“Next!” the portly woman’s shout echoed in the half-empty room.
The eyes of the waiting customers watched with envy as a scruffy looking man slowly stood up. He approached the counter pulling a rope. At the other end of the rope was a collar tied around the neck of a sheep.
“Have you filled the forms?” she asked, wrinkling her nose. She wasn’t quite sure if the stench came from the man or the animal. Probably both.
He nodded and placed a stack of papers on the counter.
“My name is Laverne. How can I help you, sir?”
The man opened his mouth, coughed a couple of times, and pointed to his throat.
“Lost your voice? Must be that nasty bug going around.”
The man nodded, smiling.
“Let me see…” the woman said, reading the first sheet. “Returning a Turin Clonator 3500.”
She scanned more pages. “Name, address… All seems in order. Bought eight days ago, well within the warranty. What seems to be the problem, Mr…”
Laverne reached back to the first page. “…Carmichael?”
The man unceremoniously kicked the sheep that reacted with a low “Mooooooooooo.”
“I see,” the woman said. “How long ago did you clone the animal? It can take some time for such a large product to stabilize.”
The man raised three fingers.
He shook his head.
“Then it’s definitely the final product. Do you have the device with you?”
Carmichael took a small plastic gun out of one of the pockets of his large cloak and placed it on the counter.
Laverne examined it for a few seconds. “Everything seems ok, I’m going to have to test it. There should be enough charge left in it.”
She raised her large figure from the chair and walked to a wall cabinet. Inside, was a cage with dozens of small white mice. She took one out and dropped it in a tray.
The animal showed its disapproval with a piercing squeak.
Laverne grabbed a pair of oversized sunglasses laying next to the tray and put them on. She pointed the Clonator at the mouse, trying to climb over the slippery border of the tray without success, and pulled the trigger. A yellow ray hit the animal, followed by a bright flash. Another mouse had materialized next to it and was now sniffing the air with curiosity.
Laverne took off the sunglasses, reached for the new rodent, grabbed it and squeezed.
“Neeeigh, neeeigh,” came out of its tiny mouth.
Laverne sighed and dropped the brand-new mouse in a bin at her feet. She stepped on a pedal and a grinding sound ended the animal’s very brief existence. She then took the first mouse and put it back in the cage.
“Well, Mr. Carmichael,” she said climbing back on her chair, “it looks like we sold you a defective unit. You’re entitled to a replacement.”
The man shook his head vigorously.
“Ok… Then you can have a full refund,” Laverne continued, “but I’ll need your credit card to reverse the transaction.”
The man pounded his fist on the counter, snapping the other waiting customers out of their boredom, and pointed to the sheep.
“Yes, we will take care of disposing of the defective animal, just leave it at the entrance with one of the guards.”
The man’s face was now red in frustration. He reached for a pen and wrote with wide gestures on one of the sheets. He shoved it into Laverne’s face: FIX THE SHEEP.
Laverne looked confused. Carmichael wrote BAA BAA on another form and tried to pin it on the frightened animal.
“Sir, I don’t think that’s even possible,” she replied. “Once the clone has stabilized, it can’t be changed. It’s just easier to make a new one with a proper, functioning unit.”
The man started jumping up and down in anger.
“Sir! I realize that you may have become attached to the animal in the last three days, but your options are a replacement or a full refund. What’s it going to be?”
Carmichael grabbed his head in desperation, then looked up to Laverne and opened his mouth.
“Quack, quack, quack! Quack! Quack!” was all that came out.
Laverne’s jaws dropped, as her eyes almost popped out of her head. Similar expressions appeared on the face of the customers in earshot.
Carmichael took another sheet of paper, scribbled on it and showed it to her. It said: FIX ME!!!
Laverne snapped out of her stupor, reached under the counter for a gun and pointed it at him. Gasps of fear filled the room, followed by shuffling of feet looking for cover.
“Quack?” Carmichael blurted in fear, then turned to run away.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Three bullets hit him in the back, and he fell to the ground, dead. The sheep ran away mooing, swerving among the people ducking out of the way.
Laverne exhaled, tracked the animal’s erratic path with the barrel of the gun and shot one more time. The sheep’s brain showered a young mother, hiding behind a chair holding two identical children in her arms.
As Laverne put the gun away, a security guard runs into the room waving his own weapon. “What the hell happened?”
“Of course you show your ugly face when it’s all over,” she replied with a grin. “Another case of illegal human cloning.”
Laverne reached one of the forms still on the counter and handed it to him.
“Make yourself useful, send the police to the client’s address,” she added and nodded to the body. “If his clone didn’t kill him, his ass belongs in jail.”
Marco Cultrera was born in Rome, Italy, and lives in Ottawa, Canada. After a start as a theoretical physicist, he built a decade-long career as a video-game writer, creative director, and game designer, before becoming the stay-at-home dad of three daughters and, more recently, two cats.