ALL DOLLED UP

 

From Eric Bonholtzer’s next short story collection

 

“I’m telling you I don’t think you should do this.”  Peter tried to keep the ire out of his voice, but it was difficult.  Since the trend had started, all the pretty ones were doing it, and the pressure Peter had been getting from his beloved was increasing every day.

 

“What, you don’t think I’m attractive enough?”  Even with the pout on her face, Heather was undoubtedly gorgeous.  She was the kind of woman who, when she stood beside her husband, people wondered how Peter had landed a girl like that and they automatically assumed he was rich.

 

“We’ve gone over this a million times, honey.  You’re beautiful and you know it.  It’s not that,” Peter ran his hands through his thinning hair, trying to avoid the bald spot, “it’s just that the whole idea is so creepy.”

 

Heather turned her head in disgust.  Humanity had come a long way, but sometimes it still seemed like the two sexes were from different planets.  “Get over it, Peter.”

 

“I’m not going to get over it, the whole thing is unnatural.  And it’s wrong.  We as humans should have known that.  We didn’t.”  Peter tried to keep his hands from shaking and quell the quaver in his voice.  Heather had been adamant about going through with the process ever since the technology had become available to the private sector.  Peter shuddered.  This was one of the most heated arguments they’d ever had, and despite all the reasons she’d given trying to convince him, Peter wasn’t buying it.  He cast his eyes downward and hated himself for the show of weakness, the whole time thinking, I give her all I can and she wants to do this to me when she knows how much it will hurt me.

           

Heather turned to him, languidly placing once perfectly toned arm around his shoulder in a manner that at any other time would have made him very aroused.  Now the gesture only made him seethe.  She could not go through with it, Peter had convinced himself of that.  “Peter, look, honey, you know I love you.  It’s not like I’m whoring myself out or anything.”  Her husband shot her a look that said he begged to differ but said nothing, and Heather came closer, brushing her ample chest against his side, running her other hand down his shirt to the seam of his extra-large sweatpants.  “All the respectable beautiful women are doing it.”  Heather emphasized the word ‘respectable.’  “And with the money I’ll make, we can finally afford to get you that laser hair regrowth.”  She dug her hand down farther inside his pants, tenderly, kissing on his neck as she did.  Peter pushed her away.

 

“No.  Not this time.”  Heather looked at him in a manner that suggested she was hurt, and it scared Peter to realize that he didn’t know if it was a real emotion or just a show put on for his benefit.  Things had degenerated that far.  “No.  We’ve gone over this so many times.  I don’t want laser hair regrowth.  I don’t want weight loss acceleration treatment.  I don’t want any of that new technology at all.  What’s wrong with being who we are, Heather?  You’re always so concerned about appearances.”  Peter pushed up his glasses, pleased at himself for voicing his opinions.  “Heather, I like who I am, and I don’t understand why you don’t.  Society has made a monster out of you.  Everyone always told me this could happen, but I didn’t believe them.  I didn’t want to believe them.  I love you Heather, but I can’t stand the thought of a million strangers ogling you, having you.”

 

“That’s what you’re not understanding," she said, "You think it will be me.  But it won’t really be.  It won’t be my body.”

 

Heather shook her head, “It will sure enough look like you.  A carbon copy.”

 

“But not me.”  It was Heather’s turn to shake her head.  She’d had this conversation one too many times and she still hadn’t been able to get Peter to see things her way.  “It’s like you just said, a copy.  Nothing more.  No one will even see me naked.  All they do is take out some gene diagnostic samples, put them in the machines and grow the clones.”

 

Peter was gripping his hands so tightly they hurt.  For the past two weeks, ever since this discussion had started, he’d been having serious doubts about their relationship.  His friends had cautioned him against falling for her in the first place, but she was so incredible, so perfect.  They told him that no good would come of it, but he hadn’t listened.  Now, Peter just wanted to scream, wondering if the whole world had gone insane.  He had destroyed the holo-vision last week, never wanting to see another picture-perfect body again, aside from the one he laid next to each night.  “I’ve been thinking about this a lot, Heather.  If you go through with this... if this is what you really want, well... I don’t know if I’m going to be here when you get back.  I’m thinking of joining the Naturalists, honey.  Wouldn’t that be nice, to be around people who want nothing to do with this new technology?  Why don’t we just pack up and move?  Start over.  This hi-tech world just isn’t for me, Heather.  We’re not living in the lap of luxury, honey.  But I have you and you make me happy.  And I just wish you felt the same way about me.”

 

Heather just stood there for a minute, staring at him.  It was like a still-frame from the old days of photography, a broken figure of a husband desperately trying to keep his heart together as the love of his life made a decision that would affect their relationship forever.  For a second it looked as if Heather was going to cry, taking a tentative step forward.  But then something inside her seemed to change and she stopped before her resolve could crumble, her demeanor changing drastically as she spoke.  “It would be a tragedy to have this beauty without letting the world see it.”  She paused, almost unable to believe the words that were coming out of her mouth, but knowing her decision had already been made.  “And the Naturalists?  You want us to live with those primitive nature lovers?  What about the Lovely Awards and The Glamour and Glitz Promenade?  The Homebody Hot Stuff awards?  They’re every week.  You know I would have a chance if I could just get my face out there so people could see it.”

 

Peter just shook his head.  “It sounds like you’ve made your decision.  But you should know, Heather, that the Naturalists are happy.  My brother joined them a year ago and his daily concern isn’t spending three hours every day deciding what to wear to go out and get the news chip from the mail box.”

 

Heather turned, feeling a great weight pulling at her, telling her to stay.  One hand was already in front of the palm scanner, though, and Heather knew she was on an unstoppable course.  She was already out the door when she said it, calling to her Peter with a trickle of a tear in one eye, “I do love you, Peter.  And I just hope you can somehow see it in your heart to be here when I get back.”

 

Heather said nothing more as the door slid shut soundlessly behind her, the whole time sure she could hear weeping coming from inside the house.

 

* * *

 

Globo-Electronic-Systems, or GES, was the largest manufacturer of technological wonders anywhere in the New States and probably the world.  The grandiose structure dwarfed all the other buildings surrounding it, and the ostentatious opulence of the GES façade reflected its esteemed status.  Heather had heard rumors about what GES really looked like inside, but she was astonished as she walked through the doors, the myriad of reflective surfaces adorning the reception lobby amazing for their sheer numbers and size.  Likewise, the people loitering about the entry were exceptional.  Heather had known all along that she was stunning, but the sight of some of the people gathered inside GES took her breath away.  It was good she was doing this, she reasoned, knowing that if she ever hoped to win one of the coveted esthetics awards she would need as many people recognizing her image as possible.  She just hoped that enough people looking through the catalog would order her clone.  Heather couldn’t help but feel a slight nagging sensation, though, as she made her way through the huddle of perfection, thinking of her Peter.  His cute little pot belly she always teased him about, the way his smile always brought warmth to her heart.  As Heather wended her way through the labyrinth that was GES, the indecision began to build, thinking of the seriousness in her husband’s eyes.  Heather even hesitated when she reached the door to the lab, her hand almost unable to signal the sensor.  Thoughts flew through her head of just running back home and taking Peter in her arms and telling him what a fool she had been, telling him they could lead the carefree life with the Naturalists.  The pain-filled notion of rushing home only to find Peter gone entered her mind as well, and Heather’s hand triggered the sensor.  She was already envisioning the awards ceremony and what she would say when she won.

 

“Can you please just explain it to me one more time?”  Heather tried to keep the nervousness out of her voice.  Her arm was tied to one side of the chair and the lab techs were hooking her up with different reading and measuring devices.

 

“You’ve already gone over this with your doctor, I’m sure, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here.  And I really don’t have all day.”  The nurse was old, Heather could read that from her eyes, but the medical and scientific fields had obviously kept her looking young. “You think you’re the only one wanting a clone of your image.  Everyone wants to be a clone doll these days.”

 

“Clone doll.  I forgot that’s what they’re calling them now,” Heather said absently, as a burly doctor who resembled a supermodel more than a physician attached electrodes to different places on her scalp.

 

“Yeah, well, with the new laws proposed in legislature who knows what they’re going to do next.  GES always tries to stay a step ahead.”

 

“At least this technology is still kind of new.”

 

“That’s one plus, but the sooner the tech comes out, the sooner it gets outlawed.  But I like the change.  I think ‘Clone Doll’ is one heck of a lot better than the slang ‘Simulated Sex Partner’ stuff.”

 

Heather nodded her assent.  There was that whole aspect to it and that was one of the reasons Peter had been so adamant.  The laws the government enacted were supposed to try to stop the rampant sex trade that had come hand-in-hand with private sector cloning.  The New States’ government had been absolutely adverse to humans buying and owning other humans for pleasure purposes, which had been a legitimate fear when cloning moved from the military to the private sector, but not all countries felt the same way.  There were some places that were purportedly known for their full service pleasure dens.  The main problem was that the technological explosion had happened so fast, that now all the time needed to copy, incubate and grow a full-fledged human being was less than a week.  As soon as the technique was perfected, the would had become rife with clones, utterly indistinguishable from their human counterparts.  They were numerous laws regarding the clones, but no one could keep up fast enough.  The twenty-first century debates about world hunger and overpopulation were once again resurfacing.  And now there was the problem that the popular and beautiful clones ordered from the catalogue were just used for sex.  Originally, when the process was under stricter control, the clones would only be issued to private citizens in extreme cases such as bereaved widows who couldn’t live without their spouses and grieving parents whose children had met with untimely deaths, and even then it was all mandated and carefully supervised.  Now, however, the technology had become a mockery of its former intention.

Heather tried to make light of it, “Yes, well, you know how people are.”

 

The nurse rolled her eyes.  “Suppose you’re tying to get famous too, right?  Get clones into the hands of rich powerful executives and then you’ll get your award?”

 

Heather smiled, “Of course.”

 

“Who isn’t nowadays?  Still, you’re pretty brave.  Not many too women want to do this kind of thing because of the whole sex angle.”

 

Heather shuddered in her chair, just wishing the woman prepping the needle would hurry up.  Heather couldn’t help but think of what the woman had said, of what Peter had said.  People would be having sex with her clone.  It was a small wonder why so many people opted out.  Feeling incredibly uncomfortable, Heather desperately wanted to change the subject.  “Well, I think this technology is a good thing, no matter what happens.  I might get an award you know.  Plus I get paid.”  Not letting the nurse get in another disparaging word, Heather asked, “So now what happens?”

 

“Your DNA is checked for any abnormalities which would reject you from the process.”

 

Heather started to panic, “Abnormalities, what abnormalities?”

 

The nurse actually started to laugh.  “You think that most people don’t go through with it because of the sex thing?  That’s just what GES tries to make people believe so they don’t think about the risks.  A lot of people get cloned, but a lot more get rejected.  If there’s any kind of marker that suggests life-shortening illness potential, anemia, hemophilia, cancer predisposition, that kind of thing, then the person gets rejected.  GES doesn’t want it’s clients spending their hard-earned money just to have their clones die on them prematurely.  Clones themselves are rejected because nobody wants a copy of a copy.   But the number one factor is beauty.  All your features are saved in the recesses of your DNA and that’s what we use.  Most of the people who come in just aren’t pretty enough for the computer to justify a cloning.”  Heather swallowed hard, thinking of all the perfect people she’d seen roaming the halls of GES earlier in the day.  What if she just didn’t make the cut?

 

“Yeah, but what happens then?”  The nurse with the needle came over, and in a gesture that was remarkably painless, sunk the sharp point beneath the skin, drawing a small measure of blood.  Heather remained still and the whole process was over in a few seconds.  Now she just had to wait for the computer read.

 

“Then, basically, they sell you.” The nurse smiled, in a manner that was not in the least bit friendly, and Heather wondered if the woman had been rejected by the very same computer Heather’s DNA was about to be imputed into.  The nurse continued on, “Like I said before, I’m sure your doctor went over all this with you.”

 

“Yes, he explained it all.  But, what I don’t understand, and what he wouldn’t tell me, is how do the clones just appear?  I heard it only takes about a week now.”

 

The nurse once again flashed that wicked grin.  “Ah, that’s the dirty little secret that GES doesn’t want people to talk about. But I guarantee you that particular matter is all the government is talking about and it’s scaring the hell out of them.  We use machines to incubate them and bring them to full-size and the process keeps getting quicker and quicker.  You see, clones are fully grown when they gain consciousness.”  A buzzing noise coming from the computer signified that a decision had been made and the nurse walked toward it to get the printout.  Heather waited with baited breath. “The first doctors discovered that to avoid shock or panic they had to install false memories.  So the clones wake up and it’s straight into their new lives.”  The nurse looked impassively down at the page, giving no indication of what was there, walking back over to Heather in a manner that was agonizingly slow. The nurse placed the single sheet of paper with one word written in blocky computer text in Heather’s hand and made the first show of emotion she’d given all night.  “Sorry about that, hon.  Your doctor should have told you.”  Heather’s eyes watered, unable to read that single word that crushed all her hopes and changed her world forever.

 

It seemed like a dream, fear filling her as she felt her universe collapse.  Peter was most likely gone, gone because of Heather’s search for some foolish dream.  Peter, the man who loved her for who she was not what she looked like, the man who didn’t care about that kind of thing.  Heather watched herself pulling her arm free from the restraint but couldn’t really feel it.  The nurse was going on, in what seemed to be some strange kind of commiserating monologue as Heather made her way to the door.  “See, the problem is,” the nurse’s voice continued, “everyone knows about cloning and everybody assumes that if they see themselves they’re the original.  That’s what makes the government so upset, they view it as too cruel.  Now, you should count yourself lucky that you’ve never had to see yourself before.  I’ve heard that can be quite a shock.”  Heather let the paper drop to the floor, from her unfeeling fingers as the word on it burned itself into her mind, clone.  “I really mean it Heather,” the nurse continued, “you should count yourself lucky.  At least now you know.  Some people go through their whole lives never knowing they’re a clone.”

 

Tears streamed down her perfect cheeks as she let the door slide shut behind her.  Heather knew that it would be an empty house greeting her, as empty as she felt inside.  The mirrors seemed to mock her as she walked by.  False memories, the nurse who was too old to be young had told her.  Heather wondered if, perhaps, her whole life had been a false memory.  It really didn’t matter when she stopped to think about it.  There was always the Naturalists, she thought, then agonized that she would have to go alone.  Heather sighed wistfully, wondering if they would even want a clone, a constant reminder of the world they’d tried so hard to remove themselves from.

 

The lights sprang on automatically in the living room as Heather staggered into it, yet another depressing sign that her husband was gone.  The blinds were drawn, and Heather was tempted to just open them, to glance out, but stopped before she could.  She didn’t want to take the chance of seeing someone else beautiful out there, and certainly she didn’t want to take the chance of seeing herself.

 

“It’s worse knowing, isn’t it?”  Heather jumped at the voice, terrified.  Her fear quickly faded into profound relief as she saw Peter sitting on the sofa, where, apparently, he’d been sitting motionless until the lights had gone on.

 

“You’re still here?”  Heather didn’t even give him time to respond before running over and hugging and kissing him, ruffling his thinning hair, running one hand over that soft plump stomach.  “I’m so happy you’re still here.  I’m so sorry Peter.”  Tears rushed down her face and Peter hugged her back, tentatively, one arm around her even as she sank into his side.  Peter had said nothing more after his initial startling statement, and Heather looked at him, seeing tears in his eyes.  “You knew,” Heather said.  “All this time you knew.  But how?”

 

Peter stared at her, taking in the woman he’d loved for so long.  “Before I tell you this, I just want you to know that I love you and I’ve always loved you and everything I did, I did to protect you.  I was with GES.  Before the whole explosion I was one of their top scientists, but I saw where the New States was heading.  All the beauty, all the glamour, all the obsessing over it.  But I was rich and I didn’t care.  And I had you.  At first you were an experiment, an ideal that I’d made.  Someone who I loved, but who I never felt strong enough to bring into this world.  You were too perfect.  So I kept you in stasis, in a constant state of pleasant dreams.  You were my dream.  You were created as a clone of one of the most vibrant beautiful women I’d ever known, a colleague of mine who loved me but was married to someone else.  It was her gift to me, because I knew that I could never have her and she could never have me.  She was a one-of-a-kind woman who I said I would never let them duplicate.  But then the technological explosion came with the sex trade and I could see all the horror I’d created coming back to me to stare me right in the face.  My project had become everything I hated.  And my love, your source, killed herself when she realized what she’d been a part of.  After that, I couldn’t take it.  GES was destroying me and I resigned, agreeing to live a silent low key life, but only if I could have you.”  Peter caressed Heather’s mouth, feeling her, running his hands through her hair.  “You were everything good about what I created. I gave you the memories and brought you into this world.  I didn’t care about the money.  I just wanted a simple life and I loved you.  I still love you.”

 

Heather looked blank.  It was so much to take in.  All the things she’d found out.  Her whole world shaken upside down.  Finally, she smiled, a little, and then it grew broader, “After all I put you through, you stayed.”

 

“I always would have stayed, Heather.”

 

Heather stood up, as if she was struck by some marvelous idea that just couldn’t wait.  “I think we should join the Naturalists, Peter.  I know it’s what you’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

 

Peter rose as well, taking his wife in his arms.  “I just wanted to shelter you so you’d never find out.  But if that’s what you want, us living a life with the Naturalists, then that’s what we’ll do.  But you know the truth now, and no one will ever find out if we do stay.”

 

“You know, we don’t have to make that decision right now.  I’ve got a lot of self-reflection to do,” Heather was smiling, showing she hadn’t lost her sense of humor.

© 2015 Eric Bonholtzer, All Rights Reserved.