I was in the middle of my backswing
on the tenth fairway when I got the call about the other me.
The phone implant tingled in my ear and nearly caused me to shank my
shot. That by itself wouldn't have been horrible; after all, this was
client golf, and my client, Gordon Ridgeway, was up only a stroke or
two, even though I'd set my clubs to hit fifteen yards shorter than
Tingle means trouble. My
implant is set to accept only priority one calls, so the news had to
be very good or very bad. Jillian St. Claire was my only
priority one. In the thirteen years we've been partners, I've
never known her to make a priority one call with good news.
I squeezed my earlobe to make the
connection. "This had better be serious, Jillian."
Jillian and I have our differences, but we also have our
understandings. Business is business, and interrupting client
golf is bad form.
"Oh, it's serious, Andrew,"
Jillian said. "But first, I'm just dying to know: does our
fat friend Ridgeway modify his body for VR, or is he still just as
disgusting in there?"
I was in no mood to spar with
Jillian today. I had a golf match to lose. "The
point, Jillian?" I asked.
"The point, my dear Andrew, is
that Ridgeway is just a fat little runt compared to Rilandt
Technologies, and this is Wednesday. Remember?" Jillian
"The point, Jillian?"
I knew damn well what day it was.
"The point is that we
have yet to see anything out of the office of J. Andrew
Conklin. The programmers are waiting for concepts.
Accounting is waiting to run the numbers. But we're at a
standstill until you deliver the proposal, and right now we have
"What do you mean, 'nothing?'"
"What do you think I mean,
Andrew? Nothing. Not a section heading. Not a line
of concept. Nothing."
"Did you check with--"
"Your door is locked, my
darling. No one can get in but you," Jillian said.
Shit. The Rilandt
presentation was less than forty-eight hours away. And nothing
was done? I'd spent three years trying to get a foothold at
Rilandt--three years of sucking up and lunches at Sarno's and
basketball tickets and Virtualinks. Now the other me was going
to piss it all away. God, sometimes I hate myself.
To make matters worse, business
wasn't the greatest right then. We'd just lost the Camden
account after screwing up one selling module too many. And with
Wattsetera having trouble freeing up cash for promotions and almost
certain budget reductions at Fargo Industries, we needed Rilandt
Technologies. This was not a good time for a doppelganger
Overhead, a virtual finch trilled
and darted into a virtual sycamore. Off in the distance, the
virtual sprinklers chattered and spun and discharged their data,
keeping the virtual fairways green and lush. I sighed.
Just at that moment, it didn't matter that the blue sky and the birds
and the bent grass were figments of the imaginations of the
programmers at Virtualinks. A beautiful day is a beautiful day,
and I did not want to abandon it for a confrontation with my
doppelganger. But I knew I'd have to handle the situation in
"Don't let the other me leave
the building," I said resignedly. "Meet me in the
lobby in twenty minutes. Bring a wire."
"Run, Andrew," said
I took the crosstown express tube
to the office. The damn thing's acceleration nauseates me, but the
alternative is the local, a grim affair that winds through the steel
towers, the crumbling concrete housing units and stops every few
blocks, exchanging streetpeople for college students, students for
shopkeepers, shopkeepers for accounting clerks, trundling them uptown
to professional level and back down to their midtown homes. The
express is professional-level and skyview only, never descending past
gaming level. The city is a colorful blur in the window,
mottled and vibrant, not at all like it really is.
When I arrived, Jillian met me in
the lobby. She wore a short red dress that fit her like a snarl.
"Andrew," she said,
throwing me a look that was either seductive or condescending or
both. "How good of you to come."
I often wonder how Jillian and I
became partners, and question whether I'd go into business with her
again. I suppose I would. She has a good marketing head,
and her client service skills are considerable, in part because,
unlike me, she has no conscience to wrestle, another character trait
I find both repulsive and attractive. I've slept with her--or
her doppelganger--only once. Right then, looking into her green
eyes, I wondered whether she or the doppelganger looked back.
But I supposed it didn't matter. Jillian was Jillian.
She leaned into me and pressed the
wire into my hand. "Get a grip on yourself, Andrew.
And try not to make a mess." She whirled on her spike
heels and swaggered away down the corridor.
A mess was not going to be easy to
avoid. When the other me gets this way, the situation is
already a mess. I walked slowly toward my office, turning the
wire in my hand. It was so simple, so powerful, just a black
plastic casing and one little button. Press the button, and a
receiver implanted in the doppelganger's head shoots an electrical
charge through the brain. Instant termination.
I certainly didn't want it to come
to that. If I fried the other me, I'd have to file a
termination report with the American Doppelganger Organization, renew
my permit, sit for the brain download and the DNA sculptor.
Most distressing of all, it meant three weeks without a
doppelganger. Three weeks of doing everything myself.
Handling everything at the office. Canceling my cruise.
Spending actual fleshtime with Jenna. Or her doppelganger.
One can never be certain these days, even with one's own wife.
My office door was closed and
code-protected. I pressed my palm against the sensor and felt
the lock slide back into the door. I walked into my office,
wire in my coat pocket, my finger on the button, just in case.
I needn't have worried. The
situation was exactly as I'd anticipated, and it made me angry and
more than a little nauseated. The other me sat behind my desk,
feet up, staring out the window, not bothering to turn around when I
came in. It wasn't necessary. I couldn't have been anyone
"Working hard?" I asked.
The other me smiled. "Yes,
actually. I've been doing a lot of thinking."
"Of course. That's what I do
best, isn't it?" I said, coating every word with a thick layer
of sarcasm, hoping to shame the other me into reality. "In
fact, that's what I get paid to do: have productive thoughts about
marketing and promotion for great, big companies that make little
plastic discs. And, speaking of getting paid, where's that
Rilandt proposal upon which so many future paychecks depend?"
"I can't do it," said the
"Won't do it," I
"No," said the other me,
"I really can't. I've given too much of myself to this
kind of bullshit, and I just can't do it anymore."
I reached into my jacket pocket
again and folded my hand around the wire. I wasn't ready to
dispose of the other me quite yet, but the situation wasn't too
"This can get very messy,"
I said, "or not. But I have a good thing going here, and
I'm not about to compromise it."
The other me turned and smiled.
"Good thing going. Big-paying job. Nice suits.
Memberships at all the hottest VR clubs. A beautiful wife.
An adoring mistress."
I flushed with embarrassment.
For some reason, I have trouble admitting my marital indiscretions,
even to myself. I really have no reason to feel ashamed.
Jenna and I have grown apart over the years, and I refuse to live my
life in celibacy. I do not have to justify Angelique to
anyone. But, still. . .
"I never pretended to be a
saint," I said, regaining my composure. "Jenna has a
"That doesn't make it right,"
the other me said.
"No, it doesn't," I
agreed. "But that's the way it is. Nobody said
everything had to be right."
The other me stared out the
window. "I just can't do this any more. I'm wasting
my life with this stuff. And I feel so goddamn trapped in
"Oh, God save me from puking,"
I said. The other me twitched and looked ashamedly at the
floor. "It's the tree surgeon dream again, isn't it?
What are there, three, four trees left in Detroit?"
"What I mean is--"
"I know very well," I
said. "Tree surgeon. Jesus H. Christ. I've
been down this road ten thousand times. But, the fact is, this
is reality. I'm a businessman. Is that so bad? So
much to deal with?"
The other me shook my head.
"Let me go, then. Let me just try it. No one would
have to know."
I smiled as I sat on the corner of
the desk. I picked up my smooth black globe, a gift from
Angelique, and rolled it in my hands. "I can't do that.
It's against the law. One person, one doppelganger, one job."
"Nobody said everything had to
be right," said the other me, spitting my words right back at
"I'm not going to prison,"
"But I could--"
And that was it. I knew right
then I'd have to use the wire, send my doppelganger back to the meat
vat and order a new one. I didn't want to write the Rilandt
proposal or have dinner with Jenna or handle all that doppelganger
crap. But I realized long ago that sometimes you have to make
decisions you don't like. Sometimes, all your options suck.
I pulled the wire out of my
pocket. I raised my thumb to push the button.
"I wouldn't do that," the
other me said.
"And why not?" I
laughed. "Have we had a sudden change of heart?"
"No. But think
carefully. What happened the last time this 'tree surgeon
dream' came up?"
What happened? "The same
thing happens every time. I try reasoning. I try
taunting. I see the situation is hopeless. I press the
button, and poof! The job is done."
"And why in the hell should
I?" I asked. I was beginning to feel even more put out
with the whole situation.
"When that button is pushed,
exactly who is going to get zapped? Think carefully. What
happened last time?"
I froze. I could tell
by the expression on the other me's face that this was not a joke,
not a trap. And suddenly, I understood: the other me was
implying that maybe I wasn't exactly who I thought I was.
What if the other me was really
me? What if, somehow, everything got mixed up and turned
around? What if the other me had been playing golf with Gordon
Ridgeway and the real Andy Conklin had agreed to do the Rilandt
proposal, because it was just so damn important, so critical to the
future of Conklin St. Claire, to my own financial security?
What if, when I pushed that button,
it was my own brain that fried?
But that was ridiculous! I'd
never let my doppelganger enjoy my life while I did the work.
Never! And yet. . .
I couldn't remember when I'd had my
last brain download.
My hands started shaking. I
couldn't focus, couldn't think straight.
This was just what the other me
hoped would happen. "Put the wire down," the other me
said, with a touch of gentleness. Then I saw the gun.
A gun. The other me held an
old-fashioned, gunpowder bullet gun, the kind you see in old action
flicks. I looked like goddamn Indiana Jones holding that thing.
"Where in the hell did that
come from?" I asked.
"A pawn shop down on Third
Street. I found it in the desk here. But I didn't buy
it. That is, I bought it, but I didn't buy it, although
I remember buying it because I have all of J. Andrew Conklin's
memories. That's why I'm saying 'think carefully.' What
happened last time?"
"I don't remember! Just
tell me!" I yelled.
The other me smiled my sad, ironic
smile. "This happened, of course. Two Andy
Conklins. One with a wire. One with a gun. Which
Andy Conklin won? I don't know. All I know is, I didn't
buy the gun and my doppelganger obviously doesn't remember buying
The other me aimed the gun at my
chest. Cold sweat tingled along my upper lip. I still
held my thumb over the button on the wire, the button that could
resolve this problem here and now. But how? I didn't
know. I couldn't risk it.
"Drop it," said the other
me. "I'm serious. I won't do this anymore."
I took one step toward the desk and
carefully put down the wire. "Okay. You have the
wire. Now get out of here," I said, trying to regain my
composure, to let the other me know who was in charge here. "Go
to Virtualinks and finish my match with Gordon. Have a drink.
I'll finish the proposal."
"You know I can't do that,"
said the other me.
I dove for the floor as the first
shot blew a hole in my side chair.
The wire was my only chance.
I threw myself against the desk, hoping the jolt might knock the wire
to the floor. Pens and books and the black globe tumbled past
my head. I felt something give and heard a crash on the other
side of the desk. The push had knocked the other me backward,
into my credenza.
The wire lay on the carpet, next to
my shattered globe. I lunged for it and closed my hand around
Just for a second, I hesitated.
Just for a split second, I considered the consequences. No
matter what happened, J. Andrew Conklin would live. But what
As I came around the desk, I saw
the other me lunge for the wire. There was no time to waste.
"I'm sorry," I said.
The other me died instantly, to my
relief; I always find it profoundly unsettling to watch myself die.
It took only one shot, a bullet to the temple that induced a small
geyser of blood. I called security to retrieve the body and
maintenance to fix my chair. A bullet hole in your office
furniture makes a bad impression.
I'd have to order a new
doppelganger, of course. But first, I had to jump on that
Rilandt proposal. And--hadn't there been something about golf
with Gordon Ridgeway? I thought his access number and engaged
it with my fingers.
"Gordon," I said.
"Listen, I have kind of a mess down here. Hired hands not
getting the job done, and a deadline biting our ankles. You
know how it is. . ."
He understood completely. We
rescheduled for a couple of weeks later. I'd have the new
doppelganger by then.
Someone knocked on my door. I
opened it to find two security men, one with a body bag, the other
with a cart. I showed them the body. Then I remembered
"Wait," I said. I
knelt in front of the other me. Reaching into the jacket
pocket, I grabbed my wallet. I flipped through the contents:
moneycards, creditcards, Virtualinks passcard, housekey,
apartmentkey, everything I needed.
"Call ADO and have them send a
meat wagon," I said. "Then clean up this mess and get
They lifted the body into the bag
and blotted the carpet clean with some sort of spot remover. I
went back to my desk and brought up the Rilandt files on the
computer. Nothing done--nothing at all. I stared at the
blank screen, dreading the task ahead of me. Just for a moment,
I thought about chucking it all, pushing the computer off the desk
and marching into Jillian's office and resigning, telling her the
agency was hers, not caring about the money or anything. I
could walk out the door and wander the streets until dawn, feel the
wind on my face, touch the walls of the city, alone, no Jenna, no
Angelique, no doppelganger, no virtual anything, just reality.
But it was not reality, I realized. This desk, this blank
screen begging for a Rilandt proposal--that was reality.
I'd have plenty of time for
whatever I wanted when the new doppelganger arrived, I told myself.
Now I had work to do.