I AM TELLIS MOORE

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IAmTellisMoore2Published in the 2008 anthology Forbidden Speculation, the story “I Am Tellis Moore” was one of my first experiments in point-of-view. At one point, this story was written in first, third, and even second P.O.V. I finally settled on first person to allow the reader more intimacy with the character of Tellis Moore. This story languished “in the trunk” after many rejections. It was accorded special recognition for being a quarter-finalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s prestigious Writers of the Future contest. There were some kind words from editors and a couple of near acceptances before I trotted it out one last time for an editor, Seth Crossman, whom I knew was an admirer of my work. And wouldn’t you know it, he found a place for it in the themed anthology that he was compiling at the time, provided I change the title from “Tellis Moore Twenty-Four” to the one he suggested. “No problem,” I told him. Persistence is the key to most things in life, but a little luck and good timing never hurts either.

 

 

I AM TELLIS MOORE

by

Christopher L. DelGuercio

 

My name is Tellis Moore. I hate this love sometimes. It keeps me screwed to this chair, pawing at my alphapad all day long. I’m a virtuoso, drumming away at that pad. I’m Jimmy Cobb slapping at his snare on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue—keeping time in a thoughtless, unending rhythm. People say it’s a damn impressive thing to watch me check the datamesh from thirty worlds as fast as it can be wetwired to my block. Of course, I know the machines do all the heavy lifting. I just enable the search programs. That’s when I play. It used to be a real sweet gig, but now I key with no more passion than I brush my teeth. Some days don’t feel real; my head feels like it’s swimming in soup but my fingers keep moving, always moving. I can’t stop them.

Julia won’t let me.

I scan for signs of her day and night, awake and asleep. There’s lots of space out there to cover. I equip the machine’s massive metal brains with Julia’s DNA model. They check the streams of incoming genocodes against her model until they hit upon a match. Sometimes they fish one out with ninety-eight or ninety-nine percent similarity. But that’s not nearly Julia–humans share the same percentage of common DNA with chimps. As surely as an ape is not a man, 99% Julia could never be Julia.

Her tag is still the best way to find her, though. Unless someone lives deep within the metro-vectors or lies on the outland ring, unless they’re cosnomadic or NuAmish, DNA tagging is universal from birth. A second after the animatronic hand clips the umbilical cord and just before the deluge of inoculations, everyone is tagged. Tagging makes it easy to spot genetic problem areas before they manifest into actual problems: a predisposition to disease; a rage inclination; genes for criminality, nearsightedness, low mental capacity, baldness, halitosis–you name it. Although the actual replacement for these unfavorable traits has remained largely ineffective, at least now it’s possible to find which rungs on the helix will rot through.

Program complete. No Julia, again.

*                                                    *                                                          *

I have trouble breathing at night–like a cinder block has been placed on my chest. In bed I can feel my heart fighting to pump my lungs full of air.

I know it’s Julia.

I’ve tried to think about other women but in the end there’s only her face, her cinnamoned skin, flecked with color as perfectly as the night sky; a steep smile that unzips itself coquettishly, only to me; her chestnut cascade of hair. Julia poisons my mind to the mere idea of a mistress. Her memory won’t allow me one.

It’s not her fault. No one could ever have the same light inside that Julia had. No one else could ever have her honey-thick aura. She was iridescent, electric. She was golden. Thoughts of her so envelope me that I have to wipe them from my eyes just to see again. I think God himself was jealous of our love. That’s why He took her away all those years ago. I don’t expect anyone else to understand.

How could they?

*                                                    *                                                          *

Grand Father always claimed that it started with test-tube birthings and Xeroxed sheep. After that, he’d say, just about anything was possible.

“A man could live, ‘Un-til the Twelfth of Ne-ver’,” he’d sing, “provided he has a good enough reason to.”

My genocode was among the first adult generation’s to be tagged and catalogued—the age group that went from mere mortal to nearly immortal overnight. We were branded Generation L,but I don’t remember why. Was the “L” for life or longevity, or for just being lucky? Who knows anymore? It was judged to be the single most fortunate time in the history of mankind to be alive; life spans nearly doubled overnight.

Julia died three months before the first mass taggings. Her genocode could be mapped and catalogued posthumously, but it couldn’t be legally replicated; only DNA from the living is allowed to be clone-grown. The last thing The Ministry wanted was someone purposely hatching another Hitler. That means in order to be with her, she must occur naturally. Once that happens, I have to find her. At least now with a double lifespan, I have twice the time to do it. How does the old saying go? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or, more aptly, when the Ministry gives you caveats, turn them into caviar.

*                                                    *                                                          *

I watch my holoscreen at home listlessly. “Don’t you think it should’ve happened by now, Father? What if we never find her? The Ministry should develop a way to engineer past citizens.”

“Don’t you think I haven’t wished for that exact same thing?” Father scolds me.

“They’ll never allow it, Tellis. The option doesn’t exist so get it out of your head right now. It’s better that you do. There are no shortcuts—keep your mind on your task if you want to find her,” he tells me. “Her number’s due, just have some faith. You’re still so young, you’ve just begun to search. It’s all worth it, boy, or have you forgotten what I taught you?  She’s worth it. Julia is worth all of it.”

Father’s sallow eyes narrow and lock onto me. His glare pounds at me like a tire iron across my cheek.

Don’t ever forsake her, don’t quit on us now, his eyes seem to say. She’s the reason we’re here. This is a transcendent love. It once was and shall be again–mythic and awaiting. Seek italways. Keep seeking her.

I nod and Father releases his gaze, retreating to the pantry cupboard. “Your grandfather and I are going into the study to sit down for a tea.”

“That sounds wonderful. May I join you?”

Father frowns. “You’re well aware that the new data wave from the MaxTau nebula is coming in, Tellis. You know it needs to be checked. I was testing you, son.” He shakes his head. “You’ll be busy tonight.”

“I’m tired, Father.” I offer up a peevish glance. “But I’ll scan for the code,” I assure him.

That night I dream of Julia. Her flesh is smooth and a vivid pink, her touch willing. She speaks to me in the midnight and, for that time at least, she’s real again. I wake up badly, in a desperate sweat, clutching at her bedside photograph, overgrown with a patina of amber. It’s becoming simply a rendering of a woman I don’t know. Every day Julia feels further from me. Exhausted and despondent, I fall back to sleep.

*                                                    *                                                          *

“Tellis, it’s morning,” Father says from beneath the door frame. He looks somehow different, changed. “I should tell you that Grand Father Moore passed away last night in his sleep. Don’t worry yourself though. I’ll make the ceremonial arrangements today.”

I suddenly feel twice as alone as I had the moment before I woke. “He was barely a hundred,” I say.

“He was young enough all right. He just lost the will. He was a good man, he lived a right life, did what was expected of him all the way down the line. That’s all any of us can hope to say.” Father sits down on the edge of the bed. “I think the thing that kept him going was the chance that you might find her. He so wanted to see Julia–we all do, Tellis.” Father takes the picture from the nightstand and touches the frame’s face. I pry it from his hands.

“If she’s out there somewhere, if her code exists, Father, I’ll find her. Don’t give up on me. You’re all I have left now and I don’t know if I could do this alone if I had to. We’ll get our chance. She’ll come back to us.”

“I know she will,” he says. “And I know you’d do what needs to be done once I was gone, but I would rather spare you that.”

My metallic wristwatch strap warms and fires a neuron pulse from my spine to the cerebral cortex. “That’s my alarm. I’ll be late for work.”

Father splays his fingers across my chest. “Don’t go yet.” My body freezes. I don’t recall the last time Father touched me. “Don’t worry about running scans today–I’ll take care of them. Why don’t you skip out of work, get outside, go down to the rest pools. I know all this must be a shock to you. Come down and have a cup of tea with me, son, we’ll talk about it.” He takes my arm and leads me downstairs where he places a ready mug in front of me on the kitchen table. “Take it easy for a day, you’ve earned that at least. I’ll search that new cluster in the Cygnus system,” he says, peeking up from above the brim of his mug. “Go on, drink your tea, I’ll take care of things.”

“Are you sure you’ll have the time? What about Grand Father? The burial ceremony?”

“I’ll have time. And even if we don’t get to scan today—there are more important things to this life,” he says. “You take care of Tellis, forget about Julia today.”

This feels all wrong, I think to myself. Is this just one of Father’s elaborate tests? He doesn’t even know I fell asleep last night without scanning MaxTau—he’ll be so disappointed in me when he runs the new scans and finds out. I won’t disappoint him.

Not today.

It’s cloudy so I leave the table to get my coat and speed by Father while he’s still having his tea. I pretend not to hear his pleas for my company. I shout, “I’m going to work. I’ll call you later from The Bic.” Through the atmosphere-safe paned glass of the front door, the look of consternation on his face makes me wonder if he wasn’t really being sincere. At any rate, I feel confidant that I’ve shown Father this time where my true priorities lie.

*                                                    *                                                          *

Father got me a job at the Bureau of the Interstellar Census (B.I.C.) thirteen years ago. It seemed the natural line of work for a man looking for someone. I’m one of a million dat-collectors who gather the vital statistics on all citizens human, humanoid, and subhominid. A full universal census takes a half-century to complete and new streams are constantly bouncing in from the light-worlds, the edge settlements, and inside the macroghettos.

I know all the tricks. I have all the keys. I’m privy to most every byte of datum The Bureau has in its brain banks. But the B.I.C. brain is unfathomably colossal and never static for an instant; the universe and its peoples are always expanding.

I arrive on the grounds and zoom over to red sector, taking the elevator to quad D of the upper eighty-eighth floor. Director Kusama will be making her morning rounds, if she hasn’t already. I sidle through the office hive of bubbled, egg carton workspaces–my back riding the wall, my eyes fixed upon the director’s door. I try to sneak in.

I lower my head and decide to make a dash for my work carrel behind a line of buzzing employees that appears as if on cue. I dart behind them and reach the entrance of the carrel, touching-in at the time sensor at precisely seven minutes past nine with no sign of the director. I rest my back against the convex curve of the carrel wall and slide down it in relief.

Suddenly, a dark figure emerges from within my carrel and rolls by me like an eclipse. The man is tall, stoutly-built, and wears a uniformly plain charcoal suit and necktie. His pale face, cross-stitched with deep wrinkles and full of crags, coupled with the silver threading of hair and gray eyes lend him the appearance of an albino. I vaguely recognize him, milling around the office without explanation for the past couple weeks. He strides to the director’s door and opens it, without knocking, and disappears inside. I get inside the carrel and collapse into my chair.

The seat is warm.

Trying not to think too much about what any of it means, I plug in and strap the alphapad to my hands for the labor interval. Sunuvabitch, Kusama’s left me a flash on my screen:

TELLIS MOORE TO MY OFFICE–TELLIS MOORE TO MY OFFICE

I knock on the director’s door and a voice calls me in. It opens with some effort on my part and I squeeze myself into the room, the hydraulic door sweeping closed behind me. A harsh buzz announces the locking mechanism engaged. The pale man is there, alone. He’s perched comfortably atop the director’s massive teak desk, one foot touching the floor.  He leans in to shake my hand and introduces himself.

“My name’s Torrance, I’ll be taking over for Director Kusama today, have a seat.” He pushes away from the desk and eases himself into the director’s chair. “Employee Moore, are you aware that you were over seven minutes late today?” I nod yes, gritting my teeth in disgust. “That’s not like you,” he says, shuffling through some files. “How is everything?”

I squirm a bit in the chair. “My grandfather passed away last night, sir. I’m afraid the whole event threw me off a few minutes this morning.”

He waves his hands. “No need to apologize, Moore, it’s perfectly understandable. I’m surprised you didn’t take the day off, you’re lawfully entitled to it.”

I tell him, “I felt I needed to be here today, Mr. Torrance.”

“That’s incredibly admirable.” He opens one of the files. “You don’t like to miss any time, do you Moore?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Why is that, exactly?”

I begin to slither in my chair. “I just don’t like to, that’s all—it looks bad.”

“That it does, Employee, that it does. But there must be more to it. Why is it so important that you be here today, for instance, when your thoughts must be with your family?”

I tell him flatly, “I don’t have much family, sir.”

“That’s even more reason not to be here,” he says. “So what’s the whole story, Moore?”

“That is the whole story, Mr. Torrance.” I force out a smile. “I just enjoy my work.”

Torrance’s reply leaps out from inside him almost before my words have a chance to sink into the walls. “You’re lying, Moore, I’ve watched you. You strike me as anything but a man who enjoys his work. As a matter of fact, you’re just about the saddest sack I’ve seen in the two weeks I’ve been here.” He shakes his head. “What I can’t understand is why you’re still such a busy, busy bee. Director Kusama felt your situation warranted some action on the part of The Bureau. I am that action.” He leans back in the chair and stares at me. “Mr. Moore, do you know the difference between an underperformer and an underachiever?” Confused, I shake my head no. “Underperformers are robbing us all, Tellis. It’s my job to ferret them out and eliminate them and as good as I am at my job, I’ll never be out of work,” he says. “These layabouts would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else, and so they frequently are. They’re not hard to spot.” I nod to show him, alternately, that you understand him and that you are not one of these terrible people. “Then there’s you, Employee Tellis Moore. You clearly have an aptitude for this type of work, a seemingly compulsory desire to be here, you’ve even received special permission from the head director to access the mainframe so you can link up and work from home. You’re far beyond the model employee, Tellis, you’re a boss’s wet dream.”

“Then what action is there to take?” I ask. “Shouldn’t you be thanking me?”

Torrance’s face gets severe. “Kusama does the thanking. I came to find out why you do it—no one’s that perfect unless there’s a reason. You’re a textbook underachiever, Tellis. That is, in a way, more troubling for us to see than the underperformer. We at least know what’s at work with the underperformer: sloth. The underachiever’s motivation is more of a mystery, but it rarely turns out to be positive. You’ve resisted promotion out of this office even though you’ve been in line for one many times over. Tellis, why is it so goddamn important that you stay in datamesh?”

I know I need to shift this conversation. I ask him, “Why were you in my work carrel this morning?”

Torrance looks at me with surprise, but doesn’t answer. Instead, he gets up and walks behind me, placing his stone hands down on top of my shoulders. “I didn’t go into your carrel this morning, Tellis . . . I’d been there all night.”

“What were you doing?”

He pauses a moment. “I was trying to save you.” He circles the chair and stares into me, waiting. Like a trapped animal, I can only stare back at first.

“You’re not going to make this easy, are you?” he grumbles to me in a voice like distant thunder. “Tellis, did you know that I started out with The Bureau myself in this very building thirty years ago? Do you know what I do?” I’m silent. “I’ve been trained to make judgments. Being able to spot when employees are less than truthful is a great help to The Bureau. That’s what I do. I can tell through a series of visual indicators, atmospheric changes, and my own elevated levels of precognition whether someone’s being totally straight with me. I’m better than any lie-detector. The Bureau pays me to make the call on certain ‘red flag’ employees and they back my call no matter what—they trust my judgment that much. I’m a throwback but I get it right—which is all anyone in The Bureau cares about. So be aware, Tellis, that everything you’ve said, every word that you’ve uttered to me here this morning, I’ve been able to distinguish as the truth, or something else. I shouldn’t really be telling you all this but I think you know where this is going. Now why don’t you tell me more about what I already know. What are you doing here at The Bic, Tellis?”

I know the truth he wants. My only option now is to give him some. So I do.

“I’m looking for my wife—her genocode—it’s no secret,” I tell him, smugly.

“Wasn’t she tagged?”

“No.”

“That’s odd. Care to tell me why?”

“I’d rather not. Talking about her makes me uncomfortable. I’m not ready to let go of Julia yet.”

Torrance leans back on the desk and sucks in an angry breath. “I knew your father when he worked here. He didn’t keep secrets either–he was looking for his wife, too. Isn’t that a strange coincidence?”

“People acquire codes for cloning all the time. It’s still legal, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is, except most people are already in possession of their loved one’s genocode tag. Tellis, I can understand wanting to bring someone back, to live out a life that fate has taken away.”

“Can you, Mr. Torrance, are you sure?”

Torrance looks me in the eyes. “Quite sure.” He leans back against the desk again.

“What are the chances that you and your father both married untagged women?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Both named Julia?” I feel a surge of warm blood flush my face. “Your father couldn’t stop raving on about his Julia. In all the time I worked with him, he was obsessed with finding her code. I’ve never seen anyone so single-minded. Now, I hadn’t given your father a second thought in thirty years until someone drops your file on my lap. The name and the face come back to me immediately—it’s my old friend, Telly Moore. Except it’s not. It’s you. You know, you look exactly like him.”

“Well, he is my father.”

“Naturally,” Torrance mutters.

I’m polishing the seat now with my back pockets. Torrance is searing a hole through me with those fiery grey eyes, begging me to give up more. Still, I can’t muster the courage to tell him the entire truth. He takes the file from the top of the desk and begins to read it aloud.

“Tellis Moore—that’s you—five-foot-nine, one-sixty-five, blonde hair and eyes, thirty-one years of age, single, never married. Never married? I thought you told me you were looking for your wife? What wife was that, Tellis? What’s even more peculiar is that it says here your father was never married either . . . or his father. C’mon, son, give us the truth now, you’re not really Tellis Moore at all, are you?”

“I’m exactly Tellis Moore!” I blast out of the chair but Torrance takes hold of my shoulders and pins me back down. He crouches down and angles his square jaw in my face.

“Please, stop me if I get anything wrong. Tellis Moore is dead! He died over four centuries ago. You’re his clone, like your father and his father before him. The first Tellis Moore never located his dead wife Julia’s genocode and fourteen Tellis Moores later you’re still out of luck. Don’t you think it’s time you boys threw in the towel? Some things just weren’t meant to be,” he says. “How am I doing so far?”

I don’t have to stop him–he knows enough already. I want him to know everything. In a strange way it feels good, like I’m not alone anymore. It’s time. I decide to tell him the rest. I draw a virgin breath . . . and begin.

“After Julia died, the first Tellis Moore searched the rest of his life for her code but it never surfaced. As more time passed he knew that, even if he found her, they could never be together again in his lifetime, but a younger version of himself could.”

Torrance slowly takes his weight off my shoulders.

“Go on,” he tells me.

“Tellis Moore believed so strongly in his love that he cloned himself to give that other version, the second Tellis, a chance to experience the life he never had with Julia, to fulfill the promise of their love. He thought to deny that love would be the ultimate tragedy, almost criminal. He raised the second Tellis as his own son and taught the boy to love Julia as he had, completely and utterly, and to carry on the legacy if he wasn’t destined to be with her either. He wanted to die with an assurance that one day the two lovers would meet again. That’s the notion that each generation has been working from ever since. True happiness for any of us can’t exist without Julia and I’ve prayed every day of my life that her code will appear during my time here.”

Torrance laughs. “The way you tell the story sounds like you’re reading it from a

book, like it’s some fairy tale you’ve committed to memory.”

“It is,” I tell him. “My father taught me everything about Julia, everything his father had taught him. It’s engrained onto our minds, from our earliest memories. It’s a part of us. She’s a part of us. But they’re not fairy tales, Torrance, they’re a family history.”

Torrance drops himself down on the desktop. “Maybe it is one man’s history, but not for the rest of you. Don’t you think it’s just a bit absurd pining over a woman who took her last breath a few centuries ago?”

“You don’t know her,” I tell him.

“Neither do you, Tellis! She doesn’t know you either–she knew someone just like you, but it wasn’t you. You may be a carbon copy of the first Tellis Moore, but you’re still Tellis Moore version 14.0. You’re not the same person. And when you find her, it won’t be Julia either–no matter what you teach her or how many fairy stories you tell her. How can you be so certain that she’ll feel the same way about you that you do about her?”

“She’d have to, can’t you see that? She has about as much choice as I do!” I get up and start to pace. “Love is a force, stronger than the wills of any two versions of Tellis and Julia. We can’t alter that force. This love–our love–has survived hundreds of years. Doesn’t that tell you something? It’s not just this thing people have been passing off as love since the ancient times, it’s not an excuse just to have a warm body to sleep next to, it’s not a rationalization because we’re afraid of dying alone. This is the pure, uncut stuff–the truest love.” I shake my finger at him.

“Acknowledge it for what it is or stop talking about what you don’t understand. This is my love, my burden to bear and I will bear it. Why should anyone in The Ministry care as long as I’m still productive?”

Torrance calms me down. He gets me a glass of water and an EZ pill for my nerves. Then he sits me down and his voice softens.

“One thing you have to understand about me, Tellis, I confront apathy everyday–passionless people just living out their years. They never surprise me. Then I come here. I watch you work. I watch you searching for something–something that’s real to you, something you believe in, and it gets to me. It gets inside me. You remind me of myself a long time ago, Tellis, when I was lost just like you are now. Some part of me thinks that if I can help you, then maybe I won’t feel quite as empty as I do at the end of every day. I will have served some purpose–beyond The Bureau—some higher purpose. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Torrance faces the window. The slate grey sky cracks and raindrops begin to freckle the glass.

“I have to tell you that what you’re doing isn’t right, Tellis, it’s not healthy. I know what I’m talking about. I think you feel it, too. Obsession can turn a man into something unimaginable, without him even knowing. Why do you think they outlawed the vices? They poisoned our whole way of life. But how do you outlaw obsession? The Ministry has always frowned on cloning for romantic purposes but they knew, with everyone tagged, that sort of thing was going to happen. They thought it would limit itself to one set of partners–that the obsession would die naturally, with the lovers themselves. No one in our agency could even fathom it going on for as long as it has in your family, Tellis. All these years, it was too preposterous to even raise suspicion. But now that we know, we’d like to put an end to it . . . if we can.”

“Listen, Torrance, I need Julia. And she needs me too, wherever and whenever she is. I’m going to find her eventually, or another Tellis Moore will. She deserves that.”

Torrance shakes his head. “You seem so certain, but how can you really know what romantic love is? You have no experience to draw from, Tellis You only know what you’ve been taught.”

“You’re wrong, Torrance. A man can believe what he’s been taught, but he can only truly know what he feels. I feel this love.”

Torrance stands pensive by the window, muted for a long moment. Then, beating a hasty path behind the desk, he shoves the files back inside his briefcase and reaches out to shake my hand again.

“It’s been an experience, Mr. Moore, not exactly what I expected either,” he tells me. “Somehow, though, I don’t think I convinced you to stop.”

I feel a little guilty. “Your argument wasn’t totally lost on me.”

“But it doesn’t change your mind? That would have been my first choice. Understand that The Ministry doesn’t blame you for your circumstances, Tellis. That’s why I’ve been authorized to offer you certain alternatives.”

“There are no alternatives for me.”

Torrance fastens his briefcase closed. “I’m here to help you, don’t forget. Go back to your carrel. I added an encrypted file to your CPU block last night. It’s buried within the tide of incoming datamesh streams, but it’s easy enough to find if you know it’s there. Look under the name ‘Charity’.”

Torrance holds out the passcode on a strip of paper fisted in his hand like a fortune cookie. I pull it free from his fingers.

“We’ve got artifactual records that go back for ages. Most of it never makes it into the census banks. Some other new streams get held up for security reasons–The Bic doesn’t get everything first, you know.” He smiles. “The file on the computer is yours, do whatever you like with it. The Ministry has arranged to provide you with a transport should you require it, just contact the number.” Torrance pencils in the back of a glossy card and hands it to me.

“Why would I need a Ministry transport?” I ask him.

“It is a long trip.”

*                                                    *                                                          *

The ‘Charity’file sticks out in the datamesh like a beacon. Whatever intel is there must be low classification, I think to myself. The level of federal ciphers on this thing is flimsy. Even without the passcode Torrance gave me, I could hack into this file with any one of a dozen programs I have at home. But I use his passcode to save some time. The file opens and reveals itself. My whole body tips toward the holoscreen. It’s a treasure.

In front of me is a history of Julia’s life in medical workups, dental records, tax returns, insurance claims, test scores, handwriting samples, her driving record, something called a credit report, her marriage license with the first Tellis, a slew of old 2-D photographs, her third-grade report card, all the leftovers of her life were there. I spot her familiar genocode model as well.

I spend the morning interval pouring over the contents, savoring them, rolling them over again and again in my mind. Her bio states that she was born to parents, Stanley and Marcia, in a township called Memphis, part of the Old American Empire, in 2012. She died in the summer of 2041. The end of her biography reads:

…majority of surviving family wiped out in plague of 2098; probable cause for non-appearance of  living genocode match until 2497. Match location: Outland colony Helo; Star class 147.93MT-686. Name of exact genocode match: Charity Elizabeth Morman, aged <1 year.

The revelation penetrates my mind. I say the words aloud. “Julia is alive.”

It’s afternoon. I leave work and rush back to tell Father the miraculous news, but he’s not home. Father, what a day this must be for you, I think. But I have the most wonderful surprise when you get back. All day I try without luck to contact him.

It’s evening now. I can’t bear the wait for him any longer so I scribble a cryptic note and leave it on the door. I call for the transport and begin to pack.

A huge carrier ship arrives later that night—it looks like Moby Dick, a boxy, white whale with all manner of official markers and spaceway clearances tattooed across its nose. It’s an older military model, the kind that The Ministry regularly uses to haul goods across the stars. It looks sturdy enough to me, if a bit slow.

The mouth of the hull drops open and I step onto its deck. I can see that Torrance is aboard, along with a smattering of uniformed personnel. He’s talking with an attractive woman in a long, bright coat when he flashes me a grin, motions me to submit to the retinal scan, and waves me aboard. I comply and step onto the deck. The rig slowly swallows me.

I approach him with a wide smile. “You knew she was alive all along. Why didn’t you tell me, Torrance?”

“I was allowing myself the chance to talk you out of doing this, though I was fairly certain it wouldn’t work. I’m still not crazy about this idea, Tellis, but I know in your mind it’s the only answer. I wish it weren’t.”

“I’ve waited my whole life for her, Torrance. Nothing could keep me away.” I grab his hand with both of mine and shake it profusely. “Thanks for coming along. I’m anxious as hell and you’re the closest thing to a friendly face I got around here.”

Torrance nods. “The doc here’s been on me for years about taking my mandatory wellness repose so I figure I’d use it to see beautiful Helo,” he says with a roll of his eyes. “I might as well, I’ve got so much vac-time saved I’d have to retire tomorrow if I wanted to use it all. I take time off about as often as you do, Tellis.”

Torrance introduces the woman to me as Dr. Jaen Spurling and I shake her hand eagerly.

“Doctor Spurling, how exactly will this work?” I ask. “We’re not going to have to kidnap this little girl, are we?”

“Would you still agree to it if I told you we were?” she says. Torrance scowls at the doctor and a few awkward seconds follow her words. “I’m sorry, Mr. Moore, that wasn’t fair of me. I can absolutely assure you it won’t be necessary to snatch any babies this time. We’re working with the full cooperation of Charity’s parents. They are fully aware that we’re en route. We’ll simply have blood and tissue samples extracted from the infant, from which we’ll be able to obtain more than enough of her DNA-coding for the purpose of cloning her. It’s just another shot for the baby, something I’m sure she’s used to living on that rock. The family is being well-compensated. I’m sure they could use it to get out of the colonies if they wanted to, but I don’t get the sense that they will.” She turns to leave, adding, “Of course, you’ll have to submit samples of your own so we can clone each child to be roughly the same age.” I look at her blankly. “Those were your intentions, Mr. Moore? Or were you planning on having her yourself?”

I don’t answer at first. “I hadn’t considered—I mean, I am still young enough and I’m years away from raising a new Tellis and starting his lessons,” I reason. “Julia was always the younger, innocent one.” After some hasty midair calculations I say, “I’d barely be fifty years old by the time she–,”

I stop. I break off my words at the sight of Dr. Spurling’s facial expression. Her eyes move to Torrance, who nods back surreptitiously.

“Of course, Mr. Moore, whatever you decide,” she says.

*                                                    *                                                          *

For several days my mind hums with thoughts of Julia and myself. I must find a properly trained family to raise her, a family that can be trusted with her teachings. I hope that Torrance may be able to help me in that regard as well.

But is it fair to Julia?

No doubt resides in me that I will love her intensely and that she will never once, even for an instant, regret a life spent by my side. And yet I realize that she would enjoy so many more years with him, my son, the younger Tellis. Still, the thought of Julia with another man, even another me, brings my heart up into my gullet and a burning to my lungs.

I try to appease my inner discontent. I tell myself I can still love her, as I would a daughter. But the proposition proves too incendiary to entertain. My instilled desire is for the gluttonous love I’d known in another lifetime and–I decide at that moment–would know again. I will forsake the first Tellis Moore’s wishes and the fifteenth’s birthright. I will keep Julia for myself.

Maybe Torrance was right. Maybe this love has turned me into something unimaginable.

I never broach the subject with Spurling again during the weeks the cruiser glides through deep space and she doesn’t pursue the matter with me either. I’m certain that at the core of our shared silences, the doctor knows what I am, too.

*                                                    *                                                          *

The transport touches down on Helo after twenty-two spacedays. Dr. Spurling equips the entire landing party with germ filter suits. I slip into mine. It has a mask with shaded, bulbous eyeplates and a network of plastic tubing that sprouts from the snout of the mask and festoons my neck on one side. Huddled together on deck, donning our suits before the ship opens, we look like a nest of insects.

None of the crew seems to like the suits much. They possess a sickly synthetic smell; they’re hot; the masks are cumbersome as all hell and they gurgle when you exhale. I don’t think to mind though.

The doctor informs the group that Helo has such numerous airborne pathogens that, without their gear, they would most certainly contract something “puss-ugly”, as she puts it. The doctor’s descriptions are enough to make the whole crew triple-check their fittings. Most locals don’t wear any protection though; the adults have built up immunity to the indigenous bacterium and the elderly and the very young are inoculated regularly. Still, there are pockets of settlers just inside the colony gates with rosy boils littering their skin.

As we enter the gates, the landing party is greeted by the enthusiastic throng. Rust-faced with the color of Helo’s swirling dust winds, the assemblage of men, women, and children seem little more than gaunt hangers for the tatters that clothe them.

The crew quickly unloads the medicinal provisions and foodstuffs while the colonist horde swarms over them and trudge off like a line of marauding ants, the oversized containers resting on their heads. Only a patch of children remain.

I spot Julia being cradled in the arms of a small boy, looking himself feeble enough to be carried. I approach him and, to my surprise, he seems to instinctively sense my intentions and passes the infant girl to me.

I hold her, tightly.

I rock the child in my arms while trilling softly through my mask, “Un-til the twelfth of ne-ver, I’ll still be lov-ing you.”

Dr. Spurling, Torrance, and a few others meet in the distance with several of the colonists. Torrance seems to be doing most of the speaking. The colonists direct the group to a large dome at the center of camp. He shouts to me through the filter of his mask, “Tellis, we’re moving out.”

“It’s Julia, I’ve got her!” I yell back, tilting the baby to show him.

Torrance stamps over the ruddy sand and snatches the infant, giving her back to the boy. “The child we’re here for is named Charity, not Julia. This isn’t her,” he says, motioning to the baby. “Now let’s go—there’s been a problem.”

I follow just behind the group, hiding inside my mask. I wonder to myself how I could have been mistaken. Later, I catch up to the rest and ask Torrance, “What is this problem?”

“It may be nothing,” he tells me. “We’ll know everything as soon as we reach the hospital.”

A woman escorts the party to the dome building. After we enter the structure, Dr. Spurling tells everyone that it’s safe to remove their masks and suits while inside. The air is sanitized and stale. I join the stampede up a spiral of stairs and navigate a labyrinth of narrow mud-colored hallways before reaching the child’s room.

The baby lies high on a metal table, entombed in a translucent box. I immediately sense my mistake at the gates. I can feel her now.This is Julia . . . and she’s gone.

I look desperately to Torrance, then Spurling, but both their faces share the same funereal gloom. “Can I help you?” a woman asks delicately from the hallway. I step out of the room with Torrance and the doctor.

“You’re expecting us, ma’am,” Torrance says. “We’re here to pick up B & T samples from an infant, Charity Morman. We were told this is her room. Is that the child?”

“Yes, that’s Charity, poor thing. We lost her this afternoon–redhook flu—it came on quick,” she says.

In an instant, all the air leaves my body. I keel over and rest one hand on the floor.

“Were you able to extract a viable sample before the late stages?” Dr. Spurling asks.

The woman smiles. “Oh yes, we took samples from Charity a week or so ago, as soon as we got word Mr. Moore was on his way.”

Spurling releases a great sigh and I hear Torrance soughing something that sounds like a prayer as he helps me to my feet.

“Everything’s fine,” the nurse tells us. “But you must have known that already.”

Torrance says, “How could we have known anything, we just arrived?”

The nurse looks quizzically at each of us. “I just assumed Mr. Moore had told you already.”

Torrance and Spurling look to me. I shake my head and shrug.

“I’m confused. What was I supposed to tell them?” I ask the nurse.

“Not you,” she says. “Mr. Moore. Mr. Tellis Moore. He already came for the living tissue samples.”

“I’m Tellis Moore. I didn’t get any samples.”

Her narrowing eyes inspect me, crown to foot. Then, moving closer, she scans my face. “You do have his eyes,” she says, “but Mr. Moore was much older.”

A ripe silence ensues before Torrance rushes back into Charity Morman’s room. He barks out a few commands and the men file out purposefully. “When was Mr. Moore here?” he asks the woman.

“About ten o’clock this morning.”

Torrance turns to Dr. Spurling. “He’s got a seven-hour jump on us. I’ll call the ship, we’ll lay down a stellar net—a day’s time in every direction. It’ll take a while but we’ll track him eventually. I’m prepping for take-off as soon as we’re done here.” He turns back to the nurse. “Dr. Spurling and I have some questions. Please gather the hospital staff downstairs immediately.”

“What is it, Torrance, what’s happening?” I ask.

“Get back to the ship, Tellis, we’ll be leaving inside of an hour. Don’t worry, son, we haven’t lost anything yet.”

The room empties instantly and I’m left there with only a sense of paralyzing shock and the dead husk of Charity Morman. It pains me to see the shadow of her uninhabited body, but I can’t help myself. I have to look at her. She’s here with me, finally. I realize her name was Charity, but she was Julia, too.

An orderly in hospital scrubs and a germ filter mask enters the room solemnly and begins to unlock the wheeled legs of the table that hold the infant. I don’t want her to leave, but I’m thankful the body is going somewhere, anywhere else.

This is exactly what the first Tellis Moore must have felt, I think, as I look at the silhouette of the dead child in the box, now moving around each time the hospital staffer bumps against the gurney. I say, “You know you don’t have to wear that in here,” pointing to the orderly’s oversized mask.  Kneeling beside me, the orderly frees the last wheel of the cart. I don’t want to linger. I take two steps toward the door and the figure at my feet explodes into me like a panther. I feel a sharp tear at my gut. As our bodies part, I watch the orderly slowly withdraw a scalpel from an advancing patch of scarlet wetness on my shirt.

He closes the door to the room and removes the germ mask. “I’m sorry, son, but this would all be over with right now if you had just listened to me for once and had a cup of tea!” my father says in a sickly familiar tone. “I tried to make it easy on you, painless. I never meant for you to leave the house that morning, Tellis. Once you did, it was out of my control.”

I try to dam up the hole in my belly with both hands. “Why would you do this?” I ask him.

Father stalks me around the room. “They left you for me, Tellis. They left you here for a reason, don’t you see? There is no such thing as coincidence, only opportunity, only destiny. My finding Julia’s file while you slept was fate. Something told me to check the mesh that night, to make sure you’d done your work. You don’t deserve her. It was my fate to find her code and it’s that same fate that brings you to the end of this blade. She was meant for me.” He shakes his head maniacally. “No, no, no, no, no, this is the only way—if you’d have gotten hold of her, you never would’ve shared her with me or anyone. I’m surprised you’re even willing to give her to your own son. But you haven’t lived without her as long as I have, Tellis. I have to do this. If I were to let you leave Helo, we’d never be rid of you. You’d hunt us down. You’d take her from me.”

I scream at him. “How could you know that, Father?”

“Because that’s what I’d do.”

I grab the table and roll it toward me with one hand; Charity’s sepulcher buffering me from Tellis number thirteen.

“You can’t kill me, Father, they’re expecting me back on the ship. Torrance won’t leave without me.”

“You’re absolutely right. And when the retinal scanner confirms that you’re safely aboard, they won’t give it another thought—except it’ll be me aboard and not you. With all their scurrying about, I’ll be just one more man in a filter suit climbing onto the ship. It’ll be some time before they figure it out–they’ve got a whole stellnet to sift through. I’ll lock myself in some corner until it lands to refuel and then Julia and I will get off. We’ll be free of you.”

He swipes wildly and misses, instead bevelling a long line into the child’s charnel tank, revealing a grisly glimpse of its contents.

“It’s fate, Tellis. How can I argue with it when it’s brought me this close to her?”

“Don’t do this, Father,” I beg him. “Something’s wrong with you. It’s something that’s wrong with all of us.” My eyes are sodden with tears and I can feel my body growing colder.

“It’s funny, those are the same words your grandfather used. He’s exactly the same as you so I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.”

He takes hold of the table and drives it into me, creasing me at the waist and pinning me against the window. He has the look of madness all about him: his eyes are fried eggs, wide whites with jaundiced pupils. He lunges and slashes with the lancet in a frenzy. I know I’ll have to kill him to stop him. And I know I can’t stop him.

He finally hurls the table aside with a feral indifference, allowing the casket box to crash to the floor. It crashes open. The child’s clammy body slides loose from the broken pieces of the chamber and comes to rest on the floor between us. A rubbery layer of skin is stretched over the infant’s miniature bones; a map of blue-green veins wanders just beneath her velutinous scalp.

Father advances on me in his trance state, unhindered. Knocking the tiny corpse with the end of his boot, it spins insensately. He plunges the knife above my chest, knocking my upper body against the window. My clavicle snaps. The sound is crisp, like a bundle of celery. The cold, steel mirrorblade bursts white hot inside me. My body slides helplessly down the glass.

He withdraws the knife and straddles me, slicing down with the blade again and again. The skin of my forearms opens gladly, catching most of the blows. He pushes toward my neck but I grab the knife edge and it cuts through the flesh of my palms. My hands, gloved in drying blood, become tacky and my fingers at least are sticking to the devil blade, slowing its assault. But the life is seeping from me. He pounds down on me several more times, now piercing my body with each knife thrust. Suddenly, a shattering noise erupts above me. A hard rain of broken glass falls to the floor. Father collapses on top of me.

*                                                    *                                                          *

I wake up on the transport home, too sore to think. Torrance is there when I come to. He gives me the details: how he’d seen Father and I through the window and how he’d brought him down with the perfect shot in the nick of time, just like in the movies. He hands me a tinted cylinder and tells me that Julia is safe inside.

“Was there enough of a sample for Charity’s parents?” I ask in a whisper.

“They never asked for one,” he tells me. “There aren’t any cloning facilities on Helo. They don’t need them—they’re putting folks down in that soil all the time. Those people are used to loss. But don’t worry about the Mormans, tell me how you feel.”

I stare into the dark cylinder. “I don’t know. I feel weak. I feel alone. How are you supposed to feel when your father tries to murder you for your unborn wife’s DNA?”

“Jesus, I don’t know. I’m sorry I asked,” Torrance says. We both chuckle.

“I feel grateful for you mostly though,” I tell him. I place my hand inside of his and his fingers fold over mine. “The Ministry had a lot less to do with you helping me than you’re letting on.”

“Maybe,” he says.

“What about Father–what happened to him?”

“He wasn’t your father, Tellis. He was just a desperate man, like you. Like a lot of us. I’ve known men who’ve had terrible things come to them in their lives, things they didn’t deserve. Some lose a wife…” Torrance takes an uneasy breath. “…some lose a son. There’s nothing to do except to go on.” His head bows. “You can’t convince me I got cheated when I lost my boy, not when I look into the eyes of my other children. I loved my son. I screamed to the sky when I lost him. I wanted him back more than anything in this universe!” He stops. “I lost a son, I didn’t lose love. I carried it inside me always, waiting for the time when I could pour it out again. You have it inside you, too, Tellis. The time has come for you to pour it out. Find someone–anyone–with just as much love inside them and pour it out onto one another.”

*                                                    *                                                          *

I hold Julia for days. I roll her opaque ebon home between my fingers and stare into the darkness that is my future. Just behind my own reflection, I can almost see her face through the murk. Torrance is with us. He watches from his chair beside the bed and asks how I’m feeling.

“Better,” I tell him. “Julia is with me. She will always be.”

 

-THE END-