Gregory touched another button. The recording skipped, the image of the extraction being replaced by an image of the clone, now clean, clothed, and dry, with her head held up by a wedge-shaped foam pillow. Voices were speaking softly, just offscreen. I almost jumped when Dr. Thomas said, in a loud, clear tone, “Georgia, open your eyes.”
And the recording of subject 8b opened her eyes.
A squeaky moaning sound escaped my lips before I could hold it in. Gregory put a hand on my shoulder, but he didn’t say anything. There was nothing for him to say.
Her eyes were black, her pupils so enlarged that there was no band of color between them and the surrounding sclera. Shark’s eyes, zombie eyes… or the eyes of a person with retinal Kellis-Amberlee, the reservoir condition I’d lived with for most of my life. With those eyes, she looked more like me than I ever could. Someone who was shown a picture of me would probably allow that I looked a lot like a reporter who died during the Ryman campaign. Someone who was shown a picture of her…
“How?” I managed to rasp.
“Surgical alteration,” said Gregory. He took his hand off my shoulder. “They couldn’t induce a specific reservoir condition—when they tried, it either caused immediate amplification, or it triggered a reservoir condition in a different part of the body. Getting one with stable retinal Kellis-Amberlee in both eyes could have taken years.”
I didn’t say anything.
“They’ve had to do more procedures than originally planned. It turns out we don’t really understand the changes retinal Kellis-Amberlee makes to the structure of the eye as well as we thought we did. As soon as they removed the irises, the retinas began to detach. They’ve been replaced with artificial lenses, and the eyes have been stabilized.”
And since I was known to have retinal Kellis-Amberlee, no one would raise any red flags over anomalies in her retinal scans, and the surgical tampering would never be caught. “Slick,” I said. My voice sounded flat, like all the emotion had been somehow pressed out of it. That was a reasonably accurate assessment of how I was feeling. I swallowed again, and asked, “How much time do I have?”
Gregory shot me a sharp look. “What do you mean?”
“They didn’t fix my eyes. They wouldn’t have fixed… her… eyes if they didn’t expect people to see her. Logically, that means they didn’t expect people to see me. If I was the finished product, they would have stopped once I was stable.” My voice was starting to rise at the end of my sentences. I forced it back down, and repeated, “How much time do I have?”
“We think it’ll take about two weeks for them to finish all the tests they have scheduled, and for them to get subject 8b all the way functional. Again, they expected everything to be ready sooner, but they don’t want any lingering pain from the operations to distract from the recovery process.”
I wouldn’t have paid any special attention to my eyes hurting when I woke up. I’d been too busy freaking out over not being dead. I decided to let that go for the moment. “After that?”
“Another two weeks, to be sure the subject won’t spontaneously amplify or suffer organ failure.”
So that had been a genuine risk, not just another way to scare me. Funny thing; even knowing that, I was still scared plenty. “What’s going to happen to me?”
“They’re going to keep you as long as you stay useful, and then…” Gregory’s voice trailed off. “I’m sorry.”
I sighed. “Right. That was a bad question. Why are they doing this? Why waste all this time with me if they’re just going to bring her out of her chemical coma and drop me down the incinerator chute? What are they gaining from keeping me around?”
“You’re the display model. Why do you think Dr. Thomas was so upset when you went and got your hair cut? They want you to be as pretty as possible, to show the investors that this process is safe and painless and yields the best possible results.” Gregory touched the control panel. The image of subject 8b’s eyes vanished, replaced by a four-way split-screen of me being… me. Me, sitting on the bed, one leg tucked under my body, the other rhythmically kicking the mattress. Me, pacing around the edges of the room, my fingers snarled in the short hair above my ears. Me, eating. Me, walking down the hall. The views flickered from perspective to perspective, making it clear both that I had been recorded from multiple angles, and that someone had taken the time to edit it all together into a single continuous feed.
“What?” I asked, staring at the screen. My face stared back at me from a dozen different angles, and every angle showed the eyes that didn’t look as much like my own as the eyes on the clone intended to replace me.
“Everyone knows who Georgia Mason is. The girl who broadcast her own death and turned the tide of a political election. The one who told us to rise. You were the perfect candidate to prove that a person—a real, recognizable person—can return from the grave as themselves, rather than as a pretty, mindless toy.” Gregory glanced at me as he spoke. “They made you as accurate as possible, so that you could be the showroom model. You didn’t think the CDC bankrolled you on their own, did you?”
“I didn’t really think about it,” I said. “So what’s… the other one… supposed to be?”
“The street model. They spent a lot of money getting you right, and while you have a certain ‘unwitting celebrity spokesperson’ cachet, there’s no reason to waste good research. Building an accurate Georgia Mason taught them how to make an inaccurate one.”
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