Author : Emily Stupar

The Department of Innovation and Study’s car smells exactly the same as the last time I was forced to pack up my partner, Buckwalter, and make a Cookie call: unassuming plastic and rubber underlined by our own sweaty anxiety.

We drive in tense silence for twenty minutes until Buckwalter slaps a hand on the dashboard. “Nine years! Nine years? I spent them trying to forget about the Cookie calls and telling myself I’d never have to do it again. And now these jokers tell us they forgot one?”

I let my unease turn to indignation. “They lost the file? Project Cookie-Cutter was the closest thing I&S ever had to a successful experiment and you’re telling me they lose a subject file?”

Buckwalter smirks. “Successful? They got through phase one and then had to put the fruit of their labors up for adoption. Seventy-five percent of the budget went to coming up with the name.”

We laugh and it rattles miserably around the car. A decade ago, an energetic administration found the records and decided that letting that “fruit” continue to live in blissful ignorance was dishonest and that lackeys like us should sit them down with proof of their genetic unoriginality.

As government workers, we’re trained to be unfazed by the idea of clones and I’ve never been intimidated by the test subjects. But we came to learn there are no positive scenarios for a Cookie call. They end in tearful shock in the best cases and violent outrage in the worst.

And that’s just the first day. After they find out the Truth, there’s a thirty percent chance Cookie-Cutter subjects will commit suicide before collecting a cent of the compensation money, a fifty-five percent chance they’ll lose their job over the next three months, and a fifteen percent chance they’ll find themselves incarcerated over the next two years.

It’s with these statistics running through our heads that we approach the front door of the recently discovered Subject L (II), Mrs. Calhoun.

She is an old woman and she keeps her eyes on her lap while we lay out our rusty speech. We finish and sit in solemn silence until she speaks without looking up. “I don’t think I need the government’s change. I have plenty left to live on, thank you.”

I glance at Buckwalter. We’ve already decided who will call emergency services if the news triggers a heart attack.

“As for the cloning, I’m afraid you’re about twenty-five years late. My original came to visit me.” She finally looks at us and smiles at our dumbfounded expressions. “I believe she was under-informed and a bit paranoid, but she thought I should know the truth before she tried to disappear to South America. A silly woman. But we don’t get to choose our family, do we?”

Buckwalter starts to stutter out a question that begins with “But how can you-” so I cut him off. “That’s a novel way to think about it, ma’am.”

“Thank you, dear.” She pats our knees. “I appreciate you two coming all the way out here to tell me, although I’m sorry you’ve wasted a trip. Can I offer you some gingerbread?”

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