Danielle drops the teaspoon clattering to the buffet. "Aah! Don't say that! I'm switching to honey, as of right now."
Another girl with "Amanda" on her nametag says darkly, "You must have found out by now that we're allergic to honey. And cilantro tastes soapy. They're both genetically linked traits."
Danielle quickly sets her mug down. She surveys the drinks table, where cans of soda are nestled in a plastic tub of ice. The crowd of girls has cut into the supply of orange sodas and colas, but a dozen cans of lemon-lime are untouched. Danielle snatches up a lemon-lime. She takes too big a gulp and almost chokes. It tastes dreadful. She glowers at the 49 girls milling sullenly around the hall. Every one of them is also 15 1/2 years old, brown-eyed and lean and well-muscled, five-foot-five or -six, brimming with good health and sporting a stick-on name tag. But at least none of them is drinking a lemon-lime. Danielle takes another defiant swig.
And at least none of them has her hair. All of them are dark and curly, but their hairstyles are in the best teenage spirit of continual experimentation. Danielle can pretend she is looking at a hairstyling Webzine, or one of those customized beauty programs at the mall. She sees her own hair short and velvety, or in a huge cloud of ringlets, or tied back in a sheaf of sleek braids. The neat topknot over there on Lora looks the best—she'll have to try that when she gets home. But every nose around her is narrow and aquiline. Every mouth under the different lip glosses or glazes is firm and dimpled. Mortification creeps down her spine.
"I hate you all," she announces.
Nods of agreement. "You'd feel better if you drank cola instead of that disgusting lemon-lime," Olga remarks. This girl looks around, nerving herself to mention the taboo subject. "Do any of you do—sports?"
"Softball!" Danielle announces. The other girls glare at her with undisguised envy, each scowl an exact replica of the other.
"But you're good," Tia predicts in flat tones.
Danielle's well-toned shoulders slump. "I'm a sophomore, and I'm already on the varsity team. It wasn't like Mom and Dad pushed me into it or anything. It just happened."
"Does any one of us do anything of our own?" Bev almost wails. "Drama, or cooking, or building miniature railroads?"
Danielle can't bear to drink any more lemon-lime. Meeting for the first time like this sickens her stomach, the eerie revulsion in the unnatural act of meeting yourself 49 times over. Mom has tried to help, talking about Sleeping Beauty. Danielle is Princess Aurora in the movie, the beloved daughter, treasured for her natural gifts, farmed out to nice folks who would raise her as their own until she was old enough to meet her destiny. Until, Danielle says to herself, the wicked witch comes knocking at the door. That day is here—times 50.
No one replies to Bev's question because the hall's double oak doors swing open. One man holds the door while another pushes the woman in the wheelchair through, and a third man—tall and wide in his brown suit—follows behind. They push her up the ramp leading to a little stage so everyone can see.
Danielle has been told that Tanya Haynes is only 45. How many other girls get to see what they'll look like in 30 years? A frizz of gray on the temples, those deep curving lines around the mouth—the wicked witch, Danielle thinks. She studies the wrinkles around the older woman's eyes and resolves to start moisturizing and using sunblock.
The tall, wide man must be Earl. Danielle has heard about him. He beams down at the assembly, his hands clasped behind his back. "Now don't they look great, Tan? We got here the makings of three or four of the most dynamite soccer teams in history. You ever see such a beautiful crop of girlhood in your entire life? Girls, you are bee-you-tee-ful."
A hostile silence, broken by Tanya saying, "I've been trying to think what to call you, dears. You're not my daughters—you have parents, all your wonderful adoptive parents around the country. Not my sisters. My twins?"
Earl grins. "They're your clones, hon."
"I won't call you that," she says to the girls. "Let's just say I'm your aunt, your Aunt Tanya. And when a niece comes to visit, auntie has a present for you. Earl, take your boys and go up to my room. Get those big bags down."
"Bill and Ricky can handle it," he says, dismissing the flunkies with a wave.
"No, you go too, Earl. There are three bags, heavy ones. I'll be fine right here."
Muttering under his breath, Earl takes his boys and goes. Tanya waits until the door shuts behind them and then rolls her wheelchair to the edge of the little stage. "You, dear," she says, pointing at Danielle, who is nearest. "Come a little closer, would you please? My eyes aren't good enough to read nametags anymore."
Back in South Carolina, Danielle's parents raised her to be polite to elders. She hops up onto the stage and sees the metal braces on the older woman's knees. A car crash when Tanya Haynes was 29—Danielle's parents showed her all the newspaper files and sports videos last month, when they broke the news to her about the cloning. The great athlete, the most stupendous female soccer star ever, has never walked again.
"Danielle," Tanya says, reading the nametag. "I can't hold 50 hands, so I'm going to hold yours, all right? As a representative. The rest of you, listen to me, please."
The hands clutching Danielle's are lighter than hers, and the skin is looser and rough. But the fingernails are exactly the same, the distance between the joints, even the little bump on the outside of the wrist bone. She has no words for how strange it is, looking down at two pairs of identical hands of different ages. Silently Danielle measures her palm and fingers against them. Exactly the same length.
Tanya's voice is harsh. "My dears, this wasn't my idea. I would never have consented, if I had known what it meant. Earl thought that—he just couldn't stand the idea of the U.S. women's soccer team without me. And the soccer federation had its heart set on another Olympic gold. They filled up my head with all this stuff about the legacy of the sport and the future generations of soccer players, and then when Earl offered to pay all the medical bills if I'd contribute the tissue cultures. … " For a moment she falters. Then she says, simply, "I'm sorry, girls."
We're slaves, Danielle thinks—not even that, we're photocopies of an original. Danielle's entire future has been laid out for her in sports, and there is nothing she can do about it, in this chain gang with her 49 sister-selves. She wants to cry. Instead she says, "Do we apologize for being alive, then?" Then she wants to stuff the angry words back into her mouth. But several of her—sisters? twins?—nod their approval. Their sullen, hurt faces show her what she must look like.
"Don't you ever do that." Tanya's older mouth purses instead of dimpling when she sets her teeth, but otherwise the expression is one that Danielle has seen in her own mirror. "They cloned me to make all 50 of you. The plan is for you to dominate sports for the rest of the century. But you are your own women, do you hear? They wanted to give you my legs, my lungs, my muscles. But I'm giving you my heart. Don't you let these sports moguls run you. They made you in petri dishes and paid for your births, but they don't own you. Seize your lives, and make them yours. You can do it, because you are champions, girls. It takes one to know one."
The strength that won Tanya Haynes the gold medal in 2008 radiates out of her as she leans forward in her wheelchair, not the long-gone strength of the broken body, but deeper, hotter—the strength of her spirit. Danielle can feel the heat of it in the bony hand clasping her own, and it is like a burning match touching an unlit new one. Tanya—Aunt Tanya—isn't the wicked witch. She's the Sleeping Beauty, trapped in a tower shaped like a wheelchair and guarded by creepy fat cats, and she will never escape now. But she has given them—her twinned progeny—the key.
The will and power flare up in Danielle's middle. She is a champion too—of her life. She can be whatever she wants to be. They could make her, but they cannot mold her. "And don't forget," she says, "we're teens—rebellious by nature."
Tanya grins at her, at them all. "You go right ahead and rebel, dears. Explore the world. Find your place."
Then the door opens again and it is as if a curtain falls over Tanya's countenance. Earl staggers in hauling a large canvas duffel bag, the other two following behind with more. Tanya smiles at him as he drags the bag up the ramp. "Now aren't you sweet. You know I can't do very much these days, girls, but I've taken up lace knitting. And luckily I didn't have to worry about the colors that would suit you! Danielle, dear, try this one."
She takes a vivid blue scarf from the bag, neatly folded and tied with a ribbon. Danielle carefully slips off the ribbon and shakes the scarf out. "Oh, it's beautiful!" The glorious blue color and the pattern of interlocked triangles seem perfect for her alone. Danielle wraps the scarf around her neck. It is light and warm as a hug. She looks up and meets Tanya's eyes, exactly the brown of her own. The older woman smiles and gives her a wink.
Beside her Amanda unfolds her green scarf, awed. "And look at that," she says. "Mine has hearts!"
"They're different—every one is different." Danielle grins back at Tanya. And all 50 of them look just as dangerous and beautiful.
Brenda W. Clough has published seven novels of science fiction and fantasy, including Doors of Death and Life and How Like a God (Tor Books), as well as several short stories.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Additional "Biotech Revolution" articles on our site include:
The Genome Doctor | An Interview with Francis Collins. (Oct. 1, 2001)
A Matter of Life and Death | Why shouldn't we use our embryos and genes to make our lives better? The world awaits a Christian answer. (Sept. 28, 2001)
Wanna Buy a Bioethicist? (Editorial) | Some corporations have discovered that bioethics makes good public relations. (Sept. 28, 2001)
The House passed a bill in July banning human cloning. Not long after, a team of scientists stirred everything up by saying they would do it anyway. Three scientists addressed a National Academies of Science conference on Aug. 7 and reveled their plans to possibly clone humans by the end of the year.
For news articles and opinion pieces on the cloning debate, see Yahoo's Full Coverage.
Previous Christianity Today coverage of bioethics includes:
Two Cheers | President Bush's stem-cell decision is better than the fatal cure many sought. (August 10, 2001)
House Backs Human Cloning Ban | Scientists say they'll go ahead anyway. (August 27, 2001)
Embryos Split Prolifers | Bush decision pleases some, keeps door open for disputed research. (August 27, 2001)
House of Lords Legalizes Human Embryo Cloning | Religious leaders' protests go unheeded by lawmakers. (Feb. 2, 2001)
Britain Debates Cloning of Human Embryos | Scientists want steady stream of stem cells for "therapeutic" purposes. (Nov. 22, 2000)
Tissue of Lies? | Latest stem-cell research shows no urgent need to destroy human embryos for the cause of science. (Sept. 28, 2000)
Beyond the Impasse to What? | Stem-cell research may not need human embryos after all. But why are we researching in the first place? (Aug. 18, 2000)
Thus Spoke Superman | Troubling language frames the stem-cell debate. (June 13, 2000)
New Stem-Cell Research Guidelines Criticized | NIH guidelines skirt ethical issues about embryo destruction, charge bioethicists. (Feb. 7, 2000)
Human Embryo Research Resisted (August 9, 1999)
Editorial: The Biotech Temptation (July 12, 1999)
Embryo Research Contested (May 24, 1999)
Biotech Babies (December 7, 1998)
Stop Cloning Around (April 27, 1997)
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