Electric Meat

DNA strands - illustration for science fiction story Electric Meat

A Science Fiction Story

Amanda stared at the pamphlet for Imitor. With this new cloning service and Andrew’s money, they could buy endless replacement organs and live together forever. What a horror.

By all accounts, she should have been happy. She had a private table at her favorite sushi restaurant, a lakefront vacation home, even a greenhouse full of rare orchids. But it was all in Andrew’s name. She wouldn’t have anything without him, and he never tired of reminding her of that fact.

Across the breakfast table, Andrew was finishing his sixth cup of coffee. Between each sip, he paused to clear his throat. Coffee gave him acid reflux, but he enjoyed the taste too much to quit. At forty-nine, he was eight years older than her and beginning to show his age. Years of stock speculation had etched worry lines on his forehead and between his eyes. His waistline had expanded since their wedding day, and he was now quite stocky. He hadn’t showered all weekend, and his reddish brown hair was sticking up at odd angles, like a mangled starfish.

He went after the last few bits of almond crepe, scraping his fork across the plate. He wrinkled his nose. Sniffing and snorting but not finding a napkin nearby, he blew his nose into his hand.

She rubbed her temple. Another tension headache. “It’s just not fair,” she thought. “Mom had to put up with Dad for forty years, and that was it. We’ve been together half that time, and it’s already so hard. How are you supposed to live with the same person for centuries?”

“So,” Andrew said, “what do you think? I wouldn’t have to keep waiting for a heart transplant! I realize it’s far more expensive, but I could have a new ticker by next week! And their Doctor Young is supposed to be the best heart surgery guy in the biz.”

“It’s amazing,” she said, forcing herself to sound excited. “It’s like a miracle.”

His fist pounded the table decisively. “Then it’s settled. I’ll make an appointment first thing Monday morning. You’re welcome to join me, just don’t bother the doctor with a lot of questions. You wouldn’t understand the answers, anyway.”

Andrew forced a smile and did his best to pretend he was listening. It was a two-hour ride to Imitor, and Amanda had managed to find things to talk about the entire way there: annoyances at work, things she wanted to buy, conversations with people whose names he didn’t recognize. She never mentioned any concerns about the appointment or her husband’s upcoming heart surgery.

While he was wearing a grey suit, she was in jeans and a sweater printed with some ridiculous cartoon animal. He felt like an old man driving his teenage daughter to school. He had hung three of those cardboard pine tree air fresheners on the mirror, but the smell of her perfume was still overwhelming. He considered cracking the windows, but she would just complain about being cold. She always complained when she was cold, as if it were his fault, as if she were a child unable to solve the problem herself.

He pulled up a newsfeed. Scrolling headlines filled his half of the windshield. He tapped on article on recent budget cuts to the prison system and law enforcement. Half of the city’s police force had been replaced with robots and crime predicting pattern recognition software. Amanda kept chattering away, apparently unaware that he was trying to read.

At last, the car chirped that they had arrived at their destination. It found a parking space near the front of the lot. She stopped talking long enough to reapply some lipstick, smacking her lips in the mirror. Smack, smack, smack. Then she had to fix her hair, find her gloves that she had tossed in the back seat, and tie her scarf. Finally, they could get out of the car.

“Why didn’t you remind me to bring my coat?” she said, shivering in the cool, autumn air. “Let me wear your suit jacket, just until we get inside.”

“No. We are almost at the door. Stop being silly.” His tone made it clear that it wasn’t up for debate.

The Imitor facility was a pair of silver office towers decorated with murals of microscopes, scientists in white lab coats, and DNA double helixes. Signs identified one building as “Research & Production Facility – Employees Only” and the other as “Hospital & Transplant Center”.

The lobby of the Transplant Center looked like an automobile showroom for organs. Rotating, circular platforms presented models of organs, limbs, and surgery robots. On a muted video screen, a cartoon sheep explained the cloning process through arcane diagrams and chemical equations. They took a moment to look around, until a hologram of an elfin receptionist twinkled into view and gave them directions to their doctor’s office.

Doctor Young met them at the door. The combination of his white lab coat, shaved head, and round body made him resemble a bespectacled Humpty Dumpty. “Welcome to Imitor, Mr. and Mrs. Pratt,” he said, guiding them to a leather couch. He sat behind a large, bean-shaped desk that was floating a few inches off the floor. “You’re interested in a new heart, I hear?”

“Yes,” Amanda began, “my hus—“

Andrew silenced her with a sharp glare. “I have a defective ventricle. I’ve had surgery to repair it, but it just keeps getting worse. I’ve been on the transplant waiting list for about six months. However, I hear your company could set me up with a new ticker in a matter of days.”

“This is true,” he said, smiling warmly. “With the exception of the brain, we can grow anything – hearts, lungs, skin, hair, even entire bodies.”

“Why not brains?” Amanda asked. “What if someone needed a new one?” At this, Andrew had to suppress a laugh.

“While transplantation is possible,” Doctor Young said, “cloning a brain is inadvisable for legal reasons. A brainless body is just a collection of flesh and organs that can be used for anything you like. But a living brain is legally a human being, which means it is no longer a product, but a person. When we need to clone a full body, we grow it without a brain. It is rapidly matured in our growth vats, and then we install a neurocomputer running personality simulation software. These simulacra are used as body doubles for politicians, stunt doubles for actors, or… well, whatever you like. We don’t ask.”

Andrew glanced at his watch. “Let’s stick to just a heart for now. How does your organ cloning program work?”

“We just need your DNA. Once you sign off on that, we grow the heart, and then you come back in a week for surgery. Your body will recognize the new heart as a part of you, so there will be no need for immunosuppressive drugs and zero risk of rejection.”

“Sounds great to me! Let’s get started.” The doctor swabbed the inside of Andrew’s cheek and dropped the swab into a test tube, sealing it with a paper label.

It looked as if the remainder of the appointment would be paperwork and dealing with insurance. Amanda kept asking questions and slowing the process. Finally, Andrew said, “Darling, why don’t you go down to the cafeteria and have some coffee? I can finish up things by myself.”

“Of course you can,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You haven’t let me sign anything since the prenup. And no, hospital cafeterias are gross. See you at home.”

As she headed for the door, Andrew called after her, “Make sure to send my car back for me.”

“Oh, I’ll send a car right for you,” she muttered, “at a hundred miles an hour.” Too angry to wait for the elevator, she walked off to look for the stairs. “It’s always ‘my car’ and ‘my house’ and ‘my bank account’. He just loves reminding me that it’s all his. Too bad the prenup says he would keep everything in a divorce. But who needs divorce if you can just inherit everything? Watching him die would be so satisfying…”

She continued down the hall, reading the signs on the doors as she passed by. A few moments later, the receptionist appeared in a swirl of holographic fireflies. “Can I help you find anything?” it asked.

She glanced down at her sweater, discovering one of Andrew’s hairs stuck to her sleeve. “Yes. Which one of your doctors grows the simulacrums?”

Andrew’s heart surgery was delayed for several weeks due to a work trip visiting some foreign investment that needed monitoring. After a few days, Amanda caught herself worrying about him. She asked him to turn on his phone’s GPS tracking so she could see where he was and make sure he was safe, but he just told her to stop being silly.

Finally, he returned home. He packed a bag and headed to the hospital for the surgery and the recommended three-day stay for recovery. As soon as the car was out of sight, she went out to the greenhouse.

In the back, hidden under some tarps and bags of dirt, was a six-foot wooden crate. She uncovered it and pulled it into the living room, thankful for the casters on the bottom. It took her nearly an hour to find a crowbar in the jumbled mess Andrew kept in the garage. At last, she pried open the crate, leaning the lid against the side of the couch.

Inside was what appeared to be her sleeping husband, dressed in black hospital scrubs, his arms folded like a pharaoh’s sarcophagus. The simulacrum looked nearly identical to Andrew, save for the serial number tattooed on its neck and left wrist, identifying it as a non-human. It was a legal requirement designed to keep the sims from being used in identity theft and government benefit scams.

Inside, the differences were far more significant. As Dr. Young had explained, the sim had been fitted with a neurocomputer. They had done a great job regrowing the hair, but if she examined its head closely, she could still see the scar from the installation surgery. The computer was smaller than a human brain. As the sims grew, their bodies filled up the empty space with cerebrospinal fluid.

The sim also had an artificial heart. Rather than pumping, the heart moved blood in a continuous stream, meaning the sims had no pulse. According to the salesman at Imitor, the artificial heart was another means of identifying the sims as nonhumans, but it was probably just an excuse to keep buyers from using the sims for replacement hearts. If they could have left out the liver, kidneys, and stomach, they probably would have.

“I wonder how I’m supposed to wake it up?” She asked no one in particular. “Why didn’t they include instructions?” She leaned down and gently tapped the sim on the side of its face. It opened its eyes.

“Hello,” it said. “I have been designed to approximate Andrew Pratt. Would you prefer me to respond to his name or would you like to give me a new one?”

“I will call you by his name,” she said. “Get out of the crate, Andrew.”

She had the sim drag the crate out to the garage and break it apart and stack the pieces by the curb. Once it was done, she had it take a shower and get dressed in one of Andrew’s suits. When it came back downstairs, she led it back into the living room.

“Go out to the porch and then come back in,” she said. “When you – he – gets off work, the first thing he does is take off his tie and throw it on the ground by the front door. When you come back in, be him.”

The sim did as she asked. “Honey, I’m home! What’s for dinner?”

“No!” She stomped her foot, shaking the decorative plates on the mantel. “This isn’t a sitcom! Do it again, and do it right. I gave Imitor all those home movies and text messages and emails for a reason. Say something he would say. Be mean. Make me hate you.”

The sim paused, looking down at its shoes. When it lifted its head, its expression was stern, serious, with anger simmering behind its eyes. “Don’t you dare give me orders! I rescued you! Before I came along, you were living in a slum. Without me, you’d end up right back there. Your credit is terrible, and your work history makes it clear that you’re about as reliable as a toddler.”

Amanda burst out laughing. Shaking her head, she said, “This isn’t working. I think you need more material to work from. Let me play you some of his nastier voice mails…”

The next morning, they were in the dining room, having breakfast. She was talking very animatedly about a television show she had watched the previous night. The sim was reading a newsfeed on a tablet, but it had not turned to a new page in twenty minutes. For most of the meal, it had been stuck on the same article about prison reform. Finally, it tossed the tablet aside. “That article was about the prison system switching to a ‘repay the victim’ model, and ending incarceration for nonviolent offenders. I thought reading about the changes might give me some insight into how to change my investment strategy and keep us from going broke. Perhaps you could let me read instead of babbling?”

She pushed away her plate, tossing her napkin on top of the remains of her scrambled eggs. “I was just trying to share my interests with you. We used to do that, remember? We used to care about what was going on in each other’s lives.”

The sim sighed deeply. “You used to have more important things going on. You used to be interesting. Perhaps you could try reading a book or going to a museum, using your brain again.”

She jabbed a finger at his chest. “You think you’re so smart because you read about politics? At least television has a new plot once in a while. Politics is just an endless parade of the same crooks telling the same lies. Oh, I’m sure they’ll fix the prisons this time! All we need is one more election and everything will be fine! God, how gullible can you get?”

“I didn’t say they were going to fix it. I just said it was changing. You never listen!” The sim shook its head slowly, the tension fading from its face. “How did we get like this? We used to spend entire weekends in bed, talking and making love and just holding each other. Now you make me sleep in the guest room. I guess every fire burns out, if you don’t keep it fueled. Sometimes I wonder if we can ever relight it.”

“Stop it,” she said, tears welling into her eyes, “just stop. You’re supposed to make me hate you. I need to hate you so I can stop hating him.” The sim didn’t respond. Perhaps, in its effort to simulate Andrew’s behavior, it decided the best course of action was to withdraw into silence.

She dried her eyes on a napkin and they turned back to breakfast. The sim started on its third cup of coffee. Its hands were shaking. Apparently it didn’t have the real Andrew’s herculean tolerance for caffeine. However, it had inherited his acid reflux. It coughed violently, tears streaming down its face.

“Good lord, Andrew, drink some water!” Not having water of its own, it reached across the table for her glass, knocking it over. The water spilled across the table and into her lap. “Ugh! Maybe if you loaded the dishwasher once in a while, you would have had a clean glass to drink from.”

Still choking, the sim stumbled over to the kitchen sink. It drank water in its cupped hands. “Thanks, honey,” it said flatly. “So glad you care enough to help me when I’m in need.”

She walked over to the counter, scowling at the pile of dirty dishes. She reached into the pile and produced a chef’s knife. “I’m so sick of your passive-aggressive bullshit! I’m so sick of you making me feel stupid! I’m so sick of us…” Grabbing the sim’s shoulder, she forced it to face her. She shoved the knife between its ribs.

The sim collapsed, its face contorted in pain. With a gasp, it was gone. She pulled the knife from its torso and wiped it carefully on a kitchen towel, placing it on a dry section of counter. She looked down at the body on the floor, the body that looked so much like her husband. “Well?” she asked herself. “Do you feel better now?” But there was no relief, no catharsis. All the years of hurt were still there.

She retrieved the sim’s scrubs from the guest room and put them next to it on the floor. Andrew’s shirt was ruined, but it seemed wrong to send the sim back to Imitor in her husband’s clothes. She pulled the shirt up over its head.

The sim had a red scar running down its chest, just like the real Andrew. “That’s impossible. It must be a cosmetic thing, right? They knew Andrew had a scar from his earlier heart surgery, so they altered the sim to match. That has to be it.” She grabbed the sim’s wrist and rubbed the tattoo with her thumb. The ink smeared. It wasn’t a tattoo at all.

“Oh god… Oh no, no!” She turned its head and rubbed the numbers on its neck. Again, the ink smeared. “It’s Andrew! But how? Why would he do this?” Pulling herself to her feet, she leaned over the counter and threw up in the sink.

She wiped her mouth with some paper towels, tossing them on the floor. “I can worry about how it happened later. Imitor won’t take a real body. I have to fix this now, before someone discovers him.”

It took hours of searching to find a tattoo shop willing to sell her one of their machines, some place called “Greg’s Ink”. She paid three times the retail price, and threw in another hundred to not ask any questions. They printed the number stencil for free.

As she returned home, the sun was setting and the streetlights were flickering into life. She dragged Andrew’s body onto a plastic painting tarp and wiped up the blood in the kitchen. She rolled the body onto its side, positioned the stencil, and filled in the numbers.

Wiping off the blood, she examined her work. “What am I doing?” she thought. “He’s dead. The tattoo is never going to heal. I can’t pass him off as a sim if the tattoo looks brand new!”

With sending the body to Imitor no longer an option, she would have to dispose of it herself. She cocooned the body in plastic and duct tape and dragged it out to the car. She tried to lift the body into the trunk, struggling until her back ached in protest.

She found a wheelbarrow in the greenhouse and loaded the body inside, hauling it to the garage. “Well, hubby, I know I’m not supposed to touch your power tools, but I really need to borrow your circular saw.” Cutting the body in two was fairly quick, but it took hours to re-wrap it and clean up the mess. This time, the body was much easier to lift into the trunk.

The dashboard screen asked “Where to?” Thinking she could throw the body in the river, she tried to have the car take her to a nearby bridge. The navigation system wouldn’t recognize the middle of a bridge as a valid destination. She tried the beach, but the navigation system refused again, saying it was after hours and the beach was closed. She tried a stretch of woods outside of town, and something strange happened.

“Navigation locked,” the screen flashed. “Calling police for assistance. Stay where you are.”

“The computer picked up on the pattern,” she thought. “Why else would someone try to go to these places in the middle of the night? Andrew was right. I am stupid.” She expected to feel tears running down her cheeks, or an oncoming panic attack, but she just felt numb.

The case was in the headlines for weeks. “Wealthy Investor Brutally Murdered”. “Wife Saws Husband in Half”. “Wife’s Tears Fail to Sway Jury in Stock Broker Murder Trial”. Amanda was given forty years for the murder and another ten for her attempts to conceal the crime.

A week after the trial, she was sitting in her cell at the local jail, waiting to be moved to the larger prison upstate. A guard rolled up to the bars. The three-foot robot looked like an oversized board game pawn, with a wide, wheeled base tapering up to a tiny, plastic head. “Visitor from Imitor. Do you accept?”

“Who?” she asked. “Doctor Young? That crooked sim salesman who stole my money?”

“Visitor from Imitor. Do you accept?” Apparently the guard didn’t understand her questions. It was essentially a security camera on wheels, and wasn’t designed to hold a conversation.

“Sure, whatever,” she muttered, waving for it to go away. The machine rolled to another room. A moment later, a man in a light green suit approached the cell. The man looked much like her late husband, but thinner and about twenty years younger. “You must be the sim I bought,” she said. “Why did they deliver my husband instead of you? What did he do?”

The sim smiled. “Your marriage had been… rocky… for quite some time. Andrew went from lawyer to lawyer, searching for a way out of the prenuptial agreement, but found none. He had no legal options to escape marriage and keep his finances intact. Too much in love to hurt you, he decided to let you hurt yourself.”

The guard rolled back into the room. The sim paused as the guard checked each cell in turn. Once the guard continued on its route, the sim continued. “While searching for a new heart, he discovered Imitor and their simulacrums. He knew you had decades of pent-up anger inside you looking for a way out. When he called Imitor to make the appointment for a consultation, he also purchased a simulacrum of himself. When you ordered your own Andrew sim, he simply called and cancelled your order before it could be grown.”

She rubbed the back of her neck. “I don’t get it. How does making me think I bought a sim get him a divorce?”

“Divorce wasn’t the goal. He told you he was leaving on a work trip, and that the transplant surgery had been postponed. While you thought he was overseas, he was at Imitor. He had his brain swapped with the sim’s computer. The sim ended up in his old and dying body, and he was returned to his prime.” He gestured at his well-muscled torso. “Amazing what people are willing to do for you if you pay triple their usual fee.”

“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “That would mean—”

“Yes. I am Andrew, the real Andrew. I had my old body sent to you, knowing you would think it was the sim and ‘murder’ it. Once you discovered the scar and fake tattoos, you would realize it was actually my body. You thought you were a murderer, and the police agreed.”

The jail guard rolled back into the room. “Hey!” Amanda screamed, waving her arms frantically. “He’s not dead! That’s my husband, right there! He’s still alive!” Again, machine failed to understand, but seeing an agitated prisoner, it called for a human guard.

A moment later, a man in a blue jumpsuit rushed in, a long, silver stun wand in his hand. “What’s going on? Is this man upsetting you?”

“That’s my husband! He’s alive! See? I didn’t kill him!”

Andrew simply shrugged and pointed to his neck tattoo. The guard looked up the serial number on a tablet and felt Andrew’s wrist. “He has an active serial number and no pulse. This isn’t your husband, ma’am. This is a sim owned by the foundation that runs his estate. He must have been real fond of it, too. He set aside a trust fund and house for it. Nice news article about it here.” He attempted to show her the tablet screen, but she turned away.

“Thank you for your diligence,” Andrew said. “I am finished here. I’ll walk out with you.”

As the door to the cell block slid closed, Amanda called after them, “It wasn’t my husband’s body! It was electric meat. It was just electric meat!”

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