Submitted by Scott Riddick
A Genuine Love with a Modest Amount of Hope
The morning sun warmed against the Professor's skin, draped in a hand-knitted cover his wife of ten years had made for him for their fifth wedding anniversary. He took his mind from his work long enough to admire the snow capped lawn out front. Winter had always been their favorite time together, lying in front of the fireplace with wine and a selection of cheeses, talking, embracing one another and making love to the sound of crackling embers. It was...tranquil in its simplicity, just the way he preferred most things- simple. The Professor took the strand of hair, placing it inside the metallic slot of the machine behind him, closing it until the box locked in place. The machine was cylindrical in shape, similar to an MRI casing but far more chaotic in both its construction and purpose, which was mostly made up of old discarded household items like a washer, a dryer, a black and white television, a tanning bed and lots of kitchen things, welded together and wired appropriately.
He called his Hostility Oscillating Prefect Extractor, HOPE for short. It was to be his greatest invention, his passion outside of his wife who had seemed to grow just out of his reach over time. He loved her as the sun loved the moon, as stars loved to shine, as gravity loved the force that made it so. But something had happened between him and his beloved, something that his brilliant mind could not wrap itself around or even begin to ponder a cure for. Years he postulated schemes to snare her heart back, the way he remembered when they were young inspired twenty-something’s in love. Nothing he did seemed to work, though they never lived apart, even in her recent death, they were always separated by miles and miles of hostility. Her untimely death had nearly brought upon him his own demise, saved only by the love he had for her and her wish for him to live on without her. A love that was boundless, even when Science suggested otherwise. His craving and thirst for her touch fueled his genius that constructed his cloning machine. There was Hope for him after all.
It would only take a few minutes for the DNA from the hair to fully extract into the binary coding of the complexity distributor, also used on occasion as his toaster oven finding it difficult to pass up a perfectly crusted bagel in the morning. Then the DNA would mix with a number of experimental Petri dishes and some borrowed stem cells he had procured from a friend at the local hospital inside a centrifuge, which was also the spin tubs from the washer and dryer that poured into the molding tray at the end that once moonlighted as a tanning bed. HOPE looked like some monstrosity pulled from a terrible b-movie film roll, but was quite extraordinary and had already worked once before, so he knew it would not fail him on this latest run. The molding bin glowed in a hot blue light, like the end of a flame, sizzling and beeping and blurting all over. He watched from an old computer display as the load bar slowly filled, and then inside a great cloud of steam the lid of the molder slowly opened.
A pair of thin pink fleshy legs eased over the edge onto the floor, toes wiggling as the heels dug into the cool surface of the basement. When the steam cleared, the Professor shined his light on her and smiled proud and wide. She was just as he remembered her. Slender with all of her cute freckles in all the right spots, her beauty mole, still perfect and beautiful, just below the corner of her bottom lip and her hair was black and sheen like a vinyl record under the sunlight. Last time, things did not go so well, what with that minor setback of memory recall he did not quite expect to occur so quickly. He took the blanket from around his shoulders, offering it to her. She looked at it, tilting her head to the side like a puppy, moved her hand to touch it, feeling its soft slightly loose fabric with her fingertips and clutched the end of it, yanking it from his hand.
He then rushed over to a nearby table and poured them both a coffee, still warm atop the Bunsen burner, and carefully approached her, always smiling, always deeply consumed by his adoration for her. His eyes watered, blotting them dry with his shoulder.
"Half milk, one sugar, three stirs just as you like it...my love."
She took the coffee and smiled to him, sipping it. It splashed on her new tongue and swished around her new mouth for a bit, and then dropped into the back of her new throat, down into her new belly warming every one of her new bits. She moved her lips, sliding her tongue along the bottom lip and around to the upper lip, the air rushing out from her mouth tried to formulate into a word that came out as meshed whistles. Learning to speak for the first time was always easier than relearning how to remember.
"Jocelyn, my love. It is so good to see you again darling."
She looked at him, studied his old face, his bearded jaw and mustached lips, his thick bushy brows that suddenly showed more life in them than they had managed in 30 years. In her new mind, she searched for a name to attach to the face, unable to find anything satisfying.
"Can you nod if you remember me?" He said showing her now to nod with his head.
She remained still, eyes fixed on him, like a child remembering her favorite dolly and the memories that came with it. Eventually, she learned to shake her head and he tried not to have this motion affect his own emotional state. Memory recall was tricky for any brain, much less one that has been generated by the life of another brain like it, but only genetically. She could never be her original, but with time and patience and a lot of love he had to give, she could learn.
By late evening, Jocelyn had picked up eating. Cheese was the preferred taste, even though he had offered her many different fruits. She seemed to respond the best to any one of the Goudas, which were always her favorites. This was an extraordinary breakthrough, showing signs of the original were completely unexpected, but welcomed. It meant he could spend less time on training and more on preconditioning. He would start slowly, with other items that would test her sense recollection. The blanket had already been a success for touch, the cheese for taste, her song for hearing, her favorite book for seeing and what he saved for last as "The Kicker Sense" for smell, a bottle of wine chilling in a bucket of ice nearby. If she responded to each of these things, he could take her into the final phase of preconditioning, assimilation.
Jocelyn sat down her cheese wedge, looked at him hard for several minutes, and then ran her hand along his beard, while she ran her other hand along her own face, feeling the textures of their skin, the wrinkles of their faces and the lack of youth in his own complexion. He could on her face that of worry, quickly stamping out any doubt.
"Not everyone can ripen to that perfect age as you, my dear. The aging process differs from my own face to yours, because HOPE has removed the aging gene from your DNA. I know that sounds preposterous to you, my love, but, in time, I promise you will understand, if not be grateful for my added incentives."
"Come. Please." He said extending his hand to her.
She took his hand and assisted him over to a large wooden bookshelf. Dozens of books lined the four shelves, all ranging in size and shape and color. He released her hand and stepped back to observe. Like a curious child, she gazed over each book, running her finger along its binder, attempting words and managing, to his astonishment, some small one syllable words. Jocelyn 2.5 was, thus far, had exceeded his own expectations. It might have been premature, but his thoughts of Paris, London and then a stint in Greenland seemed like feasible goals within the next few months at this rate. He tried not to allow his heart get in the way of Science and progress, but knowing she was there now and the possibility of her loving him once more, as she did so long ago, overcame the Scientist in him and replaced it with the hopeless romantic he never had the chance to know.
Her hand moved over the books, one by one, one row followed by another, until she paused over a thin book, wedge between two thicker volumes on the third shelf. Her finger tapped against it. He could just make out a half smile from behind her. She dug her finger along the top of the book, pulling it out from its compacted hiding spot. It was a thin book, but one with several short stories within, which was the real challenge. He waited patiently, watching with delight as she turned the page to the exact story.
"A Modest Genius" he said. "Your favorite. One of my own favorites as well. Do you remember the first time you read this?"
Jocelyn stood blank. Her memory, if it were in the shape of a glass, had a mere drop of recollection sweating down along the side. Still, the story plot assisted with additional droplets of memory that followed a beautiful smile. The ingenuity of the Genius reminded her of someone else, close to her but far enough away that his identity still remained a secret. She closed her eyes and focused on the sights and the new sound flooding her ears. The music made her feel good. It made her feel...happy, but also terribly sad. She turned to the Professor perplexed. He stood over by an old phonograph, gently rocking from side to side with his eyes closed, recalling a memory he hoped they now shared.
"We danced to this song at our wedding. You were so beautiful. I acted as though I had two left feet though, because I had slipped at the altar and twisted my ankle. Everyone laughed, even the priest...what was his name?"
Jocelyn hesitated for several long moments, but then suddenly, and amazingly, spoke the name.
"That's right, Father Moore. My god, Jocelyn, you are breaking new ground! Soon my love, soon we will be basking beneath the Paris sun and dancing in the glow of its moonlight!"
His excitement was soon overshadowed by Jocelyn's tears. She sat down; her hands shook uncontrollably a side effect to the process and new symptom he had not seen in the previous clone.
"Rest now. You have made such progress! I too tire from all the excitement. I am going to lie down for a moment over there on the sofa. Please, lie down and try to relax. I have one last thing I want to share with you...but, now we rest, yes?"
The Professor walked over to the couch, unable to take his eyes off his cloned wife for more than a minute, laying onto the couch all smiles. He watched her until his eyelids felt like tiny anvils forcing his eyes closed. Exhaustion is funny sometimes, the way it allows you to sleep almost comatose for hours on end. Then you wake the next morning feeling younger more refreshed than those few moments after a hot shower. The Professor woke and felt very similar to how he felt when he found version 2.0 a month before. Admittedly, this time, his feeling was one of humility and darkness...darkness. An unveiling darkness that spread over him and throughout the basement with each foot step he took towards the chair, where he last saw her. A puddle of genetic material pooled in front of the seat. The bottle of wine sat empty on the table next to the chair, and a note was scratched on the surface of the table next to the bottle. The Professor leaned closer and read the message.
I remember now
The Professor could not help but cry into his hands. She was gone, again. How many times would he have to endure the same processes with the same outcomes and the same heartache? He had made progress though, which left him with HOPE. He turned to his cloning machine and then reached into his pocket, pulling out another strand of hair. It was his last lock, a final foray into the unknown to retrieve the memory that might lead him to understand why she had left him.
Soon Jocelyn would rise once more.
A tiny bell rang. The Professor opened the toaster oven and removed his bagel. He ate his bagel and contemplated the last two Jocelyn's. The first immediately melted the moment she laid eyes on him, and the last made it as far as four of the five senses. There was no common ground among the two he could use to expedite the process. He opened the Hostility containment and added a page from the book, a wedge of cheese and shut the lid. He hurried over to the phonograph and switched it on, turning up the volume as loudly as it would go. He then tended to his bagel as he waited for HOPE.
Not long after, the lid opened under a canopy of hot steam. Jocelyn 3.0 sat up and looked around the room. Her eyes were wide with wonder. Her eyes displayed fear, but not enough to draw her from her thoughts. The professor ate the last bit of his bagel and then called to her.
"Jocelyn, my love. It is so good to see you. How do you feel?"
She did not smile. Her head did not tilt. She simply stood dead still and focused on a deep embedded memory. There was great pain in the memory, which came to her visually as pitch black. It was silent and cold, void of content and fashioned with intangible ideas that stemmed from a long history of hurt. It was dread. It was the unexplained emptiness that no reasonable amount of telling could soothe. It was hopelessness. Devoid of healing no matter the prescription, whatever had brought on this feeling was never going to leave, even in death. How did she feel? She felt...dead...on the inside.
The Professor hurried over to the ice bucket, removing the wine, pouring them both a glass. He turned to Jocelyn who was standing immediately behind him, her hand already reaching for the glass.
"To second chances!" He said with his glass raised.
The two glasses touched. The wine resonated in their glasses. They drank the wine, each sharing a pleasant look on their faces. One hoping this would be the moment long awaited, while the other curiously thought this same thing. She took the Professor by the hand and held it close to her chest. He could not feel a beat. He did not understand why, but in that moment she started to weep a single tear that ran down her cheek, hung on the edge of her chin for a moment, and then splashed down into her wine glass. Then, Jocelyn began to breakdown. All of her molecules suddenly lost their way. Her skin lost its texture and then her body its shape, like she was an ice cream cone in the hands of a boy under a hot summer sun.
The Professor wrapped his arms around her as best he could, crying as he begged for her attention.
"Why, Jocelyn? Why did you leave me all those years? Why did you shut me out? I loved you so much and wanted your love back. When did I lose you, and why did you not say something, anything, to me? My love has kept me alive, it was the inspiration to build HOPE and bring you back to me. Yet, you still elude my heart. Please, do not go away. Do not leave me, alone, again!"
Knowing he had used the last lock of hair, he took the opportunity to kiss her one final time. And he did. Their lips embraced one another and for just a moment he felt the warmth of her lips against his own, and then she was gone. It was not the best way to remember her, a fuming pile of plasma at his feet and covering his hands, but he had to try. He could only hope she would forgive him, when he too passed on. The Professor stood silent for a little while, unable to work out why she had broke down so quickly, why she never could tell him anything and why she seemingly left him right when she started to understand him...then a thought pushed itself ahead of all the others. Now he shed more tears that needed very little prodding from guilt to flow. He walked over to the chair and took the blanket Jocelyn 2.5 had wrapped herself with, draping it around his shoulders. He then stepped outside onto the porch and took in the winter air. He had spent so many hours trying to create the machine he would need to bring her back to ask her his questions, when he had the answers inside of him all along.
How long had it been since he walked in the snow? He stepped off the porch and walked out into the snow, stopping and sitting down, for a moment, and then laid down into the snow. Maybe he was the reason. Maybe his own insecurities had driven her from him, never quite to the point of divorce, but just enough to keep her at bay and imprisoned inside her own inability to cope or understand why he had inadvertently pushed her aside to focus on his career, to concentrate on his inventions, to write his journals...to be everything but the husband he thought he had been. He moved his arms and legs up and down until an imprint of a snow angel was made. He then carefully climbed out and lay next to it. It was one of her favorite things to do each time it snowed. He reached out with his arm and touched the snow angels hand and closed his eyes.
It had started to snow again. Thick heavy snowflakes that would surely cover him entirely within a few minutes. As he waited to be buried, he thought of Jocelyn and no matter how much the freezing snow rained over him, her smile managed to keep him warm throughout.