Harley stared in amazement. “So, I guess you want me to use one of these clones as my assistant?” she said after a few minutes.
“Well,” Roper began, relaxing in his chair, “I – I mean we – thought you’d like to choose some of the final characteristics.” He pointed to the nearest stasis chamber. “This clone is almost finished baking and there’s time for you to have some input on personality and that kind of thing. You know – like, do you want him to be musical? Harry has a wonderful singing voice – he’s always singing me to sleep. Very soothing.” Roper chattered on while Harley looked to Harry for direction.
Harry motioned for her to follow him and they walked to a small console that resembled one of the fancy computerized menu machines at a fast food restaurant Harley had protested earlier in the week. On the console were several buttons, each labeled with a word or phrase.
“Sense of humor, taste in clothing, movies, books …” she read out loud. “So I can, like, program a personality into my assistant?” she asked. “If you had this technology, why didn’t you program a personality for Roper?” she added with a snort. Harry looked at her dispassionately. “Right,” Harley smirked, “Roper has a personality. Sort of.” She shifted her eyes sideways to look at Harry and, seeing his disapproving expression, sighed. “Fine,” she huffed, “let’s talk about my clone.”
Harry handed her a glossy brochure. On the front were the words “Clone-O-Matic 1000” and underneath, the slogan “Own a clone today!” Harley opened the brochure and began reading silently. She wasn’t surprised to read that the technology had been developed by Roper’s technical voles – they were quite brilliant, although very weird. What did surprise her, was that Roper had been able to keep this project a secret for what appeared to be a good long while. Normally, he blurted out whatever thought happened to bubble through his empty little head.
He was especially vocal about his fantastic ideas that eventually turned out to be the cause nearly apocalyptic disasters. For example, his fitness drink, “Roper-ize,” which was supposed to build haunch muscles and make the drinker’s coat gleam like Roper’s but instead had ended up causing voles all over The Under Dome to develop bald patches and explosive diarrhea. Or his fragrance line, “Butterscotch Musk,” a pungent, overpowering cologne that had the eyes of every citizen in the Realm watering non-stop and had almost caused an ‘incident’ with the Beaver Contingent when the stench traveled into their territory. Harley shook her head remembering Roper’s most insane and deadly invention – “The Live Wire Night Suit,” to which he’d assigned the slogan, “Never be afraid of the dark again!” The design was simple – a rechargeable battery-powered suit which would keep the wearer warm and ‘lit up’ for 12.2 hours at a time. Hundreds of those death traps had been sold. It was known still as “The Night of a Thousand Twinkles.” In that one night, the emergency room at Under Dome General Hospital had been swamped with vole and mole casualties, second and third degree burns over most of their bodies where the Christmas lights Roper had used inside the suit had melted into their tender skin. There had been a swift recall of the remaining suits, but the damage to the population’s blind faith in Roper Lee had been shaken. It had taken him months to convince the general population that it was even safe to turn on the lights in their homes.
But this, Harley, reasoned, had to do with Harry and Roper was incredibly possessive of Harry. So it was, she supposed, the main motivation for him keeping quiet. She read on, raising her eyebrows at the long list of personality traits that could be programmed into each clone. This might take a while, she thought. She finished reading and looked up to see both Harry and Roper watching her expectantly.
“Well,” Roper demanded, jumping up from his chair to prance from foot to foot. “What do you think?”
“I think, as much as it pains me to admit it, that this is a fairly brilliant idea,” she said. “I like Harry’s efficiency, his attention to detail, his ‘get it done’ attitude … I’d like to have all that in my assistant. I won’t need the constant stroking, reassurance, coddling, fetch and carry stuff – I’d like my clone to be a bit more interested in life outside Roper – I mean, me,” she added quickly, when Harry and Roper both shot her slanted looks. “I mean,” she explained, “I’d like him to want to be around me, obviously, but I don’t mind if he has outside interests of his own. Like if he wanted to join a book club or something – I wouldn’t care.”
“That’s easy,” Roper declared. “Isn’t that easy, Harry?” Harry nodded. “So, just fill out this personality questionnaire and we’ll take care of the rest.” Roper scrabbled around on a nearby desk and produced a sheet of paper, handing it over to Harley with a flourish.
“This a list of all the personality traits I want the clone to have?” Harley queried, looking over the page.
“Oh, no, no, no,” Roper tittered. “It’s a personality profile for you. This way, we just input your information and the computer comes up with the personality that best compliments you. Easy peasy pie.” He added ‘jazz paws’ to emphasize the statement. “It’s like a dating service!” he squealed.
Harley rolled her eyes. “I’m not looking for a date, Roper. I’m looking for a personal assistant. Remember that.”
“Oh, yes, I know,” he nodded soberly. “I just meant that it would be a perfect match. Like Ropeo and Harriet. Hee hee,” he giggled.
“Right,” Harley muttered. “Just get it done quickly.”
Harry handed Roper a computer printout. “Well,” Roper said, reading the page. “It looks like, if you can get the questionnaire to us sometime today, we can have your clone up and ready by tomorrow afternoon … say, 1:34-ish?”
Harley nodded. “I’ll have it back in your tiny little paw before lunch,” she said matter-of-factly. “By the way, will I have to choose a name for my clone or does it come with one?”
Roper looked at Harry, then back at Harley. “Well,” he began tentatively, “we sort of came up with a system of naming the clones. I felt,” he looked to Harry for confirmation, “it was important to recognize Harry’s contribution to this project. I mean, after all, we used his VNA to start the whole process. So, I decided that each clone should have a name that includes Harry’s name. Beyond that, you can name him whatever you want. As long as it also rhymes with Harry.” Roper said the last bit quickly and very quietly.
Harley’s ears perked up and her eyes widened. “So I have to name the clone something that rhymes with the name Harry and also includes the name Harry?”
“Yes.” Roper replied. “Other than that, it’s totally up to you.”
Harley stared at him for several minutes before speaking. “Exactly what do you propose that I name this vole, then?” she said finally, paws up, shoulders shrugging.
“Well,” Roper stammered, looking at Harry and shaking his head. “I’m sure I have absolutely no idea what you’d like to name him!” he exclaimed innocently.
“How many Harry clones are there in circulation or whatever, out there in the Under Dome?” Harley demanded. “And what are their names?”
“Um, let’s see,” Roper looked at the ceiling and tapped his chin whiskers with one small paw. “There’s my secretary, of course – you’ve met Sharry. And Larry down in the mail room. Ah, Chef Parry over at the Southside Cafe – he’s responsible for preparing all my meals, you know. Um, Jarry, Carry and Garry, on my Vole Security Team. Marry, President of the Under Dome Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Director and Tarry, my stylist, Jose’s assistant. I think that’s everyone, don’t you Harry?” Harry nodded.
Harley sighed. “So you’ve taken Sharry, Larry, Parry, Jarry, Carry, Garry, Marry and Tarry? That doesn’t leave me many names to choose from, Roper. And no offense, Harry, but it also doesn’t sound like my assistant will have much of an individual identity, no matter what I choose.” She gave another disgusted sigh.
Harry leaned close to Roper’s ear and whispered something. Roper’s expression, which had drooped during Harley’s complaint, brightened again. “That’s a wonderful suggestion, Harry!” He clapped his paws together excitedly.
“Harley!” he said confidently. “Harry and I think you should name your clone/assistant Barry! Isn’t it a beautiful name?!” he cried gleefully.
“No.” Harley said petulantly. “But it’s better than Farry or Darry, which is all I could come up with.” She shrugged again. “Fine. Barry it is. But,” she pointed a paw sternly at Roper, “I’m not calling him Barry Harry. He can be B.H.”
“Fair enough,” Roper nodded. “Harry will program his personality and bring him to your house tomorrow afternoon.” He started to get up, but sat down again when Harry looked at him intently. “Oh, yes, that’s right,” he waved his paws in front of his face. “I almost forgot, Harry.”
“Now, Harley, B.H.,” Roper carefully enunciated the name, “will have his distinct personality and all the qualities that you requested. But what he won’t have, is a place to live. Will you be furnishing him with an apartment or something, or is he going to live with you?”
Harley looked thoughtful. “I hadn’t really thought about that,” she admitted. “But I suppose it would be a good idea for him to live with me and the Buffaloes. I have a spare room at the Brownstone … Prescott and Gordy have been bugging me to turn it into a home gym.” She shuddered at the idea. “But this way,” she rubbed her paws together and smiled, “I’ll have an unbeatable excuse! I mean, who would cast a poor, tiny, orphan vole out on the street just so you could have one of those awful elliptical machines?” she put on an innocent, sweet face, then laughed wickedly.
“It’s settled, then,” Roper said, rising from his chair and making his way toward the door. “Harry and B.H. will be at your house sometime tomorrow afternoon. I’ve got a meeting so you can show yourself out, Harley.” He turned back and said over his shoulder, “And Harley, you can’t tell anyone about Project Pardner … it’s a matter of Under Dome security.” He turned and was gone.
“I guess I’d better get going, Harry,” Harley said. “I’ve got a lot to do before tomorrow – a whole room to decorate. Or maybe I should wait and let B.H. pick out his own décor?” She looked at Harry questioningly. Harry shrugged. “Yeah, you’re right. We should probably pick it out together. I’ll just make sure he’s got the necessities and we can go shopping tomorrow or the next day.” Muttering under her breath about bedding, paint colors and no evil exercise equipment, she exited the lab and made her way out of the building.