“Do you want this strawberry?” Dr. Steven asked calmly.
I looked up at him, and then at the strawberry in his hand. It was a small strawberry, clearly not the best in the bunch. But it was a strawberry, and I love strawberries. Even a tiny strawberry would be a joyride for my starving tastebuds. I quickly responded, “Sure, I’ll have it.”
The doctor smiled gently at me and closed his hand around the strawberry. He strolled to the opposite end of the table that I was sitting at and set the fruit down on a small, white coaster.
“Okay, Andrew. Here’s the deal.” He paused to make sure I had seen where he placed the strawberry. “You can have this strawberry at any time you wish. However, there’s something else.” He took a step in my direction. “I’m going to leave. If this strawberry is still here when I get back, you can have five strawberries. Do you understand?”
Five strawberries, I thought. I was very hungry; I hadn’t eaten all day. It was a trade-off between time and food. If I waited longer, I could have more food to eat. I was smarter than the other kids; I knew to wait would be the smarter choice if I could stand it. I nodded to the professor and he left without another word.
I sat staring at the strawberry at the end of the table and it cruelly stared back, begging to be eaten. My salivary glands kicked into overtime and I swallowed hard, practically tasting the sweet strawberry in my mouth. It was only about four feet from me, and I could see even the smallest detail clearly.
It was lying on its side on the coaster, slightly off-center. Little seeds decorated the luscious, scarlet skin, looking like pins that had been stuck in to keep the juiciness from exploding.
“It’s such a pretty strawberry,” I thought. “I bet it’d taste so sweet.” I imagined the strawberry on some Angel food cake with just a hint of sugar sprinkled on top. I licked my lips, feeling the imaginary strawberry slide down my throat.
A sound from behind me helped to bring my thoughts back to the real world and I turned around to look. I was in the study room. This was where I always came when Dr. Steven decides he’s ready to test his experiments out. I don’t mind though, he treats me well and I usually end up with some sort of treat at the end. Never before a strawberry though. My eyes returned to the delicious fruit.
I imagined the strawberry in my hand, gently squishing it to feel how plump it is.
Suddenly I was worried. “What if waiting this long makes the strawberry go bad? What if it rots?” I nervously examined the strawberry again, looking for flaws or differences that might have changed in the past couple minutes. “The color looks less vibrant.” My thought trailed off and I furrowed my brow in worry.
Returning my gaze to the study room door, I wondered when Dr. Steven would come back. He’d never left during an experiment before. Surely he’d come back. Right?
My gaze jerked back to the strawberry. My mouth was watering uncontrollably, and I frequently swallowed to keep myself from drooling. The red of the strawberry seemed to expand outwards, leaving a light crimson tint on everything in the room. My stomach growled angrily. I tried soothing it with a gentle rub, but I knew only a strawberry would satisfy my innards. Just one would do it. I don’t need five.
The clock behind the strawberry mocked me with every tick. It’d been almost five minutes. “Five minutes for five strawberries,” I thought. “That must be when Dr. Steven will come back.” I patted my stomach and mentally assured it, “If Dr. Steven isn’t back at the five-minute mark, that strawberry is ours.” My stomach growled back approvingly.
The seconds ticked on slowly, echoing through the small study room each time the second hand moved. The thin, metal walls of the room helped the sound bounce around, persisting until it was too weak to travel any further.
Five minutes finally came. I quickly glanced back at the study room door, half hoping to see Dr. Steven and half not, but he wasn’t there no matter what I wanted. My stomach growled to remind me of the time and I slowly stood. I knew the “better” choice would be to wait and get five strawberries, but this one just looked so good. What if the five I would get by waiting weren’t nearly as good?
I took the strawberry in my hand. It felt just like I had imagined: plump, ready to burst with flavor. The red hue of the tiny fruit looked unbelievable, as if it were magical or glowing. It was truly the perfect strawberry. As I took a bite of it, I was proud of the decision I made. One magnificent strawberry now sure beats five strawberries later!
* * *
Dr. Steven returned to the room twenty minutes later. Shortly after opening the door, he sighed in disapproval. He withdrew his phone from a pocket and dialed the number for his secretary before putting the call on speakerphone and setting it on the table.
“Dr. Steven’s office,” the voice crackled over the phone. “This is Lynne.”
Without hesitation, Dr. Steven replied: “Hey Lynne, we got another one down. Would you start up the incinerator and start prepping the next clone? We didn’t hit the self-control gene this time, but I know I’m getting closer.”
The static on the phone was almost unbearable, but the two had grown accustomed to it. It was hard to get good cell phone reception so far underground.
“Right away, sir.”
“Oh, and Lynne?” Dr. Steven added before hanging up, hoping she hadn’t already hung up herself.
He looked at the body on the ground. “Could you come down with a mop? It seems we didn’t drain enough fluids out of this one, and he’s made quite a mess.” He sighed again.
He hung up and put the phone back in his pocket. Grunting, he grabbed hold of the young boy’s body from behind, wrapping two arms around the lifeless chest and dragged him back through the door and towards the research facility’s incinerator. He’d have to remember to come in later and put everything back as it was for the next boy.
He hated it when he lost them like this, but they were only clones. They weren’t important to the rest of the world. They were just tools for science.