By Rachel Ann Michael Harris
CT hunched his shoulders against the drizzle and the gazes of other pedestrians, his hood pulled up to hide his face. Neon signs colored the sidewalk and the steel buildings in odd tones in the night. Between the hordes of people, he glimpsed an officer ahead and swung toward a video advertisement sign, feigning interest.
“Want a better future for humanity?” the sign droned as CT ducked his head, shivers running up his spine while waiting for the officer to leave. “Want to see the end of human and animal testing? Donate your DNA. One drop of blood is enough to create one clone—the perfect test subject stand in. Quick. Painless. Stop dangerous testing on humans.” In the ad, smiling people held up their arms, showing off the green tattoos of those doing their part to help. “Save humanity. Donate today!”
The ad shifted to an Owen Clearfield thriller as the officer passed. Turning back to the street, CT rubbed his thumb against his right wrist, trembling. If that officer saw his tattoo… He couldn’t go back.
Three blocks later he turned down a trash-littered alley, looking over his shoulder to see if anyone followed. At the other end, a man smoking a cigarette leaned against the concrete wall next to a rusty, metal door. CT slowed and glanced back.
“Keep acting like that and someone’ll think we’re up to something,” the man said.
He scratched his beard before taking another puff. “What’d you want?”
Looking back to the street once more, CT crept forward. “Are you the Artist?”
“Who wants to know?”
Licking his lips, CT raised the right sleeve of his sweatshirt, revealing a purple sequence of dots and dashes tattooed on his wrist. “I was told you could help with this.”
The man examined it. “Possible. Hurts though. Any problem with needles?”
CT pulled his sleeve past his elbow, revealing pin prick holes up and down his arm. “No.”
The man looked him in the eye. “How old are you?”
After a moment, he exhaled smoke and jerked his head toward the door, then entered. Checking the alley one more time, CT followed.
It was dark and dirty inside, filled with clutter and rickety furniture. On a counter were rows of bottled inks. He didn’t even know there were that many colors. The Artist picked up a large device that looked like one of the injectors the scientists used in the lab and began attaching ink bottles.
“Sit down.” The man nodded to a chair beside the table with the injector.
CT sat and tucked his hands under his legs.
“You can relax. No one else is here.” He pointed to his head. “Take off the hood.”
Slowly, CT reached up and pushed back his hood, shaking out his long, brown hair.
“You have money?”
CT handed him a leather wallet. He kind of felt bad for that one. It had belonged to one of the scientists. One he liked. At least they were nice. Probably why it had been so easy to steal—along with their keycard.
The Artist took it and removed some bills before passing it back. Then he sat down and held out his hand. CT placed his right wrist on the man’s palm and closed his eyes.
He wasn’t sure how many times he’d received injections. Usually, it was a sharp pain and then… nothing. From them he’d endured gut-clenching sicknesses, dizziness, hazy vision, and rashes. Once he’d had hallucinations—that had been the worst. But now, the needle carved into his skin and kept burning. He pressed his head on the table, gritting his teeth and clenching his eyes shut against the pain.
An excruciating half hour later, the Artist put a wet cloth against CT’s wrist, then wrapped it with gauze. “Finished.” He stood up and began cleaning the injector. “So, what’s your name?”
“CT 1109,” he said, holding the bandaged wrist to his chest.
“Not what they called you at the institute. What’s your name?” He glanced at CT, then back to the injector as he rubbed a cloth over it. “You’re your own person now. You need a name.”
My own person? CT hesitated, then said, “I like… Owen.”
The Artist chuckled. “An Owen Clearfield fan, huh?”
“Well, Owen, what are you going to do now?”
He fiddled with the bandage. “I don’t know.”
“Better decide. You have your whole life ahead of you. You’re human like the rest of us.”
Human. CT nodded to the Artist, then left.
As he walked down the alley, he cradled his burning wrist. My own person. Could I be Owen?
He stopped just before reaching the street and rubbed his thumb across his wrist again. Who had donated his DNA? Was it a teenager like CT, or a grown man? Were they similar in personality? Was CT just reliving the same life his host had lived? Or could he really be whoever he wanted to be?
Picking at the bandage, CT unwound the gauze. Underneath, a green tattoo covered the purple dots and dashes from before. Without looking up, he stepped out onto the sidewalk.
But he only took two steps before colliding with someone. Arms reached out and steadied CT as he stumbled. “Whoa there, kid.”
CT looked up and stiffened when he saw the officer’s uniform. The one from before. He held CT’s arms, keeping him from fleeing. What should he do? Hands shaking, his feet froze in place.
The officer glanced at CT’s wrist and nodded. “Great job, son. Your DNA donation will go far.”
He swallowed. “Thanks.”
With a pat on CT’s shoulder, the officer walked away.
CT stood there, people moving past him, not giving him a second look.
He was free. No more tests. No more experiments. He could be…
Owen. I’m Owen.
Tracing the green tattoo with his thumb as a smile played on his lips, Owen turned down the street, and disappeared into the crowd.