Leticia pedaled faster and faster, barreling down the streets on her lime green Huffy. On an average day, she would take her time riding home after school, but today was different. Something was chasing her. She went as fast as those two wheels would take her. Her legs were sore, but she did not let up. Gale St. Jefferson Dr. Rouse Ln. Briney Ct. After another recklessly fast turn, she was finally at the last stretch. After a few more pushes, she could see her home at the end of the cul-de-sac. She rode up the driveway and quickly tossed her bike up against the wall of the house. She ran over to the side door and knocked on it frantically.
“Alright, alright, I’m coming! Hold your horses.” a voice hollered from the other side. There came a sound of locks unlocking, then the door swung open. Leticia’s mom stood there with an annoyed look and one palm facing the sky. “You ain’t gonna have a spring break if you keep banging on the door like that. Gonna have to get a job and buy us a new one.” Her daughter smiled up at her and stepped inside. She did it. She outran what was chasing her. It was the guilt of wasting any more time on anything but relaxing. She gave her mom a hug then flung herself face first into the living room couch, not even bothering to remove her backpack.
Her mom chuckled while sweeping the floor. “Better enjoy being young while you can. If you think you’re tired now, you’re gonna hate it when you’re my age.” Leticia lifted her face up from the leather cushions to respond. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever live to be THAT old.” Without hesitation, she retaliated by smacking one of Leticia’s legs with the broomstick. “Hey! I’m trynna relax here.” “Then don’t be starting shit. Besides, you can’t relax till you get your paper done.” Leticia sat up with a look of confusion. “What paper?” “Your teacher left a message. Said she forgot to tell your class about the spring break assignment since y’all were in a hurry to leave. She said it should be pretty easy though.” Leticia groaned. “Laaaaaaame.”
Her mom played back the voicemail Ms. Brown left while her daughter dropped her face back into the couch. “Hello, this message is for the Gomez family. My last class rushed out the door so I forgot to tell Leticia about her Journalism homework that is due when classes return on March 20th. Just need her to write a 1000-word essay predicting the outcome of a developing news story of her choice. Just be sure to make it sound believable and cite all sources used. Have a great break guys!” “Have a great break guys.” Leticia mimicked. “If she wanted us to have a great break she would’ve given us homework after we got back.”
Her dad came in from the other room. “Hi honey, how was school?” She muffled something into the couch. “Well that’s good. I’m gonna need you to scooch over though. I think there’s some exciting news about to come on from Dr. Hall.” Leticia curled up against the armrest and her dad plopped down and grabbed the remote. Leticia scrolled through social media to see what her friends were doing for spring break. Mr. Gomez turned on his favorite science channel and was just in time to see Dr. Ronald Hall begin his speech at the Tesla Conference Center.
“...hurdles that we have faced in the past, such as replacing the nucleus while preserving the necessary proteins for cell division. We decided to take a different approach that will bypass the hassle of finding a surrogate and waiting nine months to yield results. I am proud to announce the first ever, fully-functional, cloned human brain. Please say hello to Number 15!” Dr. Hall removed the sheet covering a small table he stood next to, but nothing was underneath. An awkward laugh emanated from the audience. He grinned with confidence. “You may come up to the stage now, 15.” Dr. Hall’s assistant and a young boy stood up from their seats in the front row and walked over to join him at the podium. At this point, Leticia started paying attention to the TV while her father was glued to it, with his jaw at his feet. A hush fell over the crowd.
The boy looked out at all the people and waved at them. “Go ahead and ask him a question. One at a time please. And do be reasonable, as he only has the intelligence of a 12 year old.” Dr. Hall encouraged. Many in the audience raised their hands. His assistant pointed at the first volunteer. “Yes, you with the blue hat.” The man stood up and everyone turned to look at him. “What is 17 times 21?” he asked with a grin. The audience shifted their glance back to the boy. He thought about it for a minute. “I think it’s 346… no, 357” he answered. Dr. Hall smiled. “Notice how he did not have the answer immediately, like a computer would?” Everyone clapped and the man sat down. A woman with her hand raised was called on, but remained seated. “What is your favorite color?” The boy smiled. “That’s an easy one. Orange.” The audience cheered once more. Another hand was called on.
“This is more a question for you, than it is for the boy, Mr. Hall. How do we know this is not simply a machine that you are remotely giving commands in order to respond to our questions? Can we see any hard proof?” The room grew silent once more. Dr. Hall looked over at his assistant and gestured towards #15. The assistant reached over to the side of the boy’s head, pressed a series of hidden buttons, and pulled back his face to reveal what was underneath. Inside was a metal interior lit up and filled to the brim with wires. But connected to the wires were a brain and a pair of eyes.
“What we have created is a perfect copy of my own brain, grown with stem cells in our lab. Unlike past experiments, number 15 exhibits full consciousness. We used a 3-D printer to implant the most necessary vital organs in this titanium shell to accompany the brain to aid him in perceiving the environment. He can see, he can hear, he can speak. But there are limitations. He cannot feel or smell since implementing a nervous or olfactory system was deemed too complex.” Dr. Hall said.
He then removed the front of the boy’s chest the same way. There was a beating heart, a brain stem running to it, and many plastic tubes carrying blood to and from the brain. “Number 15 has no need for eating, drinking, or even breathing. We have omitted a digestive tract and installed a system that converts CO2 in the air into usable oxygen that is then fed directly into the artificial circulatory system. And in lieu of food, we are able to supply the organs with total parenteral nutrition through an injection once every 24 hours.” The crowd erupted. Despite her father being obsessed with this scientist and his discovery, Leticia had a feeling something was very wrong. After everyone settled down, Dr. Hall spoke again.
“Now, today was merely meant to be a little unveiling. A tease of sorts. But I’d like to invite my colleagues and the public to come see this marvel up close for themselves at our conference tomorrow evening at the Cortana Center. Tickets are limited and will be on sale on our official website within a few minutes. Thank you for coming and I’ll see you all there.” he grinned, as all three of them exited the stage. Leticia’s father jumped up in excitement and ran back to the room he came from. He returned soon after holding his phone and immediately browsing for tickets. “The Cortana Center is just a few miles from here!” he exclaimed. Suddenly, Leticia realized she would not have a tough time deciding what her essay was going to be about.
“Can I come too?” she asked while putting on her cutest “please” face. Her dad grinned wide. “Of course sweetie! And how about you, babe?” he asked her mom. “No, thanks. You guys go without me. That stuff creeps me out. I’m really hoping he is just tricking you guys and it’s just a really convincing robot,” she replied. “All good. Just more fun for me and Teesh.” Mr. Gomez boasted. His wife rolled her eyes. “Annnnnnnd tickets secured! Woohoo! We’re going! We’re going! We’re going!” he chanted as he picked up his daughter and swung her around. That night, Leticia didn’t get much sleep. She just stared at the ceiling, thinking about what she had seen on TV earlier. She was really hoping her mother was right.
The next day, the two of them finished up some homemade tacos for lunch, then hopped in the family minivan. When they arrived at the Cortana Center, the parking lot was packed and they were afraid they would never find a spot. After going around in circles for a while, her father managed to get an empty space just a couple of minutes before the event was beginning, and then they both rushed inside. As they entered, they followed the other stragglers down a series of hallways until they reached the largest room in the building. The ceiling towered far above and there was a long line zig-zagging all the way to the far end. It was so everyone could meet this new invention face to face. Dr. Hall stood on a stage just behind the front of the line, answering questions about his creation while all the attendees met #15 one at a time. His assistant was helping the boy interact with everyone while plenty of security guards stood watch.
“This is so exciting! I’m going to get to meet Ronald Hall!” her father whispered. “Yeah this is great. Thanks for bringing us!” Leticia was still a little uneasy about the whole thing, but she didn’t want to rain on her dad’s parade. Besides, she was curious to get a closer look. They waited patiently as the line slowly crept forward. Leticia tried to catch a glimpse of the boy when she could. But since she was so short, she was better off watching his interactions with others on the projector screens mounted in the high corners of the room. After what felt like forever, it was almost their turn. Leticia looked on as the few remaining people ahead of them walked over, shook the boy’s hand and had a short exchange with him and his creator. She was pretty close and could see his face better now. The scary part was he didn’t look much different from a real boy.
The animatronic movements in his face seemed very natural and you could tell whoever designed the features hiding his metal skin did a great job. From the blush in his cheeks to the individual hairs on his head, the attention to detail was amazing. She would not be able to tell the difference if he was on a playground amongst other children. Who’s to say he hasn’t been? Leticia noticed there was only one group left in front of them. She realized she had not thought about what she was going to say to the boy. She could hear what others in line had been asking him. The same basic stuff you would ask any other kid. What do you want to be when you grow up? What’s your favorite dinosaur? Stuff like that. There was even one mean kid who asked him what his favorite food was. But Leticia wanted her question to be unique.
Finally, the last group moved on and the assistant gestured for them to come forward. Instead of asking much about #15, her dad immediately started giving praise to Dr. Hall and telling him how he is his biggest fan. The boy smiled at the two of them and reached out his hand. Leticia grabbed and shook it. His skin was soft, but cold to the touch. “What’s your name?” the boy asked. Even though his lips moved, she could tell his speech was produced electronically. But it still sounded pretty convincing. “Leticia. And you’re Number 15, right?” He giggled in response. “Oh, you don’t have to call me that. You can call me Ronnie.” “Alright, Ronnie. I was wondering if I could ask you something.” “Sure, Leticia. What did you want to know?” “Are you happy?”
There was a pause. Not a long one, but longer than the ones he took to answer everyone else’s questions. “Of course I am.” “What makes you happy?” she pressed. The boy pondered a bit. “Just being alive, I guess. And I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my dad.” “Dr. Hall, you mean?” “Yeah. I call him dad, though.” “Does he treat you like his son or like another invention?” “I feel he gives me the kind of love any other dad would.” “So why does he call you Number 15? What happened to the 14 others before you?” The boy did not answer.
Dr. Hall’s assistant rushed over to the boy and something fell out of his lab coat. “And that’s time! Thank you for coming.” Leticia picked it up and was about to give it back, but he shooed them away. “Next in line, please.” She slipped it in her back pocket. The assistant gestured towards the exit and the two of them left. Her father was giddy and made sure to snap a last-minute picture with his phone as proof he had met Dr. Hall. Leticia looked back and noticed Ronnie kept his blank stare until the next group greeted him.
The next night, Leticia asked if she could stay over at a friend’s house. “Nope. Not until you get that homework done.” her mom replied. “Ahh come on, it’s spring break.” “Only break you got was going to that thing with your dad yesterday. And you’re lucky you got to do that. You know school comes first.” “But me and Kaelyn were gonna help each other write our papers!” She looked at her daughter skeptically. “Oh, alright then. But only because you been doing good with your grades lately.” “Yesssssss!” She ran over and hugged her mom. “Looooooove you.” “Love you too baby. Well you’d better get ready now cause I’d like to go to bed soon.” Leticia wasted no time and ran in her room to get packed. She texted Kaelyn the good news. Leticia threw her laptop, school supplies, some clothes, and toothbrush into her bag and ran back into the living room.
They pulled into the driveway of the Smith household and Leticia hopped out of the van. She looked up at the cream colored, two-story house and hoped one day that she’d own a place this nice. Then she ran up the cobblestone path to their front door and rang the doorbell. Her mom waited until she saw her friend answer the door before driving off. Leticia didn’t tell her mom the real reason she was having a sleepover. She had been secretly texting back and forth with Kaelyn about the real reason. They were planning on sneaking out tonight. The two girls headed up the stairs to her bedroom quickly, but quietly. They walked in and Kaelyn shut the door behind them. “Alright Teesh, what’s the plan?”
Leticia tossed her backpack in the corner near a table holding a dark red lava lamp. She pulled out her phone. “Okay, so I looked up the address of Dr. Hall’s lab and it’s actually just on the other side of town. I got a feeling he’s hiding something about his experiments that he doesn’t want the public to know about. Like, some mad scientist shit.” “So, you got to meet that boy right? Is he the real deal?” “Yeah he is. But something felt off about him. I feel like he’s lowkey been through some traumatic stuff and just isn't talking about it.” “So, we’re really going to try sneaking in?” Leticia grinned. Her teeth glowing under the black lights in the room. “Shouldn’t be too hard with this,” she replied as she pulled out the item she grabbed last night. It was the key card of Dr. Hall’s assistant. The name on it read Derrick Banks.
“Damnnnnnn, girl. Well that helps. But what makes you think they’ll just let us walk up in there?” Leticia looked down at her phone and pulled up a news article to show Kaelyn. “Check this out. It looks like they’ll be doing a live interview on The O’Reilly Show tonight. So we’ll just watch the stream and dip out when they’re done.” Kaelyn sat wide-eyed on her bed while taking this all in. “But what if there’s security cameras?” “Kay, they’re not gonna check the footage if there’s no reason to. As long as we leave everything exactly the way it was, they won’t even know we were there. Listen, if you wanna stay here, that’s cool. But I’m going.”
Kaelyn sighed. “You know I can’t let you go alone.” Leticia smiled and hugged her friend. They changed into all black clothes, packed a few dollars for the subway, then headed out. The reason Leticia decided to go to Kaelyn’s house instead of vice-versa, was because the only other person in the house was her mom, who was a deep sleeper. Still, they weren’t taking any chances. They tiptoed back downstairs and very slowly turned the front door handle so it wouldn’t make any noise. Once outside undetected, they headed straight for the nearest station.
After enduring the stench of the underground train cars, they finally headed up the stairs at their stop. This station was only about a 20 minute walk from the laboratory. The two of them stayed on the side of the roads that had the most streetlights. But as they approached the properties closer to their destination, they blended in with the shadows. They dodged the few beams of light in the small parking lot and approached the building. Leticia pointed left and then headed right. They split up looking for a way in, until a minute later when Kaelyn texted her. (Over Here.) Leticia turned around and headed back the other way. She saw her friend standing next to a side entrance.
The door read Hall Solutions Inc. She took another look around to be sure no one was watching them, then took out the key card and swiped it on the wall reader. The light flashed red twice and both of them gawked at each other. Leticia looked down and raised her hand to her mouth to hold in a snicker. She pointed at the card in her hands to show Kaelyn she had it upside down. She flipped over the card and swiped it again. This time the reader turned green and a small click could be heard. Leticia pushed on the handle and they carefully slipped inside. The halls were dark, with only a few dim lights coming from the doors of the many rooms. As they crept down through the corridors, they read the labels next to each door.
Janitorial. Break Room. Telecommunications. Prep Room. Testing. This one sounded interesting. She swiped the key card again and this door also unlocked. They walked into a large room filled with complicated, humming machinery. There were some tables holding bottled liquids with boxes of syringes nearby. The only recognizable thing was what appeared to be an industrial sized 3D printer. On the wall next to it sat some manila folders. Leticia grabbed one and read its contents. Nothing but charts of data she couldn’t make out. She put it back and snatched another. Just formulas and equations with terrible handwriting. She put this one back in its spot as well.
They kept searching the room while checking the livestream of Dr. Hall’s interview every few minutes. “What about this?” Kaelyn whispered. She pointed a thumb at a filing cabinet on the other end of the room. Leticia walked over and opened it up. She turned on the flashlight built into her phone and pointed it at the contents. More boring paperwork. She checked a lower drawer. Same thing. She started to close it when a few letters caught her eye. C O N. Leticia grabbed the folder near the front and pulled it out.
Leticia flipped open the folder and waved Kaelyn over to join her. They were notes about Ronnie. Kaelyn held her phone;s flashlight over it while her friend whispered aloud. “Experiment #15 has exceeded expectations and passed all of our tests, where previous iterations failed. I am already filing a patent for the process in which we created it so we can avoid competition from anyone attempting to reverse engineer our findings. Our investors are very happy with the results and I’m sure many distinguished gentlemen wouldn’t mind paying a small fortune for what we’re able to provide them with. This is nothing short of the fountain of youth. Who cares about exercise, diet, gene therapy, or manipulating telomeres? You can just simply load your consciousness onto a new brain when your old one starts to decline. And you get to keep an effective slave until the time comes to format their memory. What we have here is truly the future of mankind.”
Kaelyn had a look of disgust. “I can’t believe this sick shit. Should we take this as evidence?” “No. They’ll notice it missing.” Leticia pulled out her phone and snapped a picture. She then placed it back in the filing cabinet and closed the drawer. “Let’s keep looking around.” They left the room and continued down the halls. They made a few turns before finding anything interesting. Restroom. Generator Room. Cold Storage. Leticia stopped walking and pointed at the sign. Kaelyn nodded. Leticia swiped the key card and they headed inside.
This room was slightly colder than the last. Tons of refrigerators lined the walls from one end to the other. Leticia walked over to one and pulled open its door. Organs. Every kind you could think of. All organized alphabetically and neatly arranged on shelves. This was normal to see in hospitals nowadays for those in need of a donation. But what was all of this doing here? “You could probably build a human from scratch with all these,” Kaelyn whispered. They slowly made their way to the end of the room checking each one, looking for something more. Then at the end of the room, they stumbled upon a dialysis machine.
Leticia recognized it because her aunt had issues with her kidneys in the past and she remembered the sounds they make. The question was, why was this thing running? She took out her phone and shined the flashlight to get a better look at the machine. Then she was almost blinded by something mounted on the wall above it. It was a thick glass cylinder filled with liquid. It had tubes running to and from the machine. She inspected it closer. What was inside looked like a gray blob. Almost like deformed brain. She glanced down a bit and noticed a label at the base of the cylinder. It read: NUMBER 12. She looked at the tubes again and could see there was indeed blood flowing from the machine. Leticia’s eyes widened.
“Kay, we gotta get the fuck out of here.” Her friend nodded. They slipped out of the room and promptly left the building. They ran back to the subway station, paid their fare, and luckily got onto the express train right before it departed. They sat across from one another in silence. When they reached their top, they darted up the stairs and ran towards Kaelyn’s house. She hadn’t gotten any texts from her mom so she was sure they were in the clear. Kaelyn quietly unlocked the front door and gently turned the knob. She closed it behind them without a peep and they went straight up the stairs. Fortunately for them, it was a new house and the creaking was at a minimum. They slithered into her room and shut the door. The two let out a sigh of relief.
The next morning, Kaelyn woke up to find her friend sitting cross legged at the end of the bed, hunched over her laptop. “Hey, Teesh. Did you get any sleep?” “Not really. Been up researching more about this Derrick guy. He’s only been Dr. Hall’s assistant for less than a year, it looks like. I also found out he has a profile on GetLinked with his contact info. I wanna see if I can interview him.” “Alright, well let’s eat some breakfast before you start playing detective.” Leticia grabbed her stomach. She had just realized how hungry she was. “Okay, yeah. I’m kinda starving actually.” She shut the computer and they headed for the door. The instant Kaelyn opened it, heaven wafted into their noses.
Leticia thought about how lucky she was to have a friend whose mom loved to cook breakfast every morning. Hell, Kaelyn was the real lucky one. Leticia’s parents usually started work early in the morning, so this was a treat. They headed down the stairs and straight to the kitchen. “Morning, Ms. Smith.” Kaelyn’s mom hugged her. “Good morning, Leticia. Kaelyn texted me that you were coming over right before I passed out last night. Have a seat, guys. Food is almost ready.” Leticia looked around and admired their kitchen. She’d love to have one like it one day. The granite countertops, white tile flooring, and beautiful cherrywood cabinets filled her with envy. One day. After a breakfast of belgian waffles with strawberries and bacon, the two were looking stuffed enough to be the main course for Thanksgiving. “Uhh”, they sighed in both delight and disgust with themselves.
After taking an unexpected nap on the living room couch, the two headed back upstairs to “work on their homework.” In reality, they were busy digging up more dirt on Dr. Hall. Leticia opened up her laptop and sat down with it, her back against the bed frame. “So last night I sent Derrick an email asking if he’d be down for a phone interview, and it looks like he got back to me!” “Nice! What did he say?” “He said he’s free for me to give him a call anytime before noon today.” She checked the time on her phone. “Shit. It’s 11:57.” “It ain’t noon yet,” Kaelyn said, shrugging.
Leticia frantically dialed in his number and waited. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. “Hello. This is Derrick Banks with Hall Solutions.”
“Hey, this is Leticia Gomez. I’m the one who emailed you earlier about a phone interview. Was wondering if you still had time for a couple questions for my school project?” “A little late, aren’t ya? But sure, I got a couple minutes free. What did you wanna know?” “Thank you! And okay, first question: how long have you been working for Dr. Hall?” “Hmm, I believe I started late January of last year. I just got my first degree at uni and was looking for some work relating to my field. I was lucky I found something so quickly!” “Alright. Question two: what kind of work do you do at the lab and how do you think it will help society?”
“Well, I mostly just keep track of inventory, help maintain some lab equipment, and monitor tests according to Dr. Hall’s instructions. He is mostly the brain behind trying out new experiments. And I’d say our goal is to help those suffering from cognitive damage. We’ve done our best to understand and replicate the human mind so that we can essentially use stem cells to make copies. Our hopes are to eventually be able to transplant certain regions of the brain to help people in need, especially those with mental illnesses. But in a way there they retain their memory, of course.”
“Interesting. And question 3: Do you feel like this technology has the potential to be dangerous if placed in the wrong hands?” “Well, of course. Just like anything, really. But luckily, Dr. Hall is a very generous man and from my own experience, working with him has been a real pleasure. So I think we have nothing to worry about. Did you have any other questions? The doctor is arriving any minute now and I’ll have to go soon.” “No, that was all. Thanks for taking time out of your day. Have a great one, Mr. Banks!” “No problem. I always wondered how long it would take before I got involved in someone’s science project! And you too. Buh-bye!” The call hung up and Leticia set her phone down.
She had proof that this Dr. Hall wasn’t who he claimed to be. But since she got the evidence in a questionable way, she wondered what to do with it. If she went to her parents, would they even believe her? She knew her dad wouldn’t dare question his character. And if they found out she snuck out at night, what kind of trouble would she be in? And if she went to the media, would they even the time of day to a child? And Derrick seemed like a nice guy, but if she told him they broke into their lab, he’d probably call the cops and get them arrested. All of this gave her a little headache. She rested her wrist against her forehead. Then a few minutes later, Leticia felt a tap on her shoulder. “Teesh, look.” Her friend lowered her phone to where she could see the screen. The headline read:
Breaking News - Famed Neurologist Ronald Hall Hospitalized After Car Accident (Live Updates)
She looked at her friend, then back at the phone. “What!” She checked another website on her phone to make sure the story wasn’t a hoax. It was real. “I need to go.” Leticia said, as she scooped up her belongings and crammed them in her bag. “You’re going to the hospital?” Kaelyn asked. “No. Dr. Hall may have been in an accident, but I doubt that he’s the one they brought to the hospital.” “Then where are you going?” “Back to the lab. Ronnie’s in trouble.”
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! :D If you liked this or have suggestions on what I could have improved, message me on social media at @lensmakesart or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there is enough demand, I may consider fleshing this idea out in a full book or series. I post a new short story here every other month, so stay tuned! :)