As Joya and Douglas watched, violins swelled and a hazy camera drew close to where a teenage girl was seated at a desk. Sketchbooks and literature were heaped in piles around her, suggesting an active creative life. Sunlight glowed upon thriving green trees in the window behind her.
A tiny man with graying hair walked into the scene. His clothes were baggy and his motions stiff. Smiling to himself, he kicked a pencil playfully and smiled up at the girl, who leaned on her elbows over him.
“But you’ve been such a huge part of my life,” the girl said sadly. “I’ve known you for over half of my life! You’ve always been there for me.”
The tiny man raised his head to the girl’s broad face, nodding slowly. “We always knew this day would come, my mistress.” The camera closed in on his expression, a bitter smile and tired eyes. The girl’s pink lips trembled in the background.
“I don’t want this! I don’t accept it! Isn’t there something we can do?” The girl spun in her chair to throw the question at her parents, standing in the center of the room in a consoling embrace. This isn’t easy for anyone involved, it was clear.
The modulated tones of a Scottish woman began to narrate: “Ten years is a lifetime to Tinies, but to their owners it’s the mere blink of an eye. You’ve invested so much in your little person, gotten to know them, formed cherished bonds. And then, sadly, their time is up. How can anyone ask you to let that go?”
The scene changed from a cozy living room to a bright and clean clinic. Harps and bells played as the Biolia wordmark appeared in glowing blue letters over the screen, then swung to paste itself to a wall as the family entered the clinic. The parents smiled at each other and the girl hugged her little man to her cheek as they walked up to the reception desk.
“Here at Biolia,” the narrator continued, “you don’t have to. We’ve been working on a grand new technology—Scottish technology—that can return your little companion to you. It’s not a life-extension service, like some companies claim to offer. To date, there has been no proven technique or therapy to add years to your little fellow’s life.” The narrator’s tone was quite stern here.
“But Biolia is a cloning service with a proven track record.” The scene shifted from the lab to an animation depicting decaying cells being reshaped and freshened, weathered DNA strands being repaired and strengthened. “We’re a trusted household name for two reasons: we have endlessly striven to improve and perfect humanoid cloning technology, and we have scaled this service to the consumer level.”
The scene returned to the cozy domestic home, where the parents and teenager were gathered around a white cardboard box bearing the Biolia wordmark. The girl looked up at her parents nervously. “Now your family can receive your Tiny pet in a fresh, new package, just the way you met him!” The girl opened the box, and the camera closed in to show a nude teenage boy (a piece of packaging tape casually occluding his shame) waking up in a molded Styrofoam bed. He looked up at the girl, smiled, and extended one thin arm to her. The camera cut to the girl, who squealed with delight, snatched the tiny boy up, and ran off to her room. The father looked as though he were about to say something, but the mother put her hand upon his shoulder, and they shrugged and smiled at each other.
The Biolia wordmark once again overtook the screen as a professional American male voice began to speak: “Biolia, a Scottish limited liability company, cannot assure that−”
The lab tech clicked her remote and the screen went blank and silent. She turned to Joya and, in her palms, little Douglas. “That’s just all the boring legalese you’ve already heard before,” the tech said, grinning too broadly at Joya. “So! What do you think? Are you ready to take the plunge?” She sat on a metal stool beside the TV and disc player setup on a rolling black frame.
Joya’s large butt filled out her molded plastic chair, and then some, and she chose to hold her Tiny against her bosom rather than set him on the white pressboard table before her. The room they all sat in was white, like in the video, but the white cinder block walls were less impressive than the gleaming futuristic laboratory.
“I don’t know,” began Douglas, “I want to know more about−”
The tech spoke over him. “Joya? Hmm? Any thoughts?”
Joya’s soft brown eyes flickered over her little man; he nodded at her. “Well, there is that one concern we have,” she asked in a very thick Hispanic accent. “You know, about his age.”
The tech pretended to consult her clipboard. “Yes, that is a very good point. As we all know, most Tinies only live up to ten years at the most. Yours, however, is kind of a miracle case.” She looked at the little old man cradled against Joya’s cleavage. “How did you get him to live so long?”
“Oh, nothing special! You know, organic vegetables, lots of love.” Joya’s face dimpled as she grinned at him, and his creased as he beamed back up at her. “Lots of love and exercise.”
“That’s really interesting! But it brings up a problem, which I think Dr. Ingram talked to you about. Because we really have no experience with Tinies as old as that one is−”
“Douglas.” Joya leaned forward to glare at the young lab tech. Her breasts nearly smothered her little man. “He has a name.”
“Yes, uh, well… Douglas is very old—15 years for him is kind of like 140 in human years—and his DNA isn’t quite in the condition it once was. We’re used to dealing with ten-year-old DNA and chromosomes and stuff like that, you know? This is an exceptional case that Dr. Ingram is concerned with. He’s actually calling back to our headquarters in Aberdeen to consult with some specialists as to how best to proceed.” The young tech adjusted her glasses and rested her clipboard on the table. It merely carried Joya’s application and a security waiver.
Joya’s dark brows furrowed. “But what’s that mean for us?”
“All it means is that we will have to do some groundbreaking research on, er, Douglas, to better inform the procedure. Doesn’t that sound exciting?” The tech grinned, raised her eyebrows, and nodded at Douglas as though he were a dog. He frowned back at her.
“But the risks, you said something about the risks.”
The tech inhaled through her nostrils and straightened up. “Yes, well, of course there are going to be risks. The quality of the DNA and chromosomes and all that are going to be trickier to work with, so…” She shrugged in her starchy lab coat. “Biolia can’t really extend the same 100% guarantee that we usually offer our clients. Do you understand? This is just an exceptional case, nothing like we’ve ever seen before. But we’re quite confident in our ability, and once we hear back from Aberdeen−”
“What are the odds?” Douglas spoke up, surprisingly loud for his size.
“What?” His audacity punched through the young tech’s disregard.
“My darling would like to know the odds of success for the operation.” His head wobbled as Joya stroked his hair with her thumb. “Can you guarantee better than 50%, say?”
The lab tech stammered and took up the clipboard again, rifling past the personal information sheet to scan the security waiver. “Well, that is, we’re confident−”
Douglas struggled to sit up in Joya’s palms. “You’re confident! You’re confident! What about my beloved? She’s staring down the throat of a $20,000 bill, if she doesn’t just want to watch me wither away and die”—Joya choked a sob; Douglas’s tiny palm patted her tremendous boob reassuringly—”and you can’t even tell her, yes, we’ll provide the service you’re paying for! Yes, three-to-one your little man will come back to you!”
The young tech’s garish red lips hung open like a barn door. “Ms. Reeves,” she stammered, “please ask your−”
“Missus Reeves,” Joya said darkly, “and answer the man, you little piece of fluff.”
The tension in the little room was electric. For nearly a full minute, the voluptuous Latina and her diminutive, aged husband glared at the under-trained and outclassed lab tech, who gaped back. “Yes,” she said, quietly. “Dr. Ingram told me in complete secrecy that he estimated about a 65% chance of success.” She glanced at the security camera opposite the door. “But he can’t say that, because Biolia can’t be legally bound to his personal conjecture, not until we hear back from Aberdeen.”
Joya slowly released a pent-up breath, but Douglas never lightened up. He said, “And what is the risk?”
The young tech thought for a moment about bluffing her way past this question, but her confidence was shattered. “In some cases where we can’t get a clear DNA scan, you know, it’s damaged or whatever, then there are some personality aberrations.” Her large blue eyes flicked from the sultry woman to the tiny man parked against her cleavage, and she wondered for a moment what kind of world she lived in. “That is, Joya, you will get your, uh, Douglas back. That’s the easy part: you will get a little man who exactly resembles Douglas from 15 years ago. No question.”
Joya nodded slowly. Douglas relaxed but never broke his gaze.
“The thing is that we can’t guarantee the preservation of his personality, you know, recreate that. That’s chancy as it is, in regular life: you can’t look at a baby and know who they’re going to be as an adult.” She raised her palms as they protested. “Yes, you can learn a little about them from their parents, and you can look at the socioeconomic environment they’ll grow up in, but you really don’t know how they’ll handle stress or conflict or relationships, not really. So… same with Douglas.” She looked at the tiny man again, this time with interest and sympathy. “Maybe he’ll come back with the same sense of humor; maybe not. Maybe he’ll like the same foods and music; maybe not. Maybe he’ll be gay.”
“What?” the couple yelped together.
“It’s happened twice, once in Chicago and once in Glasgow.”
“My little Douglas couldn’t be gay!” Joya’s brow creased with concern.
The tech rested her clipboard on the table once more, and her hands upon the clipboard, leaning forward. “That’s what I’m saying: we can clone someone who looks like Douglas, but who he is on the inside is kind of up to chance, now. It’s just because he’s so old. We can’t help that.”
Joya’s eyes ran back and forth over the pressboard table, then to the corners of the room, then finally to her little lover. He stared up at her, his face so soft but his eyes so dark and penetrating. Her heart pounded, to see that yearning to understand in his expression, to see his elderly body in those fraying, baggy clothes he once filled out. “Douglas,” she whispered. His minuscule fingers splayed over the skin of her boob where he rubbed her affectionately.
“I can’t help you,” he said, gulping hard. “The decision is yours. Either way—” he pointed at himself “—I’m not coming back. Not me, not really.”
Joya nodded, thick whorls of glossy black hair spilling around him. She looked up at the tech. “Do you need him alive for this procedure? I mean,” her voice dropped, “it’s just that we talked about… I wanted to see him off in a special way. One last… you know.” She hugged her arms closer around her breasts, causing them to swell before him without crushing his tiny body.
“Ah, well, about that,” the lab tech said, pointing to a paragraph on the security waiver. “No, we don’t need a live specimen, as long as it’s fresh.” She glanced at Douglas awkwardly, trying to block out what this voluptuous Latina had in mind for this frail old man. “But Dr. Ingram wanted me to point out that, as this is such a rare case, that is, a 15-year-old Tiny…” She sat up and placed her palms on her thighs. “Biolia would be willing to knock $8,000 off your bill if you signed off on Douglas as a live study.”
Douglas’s WHAT echoed throughout the tiny room, but Joya appeared not to hear. “Make it $10,000,” she said coolly.
The lab tech nodded, collected Douglas in her cupped palms, and Joya completed the application form, initialing where the tech indicated and writing in the new discount. The lab tech dumped the tiny man into her chest pocket and shook hands with Joya, noting how warm and soft the woman’s grip was. The little man had it nice.
“Come on!” Douglas shouted in his thin little voice. “One last time! One last go-round, please! You promised!”
Joya didn’t appear to hear anything as the lab tech escorted her to the reception area. “It won’t be so bad,” she whispered into her pocket, returning to the lab. “Biolia’s got amazing nanotech for blood work and samples, it won’t hurt a bit.” The tiny old man only moaned and wept. “Okay, tell you what: after hours, when I’m cleaning this place up, I’ll let you ride around in my panties. Would that be okay?”
It would, it turned out.
[Based on a story prompt by Undersquid.]