Wednesday, May 18, 2016

You Must Never Have Seen A Naked Girl Before

An Excerpt from The Tomorrow Paradox (Book Two in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer):

The girl quickly closed the door behind her. She braced her back against it, trembling as her hazel eyes scanned Mackenzie’s hospital room. Her light brown hair was disheveled and she gasped several times, attempting to regain her breath. She wore a pink nightgown that stopped above her knees. Property of Simulacrum Institute was stenciled in small black letters beneath her right breast. The 15-year-old pleaded with the startled boy. “Please, let me hide here. I’m not ready to go back. I want to be free, even if it’s only for a few more minutes.”

“Who are you?” Mackenzie asked.

“I’m Gemma. Who are you?”

“I’m…” Mackenzie recalled his father’s admonition about creating a new identity for himself while in the future so as not to be confused with his adult counterpart. He remembered his previous trip through time, to the past, where he had met Gramps and gone by the name ‘Kenzie’. He smiled at the nervous girl. “I’m Kenzie. I’m not from around here. Just visiting my cousins for a few days.”

The girl tilted her head. “What are… cousins?”

Mackenzie shrugged. “Cousins. You know, family. Your aunts’ and uncles’ kids.”

“I don’t have any,” Gemma replied.

“You don’t have any aunts or uncles?”

“I don’t have any family.”

“Gee, I’m sorry. How long ago did your parents die?”

Gemma laughed. “I never had any.”

“That’s ridiculous. Everyone has parents, even if you never met them.”

“Not me. I’m a clone. I came from a DNA scraping on a glass microscope slide. The closest I got to having a mother was a cotton swab.”

Mackenzie gulped. “You’re a clone,” he uttered in disbelief. “I’ve read science fiction stories about clones, but you look so real.”

“I am real. My flesh is as warm as yours, and my heart beats between seventy and one hundred beats per minute. I look exactly like my donor, since I came from her DNA. See?” She unclasped her nightgown and it slid to her ankles, covering her bare feet.

Mackenzie’s jaw dropped. “You’re naked! Don’t they have underwear in this era?”
He turned his head away. “Aren’t you embarrassed?”

Gemma looked puzzled. “What is embarrassed?”

Mackenzie fumbled for the right response. “You know, ashamed? Shy? Cold, even?”

“Oh, societal customs and mores of advanced cultures. I’ve read about that on the neural net.” She paused. “Then, you must never have seen a naked girl before.”

“Of course I have.” Mackenzie turned to face her, and his eyes perused her from head to toe, before swiftly refocusing his gaze at the distant wall. “Just not this close… I mean, in the same room… Instead of on a screen.” He blushed. “Just put your clothes back on.”

“I can’t wear that, anyway. It’s a clone outfit with the institute’s name on it. I can’t hide dressed in that. I’ll stand out a mile away.”

“You’ll stand out even more in your birthday suit. If my dad walked in now and caught me with you like that… let’s see, if I’m sixty-three now… I’d be grounded until I’m a hundred and twenty! Wait, my dad left a bunch of weird shirts and pants for me in the closet. Pick out whatever you want to wear. I won’t need any of those future togs, anyway.”

Gemma chose an outfit from the closet. “These are all boys’ clothes. They’ll make a good disguise. I’ll look like a boy.”

Mackenzie gazed back at the unclothed girl, admiring her features. “Nothing will make you look like a boy. But put them on, anyway.” As Gemma dressed, he asked, “Who are you hiding from?”

“The hospital orderlies. I overheard a nurse say they were processing my paperwork. I’m being sent back to the institute.”

“What institute?”

“The Simulacrum Institute. It’s where they keep me and the other clones until we’re needed. I’ve spent my whole life there. My room is a bit smaller than this one. I’m fed three times a day and I can plug into the neural net whenever I want.” Gemma raised her arm and displayed what Mackenzie mistook for a wristwatch. “As long as my bio-monitor shows I’m healthy, they leave me alone. All alone.”

“I don’t understand,” Mackenzie said. “You have no family, no friends? You don’t go to school?”

Gemma shook her head. “I told you, I’m a clone. They grew me for only one purpose.”

Mackenzie frowned. “Who grew you? For what purpose?”

“The same as any clone: organ harvesting. Some rich woman paid the institute a lot of money to clone her infant granddaughter fifteen years ago. The girl was born with serious health issues and it was merely a matter of time before she would need spare parts.”

Mackenzie’s mouth dropped. “They bred you like cattle… so they could cut you open and take out your body parts?”

“Now you see why I’m not embarrassed about my body; it’s a commodity, like me.”

“But… but you’re a person.”

Gemma shook her head. “I’m the spare. The girl I was cloned from, she’s the original. I’m not entitled to personhood or individuality. Since she seems to be recovering, the authorities will return me to the institute, where I’ll continue to live until the next time I’m summoned to be prepared to donate my organs to her.”

“Are all clones are raised for body parts? Do none of them get to live as people?”

Gemma shrugged. “As long as my organs might be needed, I have no future. But if my original were to die before they could retrieve me, then my reason for being would cease to exist. I’d serve no purpose and the donor’s family certainly wouldn’t continue to pay the institute for my upkeep. I’d be free to petition for emancipation, and gain citizenship. Of course, I’d still be a clone, and I wouldn’t have equal rights, but I’d never again be dragged out in the middle the night for possible dissection.”

Mackenzie was horrified and sympathetic to her plight. “That’s horrible! It’s barbaric. They can’t buy and sell people for spare parts. It’s worse than slavery.”

“They’re probably searching the hospital for me now. It’s only a matter of time before they find me. But every minute I spend among real people like you provides me with memories to hold onto when they lock me up again.”

“It’s not right. You need to escape.”

“We’re on the ninth floor. I’d never make it out of the hospital. I’m surprised I’ve eluded their surveillance, so far.”

Mackenzie detached the scrambler from the bottom of the hover pod. “It’s a scrambler. I don't know how it works, but it interferes with the surveillance equipment in the room.”

“Then, you’ll be safe. No one will know we’ve spoken. I should go. Now that I have these clothes, maybe I can blend in well enough to make it to the stairs.”

“But if they catch you…”

“Don’t worry. If they catch me, I’ll say I stole your clothes while you were sleeping.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about. If they take you back, the next time they bring you here, it might be to end your life.”

Gemma nodded, sadly. She leaned over and kissed Mackenzie. “Goodbye, Kenzie. You’re sweet. I wish I were a person, and not a clone.”

“Damn it, you are a person. This whole thing sucks.” Mackenzie tightened his fist in anger and felt the wristwatch Alex had given him constricting his flesh.

“Yeah, I know it sucks,” Gemma replied. “But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Mackenzie stared at his wristwatch. He recalled his Spider-Man comic book motto: With great power comes great responsibility. Moments earlier, he had been prepared to use the watch to return to his own time, but now he wasn’t ready to leave the future, fearful he would be abandoning Gemma to her doom. “Yes, there is. I’m helping you break out of this hospital. There’s a whole city outside these walls and a bigger world beyond it, with plenty of places to hide.”

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Time is running out… fortunately, Mackenzie Mortimer has a few more minutes than anyone else!

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