Lamar's words profoundly shock him, echo in his mind long after the shuttle returns to earth. Somehow, he had always thought of this life, his new life, as a temporary measure. After he came back, after he had proved himself, he would tell the truth. People would know that an Invalid could reach the heights, do anything he wanted if he only had the will.
It's only now he realizes the cost of this fantasy. Currently, even though the authorities know about the borrowed ladder program, they have no idea of how successful it actually is. They quite regularly arrest de-generates, those who are not sufficiently skilled or careful or lucky. But the ones who are caught are always low-profile cases, not prestigious enough to suggest that such criminals can actually be effective. So the program is not a real threat to the perfection of society; while it is obviously illegal it is not worth much effort to stamp out.
But Jerome Morrow is at the top of the pile. He is one of the most successful people in the country's most esteemed program. His existence is an abomination.
If anyone finds out about Jerome Morrow, there will be no more borrowed ladders. There will be blood from the vein, searches in the home, international registration. All hope will be gone. Jerome is not naïve enough to think that he would be doing Lamar Jr. or anyone else a favour. All he would gain would be an illusion of honesty, a futile quest for absolution that would never come. Cold comfort to take to a life sentence in jail.
And, really, if he is to be honest, does he actually want to be himself again? An image of Vincent, unsophisticated Vincent with his crooked teeth and spiky hair, rises up in his mind. Who wouldn't want to be Jerome Well-born instead, blessed with everything possible? Who would he rather people see when they meet him? What was so special about Vincent anyway?
He thinks about Irene, beauty with a mind coiled up on itself desperately. He knows that she lied when she discarded the hair. The truth is that she does not really want to know him. She still wants to think of him as perfect Jerome, and she knows that he is so good a fake that the awareness of his true deficiency will rarely intrude. His dual identity gives her both comfort and a continued sense of superiority. She still calls him Jerome; she says it is to be careful, but he dare not forget that Vincent had little place in their life together. For Irene, everything is composure, appearance.
His heart becomes agitated, and he knows that he is dying. Slowly. Maybe not this year, but soon. He will never dye Eugene's hairs grey, never have to worry about his hands shaking with old age over the keyboard.
Irene again. Will they marry? Will they have children? And again, Jerome knows that, for all his preaching, he would want his son to have Anton's life and not his own. He will choose the best for his children, would never want them to suffer as he did. Their dreams will be open.
Of course, it doesn't really matter. They won't be his children anyway. Vincent Freeman has been registered on national records as dead, drowned in the ocean two nights before the Titan launch, death confirmed by Anton Freeman. There is no way back; Jerome must remain Jerome if he wishes to be anybody at all. The only seed that Irene will carry is carefully stored in the freezer.
Jerome doesn't believe in a world after this one. But he feels a growing sadness as his inferior body weakens, takes its natural course, and he wishes he might live on as Eugene does, in another. He has often wondered why, with all the focus on genetic enhancement, there is still such an emphasis on using the parents' genes as a starting point; after all, in some cases, the base fabric will have to be altered beyond all sense. Now he understands the longing for continuity, wishes that he had anything of his own to pass on. He will likely never see his children live to adulthood, and their veins will flow with the blood of a British drunk. Ultimately, he is a vessel, a carrier to move around prime genetic material that was not worth wasting.
Several years later, his cardiac disturbance has become too marked to miss. He is sinking into despair, the sight of the lean, strong bodies and blonde hair of his sons a constant irritation. He feels useless, trapped.
He so often hears the voice of his other self in his mind, words of a man long dead, talking of pride and dreams and perfection. But the words that come to him as he watches the boys play have never haunted him before.
And, he thinks, why not? It is possible, no crazier than his whole life is. This could work, he could teach someone. This will be his continuance, long after Irene arranges to have his impure ashes incinerated under a false name. His heart tells him that the day would come soon; he has no time to waste. He reaches for the phone.
A few months later, a man applies to work at the Australian Aerospace Academy. His urine reveals him to be Jerome Morrow, a genetic masterpiece. He is accepted instantly.
Nobody stops to ponder why Jerome, a man in his forties, is aging so gracefully that he appears to be a boy of eighteen. Who would dare to question such a man? After all, a good genome is ageless, Jerome could live forever.
Later that night when Jerome Morrow is alone, Thomas Lamar whispers a prayer of thanks for the soul of Vincent Freeman, hoping he has found peace in the heavens they both love.