I’m on the airtram, watching vids on my SocialHUD, when I notice my dead mother sitting a few people away. She’s younger than the last time I saw her. Her hair is shaved and she’s covered in tattoos. I’m trying not to stare as I pretend to look at the tram’s graffiti-filled wall. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, but I’m not hallucinating.
They say the odds of seeing the replica of a genetic donor you know are astronomical. But seeing her sitting there, I feel anything but lucky.
The airtram starts to whine and the nose dips groundward. As we approach I start to wonder, what if she remembers something about the person she came from? There are claims out there of people meeting up with cloned family members, defying science when the clone remembers some word or phrase the deceased loved one used to say, even when nothing else is remembered. Coincidence is what the scientists call it. But the niggling feeling in my stomach has me so damn curious.
There’s a gentle thud when the airtram lands. The boarding ramp lowers, revealing the Tampa skyline beyond the tarmac. Everyone gets up and my throat feels tight. I want to say something, but what am I supposed to say?
The passengers shuffle past me towards the entrance. Mom’s clone starts to walk by.
“Hey,” I say. I reach out and grab her arm.
She glares at me.
“Don’t fucking touch me.” She tugs her arm away and steps off the tram.
I’m such an idiot. I stare after her until the airtram bot asks me if I intend to get off or ride to the next stop.
Curiosity still tugs at me. I wonder if the clone really does know something.
Against my better judgment, I follow her.
A few blocks into downtown she walks into an old brick apartment building.
I look down the street both ways before I follow her in. I shuffle up the stairs behind her until I’m in front of her apartment. My heart thunders. I feel my pulse behind my eyes. I knock three times, gently, and wait a few minutes, looking up and down the dingy hallway. No answer. I knock again, harder.
The door cracks open. Her eyes go wide.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
She slams the door.
I sigh. It was foolish to come. I debate knocking again and think better of it, but I can’t let the opportunity to talk to her go.
I walk into the bot shop across the street, making a show of looking so the sales bot doesn’t kick me out for loitering. I watch her building until I see her come out again. She says something to the homeless man sitting just outside her building entrance before disappearing into the alley of the building next door.
I leave the bot shop and cross the street. As soon as I get to the alley entrance, I see her cut right into a branching alleyway. When I get to that corner, she’s waiting for me. She grabs my shoulders and slams me against the wall. A knife appears against my throat, droplets of blood tickle my skin.
“Why are you following me?”
My mouth is dry. Her breath is hot on my face, hissing between silver teeth.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Look.” I send her a SocialHUD image. “I’m your daughter.” It’s the last image I have of my mom and I huddled together in the hospital.
Her mouth drops open. She releases me and takes a few steps back. Then lifts the knife, pointing it at my face.
“Stay. The fuck. Away.” She disappears around the corner.
I grab my throat. The cut is superficial but it’s enough. It’s time to let it go.
I wander and lose track of time. My feet take me through downtown until I’m walking into the Tampa Memorial Holo Park. Holo portraits of the dead hang on the walls. I find my mom’s. The pictures rendered as holos look so vivid and real. Holos of her life before me, of her and I, of her and dad before he left.
Tears roll down my cheeks.
“She must have meant a lot to you,” a voice behind me says.
I whirl and it’s her. My heart skips a beat and at first I feel like I need to run, but she’s holding two cups of coffee from a coffee shop and smiling weakly.
“She did,” I say. “I didn’t get enough time with her. How did you find me?”
“I used the picture and the web. Figured I’d find you here after everything earlier,” she says. “I’m sorry about your mom, and for today.”
“It’s me that needs to be sorry for going all stalker on you. I’ve never been creepy like that before. You hear all these stories of clones somehow defying science and remembering something. Once I saw you I just couldn’t let it go.”
“Yeah, it was pretty fucking creepy,” she says, “but I was thinking about it, and I think I get it. I’m not her, though. You know that, right?”
“I won’t ever be her. I have my own memories. I’m my own person. I don’t remember you or anything about her life.” She nods towards the holo behind me.
“I know that. I’m sorry.”
“Forget it. Do you like coffee?” She asks.
I nod and she hands me one. “Thanks,” I say.
“Can you tell me about her? My parents, they both had rough genetic histories, so they went with a genetic donor. They didn’t know much about the person I was made from.”
“Of course,” I say and take a sip of the coffee. A warm feeling passes through me. I can’t help but smile.
The coffee has two sugars. The same way mom made it.
About the author:
Eric Fomley’s stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction, and Galaxy’s Edge. His first flash fiction collection, Flash Futures, is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Find guest artist Lina Fernandez: