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In My Own Image
by Dave Kissling
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Ever since I awoke this morning, Iíve sensed that something was amiss. Is it just me, or is something peculiar going on? Iíve been wandering around, trying to identify the odd feelingóif, indeed, it can be called a "feeling".

Standing in the living room now, Iím perplexed. The house looks the way it always has. Thereís the digital clock in the wall, ticking off the minutes from 13:18 to 13:19. The red velveteen sofa and loveseat stand just below it. Accompanying that is the mushroom lampstand that holds an antique Princess telephone dating from the 1990s, no longer in service. On the opposite wall, the 30-inch blank screen of my mural multi-viewer stares dully at me, awaiting its next job as a television, computer or telephone.

Yes, everything seems to be in place, just the way I remember when I went to sleep. Then why does everything seem so strange today?

My front door hums open behind me. I whirl, thinking, Who else has my entrance code? The visitor freezes in place, then I realize heís no visitor at allónot in the conventional sense.

As the door gently shuts, we scan each other in silence. His statuesque stand is enhanced by calm demeanor, his chin tapers to a point, and his forehead furrows over thick black eyebrows. His small mouth hangs open for a moment. When he sweeps back his thinning hair, I find Iím doing the same thing; itís as though I were viewing my reflection.

He breaks into a grin. "Well, well, well! I see youíre up and around."

"Yes, for several hours. Where have you been?"

Instead of answering, he strides forward to squint into my face. "We look exactly alike. Do you realize what this means?"

The memories flood back. My life-long obsession to produce a perfect human clone, already grown, has finally seen fruition. Now at last I can prove to those doubting scientists, as well as my own girlfriend, that making a man in my own image is not only possible, but practical.

"Of course I know!" I say. "Iíve replicated myself, and now I can replicate others, too. Iíll convince people they must have clones of themselves to do every project right the first time, and I can sell them all the clones they need. That means doing the job the way they want it done the first time and doing it quickly, and lining my pockets to boot."

He chortles. "Exactly." He strolls around me, and Iím not sure I like his scrutiny. What is he thinking?

Facing me again, he says, "What is your name?"

"My name?" What an absurd question! "Iím Arnold J. Magraw, of course. Independent scientist and entrepreneur. You should know that."

Delighted thick brows crease his forehead all the more. He laughs, dances away and spreads out his arms. "Of course I know! Soon everyone in the WORLD will know that!"

I should be angry, but something is keeping my temper in check. Maybe Iím more patient with my own creation than I would otherwise be, but I wonder how long that patience will last.

The other Magraw is strutting and prancing around, occasionally glancing my direction. I sure didnít create him to be so cocky. There must be a glitch in his personality chip.

Finally Magraw flops onto the red loveseat, his arms spread over the backrest. I approach him. "Mr. Magraw, I donít think you should be going outside until weíre completely sure the experiment is a success."

He opens his mouth as though to speak, then grins. "Ah, good point." He stands, slapping my shoulder. "Tell you what, Mr. Magraw. Letís put the experiment to the acid test. Call up Marjorie and tell her to come over."

"Marjorie? My girlfriend?"

He chuckles. "Yes, your girlfriend. Letís see if she can tell us apart. You know the number?"

I glare at him. "Of course I do. Iíve dialed it lots of times."

As I turn to walk toward the multi-viewer, Magraw says, "Tell her youíre sorry about the fight last night, and you want to make amends."

Whirling, I cry, "Wait a minute! Why are you giving me orders? Weíre supposed to be equal in every way, remember?"

"Yes, yes, naturally youíll know all the right things to say. So call her."

His attitude perplexes me. He seems to like being the boss, even though heís only a clone. Well, I canít deny that that matches me too, but I usually have good reasons. I definitely must review his personality configurations.

Tapping the console keys below the large gray viewer, I summon the image of a telephoneóone of those old 2-D images of a receiver and cradle, outlined in white on a blue background. On the separate number pad I type Marjorieís number, whose digits display as I enter them. The screen flashes red and blue behind the image with a low buzzing sound. From the corner of my eye, I see Magraw scamper out of visual range, just before the telephone image gives way to Marjorieís face, about three times bigger than life.

"Hello?" she says.

The lovely sky-blue eyes complement her high cheekbones and tapered chin, and her blonde hair cascades over her shoulders. Iíve always loved her soft lines, her mellow voiceóbut though I remember every curve, every nuance of her face, her image now somehow feels like a stranger.

"Hello, Marj."

"Arnie." Her face does not change.

"Listen, Marj, Iím sorry about last night. It was a stupid fight, and Iíd like to make it up to you."

"Look, Iím really pleased youíre trying to make an honorable living, but Iím just not sure cloning is the way to do it. The way you talked last night, it sounded like some get-rich-quick scheme."

"I know the way it sounded. Iím really not like that. Tell you what. Come on over this afternoon, and Iíll show you my laboratory and all the work Iíve done so far. Then maybe youíll see Iím not just doing this for me, Iím doing it for us."

She regards me askance, her blue eyes scanning what must be my enlarged face on her screen.

"Please, baby," I say, "I miss you. Please donít judge without seeing it for yourself."

The large lips frown. "Okay, Arnie, Iíll be right over. íBye."

Her face shrinks in a vanishing box, and the words "End of Transmission" spread across the screen.

A half-hour later, the doorbellís electronic chimes sound. "Open," I say while standing, and the portal hums as it slides open toward my left.

Marjorie saunters in, scanning the living room and furnishings. "Not bad for a scientist."

The other Magraw suggested I give her a kiss, so I take her slender form in my arms. "I donít want to lose you." My lips touch hers, and she receives it with some passion. I feel a jolt, and she pushes back.

"You kiss without feeling."

"What do you mean, without feeling? I feel the texture of your dress. Fibronex, isnít it? And I feel your warmth Ö your lips Ö "

"No, I mean your kiss has no emotion. No love at all."

"Well Ö you know I do love you, donít you?"

She squints into my eyes. "I donít see it. In fact Ö" She shudders. "I donít see Ö anything!"

Ejecting from my arms, Marj stares, quaking. "Whereís Arnie?"

My mouth drops open. "Iím right here. Canít you see? Iím Arnie Magraw."

"Arnie!" she shouts into the air, fists trembling at her hips. "Come out here!"

The other Magraw rushes into the room and grabs her shoulders. "Whatís wrong with you?"

Marj glares. "You think Iím stupid? I didnít fall for your papier machť copy."

"What are you talking about?" I cry, but she still looks at my clone.

Magraw says, "He looks exactly like me and acts like me. Why, he even has all my memories. He knows the entire cloning process by heart, just as I do, so he can help me create more."

"For what? Your great enterprise? Cloning people so they can finish their work in half the time? Heís nothing but an empty shell."

Empty shell? Her words are confusing me.

"What do you mean, empty?" says Magraw. "Heís identical to me in every way."

"He canít feel emotions! I doubt that he can even think for himself."

"Now thatís ridiculous, and Iíll prove it. Mr. Magraw, what is eight times six?"

My brows pinch together. "Wait a minute, whatís all this blathering about me being the clone? Iím the original Arnold Magraw."

"See? Heís angry. He has plenty of emotion."

"Heís reacting in angry ways," she says, "just as you do when youíre challenged. But does he feel that anger? Or is he just following a program?"

"Of course he feels it!" says Magraw. "Tell her, Mr. Magraw."

"Of course I feel it," I say.

Iíve got to be feeling it. It must be under control today.

Magraw says, "So tell me what eight times six is."

Marj shakes her head and her palms at him. "Forget the math. Naturally heíll know the answer because itís in your memory." She strolls toward me. "They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. These windows are blank because there is no soul behind them."

"What are you talking about?" I cry. "Even if there were such a thing as a soul, I could provide one in time."

"You donít have a spirit, either. No seat of discernment or conscience. Can you provide that as well?"

Soul and spirit? Marj has always been strange, the way she thinks in ethereal terms. Weíve argued round and round about it, but she could never convince me such things exist.

Marj turns toward the other Magraw. "May I use your multi-viewer?"

I grab her arm. "Iím the real Magraw, remember? Ask me."

Her eyes glare into mine. "May I?"

Somehow her voice and her words donít match, but Iím not sure why. "Youíve used it before," I say, stepping out of her way.

Standing before the screen, Marj taps in access codes that appear in non-alphameric symbols. Then she types "mhc@juneau.com\chess", and a checkerboard with familiar shapes spreads across the screen.

"Play me," she says, but sheís not smiling.

"Youíve got to be joking," I say in angry tones. "Iíve always beat you at this game."

Her chiseled face remains stony. "Play me."

Magraw strides up. "Sure, honey, Iíd love to."

"Not you. Him, since heís the Ö real Magraw."

Finally she knows who I am, but still her face looks unpleasant. What is she thinking? She yields to me for the first move. Using the trackball in the upper right corner of the keyboard, I march one of my electronic black pawns out two spaces. In her first move, she leaps a knight over her white pawn row.

The play progresses as both her knights, her bishop, and her queen maneuver into the center, threatening my pawns, bishops and knights. Magraw strides forward. "I know what sheís doing. Youíve got to protect your queen."

"Donít tell him," Marj says, pushing him away. "Since heís the real Magraw, let him figure it out."

Protect my queen? Though my queen has scarcely moved, I see a knight positioned to take her, and two potential escapes are guarded by Marjís bishop and queen. Usually I can predict Marjís plan several moves in advance; but now, for some reason, all I see is immediate danger. I move my queen closer to the knight. Her knight jumps and flashes over my bishop, which disappears. I guide my queen two spaces above the knight. Magraw draws in his breath, but Marj elbows him. I donít know what that means. My queen isnít in danger, and sheís in good position to capture several pieces.

Marjís other bishop darts from its starting space and flashes over my queen. Suddenly sheís gone. Why didnít I see that? I pound the screen and stare at the board.

"See what I mean, Arnie?" says Marj. "You saw my strategy, but he didnít. He canít think independently. He has no discernment."

Magraw says, "Thatís easy. All I have to do is program chess strategies into his memory chips."

"What about other things, Arnie? Can he tell when people say things they donít mean? Does he feel angry about losing his queen, or does he just know it makes his game more difficult?"

I realize that I reacted to a rage that did not exist. Iím trying to bring up an emotionóany emotion. Anger, disappointment, regret. Anything to show I wanted to keep my most important chess piece. But my surprise remains empty.

I recall my earlier confusion. I experienced no frustration at Magrawís prancing. I held no love for Marjís image on the phone. Now I look her direction and find sheís scanning me with that unusual glower. Her tapered jaw line and soft sky-blue eyes are framed in pretty blonde hair. I can remember how I loved her, yet at this moment I feel nothing.

I have to feel something. I have to. Iím the real Magraw. The other is the clone. We are exactly alike in every way. To insist that one of us is somehow inferior is ludicrous. Marj is wrong, and I must prove itósomehow.

The other Magraw is saying, "You want a soul and spirit? Given enough time, I can program them in."

"No!" she cries, whirling toward him. "Those are unique qualities which only God can give His true creation. They cannot be programmed. I thought you said you believed in God."

"I do, but whatís that got to do with this?"

Marjís frown deepens as she glowers him down. A hoarse voice from her throat says, "Donít ever try calling me again, because Iím deleting your number and access code from my multi-viewer. Goodbye."

"But Marj Ö"

She storms away from him and starts to pass me, then she returns to stand before me. Her eyes scan my frame. "You poor creature. Your existence must be the utmost cruelty."

I return her blue-eyed gaze, still trying to drum up the affection that I once enjoyed. Will I ever know love?

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