A man, Henderson James, has imported a dangerous alien–a puudly–and allowed it to escape. If it is left free, it will quickly reproduce and render the Earth uninhabitable. So, he must destroy the creature.
But he does not do this himself. Instead, he has a clone of himself created for the purpose, imprinted with his memories and the strong urge to go solve the problem. The clone, not knowing it is a clone, does this, but in the course of it the intelligent but deadly puudly informs him that he is a clone. As more of his creator's memories filter into his consciousness, he realizes that when he returns to 'his' home, he will be killed–clones are, by law, required to be exterminated as soon as their task is completed.
He returns, thinking to convince the real Henderson James to help him hide, to let him live, but when circumstances give him an opening, he pretends to be the original, and the real James is shot and killed. As the duplicate contemplates his now much greater future prospects, he receives a call from the duplication lab reassuring him that he need not worry even if the clone does not show up–they have put an incurable poison in its blood, so it is sure to be dead within the day, regardless.
The ending is very predictable–both that the clone will pretend to be the original and that he'll somehow end up doomed anyway–but the story is a little interesting. The clone hunts the puudly because, despite its intelligence, it has a primal urge to kill everything that is not a puudly, to protect its species. And the humans have instituted a policy of killing duplicates as soon as they have finished their work, doubtless out of a kind of desire for safety, too.
The clone wonders if he has not as much claim to the afterlife as any man born, for all he is a duplicate–perhaps it is not oblivion that he goes to.
Also, the clone decides that it is being created, not being destroyed that is the real wrong done to him. Being created just to fulfill a task, and discarded as easily as any machine that has outlived its usefulness.
|Clifford D. Simak