As if life wasn’t complic8ed enough, Zander doubled his DNA.
My name is Alexander Unger-Avakian.
Just before my lover’s birthday I woke up to my usual newsfeed on the hypernet. It’s always set to BBC© in the morning because any news corp that’s been oper8ing for about 200 years must be the news corp. More turmoil in the Middle East, it said.
That reminded me: I recently viewed some old 2D-TV news reports by the BBC© from the early 21st century. The word turmoil was overused back then too. But already I digress.
Turmoil on the global markets, the journobot said. Ongoing turmoil in the World Fed General Assembly. Increased turmoil in the Caucasus. More refugees fleeing what’s left of Japan after the l8est volcanoes and earthquakes. More bits of Asia-Pacifica sinking into the sea.
So business as usual.
8V was already up and about. She was my lover. Her real name was Octaviana Threadgill-Rios, but I always called her 8V. You know, Oct = 8 and all that. She didn’t seem to mind
Over breakfast I mentioned her upcoming birthday. Would she like me to fess what kind of gift I was planning? Or would she prefer a total surprise?
“No,” 8V said, looking up from her wrist-o-com. “No, my sweet. I know exactement what I want for my birthday. Another you!”
“Ah, how très gentille,” I purred. “One of me for the daytime and one of me for the night. What a perfect arrangement. You could …”
“No, I’m serious,” she said with unusual force. “I really want another you. A corp in Kandy has this 24-hour FCC service. Not too expensive either, if you spread the payments over a year.”
“FCC? Isn’t that some kind of friend-finding service? Friendship Contact Coordination or something? And why do you need a Sri Lankan corp to find new friends? Or any corp?”
“You’re way out of touch, Zander! I’m not talking about pal-popping. FCC means Full Condition Cloning. In 24 hours you get a clone of yourself with all your up-to-d8 memories and everything else built in. It has a 365-day lifespan, so you’re not stuck with it forever, only for a year. Très cool, n’est-ce pas?”
It was like she’d just tanked my brain. “You mean you want me to pay for a clone of myself and then have the thing live right here? With us?”
“Only for a year, like I said.”
“But … but … here, 8V. Right here in our own hab? And in our futon?”
“That’s the idea, oui. And it’s just for a year, like I said. Not forever. Anyway, I have to sprint or I’ll miss my subshuttle. We’ll talk about it tonight. Let’s open that bottle of Swedish Chardonnay and parler some more. Bise bise!”
So that’s how it started.
Let me tell you about 8V. If the custom of burying people in coffins still existed, hers would have to be Y-shaped. She has a take-no-prisoners attitude to the m8ing game, like some medieval pope’s mistress. When she finally became my lover and shared my hab I already knew that only-you-sex would not be a part of her kick. But I was happy to have access to her most of the time. My main fix was to keep her satisfied. And I thought I did.
But now this?
Over the Swedish Chardonnay that night I came str8 out with it. “You think I can’t satisfy you, do you? So you want a clone of me. To shag instead of me. While I’m hard …” She giggled suggestively. “While I’m hard at work in the Lang Lab.”
“Zander, think about what you’re saying. You make it sound like I’d be ‘shagging’ – what a cute oldy-fashioned word, by the way – somebody else. But it would be … well … you, wouldn’t it? I mean, the clone would be you, right?” She’d stopped off at the gen-mod salon on the way home and her irises were purple that night. She knew about me and purple eyes. All part of her plan.
She looked at me with a lingering gaze. Those purple eyes!
“If anything, Zander, you should take my wish like un compliment!”
“But,” I said, “you’d get 2ce as much of ‘me’ but I’d only get ½ as much of you!” This was a kiddish thing to say. But I was stressed, and the wine wasn’t helping.
“Now now, Zander, don’t look at it comme ça.” 8V toyed with the stem of her wineglass with a vague sexual spin. “Actually, I should fess up. That Conrad Polyakov-Huang at the Clinic wants to ‘shag’ me. He told me so himself, although he didn’t use that word. I just said I’d think about it. Ha! But actually that’s what gave me this idée. That Conrad looks a little like you, you know. Mais, I prefer my Zander. So now I can have 2 of you. And my birthday’s coming, right? So say oui! Say oui, my sweet!”
Of course I said oui. I had the gravest misgivings. But those purple eyes! And now that Conrad Polyakov-Huang was sniffing around. And, well, it was only for a year, like she said. Then the clone would be defunctioned and she’d get all this out of her orbit and we could get on with our lives.
That night in the futon 8V did The Special Thing that I liked by way of gratitude and the next day I left for work feeling remarkably good. All morning in the Lang Lab I buried myself in my research on pronomial transformations in some dead or as-good-as-dead Himalayan dialects. Maybe only 20 or 30 people in the world would ever want to read it. 20 or 30 out of 15 billion isn’t bad, I thought. Anyway, comparative linguistics isn’t what it used to be. Most things aren’t these days. So I reminded myself how lucky I was to get paid for something I love to do anyway.
During lunch I TELed my Gr8 Uncle Cody to set a meeting. He was over 100 years old and could – when his mood was right – dispense the wisdom of age. But 1st you had to let him vent about life in our early 22nd century.
After work we met for ginger tea at his hab. He preferred a solo hab, without a homebot, and his 98th-floor hab was spacious to the max. Not for the 1st time I wondered whether it would eventually be mine. Or be ours if 8V stayed in my life.
Gr8 Uncle Cody was old enough to remember when people still played golf outdoors and had their own houses with outdoor grass patches (lawns, they called them) and used money made of paper and metal (he gave me some coins when I was a kid). The population was a lot less than now, of course. Hence his usual rant about how there were waaaay too many people (but he was anti compulsory defunctioning for the over-100’s) and how this old world was on its last legs and how everybody now is stupid and shallow and we’re all greedbots and how the weather was crazier than ever.
I let him vent. Then I cut to the link:
“Unc, my Octaviana’s birthday’s coming. I have to get her a present. She wants to go to Sri Lanka…”
“Why on earth Sri Lanka? It rains nonstop and it’s sinking into the sea, right?”
“It won’t sink for a while yet, Unc. And it doesn’t rain nonstop. Anyway, there’s this corp in Kandy that makes adult clones. My Octaviana wants me to clone myself so we can come back here and live as 3. She wants 2 of me all to herself. You understand what that means, right?”
Old Uncle Cody activ8d the windows and stared at the massive hab towers and corp towers. Had the old boy even heard me? Or was he still thinking about ‘the good old days’?
“Ha! That Octaviana. She really loves to do the juicy, am I right? I haven’t met her, have I? What about those others? With the cheek bones?”
“That Sybil Zirakashvili-Romanescu, you mean? Or that Fabia Terreblanche-Miyamoto? Don’t you remember, Unc? They’re long gone. But what about Sri Lanka, Unc? I’ve already said yes and we leave soon. Is this a huge mistake?”
Old Cody sighed. “Well, I never was big on cloning people. Too much can go wrong. Sure, clone ginger and all the plants and animals for food. Clone spare body parts till you’re blue in the face. Clone away, I say. But whole people? That’s waaay different. Recreational cloning is what it is. And I’m anti it. Anyway, it’s illegal.”
“Not in Sri Lanka, Unc. And not if the clone’s only temporary. Ours will be kaput after a year. That’s the main selling point. It lives for 365 days and then it’s auto-defunctioned.”
Gr8 Uncle Cody sipped his ginger tea in silence.
“So your Octaviana wants 2 Zanders to play with? Both in the same hab, and both in the same futon. That’ll …”
“No, Unc” I said. “Not in the futon at the same time. I’m adamant about that.”
“Adamant. Now, there’s ay word I haven’t heard in ages!”
Gr8 Uncle Cody had that old-fashioned custom of sometimes pronouncing the indefinite article like the 1st letter of the alphabet. I like to speak “old-fashioned” myself, but I’m anti that particular speech-habit. He went quiet for a moment and then re-activ8ed the windows and looked out. Maybe watching the mess outside gave him comfort, as if the exterior chaos confirmed the orderliness of his own life.
“Well,” he said, “this whole thing’s going to be messy. Ay real mess. I feel it in my bones. And I confidently predict you and the clone will lead lives of higher than average stress. Yeah. The clone’s going to resent you as much as you resent it. You’ll be at each other’s throats!”
What else was new?
“And will the clone know it has only 365 days to live?” old Cody asked.
“No,” I replied. “If it knew that then it would get all rebellious, wouldn’t it?”
“True. True. And it’s ay full adult version with all your memories and habits and everything else that makes you you, right?”
“That’s the promise.”
“And you’re putting yourself through all this for ay woman? She must be some woman. When can I meet her?”
“True. Some woman. We’ll drop by for ginger tea when we’re back from Kandy. But just the 2 of us, without the clone. That thing will stay permanently locked up in the hab, if I have my way. No outside privileges. We can’t have 2 of me running around in public simultaneously, right?”
“True. True.” A brief silence followed.
Old Cody looked up and said, “Is that Octaviana paying for any of the clone’s upkeep? It has to eat while it still breathes.”
This was true. In all this blather I hadn’t even considered that aspect: paying to maintain something I didn’t even want. And now I recalled there was vague talk of budget cuts at the Lang Lab, meaning salary cuts. Or worse.
“Not as far as I know, Unc.”
“Not as far as I know, Unc? What kind of a shit answer is that? Either she is or she isn’t.”
For a minute he contempl8d the mess outside. Then he slapped his thighs.
“Well, here’s what I think. You should go ahead with it. Maybe I’m stupid and shallow like everybody else these days. But she must be worth it if she really does the juicy like her butt’s on fire. In that case she’s worth all the stress and expense. The temporary stress and the temporary expense.”
“O.K. Thanks, Unc, I really apppreci8 your input.”
“But w8, I’m not finished yet. With that clone there’s ay simple way you can cut the stress and the expense, you know.”
“How, Unc? Keep it ½-starved and sed8d?”
I should tell you Gr8 Uncle Cody used to work in law enforcement. He was in Homicide. A top detective, too, when he retired. The Cody Koslovich-Unger Tower bears his name. That’s how highly his anti-crime corp thought of Gr8 Uncle Cody.
But our family knew he was a dirty cop.
We’ll never get the whole story. But while he worked in homicide lots of people were incarcer8d or walked away free because he tampered with evidence or perjured himself. He was some cop. So with all the enemies he must have accumul8d how come he hadn’t become a pile of ashes before I was even born? Maybe he had powerful protectors. My Gr8 Aunt Maddy (that Madison Haralambopoulos-De Waal) must have known, but she took her secrets to the urn.
Anyway, I was brought up never to raise this subject. But now he sort of raised it himself.
“Zander, sometimes you’re as thick as pig shit!”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you can be ay real idiot sometimes. Listen now. The clone’s definitely going to complic8 your life, but it’s a necessary complication if you’re going keep your Octaviana.”
“True. But Unc, I’ve been meaning to tell you: in our hab I always call her 8V.”
“I … er … Really? Remind me to ask you why sometime. Now, what was I saying?”
“A necessary complication.”
“True. When you get cloned you’re supposed to live with that Alexander Unger-Avakian #2 for a whole year. But why do you have to wait that long? After all, unforeseen developments are bound to happen, right? Untimely deaths happen all the time.”
“True,” I said. “True. But I don’t quite see what …”
Old Cody cocked his head and said, “Zander, I know some people. Not the kind of people you’d usually mix with. But people all the same. Anyway, they’re all just a TEL away. They owe me for past … assistance.”
Now I got it.
“People? You mean murderers? Assassins? Criminal elements?”
“Let’s not go into unnecessary detail. But they really know their business.” Old Cody ½-smiled, as if remembering a secret pleasure. “I mean, these indivs can make a death look like ay tragic accident. Or like a suicide, if that’s your pref.”
My brain, slow though it might sometimes be, was now on rocket fuel.
“Suicide? You have an interesting idea there, Unc. But what’s the price?”
“That’s the thing. That’s what I’ve been telling you. These indivs owe me. They’re in my debt. It won’t cost you ay single cred. It’s a gift from an older Unger to a younger Unger.”
Here was the solution. With the clone’s untimely death assured, I could keep my promise (and hopefully keep my 8V) while ridding myself of the clone before it sucked all my creds and wrecked my life. And it would cost no more than the clone itself and the trip to Sri Lanka (2 round-trips and a 1-way).
“Unc, you’re a genius. It’ll definitely work. I’ll see to it that the clone sinks into something resembling depression. Then that 8V will definitely get why it was driven to ‘suicide’ so soon. Stuck in our little hab 24-7. Enduring all that isolation. Dealing with all her mood swings. No independence. All that would drive anybody out of orbit. I almost feel sorry for its untimely demise.”
“I knew you’d like my little gift,” he said.
I smiled. “Gift in German means poison. Did you know that?”
Old Cody made the that’s-news-to-me sign and then stood up with extraordinary speed. Heaven’s g8! I thought. His biofibe hips and knees let the old boy move better than me!
“But before you get too excited, listen again,” he warned. “I know how you think, Zander. You’re full plus about this plan now, but you’re so hyper-analytical that soon you’ll start having doubts. Moral doubts. They’re crap. Forget them. We’re not discussing murder. We’re dealing with ay clone, not a human. It’s not the same, right?”
“The World Fed’s still deb8ing that. But I agree it’s not the same,” I said.
“Good. Then hold that thought. And TEL me when you’re back from … er …”
“Sri Lanka,” he said. “And intro me to that 8V.”
I left his hab, subshuttled home and ordered Sri Lankan food for dinner. 8V asked me what old Uncle Cody and I talked about.
“Oh, nothing much,” I said. “We just chatted. He complained about le monde moderne again. He said it’s like an ant colony.”
She stopped chewing and asked, “What on earth is an ‘ant colony’?”
Sri Lanka was hot and it did rain nonstop. 45,000,000 people jammed together didn’t improve things either.
Surrounded by lawyers, we signed waivers and agreements, contracts and declarations. Next came a mountain of immigration documents. The clone would get a 1-year visa (how exact!) and needed 2 guarantors. A Sri Lankan orderly kept us company while we w8ed until the last document was in the bag.
“Beaucoup de customers, recently?” I asked, just to make conversation.
“I mean, do you have a lot of customers?”
“Sir, not like your good self, sir. We are having oh so many of Short Clone Service customers. Not so many of FCC-single-year customers, sir.”
“What’s Short Clone Service?”
“Sir, it is for customers who are having clones of themselves for only 24 hours, sir. Or 48 hours. Yes, sir. They then proceed to have all kinds of … physical relations with their clones, sir. It is becoming quite popular now, sir. And madame.”
8V had mentioned something about this on the sub-orb flight. People frantically shag their own clones for a day or 2. Or some people just savagely beat and torture them. You usually do that on your shrink’s recommendation. But some shag their own clones just for the kick. It’s a heightened form of ‘bation.
Self-sexing wasn’t something I’d consider for myself. I’m so very conventional about these things. 8V opined my negitude (‘negative attitude’) was further proof of my unique oldy-fashionedness. She said this oldy-fashionedness, combined with the ‘oldy-worldy’ way I speak, absolutely proves I was born in the wrong century.
After they took my DNA and we’d signed the last whatever-it-was, we had to w8 the full 24 hours. No shortcuts, they said. We spent a sullen night. The heat and the pounding rain and our tempo-hab’s primitive envirocon really tanked 8V. I had the jeebies about meeting this thing the next day – a thing meant to look, sound, move and even smell like me. How was I supposed to act with it? Were we supposed to shake hands? How would 8V address each of us? And was its name Zander too?
It turned out the clone had a large C tattooed on its head. They’d forgotten to mention that, but anyway the problem of distinguishing the copy from the original solved itself. 3 corp minders brought it out, checked my I.D., had me “confirm acceptance of purchased item” and walked away. The clone and I sized each other up. 8V was the 1st to break the awkward silence, saying – pretty much as you’d expect – “Oh, my sweet, it looks exactement like you!”
Then the clone cleared his throat and spoke for the 1st time. “W8! He looks exactement like you. Not it. I’m a man, not a thing. Henceforth, 8V, you will kindly oblige me by keeping that particular detail firmly in mind.“
“It even talks oldy-fashioned, just like you, Zander!” Which was exactly the way it was supposed to talk. The clone was like me in every single respect. The thought occurred to me: Trust 8V to st8 the perfectly obvious as if it were a revelation to us all.
“My sentiments exactly,” said a voice in my head.
Was that my voice?
We spent the night in Kandy. Neither of us liked the place, but 8V was keen to – as she put it – get acquainted with the l8est member of our habhold. So I took a different tempo-hab while she shagged his brains out.
Strange. I was in a completely different tower the whole time, but it actually felt like I was in the room with her – with them – all night. I tasted her juices with my mind’s mouth and heard her pleasure moans with my mind’s ears and experienced The Special Thing with all my mind’s senses. Strange.
The shagging was frantic, fierce and suffused with – what’s the word? – hostility. Yes, hostility. It was like the clone urgently needed to vent h8red. And it made me feel strangely liber8d. I couldn’t say why. Yet I was sure this synchrotude wasn’t a mere memory trick or the product of an overactive imagination. But was it temporary?
Anyway, in the morning I felt remarkably good. 8V and I had arranged to meet for breakfast at her tempo-hab’s cafe (the clone had room-service). After the usual morning pleasantries I cut to the link.
“Alors, how was last night’s getting-to-know-you session with the clone?” I asked, pretending I didn’t already know. “Satisfactory?”
“Oh,” she said, “can’t complain. Can’t complain.”
“Good. Good. Then the birthday gift’s acceptable, I take it?”
“Mais oui,” she purred, and sipped her ginger tea.
I changed the subject.
“Incidentally, what’s the clone’s name? We can’t call him Zander. How about Zander #2. Or Virgil? Virgil has a certain histori …”
“Mais non,” she replied. “I was thinking about that last night.”
During a lull in the proceedings, I suspected.
“Zander, you read books. Remember that story from way back about that mec who had a picture that looked just like him?”
“A portr8, you mean?”
“True. And as he got older the painting stayed the same. Or … w8! He stayed the same but the painting got older. What was his nom again?”
“C’est ça! Durian Grey. So we’ll call him Durian, then. You’re Zander and he’s Durian. Parfait!”
“As you wish, ma belle,” I murmured. If she named the clone after a stinking tropical fruit, so what? It would only have to endure that idiotic name until Gr8 Uncle Cody’s hitman had seen to its untimely death, after all. I could wait.
“So, that Durian measured up to my level of skill and enthusiasm, did he?” I asked. “And he’s now enjoying all that coconut rice and that huge fru-salad because he built up such a ginormous appetite last night!”
8V dropped her mango kebab and looked at me intently. “Zander, how on earth did you know Durian ordered coconut rice and a gr8 big salade de fruits? Have you seen him déjà this morning?”
Good question. How did I know that? “Oh, well, you know, 8V, it just kind of occurred to me. I thought that’s what he’d have for breakfast. If he was really hungry. Sais pas. The thought just popped into my head. Kind of.”
“Hmmm,” she said. “Mais that’s what you’d order if you’d been mon amour the night before, you mean. Because you’re Durian and Durian is you. How on earth could you forget that?”
She had a point there. And now she grinned.
“So what should I call you collectivement?” she asked, wide-eyed. “Durander? Zandrian?”
But I was thinking about something else. There was a psych-link between the clone and myself. The corp said nothing about this. No mention of a possible psych-overlap. Maybe they assumed it would be so obvious that there was no need to alert me to it. Well, thanks a lot.
So how could I keep my thoughts to myself and away from Durian? Come to think of it, how could Durian keep his thoughts from me? If I could read his thoughts and feelings then he could reciproc8. Heaven’s g8! Does this mean we have 2 heads but a single brain?
8V ignored my silence. “I have a pressentiment this coming year will be funner than I thought,” she said.
I saw right then that I had to watch myself. If I didn’t want Durian to know about it, then I shouldn’t think about it. For instance that recent conversation in Uncle Cody’s hab. But warning myself of that risk already made it too l8. What was that old expression? The cat’s jumped out of the bag. Meaning I was already in deep merde.
Don’t think about blue monkeys. Don’t think about blue monkeys. That old mindshot from the distant past was right: trying not to think about something was a sure way to cement that very thought.
Could Durian read my thoughts? Feel my emotions? There was a simple way to find out. 8V said she had to TEL some people and she badly needed a nap (ha!), so while she was in her room I flashed Durian the thought:
“The Special Thing last night was particular …”
“… ly compelling,” he flashed back. “As you well know. And you very clearly detect…”
“… ed the hostile underpsych during the shag after shag af …”
“… ter shag. I know.”
I thought to myself (if that was still possible): So this is how it’s going to be from now on? No privacy in my thoughts?
I had to ask: “Are you and I doomed to always finish …”
“… each other’s sentences? Did you expect otherwise, even with the corp’s silence on this subject? You expected to have an exact copy of yourself who thinks differently from yourself? You obviously hadn’t thought ….”
“…this through, I know. I should’ve asked the corp. I just didn’t expect it …”
“… would be this noisy inside our heads. I know. Now I know.”
Static in my heads. We struggled to get our thoughts str8. But when the static died I resumed with:
“Let me ask about all that hostility last night in your underpsych when you were shagging 8V. Was that from you? Or from me?”
“From me. And you. From you because of what she’d done to your life but you never admitted it to yourself. Personally, I h8 her. She summoned me into a 1-year existence on a mere whim. So now I’m doomed to be nothing but a sex toy for a shallow fool. A beautiful fool, but a fool nonetheless. In my situation wouldn’t you …”
“… feel exactly the same? Yes, I would.” I paused momentarily. “So, then, if you already know about the unavoidable 365-day time limit you must also know about …”
“… Gr8 Uncle Cody’s idea to have me killed by a lowlife associ8 of his? Yes, his idea to put both of us out of our misery.” I sensed Durian suddenly smiling a ½-smile. “You know, Zander, he was right. You really are as thick as pig shit sometimes! Merely …”
“… joking. So how do you feel about that? It would be a relief in a way, wouldn’t it? I mean, your life as a clone – such as it is – was always intended to be nasty, brutish and short. I imagine you’d welcome an early death as a …”
“… release from my term of bondage. True. True. But I’d really rather spend my single year of life without that foolish woman around the hab. Then the 2 of us, you and me, could get on with what we really want to do with our lives: become doubly productive and become the Lang Lab’s star researchers. Zander, we could really put comparative linguistics back on the map, you and I. Make it a thriving field again in these difficult times. You and I could accomplish more in a year than all the other researchers combined.”
” Ah yes,” I flashed. ” ‘These difficult times’ but also these woefully underfunded times. The …”
“… Lang Lab would never put a clone on the payroll. That’s obvious. But I don’t need to be physically present in the Lang Lab, do …”
“… I? True. True. Yeah, you have point there. And with 8V out of our lives we’d have no petty distractions in the hab, no more accommod8ing her whims and moodswings, no more wondering if she’s shagging somebody in secret. No more baby- …”
“… talk French. Yes, that’s how it will be. You never admitted to yourself what a mess she’s made of your life, and how she’s emascul8d you. Admit it, Zander, you’d do anything to keep her in your life, even pay creds you can’t afford for a clone. That’s how much you’ve let her pussywhip you. But now we can end these humiliations and end this negative cycle 1ce and for all.”
“Durian, you’re right!”
“Please,” he flashed, “call me Virgil.”
He was right. Ridding myself of 8V was necessary if I was ever to stand up in freedom. I’d have to take immediate action, before my resolve weakened and I started looking at the other side of the coin (an expression she wouldn’t comprehend). I’d start having doubts about what I’d lose if she was gone from my life for good.
“Right,” I said to myself. Ourselves. “Let’s do it. Death to 8V! I’ll make the TEL right now!”
“No!” flashed Virgil. “Don’t!
“What?” I gasped. “Why can’t I make the TEL?”
“Don’t you do it. I want to do it myself. Let me do it. Our voices are identical!”
Virgil made the TEL that very minute, tossing my/our usual sense of decorum out the window, not caring who he/I woke up or why.
We said, “I woke you up, did I? There’s something you and I need to talk about. It’s too important to w8. You see, there needs to be a really big change.”
The voice at the other end was annoyed at being woken so suddenly and with such an imperious demand.
“What really big change? What on earth are you talking about?”
“Well,” we said, “it’s basically the same plan we discussed earlier, Unc. Just a change in the design8d target, that’s all.”