The words weren’t what he wanted to hear. “Your son was in a terrible accident,” the doctor said. “Steven has suffered extensive injuries.”
He stared at the woman, Indian and young, attempting to assess her abilities. Beside him, his wife was hiccuping with sobs. New tears ran down her face. He didn’t know where they came from. He was certain she was cried dry, but no, here were more.
“I’m afraid we’re declaring him medically challenged,” the doctor said next.
That drew his attention.
The doctor said, “I have no choice, Mister Ryan. Your insurance dictates it.”
“What’s that mean?” he said, as his wife echoed, “Medically challenged?”
“Well, to be crude, Mister Ryan, Missus Ryan,” the doctor said, “and use a coarse analogy, if your son was a car, he’d be declared totaled, because it’s cheaper to write him off and give you a check to have him remade.”
Words exploded. He was talking. His wife was talking. The doctor was backtracking and attempting to explain and placate.
It didn’t seem like he heard anything, not even himself. He was saying, “My son is not a fucking car, my son is not a fucking car.” He didn’t know what was coming out.
Then he and his wife were holding one another, shaking and crying, a scene in the hospital. He held her warmth and tried pouring strength into her, but his strength was evaporating.
The doctor said, “It’s not as you think.”
He couldn’t believe she said that. He said, “What?”
Reacting with a speed she’d never exhibited before, his wife lunged for the doctor. Catching her, he held onto her. Her body felt like steel. She dragged him forward. She was saying something, but tear-filled and high-pitched, he couldn’t understand her.
“Heather, Heather,” he said. “Calm down, calm down.”
A foot shorter than him and fifty pounds lighter, Heather dragged him forward. He was forced to lift her until her feet were off the ground. That was the only way to stop her.
“Let me go,” Heather said, “let me go.”
Security showed up.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Ryan said.
The doctor waved security away. A young nurse beside the doctor held a folder out. The nurse looked Indian, too. Were there no white people in medicine any more?
The doctor said, “This package explains everything. You can contest your insurance company and keep your son alive, but unfortunately, not in this hospital. He will need to be moved to another facility. In the meantime, if we harvest his organs, you can make more than enough money to pay off the expected costs, and your policy permits you to keep all the profits.”
“You are sick,” he said. He put his wife down, but held onto her. “You’re all sick.”
“And if you start right away, your son can be done here in five days.”
His wife fell still. “Five days?” Heather said.
He let go of her. “What’s that mean, exactly?”
“You will be able to take your son home in five days,” the doctor said.
“That doesn’t explain anything,” he said. “What’s it mean?”
“It’s explained in these package we’ve prepared for you,” the doctor said.
“I’m asking you,” Ryan said. “What’s it mean?”
The doctor sighed. “It means we’ll grow you a fresh boy, Mister Ryan. He will look and act exactly like your son, Steve. He will be a new boy, for all purposes, but he will be Steve’s age.”
“Like a clone?” Heather said.
“Yes, basically,” the doctor said. “He will have Steve’s knowledge and memories, of course, and the skill levels, talents, and abilities that he exhibited before, but he will have a new body.”
“How?” Ryan said.
“He’s been monitored his entire life, and we have his DNA map,” the doctor said. “So we will grow it. Steven’s teachers have faithfully filled out all required quarterly reports, with videos, and all his test results. You’re lucky that your son is in such a good school system. We also have all his social media records. So we can fully analyze all aspects of his personality and life.”
As he was thinking about what the doctor was saying, and what it meant, his wife said, “Can you…change things?”
“Changes are possible,” the doctor said. “They’re extra, of course, and it depends on what you have in mind.”
“Well, he was always a little slow,” Heather said, with a glance at her husband.
“And can we make him taller?” he said. “Steve’s always been one of the shortest kids in his class. It’d be nice if he was a few inches taller.”
“Of course.” The doctor made a gesture. The nurse made a call. A man in a suit appeared. He was white.
“This is Gary,” the doctor said.
“Hi, Mister Ryan,” Gary boomed, putting his hand out. As Ryan and Gary vigorously shook, Gary said, “I’m sorry about your loss,” and the doctor said, “Gary is a medical sales technician. He’ll walk you through your options and costs.”
As Gary shook hands with Heather, Ryan said, “Thank you, doctor.”
Smiling, the doctor said, “You’re welcome.” She walked away as Gary said, “Let’s go to somewhere quiet. There’s a Starbucks in the hospital. Would you like some coffee or tea?”
“I’d love some coffee,” Ryan said. “It’s been a long night.” His eyes were bright.
A new son. A new boy.
Science was fucking amazing.