At first the doubling didn’t warrant much thought to Nelson Garrett’s way of looking at it. The way meetings double-scheduled themselves on Bmail and then doubled again, showing, like, four occurrences on the BMail Auto Kalends Calendar. Maybe some bug was causing duplicate messages to be sent, or, as was more likely, technology was just widening its lead by another furlong over him. Or, more sinisterly, something or someone was out there, slowly taking control of his devices away from him. Co-piloting, if you will. Commandeering, if you will go a little farther.
He’d just switched to a new phone from Finland, created by Arctic fabricators whose impenetrably far-fetched and far-flung tongue spoke of… Who could tell? … Origins east beyond the Urals? or, from East Beyond the Sun, as the creations stories of these wide-scattered Nomads attested. “Mies ylellisine taloineen,” as some had been known to say.
Speaking of strange languages, such was the Bmail Operating System, expressing itself in its weird Anglo-Germanish pidgin, spiced with perhaps… Hungarian? Turkish? With this odd new device in hand, he daily confronted the new Bmail OS. It was doing surprising things like taking pictures of his chest pocket, or stirring for unaccountable social reasons like a small rodent in his pants, or refusing to unlock, or ringing when he’d thought he’d silenced it. Another time, a picture of a political candidate’s strongly brief’s-challenging erection. On a social feed. Where the hell had that come from?
A whole new configuration. Splicing its way deeper into his electron-suffused brain. Hacking deeper into the tangled brush of the mind.
Two phone lists had spawned, too. This could get you in a lot of trouble if one of those fissioned-off lists or emails found its way into the ocean of data we all swim in. But if you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about, we are assured. Where had he read about that, before?
Cripes what a pain, thought Garrett, examining the device in his hand and its parallel double columns double-entered on the doubled Auto-Kalends Scheduler device in his hand. He pressed his thumb and forefinger against his eyes and rubbed.
These gizmos could take on lives of their own, as any divorce lawyer or private investigator could tell you, considered Garrett. Somehow they double off like cell-division, reproducing and going off on their merry way. A problem, if you were doing something you wanted to keep private. If you were living with monastic transparency, probity, and innocence, you have nothing to worry about, as they say.
Surrounded by saints, thought Garrett, swerving around a tall man in business suit who’d chosen the top of the escalator to stop and resume texting his message to the President or the UN Secretary General.
“Excuse You,” Garrett let out, passing the idiot and taking a position on the train platform.
Except… you’re connected, right through there, he observed, looking at the cellphone in the oblivious dope’s hand. His imagination then overlayed a targeting screen onto the man, with gyrating compass, airspeed, direction and elevation information, crosshairs alighting then aligning on the signal from the man’s cellphone. The man still stood at the head of the escalator, choosing autism, eyes face-averse and locked on the tiny screen in his hand. On the moving stairs ascending behind him, commuters began to crowd, then bunch as they struggled to pass by him. Finally, a quite elderly woman let out a cry and nearly fell, propelled at an awkward angle from the growing press behind. The fellow behind her caught at a frail elbow and steadied her just in time. Her cry caused the tall guy to twitch his head a little, then to move perhaps twelve inches farther away from the fast-crowding landing.
Garrett read the word “TARGET LOCK” on the Heads-Up Display of his Imagination, and launched the Hellfire towards the designated gray-suited man from an altitude of 2,300 feet. The missile sped away towards the crosshairs and he counted down time-to-impact and pretended his hand was the incoming missile. He issued a quiet rocket sound effect then… BWOOOOSH! Impact!
A girl who looked like Julia Roberts if Julia Roberts had become even more attractive by bruising the dimple called the philtrum between her admirable top lip and nose, giggled at his quietly audible pantomime of aerial destruction.
He smiled back. He wished he had lips like that! And for them to suddenly appear, like symptoms, all over his body!
Easy, there, Truman, thought Garrett to himself, You went nuclear pretty quick, Harry S. He ignored the stirring in his pants.
The train arrived, opened its doors and inhaled the commuters, the brave citizen-serfs of the Fighting 7:31 Semi-Express to Edge Central terminal.
Imagine being as attractive as she is, he thought, keeping her in view as he boarded and found a seat. You’d probably get stared at all time, like I am… he thought, becoming aware that he too was lingering overlong on the delicate imperfection of her perfect features. A useful time to… become face-averse.
Garrett, self-conscious now, resumed attending to the insistent needs of his infant device. Two BmailBoxes, too! Two mailboxes? A new roster of things to back up other things? And things that did… he didn’t know. What the heck is the DouBmail App? Your Data Protected within the Shroud of BMail, read the none-too-reassuring slogan for the application.
“The Shroud”? Rather a dark spin on this much-heralded “Cloud,” if you asked Garrett. Not sure he liked that name. What was being shrouded? He spun down the two contact lists. They didn’t quite match. How could that be? Whatever. It could all be used as leverage. The crosshairs in his own lapel pocket. Used to be cigarettes, up there. Kill you that way. Now you’re a homing beacon. Leverage. So much to lose.
He looked out the train window, at the tracks sliding by, and thought of hurling the tiny computer to glittering pieces there, or disabling it otherwise as he had seen done on so many shows celebrating bestial excess and violence. But even train-crushing would probably not sufficiently destroy it. Some expert could extract usable data to frame a case. No Library of Alexandria, here, my boy. Nothing burns away completely. Nothing gets lost anymore! And besides, that phone of yours is made with War Ore, wrested from the corpse-enriched soil of rebellious Congo! All guilty, on that one.
Twos. It was always happening. Two of everything he ordered from Amazon, once. Happened twice, actually.
Doubling manifested itself in other odd ways, too.
Like in the recurring dream of himself in front of the mirror. He couldn’t remember dreaming of mirrors before. And he couldn’t recognize himself in the mirror. In real life, he bore no thick moustache nor Byzantine complexion nor brilliantined blue hair combed severely. He was younger, than that, too! And taller! Was it really him? Who else could it be? A redundant him? With hair on his chest, he noted.
Then there was the issue of his other wife. The one who came up behind him in the dream. She was the central proof of the reality of this doubling, this branching off.
He felt her. She was perceptible, emitting a slight scent of jasmine and verbena. Such a scent!
She, too, as different as her dream husband. Very different from his reality wife, that is. She would appear in the mirror behind him. He could just make out the smile in her kind eyes peering over his shoulder in the mirror… and he loved her with everything he had, a feeling from his groin to his heart to his head of aching inconceivable happiness and then… was that the happy gurgle of an infant he heard? Then he felt alarm as his duality wife slipped away into gray insubstantiality and…
…the alarm clock. He knew her name, had it right on his tongue, but just couldn’t remember it, dammit! Nothing gets lost, eh? Retrieve that, Mr or Mrs Expert.
Some mornings he found the pillow wet with the pain of their parting. Was it she? Back from the past? The future? Had she died? Where was she now? It couldn’t be. A future wife? How did he know her? How did his heart know her so well? Name?
Then he’d plant his relatively uncomplaining feet (50+ years they’d lasted him) to the bedroom floor en route to the coffeemaker, quiet lest he awaken the wife he adored in waking life, as well.
The Dream-Wife kept coming back.
How could she be so familiar? He ruminated on what he’d read of reincarnation; parallel worlds. Past times he had forgotten, blocked? An intruding… universe? An Otherverse? Who was she?
He loved her. That he knew. He’d felt it as real as a poke in the ribs. He opened his eyes. His seatmate nudged him in the ribs.
“You might have sleep apnea,” said Julia Roberts-ish. She still smiled.
“Thanks,” He croaked, grateful for the wake-up.
Train doors opened. He grabbed his bag and was exhaled down the platform with the rest, then sown with the rest across the wide marble rectangle of Edge Central. He turned on a whim into the bookstore nestled near the ramp to the southwest exit. There he scanned the books he’d like to buy: a new Stalin biography, a history of central banking, something new from Pynchon! Rejoice.
He glanced at his watch, 8:43, then looked up to see a balding red-haired man immediately in front of him in the narrow aisle, upon his back an Alice-pack stuffed for 72-hour survival, or so it seemed, tent and all. The man had several large reference paperbacks in his broad red-haired forearms. And two canteens. Thus cumbered, he attempted to pass Garrett with a polite, “Excuse me, Sir,” but, alas, miscalculating his turning radius.
Turning, his pack swept several dozen titles clapping to the floor from the low display table and shelves to Garrett’s left. “Oh, sorry,” grunted the man, resting his armload of books on a now empty shelf. With a grunt, he leaned with his 60-pound kit in front of Garrett. He displayed a glistening bald spot surrounded by thinning red hair as he started to collect the books he’d dislodged. Like a monk’s tonsure, thought Garrett. His passage closed off, Garrett bent to help pick up the scattered volumes, noting the titles of the fellow’s books as he leaned down. Wilderness Survival. Medicine for When There Is No Doctor. Edible Plants of the Northeastern US. All About the Garand M1 Rifle.
Although built for it, the red-haired man was as yet imperfect in the precise skills of burden carriage in a tight environment. He’d have to work on that, noted Garrett. Perhaps it’s early in the season. Practice, practice, practice.
The really cool-looking bookstore chick at that moment darted over to the scene of the spill. You’ve seen her: the porcelain-skinned whisper, the black-and-white wraith with the ebony hair usually lacquered straight back and tightly bunned with black Buddy Holly glasses and just a hint of an Iznik china pattern inked on the smoothness beneath the mists of her silken sleeveless. A goth dream. The rest: opaque body stocking beneath a film of skirt. Only today her straight jet hair floated free…
As you might expect, this Creature fairily hovered over them.
“Now might be the time to consider the Bmail Buch B-Reader,” she remarked, unhelpfully.
Garrett looked up, let her face shine through the windows of his eyes, and she freshened the closet of his mind.
She should carry a wand. Like a plainclothesman letting you glimpse his badge. Just so you’d know. So you’d dimly compass, through legend and myth perhaps, the species of this creature you’re encountering.
All Garrett could register was the perfection of her face, the Designed structure of it, like a cathedral glass of all colors leading to purest white, generating a sort of sunlight and cooling shade at once. She looked maybe 1/8th Japanese and it blended with near-unbearable fineness with the 7/8ths… Dane? in her. She’s seven-quarters Dane, I’ll bet, he swooned.
And she was quite aware that Garrett had made her. Not just as a snapping young goth beauty of perfect tiny angularity, but of her other-worldly beauty. She knew, that he knew, that she enjoyed the attentions of gods, as well as how to enrapture mortals like Nelson Garrett.
Reading the familiar arrow-struck look in this stranger’s eyes, the creature celestial, alarmed, fairily flitted back to her computer at the center desk of the store, guarded by her co-worker, a big, brooding, hairy man with thick-lensed glasses and walrus mustaches. All the brute lacked was a horned helm and a keen-edged harquebus to complete his ogreish menace!
At last, the human freighter blocking Garrett’s passage was cleared from the non-fiction canal, allowing other craft to pass, and, just as Garrett passed a tempting new history of Indivisible Croatia, 1941-1945, he suddenly remembered…
… Mothers Day! Coming up! And why did THAT book remind me of Mom? That’s for another story, maybe. Startled into action, he veered towards the front of the store and was presented with… Large Backpack, Mr Combat Load, again, paying for his… count ’em… six, no, seven big books. Probably has camouflage facepaint in that sack somewhere. At last, Garrett stood before the greeting cards. Mothers Day! Oh, yes!
He bought two. One for Mom. And one for Her.
But your wife’s not your mom and you two live, uh, alone, as it were, one side of his brain politely pointed out through unmoving female teeth. Give me a second, the lesser half replied, silently unscrewing the cap of a scotch bottle and pouring a quiet, fast scotch.
He paid for the cards and drilled through the Permian Layer of benadryls, cedar shavings, cigar ash, a whistle, notebooks, matchboxes, a hunting/battle knife and random candies of varying stalenesses in his shoulder bag. He finally uncovered a black indelible marker.
On the card, he used the marker to delete the “M” in “Mothers” and double-underlined the “O,” editor-style.
Opening it, he wrote, “I love you. Please keep in touch.” and signed it “Garrett.” Addressing the pink envelope to “My Dream Girl,” (no address) he produced a withered, self-adhering 9-11 Memorial Stamp from his wallet, placed it on the envelope, then walked out of Edge Central to find a mailbox. You’d think they’d have one at the station. But they don’t. Not anymore.
For security reasons.