Wake up, Polly Parrot.

 











Not Worth Fixing
by Brian Plante

The small heart hovered in lifelike detail above the holographic imager, contracting in syncopated spasms. Doctor Sculley worked the imager's controls, electronically stripping away a section that cut deep through the center of the beating organ, revealing the problems within. Even to her untrained eyes, Susan Minter could see the blood backing up, spitting back through the defective valves with a wheezy hiss. A section of the wall separating the ventricles bulged ominously with each beat of her daughter's doomed heart.

"We need to talk privately, Mrs. Minter," Doctor Sculley said, motioning to the door with his eyes.

Susan stepped around the viewing area, over to her eight-year-old daughter Amy, who was lying quietly on the table at the business end of the imager. Amy's face had an unhealthy pallor, and as Susan grasped her trembling hand to give a reassuring squeeze, she noticed that the girl's skin was cold and clammy. "Am I going to be all right, Mommy?" the child asked, squeezing Susan's hand back weakly.

"I'm sure everything will be fine, honey," Susan said softly to the girl. "You wait here while I talk to the doctor. I'll be right back, okay?"

Amy looked up from the table with frightened eyes. When Susan gave Amy a wink, the child put on her best brave face and smiled almost convincingly. "Okay, Mommy."

Susan tried to return the smile as she exited the room with the doctor, but she was less adept at acting than her daughter, and her mouth went all askew.

In the doctor's office the news was bad. "It's the same thing . . . it's what your husband had, Mrs. Minter, but it's affecting her at a much younger age. It's definitely a genetic disorder."

Susan stiffened at the doctor's pronouncement. Jack had been gone less than a year, and his death still hurt. Despite Susan's urgings, he had put off going in for a checkup until it was too late, always dismissing the recurring bouts of fatigue as just being out of shape. When Amy started complaining of shortness of breath recently, Susan brought her right in to Doctor Sculley.

"Is it too . . . can it be fixed?" Susan asked, trembling.

The doctor gave a slight sigh and looked down. "I'm afraid that it's too far gone, Mrs. Minter. My opinion is that Amy's heart will almost certainly fail within a year. Probably a lot sooner."

Susan's breath caught in her throat. First Jack and now Amy. She tried to remain calm, but felt a tear creeping down her cheek.

"There's really only one option," continued the doctor, "a transplant."

* * *

Back home, Susan wasn't comfortable discussing the subject with Amy, but nonetheless she tried to explain as much as she thought her daughter could handle. "So that little scraping the nurse took will be made to grow very quickly into a full body."

"A clone!" Amy said proudly, her pale face brightening.

"Right. And when the clone is grown up enough, it'll be used for the transplant."

Amy screwed up her face. "But Mom, a clone is to be an exact copy of something. Won't it have a bad heart too?"

Susan smiled a wry smile. "Well, usually. But the cells the nurse took are going to be re-engineered to remove the problem before the clone is started, so it'll have a perfect heart."

"Why don't they just give me the heart from a dead person? I know they used to do that."

Susan's face registered astonishment. "How come you know so much about clones and heart transplants? How old are you again?"

Amy made one of those faces that made Susan feel dumb. "Mo-om! There's a million videos about that stuff on the Juvenet. Everybody knows about clones and heart transplants."

The Juvenet. The kid's computer network. Amy had spent a lot of time with the little computer tablet, a Kenzai Whiz-Kid, since Jack had died. The tablet had become her constant companion, and even in the midst of the conversation, Amy was whispering occasional commands into the microphone. A medical encyclopedia program started up in one corner of the screen and an animated feature on organ transplantation began running. Susan decided that Amy already knew her way around the networks a lot better than she ever would.

Jack had been pretty good with computers too. He had made a big fuss about picking out just the right one for his little angel. The Whiz-Kid was a special limited-edition model and somewhat unusual, with a pink case and larger keys that were supposed to be easier for children. Amy had taken to it right away, and since Jack's death, the child and the tablet had become inseparable.

"Well then," Susan said, "maybe you should see what's on the network about 'tissue rejection.' That'll tell you why they don't do heart transplants from dead people anymore. There's no rejection with a clone transplant."

Amy looked skeptical. "Will it really make me all better?"

Susan's reassuring facade nearly crumbled at that point, but Amy was looking at the computer tablet and Susan was able to recover her composure before Amy could take notice. "Yes, honey, just like new."

Amy looked up from the tablet into Susan's eyes. "Will it hurt, Mommy?"

"You won't feel a thing. It'll be just like going to sleep and then waking up all better."

"Can we afford it?"

"Don't worry about that. Your father left us fairly comfortable." Susan quickly considered if "comfortable" was the right word.

"Okay, Mom, if you say so."

"I say so."

"Then let's do it."

"We've already started."

* * *

"I saw your clone today," Susan told Amy as she entered the hospital room. She had been monitoring the clone's development in the tanks for months, but had not mentioned anything to Amy for fear of jinxing things. The rapid acceleration of growth the clone had shown over the past few days dispelled her fears enough to allow her to start talking about it with Amy. "It looks a lot like you did when you were just a little baby."

Amy made a face. "How could it not? It's a clone, Mom. It has to look exactly like me."

"Don't be so sure about that," Susan said. "I definitely noticed a reddish patch, a birthmark, on the back of its hand."

"But Mo-om! That's impossible. A clone is supposed to be like a mirror image, and I don't have any birthmarks."

"Remember, the doctors fixed this clone's DNA so it would have a stronger heart. There's bound to be a few other minor differences."

"Oh yeah, I forgot."

There was a moment of silence while Amy's eyes stared off at infinity, and Susan knew her mind must be racing with the possibilities of what other changes might be in store. "It's best not to think about it too much, dear. Is there anything else you want to know about?"

Susan tried to gauge what was going on in her little girl's mind, peering through the windows of her eyes. A quiet minute passed, both of them deep in thought, before Amy finally broke the silence.

"Um, Mom . . . I've been wondering about something."

Susan braced herself for a tough one. "What is it, honey?"

"If the clone is exactly, um, almost exactly like me, then isn't it a person? I mean, doesn't it have its own life to --"

Susan saw where Amy was leading and cut her off, "No. It has no mind. The doctors raise it very quickly in the tanks, so there's no time for anything like a personality to develop, and your personality is what makes you you. The clone is just a body . . . but it has a strong heart -- your heart -- and you shouldn't even think about it as if it was another person."

Amy looked confused, so Susan tried to change the subject, "So how are they treating you here at the hospital?"

"It's boring. There's nothing to do and the nurses won't let me out of bed. And now, even my computer doesn't work right any more. I can't get onto the network at all." Amy looked up at Susan with pleading eyes. "Mom, I want to go home."

Susan's heart felt a tug. "I want you to come home too, but I want you home healthy. If anything happens to your heart while you're here in the hospital, they'll be able to keep you safe until the clone's ready. It'll only be another month or two. I promise."

"But what am I supposed to do all day without a computer?"

"What's wrong with the thing? Let me see it."

Amy picked up the pink tablet from the bed table and switched it on. "See, the boot-up diagnostics show almost 60 megs of RAM marked as unusable. If I try to open more than three or four applications at the same time, it locks up."

Susan watched as the child spoke a series of cryptic commands into the tablet's microphone. The tablet's display divided into several smaller rectangles, each running a different program.

"There," Amy said dejectedly. "Now it's locked up."

Susan reached over and thumbed the tablet's track-ball, but the screen cursor remained anchored in the last box Amy had opened. Susan tried typing in a command, but the display remained unchanged.

"Yeah, this looks like a real problem. Can you work around it?"

Amy made a face. "Mo-om! I can get into one or two things, but it's so slow. If I want to bounce to a different app, I have to shut another one down. It's practically impossible to do anything complicated working like that."

"Okay, okay. Give it to me and I'll see about getting the thing fixed."

* * *

"Kenzai, North America," the face on the videophone answered. "How may I help you?"

"Yes, my name is Minter, Susan Minter, and I'm trying to get my daughter's computer tablet repaired."

"I can give you the name and address of your nearest authorized service location."

"No, I've been there already. The technicians said they couldn't fix it."

"Is the unit still under warranty, Mrs. Minter?"

"Yes, yes it is. The technician said he could replace it with a similar model, but I'd rather have this one repaired. It has sentimental value."

"Hey, that's really something! I never heard of anyone sentimental about one of our computers before. What model is that?"

"The special edition Whiz-Kid, the pink one from a few years back. Model number HXC. . . ."

"Stop -- I know which one. That's a problem. We only made those pink and blue jobs for a few months. They didn't sell very well when we test marketed them and we've had a lot of warranty returns. The repair shop was right -- we'll trade you even up for a newer, better model."

Susan had seen the newer Whiz-Kid model at the shop, sleek black with titanium trim. They had a lot more power and sold for more money than Amy's tablet had, but the keys were smaller, like an adult computer, and the case wasn't pink. Susan wondered what Jack would have thought of it.

"What I'd really like to do is to get the one I have fixed," she told the Kenzai man.

"I'm afraid that won't be possible, Mrs. Minter. Because of the limited production run on those models, we don't stock parts for them, and they're not really made to be fixed anyway. The newer Whiz-Kid is a lot better. It's a very generous trade-in offer."

"Um, do you have any other models in pink?"

"Nope. Your best bet is to go back to the service location and trade it in for the newer model."

Susan seethed. She came very close to hanging up, but stayed on the line and tried again. "You have to understand -- my husband gave this computer to my little girl, and now he's dead and this is the thing she cherishes and remembers him by. My little girl is very sick and this computer means more to her than just RAM and ROM. There has to be a way."

The agent's face on the screen became lined with concern. "Mrs. Minter, I don't want any of our customers to think we don't care. I have a little boy at home, so I think I can understand your predicament. But the fact of the matter is we really don't fix the things, we just build new ones. Maybe you could put an ad on the newswires. Or maybe try looking in some pawnshops or some of the smaller electronics outfits that might have some old inventory. I really wish I could do something for you."

The videophone went blank as Susan hung up.

* * *

"Doctor Sculley told you I had a heart attack, huh?" Amy said, in a voice that was practically a whisper.

Susan looked through blurry eyes at her daughter, all bristling with tubes and wires, and the bed surrounded by an incredible array of machinery that was beeping and wheezing and flashing lights. It had been a bad one, Doctor Sculley had told her. Only the machines were keeping her going now.

"Honey, are you okay? Can I do anything for you?"

Amy blinked hard and a tear leaked out of the corner of her left eye, ran down her sallow temple and into her tiny ear. "Mommy, I just want to go home," she rasped.

"I know, I know. It's . . . soon. The transplant has been moved up. Just a few more days now."

"Is the clone ready yet?"

"Almost. Except for the red birthmark on its hand, it looks just like you."

Amy lifted her head imperceptibly toward Susan, shuddered with the effort, then fell back onto her pillow. Susan stroked her daughter's forehead gently. "Just try to relax. You have to save all your strength and hang in there. I know it's not very comfortable, but after the transplant, I guarantee you'll feel like brand new."

"Mom?" Amy whispered faintly.

Susan leaned forward, cocking an ear closer to Amy's lips. "What is it, honey?"

"Mom, is my computer tablet fixed yet?" she asked so softly that Susan had to think for a second if she really heard it correctly.

"Almost," Susan lied. "It's in the shop right now. It should be ready in just a few days."

"That's good. I love you so much, Mommy."

Susan smiled. Amy was asleep before she could echo the sentiment.

* * *

Susan wanted to remain at her daughter's side until the transplant took place, but Doctor Sculley chased her out. Amy was in relatively little danger, he explained, as the machines would keep her alive, pumping the blood in place of the failed heart, but the transplant was an exhausting process. Amy needed all the rest she could get, so long visits were discouraged.

Reluctantly, Susan left the hospital and set about finding a way to restore Amy's pink tablet. She went over the notes she had scribbled after her conversation with the man at the Kenzai factory. She phoned every repair shop in town asking if they could fix the thing. She visited electronics stores, second-hand thrift stores and pawnshops looking for a turned-in model. It was all to no avail -- there were no spare parts, no one could fix it, and no one had a working model.

The Kenzai man had suggested placing an ad in the newswires. There was no time for that, but Susan thought she might turn to the power of the computer itself to help solve her dilemma. Although she had never been completely comfortable with the computer culture, she logged onto Jack's old computer and got onto one of the bigger adult networks. After only a dozen tries, she found the "wanted to buy" bulletin board and succeeded in posting a message:

Wanted: Kenzai Whiz-Kid, special limited-edition pink model with extra-large keys, made approx three years ago. Must be in working condition. Need desperately. Good money offered. Please save my life and respond. XREF: computer, tablet, kenzai, whiz-kid, pink.

In the morning, she had four responses. Three of them were like this:

Are you serious? That computer was the biggest dog Kenzai ever put out. My kid's tablet lasted less than a year before it fizzed. Get a real computer -- try looking into the Mitsubishi.

The fourth response was more encouraging:

You're in luck. I have just one of the special edition Whiz-Kids left. There's not too many of these babies around. Practically a collector's item, but I'll let you have it cheap. Come in to Lucky Seven Electronics in Mutton Hollow and we'll talk.

Mutton Hollow was a few hours away, but it was the only lead Susan had, so she got in her car and drove.

Lucky Seven Electronics was a small storefront in a dingy supermarket strip mall. The window was plastered with Going Out Of Business and We Will Not Be Undersold signs. Various pieces of electronic junk and accessories from no-name companies were stacked haphazardly in the window. Susan wanted to get back in her car and drive back to the hospital without entering the store, but it was her last chance.

She opened the door and was greeted by the sound of crazy foreign music. The proprietor, a fat greasy man with small pink-tinted glasses that pinched his face, looked up from a magazine and eyed her suspiciously from behind the counter. "Can I hhhelp you?" he hissed in an accent she couldn't quite place.

Susan fought her impulse to turn and run. "I'm here about the Whiz Kid. The computer?"

"Ahh, yesss -- you're the one from the bulletin board. You ssstay here. I'll go get it."

The fat man disappeared in the back of the store for a moment and returned carrying a Kenzai carton. The box was very dusty and creased, and a few of the cardboard corners were mashed into fuzzy rounded edges, but it said Kenzai Whiz Kid and Special Limited Edition and Extra Large Keys for Little Fingers on the front. Susan's spirits lifted with the notion that her search had finally ended.

"Let me ssshow it to you," the fat man said.

He lifted the boxtop easily, and Susan noticed that the carton had already been opened before. His fat hand dipped inside and emerged holding the computer.

It was blue. Baby blue. Not pink. The wrong one and she had come all this way for nothing when she should have been at the hospital with her poor little girl lying there all alone with those terrible machines while her idiot mommy was running around looking for some stupid piece of junk pink computer tablet that kept breaking down and no one wanted to fix the damned thing and no one could even replace the stupid thing and what the hell was she supposed to do now?

"It's not pink," was what she said to the fat man.

The man scowled "It's the sssame computer. Just the outside plastic is different. I'll let you have it real cheap. You'll see."

"I'm sorry, but I'm trying to replace my daughter's pink tablet. Her father bought it for her and she's very attached to the pink one."

"But lady, it's just the plastic, sssee? Look, it screws off right here, and here, and here. Underneath, it's exactly the same. Just change the plastic and it's pink, okay?"

Susan looked at the screws that held the decorative blue face plate onto the tablet's chassis. She bought the blue tablet from the fat man, knowingly getting cheated but without giving argument. It would just have to do.

* * *

"The transplant went off without a hitch, Mrs. Minter," Doctor Sculley said, smiling broadly. "Everything's going to be just fine."

"Can I see her?"

"Just for a little while. She's coming out of it now, and she'll need a lot of rest to get used to the transplant."

Doctor Sculley ushered Susan down to the other end of the hall from where Amy had been, into a different room. There was Amy on the bed, looking very small, but healthy. There were no tubes or wires or beeping machinery. Amy looked up groggily at her mom.

"How are you feeling?" Susan asked her, tears of joy welling up in her eyes.

"Kind of weird," Amy replied in a voice both strong and shaky at the same time. "My eyesight and hearing and smelling are all somehow . . . different."

"It's okay, honey. It's just the transplant. Doctor Sculley told me you'll get used to everything quickly."

"I'll bet I know what's in the bag," Amy said, reaching for the canvas tote bag at Susan's side.

The hand never found its way to the tote bag. Halfway there, Amy caught sight of her own flesh and pulled it back, holding the hand inches away from her eyes. For a full minute, Amy studied the reddish birthmark there on the back of her new pink hand, pondering what it meant.

Finally Amy spoke, "I thought it was supposed to be a heart transplant. So what was it really, a brain transplant or something?"

Susan smiled reassuringly. "They haven't done heart transplants for ages. And there's no such thing as a brain transplant. They just copied your . . . personality into the new body. That's the transplant."

Amy was quiet for a few seconds digesting the new information. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I just assumed you knew. What with that computer tablet of yours . . ." Susan stopped short, remembering the computer had been broken. "Now that it's over, it really doesn't matter, does it?"

Susan was surprised when Amy's face contorted into a mask of pain. "But then I'm not really me. I'm just a clone and the real me is -- "

"No!" Susan cut her off forcefully. "You're you, the real you. The other . . . won't be around. Everything that was 'Amy Minter' is in you, except that now you're healthy. Don't think about it, okay? Just remember that you're young and healthy and your mother loves you very much. Understood?"

"Could I, like, maybe just see her . . ."

"Absolutely not! She's dying, okay? Your job right now is to get better and nothing else. Live the life that she can't."

Amy was silenced, her eyes locking onto Susan's. After a moment, she raised her new pink hand, the one with the birthmark on it, and Susan grasped it tightly.

"Yeah, okay," Amy said, her face relaxing. She looked at the tote bag hanging from Susan's shoulder. "So what's in the bag?"

"Like you don't already know!" Susan said pulling out the pink tablet.

Amy grabbed the computer eagerly and looked it over. Susan held her breath, hoping Amy wouldn't notice the scratches where she had slipped when removing the screws from the pink plastic panels. Amy switched the machine on and in seconds had opened a half dozen applications without any problems.

"This is really great, Mom. What was wrong with it?"

Susan gave a sigh of relief and answered, "Nothing too serious. But you can't keep it now. Doctor Sculley says you need lots of rest."

"Mo-om!"

"Sorry. I'll keep it safe at home for you, until you get out of the hospital. All the more incentive to get well and come home soon," Susan said slipping the pink tablet back into the tote bag, as tears of joy began sliding down her cheeks. "Honey, I'm so glad you're all right."

"You're the best, Mom."

"You get some rest now. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

Amy smiled and nodded cheerfully as Susan slipped out of the room.

As Susan walked down the corridor, her smile faded into a frown. The tears continued streaming down her face, tears of joy no longer. At the other end of the hall was another room with another little girl and lots of machines. Before entering the room, Susan paused to wipe the tears and put on a stoic smile. Reaching into the tote bag, she pulled out the pink tablet, took a deep breath, and opened the door.

Copyright © 1995 Brian Plante, first appeared in Writers Of The Future, volume XI, June 1995
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