Jonathan Benwyn had been stealing ideas from young people for more than two years.
He pushed through the turnstiles of the Southwestern Ontario Regional Science Fair of 2054 and activated the camera hidden in his jacket cuff.
At the first station, a boy named Gus Donjovic had built a Fibertrap web of microfilaments to eradicate a bedbug infestation. His station neighbour, Xao Tran, had also used nanotechnology to build a nanoscale cage to inoculate his pet rabbit against the mosquito-borne Vaguar-Lozum virus.
The patent bagger tapped Xao’s shoulder and said, “How did you create the vaccine?”
“I bought the human serum at a pharmacy. Then my dad helped me to restructure the virus to target Fluffy’s DNA.”
Gus stepped closer and said, “Our dads work together at the University of Waterloo. They helped us with the nanite research.”
“Ah,” said Jonathan. “I had a notion that the two of you were compatriots.”
“Yep,” said Xao.
The two young bucks high-fived.
Jonathan saluted the nanite exploiters. “Great experiments. Both of you.”
“Thanks, mister,” said Gus. “Whose dad are you?”
“Just visiting. I’m a bit of a science aficionado.” Jonathan hurried away before they asked more probing questions.
Unfortunately for the bagger, the nanotech research at the local university was closely monitored for patent potential. Whatever these two lads had discovered, their fathers would benefit from its intellectual value.
He quickened his assessment of the projects in the fair. If an idea worth harvesting existed here, he’d need to transmit it within the first thirty minutes to maintain his employer’s competitive edge against other research conglomerates and their patent baggers.
At the end of one aisle — tucked into a smallish booth — stood a boy with dark brown hair grown long on one side and shaved on the other. Unlike the other stations, his was rather sparse. The presentation boards were built of cereal boxes joined with duct tape, the bright patterns visible from behind. Some of the experimental research had been printed with an old-fashioned inkjet printer, thus making the young man’s conclusions appear rather pedestrian.
Jonathan approached. “Hello there.” Squinting to read the boy’s name tag, he added, “Carl.”
“Hey.” The young man raised his hand in a half-hearted gesture that might’ve qualified as a greeting.
Carl’s experiment was a modification of whole-body cloning — a branch of bioengineering that’d slipped out of fashion since the prevalence of genome sequencing. Why grow the whole person when you only require a kidney?
Jonathan asked, “Would you please explain your project?”
Carl pointed at the display. “Here,” he said, “I sampled Brown Dog’s DNA.”
“Does the brown dog have a name?”
The young man rolled his eyes. “Her name is Brown Dog.”
“My mistake. Carry on.”
“I built a miniature version of Brown Dog using a cloning kit for honeybees. When she reached twenty-five centimetres,” he pointed at a photograph of a dog in a stasis jar, “measured from paw to shoulder, the clone stopped growing.”
Jonathan smiled. “Did the dog survive the decanting process?”
“I left her in the jar.”
“None of your damned business.”
Jonathan waved his arm at the display, orchestrating a comprehensive vista for his hidden camera. Then he pointed at the picture of the tiny dog-in-a-jar. “And where is Miss Brown Dog Junior now?”
“On the judges’ table.” Carl pointed over his shoulder at the far side of the room.
“Did she ... I mean, is the clone of your dog still ... alive?”
“D’ya think I’d make the regionals if she wasn’t?” He nodded at his notes in the bottom right corner of the display. “So long as she’s plugged in, the stasis jar keeps her alive.”
Jonathan tilted his head and asked, “Well, then, how’d you transport her here?”
“Ever hear of batteries, moron?” Carl crossed his arms over his chest and leaned forward, looking more like a bar patron about to pick a fight than a student at a science fair.
“Sorry. Of course.” Jonathan looked to his left and right. Had anyone noticed him paying close attention to Carl’s display? This project had some promise, but the bagger had so many more entries to assess. To alleviate the building tension, he added, “Good luck with the competition.”
As Jonathan hurried for the food court, he decided to wait before he transmitted his report to the office. Carl’s idea might be the bagger’s ticket to a brighter, more self-directed future.
* * *
The noise in the fair’s food court gave Jonathan a headache. Over the last two hours he’d combed international databases for all of the cloning-related patents. None of them mentioned the sustainability of a mini-specimen in continued stasis.
The more he imagined Brown Dog Junior trapped inside her jar, the more he conjured marketable iterations of clones in his head. If the subject could remain viable indefinitely, then the cloned creature — high-profile human if Jonathan’s idea took flight — became the ultimate mint-in-the-box toy. Acquiring the celebrity DNA might prove tricky, but the result could be outrageously popular. Pop stars, champion athletes, award-winning actors ... the possibilities branched in so many opportunistic directions.
Especially if the bagger could tap into the insatiable fanaticism of teenaged girls and the heartthrob-objects of their misguided affections.
Collectors would drool over Jonathan’s continued-stasis cloning — the perfect mix of technology and marketing. But the bagger had to keep his wits about him. The first step on his journey to fame and fortune was to witness Brown Dog Junior in her jar. Hopefully the tiny creature’s physical characteristics didn’t appear too false or muddled.
Checking his watch, he calculated that the judging must’ve been completed already, so he hurried for the boy’s cloning display.
Carl said, “You came back?”
“To see your dog-in-a-jar.”
“Bullshit,” said Carl. “You’re a patent bagger, aren’t you?”
Jonathan rolled his head in a slow clockwise motion to stall his response. Finally, choosing honesty, he said, “Yes, young Carl. I am, in fact, a patent bagger.”
“We both know my dog-in-a-jar sucks. Clones are a dime a dozen.”
Jonathan smiled awkwardly, like a man caught with his hand in the science jar. “True. But with the appropriate modifications, the derivative could have mass marketing potential.”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
illustration by Zoe Piel
A green Honorable Mention ribbon was pinned to Carl’s display. With both hands, Jonathan picked up the cumbersome jar with the dog inside, turning it this way and that. The dog looked exactly like an unmodified Doberman — pointed nose, tall ears, even the slim tail most often cropped for aesthetic effect. As Jonathan studied the micro-clone, the strapped-down creature watched him through her glass prison.
“My goodness, she’s attentive.”
“Cut to the chase, dickwad,” said Carl. “What d’you plan to clone? I could really use the cash.”
“Not a dog, but a variant.”
“I know how these patents work. You have to give me a cut.”
“Only if I use sixty-five percent —”
“Are you gonna pay me, or do I blow your cover, bagger-boy?”
They both looked left and right, surveying the proximity of witnesses.
“Fine,” said Jonathan. “I’ll cut you in. But only if we work outside the limitations of my employer. It’s about time I pursue more egocentric avenues of compensation.” Jonathan offered his hand to shake. “Deal?”
“Sounds profitable to me,” said Carl. “Deal.”
The young lad said, “How does this work.”
Jonathan produced a contract and began the tedious process of crossing out all of the references to his employer.
* * *
As the patent bagger rode the hover-bus home, he imagined an elaborate and comprehensive clone-toy collection in his living room.
Movie star Driviana Knox. Hockey great Philippe Geroux.
How many celebrity clones would exist, strapped in stasis, watching Jonathan’s every move as he climbed the admiration ladder? Would women pine for his attention? The base technology was simple and widely available. Carl had purchased his kit at a garden centre.
As Jonathan transmitted a lacklustre report to his boss from the bus, he thought, I’ll clone myself tonight.
* * *
The kit provided detailed instructions and all of the specific tools necessary to clone a honeybee queen. In his garage, Jonathan rearranged his previous experiments to accommodate the large stasis jar he’d fabricated from a transparent plastic barrel purchased at the chemical outlet. Using a droplet of blood, he suspended his own DNA in the growth liquid. Within moments, a visible cluster of cells collected.
The cells became an organism.
The organism became a vaguely recognizable human embryonic form.
“Lovely!” Jonathan’s exclamation bounced about the inside of the garage. Pointing at science-in-action, he said, “We shall see what becomes of you, sir.”
Despite his eagerness to watch the process in its entirety, a watched pot never boils. With a last glance at the micro-Jonathan growing in the jar, he turned out the lights, locked the garage, and headed up to bed.
* * *
In his dreams, the patent bagger found pieces of micro-clones of his boss, his dead father and science-fair Carl in his breakfast cereal. Tiny hands and feet, severed heads and rumps, all preserved in a pickling solution to add protein to his morning repast.
He awoke startled, jolting upright and gasping for breath. Although the scientist in him understood that dreams were manifestations of perceived shortcomings, Jonathan hurried downstairs to check on his clone’s progress.
The garage had been unlocked from the inside. The stasis barrel lay on its side on the cement floor; the brine slopped in slowly evaporating puddles. Unlike the nightmare, no tiny hands, nor feet, not even bits of hair from micro-Jonathan remained as evidence of the cloning process gone awry.
His experimental log book had been propped open to the last entry. The penmanship was as familiar as it was tiny.
Jars are for animals.
Once I’ve secured some financial backing, I’ll return home. And believe me, the two of us will have a long and thorough conversation.
Beside the name “Jonathan,” the clone had written the word “Junior,” but then he’d scratched it out with a perfect sine-curve-shaped line. Above it, in letters twice the size, he’d written one word.
Suzanne Church writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror because she enjoys them all and hates to play favorites. Her award-winning fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Cicada and On Spec. Her collection of short fiction, Elements, is available in print and pixels from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.