“Behind You”

This d-mat scenario scares me more than any other, because nature will always find a way to make things nasty for us, given a chance.

You’d be surprised how often d-mat booths are struck by lightning. I know that doesn’t answer your question, but I’ll get there. They assure us the booths are safe, but sometimes there are accidents. In the worst case on record, the people inside were still being disintegrated when lightning shorted everything out, so their patterns were only half-completed. There was barely enough left for a cremation.

Lightning_BoltAnother time–and I swear this a true story, I heard it from a friend of mine who was dating the girl involved–the two travelers didn’t even notice. They just stepped out when their jump was over, exactly as normal. The doors opened, and they headed off to start the sightseeing they had planned that day, unaware that anything had gone wrong.

Two minutes after they had gone, the booth opened again and identical copies of them stepped out to start sightseeing again.

Another two minutes later, the booth doors opened a third time. Another set of identical copies stepped out and did exactly the same thing all over.

They were the same people at exactly the same point in their lives, just slightly behind the others. The lightning that had zapped the booth had stuck it in a loop, sending the same people to the same destination over and over again, two minutes apart, which is how long it took to process the data. Because they kept on sightseeing, they didn’t notice. They just followed the same meandering path, trailing each other by just far enough not to see what was going on.

It was the people around them who noticed first.

A shopkeeper asked the third copies if this was some kind of a joke. They didn’t know what he was talking about. They wanted to know if he was joking.

A kid in his front garden began counting them out as they walked by. She reached twelve before the peacekeepers got involved. She thought it was some kind of game.

No, I haven’t forgotten your question. Honest.

There were seventeen copies of the pair by the time the PKs flat-lined the faulty booth and stopped it producing the same people forever. That solved one problem, but much larger ones remained. Turns out the Air can’t handle more than one of someone at a time, so the PKs had to prowl the streets, rounding up all the copies. And then they had to be . . . dealt with.

You’ve heard the rumors, I’m sure. When accidents like this happen, the duplicates are secretly put into a booth and sent nowhere, erased as though they never existed. That’s the way they take out the worst criminals–the ones too dumb to know that they should avoid booths when they’re on the run. That’s also how they get the people who speak out against OneEarth and the lawmakers–quietly, instantly, painlessly, unofficially.

But this time it was too public. There was a whole crowd of copies, now. Too many people had seen. Vanishing so many people into thin air just wasn’t an option. It would be noticed.

Besides, once they were all together in a group, how could anyone tell which was the original and which wasn’t?

I bet someone, somewhere, thought about taking out the whole area, copies and witnesses all. An industrial accident. It’s happened.

Luckily, this girl my friend went out with, the one who had been copied sixteen times, she had a much better idea. All of her had the same idea at once. She said: “Why don’t I share? You know–put all but one of me in storage, and we swap in and out whenever we want to, one day at a time.”

The PKs talked among themselves for ages. Eventually, they decided that simultaneous duplicates weren’t allowed, but serial duplicates could be tolerated. The girl would live out the remainder of her lives one version of her at a time, while the others rested in cold storage, frozen, waiting their turn.

The guy she was with (not my friend) didn’t like this idea one bit. He was confused by who was who and worried that none of him would feel real, if they all kept existing in one form or another. He volunteered to have his copies erased, leaving just the original behind.

As to who was the original? He drew lots to see who stayed and who went. The losers didn’t argue. They just filed into the booth one by one and went away–which makes him a much braver man than I am. Way braver.

So is my friend who told me this story. And now we’re getting to an answer to your question.

My friend started dating this girl six months after the accident. He’s only dating one of her, not all of them. The others have different boyfriends. She sees him once every two and a half weeks, when it’s that particular version’s turn to be in the world. He seems happy enough, although I can’t see it lasting. They’re all the same girl at heart. What happens if he starts dating one of the other ones, between dates with “his” version? Would that be cheating?

And what happens if they get really serious? For every seventeen of his days, she ages just one. By the time she turns twenty-five, he’ll be a hundred. And what if they have kids? Will the kid be frozen with her? Will they choose to be frozen together, a family out of step with the rest of the world? Or will this child be raised by all the versions of the girl, one after the other, with any other kids they might have with anyone else . . . ?

My mind blows just trying to think about it. And I think about it every time I take a booth in a thunderstorm, as we just did. And that’s why I look behind me. Just in case.

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