Erica L. Satifka
It isn't until my little brother Harley bends over to change the radio station that I realize how long his hair has gotten. It's falling into his eyes and getting in his mouth and nose.
I'm really gonna miss this kid.
"You need a haircut, dude," I say to him as I pull off the highway and dial the speed down to forty k an hour. He looks at me, his eyes wide, his mouth bent in a silly grin. "You look like a girl."
I stop at the first barbershop we pass. It's one of those "old-fashioned" places, the kind of establishment that's made to look antiquated on purpose. Kind of cheesy, really, but it's probably the only shop in the county. It's a pretty crummy county.
We walk past the antique-looking automaton that monitors the door and go inside. The barber is a man in his early sixties, gray-haired and wrinkle-cheeked. Harley skirts behind me in fear, but I nudge him forward.
"It's okay," I say. "He's not going to hurt you."
Harley sidles up to the barber's chair, and I hoist him in. The barber looks from him to me, and back again. "He your son? Sure takes after you."
He leans down to Harley's level. "What kind of cut do you want, little guy?" Harley just sticks his tongue out, and the barber turns away, the corners of his mouth turned down.
"Just a couple of inches," I say. "Make him look like a boy again." The barber pulls out a set of small titanium scissors and begins to hack away at the masses of blond hair. Harley hums along to a song only he can hear and makes patterns with the tufts of hair that fall into his lap. After the cut is completed, I tersely thank the barber and walk out. I don't leave a tip. You don't ignore my little brother like he isn't even there and expect to get a tip.
Harley's developed an obsession with cacti. We stop every couple of kilometers so he can get out of the car and look at the cacti and other strange desert plants. I worry that he's going to try to touch them, but he seems content with just looking.
On one of the stops, he finds a dead scorpion in the sand. It's covered with ants and partially decomposed, and it makes me sick just to look at it.
"Drop it, Harley," I say as I reach for the pinky-sized insect in his hands. But he just laughs and runs around in circles, kicking up plumes of rust-colored dust. He places the scorpion at the foot of a large saguaro and traces around its body with a stick, straight lines set up in a deliberate pattern infused with personal meaning.
I give up chasing after him and instead sink down into the driver's seat of the car, cranking up the air conditioning to something like Siberia. As I watch my brother play in the desert, I feel my eyes grow heavy, as if they were about to explode out of my head.
Stop it, I think to myself. Clones don't cry.
It's a half hour to midnight, and Harley's getting restless. He's tapping on the dirty window of the station wagon and kicking at the drifts of fast-food wrappers on the floor. I know it's probably time to stop for the night, but I want to cross the state line before we look for a motel. I don't know why, but I always like waking up and starting a new day in a new state. And it's only fifty k until we reach the border between Wyoming and Utah.
"Hold tight, Harley," I say. "Only a little longer to go."
He grunts and looks at me with a sour expression on his face. He does the same thing with his mouth that I do when I'm mad, sticking out his chin and pursing his lips until he resembles a disgruntled chimpanzee.
"And don't give me that face, either. You look like a damn monkey."
I keep driving. The sun is starting to set behind the red clay mountains, and coyotes howl in the distance. Harley plays with some plastic McDonald's toys we've collected along the way. Sometime past midnight, I pass the Utah border. I pull into a motel parking lot.
I hide Harley behind some shrubs and pay for a single room. There's really no point in paying for both of us. As far as the DNA scan in the room knows, we're only one person. I give the automated innkeeper my credit chip and collect my key.
Harley falls asleep the moment I drop him in the bed. His chest shudders when he breathes, and he makes a wheezing sound that's pretty unsettling if you haven't heard it before.
It's been a long day, but I can't sleep. I pick up the telephone book and scan through the numbers. I stop when I reach the listings for child protection centers. My dialing finger hovers over the book for a few moments until I sigh and turn the telephone book off.
If I were a brave guy, I'd call up the government and make them take Harley in. There's programs in place for kids in just his situation. But instead, I simply pull a blanket over my brother's sleeping body and tousle his blond hair.
I dream of the garden again, the garden behind my father's house where he would show me how to pull weeds and we would set out small trays of beer for slugs. The old-fashioned ways, that was what he liked best. My father, the famous biogeneticist, though I didn't know that at the time.
I was just a kid when he died. Or nearly died. His wife--my "mother"--slipped an envelope to the paramedics, and they took my father's body to Arizona. Cryogenic suspension is still illegal in forty-seven states, including Oregon. So is cloning, by the way. That's why I never saw any of his research; it was all conducted by remote in rogue states.
When I went for my yearly checkup, my father's wife slipped the doctor another envelope, and he stuck a thick needle into the bone in my forearm. It hurt, a lot.
Five months later Harley emerged from a synthwomb in Phoenix and was smuggled back over the borders to my father's home in Salem, Oregon. As soon as I looked at him, I knew something was wrong. His chest was big like a bellows, and he never cried. But I loved him anyway.
Harley had been born damaged, with an enlarged heart that would grow to adult size by the age of eight and a cerebral cortex just small enough to disqualify him as a human being under Arizona law. Born damaged, because she knew that my father would never forgive her if she had me, his "son" and first successful creation, killed to save him. I guess I should have been flattered.
In the visor of my car there is a stamped letter addressed to my father, telling him about Harley. She told me never to tell him about Harley. He'll die, she said, if you tell him. You'll never be able to come back home.
I don't have a home to go back to.
Harley's been quiet all day. I figure he's overstimulated from the previous day's excitement, so I drive by all the hitchhikers we pass even though some of them look okay. The temperature outside is pushing a hundred and ten, but inside the station wagon it's cold enough to see your breath. Harley likes it like that.
I check with the GPS to make sure we're on the right highway, and sure enough we are, traveling due south, rapidly approaching the Arizona border at a hundred and seventy an hour.
My cell phone rings. I reach up and pull the headset down over my ear. "Yeah?"
"Jack, it's your mother."
"Oh." I turn the radio down.
"Are you there? Do they have it?"
"No, I'm not there yet. We're not even in Arizona yet."
"Why the hell are you taking so long?" Her voice is doing that wavering thing it does when she gets mad. "You know your father's in the deep freeze, and he can't last--"
"I'm on my way,'Mom'." I look over at Harley. "I'll be there by tonight."
"Your father needs that heart," she says.
"I know he does."
"And it's not like he can have yours."
He could, and she knows it. If it wasn't illegal to strip me for parts she'd have done it a long time ago. But even Arizona considers me a human being. "I'm going to be there in a few hours. Dad can last until then. He's lasted for the past eight years."
"Do you really think this little road trip is going to prove anything? I could get the cops on you right now but I know how sad that would make your father. But I'll do it, I swear to God." She's hysterical now. "You've been gone for three months, Jack."
"I know I've been gone for three months."
"Call me back when you've done your duty to your father." She hangs up. I retract the headset into the station wagon's ceiling, crank the radio back up, and slam on the accelerator. The desert rushes past in a red-brown blur.
The signs on the road say it's only a few hours until we reach the border, and from the number of automated security patrols scanning the area, I can believe it. Arizona is a heavily monitored state due to its progressive laws. More than one person has driven over the border with a trunkful of plastique.
We are surrounded on all sides by mesas. Their brick-colored truncated forms protrude knob-like from the landscape. It is as if we are driving through an unbelievably magnified piece of Braille writing.
Harley jumps up and down in his seat. He's making low growling sounds in his throat. If I didn't know better, I would think he's trying to talk. Maybe he is trying, maybe he's even doing it, but it's just in a language nobody else can understand. Maybe everything he does and says really does make sense, but we just don't have the tools or resources to figure it out.
Does it really make a difference? Is there any difference between not living in reality and living in a reality built for one? I drive on.
We've been all over, Harley and me, over the past three months. We've been as far east as Pittsburgh and as far north as Puget Sound, but we've never been able to settle down. If we stay in one place for long, the cops or the private security goons "Mom" hired will find us. And of course, there's my father to think about, my father rotting away in a glorified meat locker. In the end, it was nothing but a waste. A waste of time, a waste of hydrogas. She told me that before, but I didn't listen.
Still ahead are more mesas. Although they are all different sizes, their basic form is always the same. They are all duplicates of one another, copies. The copies stretch away into infinity, identical forms stretching out as far as the eye can see. Copies of copies of copies.
After we cross the Arizona border, I take Harley to a steakhouse. He's never eaten meat--had to keep his cholesterol down--and I worry that he'll react badly to the food, but I figure it's as good a time as any to take some risks. At least, risks that don't count for anything.
The restaurant, like the barbershop we went to yesterday, is one of those retro places, made to look like a diner of the nineteen-fifties. All the waitresses are human, poodle-skirted, and on roller skates. A small automated greaser-rock band is positioned at the front of the diner. The banner over their heads says they take requests.
"I'll take a porterhouse, well done," I say to the waitress.
"And what do you want?" she says to Harley.
I tell the waitress to bring him a T-bone and a Coke. He's never had a Coke either. She marks down our orders on her electronic pad and skates off.
"Well, we're almost there," I say to my brother. He's not paying attention, of course. There's too much going on around him for him to focus on what I'm saying. The waitress brings Harley some plastic action figures to play with, which calms him down. As he fixes his attention on the toys, I fix my attention on him. He's a shrimpy kid, smaller than I was at his age.
That's by design, of course. All bodily resources go towards sustaining his big heart. There isn't enough left for muscle, or height, or mental acuity. Just not enough.
Our steaks and Cokes arrive. I cut up Harley's steak for him, but he only looks at it with revulsion. He's inspecting the meat's textured surface, timidly prodding at it with his index fingers. He looks sad. Whether it's because he doesn't like the food or he knows something bad is coming isn't clear. I can never read that kid. I wind up ordering him a salad, which he hungrily devours.
When the bill comes, I leave everything in my wallet on the table.
The building that houses CloneX Industries shoots up from the Arizona countryside like a skyscraper built by underground dwellers that's been pushed through the surface by powerful earthquakes. Tectonic design, they call it. I just call it ugly.
"I'm here to drop someone off," I say to the nurse who greets us. She's human, which is a nice touch. It's always a lot classier when you're greeted by a person.
"Jack Peterson, representing the interests of Leon and Dana Peterson."
"The Leon Peterson? I thought I heard something on the news about him--"
"That's right. He's at a facility in Scottsdale." I can see she's impressed, but I don't want to talk about my famous father right now.
The nurse scans through the pad on her desk. "According to our files, this clone reached fruition and was supposed to be dropped off three months ago. Why did you wait so long to bring it?"
"Because he's..." I trail off. This woman wouldn't understand. Harley's just a defect to these people, a broken piece of equipment. He doesn't even deserve the right pronoun. "I guess there's going to be criminal charges."
"Well, there would be, but you brought him back voluntarily. We let these things slide if you bring them back on your own."
"Are you sure his heart... I mean, I was told my father would be--"
"Yes, Dr. Peterson will be the recipient. It's on the record." The nurse gets on the intercom. "Doctor Fletcher to front desk. We have a specimen ready for organ banking."
I leave Harley with the nurse; I don't want to be here when the doctor comes. I swallow the lump in my throat and trudge back to the station wagon. It's already getting dark.