by Mike Koenen
The call came in at 6:23 a.m. I usually don’t get up until around 10:00 a.m. and then only with the help of my morning whiskey and a few cigarettes. My mouth was dry and my brain could barely comprehend what he was telling me.
“Is this O’Hara 43?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“My name is Tom Smith 23.”
Only the ones in charge had both a first and last name so I knew this was probably important.
“Yes sir. What can I do for you?”
“One of the originals has escaped,” was all he said.
I wondered why he was calling me. Granted, I was a private investigator and sometime bounty hunter, but something of this magnitude was usually a job for the state police.
“We need your help 43. You will be well compensated,” he added.
I thought of my Honda 4000. Two of its three engines weren’t working and the third was on the brink of dying any day now. I could use the money. Plus, I didn’t really want one of the planners to be angry with me.
“Yes sir, I understand. May I ask why you are trusting something as important as this to me?”
“Because it was your original that escaped.”
I was silent for a few seconds as I tried to comprehend what this meant. When an original escaped it was taken seriously. The originals were our lifeblood. Unfortunately, they were an overly emotional and illogical people. The fact that my original had escaped was especially important to me because he was essentially the road map to my life. I was one of the clones made from him. I was the forty-third clone in the second wave of clones meaning that I wasn’t activated until five years after I was cloned from him at age twenty. A first wave clone would be his exact age.
Only those that have achieved extreme success get approved for second waves. If he were to develop a disease such as cancer in a few years the planners would know to start looking for this same cancer in me immediately. They would have a five-year jump on any heredity diseases that may form and therefore a much higher chance of catching it in its early stage and curing it. So finding the original John O’Hara was important to me.
Tom Smith 23 continued, “Since you were one of the clones made from him we feel that you might have an advantage in tracking him down. You might be able to do it quicker than the Clone City police. After all you think like him. You have his judgment skills.”
I had never agreed with that statement. Yes, I shared his genetic makeup but I had a mind of my own.
“I see,” I said. There was no use arguing this point with one of the planners. It would just get me deactivated. Clones were occasionally deactivated if they were not shown to be productive in Clone City. So this wasn’t so much a request as a command by Tom Smith 23.
“The city police are also looking for him of course. I will send some officers over to your apartment immediately to put the temporary marking across your forehead. This way you won’t be bothered by the police during the manhunt as all of your cloned brothers unfortunately will have to be.”
The marking could only be seen under black light. The law enforcers in both Clone City and Original City carried these lights with their nightsticks.
“Yes sir. I will need his address and the last place he was known to have been. I will also need a printout of all information you have on him including his family, his job, his hobbies, and his friends,” I said.
“You will get all of that. The officers will bring that information with them. Thank you 43.”
“Of course sir, it’s the least I can do.”
I hung up the phone and walked to the cabinet and took out the whiskey, a shot glass, and a bottle of 7-Up. I performed my morning wakeup ritual and lit a cigarette and tried to decide where to begin.
* * * * *
Within ten minutes two officers were at my door. They were of the Jackson clones. Two large, well-built men who were physically alike in all ways stood before me. I was always amused as to how many of the Jackson clones went into law enforcement. I hadn’t ever met one that wasn’t a police officer. The original John T. Jackson, who was now in his sixties, was still the chief of police in Original City. These two men looked to be clones of a third or possibly fourth wave of the original Jackson. Only the very top-rated originals were cloned in four waves. Law enforcement just ran through their blood I supposed.
My original on the other hand was a world-class violinist in Original City. Apparently there was small part of him that had law enforcement dreams though because here I was. I was told on the day that I was activated that almost all of the O’Hara clones were in the arts, but of course there was always free will and it was up to me what I wanted to do. I guessed I was kind of like a recessive gene or something.
The Jacksons put the marking on my forehead. Only they, or another officer, could remove it when this was all over. I was glad Tom 23 suggested it though. I could move quicker this way.
“So if I see one of you super Jacksons coming at me with your gun raised I should just smile and say cheese and point to my forehead right?” I joked.
They didn’t laugh. I had forgotten that most of the Jackson clones didn’t have much of a sense of humor.
I asked the Jacksons if they could drop me off in Original City. They suggested I use one of the city police’s tunnels to avoid the traffic above on the streets and the hassles of the border police. We walked down the corridor of my apartment building and into the street. One of them took out his keys and opened the manhole cover in the street.
He lifted the steel cover to the tunnel to Original City. If I had to drive it would take probably over an hour even though it was only fifteen miles away. Overpopulation was a problem that had not been solved.
I descended the ladder into the tunnel with the Jacksons. In the tunnel I got into the capsule. Jackson 14 set the speed. I lay down.
He closed the top. He gave Jackson 13 the thumbs up. He pushed the button on the capsule and I was off. It was rare that a civilian got to use one of the police tunnels so I enjoyed the brief ride. I imagined I was probably traveling a few hundred miles per hour but there was no way to be sure considering how airtight the capsule was.
Within seconds I was at the edge of Original City. There was a police officer there that let me out of the capsule.
“Hello, O’Hara 43. How are you?” he said as he opened the top of the capsule.
“I’m good.” This one was of the Kasper clones. There were a few of them in other fields but most of them were also in law enforcement. I had found they had a better sense of humor than the Jackson clones.
He patted me down and checked my gun to make sure it was only a stun gun. It was legal to protect yourself if one of the originals attacked you but strictly prohibited to kill one. If a clone killed an original he would be deactivated. Without the originals we would soon cease to exist in one generation. Only they were allowed to procreate which was their purpose on earth. It was forbidden for clones to have children. The planners let the originals be the guinea pigs. If the child didn’t show promise they wouldn’t be cloned. This way only the best became clones. It may seem cruel but it had to be this way.
Before clones ran this world the human race had been at the brink of extinction. There were race wars, crimes of passion and greed, rapes and robberies. This all has been successfully eradicated since the clones have been in charge and does not exist in Clone City today. Years of breeding only the best, most logical originals have contributed to this fact. Occasionally there are still mistakes and these clones are quickly discontinued.
In the early 2000s a sheep was cloned. It took two hundred and fifty years before humans were cloned. Clones originally lived with their originals under their control, which is hard to believe now I realize, but it is true. I have read it in history books. The originals would still be in charge but they got greedy. It wasn’t enough for them to just have one clone—they wanted many clones of themselves. This led to the uprising of 3002. At that point in history there were many more clones than originals.
War broke out between the originals and the clones. The clones won and the originals have been under clone control ever since. Not that it’s that bad for them. They are encouraged to live their lives as they had before the war. This way the clone planners can see which originals become successful and which do not before cloning them. The planners can fill any shortages this way too. If they find we are having a shortage of scientists for instance they will have two brilliant scientists breed in Original City and then clone their offspring when the time comes.
I decided there were three places to look for John—Original City, the rest of Clone City where he might be pretending to be a clone, or there was a slight chance he may have left both cities and gone to the desert that wasn’t protected by the dome. The dome protected the entire city including Original City. The protective dome ended after the Original City. It was guarded by the border patrol but it was rumored that there was a tunnel that led out to the desert that only the originals knew of. If that were the case and he was heading towards the desert it would almost surely be suicide. The sun was too hot and a person without proper UV protective gear would be burned within minutes. There is nothing to eat in the desert except snakes, scorpions, lizards, cockroaches and other shelled creatures. The desert was the great unknown. Some believed there were other cities out there, some didn’t. It was a very big chance to venture into it though.
“OK, you’re good to go,” Kasper said. He opened the last steel door and ushered me out.
I had never actually been in the original’s part of the city before. I walked from the building that looked pretty much like the rest of the buildings I could see on the street. They all looked rundown.
“Originals are messy,” I said to myself as I looked around and kicked a Coke can on the street.
Two originals were in a heated argument at a hot dog stand over the change due to one of them.
I took out the address from my pocket that Tom Smith 23 had given me over the phone. It seemed as good of a place to start as any—41 Pierce Avenue. I took out my pocket computer and logged onto MapQuest 4000. I typed the name of the street I was on—42nd Street and 3rd Avenue as my start point and 41 Pierce Avenue as my end point. A voice from the computer immediately told me that it was twelve blocks away from where I stood and printed out a map for me. I took the map and put the computer back into my pocket.
I could have hailed a cab but I wanted to see the city so I decided to walk. A homeless man huddled in a doorway eating what looked like a thrown away sandwich from the street. Another homeless man warmed his hands with the steam blowing up from a manhole cover. Many of the buildings were boarded up or if they were open iron grilles protected their windows. I hoped my original lived in a better part of town.
Within six blocks the neighborhood started to improve. Within twenty minutes I was standing at the door of a two-story house just like I hoped to have some day. It was even painted the same off-white color that I wanted. He seemed to have the same taste as me only slightly better I had to admit. I knocked on the door. An attractive woman in her mid thirties came to the door. There were tears in her eyes when she saw me.
“John?” she said. I could smell alcohol on her breath through the screen door.
“No ma’am. I’m one of John’s clones. I’m number 43.”
I realized that as a clone I see someone that looks like me probably at least three or four times a week in Clone City. We usually nod at each other and then go about our business. I knew this wasn’t a common occurrence in the Original City although they knew about us. They weren’t allowed to leave the Original City though many of them had read about us. We didn’t visit here unless of course on official business like today.
She invited me in. I watched her walk in front of me. Physically she was exactly the type of woman I would have married if I were the marrying type—long dark hair, a heart shaped mouth, large eyes, a small waist and an expressive smile although she wasn’t showing it right now.
I wondered if she had been cloned and made a mental note to look it up when I returned to Clone City. She sat at the kitchen table and resumed drinking what looked to be a chilled martini.
“What can I do for you… 43 was it?” she asked.
“I can never get used to the fact that you people don’t have names,” she said as she lit a cigarette.
“It’s easier that way, ma’am,” I replied.
She nodded as she exhaled the smoke.
“You must know your husband is in trouble ma’am.”
She looked down at her drink.
“Any idea where he might have gone?”
“Oh who knows? He had been very depressed lately. He said he felt like a bird trapped in a cage.”
As she spoke it occurred to me that this was my other life, the life I was created from. A parallel existence if you will. Here I was a tourist in my own life—or was it? Was this anymore how my life could have turned out than any of my clones? I’m sure they had houses and loved ones too. For a moment it made me happy. How many people get to see what their lives could have been if they had made different decisions or what their lives will be if they make these decisions?
It was a way to peek into the land of “what if.”
Then it started to make me sad when I realized I didn’t make these decisions and probably never would.
The thought occurred to me that the original John O’Hara had all this and still ran away. Was it because he felt a captive in Original City or a captive in his own life? Maybe he didn’t like who he had become and had used this as an excuse to leave his family, job and friends. I was determined to find out as gently as I could.
“Why do you think he felt this way, Mrs. O’Hara? After all, he has a nice house, beautifully decorated I must say, a beautiful wife, and from what I have read three children, two of which are very likely to be cloned. What do you think he was depressed about?”
I was playing dumb but I wanted to see her reaction.
Her calm demeanor changed suddenly, “I had heard your people were simple.”
“Simple? In what way?” I asked.
She raised her voice. She was getting emotional, “Just simple. Since you don’t procreate you don’t have any ties to sisters, brothers, fathers, and mothers. You don’t form attachments. You’re not really human!” she said with a sudden anger.
“I’m as human as you are,” I responded.
“No, you’re John’s clone not mine. John wasn’t very human at times so I can just imagine how inhuman you are.” She finished her drink in one gulp. She poured another from the pitcher.
That was what I was looking for, a reason he might have left besides his hatred of this city. She and John were having problems. I wondered if she always drank this heavily or had just started after her husband left her. I knew it would have taken a few different factors to make me leave, not just one. Now I could change the subject.
“OK, Mrs. O’Hara, I see we disagree on certain things, but I am here to do a job so please I need you to tell me any information you might know of his whereabouts.”
She seemed to calm a little.
“I will tell you this, by this time he’s definitely out of the Original City. You don’t have to believe me but you’ll be wasting your time looking for him here. He despised it here. He’s either in Clone City or in the desert by now,” she said.
“Really?” I wasn’t sure if she was trying to cover for him or not. “That is almost surely suicide.”
“Good! I hope he burns to death,” she said defiantly.
We sat and stared at each other for a few moments, neither of us knowing what to say next after her outburst. The silence in the room was enormous.
I decided that it was probably time to leave.
* * * * *
I left the house not knowing a whole lot more than I had before except that he was maybe trying to escape from more than just Original City. I still wanted to look up if Mrs. O’Hara had been cloned. I was sure she wouldn’t be as illogical or as temperamental if she had been cloned. I felt what she said was probably true though. He probably wasn’t still in Original City. I took out the pocket computer and typed in the other address I had. It was his work. I walked for thirty minutes. During this time I was stopped by a police officer as he shined the black light on my forehead and let me go. I passed a couple engaged in an argument. They were yelling obscenities at each other. I longed for the logic of Clone City.
I reached the Original’s symphony. I paid for a ticket to the show that was in progress and took a seat at the back of the theater.
After the performance I went backstage and asked for Charles Wyndam the third, his best friend and the last person to have seen him in Original City.
“Charles?” I asked the balding man in his early fifties.
“John? They’ve been looking for you,” he said.
I held up my hand before he could say any more. It was illegal for a clone to impersonate an original and vice versa. There were strict laws against this even though I probably could have gotten a little more information if I had let the charade go on even for a few moments, but then if it ever went to court and Charles said I hadn’t identified myself… well, it would have been thrown out of court much like if I arrest someone and don’t read them their rights. From many years of doing this type of work I knew when it was the right time to break the rules and when it wasn’t. This wasn’t one of those times.
“No, Charles, I’m 43, one of his clones,” I said.
“Oh.” The man looked disappointed and relieved at the same time.
“It’s uncanny really. John was right,” he said staring at me closely.
“Right about what?” I asked.
“Oh nothing. It’s just that I had never actually seen one of you guys before and John told me it was almost impossible to tell the difference between a clone and an original except for…” he paused for a moment and looked at my arm, “Well I guess there must be some way to tell the difference but I really wouldn’t be able to.”
Clones all had their arms branded with their number. I suspected he knew this though. “Probably not. Believe me it’s hard for us too,” I answered.
“I mean it’s exact. You look slightly younger though.”
He looked like he wanted to reach out and touch my face or something, which I really didn’t want him to do so I motioned towards the seat against the wall.
“Let’s have a seat, Charles. I have a few questions.”
“So you’re a private investigator, huh? Interesting.”
“Why’s that?” I asked. I was probably just fishing here. He probably was just referring to the fact that on the surface a concert violinist and a private investigator didn’t have much in common.
“Well because he loved mystery novels.”
“Oh yes. He probably read one each week.”
“Hmm. That is interesting.” Maybe we had more in common than I thought.
“Oh yes, even though he was a fine musician I sometimes think he longed to be more of a man of action, a man of adventures.”
“I guess he got his wish then,” I laughed.
“Well yes, I suppose so.”
Seemingly out of nowhere a fist hit me. A man in his mid thirties threw me against a wall.
“So you came back you bastard!”
He pulled back his fist. I reached for my stun gun. Thankfully Charles caught his arm. He probably would have hit me once before I had gotten a shot off so I was thankful to Charles for his quick thinking.
“Harry, this isn’t John, it’s a clone,” Charles screamed at the enraged man.
The man looked at me not believing at first. Thankfully Charles still had him by the arm.
“It isn’t him, Harry,” Charles restated.
Harry’s face was inches from mine now. He looked deeply into my eyes.
“That isn’t you, John? Don’t screw with me,” he said spitting his words at me.
Harry was a big man. I unfortunately really wasn’t. I had a violinist’s body.
“No, I’m 43,” I managed to say.
He took his hands off of me and stepped back but kept staring into my eyes. If I feared this man and I didn’t even know him I could just imagine what John O’Hara felt.
“You’re not him huh? So why are you here?” he said staring into my face for any sign of deception.
He was wearing a tuxedo. He was obviously one of the orchestra players. I wondered what instrument this man could possibly play.
I took my hand off of the stun gun and took out my ID badge: Clone 43 of original John O’Hara, 2nd wave, Private investigator/bounty hunter, 82 Cross Avenue, Clone City.
He looked at it and gave it back to me.
“Well I’m sorry then. I guess there’s a reason you guys don’t come here too often. It’s a good way to get killed!”
With that he walked away.
Once again I was reminded of the illogic and emotionality of these people. I also now saw another reason he would have wanted to escape from Original City.
“What the hell was that about?” I asked Charles.
“Well, somehow Harry got the idea that John was seeing his wife.”
“Really? How does a person get that idea?”
“John was somewhat flirtatious with women. I don’t know if anything ever came of it, and if something did I imagine it didn’t last too long.”
“And you’re saying being his best friend, that you don’t know if anything happened with Harry’s wife?”
“I’m saying if something did happen with Harry’s wife that John was the type that got bored easily and that it wouldn’t have lasted too long or been a threat to Harry’s marriage.”
I wasn’t quite agreeing with him that a short affair isn’t damaging to a marriage but I let him go on.
“I think John liked the thrill of the hunt, the game, but when it actually came down to the everyday living with the person in a relationship, albeit a secret relationship, he didn’t have the patience.”
“Hmmm. What did John’s wife think? Did she know?”
“Well like I said, I don’t know if anything really did happen…”
“Oh yes, of course not…” I smiled at my sarcastic remark. It was a funny game of words we were playing.
He continued, “…but John wasn’t the type who liked scenes of emotion, not with his wife or with anyone else. It was funny though.”
“What is funny?”
“Well, he seemed to attract very emotional people to him, but hated dealing with them.”
“Really, so he disliked illogical and overly emotional types you’re saying?”
Once again I realized John and I had more in common then I originally thought. What would I have done in his shoes?
* * * * *
Two weeks later:
I’m at a car dealership in Clone City. With the speed that I found the original John O’Hara the clone city mayor gave me a bonus beyond what I was supposed to get. They only wanted to know how I knew where to find him. They had troops out in the desert for the two days it took for me to find him. How did I find him so easily the mayor wanted to know?
It was really quite simple once I gave in to the notion that we thought alike. John had the house I wanted, and the wife I wanted. When I first met Mrs. O’Hara I thought that she was exactly my type but too emotional as originals often are. I had vowed to look up if she had been cloned for a clone would have her physical traits, but also be more logical. As soon as I got back to Clone City I called the police and asked for how many clones of Mrs. O’Hara were out there.
Then I asked how many were single. A list of five names came back. I found him at the third Mrs. O’Hara’s house. As I thought he had an illegal stamp on his arm identifying him as clone #12. I actually had known #12. He was a painter and had died two years ago in a traffic accident.
Once again John and I had thought alike. They both appeared to be sad when I had to take him away and I felt a slight feeling of guilt but it was my job and I couldn’t let those slight feelings get in the way of my job. The police took him back to Original City where he is now under house arrest.
As for Mrs. O’Hara #3, whose maiden name was Sarah Gordon, she has since confided in me that she was secretly happy when he was caught. You see, he was too emotional for her as originals many times are but physically she was attracted to him.
Needless to say it’s a beautiful day and we’re deciding on a car together to go with our new house. And it’s all being done in the most logical way.