My Father’s Son

 

Edward looked for his mother in the crowd of people at the genetics conference.    the sea of academics, his mother, Vivian Cox, seemed like a fish out of water.  She was dressed as if she was going to walk the red carpet.  She was a tall woman, made taller by the four inch heals she was wearing.  Her blonde hair cascaded in ringlets around her very round face.  The green satin dress highlighted her green eyes, making them pop out even more.  Edward caught up to her just as the two men she had been chatting with decided to move on.

“Mom,” Edward said, “why are you so dressed up?”

His mother leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.  “Happy twenty-fifth birthday son.  I am so happy how well you turned out.  To think your father never though any of this would work.”   His mom then did a double take and looked him up and down.  “Didn’t I tell you to put that suit I bought you on?” she asked.  “You look like a grad student after an all-night bender.”

Edward might be a grown man, but he still blushed and looked at his shoes.  “Mom, it’s a conference.  I don’t need to dress up.”

“Your father is about to give the keynote talk,” Vivian said.  She leaned in and pulled Edward close.  She dropped her voice to almost a whisper.  “We are going to change the world.”

“Mom, he is talking about cloning chimps.  It’s pretty awesome, but not earth shattering,” Edward responded in the same hushed tone.  He wondered what had gotten into his mother.  She had always treated him more like her own little pet project than her son.  Still, this was weirder than usual.  Edward hadn’t seen either of his parents in the past six months since he had finished his own PhD in bioethics, so maybe she was just excited to see him again.

“The talk is about cloning primates,” she said quietly, but intensely.  She let go of Edward and began waving frantically.  “We’re over here,” she called out.

Edward turned to see his dad shuffle across the floor.  Levin was dressed in a suit, but it seemed to be more of a prison jump suit on him than more formal wear.  When he saw Edward a range of emotions played quickly across Levin’s face, ending in resignation.

Levin shuffled faster to where the two stood.  “Are we ready then?” he asked, looking more at Vivian than Edward.

“Ready?  I’ve been waiting years for this,” Vivian said.  “Time to drop some knowledge on these sheep.”

“Vivian,” said Levin, “please.  This is hard enough.”  Vivian looked like she was going to say more, but his father held up his hand to stop her.  “I know.  You did the hard part.  I promised this to you twenty-five years ago.  I will do it.  Just give me some time with Edward first.”

Vivian looked at Edward one more time.  All warmth was gone.  “Go put on that suit.  I will not have our moment ruined because of laziness.”

“The boy is his own man,” Levin said a bit sternly.  Vivian looked at him for a second, then stormed away.

Levin shook his head as he watched her head into the conference room.  Edward saw so much of himself in his father, but felt proud that his dad still thought of him as his own man.  I am my father’s son.  “Dad, is there something wrong between you and mom?” Edward asked.

Levin looked back at his son.  Levin hung a smile on his face, but it never reached his eye.  Edward got even more worried.  “We will be alright son,” Levin said.  “We just have a professional disagreement.  That is the problem when both you and you wife are accomplished researchers in the same field.  Remember that when you look for a woman to wed.  Of course, if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be here today.”

“Neither would I,” said Edward laughing.

“Yeah, maybe,” Levin said.  “So when I give this talk I want you up sitting behind the podium with me and your mother.”  Edward looked at his father trying to understand.   Levin continued, “Trust me.  You will understand soon enough.  Your mother and I made a breakthrough quite a while back. But I never told anyone, not even you.  I promised your mother this.  Today is the day, our day.”  His father placed his arms on Edwards shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes.  “Nothing changes between us today.  Just remember that.”

The conference organizer came up to the two of them.  “It’s time Dr. Cox.”  Levin nodded and the organizer moved to chorale the rest of the stragglers into the conference room.

Levin turned once more to Edward.  “Happy birthday, son,” he said softly and left Edward standing by himself as he headed into the room.

Edward didn’t know what to think.  He looked at the poster and saw that his mother was correct about the title.

 

Inside the room there was a buzz in the air.  Three news crews had set up shop, causing the normally hermit like academics to flood social media wondering what was about to happen.   Every seat was taken and all eyes were on Edward’s dad as he stepped to the podium to a polite applause.  Edward looked at his mother, and she was practically popping out of her seat.  He could tell she wanted to be right next to his father, enjoying the applause, as lame as it seemed to Edward.  Edward turned his attention back to his dad.

“This year is the thirty-fifth anniversary of Dolly the sheep, the first mammalian clone,” Levin began. “From that beginning many pathways opened up to research.  Progress continued through dogs and cats, on to my own research into primates.  As the science progressed, the ethical and religious concerns about what a clone is and its place in society was debated and decided in legislatures across the planet.  This legislation often was draconian, created by luddites who did not understand the implications of the doorways opened by the technologies.“

“This caused many research groups to go underground until the proverbial legislative dust settled.  During this time the pursuit of knowledge continued.”  Levin paused and looked back at Vivian.  He smiled at her, but it was still that sad smile he had given Edward in the hall.  He didn’t look at Edward before turning back to the audience.  “My wife, Vivian, and I joined those groups in the dark, working at the edges.  We found funding where we could, only coming back out in the daylight once it was safe to do so.”

“My own research gained support in some sectors.  Chimps were supposedly impossible at the time.  I was criticized that I was reaching too far.  Well today I can tell you that my research into chimp cloning was inevitable.”  Levin paused letting that sink into his audience.  “I had already done something more.  Something that made chimps seem easy.”  This caused the audience to buzz with whispers.

Edward was surprised.  His dad had never mentioned any other research.  Edward looked at his mom and she was beaming with satisfaction and exhilaration.  Edward missed the next bit of his father’s speech, but then he tuned back in.

“I waited till this year to announce this since I wanted the proof of what Vivian and I did to be irrefutable.  I announce that we did the truly impossible and cloned a human being,” Levin said as he smashed his fist into the podium, pouring all the energy into that statement.

The silence was deafening for a moment.  Edward thought about what that meant.  The world really had changed.  He should have worn the suit.

A voice called out from the audience.  “What is this proof you speak of?”

Levin waved for Vivian to come to the podium.  She stepped in front of Levin, enjoying the spotlight.  “You want your proof?” she asked.  She held up a folder she was holding.  “I have here in my hands genetic samples run in at ten different DNA labs throughout the world verifying the two samples as identical.”

The room exploded with more shouting and yelling.  Levin held up his hands, trying to quiet the crowd, but it seemed all the questions that had been pent up for years upon years were all being posed at once.  Vivian basked in all this, then practically yelled into the microphone.  “That’s right.  We did it before all of you.”

Edward was still confused why his parents had entrusted him with this secret.  This did change everything.  He didn’t notice until Levin had placed a hand on his shoulder that his dad had left the podium.  He looked at his dad with the question and hurt in his eyes, and his dad smiled and held up a single finger.  Edward shook his head, showing he didn’t understand.

Levin leaned in to make himself heard over the din.  “One more surprise.”

The conference organizer tried to bring order back to conference.  Finally one voice called out “But where is the clone?”

Vivian asked back, ”You want to meet it?”

Levin flinched and suddenly Edward had a horrifying thought.  It was confirmed when Vivian swept her hand to point at him.  “There is your clone.”

As the hall exploded once again Edward fell to his knees as his world shattered irreversibly with that simple sentence.  There is your clone.  Edward looked up to see his dad cry silently, but with a look of pride on his face as people from the news crews pressed in.  Through it all, the only one thing going through Edward’s mind:  I am my father’s monster.

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