Thank you for sending the Masons. I’ll see you soon. I love you.
—Taken from an e-mail sent by Alisa Kwong to Alaric Kwong, August 6, 2041.
The engines of the Kauai Institute’s private jet hummed smoothly, just loud enough that we could be confident that we were still on the plane and not, I don’t know, sitting in a really funky modular living room. It didn’t help that we were practically alone on the plane. Becks and Alaric were sitting on one side, reading through the files Dr. Abbey had loaded onto their phones before we left. Dr. Shoji was at the front of the plane, monitoring the autopilot and giving us a little privacy in the last few hours before we landed. That left me and George, and she’d been asleep for the better part of an hour, head pillowed on her arm, mouth relaxed from its normal hard line to something softer and more vulnerable. I kept glancing over to make sure she was still there, but I couldn’t look at her for more than a few seconds when she was like that. It felt like I was stealing something. George was never that vulnerable, not even for me.
According to the little trip monitor at the front of the cabin, we were approximately two hours outside of Washington D.C., where presumably, Dr. Shoji would find a way of getting us out of the private airfield we were aiming for without anyone getting shot in the head. If you had to fly, there were worse ways than hopping from one private airfield to another in a fully outfitted corporate jet. Of course, there were better ones, too. Ones that didn’t mean we were going in essentially blind, on the word of a man who just happened to know the people responsible for cloning my sister.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and groaned. “Things were a lot simpler when all I had to worry about was what I was going to poke with a stick today,” I muttered.
George didn’t stir.
Becks looked up, waving a hand until she caught my attention. Then she beckoned me to their side of the plane. I shrugged and stood, picking up my half-empty cup of in-flight coffee before walking over to join them. The coffee was lukewarm. I didn’t care. Just being able to drink it without feeling guilty made it the best cup of coffee in the world.
“What do we know?” I asked, plopping down next to Becks. She wasn’t wearing her seat belt. Alaric was. That, right there, tells you most of what you need to know about both of them.
“The clone tech they used for…” Alaric cast an uneasy glance toward George, seeming to lose the thread of the sentence.
When several seconds ticked by without him continuing, I nudged him with my foot. Just a nudge, but he jumped like I’d kicked him. I sighed. “The clone tech they used to bring Georgia back,” I prompted. “What do we know?”
“They force-grew her body with a lot of chemicals, a lot of hormones, a lot of radiation, and a lot of luck,” said Alaric slowly. “It only worked because they didn’t need to worry about getting a clone with cancer. She probably was cancerous by the time they finished maturing her, and they just let the Marburg Amberlee part of Kellis-Amberlee do the mop-up when she was exposed to the virus.”
“She mentioned that she wasn’t the only one,” said Becks. “What I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know is that she wasn’t even one of ten.”
I raised an eyebrow. “No?”
“Try more like one out of ten thousand, if you’re starting from the zygote level and then moving up to full-on vat-grown humans. Most of them never made it out of their petri dishes. The ones that did… I don’t understand half this science, except to understand that I don’t like it. It was technically ethical, or would have been, if they hadn’t been growing bodies with functioning brains, but the fact that the CDC can do this at all disturbs me.” Becks shook her head. “I mean, what next? The military starts force-cloning soldiers?”
“Only if they feel like paying five million dollars for every functional model,” said Alaric. “That’s the cost of the cloning—the starting cost. It doesn’t include the cost of the subliminal conditioning, the synapse programming—”
“Which is how she can actually remember things, like dying,” chimed in Becks.
Alaric gave her a look that was half glare, half fond exasperation. “I would have gotten to that,” he said. “But yes. The synapse programming is why she remembers things. And then there was the physical therapy to keep her muscles developing, the immunizations, the process of getting her to maturity… you’re looking at thirty or forty million dollars of medical technology. Easy.”
There was a pause while we turned to look at George. She shifted in her sleep, one foot kicking out a few inches before it was pulled back to nestle against the opposite ankle. I turned back to the others.
“Well, I hope they don’t think they’re getting her back,” I said. “What else can you get out of those files?”
You want to know if I’m going to die again. Georgia-in-my-head was talking less and less the longer there was a living, breathing George for me to hold on to, but that didn’t mean she was gone. It just meant my crazy was biding its time, waiting to strike when I was least prepared. You don’t go that far past the borders of Crazytown and come waltzing out unscathed.
The worst part of it was that she—the dead girl’s voice in my head—was right, because she was always right. I wanted to know if George was going to die. There was no way I could survive that twice.
Becks looked at me levelly. “She’s stable, Shaun. Those doctors from the EIS took out the CDC fail-safes, and they couldn’t actually build a human body that would self-destruct without help. The science isn’t that good.”
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