The Wrong Original

A short story


Department of Genetics, Washington DC, Pan-american Federated States
Monday, April 28, 2183

“Please tell me this is a joke.”

“I take it you’ve seen my report.”

“Damn right I’ve seen your report, which I assume is just a massive prank that your office concocted to give me a heart attack. I get it, I’m a hardass, I give your entire office a hard time. Well, ha ha, you got me!”

“It’s not a joke. And no one in my office has seen this. Only me.”

“Look me in the eye, and swear this is not a joke.”

“I swear. It’s. Not. A. Joke.”

“Then how the hell could this have happened?!”

“It was part of one of those nature-vs-nurture experiments they ran twenty years ago. They thought using an Original like him would make a pretty compelling case.”

“No shit.”

“Once the Board of Review caught wind of the Originals that were being used, the experiment was terminated before the specimens even matured, but it turns out one of the specimens was switched with one from outside the experiment. We’re not prepared to rule out that this was done intentionally by someone on the inside, by the way.”

“So, what, the surviving specimen has been out there, living his life all these years under the impression that his Original is someone else?”

“Pretty much. As far as all official records are concerned, his Original is some literature professor from the late 21st century.”

“And where is he now?”

“Here.”

“What do you mean here?”

“Here-here. In the building. We called him in with some made-up summons. We told him his degradation quotient was well below expected, and that we wanted to run some tests to understand why. He probably thinks he’s helping to save humanity or something. We have him waiting in an observation room.”

“Well, what the hell are you waiting for, show me the feed from that room.”

“Sure, give me a second… There, that’s him on the screen.”

“Dear god, he actually looks like him.”

“Well, except he’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt.”

“And the hair… did he dye it… purple?”

“Magenta.”

“Whatever. How do I talk to him?”

“Press that button, it will activate the intercom.”

“Ok… [Uhm, Mr. Frederickson?]

[Yes, hello, who is this?]

“[My name is Marvin Anders, I am the Deputy Secretary of Genetics in charge of Originals, and I am here with my colleague Dr. Feldman, the Chief Geneticist here in the Department. Would you mind if we asked you a few questions?]

“[Sure, go ahead.]”

“[I see you are currently in college. What are you studying?]”

“[What does that have to do with my degradation quotient?]”

“Interesting, very perceptive.”

Shut up. [Just answer the question, Mr.Frederickson. Genetics is a complicated field, and seemingly innocuous questions can actually reveal useful information.]”

“[Oh, ok, well… I’m studying to be a journalist.]”

“[Any extracurricular activities or hobbies?]”

“[Nothing special. Mostly I just like hanging out with my friends. I like watching hyperball, but don’t really play it myself. I’ve also been taking a sculpting class, which has been pretty fun.]”

“Sounds like a nice kid.”

“Nora, I swear to god, shut up. [One last question, Mr.Frederickson. Are you… uhm… political?]”

“[Political? What do you mean?]”

“[Are you interested in politics? Or maybe even interested in running for office at some point?]”

“[Oh, no, not at all. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I follow the elections and all that, and I guess you could call me a neo-Federalist, but I don’t get too riled up about all that stuff. Are you asking because of my journalism studies? If so, you should know I’m actually hoping to go into science journalism.]”

“[Thank you, Mr.Frederickson, this has been very useful. We should have you out of here in a jiffy.]”

“[Great, thanks!]”

“Well, he seems harmless enough. Are we good?”

“Oh, sure, we’re a-ok. We’re fucking dandy. Except for the fact that I’ve just been talking with a 20-year old clone of Adolf Hitler with purple hair, a Midwestern accent, and a penchant for brightly colorful t-shirts. But, hey, at least he turned out to be a regular Joe, so it’s all good! He’s watching hyperball with his buds later tonight, didn’t you hear? Maybe we can cook up some copies of Mussolini and Franco to watch the big game with him! Oh, and he‘s studying to be a science journalist, and I bet I know what the title of his first book will be: My Struggle… With Quantum Mechanics. Do I really have to explain what a colossal fuck-up this is?”

“Oh, and you haven’t even seen what he wrote under ‘Religion’ in his profile.”

“Wait, what… OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE, ARE YOU SHITTING ME?”

“Ok, ok, I’ll admit the situation is somewhat… bizarre. But I don’t think we have to be concerned about him personally. He isn’t exhibiting any of the traits of his Original and…”

“What about the sculpting? Didn’t his Original have artistic tendencies?”

“Painting, mostly. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.”

“Sure, and will it also be just a coincidence when he talks the School of Journalism into annexing the Art School?”

“Marv, you’re blowing this out of proportion. As far as he’s concerned, he’s just one of several million clones of pre-war individuals, helping humanity rebuild its diminished gene pool. And you heard the kid, he’s not even interested in politics. We’ll keep an eye on him, bring him in for regular testing, and we’ll cover up his true Original on our end.”

“Fine, it’s not like we have any other choice.”

“So are we good?”

“Yeah, we’re peachy fucking keen, Nora.”