by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in A Glimpse of Anthropomorphic Literature, Volume 3, August 2016
Maureen lumbered toward the Re-Incorpus Center, feeling horribly large and conspicuous. Wire fencing on either side of the sidewalk protected her from the yelling protesters. Nothing protected her from reading the hateful slogans on their signs: Re-Incorpus Is Murder! Vat-Bodies Have No Souls! Death to Gen-Clones!
Members of every species clamored at the wire fence, shaking their signs in anger. A condor had even painted his slogan — Suicide + Soulless Body = Re-Incorpus — onto his black wings. He held his wings wide and danced a macabre jig.
The last angry face Maureen saw before entering the armored door of the Re-Incorpus Center was a brown bear. Anger and sadness combined in the brown bear’s eyes. She shouted, “You don’t have to do this!” Maureen could have been looking in a mirror.
Inside the Re-Incorpus Center, a cat at the front desk rushed over to comfort Maureen. “We’re so sorry about… you know…” She gestured with a paw toward the hostility outside. “Is there anything I can get you while you wait? Coffee? Tea?”
Maureen accepted a mug of red bush tea and sat down in an uncomfortably stiff and small waiting room chair. Soon, a zebra in a white lab coat came out, looked at a clipboard in his hoof-hands, and said, “Maureen? We’re ready for you.”
Maureen’s heart fluttered. Inside her mind, she jumped up from the chair and raced over to the zebra, clapping her paws, so excited. She could hardly wait to see her new body.
The body she was born with, though, was slow. She raised herself out of the chair, crossed the room in several long strides, and followed the zebra, whose badge said “Max,” through the cramped hallways of the center.
Max brought Maureen to a room with two clone pods close together that looked like stainless steel refrigerators turned on their sides. Each of them was big enough to hold Maureen in her bear body, but she knew that only one of them needed to be.
Max opened one of the pods. It was empty inside except for dangling wires coming out of the sides and white foam cushions on the bottom.
Max held out a folded sheet, patterned with tiny pink flowers. Maureen took it from his hooves with her paws.
“We’ll give you a few minutes to get undressed,” he said. “Go ahead and get comfortable in the pod; pull the sheet over you; and the doctor will be in soon.” Max turned to head for the door.
“Wait,” Maureen said. “Can I–” she hesitated, looking at the closed clone pod. “Can I look at my new body first?”
Max nodded his large equine head. “Of course, I should have anticipated…” His words trailed off, but he lifted the heavy door of the second clone pod. Then he left her alone. With her self. And her new self.
Maureen looked down into the clone pod. Settled on the white cushions, wired into the walls, was a tiny mouse body with its eyes closed. It looked like it was sleeping. She was sleeping.
Maureen’s new body was sleeping.
Large round ears, pointed nose, delicate paws, and such a long tail. Maureen reached toward her new body, but as soon as her gigantic bear paw came into view, she jumped backward, nearly slipping on the hard tile floor.
After only a few moments of looking at her new body, she’d almost forgotten the old body that she was still trapped inside. A hideous bear paw had no right to touch such a perfect mouse.
Maureen undressed quickly, not bothering to fold her bulky bear’s clothes. She would never need them again. She wadded them up and shoved them in the corner. Then, eagerly, she climbed into the empty clone pod and pulled the pink-flowered sheet over herself.
Forever later, Dr. Elling came in — a cheetah woman who had advised Maureen for months now. The law required weekly visits as the clone body was grown. If all went well, this could be Maureen’s last visit to Dr. Elling and the Re-Incorpus Center.
“No cold feet, I hear,” Dr. Elling said.
“I still want to do this,” Maureen said. She knew her words — and the entire procedure — were being recorded to protect Dr. Elling and the center against lawsuits. She had to be perfectly clear about her intentions. “Please remove my consciousness from this body, and place it in my new body. I understand that this body will not survive the procedure.”
Dr. Elling smiled down at her, contorting the black markings on her yellow-furred face. “Your bear body can survive for an hour after your brain pattern is moved to the new mouse body. If there’s anything wrong with the mouse body, we can still reverse the procedure during that time.”
Maureen said, “I understand.” She had to, or else Dr. Elling would repeat the information until she did.
“Excellent,” Dr. Elling said. “Let’s get started.”
Dr. Elling and Max connected all the dangling wires to Maureen. Most of them attached to her head.
“Count backward from one hundred,” Max said.
At ninety-eight, they closed the lid of the clone pod, sealing her into the sarcophagus where her bear body would die.
Maureen couldn’t remember if she’d stopped counting.
The lid of the clone pod lifted. Dr. Elling and Max looked down at her.
“Why did you open the lid?” Maureen tried to ask, but her voice came out a squeak and her tongue fumbled all the words as if she were trying to speak while half asleep.
“It will take a while for your new body to get used to doing anything other than lying still,” Dr. Elling said.
Max held a mirror over her, and she looked at herself for the first time. She was a mouse. Large round ears, pointed nose… She reached for the mirror, and her paw came into view. It felt clumsy and tingly; it had never reached for anything before; but it was her paw. Delicate and perfect.
Max unhooked the wires from all around her and helped her sit up.
She held her paws in front of her and simply looked at them, turning them over and back, touching them against her sleek gray fur. No longer brown and bushy.
“You’re crying,” Max said.
“How do you feel?” Dr. Elling asked.
Maureen looked over to the other clone pod. Max had opened it to check on the bear body inside.
Maureen pushed herself up and leaned over to touch the giant brown bear paw in the other clone pod. It dwarfed her own, but she grabbed it and squeezed tight.
The bear body breathed steadily, but it was dying, brain-dead, abandoned. She had lived in that body for years.
It had never felt right. But it felt right to say goodbye.