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Price of Eternity

By Wayne Austin


Nicolas Gleason squeezed his lips together and his eyelids flickered. The young man in the doorway hesitated and glanced left at one of the two burly male attendants who flanked him. For a moment he shrank back and then his gaze darted to Doctor Waterman, cocooned behind a cluttered desk: large flat screen on the right; a pile of red, gray and yellow folders on the left; and a mass of documents splayed before her.

“Is that...?” Nicolas asked.

“Yes,” said Doctor Waterman. “Come in Nick, it’s all right. Sit there.” She pointed to a chair next to Nicolas. “And shut the door after you.”

Nicolas frowned as the attendants stayed outside. “Why?” he snapped.

“I thought you might want to meet him.”

“Meet him? Look, Doctor Waterman,” Nicolas locked eyes with her, “I’ve waited twenty years for that body. Do you hear me? I said body. That’s all it is to me. There is no person there.”

“Mr. Gleason—”

“I am a person.” The young man’s quiet voice cut through the room. “I am a person!”

Amazed at the outburst, Nicolas turned to stare at him. The young man sat rigid and stared down at his hands, clasped together in his lap so tight his whole body trembled. For a second he glanced up at Nicolas — timid, yet defiant at the same time — before returning his gaze to his hands.

“Of course you are,” said Doctor Waterman.

Nicolas turned back to her. “I find this ... most disturbing. I’m your patient. I don’t want to be confronted like this. The first time I want to see that body is when I wake up after the operation, not before.”

“But Mr. Gleason—”

Nicolas stabbed a wavering finger at her. “I should have had the operation a week ago. You know the problems I’m having, my ... memory. The longer we wait the worse my chances will be. I helped fund your research and I helped pay for this fancy clinic. And I don’t recall hearing about your other patients being treated this way.”

Doctor Waterman sighed and sat back in her chair. Her elbows rested on the armrests, fingers steepled and pressed against her chin. “No, this is the first time.”

“I deserve to have a life,” the young man muttered.

“Then why? Why is he even aware of what’s going to happen to him? Wouldn’t it be more humane to grow them, I don’t know ... in vitro perhaps? Or keep them unconscious—” Nicolas glanced sideways at the young man, “until they’re needed.”

“Their bodies need activity to grow and mature properly. Look at Nick, he has an excellent physique. He wouldn’t have that if he was grown in a vat.”

That didn’t answer his question. Nicolas slumped in his chair and let the air wheeze out of him. What was she hiding? He hadn’t scrambled his way to the top of this scrap heap called humanity without learning how to read people.

He peered at her through half-closed eyes. Let her wait. He was the twentieth richest person in the world. That meant something. He didn’t have take this crap, not after all the things he had put up with to stay alive. Ha ha! I’ve beaten you, you stupid Grim Reaper. And you thought you had me.

That made Nicolas smile. Doctor Waterman opened her mouth to say something, but he looked away and closed his eyes. He might be an old man in a hurry, but she could wait a little longer while he savored his victory. And the clone? It didn’t matter....

“Mr. Gleason?”

Nicolas started and opened his eyes. Had he drifted off? He looked across to stare at the good Doctor, and ignored her as she began to speak. Let her babble....

“... so you see, its important they lead a stimulating and active life.”

Nicolas jerked and blinked a few times in quick succession. Where was he? Oh yes, Waterman’s office. “I’m sure that’s all very commendable,” he snapped. “You still haven’t told me why I have to meet him. If you wanted to be humane you should have kept him in the dark. ‘Oh, we have to do some tests and we have to put you under anesthesia.’ Something like that. Let him go to sleep not knowing he’s never going to wake up.”

“Why bother,” muttered the young man, “they don’t hide the fact from animals sent to abattoirs. As far as you’re concerned, I’m no different.”

Doctor Waterman held up her hand to shush the young man. “Please, Nick—”

“Nick? You’ve even given him my name!” Nicolas struggled to sit up straight, but the effort threatened to overwhelm him. His strength faded, but not his anger. It was a clone for God’s sake!

Doctor Waterman held out her palms to plead with him. “Look at him. He’s a person. He can think, he’s aware, he has his own personality. He has an identity.”

“No he’s not! He’s a facsimile of a person. That is the legal definition. It can’t be any other way.” Nicolas slumped back, looked up at the ceiling and managed to wave his right arm in a ragged, sprawling arc as he tried to make his point. “If clones were recognized as human ... think of the ramifications—”

“You would have to die,” said the young man.

“Nick!”

“He’s right. We don’t grow clones because we want children and duplicating ourselves is the best way. If we grow copies of ourselves — if we manufacture them, and that’s what it is — if we grow copies, who’s accountable for them if they commit a crime or kill someone? What if they can’t get work? Should society support them? Or the donor? Or perhaps the manufacturer should bear some of the cost.”

“That’s avoiding the point,” said Doctor Waterman. “Nick is a living, breathing human being.”

“Human being! He doesn’t have a soul according to the latest combined church doctrine. And they’re the experts! ‘Only those born from the seed of man and woman can have a soul. It is God’s will.’ Without a soul, he’s just an animal as far as I’m concerned.”

“He’s a young man. You’ve lived a full, rich life. You’re a hundred and twenty ... don’t do this. You’re the oldest recipient by far, and a successful transplant is by no means assured. It’s bad enough knowing I have to take a life in order to continue one, but in your case the odds—”

“I don’t care about odds. You’ve done ten of these already without any qualms—”

“They were my friends,” said the young man. Doctor Waterman’s eyes softened and offered him silent comfort.

Nicolas glared at her. “You’ve grown attached to them! That’s the problem. If you don’t transplant me, it’s murder as far as the law’s concerned.” Doctor Waterman stiffened. “If you try to renege ... yours might be the only clinic doing this, but—”

“Do you have a soul?” the young man asked him.

Nicolas paused, open-mouthed, then pursed his lips as he stared past the young man. “I think I do.”

For the first time he looked squarely at the young man and saw how he used to be. Even the hair was to the same cut as when he had been that age. A memory surfaced and caught him by surprise. He had been arguing with his father over whether to finish college or drop everything on a whim of an idea. It was a stupid risk, but a once-in-a-lifetime chance if it came off. His father was a hard nut, like him, and had just threatened to disown him if he went ahead. And it was no idle threat.

“You know what the trouble with you is?” he had snapped. “You have no soul. You’re a dead man walking.” And with that he had stormed out to become the man he was today.

His father had died never talking to him, not that Nicolas had tried to get in touch. Neither had backed down, despite the cost, and he wasn’t going to back down now. With that thought it occurred to him — he had become more like the “Old Man” than he had realized. Nicolas scratched his chin and allowed himself a wry smile.

“I used to be an atheist, but now I’m agnostic.” He grunted. “I guess I’ve taken an each way bet.”

“I think you must be my god,” the young man decided, although his attitude toward Nicolas showed no reverence.

Doctor Waterman leaned forward. “Why do you say that?”

“I was thinking about it, when people die and their souls go to heaven. Then I realized ... everything I was told is all wrong. Souls don’t go up to heaven to reside there. They go up to be used by God to stay alive. He absorbs them. And that’s what it’s like with us. When Mister Gleason here takes my body, I’ll die. But my soul will be absorbed by him.”

Nicolas chuckled. “I like that—”

“And then,” the young man’s voice rose, “when you take another clone you will absorb its soul too. Then another and another. On and on forever. Unless ... your soul goes to heaven first!” He lunged.

Nicolas squawked as hands clamped around his throat.

“Guards!” Doctor Waterman screamed, but the door had already opened and the attendants were upon the young man. With the soft hiss of a hypo spray, he collapsed to the floor.

Ignoring him, the attendants turned their attention to Nicolas. He gagged, but air refused to enter his lungs. Do something, his eyes implored the men. He couldn’t die. Not now, not after he had worked so hard to stay alive so long. The attendant above him yanked Nicolas’s mouth open and stuck a grubby finger down his throat in an attempt to clear an airway.

Doctor Waterman struggled to get round her desk. Just as she reached Nicolas, emergency medical staff arrived and barreled their way in. A doctor elbowed the attendant aside and tried to intubate Nicolas, but the tube chaffed and stuck in his throat. He choked and tried to push the doctor’s hand away.

The doctor cursed under his breath and twisted the tube. For a moment it refused to budge, but then it slipped in and despite the sharp pain, Nicolas sucked in a deep and grateful breath. He moaned as he was wheeled out into the corridor, but it was lost amid a swathe of voices, shouting and arguing. They were too late. Doctor Waterman had gotten her way and yet he felt no anger. Death was waiting to reap him. He stared up at ceiling lights whipping past and realized he was past caring. Just a little longer, he promised. That’s all. He heard a hiss by his neck....

Nicolas moaned. His world brightened into diffuse white, fringed with rainbow. Was he dead? Then his eyelids flickered and opened and the hazy white resolved into light strips. Only, he saw two of each — overlaid, but slightly offset. And they refused to focus. This wasn’t the way to heaven ... or hell. A brief laugh gurgled from his lips. Although a bandage clipped the sight in his left eye, he recognized ceiling ... walls, but not the room. He tried to swallow and the parched desert that was his throat protested. His arms and legs twisted and jerked with lives of their own and they felt attached all wrong. What had they done to him?

“How do you feel?” a voice asked. It sounded familiar and a blurry face came into view, surrounded by a rainbow aura. Was that...? It was. Doctor Waterman.

Nicolas tried to work his mouth to speak but his tongue and jaw didn’t want to cooperate. After a frustrating age he managed to get some words out. “I ... feel odd. He ... he tried to kill me!” His voice sounded strange, foreign, strangled in cotton wool.

“I would like to apologize—”

“He tried to kill me!”

“I promise you, he won’t do that again.” Doctor Waterman patted his arm. She sounded sad, looked sad, and yet.... Nicolas tried to concentrate on his misgiving, but his mind, like his body, also refused to cooperate. He gave up. I’m too old.

“I ... can’t wait any longer. The transplant ... it has to go ahead. If I die, my lawyers—”

“We went ahead two days ago. That’s why you feel strange. Your brain hasn’t quite mapped to your new body and it will take time to adjust.”

“You did?” Nicolas closed his eyes and grinned although his mouth felt stiff and fixed lopsided to his right cheek. He felt a tear slide down his left cheek and his left arm at the same time. “My eyes—”

“That’s the most complex part of the operation, replacing your old optic nerve and reconnecting the new one. You won’t get your sight back properly for two, two and a half years, not until I’ve grafted the appropriate tissue. But it will improve over the next fortnight and won’t be such an imposition.”

“Thank ... thank you Doctor. I was afraid ... I thought you weren’t going to operate.”

“No, Mr. Gleason....” Something in her voice nagged at Nicolas, but again he couldn’t put his finger on it. “We had a contract.”

A nurse popped into the room. Nicolas could make out a vague orb framed in auburn. “How is he?” she asked in a low voice.

“Fine. He’s awake and stable.”

“I’ll come back in a few minutes.”

“No, I’d better let Mr. Gleason rest.” Doctor Waterman stood up and looked down at Nicolas. “I’ll come back tomorrow and we’ll begin some tests.” And she was gone.

The nurse came over and began to fuss, checking tubes, topping up infusions, reviewing his charts, and all the time she kept up an easy, gentle banter. Nicolas didn’t catch her name, but under the influence of her soft, lilting voice he drifted off to sleep.

“And how are we this morning?”

Nurse Parkinson leant over Nicolas, like she did every morning, to check and adjust the plastic bags hung from gallows at the head of his bed. His eyesight had improved over the past fortnight to where he could distinguish small features like the brown mole on her neck. She still appeared hazy around the edges, although the rainbow aura had faded to almost nothing, and there were still two of her, one overlaying the other and a fraction offset, like ghosting due to poor reception.

Nicolas stared at her heaving bosom as she reached over him. Her breasts swelled before his eyes, trying to burst free from her tunic stretched taut. He wanted to bury his face in those mounds of pleasure, squeeze them with his hands and kiss those hard erect nipples. He felt a familiar tension — an ache — in his groin.

Every morning for the last four days his body had tortured him. The hardness of his arousal was both sensuous and painful and it was all he could do to not cry out in frustration. Just imagine what he could do! He hadn’t had an erection like this since he was ... he was ... for ages. He gave up on the memory teasing the tip of his tongue and let his mind wallow in the curves of Nurse Parkinson’s uniform. It was her fault after all. She was deliberately trying to arouse him. He wanted to laugh with delight and cry from embarrassment at the same time.

“Um ... fine,” he managed to mutter and closed his eyes to resist temptation.

Nurse Parkinson pulled back the sheets to expose him. Her eyes opened wide with lustful delight. She seemed much prettier now, slimmer, younger, and with luscious long hair cascading over her shoulders. She ripped open her blouse to expose her breasts. They were large and firm and in no need of a bra. She dived on his—

“Are we ready for our bath?”

“What ... oh?” A chill swept down Nicolas and his mouth went dry. His brow furrowed as he directed mental commands at his wayward organ. Go away, go away. But his erection had a mind of its own.

He closed his eyes and tried not to grimace, tried to pretend it didn’t exist.

“There’s no need to be embarrassed.” Nurse Parkinson pulled the sheets back and adjusted his gown. “I’ve seen it all before.”

With deft wipes of the sponge she worked over his legs, his inner thighs, his abdomen and chest. And with what appeared to be practiced ease she avoided his embarrassment, nudging it accidentally once or twice. A quick rough towel-down finished the task and Nicolas was covered up and safe back under the protection of his sheets.

Nurse Parkinson packed her trolley and prepared to leave. Then she opened a drawer, pulled out a box of tissues and placed them on the side of his bed. “It’ll be half an hour before anyone disturbs you.” She winked. “Your hand control has really improved, but I think you’ll only need a couple of minutes.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” Nicolas tried to sound innocent, but his cheeks burned.

“You’re my fourth male transplant patient. It happened to them too. You’ve got to remember, you don’t only have the body of a twenty year old, but the hormones as well.” Nurse Parkinson sighed. “Ah, to be twenty again ... I wish!” She wheeled the trolley out and closed the door.

Later that day, Doctor Waterman came to see him. Nicolas struggled to sit up. Although his arms still trembled, he now had the strength and control to hold his body up. The sheets caused him some problems at first. Doctor Waterman offered to help, but he waved her away.

“I did it twice this morning!”

At last the offending sheets gave in and Nicolas pulled them back. He grunted as his legs quivered. The left knee wobbled, but drew up toward his chest, then the right, and his feet slipped free of the sheets. His breath hesitated as he waited to catch his breath. Though two was his limit, Nicolas Gleason wasn’t a quitter, there was nothing he couldn’t do. He gritted his teeth and lifted his arms up to rock his body back. At the same time, he twisted sideways and his body pivoted. His feet arced out, away from the bed, and the euphoria from the morning’s success swept over him as he rocked upward into a sitting position, supported by his arms once more.

“Very well done!”

“That’s nothing.” Nicolas bent forward to let his legs take his weight and swayed as he tried to stand. Doctor Waterman reached out to support him. “No!” He held up his arm to ward her off.

Like a zombie rising from the dead, Nicolas straightened up. He took a faltering step, and then another. His legs jiggled beneath him. Left foot shuffled forward, body swayed and jerked until it regained balance, and then the right foot took its turn. He teetered across the room, touched the wall and retraced his steps. Three times! Soon he would be out chasing girls for mile after mile. He was invincible! Nothing could stop him. He collapsed onto the bed, his chest heaving as he sucked in air, a huge grin splashed across his face.

Doctor Waterman took his arm and helped him back into bed. “Mr. Gleason, I’m amazed. You’ve come along much better than I had expected.”

“I bet the others didn’t progress so quickly. Why I remember ... er ... er ... dammit!” His good spirits evaporated. “There’s so much I can’t quite remember. I know the memories are there. It’s like they’re in the background, but I can’t get at them. Doctor ... when can we start the transplants?”

Doctor Waterman sat down on the end of his bed and pursed her lips. “We discussed this during your preliminary examinations. Memories fade if they’re not used, and at your age it’s not easy to recover them. The transplants will give you back the ability to create new memories and retain them. I’m afraid your old memories ... well some may be recovered, but most will fade away. You said you understood and accepted that at the time.”

“Did I?”

“The transplants will help your brain to synchronize with your new body. Remember? We went through how your body and mind grow old together.” Nicolas shook his head. “Your brain still expects an old body with reduced hormones. At the moment it’s being flooded. You already have part of the clone’s brain — most of the brain stem ... and the pituitary gland.” Doctor Waterman smiled and hesitated. “That’s one of the reasons behind your ... morning problem?”

Nicolas blushed. “It’s more than a morning problem.”

“Yes ... and it is a problem, along with the others — the nausea, the hot and cold flushes. Your mood swings. You still have a one hundred and twenty-year-old hypothalamus and it can’t quite cope with your new twenty-year-old pituitary gland. Those hormones affect your neurotransmitter levels — the chemicals that control your emotional state. They can cause serious complications if we leave them unchecked.”

“So why are we waiting? I’m fit and ready.”

“We will as soon as we can.” Doctor Waterman’s voice had an undercurrent of tension that started warning bells ringing in the back of his mind. Again he couldn’t focus on it.

“But?”

“Every brain is unique ... each one presents different complications and yours is no different. Maybe in a week or two ... I can’t give an exact time. Although you think you’re fine ... our tests have shown one or two problems — nothing major. We’ll adjust your medication and see if that fixes it. Let’s hope so. However some minor surgery may be required.”

Nicolas wanted to argue, but experience warned him not to. She was hiding something.

“What we can do though,” Doctor Waterman brightened as if she was the harbinger of good news, “is get you certified. By tomorrow you will legally be Mister Nicolas James Wentworth Gleason, renowned billionaire, bon vivant, and ... should I say it ... eligible bachelor?” She raised her eyebrows in a half-smile. “In a few years you’ll be a new man with a new life and new goals, a young man with a young man’s dreams and aspirations. I think the loss of a few memories is a small price to pay.”

Nicolas looked at his hand and waggled his fingers, watched the smooth white skin stretch taut over the bones, massaged the plump and firm flesh in his palm. It was a young man’s hand. “Sounds good to me.”

Days turned into a week and Nicolas grew restless. Every day brought improvement. He could walk with only the occasional loss of balance, and even if it was a stagger, he had started to jog up and down the corridor. That was the extent of his universe. A door stood between him and that big, beautiful world outside and he didn’t have a key card to open it. He leant against the doorway to his room and watched a nurse wave her card at the door and leave. It slid shut behind her, trapping him.

Anger burst forth from nowhere and he clenched his fists, all the time cursing under his breath. The boredom drove him nuts. Why couldn’t he have a few women visit him? They should be lined up outside his door. One after the other, they could come in and leave bow-legged. Nicolas barked a laugh at the thought and then sagged to his knees, squeezing his eyes shut to stop the tears. If he wasn’t up high enough to fly with the fairies he was ready to curl up in a ball and die. And Doctor Waterman ... he knew she was hiding something. It wasn’t his imagination. It wasn’t an artifact from the operation.

Nicolas roused himself and started jogging. Prisoners on death row get treated better than this.

The corridor was only fifty meters long and except for his room, all the others were locked. Only one showed life. Light glowed through a small window in the door at the far end. He stopped to peer in. A nurse appeared from behind a curtain, picked up a tray of instruments and carried it back. Nicolas broke into a grin. He had company! It must be the next patient — someone to talk to. He would ask Doctor Waterman.

No! This isn’t a prison. Tonight I’ll go see him ... or her. It had to be a her. He grinned in anticipation and resumed jogging.

The day dragged. Tests, always tests, life revolved around tests. Nicolas suffered through blood tests, ECG, PET scans, cognitive tests, and others he didn’t understand or care about. Dinner came and went, boring as usual. Staff numbers dwindled.

The time came and Nicolas slid out of bed. But before he could reach his door a commotion erupted outside. Doctor Waterman, her assistant, Doctor Vinchenzo, and two nurses raced past.

Nicolas poked his head out into the corridor in time to see them disappear into the theater at the end of the corridor. He felt a lump in his throat. They must have left the transplant too late for his new friend, like they had almost done with him.

Anger, dark and unfocused, welled up. Nicolas stood impotent and shook with rage. How dare they! If she died, he’d have all of them charged with murder and they could spend the rest of their miserable lives caged up like he was. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair....

At last, he gained a modicum of control and forced in a deep breath before counting to ten as it seeped out. With another breath and another count, the anger faded.

Maybe they could save her, this new love of his life. He looked back along the corridor — no one. With that, he slipped out and trotted down the corridor, his hospital slippers making a soft shushing sound. After a quick glance over his shoulder, he peeked into the room.

The curtain was back.

Doctor Waterman, hunched over next to the patient, played a desperate concerto on the robot surgeon’s control panel. Vinchenzo stood opposite, while two nurses hovered beside him.

Save her, Nicolas pleaded in silence as he craned his neck to see past Waterman. Save her.

But all he could see were dark red tubes, coming out from under the sheet covering the patient and snaking away to machines he recognized as artificial livers, kidneys, heart and lung. He caught snatches of words amidst the muffled conversation. Vinchenzo’s face pleaded with Doctor Waterman.

“... we can’t wait....”

“... not stable....”

“... die....”

“... tomorrow morning.”

“... too late!”

Vinchenzo leant forward. “We can’t wait. It has to be now.” Doctor Waterman shrugged and appeared to give in.

Nicolas sagged against the door and sighed; his new friend still had a chance. He willed Doctor Waterman to move. Could this patient be someone he knew? She stepped aside.

Nicolas froze.

No!

It was the clone. She had never wanted it to die in the first place.

“Mr. Gleason!”

Nicolas looked round and blanched. What’s she doing here? Nurse Parkinson stood just inside the entrance door, coat still on, and stared at him. He looked back through the window. It can’t be!

Mister Gleason!” Nurse Parkinson’s voice reverberated along the corridor. “You shouldn’t be up.”

Doctor Waterman twisted round and saw him. She frowned and turned to Vinchenzo.

Nicolas reeled away. His heart raced, pounded at his chest, trying to break free.

My heart. It’s my heart!

He had to get away. But how? He didn’t have a key. Run, run; it was all he could do. He staggered back along the corridor, his right arm outstretched to support him against the wall. Nurse Parkinson blocked his way.

“This way Mr. Gleason. Let’s get you back to bed. You need your rest.” Her lilting voice, so soothing, so seductive before, terrified him now, angered him. She has to know.

But she had a key. It dangled from her hand.

Nicolas stumbled toward her, wiping away the tears blurring his sight. How could they?

A door squeaked behind and Doctor Waterman called after him. “It’s not what you think.”

Nurse Parkinson put up her hands to catch and steady him, smiling and muttering soothing phrases. They all knew, they all wanted to cheat him. Nicolas wobbled and feinted left. She moved to grab him.

He ducked back and lunged forward. They had no right! His right fist hit her jaw and pain jabbed through his fingers.

She collapsed to the floor; straight down like her legs had turned to jelly. Blood streamed from her nose and puddled on the floor. Nicolas stared down at her, feeling more alive as the anger flushed through him. Who were they to think they could stop him? Nurse Parkinson moaned, touched her nose and smeared blood across her mouth as she rocked back and forth with little movements.

Nicolas heard footsteps and shouts behind him. Too late! He crouched down and snatched the key from her hand. In three strides he reached the outside door, waved the key and slipped through before it had fully opened.

Freedom! He didn’t stop to admire the view. The door led into the public section of the clinic. He sprinted toward an open area where a door led to the real outside. That old euphoria spurred him on. No one could catch him, his legs had wings and he could run forever.

Nurses and attendants looked up as he raced past. It was so close now.

“Stop him!” Doctor Waterman yelled from behind. An attendant stepped in his way, but Nicolas careened into him and knocked him down. He stumbled into a table and chairs and pushed off without breaking stride. See! Nothing could stop him.

Then he was outside. The door swished shut as Nicolas took the steps two at a time down onto the pavement of the busy street. The traffic blocked him and he turned around. Doctor Waterman charged out of the entrance, speaking into a cell phone, and pointed at him. Three attendants started down the steps.

He heard sirens growing louder in the distance. To hell with it. He dashed into the traffic. Tires screeched. Horns blared. He fended off a bonnet, balked at a taxi, ducked past a van and somehow made it to the other side of the street.

Pedestrians littered the footpath, but they were no obstacle. He dodged around a well-heeled couple loaded with shopping bags and blundered into another pair as he took his eyes off where he was going to steal a glance across the street. The attendants shadowed him. Without offering an apology, he pushed through the bemused pair and broke into a run.

The street climbed a gentle hill and the air began to burn his throat as he sucked in ragged breaths. And each breath sucked away his euphoria.

A stitch bent him double.

He propped himself up against a building, his chest straining with each breath and he fought the blackness that threatened to envelop him. As he wiped his brow he saw the sleeve of his mustard-yellow dressing gown. No wonder people stared at him, he must stand out like a beacon. He ripped it off and staggered on in his pale green pajamas. They couldn’t catch him. Not a hard nut like him.

A laugh tore from his throat as his knees burned. Should he rip the pajamas off as well and go naked through the streets? Show off his new body to the world? It was his body, his body! A sharp cough splattered gummy spittle over his lips and Nicolas collapsed to a squat.

At the next intersection a police car pulled up and the driver spied him and pointed.

Nicolas sagged against a lamppost and looked back. Two attendants were still opposite him on the other side of the street. He peered past the pedestrians behind him and glimpsed the other on his side of the street. A hundred meters or so further back two police officers closed toward him. He spun around, praying for an escape route and saw an alleyway. Its dark entrance beckoned.

With a grunt, he pressed on his knees to force himself up, and shambled in.

The alley ran to the next street over and offered salvation. All he had to do was get there. He was a hard nut, just like his Old Man. They would never catch him.

He shuffled into a sprint.

Halfway to freedom, a police car turned into the alleyway and blocked his escape. He pulled up, gasping, and as he looked back his shoulders sagged. The two police officers had joined up with the three attendants and were ambling toward him. They all made soothing, non-threatening gestures. They only wanted to help him. It would be all right. There was no need to be afraid. The police car crawled to a stop before him. He fought down the tears. It wasn’t fair.

Two officers climbed out and he held out his arms. “I’m Nicolas Gleason.” His voice wavered, weak and pathetic. “Help me please. They want to kill me.” They just smiled as they approached.

Nicolas backed up against the alley wall. “Please.” He sunk down to his knees and tears flooded his cheeks to wash away the snot streaming from his nose. “This is my body. I paid for it. I paid for it!”

Two of the attendants moved either side, hoisted Nicolas to his feet and dragged him to the car. One attendant climbed into the back seat. Nicolas stared at the opening, but he had no strength left to fight. He slid in and the second attendant squeezed in, making escape impossible. The two officers climbed in the front and the car rolled forward.

The slight jolt spurred him to life. He had never given in to anyone. Not even his father. Hard nuts didn’t do that. “I tell you I’m Nicolas Gleason,” he snapped. “I’m a billionaire! I’m rich! You can’t do this to me.”

The attendant to his right smiled and patted his arm. “Everything will be okay. You need to have an operation.”

“No!” Nicolas twisted in their grip and leant forward. “They’re going to kill me!” he hissed to the two cops.

The driver laughed. “Oh! So you’re the clone. You gonna get yourself a clone, Fred?” he asked his partner.

“Yeah, right. On my pension plan?”

Please!” Nicolas closed his eyes and sagged back.

“I don’t believe in it myself,” said the driver, “I mean it’s not right. There’re too many assholes as it is. What right do these rich people have to another life when the rest of us can’t even afford a decent life in our first one?”

“It keeps me in a job,” said the attendant to the right of Nicolas. Officer Fred grunted.

The police car pulled up outside the clinic entrance. Doctor Waterman waited, arms crossed, as the attendants pulled Nicolas out. “Thank you, officers. That was prompt.”

He scowled at her. He might die, but his lawyers would make sure she paid. An attendant slid a trolley to a stop beside him and he was strapped on.

“No problems, Doctor,” said Officer Fred. He hesitated as he was about to climb into the car. “It’s hard to believe.” He nodded at Nicolas. “That he’s Nicolas Gleason. I know Gleason’s supposed to be getting a brain transplant, it’s all over the net.”

Officer Fred licked his lips and glanced over at his partner with a faint smirk. “You aren’t pulling a fast one, are you? I mean, this guy’s paranoid. Says you want to kill him. That’s what I’d expect from the clone. If this is Gleason, shouldn’t there be scars on his forehead, something like that? I want to make sure my report’s accurate.”

Doctor Waterman smiled at the officer like he was a small child asking stupid questions. “We don’t leave scars, but if you will excuse us, Mister Gleason needs to undergo surgery now. In fact we were about to prep him when he escaped.” Two attendants wheeled Nicolas past.

He grabbed Officer Fred’s arm. “Don’t let them take me. Please, please, I’m not a clone, I’m human.” An attendant broke his grip and strapped his hand down before wheeling him away.

They reached the theater and Doctor Waterman led the way in. Nicolas wrenched at his constraints, his back arching as he grimaced. It wasn’t fair! After all he had done to cling to life, and now that he was so close, they had no right to steal it away.

The trolley slipped past a curtain and jerked to a stop. He looked sideways and saw his old head, ravaged with wrinkles, darkened with brown splotches on its bald forehead and jaundiced in the artificial light, as it waited to enter the left opening in the robot surgeon. His strength drained away. His old face looked so peaceful, staring at the ceiling with his old brown, insipid eyes.

Nicolas looked up at Doctor Waterman and his bottom lip quivered. “Please ... please don’t do this. I’ll give you anything you want — everything. Please ... I don’t want to die. This is my body. I paid for it.” Tears poured down the side of his face.

“It’s too late,” Vinchenzo said to Waterman in a flat voice. “The body gave out as soon as you left.”

Nicolas looked back at his old body. It wasn’t calm and serene; it was resting in peace. He had won! A jubilant cackle rasped from his throat.

“The clone’s dead! You can’t take my body away. Now you’ll have to continue with my treatment.”

Doctor Waterman hung her head. “I was afraid this would happened.” She looked at Nicolas. “It’s not what you think. I’m so sorry.”

The ecstatic grin faded from Nicolas’s face. “You can’t stop now. My lawyers—”

“Can’t help you now,” said Vinchenzo.

Doctor Waterman sat down next to Nicolas and squeezed his arm. “We never intended to transfer Nick’s brain back. And even if we wanted to, we could never get away with it. Not only is his personality completely different from yours, he doesn’t know anything about your past or how to run your companies. He would be found out straight away. You’ve got so many checks in place, it would be impossible.”

Nicolas licked his dry lips as a gaping pit opened up in his stomach. “Then why ... why can’t you continue the treatment?”

“You still have problems. Your brain hasn’t stabilized and until it does, I can’t get an accurate baseline. We need that to know where to start.”

“And your previous body was just too old,” said Vinchenzo. “We needed to keep it alive for five years, probably longer for you.”

“Why?” All his dreams of a new life, a new start — the Grim Reaper’s scythe cut them down.

“To keep the clone’s brain alive. We have to extract live neurons to implant. It’s a delicate process that can’t be done on preserved tissue. There’s too much damage. I’m sorry.” Doctor Waterman patted his arm and stood up. “We’ll send you back to your room, so you can get some rest.” She waved to an attendant.

Nicolas craned his neck to look at her. “But what happens now?”

Doctor Waterman rubbed her face and looked down at him with sad eyes, like Atlas had just dumped the world on her shoulders. “There’s nothing I can do.” She chewed on her lower lip for a moment and then sighed. “Without those implants, you will deteriorate over the next few months and lose control of your body, leaving you in a vegetative state.” She glanced at Vinchenzo and hesitated.

“And you will begin to suffer further emotional instability,” he added, “leading more than likely to schizophrenia.”

“With your new body,” Doctor Waterman shrugged and offered a sympathetic smile, “you could last for years and years. I truly am sorry.”

“No ... no!” Nicolas arched up, his eyes beseeching her. “I don’t want to end up like this. I only wanted to live a longer life, but not as ... as a vegetable! Not some crazy nutcase!”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

“Then kill me.” Nicolas burst into tears and howled. He didn’t want to be a hard nut anymore. “I don’t want to live this way.”

Doctor Waterman looked at Vinchenzo and he shook his head. “You made the rules,” she said to Nicolas. “You made certain there was no way you could die unless it was from natural causes beyond what the best medical technologies could save you from. You’ve even managed to protect yourself from yourself. Tomorrow, I’ll hand you over to your private medical staff and they will take care of you.”

The attendant wheeled Nicolas out into the corridor. Nurse Parkinson greeted him with a sad smile, her nose still red from his punch and a bluish-black bruise forming under her eye. She waved the attendant past.

No!” Nicolas howled and writhed against his constraints. “I don’t want to live! I don’t want to live! I don’t....” He sagged back down. How hard he had fought for life, hanging on by a thread, kicking and lashing out to keep the Grim Reaper at bay, but now, when he so desperately wanted Death’s sweet embrace, he had no one to blame but himself. “I don’t want to live like this,” he whimpered and his voice faded to nothing.

As they wheeled him down the corridor, the ceiling lights drifted past overhead. Hypnotic. Past caring, he heard a hiss by his neck....


The End