Darren shielded his eyes. Harsh white light blinded him. Beeps and pings assaulted his ears. “Mmmmm… hello?”
A woman’s voice said “Oh my god, Mr. Victor! You scared me.”
“Where am I?” Darren asked, turning his head to the dark silhouette. Every part of his body felt stiff.
“It’s alright, Mr. Victor. My name is Beth. I’m a nurse here at RML Specialty Hospital in Hinsdale. My shift just started, so I’ll be around until seven tonight.” Beth’s plump face came into focus. One of the lights flickered behind her. Green curtains covered the windows. “Can you tell me the last thing you remember?”
Darren stared at the ceiling. Why couldn’t you just buy a Corvette or fuck a twenty-something? His friend’s voice rang in his ear. I get that you’re going through a mid-life crisis, Darren, but Jesus Christ. You can’t just give it all up because you suddenly grew a conscience.
He turned to Beth, who was checking a monitor. “Um, I remember leaving my editor’s office earlier to head home. My kids are coming into town for the holidays. Has someone told them I’m here? I waited until they got in to get the tree, that’s always been our tradition. We’ll have to reschedule.”
Beth looked at Darren, saying “Let me get Doctor Carlisle first. She wanted to see you as soon as you woke up.” She turned and rushed around the bed to the door. She stopped, one hand on the door, and turned back. “I just want to say, it’s an honor to finally speak to you.” She smiled as she threw the door open and scurried out.
Puzzled, Darren looked around the room. A short Christmas tree stood in the corner decorated in white lights and silver baubles. Cardboard boxes lined the room, overflowing with envelopes and packages. Two landscape paintings clearly picked from a catalog hung on the light green walls. He shifted in the bed and felt something hard underneath him. He reached down to find metal. “A bedpan? Does that mean…?” He yanked the sheets away and looked down at the tube coming from between his legs. “Yep, a catheter. Guess they prepared for the worst.”
He thought back on the meeting he had with his editor earlier that day. Adam had reached into a drawer behind his desk and pulled out a folder. “I normally don’t draw up paperwork before I share a manuscript with my colleagues, but this is something that needs to be published. It’s way more powerful than The Hunger Games or those other dystopian books everyone’s reading, plus it’s got a better message. I’ve read it four times and only caught a couple things here-” he turned his monitor to face Darren and pointed at the highlighted areas “-and here. Just little grammar things, nothing big. I’ll fix them now if you’d like.”
“Please.” Darren said, amazed that this boy could appreciate his work.
“Of course. Let’s get your signature.” He opened the folder, handing Darren a pen. “Just sign at the bottom of each page. If they approve the book, this contract will allow us to start publishing right away.”
Darren skimmed each page before signing. “So you’re sure they’ll go for this, Adam?”
“Honestly Darren, no.” Adam said. “I hope it does, but it’s controversial. This isn’t even a subtle poke at the government’s new protocols. Hell, it’s basically in the title.”
“I know, I led one of the primary research teams that supported the protocols.” He closed the folder and looked at his watch. “Look, if they say no, tell me. I’ll come down and convince them personally.”
“You really think you’ll be able to do that?” Adam asked.
Darren stood up, buttoning his jacket. “I have received practically no support during this project. The university tarnished my name after finding out why I chose to leave, withdrew my early pension. My wife left me when she found out why I quit. None of my former collaborators will speak to me. They hardly understand.” Darren took a deep breath, running a hand through his thinning gray hair. “Besides my children, this book is all I have left.” He leaned on the desk with both hands. “It has to be published.”
Adam nodded. “I agree, it’s just that so many aspiring authors come back hoping to convince us to give them another chance, when we put our foot down it crushes them.”
“I am not some college student pushing dystopian bullshit on the masses! This is important, dammit!” Darren shouted, banging his fist on the desk.
“I know.” Adam said, putting his hands up. “I’m just saying, be prepared for them to say no.”
“Oh, I am.” Darren said, slamming the door as he left Adam’s office.
“Mr. Victor?” A black woman in a lab coat interrupted Darren’s thoughts. “I’m Dr. Carlisle. How are you feeling?”
“Confused, to be honest.” Darren said.
“That’s perfectly natural, given what’s happened.” Dr. Carlisle pulled up a chair, smiled, and sat down next to him. “What was the last thing you remember?”
“Like I told the nurse, I was leaving my editor’s office to spend time with my kids for Christmas. I really should get in touch with them.”
“We’ll have time for that.” Dr Carlisle took a deep breath. “Mr. Victor, as you pulled into the street after your meeting, a pickup truck hit you. First responders found you unconscious at the wheel. That was two years ago.”
Darren stared at Dr. Carlisle, thoughts of his children and his book rushing through his head. “I have to make some calls.” He looked around for a phone, wondering if Adam had tossed his manuscript in the garbage after the accident.
“Darren!” Dr. Carlisle said. “You’ll have plenty of time to take care of that. Right now we need to discuss testing and treatment. We should start physio as soon as possible, and-”
“Excuse me, Mr. Victor,” Beth poked her head in, saying “Sorry, doctor, but I was wondering if I could get an autograph?”
Dr. Carlisle gave Beth an exasperated look. She turned back to Darren. “I’m sorry. She’s a huge fan.”
“Of what?” Darren asked.
Beth walked to the bed and held out a paperback book and pen. Darren grabbed the book and read the cover: The Clone, by Darren Victor. He turned it over to read: ‘Balancing scientific credibility with breathtaking prose, Darren Victor perfectly captures the struggle of a government clone coming to grips with his identity in a morally ambiguous world.’
“Your book helped stop the cloning protocols from passing, Darren. It brought scientific ethics back into the public eye, not to mention it’s a great book. You’re like the sci-fi JK Rowling! I’ll help you go through fan mail, if you’d like.”
“Fan mail?” Darren asked.
Beth pointed to the boxes. “Will you sign it, please?” she squealed, a huge grin on her face.
“Beth, calm down. Darren’s completely overwhelmed right now, I want to – Darren. Darren?”
“Oh no, I’m so sorry Mr. Victor! I didn’t…” The beeps and voices blended together as the room began to fade. Darren felt his book slip from his hand as his consciousness faded,