"Everyone's Gay In Space" by Julie Sondra Decker
Douglas Junior goes to lunch with his successful, gay, astronaut clone.
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"Everyone’s Gay In Space" by Julie Sondra Decker
The resemblance was pretty weak for a clone.
How old is this photo? he’d asked. And they’d said it was recent.
He couldn’t make sense of that. Wasn’t a clone supposed to be a copy of him? Had this duplicate received eternal youth genes when the scientists had scienced him into existence?
Your clone began as an embryo at the time you donated the tissue, they’d explained. When he didn’t get it, they’d tried again: He’s in his twenties now. He’s less like a copy and more like your son.
The word “son” had made his brain sing. He needed to meet this kid.
Sandy had objected. Explosively.
Can’t you just be happy? he’d pleaded. We finally have our son!
He’s not my son, she’d countered.
His wife’s anger seemed pointless to him, though he’d learned long ago not to say such things out loud. But shouldn’t she support his enthusiasm? Sandy knew about his dream of fathering a Douglas Junior Junior.
It wouldn’t be Douglas Junior Junior, his wife had squawked in mockery. Another Douglas would be Douglas the Third.
He’d never realized those roman numerals indicated generations of men giving their own names to their boys. He’d anticipated being the first Junior to Juniorify his son, but he should have known better. No matter what he did, it never turned out original. Or innovative. Or worthy. Why did those other guys have to steal his idea?
How could you not know what the roman numerals meant? his wife had clucked. History is full of King Edward the Third and King George the Fifth.
He’d never really thought about the kings.
Sadly, the clone was not named Douglas. The boy’s name was Patrick. But surely, it’d be harmless to privately consider Patrick to be Douglas Junior Junior. And maybe if their meeting went well, he could convince him to adopt “Douglas” as a middle name. So the kid would have something familial to call his own, of course. Not because Douglas Junior needed that sort of thing.
They would hit it off during their upcoming meeting at the café, and they’d find out everything they had in common. Do father-son things. Go adventuring. Maybe his clone liked camping as much as his wife didn’t. They could walk some trails. Sleep under the stars. Look up at the universe and discuss how amazing it was that humanity was finally living on other worlds. Ponder if they’d live to see recreational trips to moon restaurants and tourist traps on Mars. He wondered if his boy had ever shared the childhood dream of being an astronaut.
This clone wasn’t a son, but he was the closest Douglas Junior would get. Another reason his wife didn’t like it.
This clone wasn’t a son, but he was the closest Douglas Junior would get. Another reason his wife didn’t like it.
You should sue! They stole our DNA, she’d hollered, eyes bulging and tension lines surging in her neck. Douglas Junior called that all-too-common configuration “the chicken neck.” He didn’t like when Sandy did the chicken neck. Sandy always did the chicken neck whenever he did something she didn’t like.
Calm down, he’d said, which was another thing she didn’t like. It’s not stealing if we signed papers. We can’t sue anybody.
But really, he didn’t understand what legal rights they had, even though he’d scolded Sandy in a reassuring-yet-contemptuous way so she’d stop asking questions. She should be focused on going forward, anyway, not on punishing some faceless company for a two-decade-old mistake. And she only had herself to blame, since the scientists had their DNA because of testing that had been her idea. All because she didn’t want to start a family without making sure their babies wouldn’t be born with the disease that had killed two of her teenage cousins. Douglas Junior had agreed to the testing, thinking it silly but necessary to appease his wife, but they were both carriers and stood a one-in-four chance of passing it on to their child.
Sandy’s card club had offered a solution. Many solutions.
Get pregnant, one woman had suggested, and then test the fetus. If it has the disease, get an abortion.
Sandy objected morally to abortion.
Selective abortion is eugenics, another friend had said. Why stop with disease? Abort female fetuses too since it’s so important for Douglas Junior to get his Douglas Junior Junior.
But Sandy wouldn’t get an abortion, because only God should decide those things.
Well maybe you should just let God give you a baby with the disease if that’s what His plan is, another card club lady had said, and Sandy hadn’t liked that very much.
Her other friend had continued hollering about eugenics and disability rights.
Why don’t you just adopt?
Sandy wanted to experience childbirth.
Why don’t you get in vitro fertilization with someone else’s zygote?
Sandy was also morally opposed to that, and Douglas Junior himself had no idea what a zygote was, but he figured he was probably morally opposed to it too. Sandy had said in vitro fertilization was like playing God. Douglas Junior would never play God, even if he didn’t really believe in any deities.
More opinions. You’re shooting down everyone’s ideas because you love reveling in negativity.
Sandy had said she wished they could magically scrub the bad genes out of her cells.
So is God opposed to science but fine with magical gene scrubbing?
Sandy had responded with the chicken neck and stopped having card club at their house.
After the genetic testing, Sandy and Douglas Junior had donated their tissue to the organization researching for a cure, but neither had realized that scientists would screw with their DNA. Sandy had lit up with chickeny lividness when all the pieces of the puzzle had come tumbling out, beginning with the disease research and ending in an accidental clone.
What did you think we were going to do? a company representative had asked. You carry a genetic disease. We were trying to cure it. We kind of had to screw with your DNA.
Douglas Junior had never thought of it that way. He’d pictured scientists dripping chemicals on strips of DNA that looked like interlinked rubber bands, nodding sagely and recording facts on their clipboards whenever certain compounds healed the broken parts. He knew DNA didn’t “heal” like skin, and he knew DNA wasn’t big enough to see draped across a Petri dish like a rubber band chain, but that was what he always pictured. Instead, it turned out to be some kind of microscopic wizardry that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up when he thought about it.
But the scientists weren’t wizards, and no true cure had come from the process so far. They had, however, managed to create a healthy clone that wouldn’t grow up to pass the damaged gene on to its offspring. Patrick was the result, and since Douglas Junior and his wife had declined participating in “artificial” pregnancies, his zygote had gone to another couple. That, Douglas Junior was told, had been a mistake. But with all the projects changing hands and cloning laws shifting over the years, somehow no one had noticed that Douglas Junior had never authorized this particular use of his tissue donation. This “mistake” had been living on the planet for twenty-two years with parents who’d been told the genetic material had been donated for the purpose.
Happens more often than you think, the representatives had told him. We’re scientists, but we screw up. We get tired and lazy. We miscommunicate. And sometimes, it has consequences. You remember that one time some lesbians picked a white sperm donor and got a black baby because of a label misread? It was like that.
Douglas Junior didn’t remember any story about pregnant lesbians. He didn’t like thinking about that sort of thing. And he didn’t stay updated on science news anyway. He hadn’t expected any of this. He’d just initiated the query to find out whether it was safe to have a baby yet, because the window of opportunity to start their family was closing as Sandy approached the end of her fertile times. He hadn’t expected to find out his genes had already been passed on.
A lawsuit was in fact possible, but he wasn’t telling Sandy that. He didn’t want to sue anyone. It would be tiring and expensive and probably really complicated, and plus it would surely sour the potential relationship with his son. Clone. Whatever.
Patrick had to be a confused young man. He surely had no feeling of roots, no understanding of where he’d come from. He would have identity issues. Patrick probably needed Douglas Junior in his life. He looked at the photo and imagined he saw vulnerability in the kid’s familiar brown eyes. The eyes were the same. Same basic facial features, color scheme, body structure. But Douglas Junior had always been a little chubbier and had never looked quite like this kid in any of his yearbook pictures; it was hard to tell if they had the same face shape. He had to pore over the photograph to pry out scraps of recognition that confirmed their relationship.
Maybe meeting him would help put his finger on it.
Sandy didn’t want to come. She didn’t want to meet Patrick.
He’s a bastard, she’d said.
He’s a bastard, she’d said.
Douglas Junior had no idea what she meant by that.
His parents were never married, she’d said, with the blob of red hair pinned on top of her head waggling back and forth to enhance the chicken-neck look.
What do you mean his parents were never married? Douglas Junior had demanded. I’m his father, sort of, and I’m married.
But not to his mother! Sandy’s hands had fluttered around nervously. Like they were each individual chickens.
He doesn’t have a mother, Douglas Junior had explained. I don’t really get it either, but he’s my clone, so all his genes came from me.
Right! Sandy had cawed. So his father should be married to nothing! Do you want me to die? Do you want me to be nothing?
Douglas Junior did not want his wife to be nothing.
But he needed to meet Patrick, regardless of whether he was a bastard. It was for the kid, honestly. That poor young man must’ve felt so lost all his life. No family history, no understanding of himself. And he’d grown up knowing he was a clone! Sure, that wasn’t ridiculously uncommon in today’s world, but twenty years ago if you were a clone, you were probably the only one in your school. Douglas Junior could be a good mentor. Maybe help him with his career. Dispense fatherly advice. Give him some shoes to fill. Maybe even literally since they probably wore the same size shoe.
On the meeting day, his wife was still complaining that he evidently wanted her to die, so he avoided her until midday, then quietly slipped out of the house. He wondered whether it would be more like having a son or more like looking back in time in a mirror.
When he got to the busy café at lunchtime, the clone was already there.
Patrick sat in one of the two chairs, leaning back casually with his legs stretched out under the table, crossed at the ankles. He wore black jeans that clung to his slim legs, a white shirt with an unrecognizable logo on the left side, and a silver chain around his neck that dangled into his shirt, obscuring whatever might be attached to the necklace. Douglas Junior didn’t recognize that posture of his. He’d never sat like that in his life.
Patrick had short ash-blond hair—lighter than Douglas Junior’s had been as a twenty-something, so maybe it was chemically treated? —and it was cropped everywhere but in the front, where a lick of hair spiked at his forehead to form a stylish crown above his dark, arched eyebrows. The boy read a magazine and tapped his finger on the table. Douglas Junior smiled, wondering if the tapping was a nervous gesture. The poor kid had probably been awake all night wondering what it would be like to meet his only real genetic relative. His own heart raced, but he kept evidence of that fact off his face and out of his mannerisms like the true actor he knew himself to be.
“Patrick,” he greeted his “son,” and the kid snapped out of his magazine to look up.
“Sir,” he replied, reaching with his right hand as he laid the magazine down with his left. They shook hands, and Douglas Junior felt awkward that the boy hadn’t stood for the greeting. He was suddenly aware of the various places in which he was sweating.
“No ‘sirs’ necessary,” said Douglas Junior. “Just ‘Douglas’ is fine.”
Patrick nodded. His hair didn’t move. Some kind of product in there. Douglas Junior wondered if he would’ve been more popular with girls back in the day if he’d done it up like this kid. Ladies liked a groomed man. Too late now, anyway. He was too old to get away with that, and he already had a wife.
Patrick was looking him over too. Douglas Junior wondered if the boy considered him a vision of his future. An inspiration? A disappointment?
“What do you say we grab some coffee and pastries?” Douglas Junior asked.
“Yeah.” Patrick got up and came around the table, and didn’t wince when Douglas Junior tentatively clapped him on the shoulder the way he’d always imagined he would do with a son.
“Got an idea,” said Douglas Junior. “How about we get in different lines and see if we end up ordering the same thing?”
The quizzical grimace that passed over Patrick’s face embarrassed Douglas Junior. Had he ever made that face at anyone himself?
“Uh, not a good idea?” Douglas Junior asked. “Ya know, just thought—we might have the same tastes, wanted to see it in action. No big deal if you don’t want to.”
“Yeah, uh.” Patrick ran his hand through his stiff hair from the front to the back, fingers spread like a large, clumsy comb. “If you want to know that, we can just talk about it. We don’t need to play games.” A crease appeared on one side of his lip. It might have been a smile.
“All right, no games,” said Douglas Junior, nodding vigorously. So he’d pictured something a little more theatrical—big deal. He couldn’t stop imagining getting back to their table both carrying a mocha and a slice of chocolate cake, and then they’d freeze in picturesque shock, and then they’d laugh like old friends, and then they’d banter like fathers and sons should.
“So what am I getting you then, boy? My treat.”
“Thanks, sir. Douglas,” he said, and suddenly Douglas Junior felt ridiculous about volunteering to pay. The boy’s next words took his mind off his anxiety. “I’ll have a single-shot mocha, and one of those chocolate cake slices.”
Douglas Junior waited for the order while Patrick returned to the table just in case any seat scavengers might try to claim it in spite of the magazine holding down the fort. When he returned with the goods, he dropped the bomb.
“You ordered what I was gonna order,” Douglas Junior said. “No bullshit.”
Patrick blew steam off his cup and took a sip. “Oh, I believe it.”
Douglas Junior’s chair screeched as he pulled it out and sat. “I always wondered about stuff like this. If our tastes are hardwired, you know?”
Patrick cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah. I mean it’d be weird if we were made from the same genetic blueprint, and we didn’t have anything in common.”
“Do you like trains?”
Patrick was silent for longer than seemed necessary to think about the question. Finally: “Uh, do I... like them? I guess. What kind of trains?”
“You know. The ones that take you from Point A to Point B.”
He shrugged. “Oh. I like... that they exist, sure. Trains.”
Douglas Junior puffed himself up. “I’m involved with trains. For work. I helped plan the entire network around here.”
Patrick finally melted toward interested. Maybe impressed. “Oh, you’re an urban planner? Are you an engineer?”
“No, no. But I did help with... you know, the project. Fifteen years ago. I helped the deal go through.”
“Okay, so, the business side of it? Something like that?”
“Exactly.” Douglas Junior considered this his crowning achievement. He’d managed a team that created the proposal to win transit planning work for an engineering firm, and ever since then, he felt a swell of pride when he saw the trains. They were, in some sense, his trains.
“I’m in engineering,” Patrick volunteered. “Almost done with the degree.”
“Oh.” Douglas Junior wondered if there was a train connection. “I don’t suppose you do transit planning?”
“Nah. Aerospace.” Patrick grinned. “I’m gonna leave the planet one day.”
His boy wanted to be an astronaut. Just like he’d fantasized about in the old days.
“Space training, huh,” Douglas Junior rumbled. “That’s a rough path. Challenging.”
“I’ll make it. I’m at the top of my class.”
Douglas Junior suppressed resentment. He’d really never been at the top of anything and hadn’t even come close to the science grades necessary. What was with this kid? Here he’d been picturing a bright-eyed younger version of himself who might need a leg up in the world—he’d been thinking of offering him an opportunity to intern at his firm if he needed a job—but apparently this boy was about to tackle a dream Douglas Junior had only managed to chase while asleep. Envy wasn’t appropriate to feel toward one’s offspring, though, surely. A real father should feel proud, not jealous. Still, did they have anything in common?
“So we like chocolate,” Douglas Junior said, stirring the coffee and setting the spoon on his paper napkin. “Just something we were born to like, I guess. How ’bout this—what’s your, you know, your type?” This was bound to be a father-son bonding activity: talking guy things. “I always had a thing for redheads, myself. What kind of ladies you like?”
“Hah. I’m gay.”
Douglas Junior’s mind froze for approximately two and a half seconds.
“But,” he said.
“But?” Patrick snorted obnoxiously. “I’m guessing you’re straight, then.”