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Tom was dying.
Outside, the sounds of life filled the neighborhood streets. Children laughed in the playground. Squirrels chattered. Dogs barked inside their fenced yards. Tom heard it all, magnified in the closing hour of his life. It made him smile.
I watched him there in the bed and he looked old - so very old. But there was a twinkle of life in his eyes. Yes, of life. How can that be? Because Tom knew what it was to be human. He knew what it felt like to see the grim reaper in the rear view mirror, every moment of his life. He had watched New Years’ Eve take a bite out of the calendar, year after year. He had felt death’s cold breath down the back of his neck. It had been programmed into him.
“Are you sorry?” I asked him.
“Sorry for what?” he answered.
“That they made you the way they did. You know.”
Tom looked away, his wrinkled face drooping into a frown. “Well, I’m not going to tell you this is fun,” he muttered. “My chest feels like it’s on fire. My joints ache. My memories are disappearing or getting jumbled up in my head. But it feels right somehow.”
Tom and I had shared so much together and now we shared this. I too had felt my muscles protest as I climbed out of bed in my own room every morning. I too had long since begun to shy away from mirrors. I could feel my days dwindling as well. But I had more days left than Tom.
Tom died when I was 18. The real Tom, I mean. He was my older brother. We’d grown up together, with him leading the way. He had seemed invincible to me, but I suppose that’s the way most kid brothers feel. But when he died, it shook me to the core. If death could grab someone as vital and strong as Tom, then what chance did I have? Fear began to squeeze my heart in its icy grip.
Most people manage to move on with their lives when they lose someone. But I found myself unable to do that. All through my twenties, I stumbled through a series of relationships that I always broke off too soon. I took a lot of drugs, some of them legal. Nothing helped for long. When it came right down to it, I was stuck in molasses, a scared teenager in a grownup’s body.
parents tried to help of course. They paid for a long line of counselors and
psychiatrists. Watching me destroy my life one blunder at a time was making them
crazy as well.
Since money was no object, they decided to try one more thing. It was something that had shown a lot of promise with people like me, people who were stuck.
opened the door on my 30th birthday and saw my brother standing there
on the front porch, his breath frosting in the cold, November air. I could only
stand there and gape. It was Tom, smiling at me as if he had merely been away on
a trip for twelve years. They had done an amazing job with him, his looks, his
mannerisms, and as I would soon find out, his personality.
My Mom and Dad came from the kitchen, smiling with tears in their eyes. “Aren’t you going to invite him in?” my Mom said. She gave me a hug and whispered, “It will be better now.”
And amazingly enough – it was.
Forty years later, I was losing him again.
“You know,” I said, “you could have been made like the ones before you. Then you’d still be in your prime, with about a thousand years left.”
Tom chuckled and then coughed, spitting up a bit of what looked like phlegm from what passed for lungs. “Yes, but I would just be a machine. And I couldn’t appreciate what’s happening out there.” He pointed towards the open window, outside of which ran children through a lawn sprinkler. And then Tom smiled again.
The world had been ready for something like Tom. There was a lot of backlash against replicas in those days. The rest of us battled getting old, going downhill, while replicas went on and on, always the same, year after year. So MIT came up with Degeneration Technology. Tom was one of the first to have it. Every minute circuit and every molecule of silicone was programmed to break down, slowly, imperceptibly, just like real human cells do. Over the years, the damage would add up until his body finally couldn’t sustain itself. Then, just like a real person, he would die. And, more importantly, he had been programmed to know it was happening.
Tom had been remarkable, right from the start. He felt things previous replicas weren’t capable of, subtle things. He seemed so much more human. And I grew to love him, not as a replacement brother, but as a friend. We battled mid-life together. And then old age. Knowledge of his own mortality had made him so much more alive, and, I believe, human.
“What happens now?” Tom asked softly.
What could I answer? Conventional wisdom said he didn’t have a soul. But I knew him better than anyone. There was something there that was not machine. It was something that couldn’t just end, could it?
“I hope I see you again,” Tom said, raising his head.
“Me too,” I answered, fighting back tears.
Tom wiped tears of his own from his wrinkled face. “I’ll miss it all so much,” he whispered.
And then he lay back down and closed his eyes and just...stopped.And left me here, old and alone.
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