The Sixteen Choices of Bridget Moran
The Bridget Morans have come to vote on their deaths. They have gathered from the far cities to which their mother flung them at their genesis, gathered to meet in rooms of worn, lace-covered armchairs and tables of cheese and plastic cups half-filled with non-alcoholic champagne. They will have three days together, after which a tired-sounding, pre-recorded announcement will sound through the conduits, sink into plush pillows, fall into bowed couches, and summon them to the Chamber of Voices to cast their votes. One vote each, for one survivor who will turn 18 the next day. One vote for one future that cannot be their own.
Their mother only wanted the best for Bridget. Wanted her to have as many chances at greatness as possible. One duplicated egg, sixteen different baskets. Their mother was adamant. Their father loved their mother and nodded far too much for his own good. And so he somehow found himself sitting on the couch in front of the holo-phone next to his wife every June 18th as each of his daughter’s sixteen versions called in from her boarding school to hear “Happy Birthday!” and “How are classes?” and “Tommy is fine. He’s at summer camp, like last year. Yes, we’ll tell him you called.” Sometimes, the Bridget Moran’s father felt angry at having his daughter taken from him, but then he remembered little Tommy, whom he had tricked his wife into conceiving, and felt molified. Content even, some days.
The Bridget Morans hardly ever felt content with their lot. They had reacted quite discontentedly on their 12th birthday when their mother had informed them via the holo-call that each was perhaps not as unique as they had been told in primary school, that each had 15 clones scattered at various schools throughout the country, that only one of them could be the best.
· Bridget.Odessa wanted desperately to meet her sisters and wrote each of them a letter a week for eight months before realizing that her mother would never deliver the letters.
· Bridget.Tipan refused to speak the rest of the holo-call. She traded glares with her mother until her father’s apologies withered away and he sighed and hung up the call.
· Bridget.Hanksboro refused to believe them and was not convinced until the Hanksboro City Council summoned her to get her variant’s identification tattoo on her neck.
· Bridget.Melbourne cried herself to sleep that night and never cried again.
* * *
The day before traveling to the Chamber of Voices, the Bridget Morans each struggled to cope with the future—or the lack thereof—before them.
· Bridget.Clairview made an appointment with a tattoo artist and got a colon—two bold dots—painted in the crook of her left arm, a sort of plea to the god of odds and ratios.
· Bridget.Slater sat and cried awkwardly in the office of her logic professor, who was the closest thing to a friend she had in the world.
· Bridget.Boon took a dangling necklace from her lover’s hand, smiled, and wore it for the rest of her life.
· Bridget.Newark carved her name and a secret sentence into the underside of a table in the university library.
· Bridget.Melbourne stayed up all night clutching a candle, praying that her other selves would like her.
* * *
When they meet, they are faced with themselves. Identical fingers pull slips of paper holding conversation starters from chipped porcelain bowls painted with picnicking robots. Identical eyes meet under the cheap distraction of forced laughter, a synchronized chorus. They have three days to discover each other and decide which variant has the greatest chance at leading a productive life. Every evening in the Mingling Hall they study each other.
· Bridget.Odessa nods almost as much as her father at people who speak to her.
· Bridget.Washington asks questions about everything so she’ll have to talk as little as possible.
· Bridget.Hanksboro eats as much as she can from the buffet, preferring cheese cubes and deli spirals to oppressive conversation.
· Bridget.Sycamore won’t talk to anyone for longer than 5 minutes at a time so she can pretend they’re all just acquaintances.
· Bridget.Tipan keeps such strong eye contact with the others that she doesn’t notice her glass is leaking grape juice on her skirt.
Secretly, each of them wonders who is the original and who are the clones. Even their mother does not know, although she has her own opinion. She sometimes shakes her head in disbelief at how different her daughter’s variants turned out. Shakes her head and wonders how they might have turned out if she had chosen different cities, different nurseries, different grammar schools. Shakes her head and wonders if she ever really knew the twelve young women she survived on her own 18th birthday so many years ago, if she even really knows her daughters.
· Bridget.Dockside has messy braids and strong calves from running to class as the bells are tolling the hour.
· Bridget.Yukon keeps pens in the rolled up sleeve of her school uniform and cocks her head whenever she hears something funny.
· Bridget.Washington has a slight lisp and holds her arms straight at her sides when she walks.
· Bridget.Oakenridge wears makeup to cover her identification tattoo and low cut tops to flaunt it.
* * *
During the defenses, the girls sit anxiously in the auditorium that can seat hundreds. It has been completely filled in past defenses, but now there are at least four empty seats between every girl.
· Bridget.Pointsville plays Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonata No. 2 on her thighs to keep herself calm.
· Bridget.Newark absentmindedly rubs the pottery callouses on the palms of her hands.
· Bridget.Yukon rehearses her own defense in the pauses between defender’s words, marking what she will and won’t do that she sees in the others.
· Bridget.Oakenridge leans forward intently, weighing each of the variants, blinking deliberately.
· Bridget.Slater hasn’t slept for more than 10 minutes at a time in four nights and so holds her feet up off the ground and dreams of coffee to keep herself awake.
· Bridget.Dockside takes notes on the digital desktop attached to her chair, intending to review them in her room each night, although she never does.
One by one, each stands to defend her life.
· Bridget.Wuppertal lists her GPA, scholarships, fellowships, patents, and papers in the field of genetic manipulation.
· Bridget.Odessa begs and pleads and cries and reads a poem about whiskers she has written that is actually quite spectacular.
· Bridget.Clairview rails about injustice in the rural districts and her plans for reform.
· Bridget.Pointsville plays a soulful song on the piano that she has written, then stands and claims the rest of the suite exists in her head alone and she will pen the notes the day she turns 18.
· Bridget.Rockport talks about Tommy’s sweet smile that her death would shatter, and none of the others are quite sure if she is telling the truth about having talked to him before.
On the evening of the third day, the day before Bridget Moran’s 18th birthday, there is no mingling. There are just the desktops in the auditorium, showing a photo of each of the sixteen Bridget Morans with minimal identification information.
· Bridget.Clairview takes less than a minute to vote, then folds up her desktop loudly and walks from the auditorium.
· Bridget.Oakenridge changes her answer at least a dozen times, and waits until the girl she selects has left the room to make her decision final.
· Bridget.Sycamore clicks on her own picture again and again as she thinks, secretly hoping the program will bug out and she’ll be able to save herself.
· Every Bridget Moran wonders if anyone voted for her.
After the voting, the Bridget Morans are each allowed to make a single holo-recording for their family. Their mother will think she understands why each and every one of the Bridget Morans mentions Tommy—curiosity, obviously, the brother they were never allowed to know. But really they will speak in an effort—subconscious or not—to extrapolate from the one and only Tommy the one Bridget Moran that was never allowed to be.
* * *
Although the Bridget Morans have voted, they won’t be told which one of them is now the one and only legal Bridget Moran. They will be directed from the Chamber of Voices to the passage rooms, where they will be met with silence and a sterile injection.
· Bridget.Clairview will insist the doctor use the vein between the colon dots on her left arm and wink at the gods of probability.
· Bridget.Wuppertal will faint before the needle even touches her skin.
· Bridget.Rockport will grab the needle from the doctor and expertly inject herself before he can stop her.
· Bridget.Boon will close her eyes, cling to her necklace, and think of warm nights and strong shoulders.
· Bridget.Melbourne will still be praying, and the candle in her shaking hands will leave wax tears on the marble floor.
* * *
Bridget Moran will wake up in her quarters the next morning and find herself 18 years old. The rest of them won't.