“Wait,” Riley said. “You just said you wanted to prove you could send humans to another planet. But you meant copies, right? You’re trying to prove you can send copies of humans.”
“Sure, that’s what I meant, of course,” Doc said.
“I don’t want to do this,” Rachel said. “Let me go.”
“You kids should be proud,” Doc said. “Out of everyone in the city, I chose you two because I was impressed with your intelligence and your ingenuity.”
“I’m not really that bright,” Rachel said. “I lucked out when I won second place in the science fair. You need to let me go and find somebody smarter.”
“This could be dangerous,” Riley said. “Your crazy invention could kill us.”
“Crazy invention?” Doc got up in Riley’s face. “You’re calling my life’s work crazy? Do you have any idea how many years I’ve been developing this system? How many sleepless nights?” He began to cough violently and stumbled away from Riley.
“You need to see a doctor about that cough,” Riley said. “Let us take you to the hospital.”
Doc reached into this pocket, pulled out a pack of Marlboros, put one between his lips, and lit it.
“What’s holding us to these chairs?” Rachel asked. “It feels like I’m magnetized.”
“You are,” Doc said. “That’s another one of my inventions.”
“I don’t like,” Rachel said. “It feels weird.”
“It won’t hurt you though,” Doc said.
“Well, you’re obviously a brilliant man,” Riley said. “I have no doubt about that. But if you run this experiment on us and something goes wrong, we could die. And then you’d go to prison.”
“Or, even if your experiment does work, you could die in the middle of it and leave us stuck on some strange planet forever,” Rachel said.
“Well, remember, I’ll only be sending a copy of you through space. The original you will still be sitting here in the chair.”
“So, once you send our copies you can let us go home,” Riley said.
“I’m afraid not,” Doc said. “You see, the trickiest part about making copies of the human body is the brain. The copies that my system produces are not exact copies—I’ve still got a few bugs to work out—but they’re close. They’re functional. Except for the brain.”
“Then what’s the point? How do you expect our copies to do anything without brains?” Riley asked. “Let us go until you work that out. Then we’ll come back.”
“Right, sure you will.” Doc coughed. “No, I’ll be dead by then. Besides, I have a workaround for the brain problem. You saw it demonstrated in the video. What I do is borrow part of the brain from the original to use in the copy.”
“Borrow it?” Riley asked. “You’re gonna take out part of our brains?”
“You’re a monster!” Rachel said.
“The process removes a portion of your brain and puts it in the copy. And then, after the experiment is complete, your brain will be restored one-hundred percent,” Doc said.
“And if you die,” Rachel said, “before you restore our brains—”
“That won’t happen,” Doc said, “because I’ve taken the precaution of installing a countdown timer to automatically retrieve your brains and restore them in case I die before I can bring them back manually.”
“Please don’t do this to us,” Rachel said.
“What if something goes wrong and our brains get lost somewhere out there in space?” Riley asked. “Then we’re screwed. We’ll be left with half a brain—or maybe we’ll be stuck in a coma. What will you do then—bury us in your backyard cemetery?”
“Your brains are my number one concern,” Doc said, “because without them, the copies will be useless.”
“Really?” Rachel asked. “That’s your number one concern? Not the fact that you’re probably gonna kill us?”
“It will all work out,” Doc said. “Now, you can either shut up and let me explain a few things, or go in blind. What will it be?”
“I want to go home.” Rachel began to tear up.
“Okay, then, blind it is.” Doc walked toward his computer.
“No, wait!” Riley said. “Please explain it to us. We want to hear everything, right, Rachel?”
“Good,” Doc said. “The planet I’m sending you to has a climate that’s almost identical to Earth’s. It’s populated with intelligent mammals, with a civilization somewhat similar to ours. Your mission is to blend in and learn as much as you can. According to the data that was sent back by the camera ball, their technology appears to be somewhat more advanced than our own. I’m sure you two will enjoy that aspect of it.”
“But we won’t be there,” Riley said. “It’ll just be our copies, right?”
“Yes, but your copies will be using your brains, so I expect that it will feel like you’re actually there,” Doc said.
“But how will our copies communicate with the people, or whatever they are?” Rachel asked.
“Not a problem,” Doc said. “I’ll get to that momentarily.”
“What do they look like?” Riley said.
“Surprisingly similar to humans,” Doc said. “And the copies of your bodies will be altered to look just like theirs. I want you to learn everything you can about the them and their technology, their politics—assuming they have such a thing, and—”
“Whatever we can pick up in a couple of hours?” Rachel asked.
“It’ll take a little longer than that,” Doc said.
“How much longer?” Riley asked.
“I’ll be watching the data as it comes in,” Doc said. “Everything you see, say, and do will be recorded and transmitted back to me.”
“How?” Riley asked.
“Our copies will automatically send the data back?” Rachel asked.
“Because you’re adding that functionality to our copies?” Riley asked.
“No,” Doc said. “It’s easier to add it to the originals.” He walked over to a metal cabinet, opened the door, and took out two large syringes.
“What the hell are those?” Riley asked.
“What are you gonna to do to us?” Rachel said. “I know you’re not worried about going to prison, but don’t you have a conscience? Please, stop and think about what you’re doing.”
Doc set one of the syringes down on the table and walked to Riley’s chair. “This is going to sting a little.” He pressed down on Riley’s forehead to hold his head in place.
Riley said, “Stop!”
Doc injected the syringe into the side of Riley’s neck, just below the skull.
Riley said, ”Dammit!”
Doc said, “The chip is designed to do two things: send data to the FuddleCuz, which will, in turn, relay it back to me; and translate other languages into English for you. It will also translate what you want to say into the foreign language and your mouth will automatically speak in that language.”
He put Riley’s syringe on the table and picked up the other one.
“You don’t need to send two people,” Rachel said. “Just send Riley. He’s smarter than me anyway.”
“Don’t be so modest, my dear.”
She began to sob. “Please…”
Doc held her head and injected the chip into her neck.
“You bastard!” She said.
“Okay, good,” Doc said. “Now, you’re all ready to go.” He put the syringe down, walked over to his computer, and sat down.
“Wait,” Riley said, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
“That won’t be a problem,” Doc said, typing at his keyboard.
“Yes, it will, damn it,” Riley said. “I’m about to piss my pants.”
Doc continued to type. “That’s okay. The seat is waterproof.” He laughed. “Okay, here we go.”
Riley held his breath, waiting for the inevitable vibration or jolt or disintegration of his body. “Nothing’s happening.”
“Thank God,” Rachel said.
“You’re wrong,” Doc said. “It’s happening right now. You’re both being scanned. Soon your copies will be on their way to the planet Sorella Uno.”
“Where’s that?” Rachel said.
“Never heard of it,” Riley said.
“I named it myself,” Doc said. “It means Sister One.”
“This is ridiculous,” Riley said. Obviously Doc’s system was a dud, so he would release them and let them go home. But what the hell had he injected into their necks? They would need to get to a doctor as soon as possible and have it removed. But the very first thing Riley would do was call 9-1-1 and report this lunatic so they could haul him off to the funny farm.
Doc entered a few more keystrokes. “Now I’m initiating the brain procurement process…”
The back of Riley’s head slammed into the head rest—apparently now magnetized to the chair like the rest of his body. “Stop! I want out of this thing!”
“Just relax,” Doc said.
“It feels like you’re sucking my brains out!” Rachel said.
“And remember,” Doc said, “your copies will look a little different—so that you can blend in. It could be rather disconcerting at first, but you’ll get used to your new bodies quickly enough.”
“It’s not working, Doc,” Riley said. “You must still have a few glitches in your system.” Riley’s head began to buzz.
Rachel said, “I feel sick.”
“Me too,” Riley felt vomit coming up the back of his throat.
Everything went black.
Doc Himmel studied Riley, who was sitting motionless in the dental chair. He looked wide-awake, but nobody was home. Doc lowered the boy’s eyelids and checked his pulse. It was strong and stable. Riley had been left with just enough brain power to keep his body functioning in a coma-like state.
He went to Rachel’s chair and checked her. She was doing fine as well.
The doctor walked over to his computer workstation and sat down. It would be another twenty minutes or so before Riley and Rachel’s copies were created on the distant planet, Sorella Uno. Then it would take ten more minutes for him to receive confirmation. Doc felt certain that everything would go smoothly this time. He was convinced that he’d finally removed all the bugs from his system.
He had implied to Riley and Rachel that they would be participating in the first human trial. But that was not true. This was actually the ninth attempt. During his most recent trial, a minor coding error had caused a freakish reproduction: feet attached at the wrong end of the legs. How could he have made such a careless mistake? Another coding error had resulted in the boy’s brain getting fried on its way back to Earth. But he was a runaway kid, like most of Doc’s subjects, so nobody would come looking for him—at least not anytime soon.
How many more bodies was he going to have to bury in the back yard? Doc was beginning to feel like a mortician.
He coughed hard, and heaved up a gob of phlegm and spit it into the trash can beside his desk. The next cough produced blood. Only one thing would stop the coughing. He lit up another cigarette and glanced over at Riley and Rachel.
It was going to work this time. Those two were gonna make it. They had to. He was running out of time.