A short story by
It was more of a gradual happening. Greater than, say, the completion of the new tower in Manhattan, less than, oh, I don’t know, the dismemberment and drift of Pangaea. That is, a discernible timeline, like many things, is still unclear. Geneticists, social scientists, politicians, they can’t seem to agree on a specific impetus, when that first domino teetered and fell never again to be reset. What’s known is, at some point during the first half of the century, the current of life changed forever, not necessarily by the flick of a switch, but rather by the slow slide of a dimmer, so gradual that nobody really noticed the light was changing until it was dark. There was a rash of dectuplets, with the requisite media circus that initially followed. But then, eventually, no one could keep up with each new double digit birthing phenomena, until it seemed like every state had its own set, or sets in some cases. And then there was that community outside Pasadena where all the births after a certain point were twins. Yet it wasn’t until that day 40 years ago, some 15 years before I was born, when it was revealed that every delivery at the Beth Israel Medical Center Obstetrics Department in New York City for the prior week was a multiple, ranging from several sets of triplets to one issue of sixteen little souls, whose collective debut was far too much for their mother to physically bear. It was reported that she had expired before the remaining five babies were pulled from her womb. Research was henceforth conducted, and statistics were shared worldwide, all which ultimately yielded what was already figured: that there hadn’t been a singleton birth globally in the past month. In an attempt to quell the public’s evolving anxiety, the scientific community used qualifiers like “trend” and “phase”. However, the media were quick to label such as a crisis. Naturally, panic set in. And, as follows, drastic measures were considered, and in some instances, undertaken. Yet the
desired results were never realized. Certain expecting mothers opted to terminate the whole of their respective pregnancy, save one fetus. At first, this resulted in total termination, including the motherâ€™s chosen one, and, moreover, caused the mother to suffer, from that moment onward, a lasting infertility marked by periodic bleeding much too heavy for typical menstruation. Then, this changed. Something different occurred all together, wherein what was once total loss now became total gain, or, more so, a return to the composite. The fetuses who were destined for termination, reappeared to assume their respective positions adjacent to their spared sibling mere hours after their removal. There was no scientific explanation for what has since been deemed the gemini paradox, which, as far as we know, is still in effect, though there has been no report, either public or among the rumor-mongers, of an attempted termination in quite some time. However, needless to say, the religious right has affixed a meaning in-line with its time-honored suppositions to these extraordinary events. Accordingly, the culture war that at one point during the early part of the century was just a speck on the horizon, has now crashed upon the shore without any indication of receding. And I am at the center of it all. I was born at noon on June 30, 2050, at the exact middle of the century. Some took this to be a prophetic sign, while others an ominous one. From the start, I was forced to confront many things, one of which was the quick acceptance that my mother was a prostitute and that I was the result of defective birth control. Such was seen as a mark of destiny. Obviously, it was impossible to determine the identify of my father, and this too was deemed a sign; those on the ominous side were quick to ascribe my creation as the antithesis to a virginal conception. These characteristics, when isolated, certainly did not give rise to suspicion or wonderment, for plenty of bastard children,
whose fathers were estranged, had been delivered without so much as anything more than minor shaming. Yet to add to these peripheries of my birth the reality that I was delivered singularly, that I did not have any concurrent siblings, that I was the first singleton human birth on this planet in five years obviously changed everything. I am now in my twenty-fifth year, and, while I never denied that I am a freak in the very literal sense, I know that I am neither messiah, nor antichrist. However, given the unwavering masses, who are wont to consider me one or the other, I also know that there exists no world in which I would not be the fulcrum. And, given this, it had become more certain that I would die soon. The only question question was whether my impending death would be the result of a general desire for accelerated martyrdom, or an example of the populous of good overcoming the embodiment of evil. As I have mentioned, I’ve had to face many issues from an early age, and my own mortality had certainly been one of them. I’d always had an unrivaled security detail, the likes of which had even exceeded such reserved for heads of state and professional athletes. (My mother, too. Let’s not forget her role and celebrity forever affixed to this chapter in human history.) There had always been threats, but it hasn’t been until recently that I had become conscious that my time here was limited. And perhaps my demise would untether society from its current stasis, wherein everything is at the poles, with any evidence of a middle ground having been scorched and rendered barren for some time. Even after all the time and money spent on research, there had yet to be a definitive answer as to the cause of all this; though, generally, at some point either an ozone of fertility was devised, by divine machinations or a human-generated environmental
catastrophe, who knew for certain, or simply the next advancement in human evolution was achieved. And while the “how” continued to plague the biologists and geneticists, the “why” had been every bit the riddle to philosophers and clerics. My appearance was supposed to usher-in a period of insight, of revelations. Instead, I have only furthered the mystery. Despite a lifetime of testing and analysis, nothing in my physiological or psychological composition had yet to indicate an isolated abnormality or lend itself to further scientific exploration. Despite my very real and permanent isolation, an evident, popular sentiment of ever-increasing frustration with the very nature of my existence had now set in. Accordingly, I’d finally decided to place my destiny in my own hands and unburden the world of me. Which I did, but to no avail. I had lived my entire life in the fortress-like compound that is presently at the center of what is now called New Oakland. When I was born, the compound was nothing more than a research installation, both privately and federally funded, located in an intentionally desolated area of Northern California. Now, as a result of both off-shoot research facilities, as well as all the industry and commerce catering to religious pilgrimages, not to mention the permanent spiritual centers and communes, New Oakland, as you know, is the second largest metropolitan area in the country. The scientists and doctors who populated my every moments tried to provide some semblance of a childhood. I attended school at the compound; my classmates were all the various sets of twins, trips, quads, quints, et al., whose parents were employees there. My birthdays were celebrated modestly, in contrast to celebration that eventually supplanted Christmas, in this country at least, from which I was shielded until it was no longer possible.
Yet despite these gestures, it was impossible to instill any sense of normalcy. Iâ€™ve never known a real family. No father, no brothers or sisters from the outset. And, shortly after my birth, my mother and I were parted, bonded only by the rigorous testings and examinations to which we were similarly, yet separately, subjected. Eventually, when I was five, I learned that she had overindulged on the pressure and celebrity that were indeed my only joint-siblings. To this day, I have no idea where her final resting place is. Iâ€™ve been told no one does. I have only felt close to one other person in my life, a scientist whose identity I will keep anonymous. This scientist had worked closely with me for a long time, and was the lone person who had not treated me either as if a deity or a specimen. I suppose this person was my family, if I could truly conceive what this notion might be. It was this person who was willing to assist me. It is obvious that I longed to escape the track in which my life was grooved, I had said to the scientist one afternoon when we were alone. I expressed my conclusion that the only manner in which this could be accomplished was to take my own life, or similarly, put myself in a situation where it would no doubt be taken from me. The scientist paused from his examination and looked not at me but past me, through me even, for what was actually a few minutes, but, given the gravity of the silence, seemed a lot longer. I suppose youâ€™re right, the scientist finally said. I sighed in a show of relief, and the scientist continued: I knew this moment was fast-approaching, and have thought about it a lot. You cannot continue like this, that much is obvious. No one person can be expected to endure what you have, and what you certainly will should all of this continue as it is. I could easily devised a situation
in which you would die very publicly. So my question for you is when do you want it to happen? As soon as possible, I said without hesitation. A few nights later there was a massive explosion in a laboratory where I was undergoing the latest advancement in cellular stress-testing. After the fire was extinguished and the immediate atmosphere cleansed of chemical pollution, fragments of my remains would have been easily identifiable. Yet there had been no news of my passing. The media coverage of the explosion deemed the event as an innocuous, isolated incident. After the scientist and I manufactured my fiery death, I moved to New York City, where we predicted, correctly, I would assimilate without having to change too much of my appearance. With continued assistance from the scientist, I enrolled at NYU and rented a small apartment in Queens. And, though I was transitioning well in my rebirth, I could not fully begin anew with the notification of my death outstanding. I tried to reach out to the scientist, but was unsuccessful in the early going. Then my twenty-fifth birthday came, and there I was in my apartment in Queens, watching myself live on television delivering a speech to commemorate my quarter century milestone from a balcony in the compound. The next day, as I lay in bed pondering my birthday surprise, a note was slid into my apartment, a grating scuff across the floor, like that of an animal. I jumped up and opened door, but the messenger had already vanished. The note was a type-written missive scheduling a meeting later that evening. When I arrived at the destination, I found the scientist in a state of heightened anxiety. He was conspicuously at war with his wits. His clothes were wrinkled and soiled. He did not smile when
I approached; rather his eyes darted furtively, bouncing from one object to the next, looking at everything except my face. I tried to greet him, but he cut me off with an apology. Have a seat, he ordered, and once more said, I am sorry. What? I asked. Two days before the explosion, the scientist had secreted me to an examination room in the depths of the compound, one in which I had never seen. This is where I do some of my research, the scientist said. It was empty save for a small screen on the far wall. There the scientist made a brief entry and a hidden box the size of a coffin protruded from the wall. Its lid hissed when the scientist unlocked and opened it. Smoke swirled. Are you ready? he asked. I nodded. We both peered into the foggy void, which, when cleared, revealed my corpse. It was paler than me, and its skin was cleansed of the scars that tattooed my body, wrought from a lifetime of scientific scrutiny. Nevertheless, it was unmistakably me. It was my long-lost twin. My breath quicken. I withdrew my stare, never to look at it again. How long has it been down here? I asked. Only a few years. But it looks like me now. The scientist then explained that among the many advancements in genetic research and cloning was the acceleration of cell growth: where it would take a human begot out of a maternal womb a lifetime to fulfill cellular destiny, such results could be realized in a fraction of the time for human matter conceived in a laboratory. Was it ever alive?
No, the scientist replied. He assured me that research had not yet uncovered the ultimate secret to the human nervous system, the mind; at this point life could only be manipulated on a cellular level. Though this too would eventually be achieved, the scientist predicted. A few nights later this corpse was in the laboratory that exploded, while I, during the chaos, was spirited away by the scientist. The scientist stammered when he spoke, something I had never seen him do before, and he often paused to massage his forehead. I was wrong, he said. When I told you that research had not yet uncovered a mechanism to instill the spark of life to laboratorygenerated tissue. This technology was in fact perfected a while ago and kept secret by a small band of researchers. The scientist then finally looked at me with watery eyes, and he gulped as he told the following: in the aftermath of the explosion, he learned of entire underground warehouses, buried underneath the compound, that served as vast dormitories for clones just like the one that had perished in the fire, only these were capable of consciousness. I underestimated my impeding death. I apparently am far too lucrative to die, and the potential of such an event had been carefully considered by powerful forces for quite sometime. Thereâ€™s one more thing, the scientist said. As you know your genetic material has always been deemed with the utmost value, which has given rise to a black market. People wanted your genetic code, and the God-like abilities unfairly assigned to it, in hope of curing disease, or merely installing it in themselves so that they, and their progeny, could have your make-up in them. Though unbeknownst to the population, it is now charted that, within a generation your genetic make-up will be in every human being.
There was nothing more the scientist could say. apologized one final time. What now, I asked? He shrugged. What do you want? I couldnâ€™t answer that. Letâ€™s meet again tomorrow, he said. I never saw the scientist again.
I can still vividly recall, when I was young, regularly crying myself to sleep, wishing there was another person out there, if not issued from the same womb, then at least another singleton, someone, who would arrive and rescue me from my individuality. And now in the wake of the latest revelation, I am somewhat surprised by my mood. Indeed, I find myself even more despondent than before, when I seemingly prayed for a population of me. I was never a singularity. I was never a person after all. I am eternally ubiquitous. I am everyone forever.