Megan Leal Causton, Grade 12, Age 17, Portfolio Gold Medal, Painting

October’s Halloween inspired Writing of the Month comes from Grace Li of Manvel, TX. Grace is a 2011 Gold Medalist for Science Fiction/Fantasy.

My sister was the first genetically engineered baby.

My parents designed almost every characteristic of her, from her stormy blue eyes to her pale blonde hair. She was a model student. How could she not be, when she was given every gene for intelligence, athleticism, and beauty?

I was the second.

Are you expecting a description of myself, like I described her? Oh, but that would be easy. I am her. My sister was the first child to work, the first one not to have a serious malfunction in her programming that killed her before adulthood. Of course, that’s debatable. You see, my sister killed herself on her sixteenth birthday.

I am her copy. My parents used her genetic blueprint to create me. Everything she ever was makes me everything I am now.

She claimed that suicide was the only option. That the world had changed into a place that she didn’t recognize. A place that she no longer wanted to live in.

And I stare at the methane-red sky, hazy fog clouding my vision as I try and make out some remnant of the stars that the history books claim existed sometime in the distant past, and I know that I am nothing like her, despite the genes that we share.

How is that possible? How do I not understand the girl that was exactly like me,the girl that was me almost sixteen years ago?

My parents created me the day of her death. Tomorrow will be my sixteenth birthday. The sixteenth anniversary of her death. I can’t say anything about it, though, because my parents refuse to hear me speak of her. To them, I am her, and I will never be anything else except for another copy of a disposable girl.

What will happen if I die? Will they create another one of her—another one of me? I wouldn’t really be dying, then, would I?

I don’t know.

I hear a rap on my door, and I get up to open it. “Hello?”

My mom smiles at me. “Happy early birthday, Rachel.” I try not to flinch. I never even got a name.

I ask myself what she would’ve done. And I almost laugh. At this moment, she was probably poised at the edge of a cliff, about to jump into the thrashing water, or driving on a slippery highway, the ground beneath her tires sleek with the steady fall of rain—which existed in her time but not in mine, another sign that we are completely different, no matter what anyone else claims.

It’s become almost a game for me, to imagine the many ways that she could’ve died. That’s why I read the history books, although I would never reveal that secret. Not to learn about the past, but to learn about her past.

“Thanks, Mom,” I answer, because that seems like the most acceptable reply.

Her second smile is broad and glittering, and I can’t help but wonder how I would look if I had inherited that. But, of course, my smile is just as beautiful, I’ve been told.

Of course it is, when I’ve been manufactured to be beautiful. And I smile at the innocent person who complimented me, and I say “Thank you. You should’ve seen my sister, though.” And if that person had ever studied anything to do with genetics, they will look at me with wide eyes as the pieces click, matching my name to the one printed in science magazines and sci-fi novels, college textbooks and scientific publications. The name that started a revolution. The name that I bear today, the name that was my sister’s before it was mine.

“You’ve received a letter,” she tells me, handing the already-opened envelope to me. “An invitation. Genetic testing has been getting attacked by all these tie-dye, peace and happiness hippies lately, and you’ve been asked to defend it on the stand.” Her voice is cold. “They’ve already given you a script and everything. The day of the defense is September 17, 2087.”

Tomorrow.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. What would Rachel do, if she was alive? She was the miracle child, I remind myself. The perfect child. I must be just like her. I must be her, no matter how I feel about it. That’s how I was made, after all.

Even though I’m not her. I will never be.

“I’d be honored,” I reply, and a million shards of ice pierce through my heart. Defend the people who have enabled my birth? Defend the people who have enabled a shadow of my sister to walk this earth—a shadow that should not exist?

My mom smiles at me yet again and leaves the room, and I collapse onto my bed.

I consider walking up there and telling the truth. The idea lingers in my mind, taunting me, and I curl up under the covers and shut my eyes harder.

My dreams are full of half-completed nightmares, and when I wake, I remember nothing expect the sensation of fear and a dark, never-ending maze.

That is my life, after all. I’m an unwilling player in a game that consumes the scientific world, a pawn that can be used for either side.

I refuse to be played. But I have to. It’s not a choice.

I dress in a crisp blouse and a black skirt.

My parents are waiting for me downstairs, and they smile at me. “Ready?”

I nod, and we walk into the adjoining room, where a projector is waiting for us. I step in front of it as my parents key in my desired location, and my surroundings fade away as a courtroom appears into view. The room is full of glittering projections, and I take a deep breath.

“Rachel Anders. You are called to the stand as a defendant. Please rise.” The judge stumbles over the last few words, and this convoluted attempt to make this trial resemble the real ones of old makes my throat catch in frustration.

I am already standing.

I look down at the sheet of paper and skim the first few lines.

“I, Rachel Anders, stand before this audience today to plead with you to continue the research on genetic testing, as I would not be here today without it. I…”

The paper falls from my hand, and I’m abruptly taken back to the empty white room in my house, the blinking red light of the projector the only sign that I had ever been at the courtroom.

I pause.

It would be so simple to walk out. To leave and not come back, to give up on my defense and pray to a god that doesn’t exist that no one else will have to suffer what I’m going through.

But it would be harder to go back and tell the waiting assembly of people what I really think, not the words that someone else is trying to put into my mouth.

I kneel down and pick up the papers, and as I straighten, I’m taken back to the courtroom.

I’ve lost my place.

“I’m Rachel Anders,” I repeat. I close my eyes before continuing. “And I stand before this audience today to plead with you to continue the research on genetic testing, because…without it, I would not be here today.”

I read the rest of my speech, as a single tear falls from my eye, and I wonder if my projection shows it.

No one says a word, and I keep reading as my world falls apart.

I finish, and it’s silent, and I take a step to the side and everything melts away, until I’m once again in my white cell.

I open the door, and the house is empty.

I know what to do.

I don’t know how my sister died. I will never know. She had a hundred and one choices, a hundred and one ways to get lost in her beautiful world.

I have only one.

I step outside, and the air is thick and heavy. I can’t see anything but the chalky red of the earth, and I can’t help but wonder if it will ever regain the blue illustrated in all the books I’ve read.

Maybe…another Rachel will come along, sixteen years from now, and her world will be better than mine. I don’t know.

I never will.

I breathe in once.

I am exactly like my sister.

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