraries. They think it will be a phenomenon. It’s a cutting-edge way to present history with living, breathing presidents instead of waxy, robotic imposters. They want an ‘immersive and realistic, interactive experience,’” I said, in my best impression of Dr. Walker’s proper British accent.
“Well, I’ll be! What about other countries, especially our enemies? Don’t they think this could be opening us up to huge security problems?”
“No. Other countries are reportedly doing similar things. The research already exists. Production has either started, or will soon, in almost all our allies’ lands. FBI Director Howell said there’s a safety net in place. Get this: the clones will self-destruct each time their rental agreements end, or if they go missing or fall into enemy hands. That’s the biggest fail-safe they have!”
“So, they not only create the clones, they destroy them,” Rich summarized what I’d said. “That seems cold. I can see why it might be important, from domestic and international standpoints.” He took a beat before adding, “this is… massive.”
“It has the potential to be, yes,” I agreed.
“I sense doubt from you. There’s more. What aren’t you telling me?” Busted. He knew me too well, after working at our college radio station together for three years. He had dated my roommate for a semester, so I knew more about him than I cared to recall.
“Listen, I overheard them talking after the interview concluded. There is one more fascinating item. I don’t have clearance to publicize it; it’s off the record.”
“Out with it. Come on, it’s me!” he boomed heartily, as if we were sharing an inside joke over stale coffee in the break room. Once or twice before, he had broken news ahead of my official clearance. I remained hesitant.
“If you leak this tidbit, trust that I will hunt you down. I’ll have your job, your house, your Mercedes, and anything else you value! Am I making myself clear?”
“Crystal clear. Tell me,” he whined.
“They have two completed clones of the sitting president.”
“No way! Didn’t you say this was only dead presidents?”
“It stood out to me as incredibly strange, too. They had zero George W. Bushes, Clintons, or Obamas ready.”
“Ginny, something big must be in the works. Maybe there’s a credible threat of some sort. Do you think they know what?”
“Could be. I’d say it seems highly probable.”
I heard a tap on my window. I turned, shocked to see the end of a gun pointed at my head.