When Joey Klein was almost seven, he suffered a most unfortunate accident. He had been enjoying a fine summer, noting with pride and pleasure the beginning of his transition from childhood to youth, and eagerly anticipating the time when the adventure of school would take him out of the confines of his motherís home. It was his desire to seek such new vistas that was his undoing. He determined to climb to the top of the highest tree in the town park in order to see what lay beyond the edge of town, and in succeeding, he fell and broke his neck, quite fatally.
As a result, his mother fell into despair, a condition Thelma Klein took to with dedication. The day of Joeyís accident she cried hysterically and, having threatened suicide all night, turned to the booze at dawn for the first time in her life and drank herself sloppy. The next day she stayed in bed, determined to remain there forever, reading Dostoevsky and dying slowly.
Early in the afternoon of that second day, as she lay staring morosely at the wall, she heard someone enter the house. She was alone in the building, and her husband Benson was not due home from work for several hours. She listened closely, concerned in spite of her professed apathy for life that someone was wandering uninvited through her home. Shortly a knock came at her bedroom door. "Mrs. Klein?"
Heartened that her name was known, she ventured a reply. "Who is it?"
"May I come in?" A cultured masculine voice.
Checking that her robe was securely fastened, she answered, "Well, all right, come on in."
"I am very sorry for this intrusive manner of approaching you, Mrs. Klein," he said. "May I sit down?" He handed her a card, neatly engraved:
She looked at him quizzically, a slender, dapper little man of perhaps forty, with thinning hair lying close to his head. He drew his chair closer to the bed and sat regarding her for a moment. "Mrs. Klein, I will not waste your time nor my own trying to be too diplomatic or kind, but I will try to be as direct as decency permits in telling you why I have come to you.
"You have just suffered a great loss in your young son Joseph -- a life terminated almost before it began. In itself it is a tragedy, as death is indeed irrevocable, and wherever it is we go in passing, surely your son is there, and no human power can call him back."
Flaring to anger, she sat up in the bed. "If youíre some kind of medium...."
"No, nothing like that," he assured her, raising his hands. "Please, let me continue. There is nothing I can do for, with, or about Joseph. For him the incident is over. However, it is not over for you. You have built your world around the development of that particular human being. His problems are your problems, his approach to life your concern. Now, after years of preparing yourself and shaping your life for that particular task, you find the reason for that preparation -- your reason for living, if I may presume to interpret your present behavior -- is gone from you."
Sagging from the tension of anger to tears, she turned her face from him. "Doctor, if youíve come to sell me some kind of escape, I..."
"I have come to offer you a proposition. I am, as my card indicated, a...or perhaps I should say the genoduplicator. I wish to offer you my services as such."
"What can you do, a...genoduplicator?"
Unbuttoning his jacket, he leaned forward in his chair. "I will not bore you with a dissertation on genetic engineering, Mrs. Klein, but let me say that every living being on Earth is built around a pattern of coded information carried around in its genes. Until very recently, the content of these genes could be controlled only by selective breeding. However, by a new process I shall not dwell upon, I am able to replace the genes of one living cell with the code patterns of another cell. By doing this to an egg cell, an ovum, a fertilized zygote is obtained which is in genetic pattern identical to the donor of the code. Do you grasp the implications of that, Mrs. Klein?"
She looked at him really closely for the first time since he had come into the room, not certain that she wanted to believe what she understood he was saying was possible. "Youíre telling me you can duplicate....?"
"I am telling you that should you desire to bear another child, we are able to insure that he would be genetically identical to your son Joseph."
She sat silent for a moment, wide eyes fixed on the pattern on her bedspread, then she spoke in a hollow whisper, "I could have him back."
He smiled kindly and said gently, "No, Mrs. Klein, not precisely. Only some of a personís characteristics are genetically endowed. I am personally adherent to the belief that each person, regardless of his genetic inheritance, is an individual soul, and insofar as souls differ, genetic duplicates, like identical twins, would differ. And of course, insofar as we are shaped by our experience, a genetic double would grow to differ from the original as his experiences were different. Around the laboratory we refer to what we offer you -- if you will forgive us our flippancy -- as a retake. We cannot give you back the Joseph you lost, but insofar as human beings are determined by their genetics, we can give you back the infant Joseph, and you can start over."
She bowed her head and wept quietly for a time, then composed herself and looked at him curiously. "Is this legal?" she asked.
He chuckled softly as though he thought it were ironic she should ask. "No, Mrs. Klein, it is not. Perhaps that is fortunate, I donít know. This work is being done experimentally by a very small number of research specialists. We recognize the great power and also the incredible danger inherent in this technology. I personally think if it is misused, it could be potentially more devastating than the greatest of atom bombs."
"Then, Doctor, why do you do it?" she asked him.
He shook his head sadly, and for a moment his polished reserve seemed to leave him. He sagged in his chair for just an instant, then resumed his objective air. "Our United Americas Government, recognizing the potential of this science for good ends and for corrupt use, has passed legislation demanding that research and practice in the sensitive areas of this field be done only under its supervision. Not an unwise move, even if smacking a bit of totalitarianism. However, for reasons which I am sure must be politically and economically sound, they have provided neither funds nor facilities for conducting the work.
"I suppose it would not matter, except that it happens not all of those few scientists I mentioned are subject to the jurisdiction of our Government, so the research is being carried on elsewhere. Mrs. Klein, I am of the opinion that regardless whether those othersí intentions are benign or hostile, it could only be to our disadvantage for them to possess the technology where we do not. For that reason I conduct my research in secret, and when those othersí work becomes known and there is clamor because we are behind, I can reveal that the work has been carried on."
"Then your coming to me is....?"
"An economic expedient, Mrs. Klein. Research is very expensive. Should you decide to employ my services, you may rest assured that my fee will be high."
She nodded, then asked seriously, "How long do I have to decide?"
"What I am going to say may be difficult for you. I donít wish to catch you by surprise."
"In order for me to duplicate Josephís gene pattern, I must have a sample of his cells. Some tissue would be better than others, of course, but most any would do. It would be difficult for you to obtain permission for me to examine the body, and there would be no justifying my removing any...um, specimen from it. But -- and please forgive me if I offend -- there could be a time you might be alone with Joseph after the funeral home had finished their preparations."
She was confused for an instant, then paled and sank back against her pillow. "My God, you want me to cut -- what, a finger, or...? No, wait." She sat up, gathered her robe together and stepped to a bureau across the room. From a small drawer, she took a tiny envelope. "Would this do?" she asked, showing him a lock of fine red hair.
He smiled and nodded gently, but did not touch it.
After a moment she asked softly, "How effective are your...experiments, Dr. Garlande?"
He permitted himself a deep self-indulgent sigh. "Of course, I am unable to offer you references, but I can assure you that you are not the first. Now, I believe I have said all that is necessary. I have no intention of attempting to sway your decision in this matter, so I shall leave. There is a number on the back of that card I gave to you. If I do not hear from you by the funeral, you may forget that I ever existed."
Some nine months later, Thelma Klein was delivered of a beautiful baby boy, whom she named Joshua. Her husband Benson was proud that he had given her another son, and pleased that she had recovered so quickly from the loss of her Joey.
As Josh grew older, people marked the amazing similarity between the child and his lost older brother, but out of courtesy it was never mentioned. When the boy was almost seven, his taste for adventure was well apparent. He took little pleasure in the comfort of his motherís home, and it was clear to all that he eagerly sought to free himself from the fetters of childhood and to go into the world on his own. Seeing the familiar pattern, Thelma was resigned to losing this son too, not to death, but to maturity. She gradually fell into a prolonged depression, and only then knew the remedy she needed.
As Dr. Garlande had wished to follow the progress of the case, she had remained in contact with him and was able to seek him out.
"Doctor, I have an unusual...question to ask of you," she said, sitting stiffly in his office. "If I were to bring in...if I wanted..." She struggled for words, then just bit her lower lip and opened her clenched hand. In the moist palm lay a lock of fine red hair. He regarded her solemnly a moment and then nodded.
Smiling wistfully, tears springing to her eyes, she lowered her head. "He wants to leave me. I know I canít keep him, so Iíll help him. Iíll put him in the finest boarding school, and...and...."
"And begin again," the doctor finished.
"You do understand," she said, hands anxiously clasped at her breast. "Heís such a lovely baby."
This story is included in KING'S KNIGHT --A Science Fiction Anthology