'The Dylan Project'

  Photo credit:  Hein Boekhout

Photo credit: Hein Boekhout

By Megan Cassidy Hall

Josh Barrett was typically cool under pressure. In fact, he considered this to be his defining quality. It was this same unflappable charm that allowed him to bluff his way through high school and date nearly anyone he desired. However, after graduation a mere eight days prior, he found himself thrust out into the real world to search for a job. And this may have explained why, for the first time in his life, Josh Barrett was anxious.

Josh looked about the austere room, waiting for the interviewer to return and trying to convince himself there was no reason to be nervous. After all, he rationalized, the head-hunter had called him. But then again, Josh knew, there had to be a host of other candidates with more experience. At this thought, his heart beat erratically and his palms began to sweat. He might have experienced a full-blown panic attack, but just then the interviewer, an older, startlingly handsome man by the name of Alex Green, came back into the room.

During the first portion of the interview, Green’s good looks and intense gaze had unnerved the young man. However, the researcher’s demeanor now seemed drastically altered as he smiled and handed Josh a cup of coffee. Josh noted with pleasure that the cup was ceramic instead of the usual paper or Styrofoam, and this small gesture of permanence immediately calmed the young man’s nerves. He flashed Green his usual charismatic smirk. The interview process may have been rigorous, but the job was clearly his.

“Well, Josh,” Green began, “we’ve finished the initial questions, and I can say with some certainty that we’ll be asking you to stay.”

Josh smiled slightly so as not to appear too eager. Green mirrored the gesture, “Just sign these confidentiality forms, and we can tour the facility.”

Josh filled out the paperwork and followed his new employer down a sterile white corridor. “This is our inception room,” Green pointed to an area filled with tubes. “These days, it’s merely monitored to guarantee everything keeps running smoothly.”

“I wouldn’t be working here then?” Josh sighed. He thought he could fake it, but he had no experience and had copied off a girlfriend to pass his last few science courses.

Green gave him an odd look, but continued walking, “Of course not. Only a few lab techs work here. This part of the process was finalized nearly forty years ago. Research began long before that with the Adam model, but the Adams had a defect written into the original coding. Most weren’t able to last more than ten years.”

As they stepped into an elevator, Green continued, “The Bryans came twelve years later. They lasted, but there were slight flaws in the replication process, so only a few sets of Bryans were created. A few years later, the process was entirely perfected in the Caleb models.”

Josh interrupted, “And what will my role be?” His previous job had involved selling insurance. Before that, he worked in a mailroom. He’d been fired from both positions and wanted to seem interested in this job, even though he was already tiring of Green’s speeches.

“We’ll get to that,” Green grumbled. “As I was saying, the Calebs were a bit too perfect. At that point, we were unable to alter physical characteristics without changing major genetic sequencing, and the Calebs were far too unique for mass production. So, the line was terminated, though for obvious ethical reasons, the company did not recall the models.”

They arrived at a windowed room. Turning toward it, Josh looked into a nursery with three identical infants lying in three identical cribs. Green smiled warmly at the babies squirming in their tiny beds and whispered, “It’s a two-way mirror, so they’re not distracted by any outside visitors. This is our Dylan Project. The female equivalent, the Diane Project, produces models monitored by our sister facility.”

Green straightened his lab coat, “The Dylans have proven to be most satisfactory—not as bright or handsome as the Calebs, but with average intelligence and easily adjustable features, they blend into a crowd. Wonderful for long-term production.”

“And you’ve been getting away with this for decades?” Josh probed.

“Well,” the researcher opened a door leading into a room of screens monitoring the infants’ movements, “cloning was controversial in the early days.”

“And banned now,” Josh snorted.

Green turned away from the monitors and glared, “Banned by private enterprises, yes. But, our company has full government backing and conducts research under strict ethical guidelines.”

“You’re not organ harvesting then?” Josh asked.

This time, it was Green’s turn to smirk, “Of course you would think of that. No, Mr. Barrett. We are not organ harvesting. Nor are we creating soldiers for a secret militia, or treating the clones like bodies without souls.”

Josh opened his mouth, but Green continued, “I know. I’ve been calling them models. They are that, but more importantly, they are individuals, which is the very basis of our research. For example, I myself am a Caleb.  It is rare that one of us returns to the company, but it can happen.  Like my adoptive parents, I developed an interest in the sciences, and like the other Caleb models, I possess a high level of intelligence.”

Green led Josh back to the office. Once seated, the researcher pointed to a stack of folders on his desk. “The Dylans have been in production for about 40 years and most live normal everyday lives. For example,” he lifted a sealed manila envelope, “Dylan 32.1 was the first of two children born his year. He is now Samuel Prendergast, an active eight-year-old living in Iowa. He enjoys baseball and reading, just like his father.”

He held another file, “This is Dylan 20.2, the second of two babies born in his year. He was placed with his twin, Dylan 20.1. Both boys have embraced their mother’s love of music, and have taken lessons since childhood. Dylan 20.2 has a gift for stringed instruments and studies musical theory.”

“Then your work here is philanthropic? You’re just a specialized adoption agency?” Josh tried not to sound annoyed. He’d rather harvest organs than do something this foolishly sentimental.

“The philanthropic side of our work is secondary,” Green sipped his coffee. “Our primary goal is psychobiological research. We study abnormalities. I’m sure you’re familiar with the work of Sir. Francis Galton?”

Josh nodded and was displeased when he saw Green bemusedly purse his lips together. “Ah, well, to refresh both of our memories, Galton was an early genetics researcher who discovered that twins offer a unique way to distinguish genetic traits from those traits developed through nurture and the special circumstances of our lives,” he paused. “Do you understand now?”

The question seemed slightly condescending, as it was most likely intended to be. Josh spoke slowly, trying to appear thoughtful, “So, this is similar to the studies done before they cured schizophrenia? The ones where they studied twins, one with schizophrenia and one without?”

Green beamed in acknowledgement, “Quite so! The Bryan model was considerably valuable in discovering the cure, in point of fact. Our company’s sole aim is to study nature versus nurture. We have identical genetic material placed in homes throughout the world. To prevent flooding the market, we only create two to three children every other year, trading off opposite years with the Dianes. And, as I mentioned previously, we change the physical sequencing so the clones do not appear identical. Though genetic duplicates, the children have surface variations in skin tone, hair, and facial features.”

“And how are they monitored once they leave?” Josh wondered.

“Cameras,” Green waved a hand about his head. “There are so many these days. And we employ field researchers—not parents, of course as that would taint the study, but teachers, neighbors, even employers, once the children reach maturity.”

“And you’re the ones who cured schizophrenia?”

“Yes. We study other things as well—anything that could be either genetic or influenced by outside factors. It’s fascinating work. For example, on the whole, the Dylans have a propensity to be personable and easy-going. So, when we have one who becomes a cut-throat CEO, we examine how his upbringing may have influenced him.”

“Or if one develops cancer at an early age?”

“Precisely,” Green slapped the desk. “We’ve produced exactly forty eight Dylans. To date, none have cancer, even with high-risk environmental factors such as smoking.”

“Age could be a factor,” Josh supplied, trying to play the valuable team member.

“Which is why this is a longitudinal study with built in control groups. Will some develop cancer, or is there something in the Dylan’s genetic sequencing, which provides natural immunity? Can we replicate that immunity? If some develop Alzheimer’s as they age, what environmental factors can we correlate with the disease, and how can we eliminate those factors? That’s what we’re doing here.”

“And you’ve really never had any incidence of cancer,” Josh attempted to sound impressed, even though he felt bored.

“No. We’ve never had a Dylan with cancer, or any kidney or liver dysfunctions. We’ve had a few suffer from slight depressive episodes, but none with major depression, bipolar disorder, or sociopathic tendencies,” Green paused, “until now…  and here we come to your role in our project, Mr. Barrett.”

Josh was glad they had finally come to the point. He swallowed his irritation and flashed Green a charmingly toothy grin, “My role? Do you need another field researcher to follow someone?”

“Quite the contrary, though you do have a propensity for following people, Dylan 10.3.”

“What?” Josh gripped the chair, trying to keep the fear out of his voice. For the second time in his life, his palms began to sweat.

Green pulled a file from his desk, “We want to know… what went wrong.”

He began reading, “Age seven, the subject sets his mother’s cat on fire. Cat goes missing. Dylan 10.3 is not suspected.”

He flipped to another entry, “Age nine, Dylan 10.3 bullies female classmate until she is forced to transfer schools. Parents contacted. No other actions taken.”

Flip. “Age fourteen, female classmate accuses Dylan 10.3 of rape. The school gets involved. No official charges filed. The subject is allowed to continue high school undisturbed.”

Flip. “Age seventeen, Dylan 10.3 strangles his girlfriend and disposes of her body.”

Here, Green flopped the folder onto the desk in front of Josh. Pictures, apparently taken with a satellite camera, clearly showed Josh’s hunched over form as he shoved a blonde corpse into the trunk of his car.

“It’s been almost a year, and the girl’s parents are still looking for her,” Green said.  “We’re looking for an explanation.” Green looked over Josh’s head, and the young man realized there were three others behind him—one in a lab coat identical to Green’s, two carrying weapons. Josh’s mind was racing. He fell silent, trying to control himself.

The tactic must have worked because after a few moments, his breathing eased.  He shrugged nonchalantly, “That’s not me.”

Josh moved as if to leave, but the guards behind him moved in as Green pointed to a photo in which the young man’s face was clearly visible, “Let us not lie to one another, Josh,” he said. “I’ve told you everything that goes on here—very top secret stuff, and there’s nowhere for you to run. We’re doing research here, as I said. Just tell us exactly what happened.”

Josh licked his lips, his eyes darting from side to side looking for an exit. He thought that perhaps Green did only want him there for research purposes. Perhaps he would be free from any repercussions. He might as well be frank, given the fact that there seemed no alternative. With this in mind, Josh leaned back in his chair and answered coolly, “Linda was a lying cheating idiot who got what she deserved.”

Green’s lips formed a thin white line. “Then, you claim that it was Miss. Evans who precipitated the attack?”

Josh rolled his eyes, but said nothing. Still trying to seem relaxed, he could feel a drips of sweat beginning to trickle down the back of his neck as Green leaned forward, “And, what of the childhood incidents?”

This question was met with a harsh laugh and another shrug, “Well, those are just the kind of sticky situations every guy finds himself in now and again.”

“Many men, are violent,” Green acknowledged, “but our Dylan models are typically friendly and easygoing. Was there any history of abuse or neglect we may have overlooked?”

Even though Josh’s heart had begun beating wildly, he blinked twice, removed all trace of emotion from his face, and simply replied, “No.”

Green made a note, “It would be difficult to detect lying with your personality, so I will unfortunately have to take your word for it. Typically, we would know about and prevent any maltreatment, but we have been known to make mistakes.”

When Green was greeted with more silence, he pressed further, “Now, this incident with Miss. Evans. In your mind, precisely how did she provoke the attack?”

“She lied to me,” Josh’s chest began heaving with ragged breaths, “and she slept with the captain of the baseball team, and the sensation of my hands around her neck was the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life, if you really want to know.”

 “You note the lack of shame or remorse,” Green said to his colleague.

The other researcher nodded and placed three additional photos on the desk, “Which is why we do not believe this to be an isolated incident.”

“I didn’t kill anyone else!” Josh shouted, completely dropping his cool façade.

“Only because our field researchers began monitoring you twenty-four hours a day since the first incident,” Green interrupted, pointing to the first two photos. “When you stalked and attempted to assault this young woman in the park last month, we surreptitiously intervened moments before the attack.”

Josh’s mind reeled as he recalled following the same path as the slim jogger for months, planning how to approach her in just the right way to seem both menacing and friendly.  Just as he had run up behind her, a second jogger had come around the corner calling out, “Sarah, I think you dropped your wallet back here.” 

Startled, Sarah had turned around, only to see Josh a few inches from her face.  She jumped back in surprise and Josh knew she would always remember what he looked like.  She would be on guard and he would not have the chance to surprise her again.  He tried to control his anger at the realization that his carefully laid out plans had been thwarted by these low little men in their ugly white coats. 

“Interesting,” the other researcher said, turning to Green.  “You see now that he is finally showing some emotion, though he tries to hide it.”

“Anger born of selfishness,” Green nodded as his colleague made a notation.  He turned back to Josh, “This,” Green tapped the final photo “is one of our researchers, posing as a decoy. You have trailed her movements for the past two weeks, just as we have trailed yours.”

Green’s colleague cleared his throat and added, “One is an isolated incident. Two is a coincidence. Three is a serialized pattern.”

“I’m not…” Josh jumped to his feet, but one of the armed guards firmly pressed him back down into his chair.

“As I explained previously,” Green stood, “above all else, our process is ethical. We must discover what brought on this abnormality in personality and psyche. If it is not environmental, it must be physical. The other two young men of your birth year have shown none of these symptoms or behaviors but are becoming, like our other Dylans, happy productive members of society. You are, Mr. Barrett, a clone who appears to be entirely unique.”

Josh smirked at this, but his face fell as Green continued, “And that is why we have chosen to terminate your program.”

“You’re going to kill me?” Josh felt his bladder give way.

“No. Of course not,” Green said, as the two security agents lifted Josh to his feet. “As I said before, you’ll be staying here.”

Josh roared in both terror and fury, “You’ve got the photos! Why not just send me to prison?”

“Ah, but then we wouldn’t have any tissue samples,” Green answered, as if this were obvious. He inclined his head toward his colleague, “Dr. Albert has never performed a lobotomy, as they have not been standard practice for quite some time, but we believe this form of tissue extraction to be sufficient, both to control your behavior and to conduct our research.”

Josh began flailing his arms and legs, trying to strike his captors. He felt his fist make contact with Green’s jaw and felt a momentary surge of adrenaline. But then a long syringe was thrust into his arm, and his knees went weak as he was lowered onto a waiting gurney.

Green stood over his prisoner, “We’ll have to keep you for observation, but you shouldn’t be too much trouble. When we need more tests or further samples, I’m sure your new, sedentary, infantile personality will happily comply.”

The drugs had nearly alleviated the last remnants of Josh’s anxiety, but then just before falling into a hazy, drug-induced sleep, he heard Green say the last words he would ever fully comprehend, “Dr. Albert, procure as much tissue as necessary, as long as he stays alive. If he wakes up during the procedure, which he certainly will, don’t give him any further sedation. You saw the pictures.”

Screaming, Josh fell into oblivion.

 

Megan Cassidy Hall is the author of SmotheredThe Misadventures of Marvin Miller, and Always, Jessie. She is also the co-owner of 50/50 Press. You can follow her on Twitter @MeganEileenC

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