Science Fiction

Passing

By Nancy Jane Moore
Dec 23, 2018 · 2,031 words · 8 minutes


From the author: I've posted this story in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was the model for the associate justice mentioned in the story. It's an old story, one of my first publications (it won a contest at the National Law Journal in the 1990s). At Clarion West, I discussed it with Michael Bishop, who thought my take on the Supreme Court might be too extreme. Given the way things are right now, I'm afraid my take might not be extreme enough.


            A movement on the control pad at the edge of the monitor caught Elyssa’s eye. The paperboy icon she’d set up to alert her to news waved his papers; he’d have been shouting “Extra, extra, read all about it” if the sound hadn’t been turned way down.

            Elyssa sighed, and made a face at a screen full of code. She’d been looking for the bug for the past two hours. It was there, damn it. It didn’t comfort her that no one else had been able to find the problem either. She was the expert. She was supposed to be able to find it.

            Elyssa said, “Save and go to video.” The code disappeared and the screen showed a meticulously dressed man with a microphone standing in front of a building with stairs that seemed to go up to the heavens. His mouth moved. “Sound,” she added.

            “. . . associate justice read a blistering dissent from the bench. Here’s the attorney who argued for the clones’ rights.”

            The face of a middle-aged woman with streaks of grey in her hair and circles under her eyes filled the screen. There were tears in her eyes.

            “We won’t give up,” she said fiercely. “The decision was five to four, and they were wrong. Wrong. Just like they were in the Dred Scot case, just like they were in Plessy v. Ferguson. We will keep fighting in the halls of Congress. Someday this decision will be overturned in shame.”

            The man with the microphone was back. “To recap, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that clones are property, not persons, finally resolving the dispute that has raged for the past ten years.”

            Elyssa almost screamed. She bit the back of her fist instead. How could they do this? “We are human,” she said. “We are people.”

            Thank the gods, all the gods, whatever gods you wanted to believe in, that her parents had been farsighted. Her birth was properly entered in the records of St. Anne’s Maternity Hospital—her mother had been a whiz of a hacker. Her parents told no one that Elyssa was a clone; she’d only been told herself when she was old enough to understand that some secrets should never be shared.

            The video screen showed a large group of clones who worked for HumanTechLtd, the most dominant company in the “artificial person” business. HumanTech had won today; their clones would remain their property, living in dorms on their grounds or sold to other companies.

            Elyssa couldn’t bear to look at them. She snarled the video off. A quick look at the code told her she couldn’t cope with it right now, either. She closed out the program, and went looking for her boss.

            “That code’s giving me a major headache,” she said, finding him in the coffee room. “I’m going out to run.”

            He was used to geniuses. He waved a hand of dismissal in her direction, not that she had waited for permission.

            It took her perhaps five minutes to switch to running clothes, and she was out the door. Her long legs found their stride quickly, and she ran as fast as she could, which was pretty fast.

            Elyssa’s “parent” was a world class mathematician who’d died young of one of the viruses that plagued the world in the early part of the 21st century. Along with her brain, she had the mathematician’s curly blond hair and long limbs. She’d run track all through school, just to balance the hours spent hunched over a computer.

            By the time she’d stopped some forty-five minutes later, she had sweated out her fear. Her parents had set her up safely. She was thirty-seven, part of the earliest wave of clones. The company that had cloned her had been a small start-up which had eventually been swallowed by one of the giants. The records from that time were bound to be messy. Everyone assumed she was a born. Nothing was going to happen to her.

            She showered, found something edible in the company lunchroom, and went back to her program. This time the bug practically trumpeted its presence; she had it corrected by mid afternoon.

* * *

            Elyssa didn’t forget about the clone ruling. There was almost a daily news story about some young genius discovered to be a clone—the companies never bothered cloning anyone with under a 150 IQ. Pictures of clones being dragged way from their homes were stock footage.

            It was a business story, too. Assets clones had accumulated were forfeited to HumanTech. Clone futures showed up on the Chicago Exchange. And of course there was the de rigueur terrorist story: the Copy Cadre, a group of escaped clones, were named the prime suspects in the kidnapping of a HumanTech vice president.

            She didn’t forget about it, but except for sending a large anonymous donation to the lawyer who’d argued for the clones at the supreme court, she tried not to think about it too much. The stress told on her, though: circles under her eyes from too many wakeful nights, scraggly-looking hair because she chewed on it while working, a tripling of her weekly running mileage—people thought she was training for a marathon.

            She thought she’d been successful in putting it out of her mind. Until she got the email from Marc.

            “Elyssa—I’m in Stockholm. Sweden will give me asylum as a clone. I couldn’t tell you the truth; I feared you wouldn’t love me if you knew I wasn’t born. If I was afraid for the wrong reasons, please join me here. — Marc”

            It stunned her. Each of them clones, each afraid to tell the other. She needed to talk to someone.

            Guy Abrams had been her father’s lawyer, and he’d become her lawyer, too. But he was more than that. She had only been 22 when her parents had died in a plane crash. Guy had handled their estate and become the older mentor she needed while she went to grad school and tried to learn how to be an adult. He was sixty now, and looked even older—he cultivated the role of elder statesman.

            Elyssa showed him the email as they sat over dinner. He was as shocked as she was.

            “My god. I never had a clue. He seemed so human.”

            “He is human,” Elyssa said. “Clones are the same as borns . . . as the rest of us.”

            “I know you cared about him a great deal, but don’t tell me you’re thinking about joining him in Sweden.”

            “Well, I might go visit him, see what it’s like.”

            Guy looked very startled. “Elyssa, you’ll be put down as a clone sympathizer if you go. You’ll end up on a list, get investigated. Anyway, Sweden isn’t going to be safe for him for long. All the industrial powers are going along with this; they won’t be able to resist the pressure.”

            “Most of the world’s gone along with slavery before, but a few countries always held out.”

            “That was in pre-industrial times. The world’s too small these days.”

            “Guy, I love him.”

            He shook his head. “I know, Elyssa, but please, don’t do something dumb like going to Sweden. I’m telling you as your lawyer. The clone companies won’t stand for any opposition.”

            Elyssa took his advice even though it bothered her. She did not want to draw attention to herself. She sent Marc a reply saying it wasn’t a good time to come, not commenting on his confession. Feeling guilty, she threw herself into her work and upped her runs by another fifteen miles a week.

            Several months later when her boss called her in, and showed her the discovery order, she lost all composure.

            “They want to do what?” she said.

            “Calm down, Elyssa. It’s not my idea. HumanTech has sued us, says we’ve got “stolen property” here—they mean clones we didn’t pay them for. I know it’s all bullshit, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Our lawyer says they have the right to demand gene tests of the people they suspect are clones, to see if the genes match the ones they have on file.”

            “That can’t be right. They can’t make people have gene tests. That’s like identity cards or something. I’m an American, god damn it. I won’t stand for this.”

            “They’ve got enough data to ask. They cite a number of things about you: your field, the fact that you resemble Lara Jorgenson, some other stuff.”

            “Of course I look like Lara Jorgenson. She was my aunt. I look like my mother, too. Look, this is absurd. I’m not going to do it.”

            “This is a court order, Elyssa. You don’t have any choice.”

            “We’ll see about that after I call my lawyer.”

            An hour later, sitting in Guy’s office, she didn’t like the conversation any better.

            “Elyssa, we aren’t going to get this thrown out.” Guy stood up and paced around the room. “Look, they have records showing Jorgenson was cloned. Several of her clones went missing. You do look like her, and you’re brilliant in her field. They’ve done all their homework. The court has to order the test.”

            “It’s an invasion of privacy. Can’t we stop it?”

            He shook his head. “Maybe, after you have the test done, once we can show you’re not one of Jorgenson’s copies, we can try a suit. Show it was all a fishing expedition. Win some damages. But we can’t get an injunction to stop it. This suits claims conversion of property, Elyssa. There’s a long list of precedent on discovery of stolen goods here.”

            “I’m not property,” she said.

            “Look, Elyssa, just have the test done. Then we’ll look into suing them.”

            “Guy. I can’t take that test.”

            “Why not?”

            Elyssa bit the back of her hand. “This conversation is privileged, right? Anything I tell you, it stays right here?”

            “Of course,” he said.

            She took a deep breath. “Because I am a clone, damn it.”

            Guy looked as if she’d said she was into bondage and discipline.

            “And you’ve known me since I was a kid. You know I’m human.”

            He tried to give a lawyerly nod, but he still looked stunned. “Let’s not do anything rash, Elyssa. Let me mull this over, try out some theories. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

            Elyssa would have preferred a more concrete answer, but she went home. She wondered if there was still a chance that she could get to Sweden. Maybe Marc would understand. Yeah, he’d understand all right. He’d understand that she’d liked her art-district condo, her high-paying job, her beach house more than she’d liked him; that she’d been willing to keep passing for born.

            Even so, she swore to herself, if Guy can’t come up with something quick, I’m on a plane to Stockholm.

            She didn’t sleep much, and the next morning found her staring at the monitor screen without seeing anything on it. A commotion up the hall caught her attention just as her pocket phone—her private line—buzzed.

            Her boss panted, “Elyssa. There are cops here, looking for you. They know what you are. Get out.”

            She looked at the sealed window behind her. There was no time to get out. But she had to get help, had to call Guy.

            Grabbing her pocket phone, she ordered up Guy’s private line as she raced for the women’s bathroom. He picked up just as she got the door locked.

            “Guy, there are cops here.”

            “I know.”

            “What do you mean, you know?”

            “I had to tell them about you, Elyssa.”

            “What?” The shock took her breath away. She gasped at him, “I told you in confidence, Guy. What about attorney-client privilege?”

            “That only applies to persons, Elyssa.”

            The phone went dead.

This story originally appeared in National Law Journal.


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Nancy Jane Moore

Nancy Jane Moore writes all kinds of speculative fiction at lengths from flash to novels.