February 22

Dolly

 

You’re tired of talking to yourself.

Well, not exactly yourself — but close enough to drive you crazy.

After weeks in the quarantine bunker, it’s never hard to predict what the others will say:

A gleam in the eye means a witticism is coming.  More than half the time, it’s that stupid epistemological joke:  “How do you know you’re the  original, and not one of us clones?”

During rations, invariably one of them will gnaw off a piece of beef jerky and say, “Mmmm.  Just like mother used to make.”

Another witticism, actually, since you’re the only one who’s had an actual mother — which leads to the third most-common joke, when somebody burps or farts.  “Hey, where’d I learn my manners?  In a lab?”

Collectively, the clones had no impulse control.  If nine of them practiced restraint, the tenth always gave in.  Any thought, no matter how trivial or familiar, got voiced.

Not just humor, but fears.  In large groups, people tend to hide their anxieties.  Clones, however, have no self-respect.  Half the day, one or the other was moaning, face squinched in blubbering tears, asking rhetorical questions like, “How long are they leaving us down here?” or “Why haven’t they contacted us?”

Exclaiming, “We can’t be the only ones left!”

If you could think it, they could think it:  the call may never come.

The genetic meddling that produced your clones also triggered a dormant, fast-spreading illness.  The clones were immune, for some reason; you, as the original, were also immune.  But the rest of the population…

Scientists should have known the dangers, as far back as February 22, 1997, when Dolly the sheep, the “first successfully cloned mammal,” was announced in Scotland.  Dolly died early, from premature lung disease and severe arthritis.

Clones didn’t come out right.  They never did.

At least poor Dolly didn’t have to suffer this kind of confinement — crowded into a tiny underground bunker with thirty stamped out duplicates.  All with the same personality.

The clone to your right smiles a half-smile, as if able to read your mind.

“Don’t do it,” you think.  “Don’t sing it.”

The smile widens.  An off-key singing voice, precisely as horrible as your own, begins:  Oh, hello Dolly, well, hello Dolly. It’s so nice to have you back where you belong…”

By the second Dolly, seven other clones join in.

The rest of them, like you, think:  “I can’t take much more of this.”