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Plot Summary/Details

This one is a real longshot, I fear. I can only recall specific details about the protagonists, with a few hazily remembered story elements to go with them. I am certain the tale was science fiction, however.

As mentioned in the title, the protagonists are a pair of conjoined twins. They are connected by an artery or several arteries flowing through a rope-like appendage between them. One is male, the other is female - that is, brother and sister.

I recall the brother being a bit more "Alpha"/aggressive in his attitudes, with the sister being a bit more levelheaded. They are young, though not children, IIRC. I'd say early 20's, though I'm not certain.

One of the ideas in the story is that in conjoined twin pairs connected like themselves, one of them is physically dominant. The idea being one of them can survive without the other, but the other can not (something along those lines). This idea becomes relevant later in the story.

I think the two are living/working in some sort of research lab, or possibly a space station. I believe the setting was near future - advanced tech, but not so far in the future as to be unrecognizable to the present day. As I said, I'm rather hazy on the story details.

There is a crisis in the facility of some sort that I cannot recall. What I do recall is that the brother and sister argue over the best course of action. It sticks in my mind the brother is trying to bully the sister into accepting his approach, but she finally stands up for herself and grasps the appendage between them. She squeezes so hard that the blood flow between them is interrupted and both begin to weaken and fight to remain conscious.

It's then we learn that the sister is the physically dominant one, as her brother collapses first and blacks out entirely. He is unharmed, though the realization for the aggressive brother that he is the weaker and dependent one in the pair leaves him shaken and raises questions about his relationship with his sister going forward.

I do not remember how the story ends, other than that they are able to resolve the crisis. I have racked my brain for weeks but cannot think of any other details other than what I've listed. I'm hoping the protagonists are memorable enough that someone can identify the story.

Publication Details/Timeframe

I read this one in a paperback science fiction magazine. I read it in the 1980s, so the publication date would be no more recent than then. I'd guess 1970's or 1980s, as I don't think the writing style would have been typical of earlier era stuff.

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"Life on the Tether", a novelette by Mark Wheeler in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1983, available at the Internet Archive. As far as the ISFDB knows, the story was never reprinted, and the author never published anything else.

The story is narrated by Maura, the female twin. It is definitely science fiction; there is futuristic stuff like autodocs, and the conjoined twins are the unintended result of a scientific experiment:

Dirac and I were the result of an experiment to breed a genius. Genetic researchers designed us—well, one of us, anyway. When the egg was implanted into Helen, the host mother, it divided by some fluke, and then there were two of us. They almost aborted us and started again, being unsure of how the splitting process might affect their carefully laid plans, but the prospect of creating twin geniuses was something Campbell and Pele couldn't turn down. So the two embryos matured side by side in the womb. It wasn't until shortly before they wee due to be born that analysis showed certain irregularities. The effects of these flaws—we've been told they were caused by irregular splitting of the cell—was such that neither child would survive long once born. Further investigation suggested that the flaws were different in each of us, and in fact dovetailed, and that, as a single organism, we might be able to function normally. So they dug us out by Caesarean, and when we were strong enough they performed extensive surgery and linked us via the umbilical. The hairline scars that crisscrossed our bodies were virtually invisible after twenty-two years.

I think the two are living/working in some sort of research lab, or possibly a space station.

Nothing like that. The boy is a musician, the girl a mathematician:

Dirac was a natural musician. And 1 had achieved recognition at fifteen for solving—rather proving—Fermat's Last Theorem, which had been puzzling mathematicians for quite some time. It was annoying to think that the Nobel had gone to Campbell and Pele for making us possible.

There is a crisis in the facility of some sort that I cannot recall. What I do recall is that the brother and sister argue over the best course of action.

The crisis is revealed in the first line of the story:

We're going to have a baby, Dirac and me.

The autodoc came back with the sad news today during our weekly checkup. It whirred and chugged and the probe withdrew from my side, snaking away into its sterile sheath, and the printout came up on the screen. It was enough to take my breath away. Dirac had tears in his eyes. Up till that moment it had been a usual morning, with us laughing and joking over breakfast and on our way up there to the room next to the bathroom where we stored the autodoc, but now a heavy weight had descended, like a thick and veiling cloud over our thoughts. I reached out to touch his cheek reassuringly with a finger, but he gently stopped me and our eyes locked for a few seconds. We learned to read each other's thoughts pretty well over the years, and I can tell you that we hurt.

"We should have been sterilized," Dirac said after an awful silence, one of the longest I've endured since childhood, when we would sit naked watching each other for hours, not touching, but exploring with warm gazes. Now his words rung out like a tenor bell across the canyon, ringing out the absolute truth: we should have been sterilized, long ago. But everyone thought we could be trusted.

She squeezes so hard that the blood flow between them is interrupted and both begin to weaken and fight to remain conscious. It's then we learn that the sister is the physically dominant one, as her brother collapses first and blacks out entirely.

That was in a childhood fight, when they were nine or ten:

"I'm going to kill you," I screamed. On impulse I grabbed at the gray umbilical which was writhing around us in the water and squeezed it with all the might in my young arms. In a few short seconds Dirac stopped struggling, and even through the water that swilled over him I could see the terror in his face. He began to wail at me to let go.

"You'll kill us both, idiot. Oh, let go, Maura, please. I'm sorry," he yelled as hard as he could with me sitting on him.

"I don't care. You'll die before me, and then I'll let go and stay alive and be able to live alone like normal people and have my own friends in a big school. I hate you Dirac, and I hate being attached to you all the time."

Then Dirac couldn't speak, partly because of the water washing over his face as he struggled for air, but mostly because of my grip on the umbilical. I felt a little dizzy myself, but the effect it was having on my brother was quite astonishing. His normally apple red cheeks paled almost instantly and bloated vulgarly, and his eyes took on an odd stare. He seemed to be having difficulty moving.

My anger dissolved into fear, and finally I let go of the cord and got to my feet to stand on the mud and shingle shore waiting, hoping he'd recover quickly. In a few minutes he was able to stand. He began to cry pathetically, with his arms draped at his sides like a rag doll with starched legs. Somehow that made everything all right.

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    Fascinating. I was taking F&SF then but I don't remember the story at all. Nice answer. – Organic Marble Jun 22 at 12:01
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    "in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1983 [...] the story was never reprinted, and the author never published anything else." - is this the most obscure ID you've ever answered? :-) – Rand al'Thor Jun 22 at 12:19
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    Outstanding answer! – Helbent IV Jun 22 at 15:15
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    @HelbentIV — The memory of the space station might come from 3001: Final Odyssey (1997), by Arthur C. Clarke. A pair of women, conjoined in the manner you describe, are involved in the rescue and resuscitation of an astronaut lost in space. – Gaultheria Jun 23 at 0:30
  • @user14111 Sorry, I misspoke previously. It's definitely the story I read. My apologies. I'm just trying to figure out why I thought there was a space station or research lab involved. – Helbent IV Jun 24 at 14:02

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