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This time I won't let the doctor pull down my underwear. No way will this man feel my balls again and measure my penis with a yardstick. I hate him. I hate the clinic.
For six months, Mom's been dragging me every week to this nightmare of a place, to see the awful doctor. The freezing stethoscope and his cold hands give me the creeps. Why would the bastard think his white coat gives him the right to embarrass me in front of the nurse, telling her with his smart-ass attitude to look
at my private parts, pulling my elastic without permission?
I look awful in the mirror, with just my boxers on. Like Mom always says, I'm all skin and bones. And my arms are so skinny and long—down to my knees, like a monkey. If they have kids strip here in the middle of winter, can't the government pay for a little heat? Whatever. I think the president's keeping all the money to himself.
Yessss. The blond nurse is back. Her hands are warm. Sure, take my bloodpressure. You want the other arm, too? She smells good. I wish she'd keep leaning over like that. Haven't seen a better pair of legs—not ever. I wish this part of the visit would last forever.
"So let's see how much progress we've made," the doctor says. Short and ugly in his white coat, the sleeves stained with some brown stuff, he stands there like a rock star waiting for applause. He makes me spread my arms apart. He takes the stupid magnifying glass out of his dirty coat and goes searching for gold in my armpit. Hope he chokes from the stink.
"No hair follicles," the doctor dictates to the nurse with not a touch of emotion, like a mechanic checking under the hood. Duh. I could've told him that without the magnifying glass.
Now comes the part I really hate. "Could you please pull down your
underpants for me, young man?" I wish the animal wouldn't see me like this, drenched in sweat. He makes me feel like a lab rat.
I can still hear them laugh. Boys and girls. I imagine that jerk standing in front of the entire class, giving an anatomy lesson on my private parts as I walk in late one day. They all stop cold, short of some giggles in the back, but I still catch a glimpse of the "model" of my privates that he had made from two olives and a toothpick. That's how Mom finds out I'm different than the other boys in class, when I start coming home on lunch-break to use the john. Next thing she does is drag me here. Every Wednesday afternoon I have to visit the NIH clinic
for odd-looking kids.
"Young man, we don't have all day." The little toad is scolding me now. Doctors have no feelings. To him, I'm one more experiment. Nothing else. Now he comes closer and tries to pull down on my elastic.
"No!" I push the doctor. Takes him by complete surprise. His face's bright red from his puffy cheeks through his wide forehead to what's left of his hairline. An overripe tomato.
"Mom, could you come in for a moment?" He calls my mother, "Mom." Creep.
Mom steps in. The small room feels crowded. "Honey, let them fi nish the exam. We have reservations at O'Donnell's for
Big fuckin' deal. Mom is sweet. But it's this grown-up thing again. Bribe your kid and make him do something he really hates doing. Besides, the only thing I really like at O'Donnell's is sneaking into the kitchen and watching them take one of the live crabs out of the tank and dump it in the boiling water.
The doctor comes near me. No. Not again, mister. This time I push him so hard the scumbag has zero chance of touching my underpants again. The doctor takes a step back and hits the wall behind him. He's shaking with anger. Great.
Mom says, "Let me talk to him alone." The doctor and the nurse leave.
"I know, Mom. It's for my sake. You've told me a million times this doctor was going to help. But he's done zilch. I'm just good for some f—" I swallow the rest of it. My way of avoiding soap in my mouth tonight.
"This doctor doesn't give two hoots about me. The other day I heard him tell his nurse that I'm part of a study he has to do for the NIH. He's like that Dr. Mengele we learned about in sch—"
"Shush. Don't you ever mention that Nazi again. What a horrible thing to say. Now, you've got to let him fi nish this."
"Tell you what," I decide to compromise, "I'll let him do it if he doesn't call the nurse in."
Mom promises the doctor I'll behave. I love it. The ugly duckling is scared shitless of a twelve-year-old.
Round three. The little doc and me. Alone. The nurse behind the screen, Mom outside the door. This could be the knockout. Maybe I could bite his ear ... I smile. No more taking advantage of a little boy. I'm in charge now.
"I'll do it myself," I say. I pull down my Calvins. It's still embarrassing, but I feel better.
The doctor approaches me. Still a bit shaky. Again the stupid magnifying glass.
"No pubic hair," he dictates to the nurse behind the curtain. Now he takes his "oddballs"—this ridiculous-looking string of different-size plastic balls. He measures them against my balls.
Guess it didn't get much lower than that. Thank God he isn't asking the nurse if they grew from last time. His cold hands mash my balls. Gross. "Soft," he adds.
Now for the yardstick. "Penis one and a half inches. Any change?"
"No, doctor," says the nurse. I guess from her tone she also hates his guts.
Mom and I walk into his office to hear the verdict. The little judge sits there behind his desk, indifferent, avoiding eye contact, pretending he's too busy going through my chart.
"I'm afraid we haven't made much progress, Mom."
Mom asks, "Have you found out what's wrong with my boy?" She squeezes my hand. Mom is the only person in the whole world who cares about me. Even Dad totally freaked out on our fi rst visit. Couldn't deal.
"The boy has Fragile Y Syndrome," the doctor leans back in his chair. For the first time, his lips thin out, attempting a smile.
"What exactly is Frail Y—?"
"Fragile Y," Frankenstein corrects my mom. "It's a genetic problem he was born with. And nothing can be done to change it. His Y chromosome is weak. You know. The X, the kind that girls have, is okay."
Mom tightens her grip on my hand. She feels me making a fist. Ready when you are Mister I-don't-give-a-damn-how-my-patient-feels. Maybe this time I'll bite your ear off. Then you'd really see chromosomes. Fuckin' jerk. Winner of the gold medal for zero compassion. He tells me I have some horrible disease—and all of a sudden, he's all smiles. My misery makes him happy!
Mom feels me getting ready to jump to my feet and beat the hell out of the shmuck. She pulls me back.
"He is a boy, right?"
"Of course." He tries to please her. Maybe he's sensing danger. Then he strikes again. "He's a little boy with a weak Y chromosome. His penis and testicles will always be small."
Thanks for making me feel so good. So special. I wish I'd never met you.
"What will he be like as an adult?" Mom's voice sounds shaky.
"Tall and skinny. With a micropenis and two microtesticles."Why don't you rub it in, mister? I think you should show me yours. "He'll most probably have no sperm. So, he'll most probably be, hmmm.
You think I didn't get it, right? You just told my mother I'll never be able to have children.
"Oh, and one more thing. These kids are frequently low achievers in school. They sometimes have to attend special classes. Usually they don't make it to college. But they can do menial work. Society has been pretty good—"
Yeah, Mom. Give it to him. Give it to him good.
Mom stands up now, tall and angry, leaning over the desk, looking down at the ugly dwarf.
He raises his hands, as if she's pulling a gun on him. "Sorry, but noth—"
"Nothing can be done to change it. I heard you the fi rst time. Now you listen to me. Listen to me good. You may be a big fucking professor at the NIH, but I've got news for you. You know nothing about the human beings that you try to tack these fancy diagnoses on. Fragile Y or not, my boy is not a low achiever. He's the best student in his entire class. You hear me? The best."
Finally, we're out of that awful place. It feels good to know we're never coming back here again. Never. I clutch Mom's hand and stay real close to her, as my feet crunch the fall leaves that carpet the NIH grounds.
Mom is the only one who ever stood up for me. Always. I love her so much my heart hurts.
Reprotech Inc., West Virginia, twenty-eight years later
What made this dog different from any other dog they'd been working
Dr. Jeremy Coddington, known as Cody, gripped the legs of the antivibration worktable with both hands, praying his fi ne tremor, the kind he always developed under pressure, would escape the eyes of his boss, Hugh Nicholson. While Cody remained seated, Nicholson's gaunt, hunched-over body paced the small room, eyeing the computer screen every few seconds.
The voltage in the room ran high.
A little excitement couldn't hurt, Cody thought. Keeps my coronaries open. This wasn't remotely close to the stress in obstetrics.
When Nicholson had offered him the job two years ago and told
him he wanted him to clone dogs, Cody thought the idea was ludicrous. Why would anyone waste all these resources—the time, the money, the emotions—on such an effort? There were so many other worthy causes.
It seemed like ages ago, when after a sleepless night on the labor
fl oor trying to fend off the next disaster, Cody would wait bleary-eyed
with a twenty-four-hour-old beard in front of the OB board for his
fellow residents' daily lynching. They'd gang up on him—an easy target, progressively more reclusive, and never "one of the guys." He was shorter than everybody, even the female residents. And when they surrounded him, he'd shrink even further into his bloody scrubs, ready for the guillotine.
"Why didn't you use 'spoons' on the baby's head ... or vacuum ... and fucking pull this nine-pound baby out?" the female chief resident, his nemesis, would yell in front of his peers. The others were buddies, shedding their obstetrical anxieties at the First Amendment bar every Friday night. He never went with them. He didn't think doctors should drink.
"This baby was born blue, thanks to you. And he's seizing now." He'd hear the chief resident's words in his sleep. Night after night, his obstetrical disasters would come back as nightmares. Babies he'd delivered would show up as deformed adults, screaming to his face, "What have you done to us?"
So, he'd taken the job with Nicholson and now woke up in the bowels of the old WW II shelter Nicholson had chosen for his cloning operation, where no one would ever think of looking for him. He felt safe.
Okay. He cloned dogs. Beats OB. Or anything else where he'd be held accountable for human lives. Not that cloning was an easy feat. But in two years, Cody was back to himself, realizing it was only his anxiety that had made him a klutz on the OB fl oor. That he really didn't have two left hands. He'd actually succumbed to what everyone else was saying—that he was dangerous. Any mishap could mean another life put in jeopardy, another baby born compromised ... defective ... handicapped ... dead! Here at the shelter, he worked with molecules, not living, breathing humans whose lives were in immediate peril, abandoned in Cody's unskilled hands.
Working alone for hours on his tiny clones would normally put him in a Zen mode, feeling more relaxed than on a therapist's sofa. He'd mastered the technique, operated with low anxiety. His self-esteem had made a comeback. His hands were now rock stable. Here they had transformed into two right hands!
The boss's pacing made him uneasy. Nicholson rarely came to the
lab. Surrounded by a million dollars-worth of equipment, with twelve
incubators stacked up two at a time, his workstation, the place where he operated on dot-of-dust size embryos under the microscope, already felt claustrophobic.
Cody had no idea what made today's job so special. By now, they'd
successfully cloned over a dozen dogs. All different breeds. So what's the big fuss over the Cavalier King Charles spaniel? Was it the money? The boss had a habit of blending business with science. The customer had brought Cookie, his nine-year-old dog, to be cloned—Cookie, who was dying of mitral valve disease. The customer had also brought a print of the van Dyck painting of King Charles fl anked by two spaniels to use as a prototype.
Nicholson stopped pacing and pointed at the painting that rested
against the wall next to Cody's station. "These spaniels clearly have a longer nose than sick mom here."
"I can't make the nose any longer," Cody said.
"I didn't ask you to. How about checking for mitral valve disease in the clone?"
"Done. And I've screened for all the other diseases that shorten these dogs' lives."
"Problems with heart, hips, knees, and eyes. We're screening each
embryo for all four systems and will identify the healthiest one."
"What about syringomyelia?"
Cody wasn't sure he heard right. True, Nicholson had gotten a
bachelor's in Biology from Penn before starting Wharton Business School, but Cody had never heard a layperson mention this rare condition before. Even the enunciation was impeccable.
"It's that condition where water replaces part of the spinal cord. The
dog gets weak in the knees, sometimes can't walk at all," Cody's boss
"Honestly, Mr. Nicholson, I have no clue how to screen for it. There's
currently no DNA test available."
"Let's hope we'll get lucky and the dog won't develop it."
Cody sighed. He knew not to expect a pat on the shoulder. Nicholson was not one to praise him for what he was able to do. Genetic screening would likely give the newly cloned King Charles a healthier, longer life. But Nicholson's talent was to fi nd that one thing Cody was unable to do. The boss demanded perfection from himself, as well as from anyone who worked for him.
Cody remembered Anya. How he missed her! After another rough
night on Labor and Delivery, she'd come into the tiny call room in her
blue scrubs, her hair still wet from the shower, and sit on the edge of the bed across from him, her hands smelling of lavender soap. In the intimacy of the call room, Anya would go over each case they'd overseen that night, pointing out his errors, making sure not to defl ate any confi dence left in him. Anya was quick to praise his intellect, his scientific advantage over the rest of the residents, reminding him of their Harvard Medical School days, where Cody was king. Down in the obstetric trenches, Anya Krim would fi nd the right words. She'd reassure him that mistakes in patient care were allowed in residency, that they were part of the learning curve. But Cody knew she was just being kind. He had watched her in action.
The thought of the two of them alone, sitting on the bed in the call
room, inhaling her scent, Anya's scrubs revealing but a hint of her shapely figure ... time and again he'd play it out in his dreams, in his fantasies. Dreaming of her, of them, was his escape from the daily horrors reality had presented him. Yet, he was never as acutely aware of how much he'd desired her until one day, over lunch, she'd told him she started dating this guy, Dario. The sharp pang came with no warning. The hatred toward the man he hadn't met for snatching "his" Anya. The anger toward her for betraying him. And later, alone again, his self-esteem dropped to a new low. He was a fool to think he'd ever had a chance with Anya. She'd only seen him in one crisis. And then another. And another. Pitiful? Yes. Attractive? No.
Now he missed having his closest friend and ally beside him. As far as Cody was concerned, it was Anya Krim who provided the crutches for him to hop on from one year to the next until he graduated Lincoln Hospital's OB/Gyn residency.
No use looking back. Cody was grateful to Nicholson for taking him in, for recognizing his scientific talent. He knew how much Nicholson detested doctors, and that it was an unusual move for him to hire a physician.
"Do you realize the revolution that cloning is about to bring?" Nicholson now cracked what Cody considered a smile. "Breeding is for the birds, a bad genetic experiment. You start out mating two award-winning animals, and if you're lucky, what do you get? An offspring like Cookie, as pretty as Mom and Dad or prettier. But then what? Its life span is bound to be shortened, because no one checked for the disease genes that are rampant in the breed."
Nicholson is a man of vision, Cody pondered. Always thinks big.
"We should be able to get them back to their normal life span,"
Nicholson countered. "It's why cloning is superior to breeding. Leaving things to nature is too risky. Cloning's going to replace all breeding. The reason why the suicide rate is so high among breeders—"
"Don't interrupt me. Is that they could never satisfy the sophisticated customer, who can easily detect the most subtle differences between puppies. And why are they different? It's called biology. Look at you and your brother: you, a world-class scientist; your brother, a school janitor. Obviously, you got the bigger piece of the apple pie a la mode. And your poor brother got the crumbs. You came from the same parents, right?"
Nasty. Cody loved his brother. So what if he was a janitor? This wasn't the first time Nicholson used the example of Cody and his brother to prove cloning was superior to sexual reproduction. And Cody knew where the attitude came from: Nicholson—an only child—was jealous. Recently, in a rare moment of candor, Nicholson told him how, as a child, he had eavesdropped on his parents in their bedroom. He heard his mom whisper, "I think I'm ovulating, honey," and his father respond, "Then we're better off not doing it tonight. God forbid we'll have another child like Hugh. Another Fragile Y. Another eunuch!"
"What do you think?" Nicholson tossed a magazine onto his table.
Horses? Was Nicholson kidding? This was fi rst time in two years Cody heard the boss suggest another animal to clone. Horses were more complex animals than dogs. The headache would be as huge as the animal.
"So, we're on to racehorses?"
"It all depends on you."
"Yes! Our client is crazy about racehorses. You give him a perfect dog, and we'll get him begging us to clone his horse, Hercules."
Cody had to talk Nicholson out of it. But how?
"Is he a gelding?"
"It's a polite way to say the horse had been castrated," Cody said,
immediately regretting the word. Nicholson frowned. "A horse is a complex animal. Not an easy task."
"Who said this was going to be easy?" Nicholson clapped Cody on the back. "Cloning has a high failure rate; we know that. But you and I will ace it! There's big business in horseracing. We're talking six, even seven fi gures."
Cody got up from his seat and turned to face Nicholson, who was still towering over him. "You can clone, but they won't let a cloned horse run."
Nicholson eyes sparkled with excitement. "Oh yes they will. Just wait till we make a new Hercules."
"I doubt it. Over seventy countries signed an agreement barring any
horse not naturally created from running. Even plain artifi cial insemination is forbidden. A cloned horse isn't eligible to run, nor is it eligible to be registered in the stud book."
"Then we'll start our own book of cloned studs."
"Ambitious. Next, you'll be cloning humans."
"Exactly." Nicholson's eyes brightened. "Now that the human genome has been mapped, we should be able to clone a human being and run it through a checklist, making sure it doesn't have any genetic disease."
Just like the spaniel, Cody thought, horrifi ed and excited by Nicholson's plans. A human clone! How he'd love to work on that.
He watched his boss leave the room.
"He's here." The secretary buzzed the intercom. "The boss is bringing him to the GIS room."
"Thanks for the warning." Cody got up at his workstation. Taking extra caution, he placed the petri dishes with the King Charles embryos he'd been working on aboard a single tray. He crossed the corridor, tray in hand, and entered the GIS room. He'd never seen Nicholson so anxious over a client's visit. Nicholson had rehearsed with his staff every detail of the visit, down to the timing of the coffee and the kind of china to be used.
Cody had just fi nished placing the embryo dish in the incubator when Nicholson and the client walked in. He turned around and took a step toward the two men. The client's handshake was fi rm. He was about Cody's height, fi t, wearing an Armani pinstriped three-piece suit.
"Is the puppy ready?" he asked. Cody couldn't place the accent, but
each word was meticulously pronounced.
"Not quite," Nicholson jumped in before Cody had a chance to
respond. "Here we work differently from other cloning operations. For us, it's not simply trial and error. We check and recheck each of our embryos through the GIS—the Gene Imaging System—which Doctor Cody will demonstrate in a minute. Only after we select the healthiest embryos, do we implant them into a surrogate dog. With us, you get 100 percent accountability."
Cody fought to suppress a smile. Accountability! Huh! By the time the dog developed a disease that would shorten its life, it would be years later, and tracing the problem back to Reprotech was close to impossible. OB was different. If you had a problem during labor, the impact of what you'd done was apparent as soon as the baby came out depressed and blue. And if the baby was doomed to lifelong handicap, he—Cody— couldn't undo it. With cloned dogs, if the puppy came out defective, you simply went back to your bench, changed some things, and made another one. Clients didn't have to know how many puppies you'd gone through before you had
a presentable one.
"Dr. Cody, why don't you take it from here?" Nicholson said.
Cody obliged. "I'd transferred Cookie's genes from the piece of skin
we removed from her belly into eggs taken from Proxy, our surrogate dog. This is what we've got at this point." He picked up a remote control and turned on four monitors at the end of the room. Each of the four monitors displayed an image of fi ve embryos. Cody turned off three of the monitors. He walked over to the only screen that was still lit and pointed to an eight-cell embryo he had zoomed
in on. "This embryo is an identical reproduction of Cookie's DNA. I'll
show you how we know that."
He touched another button. A fl uorescent sign, GENOTYPE, shone over the panel of three more monitors in the center of the room. Two monitors lit up simultaneously, each showing an expressionistic
combination of dots.
"What you see is a genetic map of a dog's cell—the genetic code for
an entire canine being," Cody said. "The genetic fi ngerprint on monitor 5 is from an eight-cell embryo we created. Monitor 6 shows Cookie's fingerprint. To the naked eye, both 5 and 6 look identical. Our computer compares them gene by gene, one gene at a time. Thousands of genes are checked for each embryo."
Cody turned on four monitors on the right. The fluorescent sign above them read PHENOTYPE.
"We've developed this decoder, capable of translating the genetic map into a precise photographic image of what the cloned dog should look like. In other words, the phenotype."
The client stared at the panel of screens, the rapidity of his breathing
the only sign of his excitement.
"This is what your new dog will look like should we choose to use the embryo we've just seen. Here she is a puppy," Cody shone his laser pointer at the fi rst screen, "and this is what she'd look like a year old, then as a threeyear- old, and fi nally, as a nine-year-old."
"Show us the comparison images, please," Nicholson said.
All the screens went dark except the one displaying the nine-year-old phenotype picture of the clone. A recent photo of Cookie came up on the next screen over. Cookie was lying on her stomach, her head buried between her paws.
"I can't see her face," the client exclaimed.
"Unfortunately, your dog was too sick to pose for us. So, we decided to go back to the original image of the King Charles spaniels as seen in this van Dyck painting." Cody fl ashed the painting on another screen and zoomed in on one of the two spaniels. "Here you can clearly tell the most important features of the breed: the fl at skull, round eyes, the long nose, and high-set ears. What do you think, sir?"
The client spent several minutes studying the two images. There was silence in the room. Cody held his breath.
"Everything looks the same," the guest fi nally said as Cody let the air out of his lungs. "All—except for the nose."
"We're aware of this, sir. Cookie's nose is shorter, and we can't lengthen it."
"I know. I just wish we could have the classic look back."
"Thank you, Cody." Nicholson got up. "Sir, we can return to my
Now for the good part, Nicholson thought as he and his client entered his office, leaving Cody behind in the GIS room.
This was the best time to squeeze out the dough, when the dog was
ill, very ill, but not dead yet. "I expect to have your new dog ready in nine weeks." He indicated a chair for his guest and went around the desk to sit in his own.
"As long as it's not longer than that." The client's voice quivered. "The vet gave Cookie no more than six months to live, but she's not doing well now. She's been admitted to the best vet hospital and hooked up to two IVs. She's on oxygen." The man's façade had crumpled. He looked as though he were about to cry.
"I'm sure you got her the best care." He's not even going to fl inch when I give him the figures.
"How much do I owe you?" The client's voice was hardly audible. He reached inside his jacket and took out a checkbook.
Nicholson decided to double the price. "It's fi fty thousand today and another fifty thousand when you get the puppy."
The client leaned over Nicholson's desk and wrote out the check.
"Pleasure to do business with you," Nicholson said, suppressing his jubilation. This was a good point to get up and escort his guest out. But the client took his time, remaining seated, in deep thoughts. Things have gone really smoothly so far. Don't spoil it now with a list of conditions. Sometimes clients were difficult like that, holding him hostage until they got to see the cloned dog and made sure it looked exactly like their old pet.
"I was impressed by this GIS system," the man fi nally said.
Nicholson exhaled the air he'd involuntarily held. "Yes!" No reason to be humble. "First of its kind." He leaned backward in his chair, stretching his arms behind his head. "Ours is the only system in the world that can scan the genes and create a realistic image of what your dog's going to look like."
"I realize it. Cloning could work on species far more complex than
dogs, right?" The client cocked his head.
"Absolutely." Nicholson sat up straight. He shouldn't let this
opportunity slip away. "We feel more than ready to move on."
"Then you're the man for the job. But this job has got to be 100 percent perfect."
Nicholson thought he knew exactly what his client was talking about. From what Cody had told him, they had to make the horse look like it was naturally conceived or else it wouldn't be allowed to race. "We've always planned on racehorses as the next step."
"Racehorses?" The client's hand went to his mouth. He let out a little chuckle. "Oh no. There's absolutely no need for another Hercules. I can replace a racehorse."
So, he wasn't attached to his horse the way he was attached to his dog, Nicholson surmised. Cookie was a close family member. Hercules, on the other hand, was just another employee.
"It's human beings you can't replace," the client said.
"A human being. I'm talking about human cloning." His own face
blank, the client studied Nicholson's face for response.
Nicholson felt like a captain of a ship caught in a bad storm. He felt
the blood drain from his face. The man meant it! There was no sign he
was joking. This man wanted him to make the leap from cloning a dog to cloning a human. Now!
"Who, exactly, did you have in mind?" he asked. His voice came out
faint. His confidence was gone. He wasn't due yet for his weekly injection, but he could surely use one now. His spine did a poor job holding his body straight. He arched over his desk.
"Myself, of course. I've only managed to father girls. If I don't have a
male heir soon, I lose everything I own."
"We can help you select the sex of your child," offered Nicholson.
"Why would I want to do that? Are you feeling all right, Mr.
Nicholson? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Nicholson feigned a smile. "I'm fi ne. Just a bit surprised."
"As I was saying, why would I want to use science just to select the sex? Look how much I've invested to get an exact replica of my dog. I'd rather have a child who's my perfect clone, without contamination of a woman's genes. To my knowledge, human cloning hasn't been outlawed in the United States."
He was right. But Nicholson knew the prevailing sentiments in America were strongly against it. What the client was asking him to do wasn't considered legitimate. He'd have to do it in secret.
"No one's been able to clone a human yet," he pointed out. Cody's going to freak out when I tell him this is our next project. Accountability was his biggest fear. That's why he ran away from OB. The tiniest mistake in cloning this man, and both he and I might as well slash our own wrists.
The client got up. "I'm wasting my time," he said and turned around to face the door.
Nicholson stood and circled his desk in a hurry.
"It's okay." The client touched his arm. "I understand. You're not ready. I just wanted to check with you fi rst before I went elsewhere."
"Elsewhere? Who do you know who'd clone a human being?"
"I have a call in to Doctor Anya Krim at Lincoln."
Nicholson froze. Anya Krim, the doctor Cody didn't stop talking about.
Everything he—Nicholson—did was perpetually compared to Anya. And Nicholson, who since childhood hated doctors, had absolutely detested the woman he'd never met. Not only was she a doctor, she also stood to win any competition between them for Cody's allegiance. Now this. Now she stood a chance to win the race to human cloning!
"Anya Krim? How did you hear about her?"
"Google. She's successfully cloned a human heart in a pig."
Cody had bragged about her feat. He'd said she was the only one who was a better cloner than he was. Nicholson panicked. He had to talk the client out of going to her.
"Oh, I know who she is. A doctor. You'd have to have a major illness
before she'd take you on for her research."
"She's gotten private funding to continue her work."
"But she won't clone a human. She claims all she'd do is therapeutic
cloning—produce new organs for transplant. She's stated to the media and to Congress there's absolutely no reason whatsoever to clone a human being. But you and I know better, don't we? So, as far as reproductive cloning goes, we're the only show in town. And I mean in the country."
"Are you telling me you're ready to do it?"
Nicholson met the client's stare. "Absolutely. We'll proceed with
preparations right away. I'll send you an estimate in a week, to be followed by a contract once we agree on my fees."
"Don't you need to check with Doctor Cody first? After all, this will be the first cloning of a human being."
"Trust me. Cloning a human is any cloning scientist's dream. And Cody is the only man for the job."
"Very well." The man beamed. "This is more like it, Nicholson. I expect my clone to look like me, behave like me, think like me. I expect him to be identical to me in all respects."
"And it will be, Your Highness."
C H A P T E R 1
Washington D.C., sixteen months later
Something's wrong with this baby, thought Doctor Anya Krim.
Twenty hours in labor and the baby wasn't coming. What could be
wrong? Was it the womb? She eyed the monitor. No. Contractions were regular, forceful. The baby was getting excited with each contraction, his heart rate accelerating. The muscle pouch that held the unborn child was working full force.
Was the canal too narrow? She felt the pelvic bones framing the head. There was plenty of room; this mother had big bones. Anya remembered her residency lingo: the kind of pelvis you could drive a truck through.
It had to be the baby, then. But why? She felt the sutures on the skull: presentation was perfect. And the baby was tiny, especially in relationship to mom. Bonnie Marshall should have been able to sneeze the little peanut outa long time ago.
Maybe the baby wasn't done nesting in the womb, holding on for dear life to its cradle, while the cradle continued its incessant, rhythmic attempts to eject it. The canal that lay ahead was wide open.
Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm out of practice. She hadn't delivered a baby in eight years. And now what used to be routine for her seemed impossibly difficult. What was I thinking when I agreed to deliver this baby? I should've known better. How many patients I'd
helped conceive had begged me to deliver them? It had to be hundreds. She'd told each of them the truth: they were better off in the hands of an obstetrician who'd been in the trenches day and night. How stupid was I to break my rule for Cody? What was I thinking, that I'd walk in, catch the baby, and walk out—end of story?
The cervix had been open for over two hours. Anya continued to
stretch it to make more room for the baby's head.
She sat on a stool between the stirrups that supported Bonnie Marshall's long legs. Dysfunctional labor. Liz, the delivery room nurse, looked at the mother. "Something is wrong with this delivery."
Anya attempted a smile. "Brilliant. You must've been sick during
bedside manners week in nursing school."
Bonnie's emotionless face gave no indication of whether she cared if the baby came out.
How unfair, Anya thought. For so many women, pregnancy was no
more than an accident. A mishap.
"Maybe we should let the epidural wear off," Liz suggested.
"Maybe it's time for you to go on break," Anya offered. "This has been a long stretch."
"Thanks, Doctor Krim. But I'll stay. I wish you'd deliver babies all the
I wish, Anya thought. She wondered if Liz could read her mind. Did
she sense that Anya felt out of place, an alien who had landed unexpectedly in the labor and delivery microcosm?
"Push, Bonnie, push," the delivery room choir recited. Liz, a large
woman herself, was practically lying over Bonnie's upper belly.
Violent contractions were coming less than a minute apart. But Bonnie hardly flinched. Her face was lime-white, as if all the blood had gone up to her flaming red hair.
"Don't you worry, Bonnie, all babies come out in the end," Anya said. Her blue scrubs were drenched in a mix of sweat and the amniotic fluid that had broken more than three hours earlier. The nursing assistant wiped Anya's forehead with a wet sponge, removed Anya's foggy goggles, cleaned them with wet gauze, and fi tted them back over her ears.
Anya had been up for over twenty-four hours. Now, with the repetitive gallop of the fetal monitor, the "push-push-push" from Liz, and that delivery room stench—a mix of Betadine, the patient's secretions, blood, and the sweat under her double layer of scrubs—assailing her, Anya's mind drifted.
It wasn't the stench that had driven her away from obstetrics. Not the bad hours. It wasn't even the bad babies she was terrifi ed to deliver. It was any baby, every baby. She couldn't stand the thought that she'd never have her own.
Professor Feinberg thundered into the delivery room. "Doctor Krim,
I've been looking for you."
Not him, Anya thought. Not here. And not now.
"Doctor Feinberg?" Anya said
"I wanted to congratulate you—"
The stout professor wore a small, blue, scrub top, his mammoth belly barely covered by green, extra-large bottoms.
"You've outperformed yourself. I thought you'd reached your peak when you cloned a human heart in a pig. But you keep coming up with new surprises. A human pancreas in the mouse! By God, this may be the first step to rid the world of diabetes. Are you ready for your testimony in the Senate?"
She kept her eyes fixed on Bonnie. "I haven't had time yet to prepare.
But I'll be ready. Don't worry."
"Doctor Krim's going to testify as an expert witness in front of a Senate committee on the Embryonic Stem-Cell Bill. You know why?" he asked an audience of two nurses, a nursing assistant, an anesthesiologist, and a woman in labor. "She was able to grow a piece of human pancreas in a mouse. Now the little mouse makes insulin every day. Can you imagine? This woman is a genius. Once we transplant diabetics with a new pancreas, they'll never need to take insulin again."
Claustrophobia overwhelmed Anya. The professor had invaded her
"Professor, I'm busy. Push, Bonnie, push." Anya stretched the vagina. "I need some fundal pressure."
"My pleasure," said Feinberg. Anya heard the nurses gasp at this breach of protocol. "A double step stool," he ordered the nursing assistant, who hurried to stack one step stool on top of another, bowing for the king of the OB/Gyn to climb up to his throne. "I see a good one coming," he said, cheerfully leaning his stomach across Bonnie's.
"It's too much pressure, Professor, the baby doesn't like it," Anya said sharply. "Why don't you make an appointment if you want to talk to me? I'm really pretty busy—"
"Why are you here at all, Doctor Krim?" Feinberg's graying eyebrows
tented upward. His right eye seemed narrow and mean, while his glass eye, painted dark brown, stayed wide open. With his cap and his face mask, he looked like a pirate who had just captured Bonnie's pregnant mound and declared it his.
"I don't understand," Anya said.
His good eye turned icy. "You know damn well what I mean. How long has it been since you've delivered a baby?"
"I asked you a question."
"Eight years," Anya said faintly.
"Eight whole years," Feinberg enunciated slowly. "Eight years is like a lifetime in obstetrics. What on earth made you decide to do a delivery all of a sudden? Some kind of a divine inspiration?" He threw his arms in the air.
Feinberg was right. But there no way she'd tell him that. "This patient was sent by Cody. He was a resident here. Doctor Jeremy Coddington."
"Oh, I remember Cody! How can I forget? The first time I met him was
right here, on the labor floor. He was struggling to pull a ten-pound baby from below on a five-foot even mom."
"Size doesn't matter," he said. "By the time you sectioned the mom, the baby came out in severe distress, with two broken clavicles. And the rest of his residency got worse. Thank God he's not practicing OB anymore."
"This patient is from out of state, Professor. Cody asked that I deliver her."
"So Cody's deciding who should be delivering babies in my department? Well I'm still the chairman. And I say there will be no more babies for you after this one."
No more babies for me.
"Your place is in the lab."
"We'll finish this conversation later," Anya said. The baby's heartbeat had started to dip after each contraction.
"Hold it." He raised his hand. "Coddington never took initiative when he trained with me. Do you seriously think that he'd choose to send a patient to Lincoln Hospital on his own volition? Someone told him to do it. Someone who wanted you, and only you, to deliver this baby."
Feinberg was right again. Anya, too, had wondered about Cody's
motive. He knew she wasn't practicing OB anymore. Since he was a
follower, not a leader, whose orders did he take? Who told him Anya should deliver the baby? And why? She'd have to revisit this later. Right now, she had a job to finish.
"She's having 'lates.' Turn her to her side, Liz, and give her oxygen,"
Anya said. Her face white with rage, she whirled on Feinberg. "You're getting in the way of this delivery. Please leave."
Feinberg stepped down from the double stool and crowded her again. "You were hired to work on stem-cell research and organ cloning. Instead, you've become the fertility guru to Capitol Hill and the White House. Don't think you've become untouchable just because the First Lady hired you as her fertility doctor. We'll finish this discussion later." He thundered out as he had thundered in.
The late decelerations of the baby's heartbeat did not recover with the change in position and oxygen. "We need to crash her," Anya said. "Open a c-section tray and call a resident to scrub in. Also, call the NICU."
"Doctor Gordon and the NICU team are on their way."
Anya sighed in relief. Having Alex Gordon around was reassuring. But she couldn't wait for him to arrive. The baby wasn't getting enough oxygen and needed to come out.
Within seconds, the delivery room transformed into an operating room. Liz handed Anya a fresh gown and a new set of gloves and then painted Bonnie's stomach with yellow Betadine solution. The resident stepped in, her hands dripping water; a nurse gowned and gloved her. Together they opened a large sterile paper drape and stretched it across Bonnie's body, leaving only a square window to expose the surgical site.
"Have you re-dosed the epidural?" Anya asked the anesthesiologist.
"Incision time's ten past 5 am," Anya said. She took the scalpel and
made a straight incision from the belly button down to the pubic bone.
Skin, fascia, peritoneum—and the smooth purple uterus was exposed. She could feel the baby's head through the thin wall of the lower segment.
You're not out of practice. You'll never be.
She cut through the uterus, taking care not to cut the baby. Black curly hair, shampooed with a mix of blood and meconium—the baby's bowel movements during distress—emerged through the uterine incision.
Liz grabbed Anya's arm with her soaked gloved hand. "Free at last, free at last."
The ache at the pit of Anya's stomach was a refl ex she'd always had at the sight of a new baby entering the world. In a matter of minutes, another woman will turn into a new mother. Pain shot from front to back, like an ulcer punching a hole in her stomach.
Bonnie remained expressionless. This baby would be better off in another home, Anya thought.
Alex Gordon stood behind her, looking at the baby. For a second,
they made eye contact. She could tell his smile from under the face mask.
A blanket was draped open over the arms of the NICU nurse Alex had brought with him, as if she expected the baby to parachute from the ceiling.
"Is there something wrong with this baby," Liz whispered, "or am I just beyond tired?"
"You might be right." Anya noted each facial feature as she drew the
baby's head through the incision: each one seemed deformed: the eyes— slanted and drawn upwards, the ears—low-set, the nose—beaked, the palate—high-arched.
Ignoring her beeper's new vibe, Anya pulled the baby's head backward, allowing the front shoulder to come through the incision. She suppressed a sigh. Now the other shoulder. She kept a fi rm grip on the head with her left hand, while her right slid along the spine to grab the baby's feet. Anya could see a huge hole in the baby's abdomen. The baby's gut protruded through the hole.
"Oh jeez," Liz cried softly. The neonatal team began barking orders.
Anya heard Feinberg's clogs behind her. He's back. I'm going to kill him. I'm going to kill him now!
"You can thank your friend for this mess. Special delivery of a monster baby. Someone knew this baby would turn out this way, and they wanted you, and only you, to deliver it. I want to know why they chose you."
Don't you call this little baby a monster! Right there, right above that big stomach that I'm so dying to punch, there's a big hole. When did you lose your heart, Feinberg? Was callousness in your job description? "Professor, you've got to stop," she managed.
"I'm out of here," he turned toward the door. "But come see me in my
office after the case. You've got some explaining to do."
Anya sighed with temporary relief. But not even a sigh came out
of the newborn. Anya wiped its face. Mechanically, she completed the
delivery. Cradling the baby securely in her left arm, she double-clamped the umbilical cord.
"Can you tell the sex?" she asked Alex.
"Absolutely not," he whispered. With a gloved hand, his fingers spread the two skin folds between the thighs, exposing an ill-defi ned bulge. "This could be either an underdeveloped penis or an overdeveloped clitoris."
"Ambiguous genitalia," she said. He nodded in agreement. They both knew what that meant. There was no way to tell Bonnie Marshall whether she'd just given birth to a boy or a girl. Indeed, they wouldn't know for days. Anya handed the baby to the NICU nurse, who took it to an open warmer. Using a tiny preemie laryngoscope, Alex slipped a plastic tube into the baby's windpipe. The nurse started to pump oxygen-rich air while he
worked on the IV.
Anya came over to Alex's side. "What can I tell the mom?"
"Not much, I'm afraid. I don't even know if the baby will live."
Anya approached the head of the delivery table, where Bonnie lay quietly. She squeezed Bonnie's shoulder. "They're taking care of the baby now."
"Thank you." The words were barely audible.
Anya saw a nurse take a footprint of the baby before the neonatal team wheeled it to the NICU. The nurse took the birth certifi cate to Bonnie for her signature.
Anya rushed to her side. "Bonnie, what's wrong?"
"Look, Doctor, look!" Bonnie held the birth certifi cate out to Anya.
"The baby has six toes. It has six—" She began sobbing.
"It's easy to fi x" Anya said. "I know it's a shock, but we can remove the extra digits in a few days, and no one will ever know. Calm down." She stroked Bonnie's arm and sat with her. "Can you tell us if there's any way to contact the baby's father?"
"That's a problem," Bonnie whispered. "There is no father."